The 146th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address is next Thursday. This coming week, the Gettysburg community and Gettysburg National Military Park will be hosting a full slate of Dedication Day and Remembrance Day activities to honor President Abraham Lincoln, his Gettysburg Address, and the soldiers who fought so bravely in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Lincoln’s two-minute speech at the dedication of the National Soldiers’ Cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, was one of the most memorable speeches in American history. Delivered less than five months after the battle, and while half the bodies of the fallen had not yet even been disinterred from their hasty graves and moved to the cemetery, it was a model of eloquent brevity:
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.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate...we can not consecrate...we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
On August 7, 1946, the Gettysburg Address anniversary date, November 19, was formally designated as Dedication Day by a joint resolution of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The Gettysburg community’s annual celebration of Dedication Day on November 19 is supplemented by a community celebration called Remembrance Day that occurs on the Saturday closest to Dedication Day (that’s November 21 this year). There are always activities scheduled between Dedication Day and Remembrance Day, with the net result that Dedication Day and Remembrance Day activities overlap and interconnect so much that Gettysburg boosters commonly refer to “Dedication Day and Remembrance Day” almost as though it were a single event.
The main event, Dedication Day, is sponsored by the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, Gettysburg National Military Park, and the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.
The Dedication Day and Remembrance Day celebrations, which attract thousands of people from all over the United States, together offer a large and diversified schedule of activities and attractions such as presentations by nationally known scholars and authors, living history performances, exhibits by major artists, awards ceremonies, a naturalization ceremony, luncheons, receptions, book signings, orchestral and band music, an illumination at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, and even a parade.
Of course, activities focused on the Soldiers’ National Cemetery (aka Gettysburg National Cemetery) and the Gettysburg Address play an especially important role. Dedication Day ceremonies this coming Thursday begin at 9:30 a.m. with wreath-laying ceremony at the cemetery followed by a memorial service at the brick rostrum (with a keynote address by Academy Award-wining actor Richard Dreyfuss), performances by the "The President's Own" United States Marine Band, and a naturalization ceremony presented by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Immediately following the Dedication Day ceremonies there will be a US Colored Troops Graveside Salute in the northern area of the cemetery.
On Saturday night, attention will turn to the cemetery once again as the Remembrance Illumination takes place between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m. During this annual event, now in its seventh year, more than 3,500 luminary candles will be lit by Friends of Gettysburg volunteers. That’s one candle for the grave of each Civil War soldier buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
Postscript: Past speakers for the Dedication Day memorial ceremony at the Soldiers' National Cemetery have included notables such as Ken Burns, Tom Brokaw, Sandra Day O’Connor, James McPherson, and Tom Ridge. This year’s Dedication Day ceremony, with Richard Dreyfuss as keynote speaker, will wrap up a year-long national celebration of the Lincoln Bicentennial.