“Four score and seven years ago…” drawled a sandy haired boy as he stood in front of his 4th grade class dressed as Abraham Lincoln (beard and all) and delivered the Gettysburg Address. His class had to present a memory of Lincoln in commemoration of his assassination, something most students have done in their academic career. The assignment’s significance and its role in how Lincoln is still presently a site of memory is lost on most students. In exploring the site of memory made famous by Lincoln, the Gettysburg National Cemetery, it is clear how Lincoln’s memory still impacts our students, and more importantly our country.
On Thursday, November 19th, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to deliver his speech at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The cemetery serves as a memorial and final resting ground for the more than 3,500 Union soldiers who lost their lives there during the Battle of Gettysburg. During his speech, Lincoln praised the soldiers who gave their lives for the Union, and galvanized the crowd that their work was not over and it was their job to continue to fight for the Union until freedom was achieved. The entire speech lasted around two minutes, but it was moving enough that it is still known as the most famous speech given by Lincoln.
The desire to dedicate this land as an official cemetery came from the people of Gettysburg. The bodies strewed across the land were not properly covered by the mass graves, and the people thought the soldiers deserved a proper burial. A committee was formed to plan both the location of the cemetery and the proper burial of the thousands of soldiers there. With help from the governor of Pennsylvania and state funding, the restoration began four months after the battle took place. David Wills, a local lawyer, was appointed by the governor to organize the execution of the cemetery, and in doing so Wills hired William Saunders to design the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Saunders designed the cemetery to be a semicircle of gravestones arranged by state, with the center being the Soldiers’ National Monument. He wanted the gravestones arranged by state because he wanted to show how many Union soldiers participated from each state.
The Soldiers’ National Monument in the center of the Gettysburg National Cemetery was designed by J. G. Batterson and sculpted by Randolph Rogers. The four marble statues on each side represent war, history, plenty, and peace. The statue “Genius of Liberty” on top of the monument has a wreath in one hand and a sword in the other, representing the struggle for freedom. It’s a beautiful statue, but the symbolism behind the statue brings it to life. Even though it is not directly related to Lincoln, it can be interpreted to represent what Lincoln and the Union soldiers were fighting for. Imagine Lincoln as the Genius of Liberty, constantly trying to give the people freedom by means of violence and peace. Then imagine the four statues surrounding Lincoln representing the people of the Union, who had to fight, make peace, make history, and be enough for the nation. It was a constant battle between those allegorical statues, and during the Gettysburg Address Lincoln even said their fight was not over, that the people still had to work for the freedom of their nation. To this day, we are still trying to find a harmonious balance between what all of the statues represent. This makes the Soldiers’ National Monument a living, in a sense, and applicable site of ongoing memory.
The monument dedicated to the Union soldiers is not the only monument at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. In 1912, almost 50 years after the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, a new monument was constructed at the site to commemorate Lincoln and the famous address he gave there. Designed by Henry K. Bush-Brown, this monument involves a bust of Lincoln along with two tablets. The one on the right has the Gettysburg Address inscribed on it, and the one on the left has the invitation from David Wills delivered to Lincoln asking if he would speak at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. It is most likely one of the only monuments in the world dedicated to a speech someone gave, which says a lot about the significance of that speech to our nation and how we can connect to the memory tied to it.
As a way of furthering the impact Lincoln had at this memorial site, a rostrum was constructed by the Federal Government near Taneytown Road entrance in 1879. This rostrum would serve as a venue for historical commemorations delivered by presidents such as Roosevelt, Coolidge, Hoover, and more. Lincoln had set the precedence for a delivering rousing speech, and presidents thereafter wanted to have the same effect on the people. They hoped by standing on the same ground as he did they may be able to draw some of Lincoln’s own energy from the site and inspire millions.
In retrospect, it is almost unreal that a two minute speech given by Abraham Lincoln would have such a lasting affect on our country. However, it is because of the emotional ties to the site and the way Lincoln was able to touch the hearts of the people that those ten sentences are still ringing in American’s ears to this day. As seen from the video below, it is clear Lincoln’s speech will still have meaning in our lives for years to come.
“Dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery, November 19, 1863.” Smithsonian. National Museum of American History, 21 Nov. 2008. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://americanhistory.si.edu/documentsgallery/exhibitions/gettysburg_address_4.html#>.
Gettysburg Address Rap- MC LaLa. Dir. Peter DiLalla. 3 Jan. 2013. YouTube. Web. 17 Apr. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIgjBbOT0Vc>.
“The Gettysburg Address.” Abraham Lincoln Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm>.
“Gettysburg National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.” National Park Service. US Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Pennsylvania/Gettysburg_National_Cemetery.html>.
“Gettysburg Rostrum.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Rostrum>.
“Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Memorial.” The Battle of Gettysburg. Stone Sentinels, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/other-monuments/lincolns-gettysburg-address-memorial/>.
“Soldiers National Cemetery Rostrum to be “Redone”.” Blog. Gettysburg Daily. Gettysburg Daily, 21 Feb. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://www.gettysburgdaily.com/soldiers-national-cemetery-rostrum-to-be-redone/>.
“Soldiers National Monument.” The Battle of Gettysburg. Stone Sentinels, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/other-monuments/soldiers-national-monument/>.
“Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg.” The Cultural Landscape Foundation. The Cultural Landscape Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015. <https://tclf.org/landscapes/soldiers-national-cemetery-gettysburg>.