- Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War
This article details
Abraham Lincoln's actions during the American Civil War.
Secession winter 1860–1861
As Lincoln's election became more probable, secessionists made it clear that their states would leave the Union.
South Carolinatook the lead followed by six other cotton-growing states in the deep South. The upper South ( Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas) listened to and rejected the secessionist appeal. They decided to stay in the Union, though warning Lincoln they would not support an invasion through their territory.Fact|date=September 2008 The seven Confederate states seceded before Lincoln took office, declaring themselves an entirely new nation, the Confederate States of America. President Buchanan and President-elect Lincoln refused to recognize the Confederacy.
President-elect Lincoln evaded possible assassins in Baltimore and on February 23, 1861, arrived in disguise in Washington, D.C. At Lincoln's inauguration on
March 4, 1861, the Turnersformed Lincoln's bodyguard; and a sizable garrison of federal troops was also present, ready to protect the capital from Confederate invasion or insurrection from Confederates in the capital city.
In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln declared, "I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments," arguing further that the purpose of the
United States Constitutionwas "to form a more perfect union" than the Articles of Confederationwhich were "explicitly" perpetual, and thus the Constitution too was perpetual. He asked rhetorically that even were the Constitution a simple contract, would it not require the agreement of all parties to rescind it?
Also in his inaugural address, in a final attempt to unite the Union and prevent the looming war, Lincoln supported the pending Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which had passed Congress. It explicitly protected slavery in those states in which it already existed, and was designed to appeal not to the Confederacy but to the critical border states. Lincoln adamantly opposed the
Crittenden Compromise, however, which would have permitted slavery in the territories. Despite support for the Crittenden compromise among some Republicans, Lincoln denounced it in private letters, saying "either the Missouri line extended, or... Pop. Sov. would lose us everything we gained in the election; that filibustering for all South of us, and making slave states of it, would follow in spite of us, under either plan", [cite book |url=http://books.google.ca/books?id=UWJStTs8-A4C&pg=PA192&lpg=PA192&dq=%22filibustering+for+all+South+of+us%22&source=web&ots=FmbtJEx71W&sig=4mjHc3bUtD0MltNN1Jt4ffCjvlk&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=7&ct=result
title=Speeches and Writings by Abraham Lincoln, 1859-1865 |first=Don E. |last=Fehrenbacher| publisher=Library of America |isbn=0940450631
year=1989 |quote=either the Missouri line extended, or Douglas' and Eli Thayer's Pop. Sov. would lose us everything we gained in the election; that filibustering for all South of us, and making slave states of it, would follow in spite of us, under either plan. - from private letter to Thurlow Weed, 1860-12-17] while other Republicans stated it "would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and state owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego [at the far end of South America] ." [ cite book |url=http://books.google.ca/books?id=-uuEA7xIUHUC&pg=PA115&lpg=PA115&dq=%22tierra+del+fuego%22+%22foot+of+land%22&source=web&ots=MPWa-3Cr68&sig=0A-j0liWI_TzRhzxPQ9uksLVMRg&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result |title= Battle cry of freedom: the Civil War era |author=James M. McPherson |year= 1988 |publisher=Oxford University Press |location=US |pages = 904 pages|isbn=019516895X ]
By the time Lincoln took office, the Confederacy was an established fact, and no leaders of the insurrection proposed rejoining the Union on any terms. No compromise was found because a compromise was virtually impossible. Lincoln perhaps could have allowed the southern states to secede, and some Republicans recommended that. However, conservative Democratic nationalists, such as
Jeremiah S. Black, Joseph Holt, and Edwin M. Stantonhad taken control of Buchanan's cabinet around January 1, 1861, and refused to accept secession. Lincoln and nearly all Republican leaders adopted this nationalistic position by March 1861: the Union could not be broken. However, Lincoln being a strict follower of the constitution, would not take any action against the South unless the Unionists themselves were attacked first. It finally happened in April 1861.
