Historical Markers
Wills House Historical Marker
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Wills House

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
SE section of Square

Dedication Date:
November 19, 1949

Behind the Marker

In 1863, David Wills was a thirty-two-year-old attorney who had studied law under Pennsylvania Congressman markerThaddeus Stevens. A local Republican leader, he was one of Gettysburg's most notable citizens.

In mid-July, 1863, Pennsylvania governor markerAndrew Curtin had visited the Gettysburg battlefield, shortly after the deadly Civil War battle. It was a somber place, still reeking with the smell of rotting corpses. There, the governor authorized Wills to organize more dignified burials for the state's fallen soldiers. Soon the idea was expanded to include participation from eighteen Union States to create a national cemetery for the Union dead.
Lincoln stayed in the Wills House in Gettysburg the night before the dedication ceremony. David Wills, a highly respected member of the community, had been appointed by Governor Andrew Curtin to oversee the creation and dedication of the National Ceremony.
David Wills House, Gettysburg, PA, circa 1864.

Wills organized nearly everything included in developing the cemetery. He bought the land and hired a cemetery designer. He reviewed thirty-four bids for the reburial process, choosing a firm that proposed to do the job for $1.59 per body. The industrious attorney also contacted some of the nation's leading poets, requesting special poems for the cemetery's opening. Nobody accepted. He did, however, convince renowned public speaker Edward Everett to give the principal oration. Wills was so pleased by Everett's acceptance that he agreed to delay the ceremonies so that orator could finish preparing his speech.

Although President Abraham Lincoln was likely aware of the plans for the cemetery, he did not receive an official invitation to attend its dedication until November 2, 1863, and then only to present "a few appropriate remarks." The night before the event, Lincoln shared dinner with Wills and other guests, interrupting the meal to wave to the crowds gathered outside. He also nervously read telegrams informing him about the state of his son Tad's illness. He then retired upstairs, reportedly to spend time revising his brief remarks for the next day.
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