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… Continue reading

Gettysburg Civilians Reflect On The Gettysburg Address

What did the Gettysburg civilians actually think of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? How did they feel about the president coming to their town?

This blog post answers those questions by letting the spectators of the historic day “speak for themselves.” This post is a companion piece to last week’s article The Day of the Gettysburg Address.

And now, without further commentary, here are some primary source accounts from Gettysburg folks, recalling the famous event.

Abraham Lincoln, photograph taken in the spring of 1863

Abraham Lincoln, photograph taken in the spring of 1863

The President Is Coming!

“The fact that the President …was coming to town was quite sufficient to create the liveliest interest.” ~Henry Holloway

“We all wanted to see him, and my strongest wish was to shake hands with him.” ~Albertus McCreary

“Never in my life will I have the same opportunity of seeing so many of the great men of the nation again…” ~Josephine F. Roedel

November 19, 1863

“I saw Mr. Lincoln as he was about to start down the steps to the sidewalk. I was surprised and I might say awed by his great height, his black hair and beard, his dark complexion, his head covered with a tall silk hat. I thought he was the tallest man I had ever seen… On reaching the landing at the foot of the steps I had the honor, along with others, of shaking his hand.” ~W.C. Storrick

“I squeezed my way through the mass of people until I was about ten feet from the platform on which, of course, sat Mr. Lincoln…” ~Albertus McCreary

“I waited for Mr. Everett to get through his speech with what patience I could. It was long, I remember, but what he said made no lodgment in my mind; I was only waiting to hear Mr. Lincoln…” ~Albertus McCreary

“The suddenness with which he [Lincoln] closed [the speech] was almost startling. The end came when every ear was strained to catch each word.” ~Henry E. Jacobs

“As Mr. Lincoln came down the [platform] steps I looked up into his face. He held out his hand and said, ‘Hello, young lady, who are you?’ I took his hand and said, ‘I’m Mary Elizabeth.’ It was the greatest moment of my life.” ~Mary Elizabeth Montfort

A scene from Gettysburg on November 19, 1863

A scene from Gettysburg on November 19, 1863

“To many of the listeners, the President’s few words were a temporary disappoint. They were not able on the instant to grasp their sublimity.” ~J. Howard Wert

“What the crowd thought…I do not know, but I do know what I thought. On coming away I said to a [college] classmate, ‘Well, Mr. Lincoln’s speech was simple, appropriate, and right to the point, but I don’t think there was anything remarkable about it.’ That was the opinion of a wise sophomore.” ~Philip M. Burke

“The great day is over and I am so glad I have been here. Everything passed off very pleasantly and scarcely one drunken man was to be seen. Such homage I never saw or imagined could be shown to any one person as the people bestow upon Lincoln. The very mention of his name brings forth shouts of applause. No doubt he will be the next President, even his enemies acknowledge him to be an honest man.” ~Josephine F. Roedel

Criticism & Praise

“We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of.” ~A Harrisburg Pennsylvania Newspaper

“The dedicatory remarks of President Lincon will live among the annals of man.” ~Chicago Tribune

“The little speech was not much spoken of at the time, but as the days and months passed by its merits became more in evidence.” ~Michael Colver

“Indeed, so great was that speech that no one at the time comprehended it fully.” ~Henry C. Holloway


The Gettysburg citizens were excited about Lincoln’s visit to Gettysburg, and many – especially children – were anxious to meet the president. However, it should be noted that there was definitely a mixed reaction to Lincoln’s speech; that address would gain fame in later years, but was not necessary recognized as “breathtaking” on November 19, 1863.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you have a favorite memory of hearing the Gettysburg Address used in a modern ceremony or presented by a living historian/famous person?

The Day of the Gettysburg Address

“The notes of a solemn bugle call resounded over the Gettysburg hills. Betsy opened her eyes and lay still in bed, listening to the bugles softly echoing each other in the stillness of breaking dawn…” Blue, Gray & Crimson, page 327.

November 19, 1863, was the date Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address. But did you know that a lot more happened that day? Lincoln was not the keynote speaker, nor was he the crowds’ focus. What really happened on that history day? Today, we trace the outline of the historic event.

A large crowd gathered for the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery

A large crowd gathered for the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery

Dedicating a National Cemetery

The Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 left massive destruction in the local community. Field hospitals, military equipment, and dead soldiers covered the area. David Wills and other prominent citizens of Gettysburg proposed the idea of creating a national cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers.

Work on the cemetery had begun on October 27, and an elaborate dedication ceremony had been planned. The event was originally supposed to be on October 23, but the keynote speaker – Edward Everett – needed more time to work on his address, and the date was moved to November 19, 1863.

Although the town had experienced a semi-wild party the evening before, by the morning of the 19th, folks had settled down and were preparing themselves for a solemn day. In many ways, this ceremony was a large-scale funeral, a time when the people drew together to mourn, remember, and pledge to keep fighting.

The Day’s Schedule

The proceedings started late, so it was after 10am before the solemn procession began moving through the streets of Gettysburg toward the speakers’ platform on Cemetery Hill. The procession included military bands (playing dirges), Union soldiers, Union officers, President Lincoln, members of the president’s cabinet, political dignitaries, representative delegations from northern cities, students and faculty members from Gettysburg’s Pennsylvania College and Lutheran Theological Seminary, private citizens, and Mr. Everett.

When they finally arrived at the speakers’ platform and the crowds had gathered round (while the Marine Band continued to play mournful tunes), the actual ceremony began. Ward Lamon – self-appointed security guard of President Lincoln and the official master of ceremonies – read messages sent by invited dignitaries who had been unable to attend.

