Greetings From Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

by Michael Boyink / mike@douglascountyherald.com

Gettysburg.

The site of a historic battle that helped turn the tide of the Civil War in favor of the Union.

Namesake for that speech, given at the ceremony to honor the vast number of men who died at battle of Gettysburg.

The one that begins:

“Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature. But the duty to which you have called me must be performed;–grant me, I pray you, your indulgence and your sympathy.”

It goes on from there.For two hours. 

It references Greek mythology. It remembers the Pilgrims. The founders of Boston. President George Washington. It captures the details of the battle. 

It praises the North and vilifies the South, while attempting to call for a renewed America.

The speaker was considered America’s finest orator. A child prodigy, having graduated Harvard at age 17 – as valedictorian. 

He briefly became a pastor at 19, then went back to Harvard to teach. The position involved study in Europe, where he received the first German PHD awarded to an American.

Back in the States, his resume filled in further. President of Harvard. Ten years in the US Congress. Governor of Massachusetts. Literary magazine editor. Secretary of State.

The Boyink girls walk the cemetery in Gettysburg, PA

He was the obvious first choice for delivering the Gettysburg Address. He had the credentials.

And he had the voice – described as “the most mellow and beautiful and correct of all instruments of the time.” 

He spoke without notes, enrapturing the crowd, often moving them to tears.

And when he finished, amidst great applause, he sat down.

After a hymn from the Baltimore Glee Club, the second speaker got up.

This guy? They invited him as a courtesy. As a formality. The event organizers weren’t even sure he’d show up.

Born in a cabin to illiterate parents. No formal education. No high school diploma. 

Mostly self taught, his public speaking abilities started with a book and a handy tree stump.

Early speeches were filled with backwoods rhetoric, tall tales, and rough slangs and working-man grammar.

But he’d learned. 

Enough to study law. And enter politics. 

His speech was in his coat pocket. He’d worked on it for a couple of weeks, then finalized it in his room the previous night. 

He gathered himself, looked about the crowd, and began to speak.

Two minutes later he finished and sat down.

To an awkward silence.

Then a smattering of polite applause.

Press accounts would label his speech as “silly, flat and dishwatery” and a “ludicrous luckless sally.” 

But history often uses a different lens than the present.

Edward Everett – the first Gettysburg speaker – and his address have largely been forgotten in the folds of time.

But the words:

“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.”

Delivered by President Abraham Lincoln?

That one we remember.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is home to Gettysburg National Military Park which features historic structures, battlefields, interpretive tours, living history demonstrations, and more. Plan your visit at nps.gov/gett.

This barn is part of the Eisenhower National Historic Site – located adjacent to and visible from the Gettysburg battlefield.