LOOKING BACK AT LINCOLN’S GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

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I watched a video of a man on a college campus asking college students who won the Civil War. None of the students could answer the question. Maybe I am more aware of our history since my great-great-grandfather fought to preserve the union and was a POW at Andersonville Prison almost the entire 14 months it was in operation. Joseph P. McVay lived in Arkansas before Baxter County, where I was born, existed. I hope you will share this story with your children and grand children.

President Lincoln named General George Meade Commander of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863. Within a week, Union forces under General Meade defeated Confederate General Lee’s forces at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The following day Lee’s troops left Gettysburg without being pursued by the Union army, much to Lincoln’s consternation, who believed that further military engagement might have ended the war then and there. Lincoln had great grief over Meade’s lost opportunity and wrote a letter of reproach to General Meade but did not send it. Lincoln then wrote to General Howard, describing how he was “deeply mortified” about Lee’s escape after the battle.

The governor of Pennsylvania quickly assigned local attorney David Wills to create a national soldiers’ cemetery on the battlefield. Edward Everett, a nationally known orator, was invited as the main speaker at the Gettysburg cemetery dedication, scheduled for October 23. After he requested more time to prepare, the event was moved to November 19. On November 2nd, David Wills, invited President Lincoln to give a “few appropriate remarks.” Knowing that the town would be crowded, Wills offered Lincoln overnight accommodations in his home.

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On November 18th Lincoln and invited guests traveled to Gettysburg by rail, arriving about dusk. Lincoln stayed in the Wills home, where he completed his short Address. Huge crowds converged on the village, filling every available space.

The battle had shattered the once-peaceful town of Gettysburg, a battle so intense that it produced more than 51,000 casualties. This landmark Civil War struggle left an indelible mark on the region and the president who came to memorialize it. In the days that followed local residents were thrust into unfamiliar roles of tending the wounded, burying the dead, and repairing the war-torn countryside.

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This was the occasion which produced Lincoln’s most famous speech. Although Lincoln routinely held the attention of his audiences for up to two hours as a candidate for President, the Gettysburg Address can easily be read in under two minutes. With the applause from the crowd, it would have taken Lincoln a little longer than two minutes.

The following is The New York Times account published on November 20, 1863:

“THE HEROES OF JULY.;
A Solemn and Imposing Event.
Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburgh.
IMMENSE NUMBERS OF VISITORS.
Oration by Hon. Edward Everett–Speeches of President Lincoln, Mr. Seward and Governor Seymour.

THE PROGRAMME SUCCESSFULLY CARRIED OUT.

The ceremonies attending the dedication of the National Cemetery commenced this morning by a grand military and civic display, under command of Maj.-Gen. COUCH. The line of march was taken up at 10 o’clock, and the procession marched through the principal streets to the Cemetery, where the military formed in line and saluted the President. At 11 the head of the procession arrived at the main stand. The President and members of the Cabinet, together with the chief military and civic dignitaries, took position on the stand. The President seated himself between Mr. SEWARD and Mr. EVERETT after a reception marked with the respect and perfect silence due to the solemnity of the occasion, every man in the immense gathering uncovering on his appearance.

The military were formed in line extending around the stand, the area between the stand and military being occupied by civilians, comprising about 15,000 people and including men, women and children. The attendance of ladies was quite large. The military escort comprised one squadron of cavalry, two batteries of artillery and a regiment of infantry, which constitutes the regular funeral escort of honor for the highest officer in the service.

After the performance of a funeral dirge, by BIRGFIELD, by the band, an eloquent prayer was delivered by Rev. Mr. STOCKTON, as follows:

