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Recollections of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg

One of our generous readers, R. L. Cooke, sent in these eyewitness accounts on February 24, 2000. They recall the day in 1863 that Lincoln gave his famous address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

He explains that their source is the Philadelphia Public Ledger of February 7, 1932, from the Albert Cook Myers Collection. Many thanks to James R. Wierman, of Atwood, Illinois, for providing it. The photo is courtesy of Margaret Robson, Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. Your comments on the following are welcome.

Mrs. John T. Myers Relives the Day She Met the Great Emancipator

By Ann Hark

MEMORIES dating back nearly threescore years and ten will be revived in the heart of a certain little white-haired Philadelphian next Friday, when Lincoln's Birthday will be celebrated throughout the Nation.

To the average person the day will call to mind a heroic figure -- Lincoln, the emancipator, the immortal, the superman! But to Mrs. John T. Myers, of Moylan, the figure that will live once more before her mental eyes will be that of a simple, kindly human being with a warm handclasp and a smile that shone with such ineffable gentleness on a little country schoolgirl that its memory has remained undimmed through the years elapsed since then.

It was a bright, crisp morning in November, just sixty-eight years ago, that a party of neighbors set out from the hamlet of Possum Creek, in the foothills of the South Mountains. It was an eleven-mile trip by carriage to Gettysburg. A great battle had been fought there not so long before, and a President was coming that day to deliver an address whose ringing words and noble message were destined to roll down with irresistible force through all the years to come.

In the party were two young girls, Sallie A. Cook and her sister, Elmira Jane. They had arisen by candlelight that morning, thrilled and excited at the prospect before them, and all through the long and tedious ride behind the plodding horses they had curbed their impatience with joyous anticipation of the treat in store.

Elude Their Elders

ARRIVED at last at their destination, the sisters decided to do a little sightseeing without elderly supervision, and, leaving behind the rest of their little group, they set out for the center of town. In the heart of Gettysburg, at one corner of Center Square, stood the home of an old friend of the family, Judge David Wills, and it was toward this beckoning mansion that the two girls bent their steps. For Judge Wills, they knew, was to be the host to president Lincoln, and it was Lincoln whom the youthful hero worshipers had set their hearts on seeing.

Arrived at the Wills residence, the visitors found an informal reception in progress. The night before, from the front steps of his host's home, the President, in high silk hat and shawl, had made a brief impromtu speech -- and the neighbors who had heard him then were flocking now to meet him face to face and shake him by the hand. With them flocked the two young girls from Possum Creek, timid and self-conscious but bent nevertheless on achieving their purpose.

At last the great moment came. Standing before the tall, gaunt figure of the man on whom an entire nation depended, the visitors looked up into a homely, smiling face. "He was so tall," writes Mrs. Myers, the Sallie Cook of that bygone day, "that he stooped to take my hand, which seemed so small in his. Silently he smiled down upon me."

More Thrills to Come

THRILL enough for one day, that. But there was still more yet to come. For the sisters, restless and dazed by their new surroundings and the experience they had just been through, could not settle down. Laughing excitedly, they left the Wills' house and strolled on up the street toward the cemetery -- that cemetery which is now a national shrine -- and there they found a rough wooden platform erected. Since it was early and they had nothing else to do, they took their seats on the stand, and from there a short time later they witnessed the procession that bore in its midst the figure of the President. It was not imposing, for Lincoln on horseback, with long legs dangling and coat tails flopping, was far from an inspiring sight. But whatever sense of the ludicrous may have made itself felt, it dissappeared completely when the first strong words of his address rolled out on the still fall air.

"I was so close to the President," Mrs. Myers describes the moment, "and heard all of the address, but it seemed short. Then there was an impressive silence, like our Menallen Friends' Meeting. There was no applause when he stopped speaking."

With Lincoln at Gettysburg November 19, 1863

The following is written in Mrs. Sarah A. (Cook) Myers' own hand:

It was Thursday morning November 19, 1863, just 68 years ago today, in the parlor of Judge David Wills in Gettysburg that I shook the hand of President Lincoln. He was so tall that he stooped to take my hand, which seemed so small in his. Silently, he smiled down upon me. I then [unin] up to the Cemetery before the President's procession started and sat upon the rough wooden platform. I was close to the President and heard all of the Address, but it seemed short. Then there was an impressive silence like our Menallen Friends Meeting. There was no applause when he stopped speaking.

