David Wills House 3D Tour - Audio Described

Gettysburg National Military Park


1. Entrance Foyer This is the home of David and Catherine Wills. A graduate of Pennsylvania (Gettysburg) College, David Wills practiced law in Gettysburg and was active in local affairs. Appointed superintendent of Adams County schools in 1854, he married Catherine Jayne “Jennie” Smyser in 1856. By the summer of 1863 they had three children. President Abraham Lincoln completed his Gettysburg Address in this building on the evening of November 18, 1863. Invited by Gettysburg attorney David Wills to “deliver a few appropriate remarks” at the consecration of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, the president arrived aboard his personal train on November 18 and spent that evening in the Wills’ home, where he completed the 272-word speech that would become the most famous piece of oratory in American history. 2. Gallery 1 – Wills Parlor - Diorama James Gettys founded the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1786. A substantial and modern town by the standards of 1860 America, it had some paved roads, running water, and even gas works – initiated by none other than David Wills. Gettysburg was a center of agriculture and commerce, with tanneries and a healthy carriage industry. It boasted eight churches, six taverns, two banks, three weekly newspapers, a college, and a seminary. The town was ready for even more growth and expansion, fed by a rail line and ten major roads that all came together in the town square. The very roads that carried commodities in and out of town, drew contesting armies. The battle that resulted forever changed this place. 3. Gallery 1 – Wills Parlor- Window near Square On July 1, 1863, Union and Confederate forces clashed north and west of Gettysburg. At first, curious citizens ventured toward the battlefield or clambered onto rooftops to glimpse the action. Most retreated to their cellars when fighting intensified, missing the withdrawal of Union troops through the streets and the raising of a Confederate flag over the town square. Confederate soldiers would occupy the town for more than two days. During the Battle of Gettysburg 51,000 men became casualties. Over 10,000 dead littered the farms, fields and streets of the Gettysburg community. 4. Gallery 2 – Law Office This room was David Wills’ office—the center of Gettysburg’s recovery effort. In nineteenth-century America, the government had no standing agencies or institutions to deal with national disaster. David Wills’ office combined the functions of a Federal Emergency Management Agency, Centers for Disease Control, and American Red Cross all in one. After the battle, Gettysburg became a vast hospital and morgue: dead and wounded soldiers outnumbered civilians eleven to one. Food and supplies were slow to arrive over the burdened railroad. “Some of our wounded have not eaten since the 1st or 2nd,” wrote one reporter on July 5. “The women and children have been living in cellars and are just beginning to emerge from their dismal hiding places.” Doctors, nurses and family members descended upon the town, but so did curiosity seekers and vandals. After being “overrun and eaten out by two large armies” these thousands of additional “guests” taxed the local citizenry to its limits. In this office, Theodore Dimon, a former army surgeon representing New York state, advanced the idea of burying all the Union dead on the lines of battle at Gettysburg; David Wills arranged for the cemetery’s consecration and Lincoln’s visit; supplies for the wounded were stored; and Wills fought for compensation for the farmers who suffered losses during the battle. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin visited the battlefield with Wills on July 10, 1863 and was shocked by its conditions. He designated Wills as state agent, charged with seeing to the proper burial of Pennsylvania’s dead. At a meeting of state agents here in Wills’ house several days later, the idea of establishing a permanent national cemetery for all Union dead was advanced. Governor Curtin approved this idea and gave Wills the authority to carry it out. By mid-August Wills had purchased 17 acres on Cemetery Hill for this new National Cemetery. In a letter to Governor Curtin, Wills suggested holding “appropriate ceremonies” to consecrate the National Cemetery. On November 2nd, 1863 Wills invited Abraham Lincoln to attend and give “a few appropriate remarks.” The keynote speaker would be famed orator Edward Everett. Lincoln accepted the invitation, for November 19, 1863. Second Floor 1. Gallery 4 -Lincoln at Gettysburg Gettysburg’s 2,400 citizens hosted as many as 20,000 visitors for the consecration, and David Wills welcomed the most prominent into his own home. Edward Everett was the first to arrive, coming two days early to tour the battlefield and prepare for his oration. Lincoln and his entourage arrived after dusk on the 18th.The group proceeded to the Wills House, where Mrs. Wills had a feast waiting for her guests. David Wills spent the evening greeting well-wishers and showing his guests to their rooms. The Wills House was among the largest in town, but on the evening of November 18 it overflowed with dinner guests, 38 in all. Edward Everett, the French Minister to Washington, Governor Curtin and other dignitaries were here. Mrs. Wills had also prepared several bedrooms for overnight guests, and everyone was full, including her own – given to the President. Along with each came aides and guards necessary to ensure their safety and comfort. 2. Gallery 5- Lincoln Room Abraham Lincoln wrote portions of the Gettysburg Address before he left Washington but finished writing it in this room. After carefully reworking the address and getting details about the consecration ceremony from Wills, Lincoln walked next door, speech in hand, to visit Secretary of State Seward. He returned within half an hour and retired to the bedroom in front of you. The next morning, he made final revisions to his speech before proceeding to the cemetery. 3. Gallery 5- Lincoln Room, Desk: “Between nine and ten o’clock the President sent his servant to request me to come to his room. I went and found him with paper prepared to write, and he said that he had just seated himself to put upon paper a few thoughts for to-morrows exercises, and had sent for me to ascertain what part he was to take in them, and what was expected of him. After a full talk on the subject I left him. “ David Wills to Louisa A. W. Russell, 1893 4. Gallery 5- Lincoln Room, Bed: Abraham Lincoln slept in this bed on the night of November 18, 1863. Much of the other furniture was in this room on that night as well and would have been used by him as well. 5. Gallery 5- Lincoln Room, Bags: During his visit to Gettysburg Lincoln was accompanied by his personal servant, William Johnson, a young African-American whom Lincoln described as “honest, faithful, sober, industrious”. Johnson had been with him since 1860. 6. Gallery 3 – Gettysburg Address, Window looking out to York Street "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." 7. Gallery 6 - Legacy The Gettysburg Address became internationally and eternally famous for many reasons. Among them was Lincoln’s powerful prose that succinctly and eloquently defined the meaning of the Civil War. By invoking the Declaration of Independence and its affirmation that “all men are created equal,” Lincoln reminded those who heard, and would read, his speech that this nation was founded not only on the principle of constitutional liberty, but also on the principle of human equality. The government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” had to survive. Lincoln’s words and his hope for “a new birth of freedom” still resonate today throughout the world. 8. Gallery 7 – Preservation of Wills House This house was already nearly fifty years old when President Lincoln stayed here. Built in 1816 by Alexander Cobean, a prominent local businessman, it served at different times as a residence, store, tavern and hotel before David Wills purchased the building in 1859. As his family and law business grew, Wills moved his law office to the house and converted a first floor store to a family parlor. After Wills’ death in 1894, the house was remodeled by different owners for various commercial uses. Like many historic buildings in Gettysburg, the Wills House has undergone numerous alterations over the years, and in the process, the exterior walls, doors, windows, and almost every room of the interior have been modified. Fortunately, descendants and friends of the Wills family have carefully preserved original photographs, letters, books, furniture, and many other personal items that have made it possible to restore much of the 1863 appearance.


The home of Gettysburg attorney David Wills was the center of the immense clean-up process after the Battle of Gettysburg and where President Lincoln put the finishing touches on his Gettysburg Address, the speech that transformed Gettysburg from a place of death and devastation to the symbol of our nation's "new birth of freedom." This virtual tour allows you to visit this important home in the center of Gettysburg.


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