Gettysburg Address: Abraham Lincoln’s Monumental Speech

On the afternoon of 19 November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln stood to address a crowd of about 15,000 people gathered for the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He followed the main speaker of the day, famed orator Edward Everett, who had just finished delivering a two-hour address that was well-received by the audience. Then President Lincoln spoke for only two minutes, delivering his ten-sentence “Gettysburg Address” that has gained enduring fame as one of the greatest speeches in American history.

photo of President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863, 11 days before delivering the Gettysburg Address

Photo: President Abraham Lincoln, 8 November 1863, 11 days before delivering the Gettysburg Address. Credit: Alexander Gardner; Wikimedia Commons.

Gettysburg Ceremony of 1863

The ceremony that day was in honor of the dead who had fallen at the Battle of Gettysburg the first three days of July 1863, an incredibly bloody battle during the Civil War that ended the Confederacy’s invasion of the North, highlighted by the ferocious attack on the third day known as Pickett’s Charge. More than 7,500 military men and thousands of horses were killed during the three days’ fighting, and their rotting corpses stank in the hot July sun.

The deceased Civil War soldiers had been hastily buried in shallow graves on the battlefield, but 17 acres were later set aside for a proper cemetery, and the bodies were being transferred—Union dead only—to the new cemetery. (The Confederate dead were left in their battlefield graves until 1870-1873, when they were transferred to cemeteries in the South.)

Enter Last Name

Now, four and a half months after the Gettysburg battle, the cemetery was being dedicated and Lincoln delivered his surprisingly short speech. He had been invited to “set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks” and Lincoln’s remarks were few indeed—yet powerful.

photo of the Lincoln Address Memorial, designed by Louis Henrick, with bust of Abraham Lincoln by Henry Kirke Bush-Brown, erected at the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1912

Photo: The Lincoln Address Memorial, designed by Louis Henrick, with bust of Abraham Lincoln by Henry Kirke Bush-Brown, erected at the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1912. Credit: CJC47; Wikimedia Commons.

Lincoln’s Famous Speech

It is impossible to know exactly what Lincoln said that day. There are five known manuscripts of his speech, but they have differences. Additionally, several newspapers reported the president’s speech, but these accounts all have variations as well. We will also never know how the crowd reacted to his speech. Accounts vary from no applause at all, to only polite applause, to long sustained applause.

Here is how the Albany Journal reported the dedication ceremony and Lincoln’s speech. Its account was based on the reporting of a New York Times reporter; that Republican-leaning paper was careful to note that Lincoln’s short speech was interrupted with applause five times, and claimed it was met with “long, continued applause” at its conclusion. It is interesting to note that not a word of the featured speaker Everett’s speech is quoted, but President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is quoted in its entirety.

article about President Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, Albany Evening Journal newspaper article 20 November 1863

Albany Evening Journal (Albany, New York), 20 November 1863, page 2

The 1800s news article reported:

“Gettysburg, Nov. 19

“The ceremonies attending the dedication of the National Cemetery commenced this morning by a grand military and civic display, under command of Maj. Gen. Couch. The line of march was taken up at 10 o’clock, and the procession marched through the principal streets to the cemetery, where military formed in line and saluted the President. At a quarter-past eleven the head of the procession arrived at the main stand. The President and members of the Cabinet, together with the chief military and civic dignitaries, took positions on the stand. The President seated himself between Mr. Seward and Mr. Everett, after a reception marked with the respect and perfect silence due to the solemnity of the occasion, every man in the immense gathering uncovering on his appearance.

“The military then formed in line, extending around the stand, the area between the stand and military being occupied by civilians, comprising about fifteen thousand people, and including men, women, and children. The attendance of ladies was quite large. The military escort comprised one squadron of cavalry, two batteries of artillery, and a regiment of infantry, which constitutes the regular funeral escort of honor for the highest officer in the service.

“After the performance of a funeral dirge by Birgfield by the band, an eloquent prayer was delivered by Rev. Mr. Stockton.

“Mr. Everett then commenced the delivery of his oration, which was listened to with marked attention throughout.