I was then a school girl of 19, Sallie A. Cook, living with my Mother Ruth M. Cook, Widow of Jesse Cook, and my brothers and sisters at our beloved old family homestead Cook's Mill on Possum Creek, in the foothills of the South Mountains, one mile above Bendersville, and eleven miles north of Gettysburg, in Menallen Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania. There I was born July 9, 1844, a birthright Friend or Quaker. My next older sister, Elmira Jane Cook went with me to Gettysburg.

Sarah A. Myers (Mrs. John T. Myers), age 87
Moylan, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1931.

Additional Comments

Mr. Cooke received the following in July 2002 from Arthur Weaner, a local Gettysburg historian:

"List of the party that went from the Conrad Weaner home and the Cooks of Cook's Mill, to Gettysburg, November 19, 1863, in an open spring wagon.

1. George Weaner, driver and his friend,
2. Louisa Rice, who he afterward married
3. Cornelius Weaner
4. Elizabeth Weaner
5. Miss Susan Weaner
6. Hannah Weigle, and her friend,
7. Jacob C. Smith, whom she afterward married
8. Lewis C. Smith, brother of Jacob
9. Miss Sallie A. Cook, later Mrs. John T. Myers, and Mother of the late Albert Cook Myers
10. Miss Cook's sister, Elmira Jane Cook, later Mrs. Charles D. Cook.

The foregoing is from Albert Cook Myers, August 15, 1942.

A newspaper clipping in the possession of the author published February 1928, perhaps in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, gives the above in detail by Mrs. John T. Myers. Mrs. Myers states that her father, Jess Cook, was a prominent Quaker in the community and was a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad, and among the hills surrounding their home scores of escaped slaves were living, befriended by her family. Her brother George was a prisoner in Libby Prison. 'At the last minute something came up, and we couldn't get to town, but some neighbors drove us in, in an open spring wagon with two good horses, and there were 9 young people in the party.' She states that the Cook family were cousins of Judge Wills, and on the occasion visited the Wills House and shook hands with President Lincoln there."

Following are the notes of Albert Cook Myers describing what the sisters went through to find a ride to Gettysburg. This information is from the Albert Cook Myers Collection, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Nov. 1863

Sarah A. Myers nee’ Cook meets Abraham Lincoln, shakes hands with him, sits on the platform and hears Gettysburg Address, then aged 19.

S.A.M. (Sarah A. Myers) says the day of Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech was sunny and warm for the time of year. The family still lived at the old home at Cook’s Mill. Her brother J. Kersey Cook, well known as a schoolteacher in Adams County, had intended to take his two sisters S.A.M. and Elmira Jane to the Gettysburg commencement, but became indisposed. He then arranged with Edward Walker (a crippled bachelor Quaker living with his younger sister Margaret) of Bendersville to take the sisters, but at the last moment E.W. said he couldn’t go, much to the displeasure of J.K.C. J.K.C. then engaged places for the sisters in the wagon of George Wainer, a non-Quaker, of near Bendersville, towards Wenksville. Geo. W. his two sisters and another going man in the party plus S.A.M. & sister went to Gettysburg. On account of the crowd the wagon stopped short of the town and the party had to walk in. S.A.M. and sister left the others and did not find them again until late in the day for the return journey.

Saw the parade then went to a house and in line, shook hands with Lincoln. Went to the cemetery - rough wooden platform with steps leading up. Sat on these steps, close to Lincoln and heard all of his speech.

Albert Cook Myers
Moylan. 6:II:1921

Sarah Cook Myers Meets President Hoover

Here's an excerpt provided by R.L. Cooke in November 2006. It is from the Gettysburg Times of May 29, 1931, entitled "County Native To Be Valley Forge Guest."

"A small white haired Quaker mother, who sat on the same platform with President Lincoln when he made his famous Gettysburg address here 68 years ago, will be seated on the platform at Valley Forge Saturday morning when President Hoover makes his memorial day address there. The guest will be Mrs. John T. Myers, 86-year-old native of York Springs.

"Mrs. Myers, who now lives in Moylan with her son Albert Cook Myers, noted Valley Forge historian, was the former Miss Sarah A. Cook who at the time the national cemetery here was dedicated by Lincoln was a teacher at Bendersville."

Mrs. Myers also was mentioned in the New York Times of May 31, 1931, in an article entitled "Hoover Urges Nation To Be Steadfast."

"...As Mr. Hoover turned to depart he shook hands with Mrs. John T. Myers, 86 years old, of Moylan, Pa., who sat on the platform at Gettysburg when Lincoln delivered his famous address and who shook hands with the great emancipator following the ceremonies.

"Mrs. Meyers is the mother of Albert Cook Meyers [Myers], a member of the Valley Forge Park Commission and assistant curator of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania."

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