Gettysburg Address


Gettysburg Battlefield

On November 2, 1863, several months after the battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3), David Wills invited President Lincoln to make a "few appropriate remarks" at the consecration of a cemetery for the Union war dead. In early July, Pennsylvania governor Andrew Curtin had charged Wills, a successful local citizen and judge, with cleaning up the horrible aftermath of the battle: wounded soldiers crammed into every available building, and thousands of swollen dead strewn among hundreds of bloated dead horses.

With the approval of the governor and the eighteen states whose sons were among the dead, Wills quickly acquired seventeen acres for the national cemetery and had the Germantown landscape architect, William Saunders, draw up a plan. Burial began not long after. On September 23, Wills invited the venerable Edward Everett, the nation's foremost rhetorician, to give an oration at the dedication ceremony planned for October 23. Everett accepted, but, needing more time to prepare, persuaded Wills to postpone the ceremony to November 19.

Although Wills wrote his invitation to Lincoln only three weeks prior to the dedication -- prompting speculation among historians about his and Governor Curtin's motivations -- there is evidence that Lincoln was fully apprised of the affair in early October. Further, Wills's invitation included a warm welcome to the president to stay at his house, along with Everett and Curtin.

Nov. 19, 1863

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 battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who died here that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. 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 hallowed 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 rather for us the living, we here be 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 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."


© Hank Edmondson 2012