Monday, November 18, 2013

President Lincoln at Gettysburg: First-Hand Accounts

 We have read and heard many times over of President Abraham Lincoln giving his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 in the new National Soldiers Cemetery in the small town of Gettysburg. But many have not heard of the excitement that occurred the night before and the morning of the famous speech; of how the folks in town reacted and celebrated such an occasion as having a Presidential visit. Especially after the horror that took place just a few months before.
What you are about to read comes directly from the book, "Gettysburg Remembers President Lincoln: Eyewitness Accounts of November 1863" by Linda Giberson Black. I highly recommend you purchasing it for what I have here is only a snippet of what is written in this wonderful collection:

The train depot on Carlisle Street
At about dusk on Wednesday, November 18, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln's festively decorated train arrived at the railroad depot on Carlisle Street. From there he moved to the home of David Wills.
Gettysburg was a lively place that evening. Many of the visitors who thronged the streets were still seeking lodging. Military bands played patriotic music by torchlight, stirring the crowds. Numerous people openly enjoyed alcoholic refreshments. A large crowd gathered outside the Wills home.
"Thousands of persons were in the square anxious to see and hear the Chief Executive of the nation," Michael Colver wrote.
Many in the crowd began to call for Lincoln to come out and make a speech. At last, Lincoln decided that he could no longer ignore the pleas to appear. When he went to the window to wave, the crowd cheered. Not satisfied with this brief glimpse, the people continued to call for a speech. "When he did appear, never did mortal have a more enthusiastic greeting," J. Howard Wert noted.
"Hurrah for Old Abe!" shouted some as their hats were flung in the air. "We are coming Father Abraham," was the chorus of other enthusiasts. "God Bless our President! God save our President!"
Lincoln began to speak in the high-pitched voice that always carried so well to the audience.
"I appear before you fellow citizens merely to thank you for this compliment. The inference is a very fair one that you would hear me for a little while at least, were I to commence to make a speech. I do not appear before you for the purpose of doing so, and for several substantial reasons. The most substantial of these is that I have no speech to make," he declared, drawing laughter. "In my position it is somewhat important that I should not say any foolish things," he added.
"If you can help it!" someone in the crowd shouted.
"It very often happens that the only way to help it is to say nothing at all," the good-natured Lincoln replied, making the people laugh again. "Believing that is my present condition this evening, I must beg of you to excuse me from addressing you further." And back he went into the Wills house.

The David Wills Home - Lincoln's stayed in the room marked with the bunting
 Many of the home owners in  Gettysburg had unexpected company that night due to the overwhelming throngs of out of towners clamoring to hear the President's speech. Kate McCreary said, "They slept on the floor of the parlor; had comforters and pillows for beds. The family slept on the third floor that night."

On the momentous Thursday morning morning of November 19, 1863, Gettysburg sprang to life early.  Much to the relief of everyone, the weather was good.
"It was one of those very few November days in our climate that are adapted for open-air audiences and open-air speakers," wrote eyewitness Henry Eyster Jacobs. "The sun shone brightly: the air was almost balmy."
Gettysburg was bursting at the seems. Visitors poured into town.. The local newspaper, The Compiler, noted: "The streets swarmed with people from all sections of the Union, the number variously estimated at from twenty to forty thousand. Every available spot on the principal streets was occupied. The throng of ladies and gentlemen, the large turnout of military in their best trim, the flags floating in the breeze at innumerable points - all contributed to the making up of a picture of rare and exciting interest."
W.C. Storrick walked to town with his father that morning: "The streets were rife with people. The bands were playing and I was delighted with the music which was the best I had ever heard."
At ten o'clock, the scheduled starting time for the procession, President Lincoln, wearing a black suit, stovepipe hat with mourning band, and white gauntlets, stood in the doorway of the Wills house.
Storrick remembered, "I was surprised and I might say awed by his great height, his black hair and beard, his dark complexion, his head covered with a tall silk hat. I thought he was the tallest man I had ever seen and I fancy I can still see him as he appeared to me on that day."
Lincoln was greeted by cheers as he walked between to lines of soldiers to the reddish-brown horse that had been selected to be his mount. However, the steed was too small for him. Henry Holloway recalled, "After he had mounted the animal, Mr. Lincoln's feet were near the ground. The spectacle was humorous, and no one seemed more conscious of it than himself. If there had been an accident, he certainly would not have had far to fall."
At about eleven o'clock, the procession to the Soldiers' National Cemetery was finally ready to start. "The band began to play and Mr. Lincoln's horse became excited and pranced around quite lively. It seemed to amuse the President, and then that sober, sad-faced man actually smiled," remembered Liberty Holloway.
The Shriver home on Baltimore Street as it looked in 1863
The proud color guard led the way down Baltimore Street. Next came the Marine Band, playing a stirring march. The rest of the military participants followed in their best attire, presenting an impressive sight.
Accompanied by numerous dignitaries such as Secretary of State William H. Seward, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, and others, Lincoln appeared next in the procession. Despite the solemn purpose of the parade, many of the spectators who lined Baltimore Street greeted the President with cheers. Lincoln's face became illuminated with smiles and he bowed continually to acknowledge the cheers.
Annie Skelly was only seven at the time. "I remember vividly of a man who lifted me up to see Lincoln. He would turn from side to side looking at the people on either side when he passed. He looked rather odd on such a small horse."
This painting gives the reader a fine impression of what Gettysburg's Baltimore Street may have looked like on the morning of November 19, 1863

