–by Donald R. Kennon
Today is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. An estimated 9,000 people are expected to attend ceremonies at Gettysburg National Military Park (somewhat fewer than the estimated 15,000 that attended the 1863 event). A Lincoln reenactor will recite Lincoln’s immortal address and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel and Pulitzer Prize winning Civil War historian James McPherson will also speak, though most likely their combined length will not equal the two-hour classical oration by the main speaker in 1863, Edward Everett.
There will be many blog posts about the Gettysburg Address itself, and you should begin by rereading Lincoln’s words and pondering their meaning at the time and their meaning in today’s world as well. But what I want to present here is a part of the story of how Lincoln got to Gettysburg by focusing on the role of his friend and bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon.
Eighteen years younger than Lincoln, Lamon (the President called him “Hill”) was a young lawyer in Illinois when he and Lincoln met. Although Lamon was argumentative and pugnacious, Lincoln took a liking to the younger man (who was nearly as tall as Lincoln but more burly), and they became law partners from 1852-1857. After Lincoln’s election to the presidency, Lamon served as the president-elect’s bodyguard on the train trip from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C. (Feb. 11, 1861-Feb. 23, 1861) and clashed with detective Allan Pinkerton, who had been hired by the railroad to investigate plots to assassinate Lincoln. Lamon discounted the reports of organized assassination plots in Baltimore made by “the detective,” as he referred to Pinkerton. For his part, Pinkerton thought Lamon was a “brainless egotistical fool.”
After Lincoln and Lamon snuck through Baltimore ahead of the scheduled train (on which Mary Todd Lincoln and the rest of the party traveled unscathed through the city the following day), the President appointed Lamon as U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia. Lamon served as the marshal in charge of the arrangements in Gettysburg for the dedication of the cemetery. He and his wife traveled by train with the President’s party on November 18, 1863. Once again Lamon was in charge of security, along with Gen. James B. Fry, whom the Secretary of War had ordered to accompany the President.
In addition to providing security on the train, Lamon was responsible for gathering the speakers and dignitaries for the ceremony and heading the procession to the cemetery. Once in place on the 12 by 20 foot platform, he had to command the crowd to keep from pressing against the participants. His role in the ceremony was to introduce Lincoln following Everett’s oration.
Some remarkable photographs of the train trip and the Gettysburg ceremonies indicate Lamon’s presence and his role as “marshal.” The first is a photograph of the train when it stopped at Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania en route to Gettysburg. When this photograph was first found, attention focused on the tall figure wearing a stove pipe hat. First thought to be Lincoln, closer examination revealed the man was too burly and it was thought it might be Lamon, although some think it might well have been railroad president A.W. Eichelberger.
Lamon is also visible in another photograph, which shows Lincoln seated on the platform at the dedication of the cemetery.
In addition to the links in post above, there are several good books on the Gettysburg Address that merit your attention. Here are four:
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.
Johnson, Martin P. Writing the Gettysburg Address. University Press of Kansas, 2013.
Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, Simon & Schuster, 1993