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About the Gettysburg Address

President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers Cemetery on the grounds of the Battle of Gettysburg. In his speech Lincoln told the world that the United States would continue to fight so that the world, not just the U.S., could enjoy freedom and equality. Lincoln spoke only 272 words in this speech that lasted two minutes. The President was not the keynote speaker for the ceremony; Edward Everett was. Everett was a noted orator of the time, and he gave a two-hour opening address. He later admitted that Lincoln had more effectively expressed the purpose of the war and the deaths of the men in the cemetery.

This occasion was an important opportunity for the President to honor all those who given their lives during the Battle as well as to have his thoughts about the war made known. The Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) on July 1-3, 1863 was one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War. Many historians consider it to be one of turning points of the War. The Union North and Confederate South lost more than 7,000 men during the three-day battle. The process of burying the dead was overwhelming.

During this time, local governments were responsible for cleaning up battlefields. This required land and money. David Wills, a Gettysburg civic leader, heard that a local cemetery was asking the families of the dead to pay for the burials. Instead, he proposed a National Soldier Cemetery to Pennsylvania governor, Andrew Curtin. Governor Curtin agreed to the idea and put Wills in charge of the planning.

The Soldiers National Cemetery was originally to be the final resting place for more than 3,500 Union soldiers who lost their lives at Gettysburg. When William Saunders finished landscaping the cemetery in 1872 it was turned over to the Federal Government. Today, more than 7,000 soldiers from all America’s major wars are buried there. On May 5, 1868, three years after the Civil War was over, General Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic proclaimed “Decoration Day” was to be observed on May 30th. This day was to be set aside to honor Confederate and Union soldiers who gave their lives during the Civil War. It was called Decoration Day because graves were decorated with flowers. We now know this day as Memorial Day. In 1971, Congress declared it a national holiday to be observed the last Monday in May. All Americans who gave their lives in war to preserve independence and freedom are honored.

As we continue to honor our fallen soldiers, the words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address are not forgotten. At the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, the text of the Address is carved into one of the walls beside the statue of President Lincoln. Two draft versions of the Address are preserved at the Library of Congress and may be viewed online.

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