On this day in 1863, a Thursday afternoon, President Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union’s watershed victory there. Just 272 words and running at around 2 minutes in length, the speech is held by many to be the greatest and most famous piece of oratory in all American history.
The three-day battle that past July was the most mortal of the entire war, with casualties and losses of up to 53,000 total for both sides, and is often described as the war’s turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated daring and deep attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, soundly halting Lee’s invasion of the North; Lee never again breached the Union border as established after Secession.
So for the inside baseball, the chair of the Consecration of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, David Wills, invited President Lincoln to the dedication just two weeks prior as an afterthought. The featured speaker, Edward Everett, was a professional orator who’d held various offices, and as was his wont, spoke for a full two hours. Unbeknownst to many, Lincoln was suffering from the onset of small-pox, yet sat patiently through each one of Everett’s 13,607 words.
Lincoln rose, began with “Four score and seven years ago,” and finished thusly:
“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.”