Hand color tinted photo of President Abraham Lincoln, 1863
Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States. He successfully led the country through its greatest internal crisis, the American Civil War, preserving the Union and ending slavery. As the war was drawing to a close, Lincoln became the first American president to be assassinated. Before his election in 1860 as the first Republican president, Lincoln had been a lawyer, an Illinois state legislator, a member of the United States House of Representatives, and twice an unsuccessful candidate for election to the Senate.
As an outspoken opponent of the expansion of slavery in the United States, Lincoln won the Republican Party nomination in 1860 and was elected president later that year. His tenure in office was occupied primarily with the defeat of the secessionist Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. He introduced measures that resulted in the abolition of slavery, issuing his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and promoting the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which passed Congress before Lincoln’s death and was ratified by the states later in 1865.
Lincoln closely supervised the victorious war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including Ulysses S. Grant. Historians have concluded that he handled the factions of the Republican Party well, bringing leaders of each faction into his cabinet and forcing them to cooperate. Lincoln successfully defused the Trent Affair, a war scare with Britain in 1861. Under his leadership, the Union took control of the border slave states at the start of the war. Additionally, he managed his own reelection in the 1864 presidential election.
Opponents of the war (also known as “Copperheads”) criticized Lincoln for refusing to compromise on the slavery issue. Conversely, the Radical Republicans, an abolitionist faction of the Republican Party, criticized him for moving too slowly in abolishing slavery. Even with these road blocks, Lincoln successfully rallied public opinion through his rhetoric and speeches; his Gettysburg Address is but one example of this. At the close of the war, Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to speedily reunite the nation through a policy of generous reconciliation, a position his successor in the White House, Andrew Johnson, also took. His assassination in 1865 was the first presidential assassination in U.S. history, and as a result Lincoln has been considered a martyr for the ideal of national unity and human rights. Lincoln has been consistently ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.
Marriage and family
On November 4, 1842 Lincoln married Mary Todd, daughter of a prominent slave-owning family from Kentucky. The couple had four sons. Robert Todd Lincoln was born in Springfield, Illinois on August 1, 1843. Their only child to survive into adulthood, young Robert attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard College.
The other Lincoln children were born in Springfield, Illinois, and died either during childhood or their teen years. Edward Baker Lincoln was born on March 10, 1846, and died on February 1, 1850, also in Springfield. William “Willie” Wallace Lincoln was born on December 21, 1850, and died on February 20, 1862 in Washington, D.C., during President Lincoln’s first term. Thomas “Tad” Lincoln was born on April 4, 1853, and died on July 16, 1871 in Chicago.
Early political career and military service
Lincoln began his political career in 1832, at age 23, with an unsuccessful campaign for the Illinois General Assembly, as a member of the Whig Party. The centerpiece of his platform was the undertaking of navigational improvements on the Sangamon River.
In 1834, he won election to the state legislature, and, after coming across the Commentaries on the Laws of England, began to teach himself law. Admitted to the bar in 1837, he moved to Springfield, Illinois, that same year and began to practice law with John T. Stuart. With a reputation as a formidable adversary during cross-examinations and in his closing arguments, Lincoln became an able and successful lawyer. In 1841 Lincoln entered the law practice with William Herndon, a fellow Whig.
He served four successive terms in the Illinois House of Representatives as a representative from Sangamon County, and became a leader of the Illinois Whig party. In 1837, he made his first protest against slavery in the Illinois House, stating that the institution was “founded on both injustice and bad policy.”
In 1846 Lincoln was elected to one term in the U.S. House of Representatives. A staunch Whig, Lincoln often referred to party leader Henry Clay as his political idol. As a freshman House member, Lincoln was not a particularly powerful or influential figure in Congress. He used his office as an opportunity to speak out against the war with Mexico, which he attributed to President Polk’s desire for “military glory — that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood.”
Lincoln was a key early supporter of Zachary Taylor’s candidacy for the 1848 Whig Presidential nomination. When Lincoln’s term ended, the incoming Taylor administration offered him the governorship of remote Oregon Territory. Acceptance would end his career in the fast-growing state of Illinois, so he declined. Returning instead to Springfield, Illinois he turned most of his energies to making a living at the bar, which involved extensive travel on horseback from county to county.
