SPRINGFIELD, IL (KTVI) -Children led Tuesday morning’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
“We wanted our celebration to kick off as soon as the anniversary date arrived,” said Chris Wills, spokesman for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.
So, 150 adults stayed up until midnight to see actor and scholar Richard “Fritz” Klein re-enact the speech in the museum plaza.
“Four score and seven years ago….” His voice boomed under his black stovepipe hat and beard, a dead ringer for President Lincoln.
Lincoln delivered the address on November 19, 1863 — four months after the Civil-War battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In an effort to help the South secede from the union, Confederate forces invaded the Northern states on July 1, 1863.
“It was an effort by the South to move into Northern territory and show the Union that they were not going to back down,” Wills explained.
On July 3rd, the South retreated. Over 50,000 Union and Confederate troops were injured, captured or killed.
“It’s the most deadly battle in North America – ever,” Wills put this sheer number of casualties into perspective. “And, it’s one of the five most deadly battles in all of American history. The Battle of Gettysburg lasted just 3 days. All the others above it lasted six weeks, two months, four months.”
Thousands of war dead were found across the town.
“They had to very quickly start burying the bodies to prevent disease.”
Residents dug shallow graves, but soon called for a proper resting place for the troops.
“The speech was Lincoln’s comments at the dedication of this new national cemetery,” Wills explained.
“We’ve come to dedicate a portion of that field as the final resting place….” the speech continued.
Wills also said the speech was a challenge to the nation at the time.
“Now, we have to be dedicated. And what we have to be dedicated to is preserving liberty and bringing about the promise of equality that the Declaration [of Independence] promised.”
Wills also said if the President were alive today, Lincoln would issue the same challenge.
“No matter what the issue is, no matter the circumstances, that speech speaks to us about making sacrifices to help each other and to improve the country.”
One of only five original copies is on display at the museum until the end of November. Organizers plan many more activities for the rest of the week.
For more information, just go to www.GettysburgAddress150.com.
The Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has events to commemorate the address through August.