Friday, November 9, 2007
On November 2, 1863 a relatively obscure official in Pennsylvania, Mr. David Wills, sent a letter to President Abraham Lincoln. Contained in the letter was an invitation to Lincoln to attend the dedication of a new cemetery for soldiers killed in the Battle of Gettysburg. Mr. Wills made it quite clear that Lincoln was to include simply "A Few Appropriate Marks" during the ceremonies and that the main oration was to be given by Edward Everett, a renowned orator of the era.
Amazingly enough, this request, sent almost as an afterthought, came to Lincoln just 17 days prior to the dedication to be held on November 19. In little more than two weeks' time, Abraham Lincoln crafted what is perhaps the finest speech ever written in the English language.
The image on the right is the original letter. The text is as follows:
Gettysburg Nov. 2nd, 1863
To His Excellency A. Lincoln,
President of The United States,
Sir, The Several States having Soldiers In the Army of the Potomac, who were killed at the battle of Gettysburg, or have since died at the various hospitals which were established in the vicinity, have procured grounds on a prominent part of the Battle Field for a Cemetery, and are having the dead removed to there and properly buried.
These Grounds will be Consecrated and set apart to this sacred purpose, by appropriate Ceremonies on Thursday the 19th instant, - Hon Edward Everett will deliver the Oration.
I am authorized by the Governors of the different States to invite you to be present, and participate in these ceremonies, which will doubtless be very imposing and solemnly impressive.
It is the desire that, after the Oration, You, as Chief Executive of the Nation, formally set apart these grounds to their Sacred use by a few appropriate remarks.
It will be a source of great gratification to the many widows and orphans that have been made almost friendless by the Great Battle here, to have you personally! and it will kindle anew in the breast of the comrades of these brave dead, who are now in the tented field or nobly meeting the foe in the front, a confidence that they who sleep in death on the Battle Field are not forgotten by those highest in authority; and they will feel that, should their fate be the same, their remains will not be uncared for.
We hope you will be able to be present to perform this last solemn act to the Soldiers dead on the Battle Field.
I am with great Respect, Your Excellency's Obedient Servant,
Agent for A.G. Curtin, Gov. of Penna. and acting for all the States.