There are a few verifiable eyewitness accounts of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. One of those accounts is found in John Hay's diary, where he describes the town's mood the night before as "boisterous with alcohol flowing freely." Though little of the record of the train trip Lincoln took to get to Gettysburg has survived, what historians do know is that Lincoln was burdened with making a speech that was both conciliatory and upbeat without denigrating the somber occasion. Lincoln almost did not go to Gettysburg, as his son, Tad, became very ill a few hours before Lincoln's departure. Lincoln had suffered the tragedy of two of his four children dying of a similar illness, and his wife was pressing him to remain in Washington to tend to his son's condition. Torn between duty to country or his family, Lincoln decided to make the trip.
While on the train, Lincoln composed several drafts of what he wanted to say, each being discarded as inadequate to the task. Witnesses described Lincoln's attitude as sullen, gloomy, and opposite of the normal jovial President they had come to know and admire even during a crisis. Arriving the night before he was to address the crowd, Lincoln spent a sleepless night writing, rewriting, and discarding draft after draft until he settled upon the final version.
The day was cloudy, and a damp chill filled the air. Lincoln arrived at Gettysburg and sat on the speaker's platform with fifteen other dignitaries. The speaker preceding Lincoln spoke for nearly two hours as the crowd listened intently and boisterously applauded Everett Edward, a well-known orator and former Secretary of State. When Everett was finished, Lincoln rose to address the crowd. Lincoln began speaking to the restless crowd, with many not knowing that he was delivering one of the most important American speeches. Witnesses say that many in the audience missed much of the address, if not all of it, as Lincoln spoke for scarcely more than two minutes.
Lincoln, torn between personal turmoil and duty to the country, speaking at a graveyard of the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, gave a sober assessment of the war. The speech's tone and mood reflected the President's desire to acknowledge the pain of the loss of hundreds of men, many leaving wives and children behind in their death. As in all things, Lincoln was honest. He encouraged unity and for his hope of the war's end. After a little more than two minutes, Lincoln would return to his seat on the platform, with many in the audience thinking that his speech was not very good. On the train ride back to his home, Lincoln himself confided in his closest advisors; he felt that he had failed. It was not until days later that the speech appeared in several newspapers across the country. The address became famous because of the seriousness of the message and the upbeat tone of encouragement.