On this day in history, 150 years ago, on October 30, 1863, David Wills, a Gettysburg judge, sent a letter to Washington to request a government official to attend the upcoming event he had been charged with.
The event was the Dedication of the National Cemetery to be held November 19, 1863. The official, requested to attend, however, was not Abraham Lincoln – he was asked later. He requested the presence of Lincoln’s bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon.
Wills had been asked to coordinate events surrounding the dedication by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. Wills chose Edward Everett, president of Harvard College, as the keynote speaker. He asked Lamon to be the marshal in charge.
In Will’s letter he said the following: “The grounds will be consecrated and set apart to the sacred purpose by appropriate and imposing ceremonies on Thursday the 19th day of November. There will be loyal delegations from all the states probably altogether one of the largest concourses of people that have assembled for a long time in this country. There will be a civic procession and there must be someone to take charge of it. We have agreed you as the proper person and therefore extend to you an invitation to act as marshal of the procession on that day.”
Lamon was surprised with the request, though he had been a key marshal in the first inauguration of Lincoln in 1861. The bodyguard asked Mr. Lincoln’s permission which was granted.
Lamon wrote back to Wills on November 5 accepting the invitation saying “Having accepted the position assigned me by the following letter, ‘I most respectfully invite you to be present at Gettysburg on the occasion referred to’ – to aid me in the duties I have been asked to undertake.”
Lamon arrived in Gettysburg several weeks prior to the event to send telegrams inviting the various states and officials to participate. He gathered over three dozen assistant marshals to help him with the logics. The bodyguard scouted the area for potential safety concerns during the president’s visit. He borrowed buggies and horses for the celebrities to ride in the procession. And he established the parade route, parade line-up, and agenda for the program for the day.
Mr. Lincoln arrived the night before the event by train from Washington. He stayed overnight at the Wills House, located on the diamond in the center of town. The procession stepped off at 11 a.m. with Lamon riding a horse in front of the horse President Lincoln rode on.
Lamon wore a long black coat with a white sash indicating that he was a marshal for the event. Mr. Lincoln wore a long black coat, his traditional tall hat with a mourning band in respect for his son’s recent death, and white gloves.
At the program, Edward Everett, known orator for the day, spoke about two hours, comparing the battle that had been held at Gettysburg to every battle to date in the history of the world. Lamon introduced Mr. Lincoln who spoke barely longer than two minutes. The only known photograph of the event shows Lamon with the white sash standing next to the president.
Today we remember Mr. Lincoln’s remarks as The Gettysburg Address. November 19 this year is the Sesquicentennial Commemoration of that address. But few remember who was in charge of that famous event – Ward Hill Lamon.
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