Gettysburg Address Lectern


 Courtesy of J. Howard Wert collection

Each year, the House Divided Project at Dickinson College hosts a special public lecture featuring a noted historian of the Civil War era and the public display of the original lectern from the Gettysburg Address platform and other rare artifacts from the Battle of Gettysburg.  Previous participants in the annual J. Howard Wert Lectureship have included distinguished figures such as public historian Christy Coleman and military historian Eric Wittenberg.  

The J. Howard Wert Lectureship is named in honor of J. Howard Wert (1841-1920), one of America’s great private collectors and pioneering educators.  Wert was a young abolitionist and resident of Adams County, Pennsylvania who was present when Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address in 1863.  The House Divided Project launched this annual lecture series in 2019 in partnership with the J. Howard Wert Collection and its current owner and curator, G. Craig Caba.  Christy Coleman, former CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia, was the first Wert lecturer at Dickinson in 2019 to speak from the Gettysburg Address lectern.  On March 21, 2020, the lectern will be on display along with a chair from the platform used by Edward Everett, the dedication ceremony’s main orator. 


Background on the Collection

The J. Howard Wert Collection is considered one of the finest privately held collections of Civil War era artifacts in the country.  Wert came from a prominent antislavery family in Adams County, Pennsylvania.  The Wert family collected a number of important historical artifacts, dating back to the 18th century. Wert himself was a graduate of Gettysburg College who served as a scout for Union forces during the 1863 battle and was present for the Gettysburg Address later that year.  Wert eventually enlisted in the Union army and became a teacher, author and noted school superintendent in Harrisburg.  He died in 1920.  During his lifetime, however, he was renowned for his collection of  important historical artifacts.   A 1910 newspaper profile claimed that Wert “had gathered a collection of relics at Gettysburg that could not be duplicated in any museum in the country.”  In his own Gettysburg battlefield guide, which had been published in 1886 when he was forty-six years old, Wert wrote about how his collection of relics inspired him to try to recount the conflict for future generations:

As these lines are penned, from the walls around, cartridge-box and cap-box, bayonet and sword, canteen and canister, with a hundred other relics gleaned twenty-three years ago from the fields and woods we are now traversing, look mutely down upon the writer and vividly recall the sorrowful appearance of the bloated and distorted and blackened dead that lay close beside; noble, stalwart men were they, arrayed in garb of gray, who had bravely fought for what they deemed the right. (J. Howard Wert, A complete hand-book of the monuments and indications and guide to the positions on the Gettysburg battlefield, 1886, pp. 109-110)


Dedication Day, November 19, 1863


Lincoln, hatless, on speaker’s platform while Everett is speaking (Library of Congress)

There are no eye-witness accounts or photographs from 1863 that actually depict the lectern or the chairs on the speaker’s platform.  However, the photographs that do exist make very clear that the scene was more than a little chaotic and that most of the standing crowd would have had a limited view beyond the shoulder line of the speakers.  Many of those present at the ceremony were impressed that the main orator Edward Everett seemed to have memorized his two-hour address, and some near the platform also remarked on how Lincoln slowly read his now much-more famous two-minute address, but few took note of other physical details from the platform itself.  Yet, J. Howard Wert, then 22 years old, was definitely present at the ceremony.  So was his friend, Henry Eyster Jacobs, a 19-year-old fellow graduate of Pennsylvania (later Gettysburg) College.  His father, Michael Jacobs, was also there, and was at the time a professor at the college, writing a history of the battle.  In fact, Prof. Jacobs had taken Everett on a tour of the battlefield in the days prior to the dedication ceremonies.  We know this because Edwards himself mentioned the tour in his diary.  Then, according to notes in the Wert Collection prepared decades later by J. Howard Wert, it was Professor Jacobs who provided his teaching lectern for the ceremony, along with at least one side chair, that was used by Everett, the former Massachusetts governor and U.S. senator while he was waiting to speak.  These notes (previously unpublished), and various other relevant primary sources, including recollections by Wert and both Jacobs men, are provided below.

Wert note

Courtesy of the J. Howard Wert Collection

Chair note

Courtesy of the J. Howard Wert Collection