Ohio History Journal

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Ohio and the Dedication of the

Soldiers' Cemetery at Gettysburg




Ohioans had more than a passing interest in the dedication of the Soldiers' Ceme-

tery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. A decisive three-day battle, fought in

the surrounding countryside on July 1-3, 1863, had claimed the lives of many of

the state's soldiers, some of whom were hurriedly buried in shallow graves or

merely covered with spadefuls of dirt where they had fallen. No other governor,

not even Pennsylvania's Andrew Curtin, did as much as Ohio's David Tod to

encourage officials and citizens of his state to journey to Gettysburg to witness

the dedication ceremonies. No other state had an ex-governor, a governor, and a

governor-elect present on the central platform during the program. In fact, Ohio

had more citizens seated on the platform than any other state. No other state,

not even Pennsylvania, had as many newspapermen in attendance, one of whom

wrote far and away the most detailed eyewitness account of the day's proceedings.

One of the three major generals who marched in the procession and had a seat

of honor on the platform was an Ohioan. Furthermore, the man who gave the

second formal oration of the day, drawing more applause and presenting a more

appropriate message than the first speaker, Edward Everett, claimed Ohio as his


The story behind the dedication of the Soldiers' Cemetery goes back to late

June 1863 when General Lee's forces, with morale high and with Confederate

flags and regimental banners waving in the summer breeze, crossed the Potomac

and moved up into Pennsylvania. Since Ohio adjoins Pennsylvania, Lee's invasion

of that state gave rise to much speculation and many rumors. Ohioans read the

telegraphic accounts of the invasion and fighting at Gettysburg with interest and

apprehension during the first week of July 1863. Pro-Lincoln groups feared that a

notable Confederate victory might adversely affect the fall gubernatorial contest

in which the Unionist party candidate, John Brough, opposed Clement L. Vallan-

digham, the Peace Democratic nominee then in exile in Canada. Furthermore,

many Ohio soldiers belonged to the Army of the Potomac and each military

encounter generated anxiety back home.

After the battle was over and Robert E. Lee led his defeated army back across

the Potomac, Ohioans pieced together the events of the bloody three days. They

learned that their soldiers had performed heroically in various parts of the vast

battlefield. Five infantry regiments and two of the four artillery batteries suffered

heavily during the first day's action when the Confederates overpowered the

Eleventh Corps on the plain north of Gettysburg. Three regiments and three

Mr. Klement is professor of history at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.