On a Thursday, Nov. 19, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln helped dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA to the thousands of soldiers (Union and Confederate) who had died in battle there just a few months earlier, July 1-3, 1863. What would become his most famous speech before a crowd of men, women and children estimated at 15,000 to 20,000 was given mid-afternoon that day after music and pray and the first guest speaker spoke for a couple hours. Lincoln actually gave his short speech, 272 words, while being feverish and weak, with a severe headache. He returned on the train to Washington, D. C. that evening and it turned out he was suffering from a mild case of smallpox.
The beginning of the speech was “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.”
Besides noting this historical event being 150 years ago, it opens up an opportunity to see if any of your family ancestors attended this dedication in Gettysburg or were buried at this cemetery. Review any family journals, letters, diaries, or family histories. There could have been something you overlooked.
Here is an example of how I found a relative who may very well could have been there in Gettysburg on Nov. 19th. I reread several times a letter handed down several generations from John G. Wagoner’s sister, Mattie Wagoner in Westminster, MD, which she wrote on Nov. 26, 1863:
‘Sorry to learn of Wesley’s death’ “Mother was sorry she did not get to speak to you in Gettysburg. She seen you on the stand but could not get near enough to speak to you. She thought you would call around at Uncle David’s where she could see you.”
This was just a small portion of a longer letter to John Wagoner and it appears no one ever picked up on the possibility of John attending the dedication ceremony.
John Wagoner lived in Hanover, PA, a very close, nearby town to Gettysburg. His son, Wesley had died in a Rebel prison camp earlier in November. John may have been specifically invited, especially to be on the stand because of his son’s recent death, plus John was a well-known merchant in Hanover. Here is strong evidence that John, an ancestor was an eye witness to history. This illustrates how you really have to know historical events and put the pieces together.
Photo: A portion of the crowd at the Gettysburg cemetery dedication on Nov. 19, 1863.< Return To Blog