Tag: Abraham Lincoln

New York Herald Story on Events Leading to Civil War

This article from the New York Herald of 11 January 1861 gives a feel for what it must have felt like to see the terrible events leading to Civil War in America unfolding to display the bloody outbreak of war. This article focuses on the gravity of the situation when federal troops aboard the The Star of the West were denied landing at Ft Sumter.

Events Leading to Civil War

As this article makes clear, President James Buchanan‘s administration (4 Mar 1857 – 4Mar 1861) was left for hopeless in settling the quarrels between north and south. All hope was pinned on the incoming administration of Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William Seward. What I find interesting is the last paragraph of the Herald article.

“As the present administration can do no more toward pacification — the Executive having exhausted its constitutional powers, as Mr. Buchanan states in his message — it is the new administration which must accomplish this grand result, by fairly and boldly settling the differences between the southern States, who are contending for their constitutional rights, and that party at the North which, for the sake of a mere abstraction, is disposed to deny them.”

Don’t forget this is a New York newspaper making a point that the south thinks it is fighting for constitutional principles, even if those principles are tied to the abhorrent issue of slavery. I think that we, as modern Americans,  have turned the crisis of the Union into a simple dichotomy of all of the north felt one way and all of the south felt another. The American Civil War was much more complicated than is often presented. Why is this important? If we as a people cannot understand how complicated a topic was at the time of our darkest hour, how can we learn the lessons of it? Even if we arrive at the correct conclusions, understanding how we came to those conclusions is important. I hope we never need to face circumstances like those again, but wouldn’t it be good that if we have to, we know how we dealt with those of the past?

Events Leading to Civil War Motorcycle Ride

Try the ride from Myrtle Beach, SC to Ft Sumter National Park along US Highway 17/701 which takes in the length of Francis Marion (the legendary “Swamp Fox” of the Revolutionary War) National Forest.

10 December 1864 Sherman Reaches Savannah and Begins Siege

On 10 December, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman reached Savannah after carving a 40 mile wide swath through Southeast Georgia. Sherman declared Savannah a “Christmas present” for President Lincoln.

Prelude to the March to the Sea

The decision to march through Georgia free from Union supply lines was a stroke of genius. Confederate General John Bell Hood, after the defeat at Atlanta, tried to draw Sherman back north by cutting his communications and heading for middle Tennessee. Sherman was undeterred and set his mind on the sea and “making Georgia howl.” Sherman sent Major General George H. Thomas to face Hood in Tennessee. Hood was playing his last card in hopes of drawing Sherman north and defeating him, recruiting new troops in northern Tennessee and Kentucky, and finally heading east over the mountains to help Lee in Richmond. It was not to be, as Thomas defeated Hood decisively at the Battle of Nashville.

Sherman Reaches Savannah

Meanwhile, Sherman continued to ravage Georgia. With a width of forty miles and sometimes wider, Sherman’s forces marched from Atlanta to Savannah. Sherman’s troops were so spread out at times that he instructed his far flung commanders to burn a few barns to indicate their positions. The destruction had Sherman’s desired effect of making the people of the Confederacy, especially the fatigued troops think twice about continuing the cause. Desertion rates of Confederate forces increased heavily, especially in Georgia, with the fall of Atlanta and the march to the sea. Once on the coast, Sherman took Fort McAllister then sieged Savannah. It did not take long as the Confederate forces broke the lines to escape.

By February 1865, Richmond was under siege, Sherman was heading north, and Schofield was moving in from Fort Fisher. If you are into the USA Civil War, check out Shotgun’s Civil War Home.

Sherman Reaches Savannah Motorcycle Ride

For a nice long ride that follows the general path, take the GA SR-16 East from I-75 (between Atlanta and Macon) to Eatonton. At Eatonton, go South on US-441 to Milledgeville. At Milledgeville, take GA SR-24 East through Waynesboro to US-301, turn right on US-301 and go to Sylvania. At Sylvania, take GA SR-21 in to North Savannah.

The Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid 28 February to 1 March 1864

By early 1864, Lincoln was despairing that he could find no General to prosecute the Union’s war against the South in the eastern theatre. All of his leaders around the Potomac seemed to be frozen with indecision and a fear of failure. Much to his delight, a plan from a junior Cavalry General, H. Judson Kilpatrick, came into his view through Secretary of War Stanton. Kilpatrick knew that his immediate superiors would either poo-poo the idea or steal it as their own, so he approached Lincoln’s administration directly through back channels. Such was the state of the Union military leadership in the east. Kilpatrick was proposing a daring raid into the mouth of the lion to snatch Federal prisoners held in deplorable conditions in Confederate held Richmond. Kilpatrick’s plan suggested more as well. Stanton and Lincoln were attracted by the idea that a raid into Richmond, apart from freeing prisoners, would also serve as a huge propaganda victory. Kilpatrick was summoned to Washington for a private meeting with Stanton and given the go ahead. Kilpatrick’s superior’s were not amused, although they had no choice but to support him as he had the direct support of Lincoln.

