AUBURN — Seven score and 10 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln stood on a raised wooden platform in the newly established Soldiers’ National Cemetery just outside Gettysburg and delivered a 272-word address on human equality.

In that address, the president asked that, in honor of “the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here,”the nation resolve itself to preserving the union so “these dead shall not have died in vain.” And he predicted the world would take little note of the political speeches of the day.

Aaron Pape of Auburn has taken note.

The East Auburn Community School sixth-grader placed third in the junior division of the Civil War Trust’s annual national student essay contest. Pape’s 339-word essay argued for the need to preserve not just historic battlefields but to remember the sacrifice made by the men and their families during that war and to remember the reason so many died.

“They died to have a country that is not divided by a line between free states and slave states, but free all the way through, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and everything in between,” he wrote.

When Pape first started his essay project, writing about “preserving history was a long shot for me,” he said. Then he saw a History Channel program on Lincoln and was inspired.

Pape, who is 11 years old, likes to read historic fiction — he recently finished “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” — and a little science fiction, said his research on preservation made him realize how important it is. “If we know what has happened, then we’ll be better prepared for the future, for tomorrow,” he said.

Before beginning his essay, Pape said he read a number of authors who made the case that the Civil War was a tale of “men taking up arms for the greater good. Or what they thought was the greater good, to defeat an enemy in their own territory.” But, he said, “when you really think about it, we were just fighting ourselves.”

Had the Confederacy won, Pape said, he believes it would have been hard for it to thrive without the industry to the north, and the Union would have struggled for cotton and food produced in the South. “We need each other. Even now. Now and forever.”

In celebration of his win, Pape’s parents, Michael and Rebecca Pape, planned a surprise family trip to Gettysburg in late August. They traveled to Wisconsin for a funeral and stopped in Pennsylvania on the way home.

Pape said he didn’t know anything about the side trip until he saw the sign welcoming them to Gettysburg, and he was thrilled to be able to see for himself some of the sites he’d read about.

The family took a number of driving tours through Gettysburg National Park and the town of Gettysburg, and spent time walking around Little Round Top, where the 20th Maine’s left flank held the Union position during the battle at Gettysburg.

At one point, Pape said, he and his two brothers, twin Alex and younger brother Andrew, their parents and their grandparents climbed over a fence and started to walk across a battlefield. Several minutes into the walk, they stopped and looked at each other, he said. “It was really unsettling to be where men died,” so they turned around and left the field.

At another point during the visit, Pape said he and Alex hiked down into what’s known as Devil’s Den near the base of Little Round Top, where dozens of men died in the rocky terrain on the second day of the battle.

“It was a maze,” he said. “It was just horrid when you think about it. People had to go through that. It’s just unbelievable.”

Pape and his brothers also participated in a re-enactment designed for children. “My little brother had the job of getting dressed into everything the Union had to wear. Wool pants, long johns, wool jacket, bayonet guard, and he carried a musket around,” he said.

Pape was assigned to carry a 10-pound knapsack for the nearly two-hour re-enactment exercise, wearing his street clothes. But, he said, it was hard to carry that weight in the 90-degree heat and that Andrew, dressed all in wool and carrying the 9-pound rifled musket, “was looking as red as a tomato.”

While interested in history and preservation, Pape said he wants to become a physicist. “I like science and I like the idea that in about 60 years mankind has moved with technology so much,” he said, marveling at the leap in technology between the horse-and-buggy era in the early 20th century and man’s first walk on the moon in 1969, and then again between that moonwalk to the science of today.

“That’s a big leap in technology,” he said, and he’d like to be part of that in the future, perhaps working on rockets, following in his aunt’s footsteps at NASA.

His short list of colleges includes the University of Wisconsin, which many of his family members attended, and Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where he and other students in Auburn’s gifted and talented program recently went on a field trip to visit with Frank Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin College Art Museum. During the trip, the students toured the exhibit “This Mighty Scourge of War: Art of the American Civil War.”

Goodyear, who serves on the editorial board for “Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection,” recently collaborated with National Portrait Gallery senior historian David C. Ward to publish “Lines in Long Array: A Civil War Commemoration, Poems and Photographs.”

Goodyear autographed a copy of that book for Pape during the visit, a gift that the Auburn student said he is thrilled to own. He has added that book to his collection of Gettysburg memorabilia, which includes a commemorative Lincoln Gettysburg Address coin.

According to Griffith Waller, communications director for the Civil War Trust, Pape’s essay was among 204 considered.

First place was awarded to Alec Webb, a fifth-grader at Potomac Elementary School in Maryland, and second place was awarded to Alia Jaffrey, a student at Kent Place School, a private girls school in Summit, N.J. Brandon Laliberte, a student at East Auburn Community School, was awarded honorable mention.

For information about the Civil War Trust, go to civilwar.org.

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Preserving 150 Years of History 1862-1863, Shifting Tides

By Aaron Pape

East Auburn Community School

A great man once said this : “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree I would spend 6 to sharpen my ax.”

~Abraham Lincoln

We need a reason to erase the scars and tears of the wives, when their husbands never returned to their families, or sons did not come home. And there we go, wiping it away, and how are we to do that? They fought for this country, “till blood soaked the ground.” We need to tell the story of this nation, and to tell sorrows of this nation. We need to remember the sacrifice. We need to preserve the history that is found on these historic battlefields.

Antietam, the bloodiest day of the war, both sides of the battle suffered gravely in battle. Muskets burst, cannon fire rained down upon troops of south and north. Antietam Creek was held by the north during the incoming rebellion. Postponing the invasion of the north, this battle was later thought to have “saved” the nation. General Longstreet proved to be a worthy opponent and fought fiercely over the small creek, and lost more than half of his invasion in the battle for this creek. General McClellan did not follow the fleeing rebellion and he was later fired.

We look at what the men did to take that creek. And every other battle of the Civil War, like Shiloh, Atlanta, and Bull Run. I think that they died for a reason. They died to have a country that is not divided by a line between free states and slave states, but free all the way through, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and everything in between. That is why preserving history is important to this nation. If we are to have a sharp ax, we must take time to sharpen it by learning the lessons of our past, each battle of the war sharpens the ax to turn the tide for the country we love today. We must sharpen our sense of history to be prepared.


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