The words Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg comprise perhaps the most famous speech in history. It has been quoted by popes, presidents, prime ministers, and revolutionaries around the world. From "Four score and seven years ago..." to "government of the people, by the people, for the people," Lincoln's words echo in the American conscience. Many books have been written about the Gettysburg Address and yet, as Lincoln scholar Gabor Boritt shows, there is much that we don't know about the speech. In The Gettysburg Gospel he reconstructs what really happened in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863. Boritt tears away a century of myths, lies, and legends to give us a clear understanding of the greatest American's greatest speech.
In the aftermath of the bloodiest battle ever fought in North America, the little town of Gettysburg was engulfed in the worst man-made disaster in U.S. history: close to 21,000 wounded; very few doctors; heroic women coping in houses, barns, and churches turned into hospitals; dead horses and mules rotting in farmyards and fields; and at least 7,000 dead soldiers who had to be dug up, identified, and reburied. This was where Lincoln had to come to explain why the horror of war must continue.
Planning America's first national cemetery revitalized the traumatized people of Gettysburg, but the dedication ceremonies overwhelmed the town. Lincoln was not certain until the last moment whether he could come. But he knew the significance of the occasion and wrote his remarks with care -- the first speech since his inauguration that he prepared before delivering it. A careful analysis of the Address and the public reaction to it form the center of this book. Boritt shows how Lincoln responded to the politics of the time and also clarifies which text he spoke from and how and when he wrote the various versions. Few people initially recognized the importance of the speech; it was frequently and, at times, hilariously misreported. But over the years the speech would grow into American scripture. It would acquire new and broader meanings. It would be better understood, but also misunderstood and misinterpreted to suit beliefs very different from Lincoln's.
The Gettysburg Gospel is based on years of scholarship as well as a deep understanding of Lincoln and of Gettysburg itself. It draws on vital documents essential to appreciating Lincoln's great speech and its evolution into American gospel. This is an indispensable book for anyone interested in the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, or American history.
In this engrossing study, Civil War scholar Boritt (editor of The Lincoln Enigma) offers a revealing history of that most famous piece of American oratory, the Gettysburg Address. Boritt opens with an evocative description of a stench-filled, corpse-strewn Gettysburg on July 4, 1863, after the battle. When Lincoln arrived a few months later to dedicate the national cemetery, he had an important task: "to explain to the people," writes Borritt, in plain, powerful prose, "why the bloodletting must go on." After vividly recreating the delivery of the address, Boritt discusses the speech's mixed reception. Republican newspapers praised it; Democrats, viewing it as the beginning of Lincoln's re-election campaign, belittled or tried to ignore it; one Democratic newspaper called the speech a "mawkish harangue." Just as bad, Lincoln's graceful oratory was garbled in transmission to newspapers. Most interesting is Boritt's recounting of how, after Lincoln's assassination, the speech was mostly forgotten until the 1880s, when Gettysburg increasingly became a symbol of a reunion between North and South, and the Gettysburg Address took on the sheen of America's "sacred scriptures." Lincoln's poetic language, says Boritt, helps the speech live on, and the message of "sacrificial redemption" still speaks to Americans today. This elegant account will delight readers who enjoyed Garry Wills's Lincoln at Gettysburg. (Lengthy appendixes parsing drafts of the speech, however, will interest mainly aficionados.) 16 pages of b&w illus., and b&w illus. throughout.