United States · US Civil War

November 19, 1863 – Lincoln Delivers the Gettysburg Address

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“Gettysburg Cyclorama” by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux
Photo by Deb Wallevand
Image Source: Old Hat Creative

Seven Score and 12 years ago today, a Soldiers’ National Cemetery was dedicated.

On July 1, 1863, elements of General Lee’s Confederate army ran into elements of General Meade’s Union army to the North and West of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

General Lee was in Pennsylvania to get supplies and to bring the war out of Virginia.

The ensuing three-day battle was one of the deadliest battles waged on American soil. “The battle brought devastation to the residents of Gettysburg. Every farm field or garden was a graveyard. Churches, public buildings and even private homes were hospitals, filled with wounded soldiers” – NPS.gov

By the end of July 3rd ,there were 51,000 casualties, these numbers include 3,155 Union and 4,708 Confederate killed-in-action. In addition to the dead, 14,529 Union and 18,735 Confederate soldiers were wounded.

The dead were buried anywhere and everywhere that they could.

Concerned with the conditions of the graves and the fact that they were everywhere, Gettysburg residents appealed to their governor for help.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin appointed Gettysburg lawyer David Willis as the state agent in charge of coordinating a new Soldiers’ National Cemetery for the over 7,000 American soldiers buried around Gettysburg.

On November 19, 1863, this National Cemetery was dedicated. The highlight of the dedicatory ceremony was the well-known Orator Edward Everett. Mr. Everett spoke for about 2 hours. There were solemn prayers, hymns, and funeral dirges played during the ceremony.

President Abraham Lincoln was asked to give a few remarks; he gave what has become  one of the most notable and oft quoted speeches of the service in just 2 short minutes.

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President Lincoln giving the Gettysburg address
Image Source: Americanrhetoric.com

It is interesting to note that the speech, that Lincoln wrote the night before, almost exactly mirrors the speech of Mr. Everett. There was only one major exception–that the President’s speech was 1 hour and 58 minutes shorter. Edward Everett’s speech

Mr Everett wrote in a note to the President.  “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” – abrahamlincolnonline.org.

Many people have often talked about the time differences in the speech. President Lincoln was asked to say a few words. His normal speeches were 2-3 hours in length.

There are five written copies of the speech, each named for the person that received them.

This is a transcript of the Bliss copy of the speech; it is the last known copy written by the President, and the only one signed and dated.

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 battle-field 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.

Abraham Lincoln

November 19, 1863

The Bliss Copy is the most often reproduced. It is transcribed onto the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washignton, DC. This particular copy can be found on display in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House.

I find it fascinating that President Lincoln said “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” — The world has not forgotten, Mr. President.

The Gettysburg Address has three paragraphs of increasing length, that refer to three distinct time periods and those involved.

  • The First Paragraph – the past
    • “Four-score and seven years ago our Fathers”
    • 87 years ago – founders of our nation
    • 30 words
  • The Second Paragraph – the present
    • “Now we are engaged in a great civil war”
      • Today – a national we
    • “We are met on a great battle-field of that war.”
      • this very moment – people at the dedication
    • “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field”
      • this very moment – people at the dedication
    • 73 words
  • The Third Paragraph – the future – created by those the died, entrusted to future generations
    • “we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground.”
      • It was done so by the blood of those that fell there
      • We cannot through words do better
    • “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work”
    • “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us”
    • “that we here highly resolve”
      • to win this war
    • “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom”
      • That this nation will be reunited and that people everywhere will benefit
    • 169 words

Side Note:

Many consider the Gettysburg Address to be the greatest of President Lincoln’s speeches. They will also reference the Second Inaugural address or the House Divided Speech.

We have no record of what is perhaps the greatest speech ever given by Abraham Lincoln.

On May 29, 1856, at the Illinois State Republican Convention, Lincoln spoke so eloquent and powerfully that the reporters present –there were 40– forgot to take notes.

There are a couple that started but never finished and there is no official transcript. There are some partial accounts that can be found here.

Sources:

Additional Reading:

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