The Battlefield at Gettysburg is primarily known for two things. First, over three days, July 1 through July 3, 1863 the bloodiest battle of the Civil War took place there. Second, it was the site of The Gettysburg Address, the famous speech that President Abraham Lincoln delivered four and a half months after the battle on November 19. Six other presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and one vice president who would later become president, Lyndon B. Johnson, have also delivered speeches at the Battlefield. Several of these speeches are among the holdings of the Motion Picture Sound and Video Branch here at the National Archives.
The 75th Anniversary
Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at least twice at the battlefield. His first address was on Memorial Day, May 30, 1934. The second was an address for the dedication of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial on July 3, 1938, which also commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
One Union and one Confederate veteran unveiled the 47 ½ foot tall memorial. In Roosevelt’s nine-minute speech he shared, “All of them we honor, not asking under which flag they fought then—thankful that they stand together under one flag now.” There were more than 250,000 people who attended the 1938 dedication including more than 1,800 Civil War veterans, all of them at least in their 90s. The following clip is from the Records of the National Park Service in the Harpers Ferry Collection.
The 125th Anniversary
Fast forward 50 years to the 125th anniversary which took place over three days, July 1 through 3, 1988. Part of this three-day event included a 50th anniversary re-dedication of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial. However for this re-dedication there would be no presidential speech. Rather, a famous scientist, Dr. Carl Sagan, would give the re-dedication speech for the memorial, albeit with a smaller crowd of 30,000. The speech, co-written with his wife Ann Druyan, juxtaposed the weapons of the Battle of Gettysburg with the weapons of subsequent wars highlighting the increased potential for destruction with each war. Sagan used the platform he was given to call for nuclear disarmament highlighting the need to recognize our humanity as brothers and to work toward peace. Sagan’s written speech ended with:
And inscribed on this Eternal Light Peace Memorial…is a stirring phrase: “A World United in the Search of Peace.”
The real triumph of Gettysburg was not, I think, in 1863 but in 1913, when the surviving veterans, the remnants of the adversary forces, the Blue and the Gray, met in celebration and solemn memorial. It had been the war that set brother against brother, and when the time came to remember, on the fiftieth anniversary of the battle, the survivors fell, sobbing into one another’s arms…It is time to learn from those who fell here. Our challenge is to reconcile, not after the carnage and mass murder, but instead of the carnage and the mass murder. It is time to act.
Above is silent footage, transferred from 16mm film, containing the end of Dr. Carl Sagan’s speech. Below is audio transferred from 1/4 inch magnetic tapes. Sagan’s speech begins at approximately one hour and twelve minutes. Sadly the audio is missing one paragraph of the speech toward the end, most likely due to the tape ending and the lapsed time to get a new tape recording. Otherwise, the entirety of the speech was captured.
By the late 1980’s, the Harpers Ferry Center was creating interpretative materials in a number of different media, including audio recordings for listening stations, slide shows, and videos and films for broadcast, loans, and exhibition in visitor centers. Initially, it appeared that the records relating to the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg were limited to twelve ¼ inch sound recordings. However, as the processing proceeded it was discovered that there were indeed moving image film rolls that accompanied the ¼ inch sound which were incorrectly identified on the shipping list. Original recordings could be used in multiple productions, which may be the reason these records were incorrectly identified, and it can take some research to bring them together.
Preserved in our holdings here at the National Archives are twelve ¼ inch audio reel-to-reel tapes and eleven 16mm, silent, color film reels. Two of the twelve audio tapes contain most of Sagan’s 1988 speech as well as recordings of the activities of the three-day event, while three of the eleven film reels contain parts of Sagan’s speech. The fact that we have these records in multiple formats highlights one of the challenges facing a special media archivist, as Criss Kovac, NARA’s Moving Image Preservation Lab Supervisor, explains:
One of the challenges in trying to synchronize motion picture film and separate audio on ¼ inch magnetic tape is that the recording equipment runs at different rates. Motion picture film is captured at 24 frames per second while ¼ inch audio is generally captured at 7.5 inches per second. Thirty six feet of 16mm film is the equivalent to one minute of running time and thirty seven and a half feet of ¼ inch audio is the equivalent to one minute of running time, so they don’t quite match up. Over the course of time the audio begins to drift so that the audio occurs ahead of the image. In order to rectify this, we can try to remove snippets of dead air to try to make the image and the audio synchronize. But, if the event is a continuous speech with little, or no breaks and pauses, we’re unable to faithfully sync the two together.
NARA’s film lab synchronized the excerpts above using 1/4 inch audio tapes and 16mm film rolls.
These records of the 75th and 125th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg intersect with our world today. As we mark off another 30 years since the re-dedication of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, the Cold War has ended and context has shifted, but Dr. Sagan’s speech and its call for nuclear disarmament remains valid. Similarly, The Eternal Light Peace Memorial and other Civil War monuments and symbols continue to evoke strong feelings and serve as catalysts for debate.