The battle was fought on July 1-3, 1863. The next morning, the 4th of July, the sun rose over Gettysburg’s bloody hills and fields. Over 50,000 Americans in Blue or Grey had died or had been wounded in the last three days, far more than in any other battle in our history. It was the turning point of the Civil War, the most costly war in human lives America has ever fought. Four months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy there, on a cloudy Thursday afternoon of November 19, 1863, a dedication ceremony of a soldiers’ cemetery was held. It included prayers, hymns sung by choirs and glee clubs, the Marine Corps Band, and speeches, including this one, just 2 minutes long. With breathtaking brevity, the words examine the precious yet tenuous founding principles of the American experiment.
It is now widely seen as the most significant and influential speech ever given in America. And it remains very relevant and even prophetic today.
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 battlefield 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.
— President Abraham Lincoln, 1863
Luminaries at Gettysburg National Cemetery (from the gettysburgcompiler.com)