“Although a heavy fog clouded the heavens in the morning during the procession, the sun broke out in all its brilliancy during the Rev. Mr. Stockton’s prayer, and shone upon the magnificent spectacle. The assemblage was of great magnitude, and was gathered within a circle of great extent around the stand, which was located on the highest point of ground on which the battle was fought. A long line of military surrounded the position taken by the immense multitude of people.

“The marshal took up a position on the left of the stand. Numerous flags and banners, suitably draped, were exhibited on the stand and among the audience. The entire scene was one of grandeur due to the importance of the occasion. So quiet were the people that every word uttered by the orator of the day must have been heard by them all, notwithstanding the immensity of the concourse.

“Dedicatory Speech of the President.

“The President then delivered the following dedicatory speech:

“‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. (Applause.) 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 are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of 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 cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. (Applause.) The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. (Applause.) It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have for us so far, nobly carried on. (Applause.)  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 the dead shall not have died in vain (applause); that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.’ (Long continued applause.)

“Three cheers were here given for the President and the Governors of the States.

“After the delivery of this address, the dirge and the benediction closed the exercises, and the immense assemblage departed at about 4 o’clock.”

Historical newspapers are not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors—they also help you understand the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers.

Did any of your ancestors fight in the Battle of Gettysburg or meet Abraham Lincoln? Share your family stories with us in the comments.

Related Abraham Lincoln Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Abraham Lincoln: The Life of a Legend Infographic

Click the image for the even bigger full-size version of the Lincoln Infographic
Abraham Lincoln Family Tree Genealogy Infographic

Born

Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, at Sinking Springs farm in Hodgenville, KY, inside a log cabin.

Family

Parents

Abraham Lincoln’s father was Thomas Lincoln. He was born January 6, 1778, and died January 17, 1851. He was a carpenter, farmer and manual laborer of meager means.

Abe’s mother was Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln. She was born February 5, 1784, and died October 5, 1818. Lincoln was 9 years old when his mother died due to an illness.

Siblings

Lincoln had an older sister and a younger brother. His sister Sarah (Lincoln) Grigsby was born February 10, 1807. She married Aaron Grigsby on August 2, 1826. She was 20 years old when she died January 20, 1828, during childbirth. The two were very close, sharing a deep affection for each another. A friend and brother-in-law to Abe, Nathaniel Grigsby, stated the following about his sister-in-law Sarah:

“She could, like her brother, meet and greet a person with the kindest greeting in the world, make you easy at the touch of a word, an intellectual and intelligent woman.”

Abe’s brother Thomas Lincoln Jr. was born in 1812 and only lived three days before he died.

Stepfamily

Thomas Lincoln remarried on December 2, 1819 to Sarah Bush. She was born December 13, 1788, and died April 12, 1869. Her previous husband, Daniel Johnston, died a couple of years before Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln’s death.

After marrying Thomas, Sarah took care of his children Sarah and Abe. It is said that she was a good mother and treated Sarah and Abe as her own children. She and Abe were reportedly close.

Sarah also brought along three children from her previous marriage to Daniel, and they became Abe’s new stepsiblings: Elizabeth Johnston (13 years old), Matilda Johnston (10), and John Johnston (9). Since Abe and John were close in age they became playmates.

Wife

At the age of 33 Abe married Mary Todd, a bright belle from a wealthy family, on November 4, 1842. It was the first and only marriage for both Mary and Abe. The couple remained married 22 years until Lincoln’s death.

Children

The couple had four sons. The first son was Robert Todd Lincoln. He was born August 1, 1843, and died July 26, 1926, at the ripe old age of 82. He was an American lawyer and served as Secretary of the War Department.

Their second son, Edward Baker Lincoln, was born March 10, 1846, and died February 1, 1850, at the age of 3. A week after Eddie’s death, Mary and Abraham wrote a poem (though authorship is sometimes questioned) entitled “Little Eddie.” It was printed in the Illinois State Journal newspaper.

Their third child, William Wallace Lincoln, was born December 21, 1850. He died February 20, 1862, at the age of 11 due to illness. Abe was deeply affected by his death and did not return to work for three weeks.

Thomas Lincoln was Abe and Mary’s youngest son. He was born April 4, 1853, and died July 15, 1871, at the age of 18. He was nicknamed “Tad” by Abe who found Thomas “as wriggly as a tadpole” when he was a baby.

