President Lincoln’s Remarks at Cemetery Dedication Disappointing
President’s address, only 3 Minutes Long, Lacked Substance
It was the greatest battle ever fought to date on the continent - over 50,000 casualties were suffered. So many of those in attendance at the dedication of the Gettysburg Nations Cemetery yesterday were somewhat taken aback by President Lincoln’s address to the crowd in this small southern Pennsylvania town.
In a three minute speech that contained only ten sentences, Lincoln offered nothing new in the way of strategy or a plan for winning the war, now approaching its fourth year.
‘There was no plan offered here today,” said one pundit. “It was just another speech from another politician.”
“Somehow, I expected more from him,” he added.
The President’s uninspired performance was judged by some to be a reflection of the Union effort in the battle at Gettysburg earlier this summer, and the Northern campaign as a whole. Despite a major loss of life suffered by Union forces, the battle did not end in a decisive Federal victory. In fact, many experts have severely criticized the Union Commander, Gen. George Meade, for his decision allowing Gen. Robert E. Lee’s crippled Army of Northern Virginia to escape across the Potomac River in the two week period following the battle. Lincoln did not address this issue in his speech.
The battle, culminating the second major Confederate invasion of Northern territory in as many years, was within minutes of becoming a catastrophic Federal defeat at several points.
Some military consultants say Lee’s defeat was due only to the absence of Gen. Thomas E. “Stonewall” Jackson, who died two months before Gettysburg at the Battle of Chancellorsville.
The irony of the circumstances surrounding Jackson’s death was not lost on one expert at yesterday’s ceremony.
“It wasn’t even Union troops who killed Jackson,” chuckled the observer. “He was accidentally killed by his own men.”
This fact only reinforces the widespread belief that Northern forces, who have consistently outnumbered Confederate units throughout the war, can only win when Southern troops present them with a “can’t miss” opportunity to do so.
“Even then, it’s an iffy proposition,” the consultant added.
With Election Day less than a year away, most political experts saw today’s speech as a way for Lincoln, who only received 39% of the vote in 1860, to galvanize support. Most polls show the President trailing badly, and many Northerners have grown weary of the fight, as this summer’s draft riots in New York City showed.
“Lincoln’s political prospects are dim, and his lackluster performance today didn’t help him any,” said one Washington-based consultant. “He missed a golden opportunity to crystallize the case for the Union, outline a strategic plan for victory and help his re-election bid.”
Observers noted yesterday that even after the Federal victory at Vicksburg, touted by Lincoln as “cutting the Confederacy in two,” the South fights on ably and effectively.
Instead, the President offered a speech laden with platitudes about the battle and its fallen heroes. Short on facts and substance, Lincoln made no reference even to the number of Union dead felled at the battle. His awkward gimmick of “four score and seven years ago,” a device he used to note the 87 years which have passed since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, fell flat.
“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here,” Lincoln said. From the reaction to his speech, the President was right on both counts.
Nov. 20, 1863