Monday, December 16, 2013

A Civil War Remembrance: The Sesquicentennial of the Consecration of the Gettysburg Battlefield: Two Speeches on that Day

November 19th of this year marked the 150th anniversary of the day in 1863 when people gathered to remember those who died in the battle at Gettysburg. It was there that one of the most famous speeches in American history, The Gettysburg Address, was given by President Abraham Lincoln:
Address Delivered at the Dedication of the
Cemetery at Gettysburg
Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Four score 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, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field 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 can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not 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 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.

Students all over the United States study this speech,and in many cases are required to memorize and to recite it. The battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania had taken place on July 1st-3rd 1863 and the enormity of the losses there still echo.

What is less well-known is that it was not President Lincoln,  but Governor Edward Everett of Massachusetts who delivered the oration at the consecration that day.   It was Lincoln’s role instead to give what was termed the “Dedicatory Address.”             
This begs the question: Who was Edward Everett?

Everett had had a distinguished and varied career serving as a Congressman from Massachusetts, and also as the state’s United States Senator and its Governor.  His career path included teaching Greek at Harvard and serving for a short time as President of the college. He served in the ministry as well.

His speaking prowess was well-known. He was considered one of the most prominent orators of the Antebellum and Civil War era and when the search was held to determine who would give the oration on November 19th, 1863, he was the unanimous choice of the seventeen Governors involved in planning the momentous occasion. After accepting their invitation, Everett spent two days in Gettysburg preparing and studying the geography of the battlefield.  His speech lasted almost two hours, an amount of time not unusual for the day.

Everett spoke of the young men who had perished on the battlefield, for it was their bravery and sacrifice which was being remembered.  His eloquent oration has also been remembered for its noting of the need for reconciliation.

Soon after the day and its historical remembrances, Everett and President Lincoln exchanged congratulatory letters about how highly each viewed the other’s rhetoric.
As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war, it is so important to mark once again that day in Gettysburg. A gathering was held in Pennsylvania to mark this important piece of history. Civil War historian James McPherson was the keynote speaker.
President Lincoln’s famous “address” will continue to honor the nation for many years to come.   And, although Edward Everett’s oration is seldom mentioned, it will also be studied by those with a keen interest in the Civil war, be they scholars or citizens, who remember the overwhelming losses suffered during this war, and the ultimate sacrifices on the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Pamela Schofield
Legislative Reference Librarian
State Library of Massachusetts