The tourist hordes that swamped Gettysburg back in July for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg won’t be back in quite the same numbers to celebrate the reading of Abraham Lincoln’s most famous speech Tuesday, Nov. 19.
But that doesn’t mean this month’s commemorations won’t be big, as the town of Gettysburg, and the nation, mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
The significance of The Gettysburg Address has never faded — even though the 16th president took only 2 minutes to deliver it.
Lincoln came to Gettysburg by train on Nov. 18, 1863 for the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery the following day. It had taken 4 months for the town to purchase and prepare the 17-acre site for proper interment of the Union troops killed in the 3-day battle.
At least 51,000 Union and Confederate troops were killed, wounded, captured or missing after the smoke cleared. A total of 160,000 soldiers, led by 120 generals, had converged on the town of Gettysburg, which had only 2,000 residents at the time. The Battle of Gettysburg struck a major blow to the Confederacy and Gen. Robert E. Lee, whose gamble at a strike deep into Union territory failed to pay off.
Plans for Tuesday’s Dedication Day, scheduled to start at 10 a.m. with a wreath-laying ceremony at Soldiers National Cemetery, include speeches by US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Civil War historian James McPherson, whose Battle Cry of Freedom: the Civil War Era won a Pulitzer Prize back in 1989.
In addition, 16 candidates will become US citizens and the winner of the “In Lincoln’s Footsteps” speech competition will receive a $5,000 scholarship.
Festivities will start the previous night with programs, concerts and tours of the many historic homes and places in town. The Gettysburg battlefield alone has more than 1,400 monuments and markers.
Lincoln impersonator Robert Costello will arrive at the historic train station at 6 p.m. while a living Lincoln relative, great-great-great nephew Ralph Lincoln, greets visitors at the new Lincoln Train Museum. Free tours of the David Wills House, where Lincoln stayed overnight before giving the Gettysburg Address, will run from 6-9 p.m. Other structures that survived the epic 1863 Battle of Gettysburg will be seen along the route of the Freedom Transit trolley, which features narrated tours.
Remembrance Day, Nov. 23
Can’t make it Nov. 19? Consider a visit for Remembrance Day ceremonies on Nov. 23, which will include an 11 a.m. memorial service at Ziegler’s Grove, in the Gettysburg National Military Park, and a 1 p.m. downtown Gettysburg parade with actors outfitted in Civil War garb. That evening, candles will be lit on the graves of each soldier buried in Gettysburg.
Whether you visit Gettysburg for the anniversary or at a future date, you’ll find that modern Gettysburg remains a compact community of 8,000, with far more grave sites than residents.
Gettysburg is also a place where Lincoln’s literary legacy is so revered that it appears in many places, from metal markers to publicity handouts. Read these 272 words, delivered and signed by Lincoln that November day in 1863, and you’ll understand why:
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.
– By Dan Schlossberg
Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ, is travel editor of Sirius XM’s Maggie Linton Show and New Jersey Lifestyle Magazine. He is also the author of 36 baseball books.