There are five copies of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s handwriting. Each of these manuscripts is named for the person who received it from Lincoln and each is slightly different in its wording and punctuation.
Cornell University Library’s copy was written out by President Lincoln at the request of U.S. historian, George Bancroft. This copy, the fourth that Lincoln composed, is known as the Bancroft Copy.
The Bancroft copy of the Gettysburg Address is the only one of the five copies to be accompanied by a letter from Lincoln transmitting the manuscript and by the original envelope addressed and “franked” by Lincoln—the President’s signature on the envelope served as a stamp. He did not have to pay for postage. The letter reads:
Hon. George Bancroft My Dear Sir:
Herewith is the copy of the manuscript which you did me the honor to request.
Yours Truly A. Lincoln.
George Bancroft, best known as the author of a 10-volume, History of the United States, was a distinguished American historian, statesman, and diplomat. While serving as the Secretary of the Navy under President James Polk he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. He also served as the U.S. minister to Great Britain and later as minister to Berlin.
Bancroft requested a copy of the Gettysburg Address from Lincoln to benefit the Baltimore Sanitary Fair. His stepson, Alexander Bliss, was collecting manuscripts for a book that was to be sold at the Fair. The Bancroft Copy proved to be unsuitable for use in Autograph Leaves of Our Country’s Authors and Bliss and his colleague, John Pendleton Kennedy, were compelled to write Lincoln to request another copy of the Address for their book.
When Alexander Bliss discovered that the manuscript copy of the Gettysburg Address he had obtained from his stepfather could not be used for his book project, he returned it to Lincoln, but asked if he might have it back again, as he had promised it to his stepfather, George Bancroft. Both the Bancroft and Bliss families ended up with Lincoln’s copies of the Address.
When George Bancroft died in 1891, his grandson, Wilder Bancroft, inherited the Address and brought it with him to Ithaca when he became a Professor of Chemistry at Cornell University in 1895. For most of the 30 years that he owned the manuscript, Wilder Bancroft lived in the faculty cottage at No. 7 East Avenue, a site now occupied by the Statler Hotel. In 1929, he sold the Address to an autograph dealer, who in turn sold it to a representative for private collectors, Nicholas H. Noyes, Cornell Class of 1906, and Marguerite Lily Noyes, who acquired the document in 1935.
In recognition of her husband’s nearly fifty years of service to Cornell and its ideals, Marguerite Lilly Noyes presented the Nicholas H. Noyes Collection of Historical Americana—including the Bancroft Copy of the Gettysburg Address—to Cornell University Library in 1949. The Noyes family has included multiple generations of proud Cornellians, starting with Frederick W. Noyes, Class of 1876, and extending to the current generation.
On the “four score and seven” anniversary of Lincoln’s speech, the Chicago Historical Society displayed the five copies of the Address in Lincoln’s handwriting. It has been the only time that all five manuscripts have been exhibited together.
The Battle of Gettysburg was the largest battle ever fought in the western hemisphere, involving more than 160,000 soldiers. Fought in sweltering heat over the first three days of July in 1863 at a location where neither army had intended to fight, it would prove to be the turning point of the Civil War and General Robert E. Lee’s last invasion of the North, although the war would last another two years.
The battle caused a staggering degree of slaughter. The Union and Confederate armies officially reported a combined 5,747 dead, 27,229 wounded, and 9,515 captured or missing soldiers, though all of these numbers were almost certainly higher. Many of the dead had been hastily interred in shallow graves on the battlefield, which was also strewn with the decaying carcasses of thousands of horses.
In response to the dire conditions he found there, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin appointed Gettysburg attorney David Wills as his agent and immediately approved his plans for a permanent soldiers' cemetery. Wills selected and purchased seventeen acres of land for the cemetery, engaged the eminent landscape architect, William Saunders, to design it, and then set out planning the “very imposing and solemnly impressive” dedication ceremonies.
