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The Gettysburg Address - setting and context

KC‑5.3.I.C (KC)
NAT (Theme)
Unit 5: Learning Objective J

Video transcript

all right so we left off with the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1st to 3rd 1863 and as I mentioned in the last video Gettysburg was a really significant battle in the Civil War it was a real turning point for the Civil War at which we brought the forces of the south up into the north for a second attempt at an invasion and once again was turned away by the forces of Union General George Meade Gettysburg was the most destructive battle of the Civil War there were about 50,000 casualties and it along with the victory at the siege of Vicksburg which followed the day after on July 4th really start to signify the beginning of the end of the Confederacy's bid for independence now what you may not know about the Battle of Gettysburg is that it was almost the end of the war in fact Lee took his army trying to cross back over the Potomac into the south and the Potomac was flooded so he and his army were pretty much pinned between this flooded river and the forces of Meade in the north now Meade if he had attacked probably could have won the war right there and then and Lincoln was so angry that Meade didn't attack he wrote this him this really nasty letter saying I think you don't even realize what you've done here by letting Lee get away we could have ended the war right now but actually Lincoln didn't send that letter he thought better of it and instead congratulated me Don his great victory and the boost of morale that it gave the forces of the United States at Gettysburg so now I'd like to take some time to talk about the Gettysburg Address which is arguably the most famous speech in American history it's pretty up there and it's extremely short it's only 272 words now Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19th 1863 so it's about three and a half months after the Battle of Gettysburg I think the Gettysburg Address is really interesting and all of the events surrounding it the circumstances surrounding it tell us a lot about the culture and society of the 19th century the progress of the civil war and also the way that things are going to kind of be wrapped up in the end of the Civil War what the ultimate message of the war is going to be and what the blueprint of reuniting the country is going to look like so Gettysburg was this tremendously destructive battle with 50 thousand casualties and remember that after the battle Lee is kind of fleeing for the life of his army and not too long after that Meade pursues him so the armies make kind of an incredible mess and then they take off leaving this tiny town of Gettysburg which has I think about 2,500 people to deal with 50,000 casualties so men who are dead or wounded may be missing in action somewhere and they really just don't have the capacity for it so the governor of Pennsylvania contracts out to create a cemetery and in this period of three and a half months there are bodies literally rotting on the ground so it's a bit of a hellscape the entire town of Gettysburg stinks they had to burn all the dead horses so it smells like burning horses and rotting human flesh it is not a happy place to be so the town of Gettysburg and the state of Pennsylvania are very eager to get a cemetery underway at Gettysburg and so they begin the process of burying the bodies and reburying the bodies trying to identify the various corpses that are left on the field and they ask this man Edward Everett who was really the preeminent orator of his day he was like the rock concert of the 19th century to come and give an oration on the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery and they say Everett do you think you could do this on October 23rd and Everett says no I definitely won't be ready to have a script for an oration by then so can you push it back too November 19th so it's actually Everett who decides what day the Gettysburg Address is going to take place on Lincoln by contrast was only invited maybe a month or so before and he wasn't really considered the important speaker of the day that was Everett but Lincoln knew that he wanted to make something of his remarks at Gettysburg now remember that an election year is coming up in 1864 it's been a hard year Gettysburg is the first major victory that the United States forces have had in a long time so he kind of wants to make sure that he can set the tone of how Gettysburg is going to be remembered and to reconfirm a sense of mission about the Civil War right when there's been such a great loss of life and when you're standing around looking at that loss of life it can be very easy to get discouraged and say okay maybe we should just end the war we should have peace now allow the south to secede and retain slavery and Lincoln wants to make sure that people come away from this dedication at Gettysburg with a renewed sense of purpose in continuing to fight the Civil War now there's a common misconception that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope on the train to Gettysburg that is almost certainly not the case because Lincoln was a planner remember that he was self educated and he always took a lot of time in anything that he wrote he wrote drafts and got revisions and wrote yet another draft he liked to be extremely precise with his language and you can see that throughout pretty much everything that he's written that he is an extremely effective and eloquent writer and that wasn't just because he was an extremely eloquent person he was that's because he worked really hard at it so we're fairly certain that Lincoln spent some time drafting the Gettysburg Address in the White House long before he left so the day arrives November 19th 1863 and Everett gets set up in a tent because he's the real headliner of the day now Edward Everett was I think the undisputed champion of giving speeches in his day he was an incredible speaker and everyone who was there actually agreed that Everett did an incredible job speaking he spoke for over two hours and if that sounds like a really long time to us for the 19th century that was actually pretty appropriate that's what people expected out of oratory in the 19th century they paid attention they were riveted by it it was like going to see a movie or a concert today so people really wanted to hear Everett talk for that long in fact they were quite confused when Lincoln didn't talk for a longer than just a couple of minutes a lot of people even were reported to say was that it so here in the center we have a picture of the day at Gettysburg and we're pretty sure that this is the only confirmed picture of Lincoln at Gettysburg now he's kind of small here but I think this is a really interesting picture because it gives you a sense of what Lincoln's stature was at the time and also the people that he surrounded himself with so this is Lincoln here right here in the center not wearing a hat looking down and then he's surrounded by the important people of his cabinet so right here pretty sure this is William Seward who was the Secretary of State and over here these are John Hay and John Nicolay who were Lincoln's personal secretaries they went everywhere with him and this guy up here is a little harder to see that is Edward Everett now imagine what it would have been like to stand on this field in this growing cemetery at Gettysburg and listen to Edward Everett and Abraham Lincoln talk about the meaning of the battle around you now remember that it's November so it's been three and a half months since the battle but the Battle of Gettysburg took place in the beginning of July and it was 90 hundred degrees outside so when Lee and Meade left Gettysburg they left 8,000 or more bodies rotting in the hot July Sun and many of them had been out there rotting for those three months so when you were standing on this field at Gettysburg there would have literally been human bones around you that you could see it probably would have still smelled pretty terrible so you're really kind of in the thick of the destruction of the Civil War and listening to these two men who are trying to make meaning out of it for you so Everett gets up and he gives this fiery speech for two hours and he goes through all of the details of the battle and says this is what happened over on that hill and this is what happened over on that hill and he tries to rev up the crowd into kind of this patriotic fervor of not only appreciating the glory of the Union victory at Gettysburg but also renewing their hatred for their enemy and then Lincoln gets up to speak and he speaks for just a couple minutes and we'll talk more about that in the next video