In the late summer and early autumn of 1864, many Republicans publicly voiced their fears that the misfortunes of war would prevent Lincoln's re-election. On August 23, Lincoln himself circulated a secret memo in which he expressed a pessimistic stance toward his chances for victory in November. With the costs of living skyrocketing and a highly unpopular second draft of 500,000 men about to go into effect, such reservations were perhaps not unfounded.
As Union forces continued to stagnate in their siege positions, the Confederacy ran intermittent raids on towns such as Frederick, Maryland and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Such attacks were in part assisted by a secret society of Confederate sympathizers known as the "fifth column." Also known as Peace Democrats, or Copperheads, these anti-war Northerners were led by prominent politicians such as Governor Horatio Seymour of New York and Congressman Clement Vallandigham of Ohio. Although their exploits never amounted to much, their function as a hostile bloc to Lincoln's aims was plain to see.
Under critical assault from all sides, Lincoln was encouraged by many of his closest advisers to postpone election in the interest of the war effort. Lincoln rejected this proposal without a second thought, explaining that "we cannot have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego or postpone a national election, it might already fairly claim to have conquered and ruined us."
Then, just when Lincoln's support seemed to be at its lowest, the Union forces came through with a series of brilliant successes to bolster his position. Admiral Farragut captured the port of Mobile, Alabama in early August, strengthening the Union grip on Confederate naval operations. One month later, General Sherman finally broke through the Confederate lines, seizing the city of Atlanta and evacuating all civilians.
Further north, Union General Phil Sheridan pushed the Confederates out of the Shenandoah Valley, destroying all private property that could be made use of by the Confederates. By October, the rebels in Virginia were strictly confined to their defense of Richmond. Although Grant continued to lay in wait at Petersburg, the victories of his supporting cast came as a much-needed assertion of Union dominance.
On the strength of these positive developments, a groundswell of support built up behind Lincoln in the weeks leading up to the election. Suddenly, the Democratic platform of a negotiated peace was rendered a nonsense, and Lincoln rode the renewed confidence in his war program to a resounding victory. With only a single opponent to contend with, Lincoln won a clear popular majority of over 400,000 votes, and completed a virtual clean sweep of the electoral college, out-polling McClellan by 212 votes to 21.