To the new cemetery Lincoln and the parade participants went, along with over twenty thousand cheering supporters, to hear what, perhaps, became the most famous speech given by a President in American history.
But not every citizen joined in the festivities of that 19th day of November. In her diary, Sallie Meyers wrote, "Went up the street and saw the procession going out to the cemetery and then came home to work. Saw the President and a great many distinguished men but had little time to look at them."
The head of the procession turned at the Emmitsburg Road and began to enter the Soldier's National Cemetery by way of Taneytown Road.
Soldiers formed lines to provide him with a clear passage to the wooden stage.
The program organized for that day by Wills and his committee included:
Music, by Birgfeld's Band
Prayer, by Reverend T.H. Stockton, D.D.
Music, by the Marine Band
Oration, by Hon. Edward Everett 
Music, Hymn composed by B.B. French, Esq.
Dedicatory Remarks, by the President of the United States
Dirge, sung by Choir selected for the occasion
Benediction, by Reverand H.L. Baugher 

 Although the stage was just three feet high, thousands of on-lookers immediately noticed when the tall Lincoln first appeared on the stand. The crowd grew quiet, and men removed their hats. "The reception was one of respect and profound silence," J. Howard Wert recalled.
Somewhere in the crowd, Elizabeth Thorn waited for the ceremony to begin. She lived at the nearby Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse with her elderly parents and three young sons...and had taken over her husband's job as cemetery superintendent while he was off fighting in the war. A few months earlier, directly after the great battle that took place in her town she, while six months pregnant, had taken it upon herself to bury over 100 Federal dead. So on this day Mrs. Thorn had brought her two eldest sons to see the ceremony with her. "She wanted us to see the President," George Thorn recalled.
Due to the solemn nature of the occasion, the dedication was supposed to begin with a dirge, and the bands played somber musical selections to help set the mood for the ceremony.

While it is Lincoln's short speech that has gone down in history as one of the finest examples of English public oratory, it was Everett's two-hour oration that was slated to be the "Gettysburg address" that day. His now seldom-read 13,607-word oration began:
"Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature. But the duty to which you have called me must be performed; — grant me, I pray you, your indulgence and your sympathy."
And ended two hours later with:
"But they, I am sure, will join us in saying, as we bid farewell to the dust of these martyr-heroes, that wheresoever throughout the civilized world the accounts of this great warfare are read, and down to the latest period of recorded time, in the glorious annals of our common country, there will be no brighter page than that which relates the Battles of Gettysburg."
Lengthy dedication addresses like Everett's were common at cemeteries in this era.  
At last the President was introduced.The large crowd applauded with great enthusiasm. Wearing his glasses, Lincoln stepped in front of the stage. Charles Young wrote: "I remember distinctly his grave and solemn appearance as he faced the audience. And Henry Eyster said, "As he stood for a moment before the crowd, he thrilled them by his very presence."
George Thorn, son of Elizabeth, mentioned, "We were admonished (by our mother) to listen carefully, as this was the great man of our country."
As Lincoln spoke he had "One hand on each side of his manuscript (and) spoke in a most deliberate manner, and with such a forceful and articulate expression that he could be heard by all of that immense throng," Philip Bikle recalled. "There was no gesture except with both hands up and down, grasping the manuscript which he did not seem to need, as he looked at it so seldom."
Several newspapers noted that the speech was interrupted by applause five times.
There are still disagreements about some of Lincoln's exact phrases, the following is generally accepted as the official version of the Gettysburg Address:

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 can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not 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.


Many newspapers reported that the audience applauded heartily at the end of his short speech. Some observers remembered that the crowd even gave Lincoln three cheers. But others, such as William Tipton, remembered differently: "(There had been) slight applause" at the end of the speech. Daniel Skelly agreed and pointed out that many in the crowd had loved who died for the Union cause: "Could there be much applause from such an audience?"
The trip back into town was not as large but the spectators were still enthusiastic.
For Lincoln, the rest of the day was filled with a luncheon, more greetings of the public, a visit to the Presbyterian Church with local citizen hero, John Burns, and then finally, at around seven o'clock, to the train station where he and his entourage left for Washington City.
Josephine Forney Roedel, recorded in her diary: "The great day is over and I am glad I have been here. Everything passed off very pleasantly and scarcely one drunken man was to be seen. Such homage I never saw or imagined could be shown to any one person as the people bestow upon Lincoln. The very mention of his name brings forth shouts of applause. No doubt he will be the next President, even his enemies acknowledge him to be an honest man."


And there you have it. 
I believe by reading these first-hand accounts one can be transported back in time to witness this two-day historic occasion that took place 150 years ago, and, once again, Abraham Lincoln and his contemporaries are alive, and the festivities have begun all over again...










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