Resided

Kentucky 1809-1816

From 1809-1816 Lincoln lived in Kentucky on two farms. He first resided on Sinking Spring farm where he was born, and later moved a few miles away to Knob Creek.

Indiana 1816-1830

Because of disputed titles to Thomas Lincoln’s Kentucky land, the Lincolns headed north to settle in the wilderness of southern Indiana in December of 1816. Lincoln was 7 upon his arrival in Indiana and would remain there until 1830, well into his early adulthood.

Illinois 1831-1861

In 1831 the Lincolns headed west by ox-cart teams to Illinois. This would be Lincoln’s home for the next 30 years, until 1861. However, he did take an extended leave from 1847-1849, renting out his home in Springfield, IL, while staying in Washington, D.C., to serve his term in Congress.

Washington, D.C. 1847-1849, 1861-1865

In February of 1861, after Lincoln was elected president, he and his family moved into the White House in Washington, D.C.

Occupations

Abraham Lincoln was a man of many jobs. As a young man he ferried people and cargo down rivers on flatboats and steamboats. Later Abe worked as a clerk in general stores, and operated two stores he co-owned with William Franklin Berry. He was also employed as a postmaster and worked many odd jobs, including chopping wood, splitting rails, surveying, and mill working. In 1837 he began his law practice, which he continued for over 20 years.

Political Career

His career in politics began in 1834 when he was elected to the Illinois state legislature. After his initial term he was elected again in 1836, 1838, and 1840. In 1846 he was elected to the U.S. Congress as a Whig and served one term, from 1847 to 1849. On November 6th, 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th United States president as a Republican.

Hobbies

Animals

Lincoln had a soft spot for animals of all types, especially cats. When his wife Mary was asked if Abe had a hobby, she replied: “cats.” The Lincolns’ pets included a dog, cats, rabbits and two goats.

Storytelling

Lincoln loved to make people laugh and he was an excellent storyteller. Anyone who met him commented on his steady supply of anecdotes and jokes. His ability to charm and disarm was a key ingredient to his success in politics.

Reading

Lincoln had very limited formal education but he was self-taught and a voracious reader. He was known to walk for miles to borrow books from neighbors. Lincoln’s favorite reads as a boy included Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Aesop’s Fables.

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”  —Abraham Lincoln

Inventing

Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. president to hold a patent for an invention. It is filed as No. 6,469. He invented a floatation system to lift riverboats that were stuck on sandbars.

Presidential Timeline

The dates below mark some of the most notable milestones during Lincoln’s presidency.

April 12, 1861: Civil War Begins

After the first Confederate shots were fired on Union forces at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, Lincoln declared war on the rebellious states. The bloody conflict between the North and the South lasted until June 2, 1865.

January 1, 1863: Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation marked an important turning point in the Civil War, transforming the Union’s goal from one of preserving the nation’s unity into a fight for human freedom. The proclamation declared that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

November 19, 1863: Gettysburg Address Delivered

On November 19, 1863, just four months after the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Newspapers throughout the country carried accounts of the Gettysburg Address and it was widely praised in the North. The speech remains one of the most famous and oft-recited in American history.

November 8, 1864: Re-elected as President

On November 8, 1864, Lincoln won the presidential election by over 400,000 popular votes. He was the first U.S. president to be re-elected since Andrew Jackson in 1832.

April 14, 1865: Assassinated at Ford’s Theatre

Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. He was shot in the back of the head while watching the popular comedy Our American Cousin. The assassin was well-known stage actor John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was the first U.S. president to be assassinated.

Died

Lincoln died at the age of 56 on April 15, 1865, in the Peterson House at 453 10th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., from Booth’s gunshot to the back of his head.

There is so much more to the story of Abraham Lincoln’s legendary life. Discover the details of Lincoln’s life in over 1 billion historical records at GenealogyBank.com.