It was during this stage of his life, however, that Lincoln gave one of the most pivotal speeches of his life – speaking not as a politician, but as a private citizen. Opposed to the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln spoke to a crowd in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854, outlining the moral, political and economic arguments against slavery that he would continue to uphold throughout his career. This speech marked his re-entry into public life.
By the mid-1850s, Lincoln faced competing transportation interests — both the river barges and the railroads. In 1849, he received a patent related to buoying vessels, achieved in by lessening the draft of a river craft by pushing horizontal floats into the water alongside the hull when near shoal waters. Lincoln represented the Alton & Sangamon Railroad in an 1851 dispute with one of its shareholders, James A. Barret. Barret had refused to pay the balance on his pledge to that corporation on the grounds that it had changed its originally planned route. Lincoln argued that as a matter of law a corporation is not bound by its original charter when that charter can be amended in the public interest, that the newer proposed Alton & Sangamon route was superior and less expensive, and that accordingly the corporation had a right to sue Mr. Barret for his delinquent payment. He won this case, and the decision by the Illinois Supreme Court was eventually cited by several other courts throughout the United States.
Lincoln’s most notable criminal trial came in 1858 when he defended William “Duff” Armstrong, who was on trial for the murder of James Preston Metzker. The case is famous for Lincoln’s use of judicial notice, a rare tactic at that time, to show an eyewitness had lied on the stand, claiming he witnessed the crime in the moonlight. Lincoln produced a Farmer’s Almanac to show that the moon on that date was at such a low angle it could not have produced enough illumination to see anything clearly. Based upon this evidence, Armstrong was acquitted.
Republican politics 1854–1860
Lincoln returned to politics in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), which expressly repealed the limits on slavery’s extent as determined by the Missouri Compromise (1820). Illinois Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, the most powerful man in the Senate, proposed popular sovereignty as the solution to the slavery impasse, and incorporated it into the Kansas–Nebraska Act. Douglas argued that in a democracy the people should have the right to decide whether or not to allow slavery in their territory, rather than have such a decision imposed on them by Congress.
In the October 16, 1854, “Peoria Speech”, Lincoln first stood out among the other free soil orators of the day:[The Act has a] declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate it. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world — enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites — causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty — criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.
Drawing on remnants of the old Whig, Free Soil, Liberty and Democratic parties, he was instrumental in forming the new Republican Party. In a stirring campaign, the Republicans carried Illinois in 1854 and elected a senator. Lincoln was the obvious choice, but to keep the new party balanced he allowed the election to go to an ex-Democrat Lyman Trumbull. At the Republican convention in 1856, Lincoln placed second in the contest to become the party’s candidate for Vice-President.
In 1857-58, Douglas broke with President Buchanan, leading to a fight for control of the Democratic Party. Some eastern Republicans even favored the reelection of Douglas in 1858, since he had led the opposition to the Lecompton Constitution, which would have admitted Kansas as a slave state. Accepting the Republican nomination for Senate in 1858, Lincoln delivered his famous speech: “‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.'(Mark 3:25) I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.” The speech created an evocative image of the danger of disunion caused by the slavery debate, and rallied Republicans across the north.
Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858
The 1858 campaign featured the Lincoln-Douglas debates, a famous contest on slavery. Lincoln warned that “The Slave Power” was threatening the values of republicanism, while Douglas emphasized the supremacy of democracy, as set forth in his Freeport Doctrine, which said that local settlers should be free to choose whether to allow slavery or not. Though the Republican legislative candidates won more popular votes, the Democrats won more seats, and the legislature reelected Douglas to the Senate. Nevertheless, Lincoln’s speeches on the issue transformed him into a national political star. New York party leaders invited him to give a speech at Cooper Union in February 1860 to an elite audience that was startled by the poorly dressed, ugly man from the West. He stunned the audience with the most brilliant political speech they had ever heard. Lincoln was emerging as the intellectual leader of the Republican party, and its best speaker.