Fighting begins: 1861–1862
After Union troops at Fort Sumter were fired upon and forced to surrender in April 1861, Lincoln called on governors of every state to send detachments totaling 75,000 troops to recapture forts, protect the capital, and "preserve the Union," which in his view still existed intact despite the actions of the seceding states. Virginia, which had repeatedly warned Lincoln it would not allow an invasion of its territory or join an attack on another state,Fact|date=September 2008 then seceded, along with North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Nevins [ Allan Nevins, "The Improvised War, 1861-1862" (1959) p 29] argues that Lincoln made three serious mistakes at this point. He at first underestimated the strength of the Confederacy, assuming that 75,000 troops could end the insurrection in 90 days. Second, he overestimated the strength of Unionist sentiment in the South and border states; he assumed he could call the bluff of the insurrectionists and they would fade away. Finally he misunderstood the demands of Unionists in the border states, who warned they would not support an invasion of the Confederacy.request quote|date=September 2008
The slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware did not secede, and Lincoln urgently negotiated with state leaders there, promising not to interfere with slavery in loyal states. After the fighting started, he had rebel leaders arrested in all the border areas and held in military prisons without trial; over 18,000 were arrested. None were executed; one —
Clement Vallandigham— was exiled; all were released, usually after two or three months. See Ex parte Merryman.
Congress in July 1862 moved to free the slaves by passing the Second Confiscation Act. The goal was to weaken the rebellion, which was led and controlled by slave owners. This did not abolish the legal institution of slavery (the 13th Amendment did that), but it shows Lincoln had the support of Congress in liberating the slaves owned by rebels. Lincoln implemented the new law by his "Emancipation Proclamation."
Lincoln is well known for ending slavery in the United States. In 1861-62, Lincoln made it clear that the North was fighting the war to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery. Freeing the slaves became, in late 1862, a war measure to weaken the rebellion by destroying the economic base of its leadership class. Abolitionists criticized Lincoln for his slowness, but on August 22, 1862, Lincoln explained:
Emancipation Proclamation, announced on September 22and put in effect January 1, 1863, freed slaves in territories not under Union control. As Union armies advanced south, more slaves were liberated until all of them in Confederate hands were freed (over three million). Lincoln later said: "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper." The proclamation made abolishing slavery in the rebel states an official war goal. Lincoln then threw his energies into passage of the 13th Amendment to permanently abolish slavery throughout the nation. [Lincoln addressed the issue of his consistency in an 1864 letter to Albert G. Hodges. [http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/hodges.htm Letter to Albert G. Hodges] , April 4, 1864]
Lincoln had for some time been working on plans to set up colonies for the newly freed slaves. He remarked upon colonization favorably in the Emancipation Proclamation but all attempts at such a massive undertaking failed. As
Frederick Douglassobserved, Lincoln was, "The first great man that I talked with in the United States freely who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the difference of color." ["Life and Times of Frederick Douglass", by Frederick Douglass, 1895]
Lincoln believed in the Whig theory of the presidency, which left Congress to write the laws while he signed them, vetoing only bills that threatened his war powers. Thus, he signed the
Homestead Actin 1862, making available millions of acres of government-held land in the west for purchase at very low cost. The Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, also signed in 1862, provided government grants for agricultural universitiesin each state. Lincoln also signed the Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864, which granted federal support to the construction of the United States' first transcontinental railroad, which was completed in 1869. Other important legislation involved money matters, including the first income tax and higher tariffs. Also included was the creation of the system of national banks by the National Banking Acts of 1863, 1864, and 1865 which allowed the creation of a strong national financial system.
Lincoln sent a senior general (John Pope) to put down the "
Sioux Uprising" of August 1862 in Minnesota. Presented with 303 death warrants for convicted Santee Dakotawho had massacred innocent farmers, Lincoln affirmed 39 of these for execution (one was later reprieved).
1864 election and second inauguration
After Union victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chattanooga in 1863, victory seemed at hand. Lincoln promoted Ulysses S. Grant General-in-Chief on March 12, 1864. When the spring campaigns all turned into bloody stalemates, Lincoln strongly supported Grant's strategy of wearing down Lee's army at the cost of heavy Union casualties. Lincoln easily defeated efforts to deny his renomination, and selected
Andrew Johnson, a War Democratfrom the Southern state of Tennessee as his running mate in order to form a broader coalition. They ran on the new Union Party ticket; it was a coalition of Republicans and War Democrats.
