It is cold here in New York City this morning. Today I am going to catch up on the Gettysburg Address coverage that I did not have time to watch earlier in the week. On Friday a few of us watched the rebroadcast of Walter Cronkite’s covering the JFK assassination. It is worth noting that the assassination came three days after the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg address, and that this was not lost on people of 1963; it certainly was not lost on the Kennedy family, who modeled the public mourning process at least in part on the events following Lincoln’s killing.
Theodore Roosevelt visited Gettysburg in 1904 and again in 1912. Roosevelt had always had a paasionate interest in the Civil War, which is not surprising being that his father did so much for the Union cause while his mother’s family served the Confederacy with equal fervor. The Civil War was personal at 28th East 2oth Street.
President Roosevelt arrived by train early morning on Memorial Day 1904, the entourage first stopping on Reynolds Avenue. One must remember that this was a mere 41 years after the battle and that the war was still part of living memory, not history; there were thousands of living veterans in attendance. The battlefield itself had been in a period of transition for the past decade. Gettysburg National Military Park was founded just nine years prior in 1895. The Electric Railway was now taking visitors across the battlefield. The year of Roosevelt’s visit his Bureau of Forestry planted over 8,000 trees on the grounds. There were still more statues to come, but the monument-building process that had begun in earnest twenty or so years earlier was just about complete by the time Roosevelt arrived in 1904.
The president had a firm grasp of military maneuvering; he had written what was still the authoritative text on the naval campaigns of the War or 1812, served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and been a Rough Rider. The group drove the battlefield in carriages for almost four hours. About halfway through, they were joined by Oliver Howard and Dan Sickles. The generals and the president hit all the highlights, which is what one does when first visiting Gettysburg. They were eventually joined on Little Round Top by William M. Robbins, a major in General Law’s 4th Alabama. His presence may or may not have been coincidental. The 4th Alabama was formed in Dalton, Georgia in 1861; Theodore Roosevelt’s mother was from Roswell, Georgia.
President Roosevelt gave the Memorial Day address from the newly-renovated rostrum in the cemetery. There were 10,000 in attendance. He hit all of the notes–Union, Emancipation, Reconciliation. It is worth noting that 1904 was an election year. Roosevelt had come into office three years earlier not through the election box, but via an assassin’s bullet. He ascended to the White House when McKinley was shot in Buffalo, New York. Roosevelt yearned for the legitimacy that would come with an election victory.
He was almost halfway there. President Roosevelt was nominated by his party at the Republican Convention in Chicago less than a month later. Harry Stillwell Edwards, the Southern writer and postmaster of Macon, Georgia, was chosen to second the nomination.