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Gettysburg address: US marks 1863 Lincoln speech

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Media captionJim Getty is a professional Abraham Lincoln impersonator

The US is marking the 150th anniversary of one of the most famous speeches in its history, President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address.

A Lincoln impersonator read the remarks at the Pennsylvania cemetery where the civil war leader spoke.

Lincoln gave his speech several months after the Battle of Gettysburg when Union troops beat the Confederacy, in a turning point for the 1861-5 conflict.

About 235,000 people commemorated the battle's anniversary in early July.

Lincoln gave his speech in 1863 as he dedicated the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, where thousands of Union soldiers were laid to rest.

The battle marked federal forces fighting back a Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania.

'Silly remarks'

His brief oration, delivered as the nation fought for survival, is admired as a masterpiece of brevity which distilled the essence of American ideas on equality, liberty and democracy into just 10 sentences.

As every American schoolchild knows, it begins with the words: "Four score and seven years ago..."

"President Lincoln sought to heal a nation's wounds by defining what a nation should be," said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. "Lincoln wrote his words on paper, but he also inscribed them in our hearts."

Civil war historian James McPherson and US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also spoke at Tuesday's commemoration.

James McPherson said Lincoln spoke during a time when it looked as though the country "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," Mr McPherson said.

Ms Jewell said Lincoln had come to symbolise America's "greatest virtues of humility, of honesty and decency".

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Media captionRachel Egglestone-Evans travelled from the UK to take part in the 150th Gettysburg re-enactment in July this year

The ceremony began with a wreath-laying event at the cemetery. There was also a graveside salute at noon for the African-American soldiers who fought for the Union.

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia conducted a citizenship ceremony for 16 immigrants.

Lincoln's speech, a mere two minutes, envisioned "a new birth of freedom" for America out of the ashes of the war between the southern slave-holding states and the northern states.

"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here," Lincoln said of those who fought the battle, in which as many as 50,000 soldiers were killed or wounded.

"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."

The headline speaker that day was actually former Massachusetts Governor Edward Everett, whose two-hour, 13,000-word monologue has since been all but forgotten.

Lincoln's subsequent comments of about 270 words were initially overlooked.

Indeed, a local newspaper, the Harrisburg Patriot and Union, dismissed the address as "silly remarks".

Last week, its successor, the Patriot-News, retracted that editorial, saying it had failed to recognise the Lincoln speech's "momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance".

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