GETTYSBURG, Pa. — The historic borough of Gettysburg will celebrate the sesquicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech in November as well as the dedication of the United States’ first national cemetery.
On Nov. 19, Gettysburg will pay tribute to Lincoln’s “few appropriate remarks” with a ceremony in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, a place the 16th president came to dedicate; a place where more than 3,500 Union dead were buried following the American Civil War’s most tragic battle.
Following the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1–3, 1863, the surrounding town was devastated from days of fighting. More than 51,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were dead, wounded, captured or missing. Bodies were strewn across the farmland surrounding Gettysburg and the townspeople immediately began assisting the fallen troops, turning their homes, churches and businesses into makeshift hospitals.
Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin quickly commissioned Gettysburg Attorney David Wills to find suitable land for a cemetery to bury the many Union dead. It took four months, but Wills had soon purchased 17 acres of ground in Gettysburg and interment of the bodies began. Lincoln delivered the dedication in November.
“The soldiers at Gettysburg suffered greatly after the battle, as did the townspeople, and the dedication ceremony in 1863 gave them hope and reminded them to never forget the legacy of those who lost their lives here, just as our Dedication Day does today,” said Norris Flowers, president of the Gettysburg CVB.
Dedication Day is to be held at Soldiers’ National Cemetery and will include a Wreath Laying Ceremony at 10 a.m. followed by a formal ceremony. Pulitzer Prize-winning author and noted American Civil War historian James McPherson is set to speak. The formal ceremony will feature candidates taking the United States Oath of Citizenship and a $5,000 scholarship will be awarded to a Pennsylvania student as part of the “In Lincoln’s Footsteps” speech competition. Music will be provided by the U.S. Marine Corps Band, and nationally renowned Lincoln portrayer James Getty will deliver a recitation of the Gettysburg Address.
On the evening of Nov. 18, the Gettysburg community is planning several events throughout town, including musical performances, programs, tours and living history.
Coinciding with Dedication Day and the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address is Remembrance Day, to be held this year on Saturday, Nov. 23. Gettysburg residents and visitors annually commemorate the sacrifices made during and after the battle. Remembrance Day will begin with a Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Service at the Woolson Monument in Zeigler’s Grove in the Gettysburg National Military Park at 11 a.m. The service will be followed by the 57th annual Remembrance Day Parade, which will step off downtown at 1 p.m. in remembrance of the soldiers who served during the Civil War.