Gettysburg: Dedication of the National Cemetery
Imposing ceremonies & Oration of Honorable Edward Everett
Speech by the President
The consecration of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, yesterday, was a most imposing and highly impressive affair. The town was crowded on the previous evening, and the tired multitudes were obliged to sleep in the churches, in the parlors of the citizens, every available resting place being occupied.
During Wednesday evening, a great throng lingered around the residence of Mr David Wills, the hospitable entertainer of the President and his accompanying party, anxious to obtain a glimpse of the honored Chief Magistrate of the Nation. The band of the Fifth New York Artillery was brought into requisition, and serenaded the President soon after his arrival, and he made the following response:
“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 very substantial reasons. The most substantial of these is that I have no speech to make. [Laughter.] It is somewhat important in my position that one should not say any foolish things if he can help it, and it very often happens that the only way to help it is to say nothing at all. [Renewed laughter.]
“Believing that that is my precise position this evening, I must beg of you to excuse me from saying ‘one word.’”
The President was most enthusiastically greeted, and when he retired, he did so amid prolonged applause.
The dedication ceremonies
On Thursday morning, the sun rose brightly, and after being temporarily obscured, smiled pleasantly throughout the day, and the ceremonies proceeded according to the program, under the direction of the Chief Marshal Ward H Lamon and his aides and the marshals appointed from the different States represented.
The whole neighboring population was poured into Gettysburg, and every train that had arrived for the last forty-eight hours, was loaded with passengers.
State, county and city officials, Governors, Legislators, municipal fathers and other civic functionaries, statesmen, philosophers, poets, editors, men of science, artisans, mechanics, tillers of the soil and navigators of the seas — all impelled by one common, patriotic desire to testify their loyal devotion to the National cause and their heartfelt respect for its fallen heroes.
At 10 o’clock, the procession commenced moving over the route designated toward the cemetery. The military portion of the procession was headed by a squadron of cavalry, followed by Major General Couch and staff.
The 5th New York Artillery Regiment, from Baltimore, with their fine battery, were next in line, presenting a splendid appearance.
General Schenck and staff were also present.
Next came the Marshal-in-Chief, Ward H Lamon, Esq, and his numerous staff of aides, wearing yellow and white scarfs with tri-colored rosettes on the breast, and black and white shoulder knots.
Next came the President of the United States, and Secretaries Seward, Usher, and Blair, all finely mounted.
The President wore a plain suit of black and white kid gauntlets. Great curiosity was manifested by the people everywhere to catch a glimpse at the Chief Magistrate.
The remainder of the procession was chiefly composed of various civic bodies.
The head of the procession reached the platform erected in the center of the cemetery a quarter before noon; but some time was consumed in assigning the different bodies their position round the stand; and it was not until after 12 o’clock that the President and others, assigned to seats upon the platform, were all in their places.
All the arrangements having been finally completed with great order and decorum, B B French, Esq., acting as one of the Chief Marshal’s aides, gave the signal, and the solemn ceremonies were commences by the performance of a funeral dirge by the band, stationed in front of the platform.
A most impressive prayer was offered by Rev. Thomas H Stockton, chaplain of the House, during which the most profound silence prevailed and very many were affected to tears. The touching pathos of the venerable divine, the occasion and the scene presented, was at once most affecting, and not a few eyes not accustomed to weep were bathed in tears.
The President evidently felt deeply, and, with the venerable statesman and patriot, Hon. Edward Everett, who was by his side, made no effort to hide his emotion. The scene was a grand and imposing one. The battlefield lay like a panorama in full view, and the heroism there displayed on the opening of July seemed to be re-enacted in the imaginations of the beholders. The surrounding troops, the vast concourse, and the insignia of a nation’s mourning made up a scene that can never be forgotten by those who were present.
At the conclusion of the prayer the band very appropriately performed the grand old hymn of Luther, “Old Hundred.”
Hon. B B French now introduced the Hon. Edward Everett, who advanced to the front of the platform and pronounced.
We regret that our limited space will not permit us to lay before our readers this splendid effort of Mr Everett. In it he gives a graphic and eloquent description of the battle of Gettysburg and an admirable dissertation upon the wicked rebellion of which it was one of the bloody fruits. The oration will be read with interest by every loyal man and woman in the land.
When Mr Everett had concluded, a hymn composed by Hon. B B French, was sung with excellent effect by the Baltimore Glee Club, after which, Marshal Lamon introduced to the assemblage the President of the United States, who delivered the following dedicatory remarks:
Speech of the President
“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. [Applause.] Now, we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any other nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war; we are met to dedicate a portion of it as the final resting place of 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 cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. [Applause.] The world will little note nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here. [Applause.]
“It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried on. [Applause.] It is rather for us here to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that those dead shall not have died in vain. [Applause.] That the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom; and that governments of the people, by the people and for the people, shal not perish from the earth.” [Long continued applause.]
The end of the ceremonies
It was announced by B B French, Esq, that a letter had been received from Lieutenant General Scott regretting his inability to be present on the occasion.
After the ceremonies were concluded, a salute was fired by the artillery, and the military portion of the procession re-formed and escorted the President to his lodgings, where he was subsequently visited by a large number of persons, and for more than an hour was the victim of a “hands-shaking” that must have tested his good nature to the utmost. The President returned to Washington in a special train, which left Gettysburg about 7 o’clock.
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Publication: Daily National Republican (Washington, DC)
Publication date: November 20, 1863