Table of Contents
Close of the War
As the year 1864 wore towards its close, military events manifestly approached a climax. In 1861 the two armies were comparatively green. For obvious reasons the advantage was on the side of the South. The South had so long been in substantial control at Washington that they had the majority of the generals, they had nearly all the arms and ammunition, and, since they had planned the coming conflict, their militia were in the main in better condition. But matters were different after three years. The armies on both sides were now composed of veterans, the generals had been tried and their value was known. Not least of all, Washington, while by no means free from spies, was not so completely overrun with them as at the first. At the beginning the departments were simply full of spies, and every movement of the government was promptly reported to the authorities at Richmond. Three and a half years had sufficed to weed out most of these.
In that period a splendid navy had been constructed. The Mississippi River was open from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Every southern port was more or less successfully blockaded, and the power of the government in this was every month growing stronger.
Strange as it may seem, the available population of the North had increased. The figures which Lincoln gave prove this. The loyal states of the North gave in 1860 a sum total of 3,870,222 votes. The same states in 1864 gave a total of 3,982,011. That gave an excess of voters to the number of 111,789. To this should be added the number of all the soldiers in the field from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Indiana, Illinois, and California, who by the laws of those states could not vote away from their homes, and which number could not have been less than 90,000. Then there were two new states, Kansas and Nevada, that had cast 33,762 votes. This leaves an increase for the North of 234,551 votes. It is plain that the North was not becoming exhausted of men.
Nor had the manufactures of the North decreased. The manufacture of arms and all the munitions of war was continually improving, and other industrial interests were flourishing. There was indeed much poverty and great suffering. The financial problem was one of the most serious of all, but in all these the South was suffering more than the North. On the southern side matters were growing desperate. The factor of time now counted against them, for, except in military discipline, they were not improving with the passing years. There was little hope of foreign intervention, there was not much hope of a counter uprising in the North. It is now generally accepted as a certainty that, if the Confederate government had published the truth concerning the progress of the war, especially of such battles as Chattanooga, the southern people would have recognized the hopelessness of their cause and the wickedness of additional slaughter, and the war would have terminated sooner.
In the eighth volume of the History by Nicolay and Hay there is a succession of chapters of which the headings alone tell the glad story of progress. These headings are: “Arkansas Free,” “Louisiana Free," "Tennessee Free,” “Maryland Free,” and “Missouri Free.”
In August Admiral Farragut had captured Mobile. General Grant with his veterans was face to face with General Lee and his veterans in Virginia. General Sherman with his splendid army had in the early fall struck through the territory of the Southern Confederacy and on Christmas day had captured Savannah. The following letter from the President again shows his friendliness towards his generals:
“EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, December 26, 1864.
MY DEAR GENERAL SHERMAN:
Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift, the capture of Savannah.
When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that ’nothing risked, nothing gained,’ I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe none of us went further than to acquiesce.
And taking the work of General Thomas into the count, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages; but in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole,–Hood’s army,–it brings those who sat in darkness to see a great light. But what next?
I suppose it will be safe if I leave General Grant and yourself to decide.
Please make my grateful acknowledgment to your whole army–officers and men.
Yours very truly, A. LINCOLN.”
The principal thing now to be done was the destruction of the Confederate army or armies in Virginia. That and that only could end the war. The sooner it should be done the better. Grant’s spirit cannot in a hundred pages be better expressed than in his own epigram,–"I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” It did take all summer and all winter too, for the Confederates as well as the Federals had grown to be good fighters, and they were no cowards. They, too, were now acting on the defensive and were able to take advantage of swamp, hill, and river. This was an important factor. Grant had indeed captured two armies and destroyed one, but this was different.
It needed not an experienced eye or a military training to see that this could only be done at a costly sacrifice of life. But let it be remembered that the three years of no progress had also been at a costly sacrifice of life. The deadly malaria of Virginia swamps was quite as dangerous as a bullet or bayonet. Thousands upon thousands of soldiers were taken to hospital cursing in their wrath: “If I could only have been shot on the field of battle, there would have been some glory in it. But to die of drinking the swamp water–this is awful!" The sacrifice of life under Grant was appalling, but it was not greater than the other sort of sacrifice had been. What is more, it accomplished its purpose. Inch by inch he fought his way through many bloody months to the evacuation of Richmond and the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox, April 9, 1865. Then the war was over.
