The Gettysburg Address

by H. B. Auld, Jr.

I missed an important anniversary this past Saturday on November 19, 2022.  That was the 159th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, presented by President Abraham Lincoln.

The famous address by the 16th President of the United States was given to consecrate the newly designated National Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA.  One of the most famous battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, was fought just four months earlier: July 1 – 3, 1863.  This three-day battle left almost 8,000 men from both sides dead and laying in the fields at the little town of just 2,500 people.  Faced with quickly disposing of the dead, a designation of a national cemetery outside the little town was quickly put together and dignitaries were invited to speak at its dedication.  The main speaker was to be a great orator of the time, Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours that day.  President Lincoln, whose invitation was almost an afterthought since it was believed he would not attend, spoke for just two minutes, giving a 272-word speech that has lasted the ages and is considered one of the most famous speeches ever given by anyone.

In addition to the more than 3,500 Union soldiers buried there, the cemetery contains the remains of American soldiers and dependents from the Civil War to the Vietnam Conflict.

According to the website, “There are five known copies of the speech in Lincoln’s handwriting, each with a slightly different text, and named for the people who first received them:  Nicolay, Hay, Everett, Bancroft, and Bliss.  Two copies apparently were written before delivering the speech, one of which probably was the “reading copy.”  The remaining ones were produced months later for soldier benefit events.  Despite widely circulated stories to the contrary, the President did not dash off a copy aboard a train to Gettysburg.  Lincoln carefully prepared all his major speeches in advance; his steady, even script in every manuscript is consistent with a firm writing surface, not the notoriously bumpy Civil War-era trains.  Additional versions of the speech appeared in newspapers of the era, feeding modern-day confusion about the authoritative text.

Bliss Copy

“Ever since Lincoln wrote it in 1863, this version has been the most often reproduced, notably on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. It is named after Colonel Alexander Bliss, stepson of historian George Bancroft. Bancroft asked President Lincoln for a copy to use as a fundraiser for soldiers. However, because Lincoln wrote on both sides of the paper, the speech could not be reprinted, so Lincoln made another copy at Bliss’s request. It is the last known copy written by Lincoln and the only one signed and dated by him. Today it is on display in the Lincoln Room of the White House.”

The Bliss Copy of the Gettysburg Address:

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.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

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