Why did you choose the idea of Lincoln finishing writing the Gettysburg Address?

The Lincoln seed for “The Night Before Gettysburg” was planted quite a few years ago when I read the book “Killer Angels.”  Several Lincoln books followed, and when I decided to write a 1-man play, Lincoln was the natural subject.   At the time, I had no idea of the intense drama surrounding his writing of The Gettysburg Address. That drama was unveiled as my due diligence commenced.

The key scene involves Abraham Lincoln finishing writing his speech in his bedroom the night before.  Historians commonly agree that he needed to finish his speech that night, but nobody knows just how much was left.   A little?  A lot?  

Thus I had my choice when I was creating the play.  I chose NOT to focus so much on the actual writing of the speech, but rather to use it to look inside Abraham Lincoln, and the huge burden he carried as he desired desperately to reunite the North and the South into one America. The script is laden with history, which was reviewed and authorized by Destination Gettysburg prior to inviting me to perform there in 2022.

What research and information did you utilize to write the play

My first step to create the narrative for the play was to read (twice) the book by Martin Johnson, “The Writing of the Gettysburg Address.”   He did significant research, and created a detailed historical narrative.   I gleaned snippets from his book and assembled them into a 1st generation draft. (today’s version is probably 20th generation) and presented it to several different private groups.  Suggestions were made, followed by script modifications and updates.  Then again. And again.

I probably Googled 1,000 times when I was actively working on the script.  My performances always include Q/A, and this has generated questions that I hadn’t even thought of.  For instance, I incorporated new information several times last summer during my Gettysburg appearances, stimulated by audience questions.   I suppose you could call it an in-performance sounding board!

Its historical value was exhibited with 2022 and 2023 Gettysburg audiences, in which Lincoln-o-philes and history buffs were intermixed with the deeply uninformed.  Both groups commented frequently on the quantity and quality of what they saw and learned.  

I can confidently say the play has substantially more than 100 (and counting) hours of script development.  The play lasts 34 minutes, so that equates to about 3 hours for each minute on stage.

One of the most common Q/A questions I receive is whether I had 2023 in mind even though the play takes place 159 years ago.  That caused me to have Lincoln ask three questions (twice)…What is Gettysburg?  Why is Gettysburg, and Why is it important to us today?   If viewers take time to ponder those questions, it helps them understand who they are and what is America.  There’s societal value in that self-introspection that goes beyond the play’s profound history lessons.

It’s IMPOSSIBLE to overstate the privilege of being/representing Abraham Lincoln…and bringing that to others.

How long was the Gettysburg Address?

The play mentions that Edward Everett was America’s best orator and he spoke for two hours. (In fact he caused the dedication ceremony to be pushed back a month, because he needed additional time to prepare and memorize his speech). Lincoln spoke for less than three minutes. Later, Everett tells Lincoln, “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity and appropriateness… I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” The shortness of the speech caught the audience off guard, and they gave a confusing reaction when he finished. Because of that, Lincoln initially felt his speech was a failure, but he soon found out that it was a success. Maybe America’s best ever?

Did he write the Gettysburg Address on the train from Washington to Gettysburg?

Quite a few people think Lincoln wrote his speech on the train ride to Gettysburg. Not true. That tale got its start in a novel written 43 years after the battle, “The Perfect Tribute” by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews. In her book, Lincoln writes the speech on the train ride. The book was very popular, and the myth became embedded in Gettysburg lore for many folks. It seems believable, because Abraham Lincoln was such an accomplished individual that it’s plausible he could have written the speech during that 6-hour train ride.

How sick was Tad when Lincoln Left to Gettysburg?

At the time Lincoln had to depart for Gettysburg, it appeared that Tad was very sick, causing Mary to stay behind. The Lincolns had lost two children, Eddie died 13 years earlier of TB and Willie 1 1/2 years earlier of Typhoid. As it turned out, Tad’s sickness wasn’t life threatening, and Lincoln found this out by telegraph soon after arriving in Gettysburg. However, Tad also died at a young age, 8 years later at the age of 18, with what might have been TB, Their 4th son, Robert, lived to 82. He and Mary had a tempestuous relationship, until she died at the age of 63.

Did Lincoln have Smallpox?

Although it wasn’t known at the time, Lincoln was in the early stage of smallpox when he gave the speech. The disease continued to develop, and he became sick enough that he stayed out of the public eye for a period of time (with no public smallpox announcement) so-as not to cause panic. Fortunately, his case wasn’t serious, and he returned to normal.

What was the role of the Minnesota First Regiment at Gettysburg?

The Minnesota 1st was very seasoned and battle hardened. They were near the top of Cemetery Ridge on the 2nd day of the battle, when the Confederate General Longstreet was about to surge through a hole in the Union line. The Union General Hancock had a shortage of men to stop Longstreet, other than the Minnesota 1st, headed by Colonel Colvill. He ordered Colvill to “Advance, Colonel, and take their colors.” Both men knew it was a suicide mission, because the 1st had 262 men vs 1,200 for Longstreet. The Minnesotans managed to hold off the Confederates for 15 minutes, allowing Gen Hancock to procure additional soldiers. The Minnesotans suffered the highest casualty rate of any regiment in the Civil War, 82%, with a total of 215 men killed and wounded. Their effort helped the Union retain control of Cemetery Ridge, setting the stage for Pickett’s Charge the next day, the 3rd and final day of the battle. Another 17 members of the 1st died during Pickett’s Charge.

How long did Pickett’s Charge last?

The charge began mid-afternoon, and lasted about an hour. Two other generals were also involved, Pettigrew and Trimble, but Pickett led the assault, and his name became synonymous. Both sides began with significant artillery, then it was time to attempt to take the ridge…and Pickett’s Charge began. The word “charge” may be an overstatement. The Confederates marched up the 3/4 mile hillside, (in keeping with the Napoleonic style of attack that was in the final stages of being in vogue) and “charged” in the last 100 yards. They suffered a 50% casualty rate (1,123 killed, 4,019 injured, 3,750 captured), and a few men temporarily made it to the top of Cemetery Ridge, but were soon repulsed. The charge was over, and so was the Battle of Gettysburg.

Did Lincoln carry documents in his hat?

Yes, he did, it was fairly common for him to carry important documents in his stovepipe hat. He does so as he enters his bedroom in the “The Night Before Gettysburg.” This may or may not be historically accurate that evening. At the Gettysburg Address on Nov 19th, he carries the document in his breast pocket in the play, the author could not find a source indicating that he used his hat as he addressed the 15,000 people who were on hand for the speech.