The casualties were staggering. Almost 50,000 men were killed, wounded, or captured during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.
Three days of war had transformed the little town in Pennsylvania. Homes, schools, businesses, and churches became hospitals. Moms and dads, teachers and students, carpenters and preachers all became nurses.
The work was horrific.
Some 3,000 horse carcasses were scattered among the 8,000 men lying dead beneath the summer sun. The men needed to be buried, but the horses could be burned. As the smoke rose into the air and filtered through the town, the people of Gettysburg became violently ill. The scenes of death and dying were ghastly, but the stench was unbearable.
Four months later, the town had come a long way. A site adjacent to the battlefield had been purchased and work began on a proper cemetery for the fallen.
Local attorney David Wills deserves much of the credit for Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg. A soldier’s monument stands at the center of the cemetery, while the graves of individual soldiers are arranged in a series of semicircles around the monument.
Wills also organized the dedication ceremony. He arranged for renowned orator Edward Everett to address the crowd. He would give a lengthy address, detailing the complete history of the battle. But Wills also wanted the president to attend the ceremony. It was a long shot, but it was worth a try. On this date in 1863, Wills sent President Lincoln an invitation:
Gettysburg Nov. 2nd 1863
The several States having soldiers in the Army of the Potomac, who were killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, or have since died at the various hospitals which were established in the vicinity, have procured grounds on a prominent part of the Battle Field for a Cemetery, and are having the dead removed to them and properly buried.
These Grounds will be Consecrated and set apart to this sacred purpose, by appropriate Ceremonies, on Thursday, the 19th distant,--
Hon Edward Everett will deliver the Oration.
I am authorized by the Governors of the different States to invite You to be present, and participate in these Ceremonies, which will doubtless be very imposing and solemnly impressive.
It is the desire that, after the Oration, You, as Chief Executive of the Nation, formally set apart these grounds to their Sacred use by a few appropriate remarks.
It will be a source of great gratification to the many widows and orphans that have been made almost friendless by the Great Battle here, to have you here personally; and it will kindle anew in the breasts of the Comrades of these brave dead, who are now in the tented field or nobly meeting the foe in the front, a confidence that they who sleep in death on the Battle Field are not forgotten by those highest in Authority; and they will feel that, should their fate be the same, their remains will not be uncared for.
We hope you will be able to be present to perform this last solemn act to the Soldier dead on this Battle Field.
I am with great
Respect, Your Excellency's
A. G. Curtin Gov. of Penna, and acting for all the States.
PS: I will be posting more "Voices of Secession" on Saturday and Sunday!