The Altar of Freedom


I hadn’t considered posting this weekend.  I spent a while in my garden, cleaned out the closets for summer, and even went to the movies.  I haven’t really been on Twitter, or working on my lesson plans, or even preparing for an important meeting I have on Tuesday.  Well, that’s not completely true. I have been thinking about my lesson plans and how I can best honor Memorial Day and the men and women whom we celebrate.

Some years, I go to You Tube and find a video montage of patriotic photographs. Other years, we have read about the beginnings of Memorial Day or how different towns celebrate.  It’s always felt very token, unfortunately. I am overwhelmed with emotion when I think about what has been sacrificed for my life to be what it is. Somehow, though, I have never translated those feelings into an effective time of rememberence in my classroom. This year, I’ve been thinking about how I can get my students to see the big picture, the multiple perspectives. Serving in the military is such a foreign thing to so many of them.  I’ve been wondering, what can I bring to my students that will really make an impact?

One of my favorite pieces of history is President Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby. There is some controversy over whether he in fact wrote this, or Secretary Hay wrote it in his place. Even amidst that uncertainty, I post this letter for my friends and family to read each Memorial Day, and this year, I will be sharing it with my students.  I am moved each time I read it, and I never tire of the unwavering message of devotion to country. I’m quite certain that I won’t be able to read it in its entirety without any emotion, but my students know my propensity to cry over the written word.


Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
Dear Madam,–
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
A. Lincoln

I also plan to show portions of the video below, because I think that more than anything else we can read or watch, this will help them “get it.”  I’ll be the one in the back of the room sobbing, and that’s okay.  We can’t be separate from the emotion that moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters have felt for hundreds of years.

bixby 4

They are America. We are America.

To all who have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom: Thank You. 

Soldiers Surprise Loved Ones Video


How do you plan to celebrate with your students?



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2 responses to “The Altar of Freedom

  1. jmjd

    I feel the same way. I give my students extra credit for memorizing and performing The Gettysburg Address and I share a poem I wrote about the Memorial Days of my childhood. The letter to Mrs. Bixby will join the mix. Thank you.

  2. Mr. Testa

    The Gettysburg Address gets to the heart of what Memorial Day means like only A. Lincoln can. The eloquent and insightful prose in the Bixby letter suggests that the President was the true author. A profound way to honor Memorial Day is to explore the Gettysburg Address with students and guide them to discover meaning:

    “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.”

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