Republicans across the country had the jitters in August, fearing that Lincoln would be defeated. Acknowledging those fears, Lincoln wrote and signed a pledge that, if he should lose the election, he would nonetheless defeat the Confederacy by an all-out military effort before turning over the White House: [Mark Grimsley and Brooks D Simpson, eds. "The Collapse of the Confederacy" (2001) p 80 ] Lincoln did not show the pledge to his cabinet, but asked them to sign the sealed envelope.
Lincoln provided Grant with new replacements and mobilized the Union party to support Grant and talk up local support for the war. Sherman's capture of Atlanta in September ended defeatist jitters; the Democratic Party was deeply split, with some leaders and most soldiers openly for Lincoln; the Union party was united and energized, and Lincoln was easily reelected in a landslide. He won all but two states, capturing 212 of 233 electoral votes.
March 4, 1865, he delivered his second inaugural address, which was his favorite of all his speeches. At this time, a victory over the rebels was at hand, slavery was dead, and Lincoln was looking to the future.
Conducting the war effort
The war was a source of constant frustration for the president, and it occupied nearly all of his time. Lincoln had a contentious relationship with General
George B. McClellan, who became general-in-chief of all the Union armies in the wake of the embarrassing Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Runand after the retirement of Winfield Scottin late 1861. Lincoln wished to take an active part in planning the war strategy despite his inexperience in military affairs. Lincoln's strategic priorities were twofold: first, to ensure that Washington, D.C., was well defended; and second, to conduct an aggressive war effort in hopes of ending the war quickly and appeasing the Northern public and press, who pushed for an offensive war. McClellan, a youthful West Point graduate and railroad executive called back to military service, took a more cautious approach. McClellan took several months to plan and execute his Peninsula Campaign, which involved capturing Richmond by moving the Army of the Potomacby boat to the peninsula between the James and York Rivers. McClellan's delay irritated Lincoln, as did McClellan's insistence that no troops were needed to defend Washington, D.C. Lincoln insisted on holding some of McClellan's troops to defend the capital, a decision McClellan blamed for the ultimate failure of his Peninsula Campaign.
McClellan, a lifelong Democrat who was temperamentally conservative, was relieved as general-in-chief after releasing his "
Harrison's Landing Letter", where he offered unsolicited political advice to Lincoln urging caution in the war effort. McClellan's letter incensed Radical Republicans, who successfully pressured Lincoln to appoint fellow Republican John Pope as head of the new Army of Virginia. Pope complied with Lincoln's strategic desire for the Union to move towards Richmond from the north, thus guarding Washington, D.C. However, Pope was soundly defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Runduring the summer of 1862, forcing the Army of the Potomac back into the defenses of Washington for a second time. Pope was sent to Minnesota to fight the Sioux.
Panicked by Confederate General
Robert E. Lee's invasion of Maryland, Lincoln restored McClellan to command of all forces around Washington in time for the Battle of Antietamin September 1862. It was the Union victory in that battle that allowed Lincoln to release his Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln relieved McClellan of command shortly after the 1862 midterm elections and appointed Republican Ambrose Burnsideto head the Army of the Potomac, who promised to follow through on Lincoln's strategic vision for an aggressive offensive against Lee and Richmond. After Burnside was stunningly defeated at Fredericksburg, Joseph Hookerwas given command, despite his idle talk about becoming a military strong man. Hooker was routed by Lee at Chancellorsville in May 1863 and relieved of command early in the subsequent Gettysburg Campaign.
After the Union victory at Gettysburg, Meade's failure to pursue Lee, and months of inactivity for the Army of the Potomac, Lincoln decided to bring in a western general: General
Ulysses S. Grant. He had a solid string of victories in the Western Theater, including Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Earlier, reacting to criticism of Grant, Lincoln was quoted as saying, "I cannot spare this man. He fights." Grant waged his bloody Overland Campaignin 1864, using a strategy of a war of attrition, characterized by high Union losses at battles such as the Wilderness and Cold Harbor but by proportionately higher losses in the Confederate army. Grant's aggressive campaign eventually bottled up Lee in the Siege of Petersburg, took Richmond, and brought the war to a close in the spring of 1865.
Lincoln authorized Grant to destroy the civilian infrastructure that was keeping the Confederacy alive, hoping thereby to destroy the South's morale and weaken its economic ability to continue the war. This allowed Generals
William Tecumseh Shermanand Philip Sheridanto destroy farms and towns in the Shenandoah Valley, Georgia, and South Carolina. The damage in Sherman's March to the Seathrough Georgia totaled in excess of $100 million.
