On November 18, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln boards a train for Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to deliver a short speech at the dedication of a cemetery of soldiers killed during the battle there on July 1 to July 3, 1863. The address Lincoln gave in Gettysburg became one of the most famous speeches in American history.
Lincoln had given much thought to what he wanted to say at Gettysburg, but nearly missed his chance to say it. Shortly before the trip, Lincoln’s son, Tad, became ill with a fever. The president and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln were no strangers to juvenile illness: They had already lost two sons to disease. Prone to fits of hysteria, Mary Lincoln panicked when her husband prepared to leave. However, Lincoln felt the opportunity to speak at Gettysburg and present his defense of the war was too important to miss, so he boarded a train and headed to Pennsylvania.
Despite his son’s illness, Lincoln was in good spirits during the journey. He was accompanied by an entourage that included Secretary of State William Seward, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, Interior Secretary John Usher, Lincoln’s personal secretaries John Hay and John Nicolay, several members of the diplomat corps, some foreign visitors, a Marine band, and a military escort.
When Lincoln arrived in Gettysburg, he was handed a telegram that lifted his spirits: Tad was feeling much better. Lincoln enjoyed an evening dinner and a serenade by the Fifth New York Artillery Band before he retired to finalize his famous Gettysburg Address.