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The War Continues

After Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Southern armies were incapable of winning the war by a series of decisive blows. All they could do was fight a war of attrition, holding on until the Union presidential election in November, 1864. They hoped somehow that Lincoln would be defeated by a Peace Democrat willing to negotiate an end to the slaughter, and an armistice that would leave slavery and the Confederacy intact.

[Picture of Grant]

In the fall of 1863, this seemed highly unlikely. Union war morale was high when Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address, and it soared even higher when Ulysses Grant was made General-in-Chief of all Union armies and was brought East in 1864 to finish off Robert E. Lee. While Grant went after Lee in Virginia, Sherman remained in the West and moved confidently toward Atlanta, the Confederacy's largest city. But Lee put up a desperate fight in Virginia, taking and delivering the heaviest blows of the war.

There was no denying Grant, however. The bulldog-like Grant pushed Lee all the way to Richmond and Petersburg, a rail center just south of Richmond. Once there, however, he couldn't punch through the ring of heavy fortifications Lee had erected around the two cities.

So he settled down, as he did at Vicksburg, for a siege. Only this one would last nine months, not 47 days. And it taxed heavily the patience of a public anxious for a quick end to the war.

Sherman also ran into problems. That August, his advance stalled in front of the earthen-works encircling Atlanta. And he, too, set up siege operations. It began to look, as it did in the winter of 1863, like the Confederacy couldn't be beaten.

And civilians in the North read of casualties that totaled a staggering 110,000 in three previous months. "Stop the war!" Northern newspapers demanded; and on two separate occasions that summer, Lincoln agreed to secret peace negotiations with Confederate agents. Both meetings broke down when the rebels learned that Lincoln's uncompromising conditions were restoration of the Union and the abolition of slavery. The South would accept neither.

A Re-Election, A March, and A Surrender

That August, the Democrats nominated former general George McClellan for President, and passed a platform calling for the immediate end of hostilities. A despondent Lincoln told his Cabinet he didn't expect to win the election. "I'm going to be beaten... badly," he told an army official, "unless some great change takes place."

Well, that great change took place on September 2nd, when Sherman broke through and captured Atlanta. While Sherman occupied Atlanta, General Phil Sheridan, "Little Phil," a pint-sized, ferociously aggressive fighter, smashed Confederate forces in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Lincoln was saved. That November he won a presidential election that had more riding on it than any other one in American history.

After this, Grant and Sherman began finishing off the South. While Grant continued to pin down Lee at Richmond and Petersburg, Sherman cut loose from Atlanta and marched to the sea, destroying everything in his path in an effort to terrorize the South and break its will and ability to fight. As Sherman said before his march: "This war is different from European wars of the past. We're fighting not only a hostile army, but a hostile people. And we must make them, old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war."

But Sherman saved his most devastating blows for his next target--South Carolina, the seat of secession. Early that April, after plundering South Carolina and pushing northward toward Richmond, Sherman heard that Grant had broken through Lee's Richmond defenses and cornered his fleeing armies near Appomattox, Virginia. There, Grant had accepted Lee's surrender.

Lincoln's Assassination and the End of the Civil War

Back in Washington, a jubilant Lincoln spoke about his plans for bringing the South back into the union. He had not settled on a final reconstruction policy, but he hoped, he said, that the vote would be extended, at least, to literate blacks and black army veterans. "That means nigger citizenship," said a man in the crowd, a stage actor and Confederate supporter from Maryland named John Wilkes Booth. "That's the last speech he'll ever make," Booth uttered.

[Picture of Lincoln's assassination]

When news of Lee's surrender went out on the telegraph wires, wild celebrations broke out all over the North. But several days later, the mood turned somber and angry when the nation learned that John Wilkes Booth had assassinated Lincoln. Lincoln was first American President ever to be assassinated.

The next week, General Joseph Johnston, the commander of the Confederate army that Sherman was pursuing in North Carolina, surrendered. The South had no more armies. The war was over.

The martyred Lincoln achieved what he had called for in his Gettysburg Address: secession was dead, and with it, slavery, at a terrible cost of 620,000 lives and the utter destruction of the South. But two great questions remained: What would be the place in the reconstructed nation of the almost four million newly freed slaves, and of the defeated South?

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