Meanwhile, Back in Gettysburg (November 19, 1863)

With Meade remaining silent, we stick with Theodore Lyman’s accounts of live with the Army of the Potomac with his letter from November 19, 1863. On this day in Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln was speaking at the dedication of the new National Cemetery in Gettysburg. The president was not the headliner, though. That honor fell to Edward Everett, a former congressman, Massachusetts governor, and president of Harvard. Everett had also run for vice president on the Union platform with John Bell, the ticket for which Meade and Lyman voted in the 1860 election. Everett’s speech at Gettysburg ran for more than two hours—about sixty times longer than the president’s—but who today remembers what he said? The situation reminds me of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones encounters a scimitar-wielding assassin who dazzles him with an elaborate display of swordsmanship. Indy then draws his gun and shoots him dead with a single shot.

Edward Everett, the man who spoke before Lincoln at Gettysburg and therefore forever doomed to be a footnote to history (Library of Congress).

Edward Everett, the man who spoke before Lincoln at Gettysburg and therefore forever doomed to be a footnote to history (Library of Congress).

Meade was invited to attend the ceremonies at Gettysburg but obviously had other matters demanding his attention. However, he and Lyman were, in a small fashion, involved with Everett’s speech. In his journal entry for October 5 (quoted in Meade’s Army: The Private Notebooks of Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, edited by David Lowe) Lyman says this: “Prepared, by order, a sort of résumé of Gen. Meade’s official report of the battle of Gettysburg, to be sent to Mr. Everett, who is to deliver an oration at the cemetery, to be made at that place.” On October 26 he noted getting a letter from Everett asking for more information about the battle. Lyman was a Harvard graduate himself and his father and Everett had once traveled through Europe together. Lyman happened to be in Boston in January 1865 when Everett died and attended the funeral, “which took place with the usual solemnities.”

Meade made his own Gettysburg Address in 1869, which you can find here.

The Britons still continue with us. Yesterday we took them, with a small escort, to [John] Buford’s Headquarters beyond Culpeper. By Brandy Station we came across a line of rifle-pits that the Rebs had thrown up, probably on the Saturday night of their retreat, so as to cover the trains falling back on the Rapid Ann. We found the cavalry Chief afflicted with rheumatism, which he bore with his usual philosophy. Hence we made haste, across the country, to General [Gouverneur K.] Warren’s, where he had prepared some manoeuvres of infantry for us. This was one of the finest sights I have seen in the army. There were some 6000 or 7000 men on the plain, and we stood on a little hill to look. The evolutions ended by drawing up the force in two lines, one about 300 yards in rear of the other; and each perhaps a mile long. Then they advanced steadily a short distance, when the order was given to charge, and, as if they were one man, both fines broke into a run and came up the hill, shouting and yelling. I never saw so fine a military spectacle. The sun made the bayonets look like a straight hedge of bright silver, which moved rapidly toward you. But the great fun was when part of the line came to a stone wall, over which they hopped with such agility as to take Colonel Earle prisoner, while Captain Stephenson’s horse, which was rather slow, received an encouraging prod from a bayonet. Which events put us in great good humor, and we rode merrily home.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, p. 50. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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