Lincoln had a star-crossed record as a military leader, possessing a keen understanding of strategic points (such as the Mississippi River and the fortress city of Vicksburg) and the importance of defeating the enemy's army, rather than simply capturing cities. However, he had limited success in motivating his commanders to adopt his strategies, until in late 1863 he found in Grant a man who shared his vision of the war. Only then was he able to insist on using black troops and to bring his vision to reality with a relentless pursuit of coordinated offensives in multiple theaters of war.
Lincoln showed a keen curiosity with military campaigning during the war. He spent hours at the War Department telegraph office, reading dispatches from his generals on many nights. He frequently visited battle sites and seemed fascinated by watching scenes of war. During
Jubal A. Early's raid into Washington, D.C., in 1864, Lincoln had to be told to duck his head to avoid being shot while observing the scenes of battle.
Lincoln's powerful rhetoric defined the issues of the war for the nation, the world, and for posterity. His extraordinary command of the English language was evidenced in the
Gettysburg Address, a speech dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg that he delivered on November 19, 1863. The speech virtually gained the status of a constitutional document, defying Lincoln's own prediction that "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here." Lincoln's second inaugural address is also greatly admired and often quoted. In these speeches, Lincoln articulated better than anyone the rationale behind the Union effort.
Historians in recent years have stressed Lincoln's use of and redefinition of republican values. At a time when most political rhetoric focused on the sanctity of the Constitution, Lincoln in the 1850s shifted emphasis to the
Declaration of Independenceas the foundation of American political values--what Lincoln called the "sheet anchor" of republicanism. [ Jaffa (2000) p. 399] The Declaration's emphasis on freedom and equality for all, rather than the Constitution's tolerance of slavers, shifted the debate. As Diggins concludes regarding the highly influential Cooper Union speech, "Lincoln presented Americans a theory of history that offers a profound contribution to the theory and destiny of republicanism itself." [ John Patrick Diggins, "The Lost Soul of American Politics: Virtue, Self-interest, and the Foundations of Liberalism" (1986) p. 307.] Lincoln's position gained strength because instead of legalisms he stressed the moral basis of republicanism. [ Foner (1970) p. 215 says, "Lincoln stressed the moral basis of republicanism." See also McPherson (1992) pp.61-64.] In 1861 Lincoln justified the war in terms of legalisms (the Constitution was a contract and for one party to get out of a contract all the other parties had to agree), and then in terms of the national duty to guarantee a "republican form of government" in every state. [Jaffa (2000) p. 263] That duty was also the principle underlying federal intervention in Reconstruction.
In redefining the American nation in the
Gettysburg Address, Lincoln argued the nation was born not in 1789 but in 1776, "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." He declared the deaths on the battlefield had rededicated the nation to the propositions of democracy and equality, "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." Lincoln stressed the centrality of the nation (ignoring the states). While some critics say Lincoln moved too far and too fast, [ H.L. Mencken said "It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves." Mencken did not mention the self-determination rights of the blacks.] they all agree he rededicated the nation to the new values that marked "a new founding of the nation." [ Wills (1992) p. 39.]
Civil liberties suspended
During the Civil War, Lincoln appropriated powers no previous President had wielded: he used his war powers to proclaim a blockade, suspended the writ of
habeas corpus, spent money without congressional authorization, and imprisoned 18,000 suspected Confederate sympathizers without trial. Nearly all of his actions, although vehemently denounced by the Copperheads, were subsequently upheld by Congress and the Courts.
