On Nov. 19, 1863, one of U.S. history’s most impactful speeches took place in our small town.
On that day, President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address during the dedication of Soldiers National Cemetery.
Attorney David Wills—whose home was in the center of the action—was involved in the creation of this national cemetery and invited Lincoln to speak at its dedication. Here is an excerpt of the letter Wills wrote to the president asking him to attend:
“It is the desire that, after the Oration, you, as Chief Executive of the Nation, formally set apart these grounds to their Sacred use by a few appropriate remarks. It will be a source of great gratification to the many widows and orphans that have been made almost friendless by the Great Battle here, to have you here personally; and it will kindle anew in the breasts of the Comrades of these brave dead, who are now in the tented field or nobly meeting the foe in the front, a confidence that they who sleep in death on the Battle Field are not forgotten by those highest in Authority; and they will feel that, should their fate be the same, their remains will not be uncared for.”
Lincoln stayed at Wills’ home and put the finishing touches on his speech the evening before the dedication, and today it’s a museum run by the National Park Service.
As many as 20,000 were estimated to have attended the dedication and heard Lincoln deliver his brief but impactful speech honoring the soldiers who lost their lives and advocating for the continuing the fight for liberty and justice:
“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.”
Today, we continue to honor and remember the fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice through several Remembrance and Dedication Day events taking place this year the weekend of November 18.
These events include the 67th annual Remembrance Day Parade Event in Gettysburg, the 21st annual Remembrance Day Illumination in Gettysburg National Cemetery, and the 160th Dedication Day Ceremony.
These touching tributes are a solemn reminder of what took place in our small town those three days in 1863.
Own a piece of Gettysburg’s history with a ring or plaque made from a Gettysburg Witness Tree which was standing just feet from Lincoln. Learn more here.