1860 Presidential Election
Lincoln was chosen as the Republican candidate for the 1860 election for several reasons. His expressed views on slavery were seen as more moderate than those of rivals William H. Seward and Salmon P. Chase. His “Western” origins also appealed to the newer states: other contenders, especially those with more governmental experience, had acquired enemies within the party and were weak in the critical western states, while Lincoln was perceived as a moderate who could win the West. Most Republicans agreed with Lincoln that the North was the aggrieved party as the Slave Power tightened its grasp on the national government. Throughout the 1850s he denied that there would ever be a civil war, and his supporters repeatedly rejected claims that his election would incite secession.uest quotation on talk to verify] On May 9-10, 1860, the Illinois Republican State Convention was held in Decatur. At this convention, Lincoln received his first endorsement to run for the presidency.
Lincoln did not campaign on the road. Despire this, he had gained the majority of the popular vote due to the work of the local Republican Party offices throughout the north. They produced tons of campaign posters and leaflets, and thousands of newspaper editorials. There thousands of Republican speakers who focused first on the party platform, and second on Lincoln’s life story, making an emphasis on his childhood poverty. The goal was to emphasize the superior power of “free labor,” whereby a common farm boy could work his way to the top by his own efforts. In the South, Lincoln did not appear on a majority of the ballots come the time of the election.
On November 6, 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States, beating Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge of the Southern Democrats, and John Bell of the new Constitutional Union Party. He was the first Republican president, winning entirely on the strength of his support in the North: he was not even on the ballot in nine states in the South, and won only 2 of 996 counties in all of the Southern states. There were fusion tickets in some states, but even if his opponents had combined in every state, Lincoln had a majority vote in all but two of the states in which he won the electoral votes and would still have won the electoral college and the election. Lincoln was the first U. S. President elected from Illinois.
Presidency and the Civil War
With the emergence of the Republicans as the nation’s first major sectional party by the mid-1850s, politics became the stage on which sectional tensions were played out. Although much of the West – the focal point of sectional tensions – was unfit for cotton cultivation, Southern secessionists read the political fallout as a sign that their power in national politics was rapidly weakening. Before, the slave system had been buttressed to an extent by the Democratic Party, which was increasingly seen as representing a more pro-Southern position that unfairly permitted Southerners to prevail in the nation’s territories and to dominate national policy before the Civil War. But they suffered a significant reverse in the electoral realignment of the mid-1850s. 1860 was a critical election that marked a stark change in existing patterns of party loyalties among groups of voters; Abraham Lincoln’s election was a watershed in the balance of power of competing national and parochial interests and affiliations.
Secession winter 1860–1861
Lincoln’s election became more likely, secessionists made it clear that their states would leave the Union. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina took the lead. By February 1, 1861, South Carolina was followed by six other cotton-growing states in the deep South. The seven states soon declared themselves to be a new nation, the Confederate States of America. The upper South (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas) listened to, but initially rejected, the secessionist appeal. President Buchanan and President-elect Lincoln refused to recognize the Confederacy.
Attempts at compromise, such as the Crittenden Compromise which would have extended the Missouri line of 1820, were discussed. 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”, while other Republicans publicly 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.”
President-elect Lincoln evaded possible assassins in Baltimore, and on February 23, 1861, arrived in disguise in Washington, D.C.
At his inauguration on March 4, 1861, the German American Turners formed Lincoln’s bodyguard; and a sizable garrison of federal troops was also present, ready to protect the capital from Confederate invasion and local insurrection. 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 Constitution was “to form a more perfect union” than the Articles of Confederation which were explicitly perpetual, 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 reunite the states and prevent the looming war, Lincoln supported the pending Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which had already passed Congress. This amendment, which explicitly protected slavery in those states in which it already existed, had more appeal to the critical border states than to the states that had already declared their separation.
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 deemed virtually impossible. Buchanan might 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. Stanton had taken control of Buchanan’s cabinet around January 1, 1861, and refused to accept secession. Lincoln and nearly every Republican leader adopted this position by March 1861: the Union could not be dismantled. Believing that a peaceful solution was still possible, Lincoln decided to not take any action against the South unless the Unionists themselves were attacked first. This finally happened in April 1861.
