Four months after the Battle of Gettysburg the Gettysburg National Cemetery was dedicated. The Cemetery was originally owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but was transferred to the United States Government in 1872.
After purchasing the 17 acres of land on Cemetery Hill, Pennsylvania officials wanted to consecrate the grounds with appropriate ceremonies. The Honorable Edward Everett of Massachusetts was selected to present the oration for the occasion, as he was considered the most outstanding orator of the day.
Since the land was not owned by the Federal Government, it never occurred to those in charge that the President might want to attend the ceremony. Lincoln's acceptance came as a surprise, then. He was quickly asked to participate in the program, and he accepted.
At 10:00 on the morning of November 19, a procession passed down Baltimore Street, with President Lincoln riding on horseback. At noon, with thousands looking for a good vantage point, the ceremonies began. Mr. Everett, after standing for a moment in silence, spoke for nearly two hours, covering all three days of the battle, spoke of the purpose of war, and even reviewed funeral practices in Greece.
By comparison, President Lincoln's speech lasted only two minutes, but it went into history as the immortal 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 battle field 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 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. The world will little note, nor 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 here 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 this government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Here is the address as given by Lincoln look-alike James Getty a few years ago on the anniversary of the address: