CMH Home
CMH Home
CMH News and Features
U.S. Army Center of Military History
Gettysburg 1863

Soldiers' National cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg 1863

Dedicating the Soldiers National Cemetery

Fought on 1-3 July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was a pivotal event in the Civil War – a Union victory that halted Confederate General Robert E. Lee's second and boldest invasion of the North. And it was the bloodiest battle of the war with over 50,000 casualties. The battle also inspired President Abraham Lincoln's immortal Gettysburg Address. Lincoln gave the speech on 19 November 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He followed the keynote speaker, Edward Everett, whose 13,000-word oration on the Battle of Gettysburg ran for two hours. In his 272–word speech, Lincoln paid tribute to the fallen Union soldiers, and he explained why the war had to be fought. Then he closed with a declaration "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." Everett later told Lincoln, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."

1863 Gettysburg dedication ceremonies
at the Soldiers' National Cemetery


The Gettysburg Address

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 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.



Draft: Gettysburg Address, page 1 Draft: Gettysburg Address, page 2

First Draft of Gettysburg Address - Library of Congress

Seen here is the earliest known of the five drafts of what may be the most famous American speech. Delivered by President Abraham Lincoln in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, at the dedication of a memorial cemetery on November 19, 1863, it is now familiarly known as "The Gettysburg Address." Drawing inspiration from his favorite historical document, the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln equated the catastrophic suffering caused by the Civil War with the efforts of the American people to live up to the proposition that "all men are created equal." This document is presumed to be the only working, or pre-delivery, draft and is commonly identified as the "Nicolay Copy" because it was once owned by John George Nicolay, Lincoln's private secretary. The first page of this copy is on White House (then Executive Mansion) stationery, lending strong support to the theory that it was drafted in Washington, D.C. But the second page is on what has been loosely described as foolscap, suggesting that Lincoln was not fully satisfied with the final paragraph of the Address and rewrote that passage in Gettysburg on November 18 while staying at the home of Judge David Wills.


1913 Commemoration

top