He almost was not asked to speak.
In October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln received the same plain envelope that was sent to hundreds of people, requesting attendance at a dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery here.
Col. Clark E. Carr, a confidante of several U.S. presidents and a member of the commission that organized the event, later admitted that commissioners scrambled to send a more personal invitation after Lincoln indicated he would attend.
Asking Lincoln to deliver a “few appropriate thoughts,” Carr said, was “an afterthought.”
You see, the dedication’s real headliner was Edward Everett. A former secretary of state, U.S. senator, Massachusetts governor and Harvard president whose nationwide tour helped to save Mount Vernon as a national shrine, Everett was considered the great orator of his time.
When Lincoln arrived, Gettysburg remained raw from the horrific battle that raged here for three days just five months earlier. More than 70,000 Confederate troops engaged 83,000 Federal troops around this crossroads town; the battle claimed more than 50,000 souls and 3,000 horses, and it changed the course of the war in the Union’s favor.