According to The History Blog:
“On November 19th, 1863, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was inaugurated, more than four months after the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863). In the immediate aftermath of the carnage, the dead had been buried on the field, in churchyards, field hospital sites, anywhere a space could be found. Gettysburg attorney David Wills had the idea to create a national cemetery funded by the state governments of the Union soldiers who died there rather than funded by plot purchases by the families of the dead. Pennsylvania governor Andrew Gregg Curtin approved of the idea and appointed Wills to secure the land, contract designers, arrange reburials and organize a dedication event.
Wills invited Edward Everett, a pastor, classicist, politician and renown public speaker, to delivered the featured speech, a two-hour oration that covered ancient Greek burial practices, the Battle of Marathon, the military conflicts leading up to Gettysburg, Gettysburg itself, whose fault the war was, civil wars throughout history and how the states in rebellion wouldn’t hold a grudge once the war was over and we’d all come together again under the Union. Wills asked Lincoln to follow Everett with a few brief remarks, and he made it clear in the invitation that he did mean brief.”
If you would like to see more, The Library of Congress has an excellent online exhibit, which includes letters, drafts, and photographs of Lincoln at Gettysburg.
Posted by Nancy, who wonders if kids still memorize this speech in the 8th grade.