November 19th, 1863: Mr. Lincoln at Gettysburg

A mostly encore post about today’s anniversary of Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg.

Prior to 2007, this was the only known photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg, on the day of his address - Library of Congress

148 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln redefined the Declaration of Independence and the goals of the American Civil War, in a less-than-two-minute speech dedicating part of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as a cemetery and final resting place for soldiers who died in the fierce battle fought there the previous July 1 through 3.

Now in 2011, we’re in the “150th anniversary” years of the Civil War.  Maybe some will look back to the time our nation worked hard to tear itself asunder, and learn lessons that might help us keep from doing that in the 21st century.  Some might find inspiration, or aspiration, in Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg.

Interesting news for 2007: More photos from the Library of Congress collection may contain images of Lincoln. The photo above, detail from a much larger photo, had been thought for years to be the only image of Lincoln from that day. The lore is that photographers, taking a break from former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Everett’ s more than two-hour oration, had expected Lincoln to go on for at least an hour. His short speech caught them totally off-guard, focusing their cameras or taking a break. Lincoln finished before any photographer got a lens open to capture images.

Images of people in these photos are very small, and difficult to identify. Lincoln was not identified at all until 1952:

The plate lay unidentified in the Archives for some fifty-five years until in 1952, Josephine Cobb, Chief of the Still Pictures Branch, recognized Lincoln in the center of the detail, head bared and probably seated. To the immediate left (Lincoln’s right) is Lincoln’s bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, and to the far right (beyond the limits of the detail) is Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania. Cobb estimated that the photograph was taken about noontime, just after Lincoln arrived at the site and before Edward Everett’s arrival, and some three hours before Lincoln gave his now famous address.

On-line, the Abraham Lincoln Blog covered the discovery that two more photographic plates from the 1863 speech at Gettysburg may contain images of Lincoln in his trademark stove-pipe hat. Wander over to the story at the USA Today site, and you can see just how tiny are these detail images in relation to the photographs themselves. These images are tiny parts of photos of the crowd at Gettysburg. (The story ran in USA Today last Thursday or Friday — you may be able to find a copy of that paper buried in the returns pile at your local Kwikee Mart.) Digital technologies, and these suspected finds of Lincoln, should prompt a review of every image from Gettysburg that day.

To the complaints of students, I have required my junior U.S. history students to memorize the Gettysburg Address (though, not yet in this school year). In Irving I found a couple of students who had memorized it for an elementary teacher years earlier, and who still could recite it. Others protested, until they learned the speech. This little act of memorization appears to me to instill confidence in the students that they can master history, once they get it done.

To that end, I discovered a good, ten-minute piece on the address in Ken Burns’ “Civil War” (in Episode 5). On DVD, it’s a good piece for classroom use, short enough for a bell ringer or warm-up, detailed enough for a deeper study, and well done, including the full text of the address itself performed by Sam Waterson.

Embedded video from CNN VideoIn 1863 Edward Everett, the former Massachusetts senator and U.S. secretary of state, was regarded as the greatest orator of the time. A man of infinite grace, and a historian with some sense of events and what the nation was going through, Everett wrote to Lincoln the next day after their speeches:

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Interesting note: P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula notes that the Gettysburg Address was delivered “seven score and four years ago.” Of course, that will never happen again. I’ll wager he was the first to notice that odd juxtaposition on the opening line.

Do you have a favorite performance of this address you’d commend for internet bloggers?  Let us know where to find it, in comments.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Chamblee54 for reminding us about the anniversary, today.

Resources for students and teachers:

10 Responses to November 19th, 1863: Mr. Lincoln at Gettysburg

  1. Black Flag® says:

    That’s fine.

    I may have erred, but you remain incompetent.


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    You can delete my accusations – or you keep them on the blog… your choice.

    I’m not going to hide the evidence. Your case worker may need it.


  3. Ellie says:

    I had to memorize the Preamble also, but for a different teacher. My daughter knew it because of Schoolhouse Rock.

    Flanders Field is a very moving poem, and Arlington has a page about it on the website:

    FDR’s speech could really be tied into that video with the children singing about rights.


  4. Jim says:

    Good for you, Ed. The Preamble is really the “meat of the word” as far as Democracy is concerned. I am glad to know some teachers still care about it.


  5. Black Flag® says:


    I retract my “censor” comments.

    If you need help managing your Spam Filter, I might be able to assist.

    You can delete my accusations – or you keep them on the blog… your choice.


  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Ellie, I’ve not required it for two years. This year, we’re starting with the Preamble, in the two weeks after Turkey Day. Then the Gettysburg Address. Not sure where to go after that — Flanders Field? The Four Freedoms?


  7. chamblee54 says:

    I was going to write about International Men’s Day, but quickly ran out of things to say. I looked up November 19 on wikipedia, and saw the anniversary of Mr. Lincoln’s comments. On this day in 1959, Ford announced they would no longer manufacture the Edsel. It is the Birthday of Ted Turner, Larry King, and Jodie Foster.


  8. Black Flag® says:


    And you are still a coward, Ed.

    Either tell me to go, or uncensor me – but be a man about it.


  9. Black Flag® says:


    You are absolutely correct.

    Lincoln vacated the ideas within the Declaration of Independence, and formed a new Union – one based on the Declaration of Dependence.

    He turned his back on the document on freedom – and substituted an idea that government was the provider of goods and services.

    The US today is most certainly the dream of Lincoln and the nightmare of Jefferson.


  10. Ellie says:

    I know you’re aiming this at educators, but I thank you for it for myself. It’s been a long time since I read about it, and much, much longer since I had a teacher who made the class memorize the Address. I’m afraid, I can no longer recite it, but the memorizing still did me good.


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