Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

“The world will little note,
nor long remember
what we say here,
but it can never forget
what they did here.”

 – Abraham Lincoln


July 1, 1863: One Hundred Seventy-Two Thousand men, young and old, from all ethnic backgrounds, marched through mountainous terrain and heavily wooded thicket to an open field in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Were they aware that they were walking into the pages of history? It probably never entered their collective thoughts. Single-minded, they each held faithful to the colors of their home. Brother took up arms against brother as Confederate and Union allegiances collided in the most eventful three days of American History.

The small Pennsylvania town a few miles north of the Maryland boarder did not welcome the massive invasion of troops to their doorstep. But over the next three days, the 2,400 who called this beautiful countryside home were caught inescapably in the crosshairs; as armies from the North and South turned a serene meadow into a raging battlefield and stained it forever with their own blood.

Nearly eight thousand men lost their lives, more than three times the population of Gettysburg itself. Countless others were injured, some maimed for the rest of their lives.  More than five thousand horses also lay spread across a now silent battlefield as it baked in afternoon heat of July sun.

Over a three day period, the Civil War between the States had taken on the ominous status of Great. And, a small town was left with the oppressive burden of a seemingly impossible mass burial.

A young, local attorney named David Willis, stepped to the forefront and petitioned Pennsylvania Governor, Andrew Gregg Curtin, to turn the battlefield into a National Cemetery. Governor Curtin agreed and Willis was allowed to purchase seventeen acres of land for $2,475.87.

Land purchased,
the internment could begin.

Willis next set upon plans to hold a ceremony to dedicate the field as a National Monument to those who fought so bravely for the cause which they held so dear. He invited renowned orator and personal friend, Edward Everett to deliver the dedication address. The former Governor of Massachusetts accepted with honor, but requested that the dedication ceremony be moved from mid-October into late November so that he might have the time needed to prepare an address suited to such a momentous occasion. His request was granted and the dedication date was rescheduled for November 19, 1863.

There was no thought that the President would leave Washington during wartime, but once Lincoln was informed of the dedication event; he felt obligated to attend. Upon hearing of the President’s plans, Willis extended an invitation to Lincoln, asking if he would kindly prepare “a few appropriate remarks” to follow Everett’s speech and close the ceremony. Lincoln agreed.

November 19, 1863: Edward Everett surpassed all expectation, delivering a two-hour oratory from memory, without note, that swayed the crowd with emotion and swelled them with pride for country. Those in attendance hung on every syllable and united in thunderous ovation as Everett closed. Everett’s speech was recorded word for word in nearly every national paper and heralded as “The Gettysburg Oration.”

As Lincoln was introduce, he stood slowly to his feet and turned to Secretary of State, William H. Seward, saying quietly, “They won’t like it.”

He slipped his steel-rimmed spectacles across the bridge of his nose and grasped two small slips of paper in his right hand. Clutching the lapel of his jacket with his left, in two short minutes Abraham Lincoln walked our nation into history:

“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 cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot 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.”

Originally written & posted: November 2010

Listen to “Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address” on Spreaker.

Side Note: 

November 19, 2010, I was privileged to address the state-wide assembly of the Florida Board of County Commissioners during their Florida Association of Counties Legislative Conference. It seemed appropriate, given the date and the audience, to share the back-story of Lincoln’s address as a part of the presentation.

Yahoo Front Page Nov. 19, 2010

Yahoo Front Page Nov. 19, 2010

What an honor and what a gracious group
of leaders from all across our state!
Thank you to our local commissioners
who sent a very complimentary letter the
week following the conference.

Sadly, November 19th came and passed without a single highlight of the events of Gettysburg by national or local papers. It was not head-lined on the front pages of Yahoo
or Google. It was not among the top searches.

It is one of the most important dates of American History, and seemingly it has been lost. To me, that is very unfortunate. Lincoln’s words still move me. I hope that somehow, in some small way, they still have meaning for you as well.