The sympathies of the President were not limited to his own friends or his own army. The author is permitted to narrate the following incident–doubtless there were many others like it–which is given by an eye-witness, the Reverend Lysander Dickerman, D.D., of New York City:
It was at Hatcher’s Run on the last Sunday before the close of the war. A detachment of Confederate prisoners, possibly two thousand in all, had just been brought in. They were in rags, starved, sick, and altogether as wretched a sight as one would be willing to see in a lifetime. A train of cars was standing on the siding. The President came out of a car and stood on the platform. As he gazed at the pitiable sufferers, he said not a word, but his breast heaved with emotion, his frame quivered. The tears streamed down his cheeks and he raised his arm ("I don’t suppose,” commented the Doctor, “he had a handkerchief”) and with his sleeve wiped away the tears. Then he silently turned, reentered the car which but for him was empty, sat down on the further side, buried his face in his hands, and wept. That is the picture of the man Lincoln. Little did the Southerners suspect, as they in turn cursed and maligned that great and tender man, what a noble friend they really had in him.
As the end came in sight an awkward question arose, What shall we do with Jeff Davis–if we catch him? This reminded the President of a little story. “I told Grant,” he said, “the story of an Irishman who had taken Father Matthew’s pledge. Soon thereafter, becoming very thirsty, he slipped into a saloon and applied for a lemonade, and whilst it was being mixed he whispered to the bartender, ’Av ye could drap a bit o’ brandy in it, all unbeknown to myself, I’d make no fuss about it.’ My notion was that if Grant could let Jeff Davis escape all unbeknown to himself, he was to let him go. I didn’t want him." Subsequent events proved the sterling wisdom of this suggestion, for the country had no use for Jeff Davis when he was caught.
Late in March, 1865, the President decided to take a short vacation, said to be the first he had had since entering the White House in 1861. With a few friends he went to City Point on the James River, where Grant had his headquarters. General Sherman came up for a conference. The two generals were confident that the end of the war was near, but they were also certain that there must be at least one more great battle. “Avoid this if possible,” said the President. “No more bloodshed, no more bloodshed.”
On the second day of April both Richmond and Petersburg were evacuated. The President was determined to see Richmond and started under the care of Admiral Porter. The river was tortuous and all knew that the channel was full of obstructions so that they had the sensation of being in suspense as to the danger of torpedoes and other devices. Admiral Farragut who was in Richmond came down the river on the same day, April 4th, to meet the presidential party. An accident happened to his boat and it swung across the channel and there stuck fast, completely obstructing the channel, and rendering progress in either direction impossible. The members of the presidential party were impatient and decided to proceed as best they could. They were transferred to the Admiral’s barge and towed up the river to their destination.
The grandeur of that triumphal entry into Richmond was entirely moral, not in the least spectacular. There were no triumphal arches, no martial music, no applauding multitudes, no vast cohorts with flying banners and glittering arms. Only a few American citizens, in plain clothes, on foot, escorted by ten marines. The central figure was that of a man remarkably tall, homely, ill-dressed, but with a countenance radiating joy and good-will. It was only thirty-six hours since Jefferson Davis had fled, having set fire to the city, and the fire was still burning. There was no magnificent civic welcome to the modest party, but there was a spectacle more significant. It was the large number of negroes, crowding, kneeling, praying, shouting “Bress de Lawd!” Their emancipator, their Moses, their Messiah, had come in person. To them it was the beginning of the millennium. A few poor whites added their welcome, such as it was, and that was all. But all knew that “Babylon had fallen,” and they realized the import of that fact.
Johnston did not surrender to Sherman until April 26th, but Lee had surrendered on the 9th, and it was conceded that it was a matter of but a few days when the rest also would surrender. On Good Friday, April 14th,–a day glorious in its beginning, tragic at its close,–the newspapers throughout the North published an order of the Secretary of War stopping the draft and the purchase of arms and munitions of war. The government had decreed that at twelve o’clock noon of that day the stars and stripes should be raised above Fort Sumter. The chaplain was the Reverend Matthias Harris who had officiated at the raising of the flag over that fort in 1860. The reading of the psalter was conducted by the Reverend Dr. Storrs of Brooklyn. The orator of the occasion was the eloquent Henry Ward Beecher. And the flag was raised by Major (now General) Anderson, whose staunch loyalty and heroic defense has linked his name inseparably with Sumter.
The war was over and Lincoln at once turned his attention to the duties of reconstruction.