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Wills House
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Wills House

8 Lincoln Square
York & Baltimore Streets
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

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When David Wills invited President Abraham Lincoln to stay in his home before the dedication of the Gettysburg military cemetery, he hardly suspected that America's most famous speech would be completed in his guest bedroom.

Wills, a prosperous 32-year-old attorney, owned the largest house on the town square. Under his direction, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania purchased 17 acres for a cemetery to honor the Union dead from the July battle. He arranged for the cemetery dedication on November 19, 1863, with Edward Everett as the main speaker. Lincoln was invited to offer "a few appropriate remarks."

President Lincoln arrived at the Gettysburg railroad station the day before the ceremonies and was escorted to the Wills home. His special train included others from Washington such as Cabinet members and foreign ambassadors. While Lincoln, Everett, and other dignitaries ate supper together, serenaders and crowds gathered outside, calling for the President. Lincoln eventually appeared, but declined to make a speech at the moment.

The next afternoon, on the edge of town, a crowd of more than 10,000 would hear Lincoln's brief masterpiece, now considered the product of an entire lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, the painstaking Lincoln had not dashed off this speech on an envelope while enroute to Gettysburg (for one thing, five original copies of the speech exist -- all are on standard letter paper). However, Lincoln apparently produced the final written version in a second-floor bedroom of the Wills house, shown at the far right.

Once the cemetery dedication was over, the Marine Band and other members of the military escorted Lincoln back to the center of town. After dinner at the Wills house, Lincoln greeted guests in an informal reception. Standing in the hallway which faces York Street, he met visitors such as John L. Burns, the 69-year-old Gettysburg cobbler who was wounded after he spontaneously joined Union troops in the battle.

Visiting Information: You will find the house in the middle of town on the Lincoln Highway (Route 30). The building has been renovated and is operated by the National Park Service, which has opened it to the public. For more information call 717/334-1124.

Related Links

A Teacher's Tour of the Battle of Gettysburg (Matthew Pinsker/Gilder Lehrman Institute)
Battlefield Maps (Library of Congress)
Civil War Institute (Gettysburg College)
Edward Everett's Gettysburg Speech (University of Maryland)
Gettysburg Address Exhibit (Library of Congress)
Gettysburg Address Eyewitness (National Public Radio)
Gettysburg Address News Article (New York Times)
Gettysburg Address Teacher Resource (C-SPAN)
Gettysburg Address Text
Gettysburg Civil War Photographs (Library of Congress)
Gettysburg Discussion Group (Bob & Dennis Lawrence)
Gettysburg Foundation
Gettysburg National Military Park (NPS)
How Some Few "Remarks" Became the Gettysburg Address (LAP/ALI)
David Wills's Letter of Invitation to Lincoln (Library of Congress)
Lincoln and the Gettysburg Awakening (JALA)
Lincoln and Gettysburg Timeline
Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania
Lincoln's Invitation to Stay Overnight (Library of Congress)
Edward Everett's Letter to Lincoln (Library of Congress)
Photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg (Library of Congress)
Reading of the Gettysburg Address (NPR)
Recollections of Lincoln at Gettysburg (Bob Cooke)
Response to a Serenade
Robert Todd Lincoln's "Gettysburg Story" (JALA)
Seminary Ridge Museum
Solving the Mysteries of the Gettysburg Address (LAP/ALI)
The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation (Peter Norvig)
Who Stole the Gettysburg Address? (JALA)

Related Books

  • Boritt, Gabor. The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
  • Graham, Kent. November: Lincoln's Elegy at Gettysburg. Indiana University Press, 2001.
  • Hoch, Bradley R. and Boritt, Gabor S. The Lincoln Trail in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.
  • Johnson, Martin P. Writing the Gettysburg Address. University Press of Kansas, 2013.
  • Kunhardt, Philip B., Jr. A New Birth of Freedom - Lincoln at Gettysburg. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983.
  • Mearns, David C., Dunlap, Lloyd A., Wilson, Douglas L., and Sellers, John R., contributors. Long Remembered: Lincoln and His Five Versions of the Gettysburg Address. Levenger Press, 2011.
  • Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. Touchstone Books, 1993.
  • Wilson, Douglas L. Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006

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