O God, our Father, for the sake of the Son, our Saviour, inspire us with thy spirit, and sanctity us to the right fulfillment of the duties of this occasion. We come to dedicate this new historic centre as a National Cemetery. If all the Departments of the one Government thou hast ordained over our Union, and of the many Governments which Thou has subordinated to the Union be there represented; if all classes, relations and interests of our blended brotherhood of people stand severally and thoroughly apparent in Thy presence, we trust it is because Thou hast called us, that Thy blessing awaits us, and that Thy designs may be embodied in practical results of incalculable, imperishable good. And so with thy holy Apostle and with the Church in all lands and ages, we unite in the ascription: Blessed be God, even the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Moses, and the God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. In emulation of all angels, in fellowship with all saints, and in sympathy with all sufferers, in a remembrance of Thy works, in reverence of Thy ways, and in accordance with Thy word, we love and magnify Thy infinite perfections, Thy creative glory. Thy redeeming grace, Thy providential goodness, and the progressive, richer and fairer development of thy supreme, universal and everlasting administration. In behalf of all humanity, whose ideal is divine, whose first memory is thy image lost, whose last hope is thy image restored; especially in behalf of our own nation, whose position is so peerless, whose mission is so sublime, and whose future is so attractive; we thank Thee for the unspeakable patience of thy compassion and for the exceeding greatness of thy loving kindness. In contemplation of Eden, Calvary and Heaven, of Christ in the God on the cross, and on the throne — nay, more — of Christ as coming again in all-subduing power and glory; we gratefully prolong our homage by this altar of sacrifice, on this field of deliverance, on this mount of salvation, within the fiery and bloody line of these mountains and rocks, looking back to the dark days of fear and of trembling, and the rapture of relief that came after, we multiply our thanksgivings and confess our obligations to renew and perfect our personal and social consecration to thy service and glory. O, had it not been for God! for our enemies, they came unresisted, multitudinous, mighty, flushed with victory and sure of success; they exalted on our mountains; they reveled in our valleys they feasted, they rested, they slept, they awakened, they grew stronger, prouder and bolder every day; they spread abroad, they concentrated here; they looked beyond this horizon to the stores of wealth, to the haunts of pleasure and the seats of power in our Capital and chief cities; they prepared to cast the chain of Slavery around the form of freedom, and to bind life and death together forever. Their premature triumph was the mockery of God and man. One more victory, and all was theirs. But behind these hills was heard the feebler march of a smaller but still a pursuing host; onward they hurried, day and night, for their country and their God; footsore, wayworn, hungry, thirsty, faint, but not in heart; they came to dare all, to bear all, and to do all that is possible to heroes. At first they met the blast on the plain, and bent bebefore it like trees; but then led by Thy hand to the hills, they took their stand on the these rocks, and remained as firm and immovable as they. In vain were they assaulted; all art, all violence, all desperation failed to dislodge them. Baffled, bruised, broken, their enemies retired and disappeared. Glory to God for this rescue! But, Oh! the slain, in the freshness and fullness of their young and manly life! with such sweet memories of father and mother, brother and sister, wife and children, maiden and friend. From the coasts beneath the Eastern star; from the shores of Northerm lakes and rivers; from the flowers of the Western prairies; from the homes of the midway and the border, they came here to die for us and for mankind! Alas How little we can do for them! We come with the humility of prayer, with the pathetic eloquence of venerable wisdom, with the tender beauty of poetry, with the plaintive harmony of music, with the honest tribute of our Chief Magistrate, and with all this honorable attendances; but our best hope is in Thy blessings. O Lord, Our God, bless us. O, Our Father, bless the bereaved, whether absent or present Bless our sick and wounded soldiers and sailors. Bless all our rulers and people. Bless our army and navy. Bless the efforts to suppress this rebellion, and bless all the associations of this day, and place, and scene, forever. As the trees are not dead, though their foliage is gone, so our heroes are not dead though their forms have fallen. In their proper personality they are all with thee, and the spirit of their example is here. It fills the air, it fills our hearts, and as long as time shall last it will hover in these skies and rest on these landscapes, and pilgrims of our own land, and of all lands, will thrill with its inspiration, and increase and confirm their devotion to liberty, religion and God.

Mr. EVERETT then commenced the delivery of his oration, which was listened to with marked attention throughout.

Although a heavy fog clouded the heavens in the morning during the procession, the sun broke out in all its brilliancy during the Rev. Mr. STOCKTON’s prayer and shone upon the magnificent spectacle. The assemblage was of great magnitude, and was gathered within a circle of great extent around the stand, which was located on the highest point of ground on which the battle was fought. A long line of military surrounded the position taken by the immense multitude of people.

The Marshal took up a position on the left of the stand. Numerous flags and banners, suitably draped, were exhibited on the stand among the audience. The entire scene was one of grandeur due to the importance of the occasion. So quiet were the people that every word uttered by the orator of the day must have been heard by them all, notwithstanding the immensity of the concours.

Among the distinguished persons on the platform were the following: Governors Bradford, of Maryland; Curtin, of Pennsylvania; Morton, of Indiana; Seymour of New-York; Parker, of New-Jersey and Tod, of Ohio; Ex-Gov. Dennison, of Ohio: John Brough, Governor Elect, of Ohio; Charles Anderson, Lieutenant-Governor of Ohio; Major-Generals Schenck, Stahel, Doubleday, and Couch; Brigadier General Gibbon; and Provost-Marshal-General Fry.

PRESIDENT LINCOLN’s ADDRESS.