Historian Allan Nevins argues that Lincoln made three miscalculations in believing that he could preserve the Union, hold government property, and still avoid war. He “temporarily underrated the gravity of the crisis”, overestimated the strength of Unionist sentiment in the South and border states, and misunderstood the conditional support of Unionists in the border states. In connection with Nevins’s conclusions, it is interesting to note an incident from this period reported in the memoirs of William Tecumseh Sherman. Then a civilian, Sherman visited Lincoln in the White House during inauguration week, with his brother, Ohio Republican John Sherman. This meeting left the future General Sherman “sadly disappointed” at Lincoln’s seeming failure to realize that “the country was sleeping on a volcano” and the South was “‘preparing for war.”
Fighting begins: 1861–1862
In April 1861, after Union troops at Fort Sumter were fired upon and forced to surrender, Lincoln called on the 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 that it would not allow an invasion of its territory or join an attack on another state, responded by seceding, along with North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
The slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware did not secede. Lincoln urgently negotiated with state leaders there, promising not to interfere with slavery. 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, though none were executed. One, Clement Vallandigham, was exiled; but all of the remainder were released, usually after two or three months (see: Ex parte Merryman).
Lincoln had to protect the nation’s capital city. In May, angry secessionist mobs in Baltimore, a city to the north of Washington, fought with Union troops traveling south. George William Brown, the Mayor of Baltimore, and other suspect Maryland politicians were arrested and imprisoned at Fort McHenry.
Lincoln maintained that the powers of his administration to end slavery were limited by the Constitution. He expected to bring about the eventual extinction of slavery by stopping its further expansion into any U.S. territory, and by convincing states to accept compensated emancipation if the state would outlaw slavery (an offer that took effect only in Washington, D.C.). Guelzo says Lincoln believed that shrinking slavery in this way would make it uneconomical, and place it back on the road to eventual extinction that the Founders had envisioned.
In July 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which freed the slaves of anyone convicted of aiding the rebellion. The goal was to weaken the rebellion, which was led and controlled by slave owners. While it did not abolish the legal institution of slavery (the Thirteenth Amendment did that), the Act showed that Lincoln had the support of Congress in liberating slaves owned by rebels. In that same month, Lincoln discussed a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation with his cabinet.
In a shrewdly penned August reply to an editorial by Horace Greeley in the influential New York Tribune, with a draft of the Proclamation already on Lincoln’s desk, the president subordinated the goal of ending slavery to the cause of preserving the Union, while, at the same time, preparing the public for emancipation being incomplete at first. Lincoln had decided at this point that he could not win the war without freeing the slaves, and so it was a necessity “to do more to help the cause”:
I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” … My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
The Emancipation Proclamation, announced on September 22, 1862 and put into effect on January 1, 1863, freed slaves in territories not already under Union control. As Union armies advanced south, more slaves were liberated until all of them in Confederate territory (over three million) were freed. 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 the abolition of slavery in the rebel states an official war goal. Lincoln then threw his energies into passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to permanently abolish slavery throughout the nation.
In September 1862, thirteen northern governors met in Altoona, Pennsylvania, at the Loyal War Governors’ Conference to discuss the Proclamation and Union war effort. In the end, the state executives fully supported the president’s Proclamation and also suggested the removal of General George B. McClellan as commander of the Union’s Army of the Potomac.
For some time, Lincoln continued earlier plans to set up colonies for the newly freed slaves. He commented favorably on colonization in the Emancipation Proclamation, but all attempts at such a massive undertaking failed. As Frederick Douglass observed, 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.”
Although the Battle of Gettysburg was a Union victory, it was also the bloodiest battle of the war and dealt a blow to Lincoln’s war effort. As the Union Army decreased in numbers due to casualties, more soldiers were needed to replace the ranks. Lincoln’s 1863 military drafts were considered “odious” among many in the north, particularly immigrants. The New York Draft Riots of July, 1863 were the most notable manifestation of this discontent.
Writing to Lincoln in September 1863, the Governor of Pennsylvania, Andrew Curtin, warned that political sentiments were turning against Lincoln and the war effort:
If the election were to occur now, the result would be extremely doubtful, and although most of our discreet friends are sanguine of the result, my impression is, the chances would be against us. The draft is very odious in the State… the Democratic leaders have succeeded in exciting prejudice and passion, and have infused their poison into the minds of the people to a very large extent, and the changes are against us.
