This article originally appeared in the pages of the Gettysburg Times, September of 2023. It was penned by Therese Orr of the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, in the hopes of sharing the work the Fellowship does.
“Lincoln and others did indeed give us ‘a new birth of freedom,’ but the goals of liberty and freedom, the obligations of keeping ours a government of and by the people are never-ending.” These are the words of President John Kennedy, sent via telegram to this newspaper and printed on the front page on November 19, 1963, the centennial anniversary of Dedication Day and the Gettysburg Address.
Ten thousand people are estimated to have attended the ceremonies on a warm, brilliantly sunny November afternoon. As in 1863, a procession from the town square to the cemetery followed Lincoln’s original route, with military units, bands, a president and a governor. The U.S. Marine Band and the colors of the 28th Division, PA National Guard led this procession. Notably, the headquarters unit of the U.S. 3rd Infantry, which was formed at the birth of our nation, participated in all of our wars, and was present at the battle of Gettysburg, also joined in. The Gettysburg High School band greeted the procession at the cemetery entrance, and a 21-gun salute echoed through the air as Eisenhower’s car entered the cemetery.
Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the keynote speaker that day. He said Lincoln “foresaw a new birth of freedom, a freedom and equality for all, which … would restore the purpose and meaning of America, defining a goal that challenges each of us to attain his full stature of citizenship. The beauty of the sentiments Lincoln expressed enthralls us; the majesty of his words holds us spellbound; but we have not paid to them their just tribute until we, ourselves, live them.”
President Eisenhower invited opera singer, Marian Anderson, to sing at the ceremony. She arrived in Gettysburg planning to sing one particular hymn, only to find that the program listed another hymn. She expressed concern over the change and board members suggested announcing the change in hymns at the podium. She insisted that she only needed a hymnal, if one could be produced. Fellowship members procured a Christian Youth Hymnal from St. James Lutheran Church for Miss Anderson. She sang two selections that day, to the great delight of the crowd.
Justice Michael Musmanno of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered the Gettysburg Address. Interestingly, Musmanno had become a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert, frequent visitor to Georgetown University, which Musmanno had also attended. Musmanno first presented Lincoln’s address at a meeting of the Lincoln Fellowship in 1939, and had presented it “hundreds of times” since.
The crowd that day was much larger than the Park Service had anticipated and reinforcements were needed. Thirty members of the Gettysburg College ROTC were dispatched to assist the rangers. Among the cadets was Thomas Gideon Welles, Jr., whose great-grandfather, Gideon Welles, had served as Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy. Welles was present on the platform with Lincoln in 1863.
As the 1963 commemoration emulated the 1863, our 2023 commemoration will emulate the 1963 event in many ways. Please join us on November 19th to hear Susan Eisenhower and opera star, renowned American mezzo-soprano, J’Nai Bridges.
Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania is a 501(c)3 OrganizationP. O. Box 3372, Gettysburg, PA 17325Email: firstname.lastname@example.org