During 1963, the 100th anniversary of the pivotal American Civil War battle was commemorated at the Gettysburg National Military Park by a variety of special events.
For the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the battle, Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D Roosevelt had come to the battlefield on 4 July and given speeches. In 1963, President John F Kennedy was invited to speak, but a previously arranged tour of Europe prevented him from doing so1. Undeterred, the anniversary organisers recruited the closest president they could find - Gettysburg, Pennsylvania resident Dwight Eisenhower.
Kennedy did tour the battlefield in March 1963 in an Oldsmobile convertible. He is said to have impressed his tour guides by being able to read the Gaelic inscription on the monument to the 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry2.
On Memorial Day3, Kennedy did not attend the ceremonies at the battlefield and sent Vice President Lyndon B Johnson in his stead. At the time, Johnson's remarks drew little notice, but once he became president they took on special meaning: he had been the first Southerner to speak at Gettysburg about Civil Rights.
The final special event at the battlefield in 1963 was to mark the 100th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's reading of his famous Gettysburg Address at the National Cemetery.
Again Kennedy declined an invitation to speak and again Eisenhower filled in admirably. Kennedy did send a message which read 'Let us remember those thousands of American patriots whose graves at home, beneath the sea and in distant lands are silent sentries of our heritage'.
Kennedy had not been able to attend this event because he was needed in Texas to settle a political squabble between two Texan politicians - Governor John Connally and US Senator Ralph Yarborough. Instead of attending the ceremonies on 19 November, Kennedy flew down to Texas and stayed the weekend at Lyndon B Johnson's ranch.
Three days later, on 22 November, Kennedy was assassinated as he rode through the streets of Dallas.
Related h2g2 entries
Check out some of the other h2g2 entries relating to the American Civil War Battle of Gettysburg:
- Confederate Occupation of Carlisle, Pennsylvania - American Civil War
- The Burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge - American Civil War
- Colonel Fremantle - An Englishman at Gettysburg
- Pennsylvania's Bucktail Regiment