Abraham Lincoln

1862-1864 Part 3

Now that the Mississippi was under control, Union forces in the western theater began to move southeast. Several key battles were fought in Tennessee. At Chickamauga, in late September 1863, two days of fighting resulted in over 30,000 casualties. Against the odds, Confederate General Braxton Bragg was able to force Union forces north to Chattanooga. However, thanks to superior numbers and provisions, it was only a matter of time before the Union forces returned to beat down Bragg's back door. In late November, a combined Union force led by Generals Hooker, Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman took Chattanooga and began their push into Georgia.

On November 19, 1863, with Union fortunes firmly on the upswing, ceremonies were held to dedicate a commemorative ceremony for the soldiers fallen at Gettysburg. The principal speaker, Edward Everett of Massachusetts, was the principal speaker. After Everett's oration, which lasted for over two hours, Lincoln was called upon to say a few words. The subsequent two-minute statement, known today as the Gettysburg Address, has gone down into the annals of American history among the most memorable words ever spoken in the United States.

In his remarks, Lincoln praised the patriotism of the men who had fallen in the service of "a new birth of freedom," won so that the "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the face of the earth." These words, along with the famous opening "Four score and seven years ago..." have been tirelessly recited by schoolchildren ever since. But at the time, Lincoln was wracked with self-doubt over his address, fearing that he had not done justice to the Union dead. Many newspapers contributed to this impression, firmly declaring that Everett had outshone him.

While Everett may in fact have impressed the assembled audience at Gettysburg, the negative press that Lincoln received may also have been by way of preface to the 1864 election. As the winter dragged on, Lincoln began to mobilize both for re-election and for renewed warfare. Eager to find a general who could bring the Confederacy to its knees, Lincoln summoned Grant, the hero of Vicksburg, from the western theater. And on March 9, 1864, Lincoln named Grant the commander of all Union armies.

Prepared to meet heavy losses in the process, Grant boldly decided to spearhead a program of total warfare, with the ultimate objective of unconditional rebel surrender. To this end, orders were issued to destroy not only the Confederate army, but also all stocks and supplies that contributed to their cause. Further, Grant halted the manpower exchange that had been in effect for over eighteen months, leaving Union soldiers to languish in Confederate prisons. By this strategy, Grant hoped to simply outlast the rebel forces, but in so doing, he effectively sentenced thousands of prisoners on both sides to a slow and painful death. All told, nearly 50,000 soldiers died in prison camps during the Civil War. Most of these casualties occurred in 1864. At the notorious Andersonville, Georgia prison, 3,000 deaths occurred during each of the summer months.

This pragmatic, if uncompassionate, approach to warfare, along with his risky attack methods, earned Grant the nickname "The Butcher of Galena." During his march on Richmond in the spring of 1864, Grant persisted even in the face of appalling casualties, losing 17,000 men in two days of fighting at the Battle of the Wilderness in May. This aggressive escalation policy prompted Lee to a similar recklessness, and in the next month the Union would lose a total of 60,000 men against the Confederacy's 32,000 casualties.