Reverend Stockton offered a prayer and led the assembled crowd in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The Marine Band played “The Old Hundredth.”

Edward Everett

Edward Everett

Then Mr. Everett rose and began his oration. (Incidentally, he gave his entire, approximately 2 hour speech from memory!) Everett’s address detailed the battle and mentioned the trials of the local civilians; he also used Classical imagery and was sidetracked into a lengthy explanation of why the war had to be won. I have read the address and overall it is very good…to the modern reader it is incredibly long-winded, but we must remember that those were the days were good oration was admired and greatly appreciated.

About 2 hours later, Mr. Everett concluded, and a Maryland choir sang a specially written dirge. Then, Ward Lamon introduced President Lincoln, who stood, put on his reading spectacles and read his address in approximately 2 1/2 MINUTES.

Following the president’s speech, another sad hymn was sung. Reverend Baugher pronounced a benediction and an eight-gun artillery salute resounded. The ceremony was over, and the procession returned to town.

Lincoln, Everett, and other important people ate dinner at David Wills’s home. Then they attended a patriotic meeting in one of the Gettysburg churches. (Watch for more information on this! I am currently reading a brand-new history book about the third Gettysburg Address and it’s quite remarkable…) And in the evening, Lincoln left Gettysburg.

Re-thinking Our Imaginative Image

I think sometimes we imagine that Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address and it was the highlight of the day. I think sometimes we suppose Edward Everett was only as a literary foil, used to make Lincoln’s short eloquence greater.

Lincoln’s address was history making…in later decades. But it is important to remember that there was much more to the event of November 19th than Lincoln’s speech. People did not come to hear Lincoln speak. They came to honor the soldiers who had fought and died at Gettysburg.

Never let the hoopla of an event or the imagined highlights obscure the realities. The reality of November 19, 1863, was that 7,000 Americans had been killed in the Gettysburg fields. November 19, 1863, was a day to remember their sacrifices…it just happened that “a new birth of freedom” and a legend also occurred on that day and forever changed the focus in the history books.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Wondering what the Gettysburg citizens actually thought of Lincoln and his speech? Find out next week!


Gettysburg’s Problem

Many Americans are familiar with the Gettysburg Address. You know, the Lincoln speech that begins “Four score and seven years ago…” But what many people don’t realize is the circumstances leading to that famous address. Sure, they’ll connect it to the Battle of Gettysburg, but perhaps they think Lincoln showed up and started talking the day after the battle.

This month is November. In November 1863 – four and a half months after the battle – Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, so I thought we should discuss the speech and specific events surround it for the next couple weeks during “Back to Gettysburg on Tuesdays.”

The situation which led to the Gettysburg Address was created by the battle. It is a somber topic. For the sake of my readers, I have chosen to go into graphic detail, but I feel it is important to take time to remember the sacrifices and what actually brought Lincoln to Gettysburg.

The Problem

The experts tell us writers to create problems, conflicts. Then, increase the drama and lead to a climatic moment of resolution.

Gettysburg had a problem in 1863. Correction. Gettysburg had many problems during 1863 – Confederate raid, battle, wounded soldiers, limited supplies. But there was another issue compounding all of that…

Gettysburg DeadThe Dead.

When the Battle of Gettysburg ended, there were approximately 7,058 dead men in the fields. (This does not include the soldiers who were wounded and or the additional 4,000 who would die of their injuries.)

The Army’s Solution

Contrary to popular belief, the Union Army did make a serious attempt to bury their fallen comrades. The Union battle lines were mostly defensive, so their dead were near or within their lines. Thus, each regiment buried their soldiers, making attempts to mark the graves with wooden headboards.

The Confederate army had fought offensively (attacking) during Gettysburg. Their fallen were usually in open fields in front of the main Confederate positions. Therefore – to speak generally – the Confederates did not organize burial details. The Confederate dead were left in the fields.

Gettysburg DeadAfter the Union survivors had managed to clear the fields of the wounded and temporarily bury their own dead, they left the Gettysburg area.

Civilian men from the Gettysburg community volunteered to help bury the fallen Confederates. Many were buried on local farms and the graves were simple recorded as “Confederate graves” – rarely including units or names of the deceased.

The Emerging Problem

Although the Union army had made an effort to honor their dead, the burials had been hasty. The graves were shallow. The headboards were lightly carved or the information was written in pencil.

Gettysburg experienced torrential rains in the week following the battle. While the rain helped to cleanse the landscape (and probably prevented an epidemic of illness), it also opened the shallow graves. Across the Gettysburg community, frightful and unsettling scenes appeared. Decomposing bodies uncovered by the streaming water. Skeletal limbs protruding from the ground. The civilians began the awful task of trying to rebury – or at least cover – the dead.

The stench was horrible. Most civilians commented on the terrible odors in their writing. Some carried handkerchiefs sprinkled with peppermint oil and keep the cloths pressed to their faces whenever they went outside.

A Solution?

In the weeks immediately following the battle, most civilians were focused on helping the wounded or repairing the damages to their property. And yet, the sights of the shallow graves and the horrible stench was a constant reminder of the loss and suffering.

People realized something had to be done, but most were too busy to even begin thinking about a solution. However, one man hatched an idea that would solve the problem of the Gettysburg graves and would also bring honor to the fallen soldiers.

Conclusion (For Today)

Gettysburg had a serious problem. What could they do about the soldiers’ graves in their community? Was their a way to honor the dead, or would the graves be ploughed apart in the next spring’s planting?

Next week, we’ll explore David Wills’s suggested solution and build up to the moment when Mr. Lincoln stood to speak in “a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah