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Dedication Day 2021: The 158th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address

By Wendy Swanson

Washington, D.C.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Each year on November 19th, Gettysburg, the nation and the world, for that matter, pause to remember – for this date marks the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. After going virtual last year because of COVID, the annual commemoration of the event in Gettysburg is back in 2021 - live, outdoors and in person, at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

The ceremony will begin at 10:15 a.m. on the 19th at the cemetery’s rostrum and will include a wreath-laying, music, and a keynote speaker, Dr. Gary Gallagher. The program also will feature a U.S. Naturalization and Citizenship ceremony, allowing those present the special opportunity to celebrate together, as Americans, while we welcome a new group of citizens. Traditionally, the ceremony includes a recitation of Lincoln’s “a few appropriate remarks.” This year acclaimed stage and screen actor Stephen Lang will have the honor of reading the Gettysburg Address. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

Dr. Gallagher is the John L. Nau III Professor of History emeritus at the University of Virginia. He has published widely about the Civil War and its memory, including, most recently, The American War: A History of the Civil War Era (revised ed., 2019, co-authored with Joan Waugh), Civil War Places: Seeing the Conflict through the Eyes of Its Leading Historians (co-edited with J. Matthew Gallman, 2019), The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis (2020), and an edition of Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac trilogy that will be part of The Library of America (forthcoming 2022). Long involved with Civil War preservation, he was a founding member and first president of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites and twice a member of the Civil War Trust's board.

Following the conclusion of the ceremony, The Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania, one of the event’s co-sponsors, will hold its annual meeting and luncheon at the Gettysburg Hotel, One Lincoln Square, in Gettysburg. This year’s luncheon speaker is Jonathan W. White, Associate Professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University. He is the author or editor of eight books, including Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War: The Trials of John Merryman (2011); Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln (2014), which was a finalist for both the Lincoln Prize and Jefferson Davis Prize, and winner of the Abraham Lincoln Institute’s 2015 book prize; and “Our Little Monitor”: The Greatest Invention of the Civil War (2018), which he co-authored with Anna Gibson Holloway. His most recent books include To Address You As My Friend: African Americans’ Letters to Abraham Lincoln (2021) and A House Built by Slaves: African American Visitors to the Lincoln White House (forthcoming, February, 2022).

For more information on the Fellowship and the above events including the luncheon, click here. Note that this site also provides a video of 2020’s virtual ceremony, an event modified to accommodate health issue concerns. The video is worth a viewing. Traditionally, a sole speaker recites the address at the ceremony. (For years, Jim Getty as President Lincoln performed this role). In the time of COVID, this approach was replaced by filming citizens from across the country, each reciting a phrase or two from the address. Viewers will recognize familiar faces and historic locations in the setting for Lincoln’s words. The ceremony too features a salute to Marian Anderson who performed at the 1963 ceremony, a highly appropriate selection to participate at the 100th anniversary celebration. She sang two spirituals and shared the rostrum with Dwight Eisenhower, by then a former president. Ironically, the ceremony occurred only days before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Since 1938, the Lincoln Fellowship has held an on-site commemoration at the National Cemetery in Gettysburg with the aim of keeping alive in memory and meaning the Gettysburg Address. Additional co-sponsors - the Gettysburg National Military Park, the Gettysburg Foundation, and Gettysburg College – now participate in this effort. On November 19, 1946, a joint resolution of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives officially designated the date as Dedication Day. Over the years many noteworthy public officials have spoken at the ceremony including Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Tom Ridge, John Hope Franklin, Shelby Foote, Carl Sandburg, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ken Burns, Harold Holzer and Stephen Spielberg. All contributed their own thoughts relative to the legacy and meaning of the address.

Dedication Day provides us with a day for reflection, allowing each of us to remember Lincoln’s words and to rededicate ourselves to the ideals he expressed in 1863.


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