Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln : biography

February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865

Gettysburg Address

With the great Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, and the defeat of the Copperheads in the Ohio election in the fall, Lincoln maintained a strong base of party support and was in a strong position to redefine the war effort, despite the New York City draft riots. The stage was set for his address at the Gettysburg battlefield cemetery on November 19, 1863.Donald (1996), pp. 453–460. Defying Lincoln’s prediction that "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here," the Address became the most quoted speech in American history.

In 272 words, and three minutes, Lincoln asserted 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 defined the war as an effort dedicated to these principles of liberty and equality for all. The emancipation of slaves was now part of the national war effort. He declared that the deaths of so many brave soldiers would not be in vain, that slavery would end as a result of the losses, and the future of democracy in the world would be assured, that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Lincoln concluded that the Civil War had a profound objective: a new birth of freedom in the nation.Donald (1996), pp. 460–466.Wills, pp. 20, 27, 105, 146.

General Grant

Meade’s failure to capture Lee’s army as it retreated from Gettysburg, and the continued passivity of the Army of the Potomac, persuaded Lincoln that a change in command was needed. General Ulysses S. Grant’s victories at the Battle of Shiloh and in the Vicksburg campaign impressed Lincoln and made Grant a strong candidate to head the Union Army. Responding to criticism of Grant after Shiloh, Lincoln had said, "I can’t spare this man. He fights."Thomas (2008), p. 315. With Grant in command, Lincoln felt the Union Army could relentlessly pursue a series of coordinated offensives in multiple theaters, and have a top commander who agreed on the use of black troops.Nevins (2000), (Vol. IV), pp. 6–17.

Nevertheless, Lincoln was concerned that Grant might be considering a candidacy for President in 1864, as McClellan was. Lincoln arranged for an intermediary to make inquiry into Grant’s political intentions, and being assured that he had none, submitted to the Senate Grant’s promotion to commander of the Union Army. He obtained Congress’s consent to reinstate for Grant the rank of Lieutenant General, which no officer had held since George Washington.Donald (1996), pp. 490–492.

Grant waged his bloody Overland Campaign in 1864. This is often characterized as a war of attrition, given high Union losses at battles such as the Battle of the Wilderness and Cold Harbor. Even though they had the advantage of fighting on the defensive, the Confederate forces had "almost as high a percentage of casualties as the Union forces".McPherson (2009), p. 113. The high casualty figures of the Union alarmed the North; Grant had lost a third of his army, and Lincoln asked what Grant’s plans were, to which the general replied, "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer."Donald (1996), p. 501.

The Confederacy lacked reinforcements, so Lee’s army shrank with every costly battle. Grant’s army moved south, crossed the James River, forcing a siege and trench warfare outside Petersburg, Virginia. Lincoln then made an extended visit to Grant’s headquarters at City Point, Virginia. This allowed the president to confer in person with Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman about the hostilities, as Sherman coincidentally managed a hasty visit to Grant from his position in North Carolina. Lincoln and the Republican Party mobilized support for the draft throughout the North, and replaced the Union losses.Thomas (2008), pp. 422–424.

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. Grant’s move to Petersburg resulted in the obstruction of three railroads between Richmond and the South. This strategy allowed Generals Sherman and Philip Sheridan to destroy plantations and towns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The damage caused by Sherman’s March to the Sea through Georgia in 1864 was limited to a swath, but neither Lincoln nor his commanders saw destruction as the main goal, but rather defeat of the Confederate armies. As Neely (2004) concludes, there was no effort to engage in "total war" against civilians, as in World War II.Neely (2004), pp. 434–458.