After the historic victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the situation had vastly improved for the Union, but the war was far from over. On November 22, 1863, President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The 272 word speech, which followed a two hour address by Harvard professor Edward Everett, would become one of the greatest speeches in American history.
In March of 1864, President Lincoln appointed General Ulysses S. Grant Commander of the Army of Potomac, the main branch of the Union Army. Finally, after nearly three years of war, the President had found a general who would pursue fleeing Confederates. Grant, known as “Unconditional Surrender Grant” after his exploits at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in 1862, was by this time a Union hero after leading the Army of theTennessee to numerous victories in the West, including those at Shiloh and Vicksburg. Grant would spend 1864 waging his bloody Overland Campaign through much of the state of Virginia, suffering massive casualties while gradually diminishing the numbers and spirit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Eventually, Grant would corner Lee’s Army at Petersburg, Virginia, where he staged a ten-month siege. During the siege, Lincoln would visit Grant’s headquarters at City Point, outside of Petersburg, where his presence excited and inspired the Union soldiers.
Meanwhile, Union General William T. Sherman struck another blow to the spirit of the Confederacy with his destructive march through the state of Georgia, which would become known as Sherman’s March to the Sea. Sherman’s Army destroyed farms, railroad lines, and virtually anything in their path. After Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, Georgia, President Lincoln easily won re-election to a second term. In contrast to his campaign platform in 1860, Lincoln made the emancipation of slaves a primary emphasis. Over 78 percent of Union soldiers would support his bid for a second term as President. In anticipation of the war’s end, President Lincoln
On April 9, 1865, the Confederate States of America surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. The Civil War was over and the Union would be preserved. At this point, President Lincoln had to consider the complicated task of reconstructing the Union and how to re-integrate the Confederate states back into the United States.
Lincoln believed in a policy of forgiveness and took a moderate approach to reconstruction, hoping to to reconstruct the Union as quickly as possible rather than indefinitely punish the rebel states. Unfortunately, the President did not have much of a chance to preside over Reconstruction. Just five days after the end of the war, Southern sympathizer and actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated the President while he was watching a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln’s bodyguard had apparently fallen asleep, allowing Booth access to the Presidential box. Lincoln died at 7:22 the next morning at the Peterson House across the street from the theater. Upon his death, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton uttered the timeless words “Now, he belongs to the ages.”
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