The President then delivered the following dedicatory speech:

Fourscore and seven years ago our Fathers brought forth upon this Continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. [Applause.] 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 are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting-place of 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 power to add or detract. [Applause.] The world will little note nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. [Applause.] It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the refinished work that they have thus so far nobly carried on. [Applause.] 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 the dead shall not have died in vain; [applause] that the Nation shall under God have a new birth of freedom, and that Governments of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth, [Long continued applause.]

Three cheers were then given for the President and the Governors of the States.

After the delivery of the addresses, the dirge and the benediction closed the exercises, and the immense assemblage separated at about 4 o’clock……………

The President and party returned to Washington at 6 o’clock this evening, followed by the Governors’ trains. Thousands of persons were gathered at the depot, anxiously awaiting transportation to their homes; but they will probably be confined to the meagre accommodations of Gettysburgh till tomorrow.”

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The following day Edward Everett wrote a letter to Lincoln complementing him on his address. Lincoln responded with a short note.

Media response to the dedication was mixed:

“The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the
annals of the war.” ~Chicago Tribune

“The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he
reads the silly flat and dishwattery remarks of the man who
has to be pointed out as the President of the United States. … Is
Mr. Lincoln less refined than a savage? … It was a perversion of
history so flagrant that the most extended charity cannot view it
as otherwise than willful.” ~Chicago Times

“The ceremony was rendered ludicrous by some of the sallies of
that poor President Lincoln. Anything more dull and
commonplace it would not be easy to produce.” ~the London Times

“We know not where to look for a more admirable speech than
the brief one which the President made…. It if often said that
the hardest thing in the world is to make a five minute speech.
But could the most elaborate and splendid oration be more
beautiful, more touching, more inspiring than those few words of
the President?” ~Providence Daily Journal

“… we pass over the silly remarks of the President: for the credit of the nation we are
willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of.” ~Harrisburg Patriot and Union

Eyewitnesses also had comments:

“Not a sovereign in Europe, however trained from the cradle for state pomps, and however prompted by statesmen and courtiers, could have uttered himself more regally than did Lincoln at Gettysburg.”

“I was thrilled each time and at Gettysburg possibly more by his presence than by anything he said.”

“He stood in the gravity of his mien and manner as a seer with a message, as a prophet with a vision.”

“The deep feeling of the speaker, combined with masterful self control and firmly set purpose, made a profound impression.”

“On coming away I said to a classmate, ‘Well, Mr. Lincoln’s speech was simple, appropriate, and right to the point, but I don’t think there was anything remarkable about it.’ ”

“I at once asked my fellow student, who was from the South, what he thought of it? ‘Mighty good, for Old Abe,’ he replied.”

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If you made it this far, thank you for learning this important history and may God bless you.

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One Response to “LOOKING BACK AT LINCOLN’S GETTYSBURG ADDRESS”

  1. Amanda Hayes Williams Says:

    Thank you so much for posting! General McVay, I thank you for your service to our country. I thank you for standing firm in your beliefs. You are an inspiration, and a true Anerican hero.
    This is real American history. Our history is at the heart of every American patriot. I vow that my son will know that there are men and women who sacrificed so much, and ones who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend his freedom. These are the heroes of American history. I was inspired by these heroes at an early age, and I will share that inspiration with him. My son will be proud of American heritage. Not completely uncritical, but with a pride that rages in his soul. A majority of high school students cannot tell you the significance of 1776, they do not know who Thomas Paine or Alexander Hamilton are. They aren’t taught the core beliefs and values of Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers, of the fundamental principles upon which our free society is based. They must learn the true intent of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and “Seperation of Church and State”. That this great country was founded so that we were able to say God Bless America, without fear of repercussions. No one has allowed them to learn of the legacy of men like Ronald Reagan or JFK. I want my son to feel the desire to ask the same thing brought forth by President Kennedy. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Our youth, my son, deserve the truth about our history, our legacy, and why the American Way has always been the best way. In the words of the great Ronald Reagan, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Mine will not be the generation who stood idely and allowed our children to become cowards through ignorance. “If not us, who? If not now, when?” ~JFK
    I will show my son that I apologize to NO ONE that I am a proud American. He will see that it’s not black or white, republican or democrat. It is about every American citizen saying we will not tolerate this for a second longer. I refuse to remain silent. We must accept our own responsibility for the future. Make no mistake, a long overdue political revolution is upon us. Just as we learned this of our fore fathers, the next generation will learn our love of country, and why we did what we felt had to be done.

    “We’re blessed with the opportunity to stand for something, for liberty and freedom and fairness, and these are the things worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to.”
    ~Ronald Reagan

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