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When Was the Gettysburg Address?

The Gettysburg Address was made on November 19, 1863.

The Gettysburg Address was a speech made by President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War and delivered at the official dedication ceremony for the National Cemetery of Gettysburg held in Pennsylvania.

What date was the Gettysburg Address?

The address was made on November 19, 1863. It took place at one of the engagement sites over four months after the Battle of Gettysburg.

What is the importance of the Gettysburg Address?

gettysburg address site
The site where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address.

The Gettysburg Address was one of the most famous speeches in America’s history. Lasting just 275 words, President Lincoln began with the famous words:

“Four score and seven years ago.”

The President wasn’t the main speaker that day, and wasn’t expected to deliver such a powerful speech. Nonetheless, he delivered an address that is still spoken about.

In this famous speech, Lincoln supported the equality of rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence. He also tied in the events of the American Civil War to his hope of a “new birth of freedom.”

Background to the Gettysburg Address

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought for the first three days of July in 1863. General Robert E Lee’s Confederate Army set out to attack the Union Army of the Potomac, led by General George G. Meade.

The battle went underway in Gettysburg, about 35 miles away from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Statue of General Robert E. Lee
General Robert E. Lee led the Confederate forces at Gettysburg.

Many brave men from both sides died during the battle.

Out of 170,000 troops in total, 23,000 deaths from the Union Army were recorded.

28,000 Confederate soldiers died, were injured, or went missing.

On July 4, 1863, Lee led retreated by way of Virginia, having been soundly defeated. The following month, Lee offered to resign his position, but Confederate President Jefferson Davis rejected his offer.

Following common practice, it wasn’t long before the soldiers who died at the Battle of Gettysburg were buried, placed in poorly marked graves.

Creating a National Cemetery at Gettysburg

Afterward, local attorney David Wills proposed establishing a national cemetery at the Gettysburg battlefield. Preparations were implemented with Wills and the Gettysburg Cemetery working together to carry out the plan. 

While the original date for the cemetery’s opening was meant to occur October 23, 1863, it had to be postponed to November instead.

Edward Everett, former Harvard College President and the United States senator, was set to be the orator of the commemoration but asked for a grace period for time to prepare.

David Wills reached out to President Lincoln on November 2nd to ask him to also speak at the ceremony.

Lincoln’s Preparation for His Oration

President Abraham Lincoln wasn’t pleased with the fact that Meade didn’t follow the Confederates as they surrendered from the battle and made their way back to Virginia.

However, he did have high hopes as the year 1863 was coming to an end and thought it was fitting that a Union victory took place in Vicksburg on the same day of Lee’s retreat, July 4, 1863.

4th July was an important day in American history, given its association with the Declaration of Independence.

Photo of Lincoln Memorial
President Lincoln’s address was just 275 words long.

Who wrote the Gettysburg Address and when?

After being asked to speak at the National Cemetery of Gettysburg ceremony, President Lincoln took it as his chance to address the audience about the importance of the Civil War.

For quite some time, it has been rumored that Lincoln wrote his whole speech while he made the train journey to the ceremony. 

Other sources state that he had written all of it the day prior as he waited to depart on his journey. Half was said to have been written while he was still in the White House, and the other half that evening after he had met with William H. Steward, the Secretary of the State.

The Gettysburg Address

Everett made his main speech on November 19, 1863, at the National Cemetery of Gettysburg ceremony. Everett spoke about the Battle of Gettysburg and its importance. The orchestra followed with a piece created by the famous composer B. B. Lincoln.

Gettysburg Memorial
Gettysburg Memorial.

After his two-hour memorized speech, it was Lincoln’s turn to stand. His address only lasted a few minutes and was made in front of a crowd of 15,000. There were only 275 words in total in Lincoln’s oration.

Abraham Lincoln’s Famous Speech

Alluding to the nation’s Founding Fathers, Lincoln spoke about the significance of the Civil War. He emphasized the part in which it played as to whether the Union was to stand or “perish from the earth,” as he put it.

In his speech, he honored the soldiers who gave up their lives to fight for the Union, built in 1776, and noted how it was at the hands of those who lived to pursue their cause.

“The government of the people, for the people, and by the people, shall not perish from the earth,”

The information, nor the language that Abraham Lincoln delivered, was new in any sense. Just a few years previously, in 1861, the President, in addressing Congress, called the relatively new nation of the United States a democracy and a government “by the people, to the people.” 

But it appears that the authority with which Lincoln spoke in the Gettysburg Address and the sentiments of the Declaration of Independence laid out by the Founding Fathers struck home for the people.

Lincoln’s speech is said to have provided an understanding of the true significance and meaning of the American Civil War. 

The Authenticity of the Speech

Although Lincoln’s speech was one of the most famous and impactful in the history of the United States, the exact words he used are not definitively known. Many scholars are at odds, and modern manuscripts that have been transcribed into newspapers, along with handwritten copies, make it difficult to tell.

gettysburg address crowd
Photo of a crowd gathered to hear the Gettysburg address. Lincoln is visible facing the crowd, not wearing a hat, about an inch below the third flag from the left

Even written copies made by Lincoln have different wording, grammar, and punctuation. Therefore, it would appear that scholars have to work with a combination of all the available sources to deliver the most accurate account of the speech.

Text of Gettysburg Address:

The following is the text of the Gettysburg Address from the US Library of Congress.

Gettysburg Address

Delivered at Gettysburg, Pa.

Nov. 19th 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 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 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.”

Gettysburg address
Text of the Gettysburg Address from the archives of the Library of Congress

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