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A Civil War History Lesson On Trump's Visit To Gettysburg

Donald Trump visits the site of Pickett's Charge, an ill-fated 1863 confederate assault, in Gettysburg, Pa.
Evan Vucci
Donald Trump visits the site of Pickett's Charge, an ill-fated 1863 confederate assault, in Gettysburg, Pa.

Donald Trump laid out his closing pitch to voters on Saturday in Pennsylvania, a battleground state that is home to many actual battlegrounds.

"It's my privilege to be here in Gettysburg, hallowed ground where so many lives were given," Trump said.

Trump reiterated the major themes of his campaign, like cracking down on illegal immigration. He also promised to sue women who've come forward to accuse him of unwanted sexual contact. But first, he drew a parallel to the state of the nation during the Civil War.

"President Lincoln served at a time of division like we've never seen before. It is my hope that we can look at his example to heal the divisions we are living through right now," Trump said.

Afterward, Trump visited the site of Pickett's Charge, a failed Confederate assault on the Union on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

Trump's next stop at the conservative Christian Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., brought another Civil War battle to mind.

"A hundred and sixty-two years ago, in a place called the Wilderness, right here in Virginia, the entire center of the rebel line was collapsing," State Sen. Frank Wagner said to the large crowd standing in the open air, recalling the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness, which costs tens of thousands of lives but ended in stalemate.

Wagner was attempting to inspire the crowd to vote for Trump by telling them about Confederate commander Robert E. Lee, who refused to give up as the Union Army drove to break the Confederate line: "He ran to the sound of the gunfire."

"We're in a war," Wagner said, urging the crowd to take the country back — by getting out the vote for Trump.

"That's an amazing metaphor, isn't it," said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Grantham, Penn., who was attending a conference for Christian historians on the Regent University campus.

Fea noted that Pickett's Charge — a last-ditch effort by the Confederate Army at the end of a losing battle — could be seen as an unfortunate symbolic choice.

"It was a big-time slaughter, but that was their only chance of getting out of Gettysburg alive with a victory," Fea said. "That's pretty much what Trump's trying to do right now, right?"

Whatever the outcome of the battle that will end on Election Day, Fea said he wonders about the direction of the Civil War within the Republican Party that will rage on.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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