Soldiers' National Cemetery

Published 06/24 2013 02:05PM

Updated 06/24 2013 02:49PM

To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, the "Soldiers Cemetery" was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line. The brainchild of concerned Gettysburg citizens, the project began soon after the close of the battle as rains and wind wore away the soil from the shallow graves that dotted the battlefield.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin supported the project and funds were provided by the commonwealth to purchase ground on Cemetery Hill, south of Gettysburg. Some of the money was also used to pay Samuel Weaver and his laborers for the grisly task of removing Union dead from inadequate grave sites that covered the battlefield and hospital sites. The many southern dead would remain on the field until the 1870s, when they were removed to cemeteries in the south.

The work of the cemetery committee was not yet complete by the time of the formal dedication on Nov. 19, 1863. It was during the dedication ceremony, which was attended by approximately 10,000 citizens, that President Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous speech, the "Gettysburg Address."

The cemetery was designed by landscape architect William Saunders, founder of the National Grange. The Soldiers' National Monument was erected in the central portion of the cemetery, its marble sculptures overlooking the circle of graves around it. The Soldiers' National Cemetery was finally completed in 1872, and administration of the cemetery was turned over to the care of the federal government. The United States War Department planted many of the decorative trees that still adorn the cemetery grounds, paved walkways through the cemetery, and placed tablets with stanzas from Theodore O'Hara's stirring poem, The Bivouac of the Dead throughout the grounds.

There were a number of post-war burials that took place in the cemetery. They were buried within the historic semi-circle of graves. By the late 1880s, it was decided to begin an outer line of burials, outside of the historic sections, and a plot was designated on the north end of the cemetery for later burials. Bordered by Evergreen Cemetery and property in private ownership, the cemetery can no longer expand and it is closed to new burials.

- John Heiser, Gettysburg National Military Park

The David Wills House

David Wills' home was the center of the immense clean- up process after the Battle of Gettysburg. In a second-floor bedroom, Abraham Lincoln put the finishing touches on the now world- renowned Gettysburg Address - the speech that transformed Gettysburg from a place of sorrow to the symbol of our nation's "new birth of freedom."

The Wills' house itself was used to care for the wounded. It was a depot for supplies for the U.S. Christian Commission, and letters were delivered to Wills' office from people asking for help finding their sons lost in battle there.

Wills and others in town were performing the work of today's FEMA, the American Red Cross and the CDC, combined.

After decades of private ownership, the David Wills House was put in the hands of the American people in 2004, when it was purchased by the National Park Service. Opened in February 2009, the David Wills House features seven galleries, educating visitors on Lincoln's visit to Gettysburg along with David Wills and the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg.

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