The Civil War was in its third year. America was surprised with the excessive brutality of the war in context of Union and Confederate casualties. President Lincoln boarded the train for Gettysburg, Secretary, John G. Nicolay, his assistant secretary, John Hay, the three members of his Cabinet, William Seward, John Usher and Montgomery Blair of his cabinet, and several foreign officials accompanied him.
It had been 137 days since Pickett’s charge, a Confederate Division attempting to break through the Union lines. Ultimately, it was the final charge for a Confederate victory in the battle, in the war and succession. Over 1100 Southerners died during that charge and additional 1500 Union casualties were added to the three day total of around 7,000 killed on both sides.
Lincoln composed a speech that did not reflect the battle tactics or the emancipation of slaves. Lincoln defined the sacrifice and commitment of the experiment of our forefather’s four score and seven years ago. Historian Shelby Fotte described the Civil War as an event that defined us (the United States). I would like to follow up that Gettysburg defined the Civil War.
During the train trip from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg on November 18, Lincoln remarked to John Hay that he felt weak. On the morning of November 19, Lincoln mentioned to John Nicolay that he was dizzy. Hay noted that during the speech Lincoln's face had 'a ghastly color' and that he was 'sad, mournful, almost haggard.'
President was invited to Gettysburg to make a few remarks by a resident of the town, David Wills. Lincoln was to add to the featured speaker and grand orator, Edward Everett. He served in the House, Senate of the United States and was the 15th Governor of Massachusetts. During his address, on the 19th, he spoke for two hours. His remarks contained 10,859 words, of which not a single word or phrase can be recalled. On the other hand, Lincoln would only say 300 words and would define America’s resolve to refine government of the people, by the people and for the people.
He stayed at the Wills house the night of November 18, and revised his remakes for the next day. Lincoln's view of the government as expressed in the Gettysburg Address was influenced by the noted speech of Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster
Lincoln made copies of his speech. Each of the five known manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address is named for the associated person who received it from Lincoln. Lincoln gave a copy to each of his private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. Both of these drafts were written around the time of his November 19 address, while the other three copies of the address, the Everett, Bancroft, and Bliss copies, and were written by Lincoln for charitable purposes well after November 19.
The event was attended by over 15000 people. However, there were only a few photographers were on hand and none captured the image Lincoln delivering the speech. One photographer did try it, but it took him so long to set up the camera, the speech was ending as he finally took the picture of Lincoln as he was sitting down. The next day, the NY Times printed the speech but it wasn’t the headline. After the speech, when Lincoln boarded the 6:30 pm train for Washington, D.C., he was feverish and weak, with a severe headache. A protracted illness followed which included a vesicular rash and was diagnosed as a mild case of smallpox. It thus seems highly likely that Lincoln was in the early stage period of smallpox when he delivered the Gettysburg address.
Since that event in 1863, over 20 US Presidents have visited Gettysburg. All have given remarks and phrases that have also been forgotten. During the 100th anniversary, July of 1963, the mood and aura was much the same as it was with Lincoln’s appearance. In June of that year, Civil Rights Legislation was introduced by Senator Everett Dirksen, with President Kennedy’s support. Later, the next month, Martin Luther King would deliver his “I have a dream” speech that began to close the divide in Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Kennedy, himself would not make the trip to the 100th anniversary. Instead, he would go to Texas, with Dallas the last stop in the trip and his presidency. Instead, Vice President Lyndon Johnson would make his mark as the first southerner to speak at the event.
Now we come to the 150th anniversary of an event that defines the American portrait. The 50th and 75th were highlighted by the President of the United States reflecting on what happen on the battlefield and legacy the remains. President Kennedy had politics supersede the event. Now, it seems that President Obama will do the same. Kennedy did have his day in Berlin as President Reagan 25 years later. So far, the most memorable quote from Obama is “If you like your health care, you can keep it....period”. Maybe it is what he meant to say. It does not matter. He has the opportunity as a beneficiary of what Gettysburg represents and from a speech that represented an event that has separated America from the rest of the world.