The latter half of 1862 was quite depressing for the Union. While the Confederates were blessed with the more skilled commanders, the Union commander George McClellan seemed to be squandering whatever little chances the Unions were presented with to end the war. How did they squander chances? – Every time the Union soldiers managed to defeat the Confederates in a battle (however rare that was), McClellan would force his troops to retreat, rather than attack the fleeing confederate soldiers. After this became a pattern during the 1st 2 years of the Civil War, Lincoln decided to remove McClellan from command in September 1862. The Unions had always been on the brink of victory, but years from its realization.
Lincoln couldn’t wait any longer. It was time to pull out the ace. Any further delay would surely lead to a Confederate victory and possibly an America that legally supported slavery. Lincoln revised and re-revised the terms of the single most influential piece of legislation in history – the Emancipation Proclamation – before finally releasing a rough draft of the proclamation on the 1st day of 1863.
Up until now, the black slave population was being made to fight alongside its confederate masters, against the Union. Lincoln observed that if this continued, it would spell disaster for the nation. Not only did the Confederates have the better commanders, now they even had the larger fleet – add roughly 2 million slaves to the confederate fleet and suddenly chances of victory start to seem bleak. However, the turning point of the Civil War had finally arrived, in the form of a historic proclamation. According to the emancipation proclamation, the black inhabitants who resided in the Confederate states were freed of slavery, while the ones that resided in the Union states were not. The motive for not freeing all slaves? – Well, if Lincoln did that, it would be apparent to the Confederates that his sole objective was to destroy slavery – something that would further add fuel to the raging fire – and not simply unify the nation (as he had always claimed).
Nonetheless, deep down, Lincoln greatly empathized with the highly repressed slave population. His reasoning was that the African denizens were simply brought to America by the British, to toil on the plantations (when the British ruled over America). However, with the British gone, slavery too had to go. Thus, as a result of the emancipation proclamation, the slaves who formed large chunks of the Confederate army were no longer obligated to obey their masters – they started dropping out from the army in the thousands and decided to join hands with the Union forces. They now had an added incentive to join the war against the confederates, since a Union Victory would undoubtedly land the final nail on the coffin of slavery. Two important Union victories in July 1863–at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania–finally turned the tide of the war. After every major battle, Lincoln would visit the injured troops and ease the environment by tapping into his endless repository of anecdotes and jokes.
On November 1863, Lincoln delivered one of the most famous speeches in history – the Gettysburg Address – that lasted just 2 minutes. The town of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania had been witness to one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, one that saw more than 50,000 casualties on the same day. The objective of the speech was to remind the people of the true objective of the Civil war – to live up to the vision of the founding fathers of America who fought the revolutionary war of independence in 1775. Their vision was to create a nation that was founded on the principles of equality and liberty for all, and more importantly, the idea that all men are created equal irrespective of physical, economic and social differences.
A few months later, Lincoln won the 1864 elections and was strong on the path to put an end to the war. America, that was once blinded by the brutality of the bloody battles, now began to see clearly the purpose of its existence that had been described in the 1775 declaration of Independence. Lincoln had played the role of a shepherd that masterfully guided a country of 31 million lost “sheep” towards realizing the principles upon which the nation’s foundation had been laid. Now, America could achieve anything, as long as it didn’t stray from its vision.
The year 1864 saw Ulysses Grant – future President of the United States – being made the Chief Commander of the Union Army. This move greatly bolstered the Union’s chances at victory as Grant was a man of strategy and speedy execution, unlike his predecessors. Over the next few months, the Unions managed to further halt confederate advances, and even win some decisive battles. After several skillful maneuvers by Grant and his accomplices, the confederates were forced to surrender on April 9th, 1865. It was a historic moment for America. The bloody war that had ravaged America for 4 years was finally over.
“That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make”, uttered John Wilkes Booth to his aide as they attended Lincoln’s speech on the evening of April 11th 1865 on the White House Lawn. Lincoln had just delivered a speech on how he wished to reconstruct the Nation after it had been battered by the Civil War. Among his resolutions was his desire to bring back the defeated Confederate states into the Union, as well as extend the right to vote to the black population, at least those who had fought in the Union ranks during the war. This last bit amplified Booth’s rage the most.
A man of his word, Booth didn’t hesitate to deliver on his promise. He easily befriended the guards at Ford’s Theatre and gained entry into the Presidential Box, in which Lincoln, his wife Mary, and 2 others were seated. It was a day of celebration for Lincoln; not only had he been able to unify America, but he was also on the verge of abolishing slavery for good. Ford’s Theatre was Lincoln’s go-to place whenever he wanted to relax. And what better time to relax than after 4 years of bloody wars. The poet in Lincoln was fond of attending performances of famous plays such as Macbeth, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar.
It didn’t take long for Booth to locate the President and his party in the box near the rear of the theatre. Without wasting anytime, he gained admittance to the box with his well-concealed pistol. Once he entered, he raised his pistol, pointed it at the back of the President’s head, and fired.
At 7.22 am, April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was pronounced dead. FLAGS REMAINED AT HALF-MAST in the nation’s capital until the last week of May, when citizens from all over the country came to Washington to witness “the farewell march” of nearly two hundred thousand Union soldiers who would soon disband and return to their homes. Never in the history of Washington had there been such an enormous influx of visitors as at that time. For weeks there had been so vast a volume of applications for accommodations at the hotels and boarding-houses that every available nook and corner had been taken. Such was the love for the 16th President of the United States. He was a friend before a President, and his kindness knew no bounds.
Even more than 150 years after his death, the name of Lincoln is worshipped throughout the world. Now, why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skillful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character. Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country—bigger than all the Presidents together. He was truly legendary.
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