President Abraham Lincoln Witness Tree Rings
Following the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1–3, 1863 congress approved the creation of a National Military Cemetery at Gettysburg. Originally named Soldiers National Cemetery, a committee of Union governors approved a radial plan grouping the Union dead by states and focused on a central monument. The graves were marked with simple, unadorned, rectangular slabs of gray granite inscribed with the name, rank, company, and regiment of each soldier. A dedication of the cemetery was set for November 19, 1863, though on the day of the ceremony, interment was less than half complete.
Prominent Gettysburg citizen David Wills invited President Abraham Lincoln to the dedication to deliver ‘a few appropriate remarks’. Lincoln accepted and arrived by train on November 18. He was warmly greeted by the local citizenry. Lincoln stayed with the Wills that evening where it is believed he put the finishing touches on his speech for the following day’s dedication.
Lincoln’s short, but powerful speech became an iconic moment in the history of the United States. In 272 words, and three minutes, Lincoln asserted that the nation was born not in 1789, but in 1776, "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". He defined the war as dedicated to the principles of liberty and equality for all. He declared that the deaths of so many brave soldiers would not be in vain, that slavery would end, and the future of democracy would be assured, that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth".
It is not widely known that the President was not well on November 19. He mentioned to his aids that he felt weak and dizzy. During the speech it was noted that Lincoln’s color appeared ghastly and that he looked sad and mournful, even haggard. After the speech, when Lincoln boarded the 6:30pm train to return to Washington, D.C., he was feverish and weak with a severe headache. A protracted illness followed, which was diagnosed as a mild case of smallpox.
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