The Civil War was far from over on November 19, 1863, when dedication ceremonies for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery were held in Gettysburg.
Politicians and dignitaries had gathered in the small Pennsylvania town to remember the battle of July 1-3 of that year in which Union forces defeated the Confederate armies in what proved to be a major turning point in the war.
The dedication came more than a month after the reburial of Union soldiers from their battlefield graves began on October 17. The featured presentation was supposed to be given by Edward Everett, a prominent politician, pastor and educator known as one of the great orators of his time. After Everett finished his two-hour speech (long cemetery dedication speeches were common at the time), President Abraham Lincoln took the stage.
Lincoln, who was likely suffering from the early stages of smallpox at the time, spoke for only two minutes, but his words are considered one of the greatest speeches ever given. We are proud to be able to reprint that famous speech, 160 years after it was first delivered.
“Forty-seven years ago our fathers begat on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that ““All men are created equal.”
“We are now immersed in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can hold out for long. We find ourselves on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a part of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, so that the nation may live. We can do this on all properties. But in a broader sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot sanctify this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who fought here, have sanctified it, far beyond our poor power to add or subtract. The world will scarcely notice, nor long remember, what we say here; although he will never be able to forget what they did here.
“It is rather for us, the living, to be here, to dedicate ourselves here to the great task that remains before us: that, from these honored dead, we take a greater devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of your support. devotion – that here we highly resolve that these dead will not have died in vain; that the nation will have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people and for the people, will not disappear from the earth.”