Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Abraham Lincoln by Mary A. Hamilton
The Story of Abraham Lincoln by  Mary A. Hamilton


After Chancellorsville the South thought that all was won, and a movement was set on foot to attack Washington. Lee marched north with an army that, though only half fed, was full of enthusiasm, and on July 1 took up his position at Gettysburg, where he was faced by the Federal army under General Meade. The battle lasted three days, and the slaughter was terrific; in spite of the desperate determination of the Confederates, the day ended in a victory for the Union.

Lee was driven back, and forced to retreat into Virginia. The invasion was at an end. The victory, though brilliant, was not followed up, perhaps because of the heavy losses of the Union army; but it was the turning-point of the war. Washington was never again in such danger; the Confederates had lost the one great opportunity of attack since Bull Run.

Deep national thankfulness was felt at this, the first great victory for the North. The battle-field was only a few miles from the capital, and many of the citizens and the most prominent men of the town assembled to perform a service for the dead who had fallen there. Lincoln was called upon to speak. He had not prepared anything, but the short speech which he gave made a deep impression upon all who heard it, and puts into very noble words the thoughts that were always present to his mind.

"Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth a new nation upon this continent, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We meet to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting-place of those who here gave their lives that the nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. The world will take little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be dedicated here to the great task remaining before us: that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion for the cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

In words like these, Lincoln inspired the people of the North to see the greatness of the cause for which they were fighting; they were fighting for liberty, for a free government of free men, for a United America that might be to the world a pattern of such a free government. If the South won, if America were a house divided for ever against itself, one half would have slavery; if the North won, and America were a whole again, slavery was gone; the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming the equal rights of all men to life and liberty, would be for the first time fully realised.

And encouragement came at last. On the Fourth of July, on Independence Day, Grant telegraphed to Lincoln the news of the capture of Vicksburg. In the beginning of May Grant had defeated Pemberton, the Confederate general, and shut him up in the town with his great army. After an unsuccessful assault in the end of May, he sat down patiently before the town, prepared to wear out its resistance. After great sufferings, the famishing garrison surrendered; Pemberton and 30,000 men, whom the South could but ill spare, were prisoners of war. Hundreds of cannon and thousands of muskets fell into the victor's hands. Vicksburg was a position of importance, the key to the Mississippi. Lincoln could now say, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea."

The joy in the North over these two victories was intense. The drooping spirits began to rise again; and as things went better, men turned with new confidence to the patient man whose courage had never failed him. With renewed spirit the North set itself to the great task before it.

Lincoln now had men who were able to carry out great designs. By the end of 1863 things looked hopeful. The army had a nucleus of veterans who had received the best possible training, and a set of generals whose positions had been won not by political influence, but by hard work. Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan were men of ability, experience, and power.


Lincoln discussing the plan of campaign with General Grant.

The plan of campaign for 1864, drawn up, under Lincoln's advice, by Grant and Sherman, was masterly; carried out magnificently, it led to the complete triumph of the North. It was the complete development of Lincoln's earlier plans. Grant, with the army of the west, was to face Lee in Virginia and drive him south; finally, to capture Richmond, the Confederate head-quarters, and force Lee to yield. Sherman, marching south and east, was to carry the war into the heart of the Confederacy; to follow General Johnson, push him to the sea, and capture him. "We intend," said Sherman, "to fight Joseph Johnson till he is satisfied." Then Sherman, marching north, was to co-operate with Grant by cutting off Lee's retreat. Meantime Sheridan was to deal with General Early in the Shenandoah Valley, west and south of Washington.

By May 1864 Grant crossed the Potomac and entered the wild district, full of hills and woods and undergrowth, known as the Wilderness, where the Union armies had suffered so many defeats. Grant saw that the only thing was to wear the Southern army out by hard fighting; and he fought hard all summer. He lost some thirty thousand men in the Wilderness. His policy was to bear so continuously on the enemy that they, having fewer men, and less possibility of recruiting, must be worn out. Slowly, with an immense loss of life on both sides, Grant forced Lee south.

Sherman meantime was fighting his way to Georgia. His task was as difficult as Grant's. The country was wild, and well adapted for concealing the enemy. It was impossible for him to communicate with the rest of the army.

After an expedition into Alabama, Sherman started on his "March to the Sea." Johnson disputed every inch of, the way. There was incessant skirmishing, but Sherman advanced step by step.

While Sherman and Grant were thus slowly wearing down the resistance of the enemy, the Unionists were once more encouraged by a brilliant naval success. In August Farragut came victorious out of a terrific fight in Mobile Bay. Entering the harbour in spite of the line of mines, he "plucked victory out of the very jaws of defeat."

Sherman was now besieging Atlanta, which he captured on September 1. About the same date Sheridan defeated Early at Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley.

These successes decided the presidential election. Lincoln had been unanimously nominated as the Republican candidate, "not," as he said, "because they have decided I am the greatest or best man in America, but rather they have concluded that it is not wise to swap horses while crossing a river, and have further concluded that I am not so poor a horse that they might not make a botch of it in trying to swap." Against him the Democratic party, whose main principle was opposition to the war, supported ex-General M'Clellan, declaring "the war is a failure." The Democrats found their main supporters among those (and they were fairly numerous) who disliked Lincoln's Emancipation proclamation.

Lincoln made no efforts to secure his re-election. He had been before the nation as President for four years: his policy was tried, his opinions known. Even M'Clellan did not dare to propose to abandon the Union. On that point the North was now united, and that being so the successes of September made Lincoln's re-election practically certain. Out of 233 electoral votes Lincoln received 212; he had a majority in every free State save one. The election was a complete triumph for the President.

The noble words of the address which he delivered on taking up his duties for a second time mark the spirit in which he celebrated that triumph. "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 that may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

On November 16 Sherman marched on by Atlanta. By December he had reached Savannah and began to bombard the city. It surrendered on December 21, and Sherman wrote to Lincoln: "I beg to present to you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah." Leaving Savannah early in the New Year, 1865, the army marched, ravaging, through South Carolina. Columbia was burned and Charleston captured. By March, Sherman was in North Carolina and in communication with Grant. The net was ready to be drawn round the Confederate army.

Grant meantime was bearing steadily on. The losses of the Union armies were enormous, and made the President's tender heart bleed. Grant began to be hampered by the inferior quality of his troops, and during the summer months matters seemed to be going ill with the North. In September, however, Sheridan inflicted a series of defeats upon Early in the Shenandoah Valley, and on October 18 vanquished him decisively at Cedar Creek.

The remaining Confederate army, under Hood, was defeated at Nashville in the West, and now Lee's was the only army in the field. The Confederacy was "surrounded by a band of fire." The sea was in the hands of the Union; the Mississippi shut off any help from the coast. Sherman had harried Georgia and Carolina, destroying their supplies; Sheridan had raided Virginia; Grant was at the gates of Richmond.

Through the whole summer of 1864 and the winter of 1865 Grant besieged Richmond. There were indecisive engagements, but the armies did no more than "feel" each other. With the spring, however, Grant took the offensive again. On March 31 Sheridan gained a brilliant victory at Five Forks, and this enabled Grant to break Lee's lines. On April 3 the Stars and Stripes floated over Richmond. On April 9 Lee and his army surrendered to Grant at Appomatox.

The war was at an end.

Lincoln had been with Grant's army during the closing days of March; he entered Richmond on April 3. Everywhere the negroes saluted him as their liberator, kneeling on the ground before him and clasping his knees: "May de Lawd bress and keep you, Massa Presidum Linkum."

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