At the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, beginning with the now-iconic phrase “Four score and seven years ago…”, Lincoln referred to the events of the Civil War and described the ceremony at Gettysburg as an opportunity not only to dedicate the grounds of a cemetery, but also to consecrate the living in the struggle to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.
1864 election and second inauguration
After Union victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Chattanooga in 1863, overall victory seemed at hand, and Lincoln promoted Ulysses S. Grant General-in-Chief on March 12, 1864. When the spring campaigns turned into bloody stalemates, Lincoln supported Grant’s strategy of wearing down Lee’s Confederate army at the cost of heavy Union casualties. With an election looming, he easily defeated efforts to deny his renomination. At the Convention, the Republican Party selected Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat from the Southern state of Tennessee, as his running mate in order to form a broader coalition. They ran on the new Union Party ticket uniting Republicans and War Democrats.
Nevertheless, Republicans across the country feared that Lincoln would be defeated. Acknowledging this fear, Lincoln wrote and signed a pledge that, if he should lose the election, he would still defeat the Confederacy before turning over the White House:
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.
Lincoln did not show the pledge to his cabinet, but asked them to sign the sealed envelope.
While the Democratic platform followed the Peace wing of the party and called the war a “failure,” their candidate, General George B. McClellan, supported the war and repudiated the platform.
Lincoln provided Grant with new replacements and mobilized his party to support Grant and win local support for the war effort. 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 three states.
On March 4, 1865, Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address, 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.
Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.” With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Conducting the war effort
The war was a source of constant frustration for the president, and occupied nearly all of his time. He had a contentious relationship with General 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 Run and after the retirement of Winfield Scott in late 1861. Despite his inexperience in military affairs, Lincoln wanted to take an active part in determining war strategy. His priorities were twofold: to ensure that Washington, D.C. was well defended; and to conduct an aggressive war effort in the hope of ending the war quickly and appeasing the Northern public and press. McClellan, a youthful West Point graduate and railroad executive called back to active military service, took a more cautious approach. He took several months to plan and execute his Peninsula Campaign, with the objective of capturing Richmond by moving the Army of the Potomac by boat to the peninsula between the James and York Rivers. McClellan’s delay irritated Lincoln, as did his 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 the 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 John Pope, a Republican, as head of the new Army of Virginia. Pope complied with Lincoln’s strategic desire to move toward Richmond from the north, thus protecting the capital from attack. But Pope was soundly defeated at the Second Battle of Bull Run in the summer of 1862, forcing the Army of the Potomac to defend Washington for a second time. In response to his failure, Pope was sent to Minnesota to fight the Sioux.
Panicked by Lee’s invasion of Maryland, Lincoln restored McClellan to command of all forces around Washington in time for the Battle of Antietam (September 1862). The ensuing Union victory enabled Lincoln to release his Emancipation Proclamation, but he relieved McClellan of his command shortly after the 1862 midterm elections and appointed Republican Ambrose Burnside to head the Army of the Potomac. Burnside had promised to follow through on Lincoln’s strategic vision for a strong offensive against Lee and Richmond. After Burnside was stunningly defeated at Fredericksburg, Joseph Hooker was given the command, despite his idle talk about the necessity for a military dictator to win the war and a past history of criticizing his commanders. Hooker was routed by Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863), and relieved of command early in the subsequent Gettysburg Campaign replaced by George Meade.
After the Union victory at Gettysburg, Meade’s failure to pursue Lee and months of inactivity for the Army of the Potomac persuaded Lincoln to bring in a western general, Ulysses S. Grant. Grant already had a solid string of victories in the Western Theater, including the battles of Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Responding to criticism of Grant, Lincoln replied, “I can’t spare this man. He fights.” Grant waged his bloody Overland Campaign in 1864 with 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 Confederate losses. The high casualty figures alarmed the nation and after Grant lost a third of his army Lincoln asked what Grant’s plans were. “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer,” replied Grant. Lincoln and the Republican party mobilized support throughout the North, backed Grant to the hilt, and replaced his losses. The Confederacy was out of replacements so Lee’s army shrank with every battle, forcing it back to trenches outside Petersburg. In April 1865 Lee’s army finally crumbled under Grant’s pounding, and Richmond fell.
