In June 1863, Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee moved north in an effort to win a dramatic victory that would reverse the South's declining fortunes. On July 1-3, Lee's forces fought the Union army under the command of George C. Meade, and before the fighting ended, the two sides suffered more than 45,000 casualties at Gettysburg.
Pennsylvania governor, Andrew Curtin, charged David Wills, a successful local citizen and judge, with cleaning up the horrible aftermath of the battle. Wills acquired seventeen acres for the national cemetery and burial began not long after. On September 23, Wills invited the venerable Edward Everett, the nation's foremost orator, to give a speech at the dedication ceremony planned for October 23. Everett accepted, but, needing more time to prepare, persuaded Wills to postpone the ceremony to November 19.
On November 2, 1863, Wills invited President Lincoln to also make a "few appropriate remarks." Lincoln's carefully crafted address has ultimately become regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history. In fewer than 300 words delivered in just over two minutes, Lincoln depicted the Civil War as a struggle not merely for the Union, but as "a new birth of freedom" that would bring true equality to all of its citizens. Our nation will never forget his remarks:
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 battle-field 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.
A two-minute speech has left an indelible mark on our nation for nearly 150 years. This speech is learned by students every year in American schools. I wonder what kind of mark would be left on our country over the next 150 years if every born-again follower of Jesus Christ in America would pray for our country just 2 minutes every day.