1863: “We Arrived At Gettysburg”

18 November 1863, Wednesday

We started from Washington to go to the Consecration of the Soldiers’ Cemetery at Gettysburg. On our train were the President Seward Usher & Blair: Nicolay & Myself: Mercier & Admiral Reynaud; Bertinatti & Capt. Isola & Lt. Martinez & Cora: Mis Wise: Wayne McVeagh: McDougal of Canada and one or two others. We had a pleasant sort of a trip. At Baltimore Schenck’s staff joined us.

Just before we arrived at Gettysburg the President got into a little talk with McVeagh about Missouri affairs…

At Gettysburg the President went to Mr. Wills who expected him and our party broke like a drop of quicksilver split. McVeagh young Stanton & I foraged around for a while – walked out to the Collage got a chafing dish of oysters then some supper and finally loafing to the Court House where Lamon was holding a meeting of Marshals, we found Forney and went around to his place Mr Fahnestocks and drank a little whiskey with him…

We went out after a while following the music to hear the serenades. The President appeared at the door said half a dozen words meaning nothing & went in. Seward who was staying around the corner at Harper’s was called out and spoke so indistinctly that I did not hear a word of what he was saying…

In the morning I got a beast and rode out with the President’s suite to the Cemetery in the procession. The procession formed itself in an orphanly sort of way & moved out with very little help from anybody & after a little delay Mr. Everett took his place on the stand – And Mr Stockton made a prayer which thought it was an oration – and Mr. Everett spoke as he always does perfectly – and the President in a firm free way, with more grace than is his wont said his half dozen lines of consecration and the music wailed and we went home through crowded and cheering streets. And all the particulars are in the daily papers…

We came home the night of the 19th.

Excerpts from John Hay’s journal for November 18-19, 1863.

John Hay, Civil War era photograph

Two Days in Gettysburg

John Hay – one of President Lincoln’s private secretaries – kept a journal and wrote colorful letters, giving historians valuable insight into the Lincoln White House and the president’s character. Hay had graduated from Brown University and been admitted to the Illinois bar before joining Lincoln in 1861 through the influence of his friend John Nicolay.

Hay handled much of Lincoln’s correspondence during the presidential and war years, a big responsibility for a young man only in his twenties. On several occasions, Lincoln sent Hay on special missions or to bring back needed reports.

Luckily, Hay was one of the group that traveled with the president to Gettysburg for the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in November 1863. Through Hay’s eyes, we get a glimpse of the political atmosphere unfolding at that event on November 18th as Lincoln discussed politics on the train and speeches were made (or not made) in the late evening. Some researchers point to the Gettysburg trip as Lincoln’s early, public preparations for the 1864 election.

November 18th – the day Lincoln, Hay, and the other dignitaries – arrived in Gettysburg, offered a wild evening. The town was experiencing its third invasion of the year; first: military, second: wounded and dead, third: politicians and mourners. Overcrowded to an extreme, many visitors simply stayed up all night since there weren’t beds or lodgings to be had.

November 19th – saw a surprising change. The party, patriotic, political mood from the previous evening disappeared, and the thousands gathered for a solemn procession to the cemetery and orations. Observers described the scene as a large-scale funeral, and in many ways it was a way to start bringing closure to the Gettysburg community and the thousands who had lost loved ones during the summer’s battle.

A scene from Gettysburg on November 19, 1863

Gettysburg Addresses

Aside from the prayers and messages sent by absent dignitaries, there were three main addresses give on November 19, 1863, in Gettysburg.

Edward Everett – a famous orator – spoke first (for about two hours), detailing the history of the Union victory at Gettysburg and likening the fight and the new cemetery to ideals from the classics of Ancient History.

Abraham Lincoln made a few short remarks with his speech lasting only about two minutes. At the time, most listeners did not realize the historic impact that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address would have in future months and years.

Charles Anderson made the final big speech of the day, but not at the cemetery dedication. He spoke in one of the Gettysburg churches during the afternoon and passionately called for the fight to restore the Union to continue.

Of the three speeches, Lincoln’s is now the most famous, but heard together, the three speeches offered a look back, a present memorial and re-dedication, and a call to action to all who heard them that day.

A large crowd gathered for the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery

Historical Musings

Today is the actual anniversary day. November 19, 2018, marks 155 years since Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

I’m thinking about what that short speech has meant in the last century and a half and what it has meant to me. The first time I remember reading the Gettysburg Address was in the back of children’s book about the event. I didn’t really understand all of it at the time, but the grand words were thrilling. I actually memorized the speech at age eight and recited it at a homeschool event.

The Gettysburg Address “came alive” for me at one of the first Civil War events I ever attended. I can clearly remember the gentleman portraying Lincoln standing on the steps of the adobe house (this was in California!) and reciting the historic words. I got chills! (I think I might have even bragged at that event and shown off to the “president” that I knew his speech too.)

The Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s trip to that Pennsylvania town are partly credited for inspiring the idea for the book that eventually became Blue, Gray & Crimson. At age nine, I wanted to write a story about a girl who met Lincoln in Gettysburg. Looking back, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has shaped my thoughts on the Civil War and even some of the research and writing I’ve undertaken. I’m grateful for a personal connection to this famous speech and sincerely hope that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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3 Responses to 1863: “We Arrived At Gettysburg”

  1. Meg Groeling says:

    John Hay just rocks–he is one of those people in history who is so relatable. Reading his stuff is like talking to a friend. One of my favorite anecdotes about Hay comes from a young researcher I hired at Brown University to do some Ellsworth research. I told her she would become fond of Hay & his friends, but she was skeptical. Then she called me one evening, laughing. She had found a letter from Hay to someone that had a coffee ring in the right corner. Now how many of us have coffee rings on stuff? Me? Plenty! John Hay is a wonderful source, and under-used. Thanks for this.

  2. I loved Hay’s little dig at Lincoln: He spoke “in a firm free way, with more grace than is his wont…” Another little humanizing image of the great man.

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