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Coffin: Four Score and More

A hazy autumn sun was approaching South Mountain's rim when the Gettysburg National Cemetery dedication keynote speaker neared the end of his two-hour oration 150 years ago this November 19. Former Massachusetts Governor Edward Everett concluded an eloquent account of the three day battle, as the 20,000 gathered on Cemetery Hill listened.

Among them were two men seated on the speaker’s platform - the American president and a Vermonter, Major Henry Janes. Doctor Janes, army surgeon, had been sent to Gettysburg after the July battle to supervise care of the wounded that numbered more than today’s dedication crowd. Janes had done his job well and now might be granted leave time back home in Waterbury.

Everett concluded: “Wheresoever...the accounts of this great warfare are the glorious annals of our common country, there will be no brighter page than that which relates to Gettysburg.”

When the long applause ended, Abraham Lincoln rose to deliver a few appropriate 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 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."

Howard Coffin is an author and historian whose specialty is the Civil War.
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