Edward Everett, the most famous orator of his generation, was asked to be the main speaker for the occasion, and President Lincoln was invited to Gettysburg to dedicate the cemetery grounds with “a few appropriate remarks.”
Eyewitness accounts of the ceremonies in Gettysburg yield contradictory evidence and many unanswerable questions about what happened that day. President Lincoln rode a horse in the parade that marched slowly like a funeral procession from the center of town out to the cemetery, but there is no consensus as to the size and color of that horse. Edward Everett recited his two-hour speech from memory, while Lincoln is said to have read his two-minute remarks from a paper that he pulled out of his coat pocket. It is not known which manuscript of his speech he read from that day or the exact words that he spoke or even when he first wrote down these words. Some accounts state that Lincoln’s speech was met with profound silence, while others reported that his remarks were greeted with “Long continued applause.”
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper sent its “special artist” and reporter, Joseph Becker, to cover the Gettysburg cemetery dedication ceremony. His sketches of the event were translated into engravings and printed in the popular pictorial newspaper.
John Hay, one of Lincoln’s personal secretaries, recorded his impressions of the day in a diary entry:
“In the morning I got a beast and rode out with the President's suite to the Cemetery in the procession. The procession formed itself in an orphanly sort of way and moved out with very little help from anybody, and after a little delay, Mr. Everett took his place on the stand - and Mr. Stockton made a prayer which thought it was an oration; and Mr. Everett spoke as he always does, perfectly - and the President, in a fine, free way, with more grace than is his wont, said his half dozen words of consecration, and the music wailed and we went home through crowded and cheering streets.”
This copy of Everett’s Oration belonged to Major General George G. Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, who won the Battle of Gettysburg. Meade was unable to attend the dedication ceremony and noted in his statement of regret, read aloud there, that “this army has duties to perform which will not admit of its being represented on the occasion.”
Bernhardt Wall. The Gettysburg Speech. New York, 1924.
The book was etched, printed, and bound by the artist, who published 100 copies of this work. The Cornell copy is “Copy no. 84” and is inscribed: “To my friend Emanuel Hertz, with my best regards.” Hertz authored and edited a number of books about Lincoln in the early 20th century.
Lincoln assured his audience that the world “can never forget what they did here.” First person accounts of the battle and descriptions of the carnage have been written into letters, diaries, pamphlets, official reports, regimental histories, books and poems. Images of these scenes and events have been drawn, painted, engraved and photographed, capturing a little light from darkness.
Erasmus E. Bassett was a school teacher from Barrington, New York, near Dundee. He was a Color Sergeant for the 126th Regiment of N.Y. State Volunteers.
The last entries of his diary read:
Wednesday, July 1, 1863
Leave camp at 7. Go to Taneytown 6 ½ miles. Ordered back 3 miles then march within 5 miles of Gettysburg and stop for the night, been fighting at Gettysburg
Thursday, July 2, 1863
Start towards Gettysburg at 4 A.M. Arrive near town at 6 ¾ A.M. Form line of battle. 39th NY go out skirmishing, lose several...
12 O’Clock at night I find my Brother Erasmus lying dead where I took this from his pocket.
Other memories were carved in stone or cast in bronze. The Gettysburg National Military Park contains over 1,300 monuments and memorials to honor the states, regiments, and individuals who fought and died there. More than 400 cannons now serve as silent sentinels over this hallowed ground.
Today the battlefield and cemetery are tourist attractions with the requisite souvenirs, maps and guided tours to remind these sightseers of their visits, to animate the past, and to lead them to Lincoln’s words.
This Google Cultural Institute exhibit features a subset of artifacts from Cornell University Library's exhibition, Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg. You may view the full exhibition online at:
You may also visit the exhibition in person:
October 24, 2013 – December 20, 2013
Level 2B Carl A. Kroch Library
Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY
Curator — Lance Heidig
Exhibition Management — Katherine Reagan
Web Design & Development — Kenneth Williams