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Lincoln Bust in Gettysburg Cemetery
Lincoln Bust at Gettysburg
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Lincoln and Gettysburg Timeline

In July 1863 the once-peaceful town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, witnessed a battle so intense that it produced more than 51,000 casualties. This landmark Civil War struggle left an indelible mark on the region and the president who came to memorialize it. In the days that followed local residents were thrust into unfamiliar roles of tending the wounded, burying the dead, and repairing the war-torn countryside.

The governor of Pennsylvania quickly assigned local attorney David Wills to create a national soldiers' cemetery on the battlefield. Wills also arranged the cemetery's dedication, calling upon the famous orator Edward Everett to deliver the main address, and for President Lincoln to add his remarks. This was the occasion, then, which produced Lincoln's most famous speech. The brief summary here offers a timeline and some highlights of events and issues related to this pivotal event.

Timeline

JUNE 28, 1863
President Lincoln names General George Meade Commander of the Army of the Potomac. David Bates of the U.S. War Department telegraph office wrote, "Lee's invasion of Maryland in June had greatly increased the anxiety felt by the President, especially as communication with our army was frequently interrupted."

JULY 1-3, 1863
Union forces under General Meade defeat those of Confederate General Lee at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. More than 51,000 soldiers on both sides are killed, wounded, or missing. Bates recalled, "Lincoln was in the telegraph office hour after hour during those anxious days and nights."

JULY 4, 1863
Lincoln sends a telegraphic message: "The President announces to the country that news from the Army of the Potomac, up to 10 P.M. of the 3rd. is such as to cover that Army with the highest honor, to promise a great success to the cause of the Union, and to claim the condolence of all for the many gallant fallen. And that for this, he especially desires that on this day, He whose will, not ours, should ever be done, be everywhere remembered and reverenced with profoundest gratitude."

JULY 5-13, 1863
Lee's troops leave Gettysburg without being pursued by the Union army, much to Lincoln's consternation, who believed that further military engagement might end the war.

JULY 6, 1863
Lincoln writes to General Halleck, expressing concern that the Confederate army is being allowed to withdraw from Gettysburg unhindered.

JULY 7, 1863
In a response to a serenade at the White House, Lincoln gives a short impromptu speech which foreshadows his Gettysburg Address of November 19.

JULY 14, 1863
Lincoln writes a letter of reproach to General Meade but does not send it. John Hay, a White House secretary, writes in his diary about Lincoln's grief over Meade's lost opportunity to end the war.

JULY 21, 1863
Lincoln writes to General Howard, describing how he was "deeply mortified" about Lee's escape after the battle.

SEPTEMBER 23, 1863
Edward Everett, a nationally known orator, is invited as the main speaker at the Gettysburg cemetery dedication, scheduled for October 23. After he requests more time to prepare, the event is moved to November 19.

NOVEMBER 2, 1863
David Wills, the Gettysburg lawyer assigned to handle arrangements for the cemetery and its dedication, invites Lincoln to give a "few appropriate remarks." Knowing that the town will be crowded, he offers him overnight accommodations in his home.

NOVEMBER 14, 1863
Lincoln's two aides from Washington arrive in Gettysburg to prepare for the Soldiers' National Cemetery dedication: his friend Ward H. Lamon and Benjamin French, Commissioner of Public Buildings.

NOVEMBER 17, 1863
Williams Saunders of the U.S. Agriculture Department comes to the White House to show Lincoln his design for the soldiers' cemetery.

NOVEMBER 18, 1863
Lincoln and invited guests travel to Gettysburg by rail, arriving about dusk. Lincoln stays in the Wills home, where he completes his short Address. Huge crowds converge on the village, filling every available space.

NOVEMBER 19, 1863
Edward Everett gives the main oration at the cemetery. According to French, "Mr. Everett was listened to with breathless silence by all that immense crowd, and he had his audience in tears many times during his masterly effort." Lincoln, he wrote, "is the idol of the American people at this moment. Anyone who saw & heard as I did, the hurricane of applause that met his every movement in Gettysburg would know that he lived in every heart."

NOVEMBER 20, 1863
Everett writes to Lincoln, complimenting him on his address, and Lincoln responds with a short note.

Texts and Manuscripts

  • David Wills's Letter of Invitation to Lincoln (Library of Congress)
  • Edward Everett's Letter to Lincoln (Library of Congress)
  • Gettysburg Address Texts
  • Lincoln's Invitation to Stay Overnight (Library of Congress)
  • Lincoln's Response to a Serenade

    Classroom Resources

  • A Teacher's Tour of the Battle of Gettysburg (Matthew Pinsker/Gilder Lehrman Institute)
  • Civil War Institute (Gettysburg College)
  • Gettysburg Address Teacher Resource (C-SPAN)
  • Gettysburg Educator Resources (Gettysburg Foundation)

    Commentary/Resources

  • A More Perfect Tribute (JALA)
  • A New Birth of Freedom (Claremont Institute)
  • Gettysburg Address Eyewitness (NPR)
  • Gettysburg Address News Article (New York Times)
  • Gettysburg Discussion Group (Bob & Dennis Lawrence)
  • Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation (Peter Norvig)
  • How Some Few "Remarks" Became the Gettysburg Address (LAP/ALI)
  • Lincoln and the Gettysburg Awakening (JALA)
  • Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania
  • Matthew Pinsker on the Gettysburg Address (GLI)
  • On Lincoln's Mind: Leading the Nation to the Gettysburg Address (Papers of Abraham Lincoln)
  • Recollections of Lincoln at Gettysburg (Bob Cooke)
  • Solving the Mysteries of the Gettysburg Address (LAP/ALI)
  • Who Stole the Gettysburg Address? (JALA)

    Images and Artifacts

  • Battlefield Map (Library of Congress)
  • Gettysburg Address Exhibit (Library of Congress)
  • Gettysburg Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress)
  • Photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg (Library of Congress)

    Places

  • Gettysburg National Military Park (NPS)
  • Lincoln at Gettysburg Photo Tour
  • Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation
  • Wills House

    Books

  • Boritt, Gabor. The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows. Simon & Schuster, 2006.

  • Graham, Kent. November: Lincoln's Elegy at Gettysburg. Indiana University Press, 2001.

  • Hoch, Bradley R. and Boritt, Gabor S. The Lincoln Trail in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.

  • Johnson, Martin P. Writing the Gettysburg Address. University Press of Kansas, 2013.

  • Kunhardt, Philip B., Jr. A New Birth of Freedom - Lincoln at Gettysburg. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983.

  • Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. Touchstone Books, 1993.

  • Wilson, Douglas L. Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006

    Other Timelines

  • Lincoln Early Life Timeline*
  • Lincoln Family Timeline*
  • Lincoln Legal Career Timeline*
  • Lincoln Pre-Presidential Political Timeline*
  • Lincoln Tomb Timeline*
  • Mary Todd Lincoln Timeline*
  • Robert Todd Lincoln Timeline*

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