The Battle of Gettysburg was fought just prior to the 4th of July, 1863, between General Robert E. Lee's "Confederate States Army" and the Union's "Army of the Potomac" (led by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, who had assumed command only three days earlier). In addition to being the northernmost battle of the American Civil War, it was also the costliest in terms of lives lost.
Nearly 8,000 soldiers died, and more than 27,000 were wounded. The cemetery atop the ridge on the southeast corner of this small Pennsylvania town, the Soldiers' National Cemetery, was dedicated this day, November 19th, in that same year 1863.
The principal speaker that day was the Hon. Edward Everett, a former Governor of Massachusetts who had also served as President of Harvard University, Secretary of State under President Fillmore, and as a Congressman and U.S. Senator. He was considered the nation's foremost orator of the day, and asked that the dedication be delayed from the originally planned date of September 23rd in order to prepare an "appropriate" speech.
After Ambassador Everett's two-hour speech, President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most well-known speeches in our nation's history: the Gettysburg Address. His two-minute long, 10-sentence, 272-word speech reaffirmed the notion of human equality, recast the ongoing war as a "new birth of freedom", and asserted the primacy of the nation-state over the rights of individual states to protect individual freedoms.
Though the Civil War would rage for another 17 months, with tens of thousands more to perish, our nation is the greater for Lincoln's tireless efforts to preserve not only the Union, but the values that make our Union great.
And again, "it is for us the living" to ensure that those words from seven score and four years ago remind us of our duty to the future -- that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.