Lincoln authorized Grant to target the Confederate infrastructure — such as plantations, railroads, and bridges — hoping to destroy the South’s morale and weaken its economic ability to continue fighting. This allowed Generals Sherman and Sheridan to destroy plantations and towns in the Shenandoah Valley, Georgia, and South Carolina. The damage caused by Sherman’s March to the Sea through Georgia totaled in excess of $100 million by Sherman’s own estimate.
Lincoln possessed a keen understanding of strategic points (such as the Mississippi River and the fortress city of Vicksburg) and understood the importance of defeating the enemy’s army, rather than simply capturing cities. He had, however, limited success in motivating his commanders to adopt his strategies until late 1863, when he found a man who shared his vision of the war in Ulysses S. Grant. Only then could he insist on using African American troops and relentlessly pursue a series of coordinated offensives in multiple theaters.
Throughout the war, Lincoln showed a keen curiosity with the military campaigns. He spent hours at the War Department telegraph office, reading dispatches from his generals. He visited battle sites frequently, and seemed fascinated by scenes of war. During Jubal Anderson Early’s raid on Washington, D.C. in 1864, Lincoln was watching the combat from an exposed position; a captain shouted at him, Get down, you damn fool, before you get shot!”
Reconstruction began during the war as Lincoln and his associates pondered questions of how to reintegrate the Southern states and what to do with Confederate leaders and the freed slaves. Lincoln led the “moderates” regarding Reconstruction policy, and was usually opposed by the Radical Republicans, under Thaddeus Stevens in the House and Charles Sumner and Benjamin Wade in the Senate (though he cooperated with these men on most other issues). Determined to find a course that would reunite the nation and not alienate the South, Lincoln urged that speedy elections under generous terms be held throughout the war in areas behind Union lines. His Amnesty Proclamation of December 8, 1863, offered pardons to those who had not held a Confederate civil office, had not mistreated Union prisoners, and would sign an oath of allegiance. Critical decisions had to be made as state after state was reconquered. Of special importance were Tennessee, where Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as governor, and Louisiana, where Lincoln attempted a plan that would restore statehood when 10% of the voters agreed to it. The Radicals thought this policy too lenient, and passed their own plan, the Wade-Davis Bill, in 1864. When Lincoln pocket-vetoed the bill, the Radicals retaliated by refusing to seat representatives elected from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
Near the end of the war, Lincoln made an extended visit to Grant’s headquarters at City Point, Virginia. This allowed the president to visit Richmond after it was taken by the Union forces and 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.” Lincoln arrived back in Washington on the evening of April 9, 1865, the day Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The war was effectively over. The other rebel armies surrendered soon after, and there was no subsequent guerrilla warfare.
Originally, John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland, had formulated a plan to kidnap Lincoln in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners. After attending an April 11 speech in which Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks, an incensed Booth changed his plans and determined to assassinate the president. Learning that the President and First Lady would be attending Ford’s Theatre, he laid his plans, assigning his co-conspirators to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson and 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 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 and waited for what he thought would be the funniest line of the play (“You sock-dologizing old man-trap”), hoping the laughter would muffle the noise of the gunshot. When the laughter began, Booth jumped into the box and aimed a single-shot, round-slug 0.44 caliber Derringer at his head, firing at point-blank range. Major Henry Rathbone momentarily grappled with Booth but was cut by Booth’s knife. Booth then leaped 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 M. Stanton). He was eventually cornered in a Virginia barn house and shot, dying of his wounds 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 dying. 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 pronounced dead at 7:22:10 a.m. April 15, 1865. He was the first president to be assassinated or to lie in state.
Lincoln’s body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession through several states on its way back to Illinois. While much of the nation mourned him as the savior of the United States, Copperheads celebrated the death of a man they considered a tyrant. The Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, is 177 feet (54 m) tall and, by 1874, was surmounted with several bronze statues of Lincoln. To prevent repeated attempts to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom, Robert Todd Lincoln had Lincoln exhumed and reinterred in concrete several feet thick in 1901.
Photo shows Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln and Major General John A. McClerrand at the Battle of Antietam, Maryland.