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Library of Congress
President Lincoln, center, is pictured at the dedication of the Civil War cemetery in Gettysburg,
Pa., Nov. 19, 1863. It is the only known photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg.

On This Day: President Lincoln Delivers Gettysburg Address

November 19, 2007 06:30 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Nov. 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history, the Gettysburg Address.
In early July 1863, the Union Army defeated the Confederate Army on the battlefield of Gettysburg, Pa., in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.

The townspeople of Gettysburg took in wounded soldiers, cleaned the battlefield, and set out to create a large cemetery for the deceased soldiers. Local lawyer David Wills organized the cemetery’s opening ceremony and invited President Lincoln to give a “few appropriate remarks.” (Library of Congress)

A large crowd gathered at Gettysburg's Cemetery Hill on Nov. 19 to see the ceremony. Famed orator Edward Everett delivered the keynote address, speaking for two hours before Lincoln’s speech. (Gettysburg Foundation)

In his speech, which lasted just a few minutes, Lincoln reflected on the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality central to the founding of the country and spoke of the Union’s duty to the deceased:

“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.”

The Gettysburg Address redefined the meaning of the Civil War, “transforming it from a war for Union to a war for Union and freedom,” according to the National Archives’ Our Documents Web site. It is considered one of the greatest speeches in U.S. history. (Our Documents)

Background: The Battle of Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg is considered a turning point of the American Civil War. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of Gen. Robert E. Lee, had won several important battles in Virginia in 1862 and 1863. Lee decided to push his army into Northern territory, which would put pressure on Lincoln to end the war. (Gettysburg National Military Park)

On July 1, 1863, Lee’s army met the Union’s Army of the Potomac, under the command of Maj. Gen. George Meade, in Gettysburg, Pa. After two days of intense fighting, Lee called for a charge of over 12,000 men into the heart of the Union army. “Pickett’s Charge,” named after Maj. Gen. George Pickett, ended in disaster and proved to be the decisive factor in the North’s victory. (Gettysburg National Military Park)

According to the U.S. Army, 28,063 Confederates and 23,049 Union soldiers died in the three-day battle, the deadliest of the Civil War. The ravaged Confederate army retreated south the following day and would never again make significant advances into the North.
(U.S. Army)

Reference: The Gettysburg Address

There are five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address written by Lincoln. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, which has the Bliss Copy on display, gives the background of all fives copies.

The Gettysburg Foundation provides the transcripts of all five copies, which have slight differences.

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