NOVEMBER 19 = 150 Years Ago, Lincoln at Gettysburg

“I was close to the President and heard all of the Address, but it seemed short. Then there was an impressive silence like our Menallen Friends Meeting*. There was no applause when he stopped speaking.”

– Sarah A. Cooke Myers

This is how Mrs. Sarah Cooke Myers recalled the reaction which greeted Abraham Lincoln after he finished his Address at Gettysburg which he delivered on today’s date, November 19 — 150 years ago — in 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg was the largest military engagement ever fought in North America. For three days – July 1and 3 in the summer of 1863 the once peaceful farmlands of Pennsylvania were soaked with blood as the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of Robert E. Lee clashed head-on with the Army of the Potomac under the command of George G. Meade. The result was victory for the Union as Lee’s second invasion of the North was driven back. While the Confederate Armies would never again penetrate so far into the north, Lincoln was furious that Meade had not followed up the victory by attacking Lee’s army as it retreated back into the south. But by November of that year all of this was in the past. Lincoln now was warily eyeing his prospects for re-election the following year. And the citizens of Gettysburg had cleaned up the scene of death and destruction that had been the battlefield. A new national cemetery marked the final resting place of those killed in the battle.

Lincoln Was Invited for a “Few Appropriate Remarks”

 

By November, the cemetery had been completed, and was ready to be dedicated. The Governor of Pennsylvania had charged an attorney, David Wills with the task of arranging the cemetery for the more than 7,500 men who fell during those three days, and for a 

solemn ceremony to mark that dedication. Many dignitaries were to be present, including six governors, as well as Army officers, members of the President’s cabinet, and a large number of local residents. Wills had arranged for the celebrated statesman and orator Edward Everett to deliver the main address – something that would be suitably exalted and solemn as befitted the occasion. The President was invited almost as if by afterthought, to deliver a few appropriate remarks. Well Everett’s oration was indeed grand and flowing – lasting more than two hours. Lincoln listened to Everett’s words quite intently. Others standing on the outskirts of the crowd drifted away. Secretary of State Seward who was bothered by the bright sun sat with his arms folded, and his hat drawn over his eyes. Then Lincoln rose to speak.

“Although a heavy fog clouded the heavens in the morning during the procession, the sun broke out in all it’s brilliancy during the Reverend Mr. Stockton’s prayer and shone upon the magnificent spectacle. The assemblage was of great magnitude, and was gathered around 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.”

Lincoln Delivers a Short, Quick Masterpiece 

As reported above in the New York Times the next morning, it was a sunny scene with a large crowd who no doubt strained to hear Lincoln speak, if it had not already been put to sleep by Everett’s long winded remarks. There were in fact photographers present for the occasion, but it took some time for them to get set up for their pictures to be shot. After

Everett’s address, one photographer, David Bachrach likely guessed that the President would go on for a similar amount of time, and thus was not ready to take a full picture of the president in the astonishingly short three minutes that it took for Lincoln to speak. By the time he actually got his shot in, the president had already left the podium and was taking his seat. Thus we have only the rather blurry image above. Reports differ as to the reaction which the president received. The Times reported that the address was interrupted several times by applause and that he finished to “Long continued applause”. Whereas we have the report of Mrs. Cooke above saying that there was little or no applause at all. The pro-Republican Springfield Times said that the address was ” a perfect gem”. The Democratic favoring Chicago Sun Times said: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.” Whereas Edward Everett (Pictured above) himself made his reaction clear in a letter to Lincoln which he wrote the next day: “Mr. President, I would flatter myself if I came as close to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you came in two minutes.” The full text of Lincolns extraordinary address {Click on image below to enlarge}:

 

“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.”

* = Menallen Friends = A religious brotherhood of Pennsylvania Quakers.

 

READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any “Today in History” posting, I would love to hear from you!!  You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at:  krustybassist@gmail.com  I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I’m writing (or not!)!!

 

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Address

THE NEW YORK TIMES….. Book of the Civil War….Ed. by Arleen Keylin Douglas John Bowen, Arno Press, New York 1980, pp. 194 – 195.

“The Gettysburg Soldiers Cemetery and Lincoln’s Address” by Frank J. Klement, White Mane Publ. Inc. pp. 104 -105.

Images: 

Broad image = http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/speechgfx/gettys.jpg

Close-up image = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Address 

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