The battle of Gettysburg, which took place from July 1 - 3, 1863, remains the most costly battles in US history of any war, with casualties for both armies estimated at 46,000 to 51,000 soldiers.
That fall, at the dedication of the National Cemetery of Gettysburg on November 19,1863, the featured speaker was famed orator Edward Everett. Everett, former governor of Massachusetts, congressman, president of Harvard, minister to the Court of St. James, secretary of state and senator, and Unitarian minister, spoke without notes for about two hours.
Benjamin French later wrote, “Mr. Everett was listened to with breathless silence by all that immense crowd, and he had his audience in tears many times during his masterly effort.”
Here's one passage from early in his speech:
As my eye ranges over the fields whose sods were so lately moistened by the blood of gallant and loyal men, I feel, as never before, how truly it was said of old, that it is sweet and becoming to die for ones country. I feel as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrificed their lives, that their fellow men may live in safety and in honor. And if this tribute were ever due, when, to whom, could it be more justly paid than to those whose last resting place we this day commend to the blessing of Heaven and of men?
For consider, my friends, what would have been the consequences to the country, to yourselves, and to all you hold dear, if those who sleep beneath our feet, and their gallant comrades who survive to serve their country on other fields of danger, had failed in their duty on those memorable days. Consider what, at this moment, would be the condition of the United States, if that noble Army of the Potomac, instead of gallantly and for the second time beating back the tide of invasion from Maryland and Pennsylvania, had been itself driven from these well contested heights, thrown back in confusion on Baltimore, or trampled down, discomfited, scattered to the four winds. What, in that sad event, would have been the fate of the Monumental city, of Harrisburg, of Philadelphia, of Washington, the capital of the Union, each and every one of which would have lain at the mercy of the enemy, accordingly as it might have pleased him, spurred by passion, flushed with victory, and confident of continued success, to direct his course?
Lincoln spoke next. It took him about two minutes to deliver his 272 words:
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—oand that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Everett, who had submitted his speech to Lincoln in advance, wrote him the next day: "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” (Additional information on Everett, including his role in raising money to save Mt. Vernon.)
The Gettysburg Address is regarded as one of the greatest presidential speeches in American history. The Library of Congress has assembled several documents and photographs into this online exhibit.
Events in or near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
- November 11, 2018: Join President Lincoln on the Hanover Junction Flyer—Ride along the same route that carried President Lincoln from Washington, DC to Gettysburg, PA, with a replica of a Civil War-era locomotive and passenger cars.
- November 19, 2018: Dedication ceremony at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
Museum and historic sites in or near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
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