On November 2, 1863, several months after the battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3), David Wills invited President Lincoln to make a "few appropriate remarks" at the consecration of a cemetery for the Union war dead. In early July, Pennsylvania governor Andrew Curtin had charged Wills, a successful local citizen and judge, with cleaning up the horrible aftermath of the battle: wounded soldiers crammed into every available building, and thousands of swollen dead strewn among hundreds of bloated dead horses.
With the approval of the governor and the eighteen states whose sons were among the dead, Wills quickly acquired seventeen acres for the national cemetery and had the Germantown landscape architect, William Saunders, draw up a plan. Burial began not long after. On September 23, Wills invited the venerable Edward Everett, the nation's foremost rhetorician, to give an oration 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.
Although Wills wrote his invitation to Lincoln only three weeks prior to the dedication -- prompting speculation among historians about his and Governor Curtin's motivations -- there is evidence that Lincoln was fully apprised of the affair in early October. Further, Wills's invitation included a warm welcome to the president to stay at his house, along with Everett and Curtin.
Lincoln accepted the invitation, probably viewing it as an appropriate time to honor all those who had given their lives in the Civil War. He may also have seen the dedication as an opportunity to reveal his evolving thinking about the War, as a fight not only to save the Union, but also to establish freedom and equality for all under the law. These ideas are central to the speech Lincoln gave at Gettysburg, which, despite its brevity, as opposed to Edward Everett's long-forgotten two-hour oration, has become one of the most memorable of all time.
Here is the note of November 2, 1863, from David Wills to President Lincoln, inviting him to stay at his home, along with Governor Curtin and Edward Everett, for the dedication ceremonies, November 19, 1863. Wills enclosed this note in his letter of the same date, inviting the president to speak.
Note of November 2, 1863,