This Day in History

On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, which would become one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history. The speech was given on Nov. 19 at the Gettysburg military cemetery in the middle of the American Civil War. Incredibly, the speech was only 272 words long, but it packed a powerful punch. In it, Lincoln made his case for why Union forces needed to keep fighting and win the war against the Confederates.

Four months before the speech, the North and South had fought the deadliest battle of the war -- the Battle of Gettysburg. Forty-five thousand men were captured, injured, died or went missing during the three-day altercation. The North's victory was the turning point of the war, and marked the beginning of the South's decline.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin assigned attorney David Wills to care for the remains of over 7,500 soldiers who died at Gettysburg. Wills purchased 17 acres of land to serve as a cemetery. He also invited Lincoln to say a few words at the dedication of the cemetery.

Speech Was Only 2 or 3 Minutes Long

Lincoln's address was only about two or three minutes long. In it, he expressed his vision of the Civil War as a struggle for equality and freedom -- not just a way to preserve the Union. This was not something Lincoln had expressed during the build up to the Civil War. But he revealed it for all to hear on this day over 150 years ago.

In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln opened with the following words:

"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.

"That These Dead Shall Not Have Died in Vain"

The speech continued by addressing the need to make sure that they continue the work that was started on the battlefield of Gettysburg, and "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."

Today, the short speech is regarded as the one of the purest expressions of the democratic vision that has ever been made.