In June of 1863, the United States was involved in a civil war.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee invaded the North and met the Union
troops in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War at Gettysburg.
The battle lasted for three days, and the Union troops did not yield.
Without sufficient troops to continue the battle, General Lee retreated
to Virginia, leaving behind more than 3,000 dead. Union losses
were almost as heavy, numbering 2,500. Most of the bodies were
buried where they fell.
A few weeks after the battle, the governor of Pennsylvania walked
over the battlefield and saw where rains had washed away the earth
covering many of the fallen soldiers. He said the men who died so
bravely should have a better resting place.
The governor said a new cemetery should be built for the bodies of
the Union soldiers. He asked the northern states to help raise money.
Within a month, there was money and work began almost immediately.
The governor planned a ceremony to dedicate the Gettysburg cemetery.
He invited governors and congressmen from each state in the Union and
asked a former senator and governor of Massachusetts, Edward Everett, to
give the dedication speech.
An invitation was also sent to President Lincoln asking him to come
and say a few words.
Lincoln agreed to do so. He felt it was his duty to go. Perhaps
his words might ease the sorrow over the loss of the soldiers and lift
the spirit of the nation.
Lincoln did not have much time to work on his speech, and he left
Washington by train on November eighteenth. The train stopped in
Baltimore and an old man came up and told the president that he had lost
a son at Gettysburg.
Extending his sympathy, Lincoln responded: "When I think of the
sacrifices of life still to be offered, and the hearts and homes to be
made lonely before this terrible war is over, my heart is like lead. I
feel at times like hiding in a deep darkness."
Lincoln arrived at Gettysburg at sundown and had dinner. Then he went
to his room and worked for several hours to complete his speech.
The next morning, riding a horse, Lincoln led the parade to the new
cemetery where there was a huge crowd..
The ceremonies began with a prayer. Then Edward Everett rose to
silent for a moment. He looked out across the battlefield and the
crowds that now covered it. He began to talk about the Civil War
and what had caused it. He told how northern cities would have
fallen had Lee not been stopped at Gettysburg. He praised the men
who had given their lives in the great battle.
Everett spoke for almost two hours and closed his speech with the
hope that the nation would come out of the war with greater unity than
Then Lincoln stood up. He looked out over the Gettysburg valley and
then down at the papers in his hand. He began to read his address.
After he concluded, the crowd applauded for several minutes and then
began to leave.
Lincoln turned to a friend and said his speech had been a failure. He
said he should have prepared it more carefully.
|Edward Everett did not agree.
He said the president's speech was perfect. According to Everett,
the president had said more in two minutes than he, Everett, had
said in two hours.
Newspapers and other publications also praised Lincoln's
address. One publication said: "The few words of the president
were from the heart, to the heart. They cannot be read without
Abraham Lincoln went back to Washington that night feeling quite
tired. Within a week, his secretary announced that he was suffering from
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