Thursday, November 19, 2015

Today in American History: The Gettysburg Address 11/19/1863

The Battle of Gettysburg has done down in history as not only one of the bloodiest in the history of the modern world, but the bloodiest and possibly most significant battle in American history.  One of the largest shortcomings that the United States encountered during the Civil War was its ability -- or lack-thereof -- to deal with large amounts of dead soldiers.  The Battle of Gettysburg began on July 1st, 1863 and ended on July 3rd, 1863 with a critical Union victory.  As with many of the battles, the burial of the dead was not handled as it should have been and on October 17, 1863 the United States began reburying the dead in a more proper manner and ended with the creation of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863.  And on this occasion, President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln at Gettysburg

Lincoln's famous speech lasted only about ten minutes, and came after a two-hour master oration from Edward Everett who was the featured speaker of the day.  This short speech has come under some scrutiny as time has passed.  The actual paper that Lincoln used to prepare for and deliver the speech was either lost or he did not carry one.  But there are five known manuscripts of the speech that are considered drafts of the speech.  The copies of the speech were named after the people that Lincoln handed the speech to.  They are the Nicolay, Hay, Everett, Bancrofft and Bliss copies.  The details of most of these copies aren't terribly relevant, although some are interesting.  For example, Nicolay and Hay were Lincoln's private secretaries and we know these drafts were written just before the actual speech was given.  Both Nicolay and Hay were also appointed as custodians of Lincoln's papers by his son, Todd, in 1874.  What is interesting about the two drafts is that they are not the same text.  In fact, none of the five copies that exist are the same and no one wrote down what Lincoln said at Gettysburg on that day.  While historians agree that this is not likely the actual words that were spoken at Gettysburg on that day, the commonly accepted text for Lincoln's famous oration is referred to as the Bliss Copy.  This is was the last known copy that Lincoln wrote out by request.  This is the text that stands on display in the Lincoln Room at The White House today.  This is the copy that is most often facsimiled for print copies.  Below is the text of the Bliss Copy 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, not 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 are 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.

The Bliss Copy of the Gettysburg Address

These words seem a little ironic, especially when you consider that they are the words that we remember and the way many Americans identify with Gettysburg.

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working towards a Masters Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

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