Lincoln Comes to Gettysburg – The Creation of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, by Bradley M. Gottfried and Linda I. Gottfried, Savas Beatie, A Tenneessee Valley Civil War Round Table review by Ricardo Jaramillo
In 1863 the Union States that lost soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) agreed to the establishment of the “Soldiers’ National Cemetery” (now known as the Gettysburg National Cemetery). The coordinators invited war-time President Lincoln to make “a few appropriate remarks” for the cemetery’s consecration and dedication. The Commissioners were shocked when Lincoln accepted the invitation. At the Soldiers National Cemetery, on November 19, 1863, Lincoln’s remarks followed the famous orator Edward Everett’s two-hour speech. In 272 words in ten sentences, Lincoln delivered his ‘few appropriate remarks’ in approximately two minutes. One hundred fifty-eight years later, a speech he might have finished composing in his room the night before, President Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address, is well-known throughout the free world.
What is not well known, and what the book’s authors provide, is the logistics and political maneuvering conducted in preparation for the cemetery’s design, consecration, and dedication. The Commander-In-Chief only decided to attend on November 17, two days before the ceremony commencement. In addition, fifteen thousand spectators were planning to attend the momentous consecration ceremony, thus making transportation, lodging, and other necessities scarce for a small town of 2,400 people. The task of creating a cemetery befitting the thousands of Union soldiers who succumbed to the battle and were lying on the battleground was monumental.
Dead soldiers lay all over the battlefield. The carnage also consisted of many dead horses, mules, and other creatures. Fellow soldiers made efforts to bury their comrades on the battlefield during and immediately after the battle. The stench was horrific after just a few days and during the cemetery consecration. However, the task of removing the dead soldiers from the battlefield took months. Finally, the disinterment to bury the soldiers in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery began October 27, 1863, with the last exhumed on March 18, 1864. The authors have captured this often omitted part of the cemetery’s creation.
The authors provided interesting information related to the written Address. For example, is the final edition of the Gettysburg Address, as spoken by Lincoln, what we know today? Even though reporters dictated as Lincoln said it, it differs by what the newspapers printed. The Nicolay Copy, named after John G. Nicolay (Lincoln’s personal secretary), is thought to be the most accurate copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Also, when and where Lincoln completed composing the Address has been questioned by historians. Some propose that Lincoln wrote it on the train to Gettysburg. Others think he scribbled it out the night before the Address, and several other opinions exist.
I enthusiastically recommend this book for both the novice and well-rounded civil war enthusiast.