Rare photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg

Today’s post comes from National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications staff writer Rob Crotty.

The first photo discovered of Lincoln at Gettysburg
The first photo discovered of Lincoln at Gettysburg

In 1952, the chief of the Still Photo section at the National Archives, Josephine Cobb, discovered a glass plate negative taken by Mathew Brady of the speaker’s stand at Gettysburg on the day of its dedication as a National Cemetery. Edward Everett would speak from that stand later in the afternoon for two straight hours. Moments later, a tall, gaunt Abraham Lincoln would stand up and deliver a ten sentence speech in two minutes. It was the Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln delivered his famous speech 147 years ago today. His speech is revered as one of the greatest in American history, yet until Josephine Cobb looked closer at that Mathew Brady photo in 1952, it was thought that no photo existed of the Great Emancipator at Gettysburg on the day he delivered that address.

Based off the placement of people, the slight elevation of a few in the center left field of the photograph, and where the crowd was looking, Cobb bet that Lincoln would be in the photo. Photo enlargement later proved her theory true, making this the first–and possibly only–photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg.*

Cobb estimated that the photo was taken around noontime, before Edward Everett arrived, and about three hours before Lincoln delivered his famous address. Below is the original, uncropped photo.

The original uncropped photo of the speakers stand at Gettysburg
The original uncropped photo of the speakers stand at Gettysburg (Records of the Chief Signal Officer, 111-B-4975)

*It’s possible that three other photos all taken around the same time might also show Lincoln leaving Gettysburg on horseback. Some impressive sleuth work by historians comparing the photos to written accounts of the activities at Gettysburg that day indicate that they are very likely photos of Lincoln (albeit a pretty blurry Lincoln). You can view them at the Library of Congress website.

14 thoughts on “Rare photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg

  1. If you wrote us an e-mail regarding these photos, please know we’d love to read it, but it was quarantined for some reason! Please e-mail us again!

    1. Thats what im thinking. The police cant enlarge a HD photo to day that far off and get a terrorist. But yet in 1952, she somehow enlarged the a 147 year photo (now 160) clear enough to find Lincoln. Im not saying shes wrong, im saying im amazed. If she knows were Lincoln was standing, its most likely him. I just dont get how clear the photo is for something on a glass plate.

  2. Who is that boy in the center of the photo? He really stands out in this picture. Like he shouldn’t be there.

  3. That boy could be my great grandfather, richard watson sadler. He lived in Adams county, and my cousin from Carlisle told me he attended the Gettysburg address when he was a teenager.

  4. Why do the authorities blank off any enquiries about the young boy in the centre of the photo wearing trainers and modern dress? I have heard a claim that he was involuntary time traveller.

  5. Has anyone been able to identify the exact spot Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg? Many articles just refer to the national cemetery but one photo appears to show the gate house of Gettysburg evergreen

  6. I am sorry, I was wrong about my great grandfather, Watson R. Sadler. I found out he was born in 1840, so that could not have been him, as he was 23 at the time he attended the Gettysburg Address.

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