July 4th is set aside to celebrate, among other things, those brave enough to pen their names to a document that meant treason and certain death should this nation's claim to independence fail. But it's also an opportunity to reflect upon the contributions of those who put their lives on the line to defend the United States — and to hold it together — well after the British soldiers were gone.

Never before had that sacrifice been so great than during what occurred 150 years ago this week in a small Pennsylvania town known as Gettysburg.

The confrontation between Union and Confederate armies lasted for three days and claimed almost as many casualties as Petaluma has residents — more than 50,000 in all. It ranks as the most costly battle of any in the Civil War. In all, 3,155 Union soldiers were killed. For the Confederates, the death toll was believed to be more than 4,700.

Moreover it was a turning point in the war, a defeat that halted the northern invasion of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and crippled the Confederate forces. But, as President Abraham Lincoln would remind the nation in November when he came to speak at the dedication of a national cemetery in Gettysburg, it came at a great price.

In honor of our national roots and in recognition of those who "gave their lives that (this) nation might live," here's a reminder of what Lincoln had to say at that site 150 years ago:<EL4>

<CF102>"Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."