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150 years ago today – The Gettysburg Address

George Eastman/Getty Images
George Eastman/Getty Images

On the morning of November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln arose at the David Wills House on the square in downtown Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He faced a busy day, highlighted by a procession to the National Cemetery and the lengthy dedication ceremony, where he would present a few appropriate remarks. Later in the day, after other official acts and a church service, he would take the long series of train rides back down to the Executive Mansion in Washington, D. C.

Visitors crowded into town for the dedication events, filling the hotels and taverns. In many cases, private citizens opened their houses for out-of-town friends and relatives, or even for total strangers. Day-trippers filled the roads leading into Gettysburg, including a large number of people coming from the east from adjoining York County.

Everett Everett, the primary speaker, spoke for almost two hours at the ceremony, a speech which has largely been forgotten by the public. It was those few dedicatory remarks by the President which proved immortal as the Gettysburg Address.

Here are a handful of accounts from York Countians who made the trek to Gettysburg for the dedication.

"Sketch of Mr. Farquhar showing how Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Speech." Artist James E. Kelly. Courtesy of Civil War author William Styple
“Sketch of Mr. Farquhar showing how Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Speech.” Artist James E. Kelly. Courtesy of Civil War author William Styple

Arthur Briggs Farquhar, a young York businessman, had been instrumental in arranging the surrender of York to Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon back during the early summer during the Gettysburg Campaign. He had ventured forth to Gettysburg during the battle and witnessed part of the fighting. Now in November, he was back for the ceremony. Years later, famed author and sculptor James E. Kelly asked Farquhar to reenact the president’s gestures and mannerisms from when he delivered the Gettysburg Address. Farquhar complied and Kelly produced the rough sketch reproduced above through the kindness of modern day author William Styple, who has produced a book on James E. Kelley’s interviews with Civil War personalities and generals.

While Lincoln was at Gettysburg for the dedication ceremonies on November 19, at least two young York County women present in the audience left written comments.

According to tradition, one was newspaper reporter Mary Shaw Leader, whose mother Maria owned and managed the Hanover Spectator. Mary deemed Lincoln’s brief talk as “a remarkable speech,” a sentiment some other correspondents did not share.

Fifteen-year-old Louisa Vandersloot of Hanover performed a solo as part of a church choir. The president later rewarded her with a handshake and a fatherly kiss. Before she met Abraham Lincoln, Louisa considered him unattractive. Now, after looking into his kind and sympathetic eyes, she revised her opinion. He indeed was “pleasing to look upon,” as she later recalled.

Years later, Louisa still recalled the size of Lincoln’s hand when he shook hers. She also sensed the authority in his mannerisms.

“When Lincoln talked, he said something,” she stated.

[Adapted from Civil War Voices from York County, Pa. by Scott Mingus and James McClure]

Photo by Scott Mingus, November 2013
Photo by Scott Mingus, November 2013

Getting to and from Gettysburg proved problematic, and hundreds of people never made it, including a contingent of politicians who were stranded at Hanover Junction in York County because of the lack of transportation and hotel rooms. A reporter from Harrisburg mentioned some of these issues in his column:

“In company with many others, we took the train for Gettysburg, via Hanover Junction, on Wednesday morning, to swell the ranks of the thronging thousands who, prompted by the curiosity and patriotism or drawn by tenderer ties of love for the dead, were gathering there to witness and participate in the grand and solemn consecration of the burying place of the nation’s dead, who fell upon the hills and plains of Pennsylvania’s immemorial battle-field — a spot which has been first consecrated by the blood of the slain and the tears of the living, but which was now to be formally and solemnly dedicated to perpetual peace.

“The train in which we rode was filled to its utmost capacity, many being forced to stand on the platform throughout the journey. The passengers were from all parts of the country, and almost every loyal State was represented in each car.

“The accommodations of the roads — the Northern Central and the Hanover and Gettysburg — were by no means sufficient for the occasion, and all persons going to or from the scene of interest were put to great inconvenience in consequence. Some were unable to get beyond Hanover Junction on Thursday.

“We saw a party of over fifty persons, who had journeyed over six hundred miles for the express purpose of attending the dedication, which party lay at the Junction from nine o’clock in the morning until ten at night, unable to get a step farther. Not a train was run over the Hanover road during that time, and thus the pilgrims, after coming six hundred miles, were defeated in their enterprise on the last twenty-five miles.”

“It is a matter of wonder that, with such timely notice, this road failed to make proper arrangements, and suffered the spirit of mismanagement to paralyze its workings.”

Despite the delays, the Patriot reporter made it to Gettysburg in time to cover the dedication ceremonies, including a lengthy oration by famed orator Edward Everett before a short address by President Abraham Lincoln.

However, he noted annoying problems on his return trip to Harrisburg:

“Returning, we left Gettysburg on the train which conveyed the President at 6 o’clock p.m. on Thursday, and arrived at the Junction two hours afterward. Here, in company with many others, we were forced to wait impatiently hour after hour until about daybreak on Friday.

“The amount of blasphemy manufactured at that little hotel [managed by innkeeper John Scott] was considerable, and contrasted very harshly with the solemn events of the day.”[i]

[i] Harrisburg Patriot, Nov. 26, 1863.