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Thousands gather to commemorate Gettysburg Address

  • Bryce Stenzel of Mankato Minn., dressed as Abraham Lincoln, arrives before a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery and President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Tuesday Nov. 19, 2013, in Gettysburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — In solemnity, thousands gathered at a central Pennsylvania battlefield park Tuesday to honor a speech given 150 years ago that President Abraham Lincoln predicted would not be long remembered.

The inspirational and famously short Gettysburg Address was praised for reinvigorating national ideals of freedom, liberty and justice amid a Civil War that had torn the country into pieces.

"President Lincoln sought to heal a nation's wounds by defining what a nation should be," said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, calling Lincoln's words superb, his faith deep and his genius profound. "Lincoln wrote his words on paper, but he also inscribed them in our hearts."

Gettysburg Address 150th Anniversary

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Echoing Lincoln, keynote speaker and Civil War historian James McPherson said the president took the dais in November 1863 at a time when it looked like the nation "might indeed perish from the earth."

"The Battle of Gettysburg became the hinge of fate on which turned the destiny of that nation and its new birth of freedom," McPherson.

In the July 1863 battle, considered the turning point of the war, federal forces fought back a Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania. Lincoln's speech was delivered more than four months later, at the dedication of a national cemetery to bury the battle's casualties.

In the short oration, he spoke of how democracy itself rested upon "the proposition that all men are created equal," a profound and politically risky statement for the time. Slavery and the doctrine of states' rights would not hold in the "more perfect union" of Lincoln's vision.

"In 272 words he put together what everyone was thinking, what everyone should know," said park historian John Heiser. Because of varying transcriptions, scholars generally put the text at 268 to 272 words.

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