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(CIVIL WAR in the UNITED STATES – continued)

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Confederate Surrender and the Assassination of Lincoln, 1865

Confederate soldiers had been deserting to save their families and farms, and many farms had been stripped of food and animals by the Confederate commissary. Davis, pressured by top advisers, finally asked for a peace conference in hope of obtaining from Lincoln a negotiated settlement. Lincoln responded that the war would end "whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it."

A conspicuous frivolity appeared among wealthy Confederates – the kind of "what the hell" desperation that sometimes emerges when hopes are dashed. Poor whites resented banquets that seemed to mock their poverty and hunger.

Sherman's army at Savannah was re-supplied by the Union Navy, and, in February, Sherman and his army were marching northward into South Carolina, pursuing his policy of devastation as he went, including the burning down of homes of the wealthy or prominent Confederates, trying to drive fearful Confederates to surrender. In March he crossed into North Carolina.

On March 25, General Lee attacked Grant's forces near Petersburg, but without success, and on April 1 he attacked again without success. It was Lee's last effort to hold to his positions at Richmond and Petersburg, and, having failed, he and his army of 30,000 slipped away on the night of April 2-3. The next evening, Union forces entered Richmond, the capitol of the confederacy. Grant's army pursued Lee, surrounded them near a place called Appomattox Courthouse and, on April 7, Grant called on Lee to surrender. Lee's troops were exhausted, and rather than try to cut through to the Allegheny Mountains and pursue guerrilla warfare, Lee agreed to meet his fellow Mexican-war veteran, Grant. On April 9, Lee and Grant met and agreed to the terms of surrender.

Grant wanted no unnecessary humiliations and did not require Lee's officers to surrender their swords, their personal baggage, horses or side arms. Outside, Grant saluted Lee by taking off his hat, and Lee saluted back by taking off his hat. The war was over.

Battle deaths for the two sides added together have been counted as a little over 200,000 (110,070 for the Union and roughly 90,000 for the Confederacy). Deaths in the military from disease on both sides was over 414,000. Taking the battlefield deaths alone, with a population of 31 million at the beginning of the war, that was one for every 155 persons (white, black, North and South). For the year 2006, with a population of 300 million, one in every 155 persons would be 1,935,484, in other words around 2 million battle deaths – about 645 times the 3,000 Americans killed in Iraq from 2003 through 2006.

The Assassination of Lincoln

Another killing took place on April 14, 1865. President Lincoln was watching a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater in Washington. He was shot by John Wilkes Booth, an actor from Maryland who believed that he was avenging the Confederate defeat. Lincoln died the next morning. Believing that Lincoln had created evil, Booth recorded his thought that "God made me the instrument of his punishment." As he died he whispered the words, "Tell mother I died for my country."

As usual, assassination did nothing for the cause espoused by the assassin.

Change

Before the Civil War, a difference of opinion existed over whether the United States Constitution was a treaty between states or a founding document of a single country. After the Civil War it was more commonly agreed that the US Constitution did not grant states the right of secession. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1856, reinforced this view. No state was to deny a citizen his right to remain a citizen of the United States, and states were not to conduct their own foreign policy.

Addendum

Historians have debated whether it had been possible for the Confederacy to have won the war. James McPherson has argued that a Confederate victory was at least possible but that the North's advantage in population and resources made Northern victory likely. He has argued that if the Confederacy had fought using unconventional tactics, they might have been able to hold out long enough to exhaust the Union or convince the North that the cost of winning was too high.

The North was at a disadvantage in its need to conquer and hold vast stretches of enemy territory and defeat Confederate armies. Some scholars argue that the Union held an insurmountable long-term advantage over the Confederacy in terms of industrial strength and population. The Civil War historian Shelby Foote expressed this view in a quote now well known:

I think that the North fought that war with one hand behind its back... If there had been more Southern victories, and a lot more, the North simply would have brought that other hand out from behind its back. I don't think the South ever had a chance to win that War.

In War Made New, historian Max Boot writes of both sides starting the war with smooth bore weapons and the leading officers of both sides understanding their trade from experiences in the Mexican War, "the last major conflict fought mainly with smoothbores." Boot writes of "commanders on both sides having trouble coming to grips with the destructive potential of [their] new weapons" and adds:

Having seen frontal assaults work against the Mexican army, they tried the same tactics against each other and turned farm fields into abattoirs. It took a few years of slaughter for both sides to start hiding their troops in trenches or dispersing them in order to mitigate the rifle's impact.note52

Before the Great War that began in 1914, if Europe's generals had studied well the US Civil War as an example of warfare in the new machine age and new firepower, they could have avoided some grievous blunders.

Sources

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, by Eric Foner, 2011

Clash of Extremes: the Economic Origins of the U.S. Civil War, by Marc Egnal, 2009

America's Civil War, by Brooks D. Simpson, 1996

War and Ruin: William T. Sherman and the Savannah Campaign, by Anne J Bailey, 1992

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: the End of Slavery in America, by Allen C Guezlo, 2006

The Civil War, by Shelby Foote, three volumes, 1986

Film

The Civil War, by Ken Burns, 1990

Copyright © 2003-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.