Sources

about.usps.com

abrahamlincolnonline.org

americaslibrary.gov

biography.com

hildene.org

history.com

lincoln.lib.niu.edu

memory.loc.gov

millercenter.org

nps.gov

opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com

smithsonianmag.com

thoughts.forbes.com

wikipedia.org

Image Credits

BerryLincolnStore.jpg by Amos Oliver Doyle / CC BY-SA 3.0

Abraham Lincoln’s U.S. Patent.jpg by David and Jessie / CC BY 2.0

Gettysburg Address, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division #cw0127p1

Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

On, Wisconsin! – Statehood May 29, 1848

Here’s to Wisconsin!
It became a state on this day in 1848.

On, Wisconsin is the state song. (The image is from the Library of Congress, American Memory Project.)

GenealogyBank has millions of records for Wisconsin – even newspapers that were published before it became a state.


Capital Times, The (Madison, WI). 3/20/1989-Current
Cedarburg News Graphic (WI). 6/25/2001-Current
Central Wisconsin Sunday (Wisconsin Rapids, WI). 5/4/2003-Current
Daily News, The (West Bend, WI). 7/12/2000-Current
Daily Telegram, The (Superior, WI). 5/19/2006-Current
Daily Tribune, The (Wisconsin Rapids, WI). 1/28/2003-Current
Green Bay Press-Gazette (WI). 1/1/1999-Current
Herald Times Reporter, The (Manitowoc, WI). 6/8/2004-Current
Jeffersonian Democrat (Monroe, WI). 8/14/1856 – 3/26/1857
Marshfield News-Herald (WI). 2/1/2003-Current
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI). 1/22/1990-Current
Milwaukee Journal of Commerce (Milwaukee, WI). 3/15/1871 – 12/22/1880
Milwaukee Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI)
Variant titles: Daily Republican Sentinel; Daily Sentinel & Gazette; Milwaukee Daily Sentinel. 6/27/1837 – 6/13/1866
Oshkosh Northwestern (WI). 8/31/1999-Current
Post-Crescent, The (Appleton, WI). 11/18/2001-Current
Reporter, The (Fond du Lac, WI). 4/25/2002-Current
Sheboygan Press, The (WI). 1/28/2004 to Current, selected coverage from 2/22/1999-12/31/2003
Stevens Point Journal (WI). 2/3/2003-Current
Waukesha Freeman (WI). 6/12/2000-Current, currency varies
Wausau Daily Herald (WI). 8/27/1999-Current
Weekly Wisconsin Patriot (Madison, WI)
Variant title: Wisconsin Weekly Patriot. 7/8/1854 – 12/26/1863
Wisconsin Chief (Fort Atkinson, WI). 5/3/1853 – 9/29/1866
Wisconsin Daily Patriot (Madison, WI). 9/2/1863 – 3/15/1864
Wisconsin Democrat (Madison, WI). 10/18/1842 – 5/8/1852
Wisconsin Free Democrat (Milwaukee, WI). 9/9/1845 – 11/28/1860
Wisconsin Patriot (Madison, WI). 10/22/1864 – 10/22/1864
Wisconsin Populist (Madison, WI)
Variant title: The Dane County Populist . 9/10/1892 – 11/8/1892
Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI). 3/10/1857 – 12/27/1889
Wisconsin State Journal (WI). 3/19/1989-Current
Wiskonsan Enquirer (Madison, WI)
Variant title: Wisconsin Enquirer. 11/8/1838 – 3/27/1841

Our Honored Dead …

When Abraham Lincoln gave his stirring remarks at Gettysburg in 1863 word spread quickly across the nation.

The San Francisco (CA) Daily Evening Bulletin of 18 Dec 1863 captured the impact of Lincoln’s words that still move us today.

Newspapers report what happens every day giving each of us the emotion, context and impact of the news as it happens.

GenealogyBank with more than 3,400 newspapers over four centuries gives us the news as it happened.


Gripping accounts of the attack at Lexington & Concord appeared within days giving us the emotion and details of that day.
(NH Gazette & Historical Chronicle. 21 April 1775).

As we look back and remember our “honored dead” it is a good time to pause and reread Lincoln’s 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.
This familiar version cited from Wikipedia

Now compare that with the version published in the San Francisco (CA) Daily Evening Bulletin of 18 Dec 1863

There were in fact multiple versions of the Gettysburg Address that were written down by reporters, others at the event and Lincoln himself.

See a discussion of this on the Library of Congress website loc.gov including a copy of the only known photo of Lincoln taken that day.