The Gettysburg National Cemetery The Gettysburg Address was delivered on November 19, 1863, during a dedication ceremony at the battlefield where the Battle of Gettysburg took place from July 1, to July 3, 1863. The ceremony was supposed to turn the battlefield into a national war cemetery for the soldiers killed during the Battle.
A Turning Point in the Civil War The Battle of Gettysburg is considered one of the bloodiest battles in American history; fifty- one thousand soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured during the battle. The battle was considered a turning point in the Civil War because it made Americans realize that the war would be nothing like Fort Sumter. Before 1863, everyone believed that the war would be over quickly, and there would be little bloodshed.
Views on the War “As an American citizen, I take great pride in my country, her prosperity and her institutions, and would defend any State if her rights were invaded. But I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution.”– Robert E. Lee Lee does not believe in secession because he thinks it will be a disaster if the Union does not stay together. War is the last possible solution.
A Union Victory The Confederate army lost about twenty-eight thousand soldiers. The Union had gained control of the Confederates and won the battle by July 4, 1863. However, a huge number of the Union’s soldiers were lost in the battle—about twenty-three thousand men. Because of the great number of losses, the battle was not seen as a success at the time, even though the Union had won. Only later on, did people recognize the battle as a significant achievement for the Union.
The Ceremony After the battle, the Gettysburg National Cemetery was dedicated with a public ceremony. The central speaker was Edward Everett, a former secretary of state, U.S. senator, and U.S. representative from Massachusetts. He was the most renowned orator in the Nation. Lincoln was only invited to deliver “a few appropriate remarks” and make the ceremony formal. Lincoln’s speech was surprisingly short, even for a few remarks. The entire speech was 272 words long.
Lincoln’s Speech In his speech, Lincoln never used the words North, South, Union, Confederacy, or slavery. He also did not mention the Battle of Gettysburg, nor the Emancipation Proclamation. By doing this, Lincoln is going beyond the what really happened in the war, and is focusing on what he is trying to convey to his audience; he believes that the soldiers who were killed in the battle should be honored by having the Union rededicate itself to the principles of equality and unity. Lincoln took advantage of the ceremony as a chance to talk about the issues that had triggered the Civil War. His main concern was the phrase “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln turns away from the Constitution because he realizes that it does not address slavery and the Union must strive for equality so as not to make the soldiers’ struggles useless.
The Audience’s Reaction Because Lincoln’s speech was very brief, the audience barely had a chance to realize that it was over, nevertheless understand it. Some people including Everett, realized how powerful the Gettysburg Address was, while others criticized Lincoln and accused of him of “insulting the memory of the dead”. People didn’t understand the speech at the time, but they gradually came to realize how powerful Lincoln’s words were.
A Unified Nation In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln replaced the violence of the Battle of Gettysburg with a new goal of having a unified nation set on achieving equality. Lincoln’s word choices and use of simple language gave his audience the impression that he had not prepared his speech beforehand. Because of this, there was a rumor that Lincoln wrote his speech hastily on the train from Washington, D. C., to Pennsylvania.
Embracing the Declaration of Independence “ The Gettysburg Address has become an authoritative expression of the American spirit—as authoritative as the Declaration itself, and perhaps even more influential, since it determines how we read the Declaration. For most people now, the Declaration means what Lincoln told us it means, as a way of correcting the Constitution itself without overthrowing it…By accepting the Gettysburg Address, its concept of a single people dedicated to a proposition, we have been changed. Because of it, we live in a different America.” –Gary Wills The Gettysburg Address is such an important speech because it changed the way we see the Declaration of Independence. Because of Lincoln’s speech we were able to strive for a new goal even after the battle.