Sunday, November 19, 2023

November 19th, 1863 -- Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. His speech that day is considered one of the most memorable speeches in American history. His speech, though just 272- words, served as a reminder to a war-weary American public as to why the Union had to be restored, why they were fighting, and why they had to win the "War Between the States," as the Civil War was also known.

The year 1863 did not start well for the Union. Confederate successes on the battlefield were mounting. At a great cost to both the Union and the Confederacy, the Battle of Gettysburg proved to be the turning point of the war -- especially since it was the beginning of the end of the Confederacy. And frankly, the defeat of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee proved that Lee was beatable. That fact was one that boosted morale in the North. 

More than 51,000 men were killed, injured, captured, or simply went missing at Gettysburg. The Union lost 23,049 men at Gettysburg and the Confederates lost 28,063 men. That was the sort of death toll that took place in merely 3 days of fighting. Yes, in 3 days. And yes, in case you've wondered, that's why it is considered the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.

After the battle, the Gettysburg town and the surrounding area was a horrible place to see. Among the bodies of dead soldiers and trampled fields were dead horses, and ruins of buildings. It's said the air there reeked with the ghastly odor of rotting flesh.

Although both the Union and Confederate Armies buried many of their dead before marching away, many of the dead bodies killed during the battle simply remained where they were killed -- above ground open to the elements and scavengers. Let's remember that Union and Confederate forces fought that battle between July 1 and July 3, 1863, in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On July 4th, as the Confederate Army retreated, heavy rains washed open many of the shallow graves there.

The town's public buildings and homes and barns of the local farms, many of which were turned into make-shift hospitals during the battle, were occupied by over 20,000 wounded and dying soldiers after the battle. Medical authorities attempted to get the wounded to general hospitals in nearby towns and cities, but it took so long that the last of the wounded did not leave Gettysburg until four days after President Lincoln's visit over four months after the battle.

Many Union dead were embalmed and sent to their homes, and survivors of a few purchased lots for them in Evergreen Cemetery. Confederate dead were buried as individuals or in mass graves near the places of their deaths. After the war, the bodies of some of the known Confederate dead were exhumed and taken to home cemeteries.

Northern states with units in the battle sent representatives to Gettysburg to look after their dead and wounded soldiers. Of them, Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania visited Gettysburg right after the battle and saw its problems firsthand. He named Gettysburg attorney David Wills to represent Pennsylvania's interest in addressing the needs of the dead and wounded soldiers from Pennsylvania units. 

David Wills, together with other Union state representatives, decided that a cemetery should be established for the Union dead. With Gov. Curtin's permission, Wills purchased 17 acres on the northwest slope of Cemetery Hill for a cemetery. He hired the noted landscape architect William Saunders to create a cemetery plan. 

As for the dedication, David Wills invited the Honorable Edward Everett to deliver the main address at the cemetery's dedication on November 19, 1863. Edward Everett had been president of Harvard, Governor of Massachusetts, a former Senator, and a former Secretary of State. He was considered one of the leading orators of his time.

Just two weeks before the cemetery's dedication, David Willis sent a letter to President Lincoln requesting that he attend the dedication and say "a few appropriate remarks" to consecrate the grounds.
President Abraham Lincoln took this to heart and worked on a speech. It is said that he finished his speech as he traveled by train from Washington to Pennsylvania to dedicate the most famous battle in American history. 

The dedication ceremonies began at Noon on November 19, 1863. The program included music by the Marine band, prayers, and hymns. Edward Everett gave an address that reviewed the course of the battle. His speech lasted nearly two hours. 

Lincoln delivered the address during the dedication ceremony of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in no time at all. It's true. The president's remarks only required a few minutes, but they have become immortal. His speech was concise, lasting only about two minutes. And to show you how short of a speech it was, a photographer there didn't even have time to capture the moment. He only photographed the president as he stepped away from the podium. 

Lincoln began the address by acknowledging the significance of the location, stating that the nation was "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." 

He emphasized the enduring nature of the American experiment and the importance of preserving the Union. And, despite the profound challenges posed by the Civil War, he went on to frame the conflict not merely as a struggle to preserve the Union but as a test of the ideals upon which the nation was founded. 

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is revered for its profound message because it speaks directly to what symbolizes the essence of our identity as a people. In that, it speaks to the ideals that unite Americans, our nation's commitment to liberty and the pursuit of a more perfect union, and the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality for all Americans. Not equality for one group at the expense of another, but equality for all Americans.

President Lincoln delivered the 272-word Gettysburg Address on November 19th, 1863 on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:

"Fourscore 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 here 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."

The Soldiers' National Cemetery was incorporated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in March 1864 but was turned over to the United States government as a National Cemetery on May 1, 1872.

The Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, is one of the most iconic speeches in American history. The reason that its impact has reverberated throughout the annals of our history has to do with President Lincoln's vision of America. 

He correctly saw America as a republic that draws its strength from its commitment to equality and democracy. His speech reminds us that our vigilance and steadfast desire to safeguard our precious liberty is what is needed to ensure that our republic is a "government of the people, by the people, for the people." In that, we the people ensure a "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Tom Correa

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