150 years later: the Gettysburg Address

It is Nov. 19, 1863. A long steel-gray train moves through the countryside, toward the small city of Gettysburg, Pa. A plume of thick black smoke drifts behind the engine. Inside the last car, President Abraham Lincoln sits at a desk, putting the finishing touches on his speech. He will give the speech on the great battlefield of Gettysburg.

A section of the battlefield is to be dedicated as a cemetery for the fallen, both Northern and Southern. A committee arranging the ceremonies asked Lincoln to speak. His acceptance startled the committee as Lincoln prefers to remain close to Washington, D.C., but the trip to Gettysburg is important to Lincoln. Also invited to speak is the famous orator – and ex-senator and ex-governor – Edward Everett.

After arriving at the train station, Lincoln gathers his papers and disembarks. He mounts the horse readied for him and acquires an armed escort of Union soldiers. They ride through the countryside surrounding Gettysburg. A light rain fell overnight, causing the bare trees and remaining foliage to gleam. It is a mild day for November. The tall figure dressed in somber black suit and stovepipe hat stands out among the blue-clad soldiers. The years of war have started to wear on the president: His face is careworn, and there are deep lines of fatigue around his haunted eyes.

After a short ride, Lincoln arrives at the dedication site. He dismounts and is escorted through the large crowd – estimated at 20,000 people – and climbs up the speaker platform. Already seated there are several important personages, among them Everett and Secretary of State Seward.

Lincoln sits next to Seward, and they talk until Everett is introduced. Everett rises, moves to the center of the platform and launches into his speech. He is finished two hours later and returns to his seat. President Lincoln is introduced next.

He rises and walks to the center of the platform. In his slightly high-pitched voice, he speaks:

“Fourscore 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 so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield 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 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 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 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.”

After he finishes his speech, Lincoln resumes his seat, believing that his words will soon be forgotten. He was, of course, wrong.

Alma Southmayd lives in Lake Placid. She wrote in the July 1 Enterprise about the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.