Kilpatrick, like many Cavalry officers from the North and South, had dreams of great daring-do, but was known to some peers and subordinates as “KillCavalry” for his reckless behavior. However, many, including Lincoln, believed that more of this type of risk taking was necessary to dislodge a stubborn foe in Virginia. Kilpatrick had no problem attracting another officer of similar ideals, named Colonel Ulric Dahlgren. Dahlgren, the son of a Union Admiral, had made his name in previous engagements, including chasing Lee’s forces out of Maryland after Gettysburg, and lost a leg for his work. Having recovered and sporting a prosthetic leg, Dahlgren was ready for more grandiose riding.

The Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid

The operation started just before midnight on the night of the 28th of February 1864. They were aided by a diversionary attack further west by General Sedgewick and a Cavalry Brigade commander who probably would have longed to have been involved in the raid. His name was George Armstrong Custer. The diversion drew the Rebels west and cleared a path for Kilpatrick and Dahlgren. Custer was especially effective in drawing the Confederates on a wild goose chase as far away as Charlottesville. Leaving Elys Ford at the Rapidan River, north of Chancellorsville, the The Kilpatrick Dahlgren raid set out at a good cavalry pace and reached Spotsylvania courthouse by leap day, 1864. Here, they split forces with Kilpatrick heading straight into Richmond from the north with 7/8ths of the force. Dahlgren took a wide, westerly path to enter Richmond from the southwest with a force of approximately 500. The idea was to give the impression that the city was being attacked from multiple sides and cause panic long enough to get the prisoners out. If they could destroy a few things in Richmond, all the better.

Kilpatrick continued well through appalling weather of sleet and high winds. Dahlgren met a slave boy to guide him over a ford-able point on the James River and was on time, so was feeling pretty high at this point. Kilpatrick fired flares to see if Dahlgen would respond, but the weather was so bad that the flares could only be seen locally. Both drove on, but Dahlgren soon came to grief as the guide led him to a point at the rain swollen James that they could not ford. Dahlgren was thrown off track and was furious. The boy probably just did not know that the river was that high, but this did not appease Dahlgren. In a fit of rage, Dahlgren hung the boy for treachery. Unable to find a fording point, Dahlgren was stuck and could not complete his mission. Kilpatrick had entered north Richmond by now and encountered a force of old men and clerks, but misread the situation as regular troops. In an uncharacteristic delay, Kilpatrick hesitated whilst he waited for the signal from Dahlgren that the southwest attack was on. The “Dad’s Army” force held on well and long enough for re-enforcements to arrive and drive Kilpatrick off. Kilpatrick now decided to avoid the fate of the prisoners he had come to save, but left Dahlgren in a bind by pulling back. Kilpatrick was harried all the way back to Union lines, but Dahlgren and many of his 500 were to die trying to elude the Confederates.

The The Kilpatrick Dahlgren raid was a failure on the tactical as well as strategic front, but it was to get worse. The Rebels searched Dahlgren’s body and allegedly found orders to destroy Richmond and kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. The Union denied the existence of such orders, but the outrage in the South had the opposite effect of the propaganda coup Lincoln had hoped for.

Kilpatrick Dahlgren Raid Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

I call this ride the “Rapidan Return.” It covers the path Kilpatrick took to Richmond and then passes over the James River near Goochland where Dalgren had hoped to cross. It continues on the beautiful VA state routes 6 and 20 to Charlottesville where Custer worked the area. the ride finishes near the battlefield parks of WildernessChancellorsville and Spotsylvania.

Abraham Lincoln Delivers Gettysburg Address – 19 November 1863

On November 19, 1863, a little over 4 months after the battle, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at what today is the cemetery across from the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center.

Transcript of Gettysburg Address (1863)
Executive Mansion,

Washington, , 186 .

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow, this ground– The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, to stand here, we here be dedica-ted to the great task remaining before us — that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, Draft of the Gettysburg Address: Nicolay Copy. Transcribed and annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. Available at Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (Washington, D.C.: American Memory Project, [2000-02]),http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/alhtml/malhome.html.

In my mind, this is still the most eloquent and forceful dedication to a cause that a leader has yet to deliver. Unbelievably, Lincoln left Gettysburg with the impression that the address had been a miserable failure and he had not risen to the occasion. Showing signs of his self-doubt that plagued him at times, Lincoln reminds us that brevity and directness, though seemingly incongruent with enormous endeavors, is often what history demands of its giants.

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