Reconstruction began during the war as Lincoln and his associates pondered the questions of how to reintegrate the Southern states back into the Union, and what to do with Confederate leaders and with the freed slaves. Lincoln was the leader of the "moderates" regarding Reconstruction policy, and usually was opposed by the Radical Republicans led by
Thaddeus Stevensin the House and Charles Sumnerand Benjamin Wadein the Senate (though he cooperated with those men on most other issues). Lincoln was determined to find a course that would reunite the nation as soon as possible and not permanently alienate the Southerners, and throughout the war Lincoln urged speedy elections under generous terms in areas behind Union lines. Critical decisions had to be made during the war, as state after state was reconquered. Of special importance were Tennessee, where Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnsonas governor, and Louisianawhere Lincoln tried a plan that would restore the state when 10% of the voters agreed. The Radicals thought that policy was too lenient, and passed their own plan, the Wade-Davis Billin 1864. Lincoln vetoed Wade-Davis, and the Radicals retaliated by refusing to seat representatives elected from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee. [ Donald (1995) ch. 20]
April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court Housein Virginia; the war was effectively over. The other rebel armies surrendered and there was no guerrilla warfare. Lincoln went to Richmond to make a public gesture of sitting at Jefferson Davis's own desk, symbolically saying to the nation that the President of the United States held authority over the entire land. He was greeted at the city as a conquering hero by freed slaves, whose sentiments were epitomized by one admirer's quote, "I know I am free for I have seen the face of Father Abraham and have felt him." When a general asked Lincoln how the defeated Confederates should be treated, Lincoln replied, "Let 'em up easy." [ Donald (1995) 576, 580, [http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/richmond.htm] ]
John Wilkes Boothhad formulated a plan to kidnapLincoln in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners. He attended an April 11th speech outside the White House in which Lincoln promoted the idea of voting rights for blacks. Incensed at the prospect, Booth changed to a plan for assassination. [ [http://www.decades.com/Timeline/n/285.htm Booth plans to kidnap Lincoln] (timeline)]
Booth, a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland, heard that the President and Mrs. Lincoln, along with the Grants, would be attending
Ford's Theatre. Having failed in a plot to kidnap Lincoln earlier, Booth informed his co-conspirators of his intention to kill Lincoln. Others were assigned to assassinate vice-president Andrew Johnsonand Secretary of State William H. Seward.
Without his main bodyguard
Ward Hill Lamon, to whom he related his famous dream regarding his own assassination, Lincoln left to attend the play " Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865. As a lone bodyguard wandered, and Lincoln sat in his state box (Box 7) in the balcony, Booth crept up behind the President's box and waited for the funniest line of the play, hoping the laughter would cover the noise of the gunshot. When the laughter came Booth jumped into the box with the President and aimed a single-shot, round-slug .44 caliber Deringerat his head, firing at point-blank range. Major Henry Rathbonemomentarily grappled with Booth but was cut by Booth's knife. Booth then leapt to the stage and shouted " Sic semper tyrannis!" (Latin: "Thus always to tyrants") and escaped, despite a broken leg suffered in the leap. A twelve-day manhunt ensued, in which Booth was chased by Federal agents (under the direction of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton), until he was finally cornered in a barnhouse in Virginia and shot, dying soon after.
An army surgeon, Doctor
Charles Leale, initially assessed Lincoln's wound as mortal. The President was taken across the street from the theater to the Petersen House, where he lay in a coma for nine hours before he died. Several physicians attended Lincoln, including U.S. Army Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes of the Army Medical Museum. Using a probe, Barnes located some fragments of Lincoln's skull and the ball lodged 6 inches (15 cm) inside his brain. Lincoln never regained consciousness and was officially pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. April 15, 1865at the now young age of 56 years old. There is some disagreement among historians as to Stanton's words after Lincoln died. [
funeral traincarried his remains, as well as 300 mourners and the casket of his son William, 1,654 miles (2,661 km) to Illinois] All agree he began "Now he belongs to the..." with some stating he said "ages," while others believe he said "angels." After Lincoln's body was returned to the White House, his body was prepared for his lying in reposein the East Room. He was the first president to lie in state.
The Army Medical Museum, now named the National Museum of Health and Medicine, has retained in its collection several artifacts relating to the assassination. Currently on display in the museum are the bullet that was fired from the Deringer pistol, the probe used by Barnes, pieces of Lincoln's skull and hair, and the surgeon's cuff stained with Lincoln's blood.
Lincoln's body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession through several states on its way back to Illinois. The nation mourned a man whom many viewed as the savior of the United States. Copperheads celebrated the death of a man they considered an unconstitutional tyrant. He was buried in
Oak Ridge Cemeteryin Springfield, Illinois, where a 177 foot (54 m) tall granite tomb surmounted with several bronze statues of Lincoln was constructed by 1874. To prevent repeated attempts to steal Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom, Robert Todd Lincolnhad Lincoln exhumed and reinterred in concrete several feet thick in 1901.
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