Sunday, September 12, 2010
Nickname: Honest Abe
Lincoln had the harrowing task of tackling the seceding states. The southern states started to fall like dominoes, joining the confederacy. The men who were stationed at Fort Sumter, a fort off the coast of North Carolina, were starting to run out of supplies and realized they were no longer on friendly ground. North Carolina told the men to surrender and abandon the fort, but the men couldn't just give up a government fort to the rebels. Lincoln decided to send rations and ammunition to the men, which to the south was a declaration of war on them. The rebels soon attacked the fort and watched the men later surrender with no one injured. Thus started the U.S. Civil War. Lincoln surrounded himself with his republican nominee adversaries. Most of the men couldn't stand Lincoln, but took the cabinet jobs anyhow. Lincoln, like most of the public hoped the war would be short. Only one man foresaw that the war would be a long a bloody war. The man, General Sherman, was considered crazy for his views and was scoffed at by the higher ups. He would later help win the war for the North.
Lincoln was not considered very popular during his first term until the very end of it. The south saw him as a despotic tyrant, and his own peers considered him backwoods and too afraid to attack the slavery issue head on. Lincoln was nominated for the Republicans for his moderate views on slavery. He wanted to stop the expansion of slavery, but not get rid of it altogether. He had to keep the south happy somehow. When it came to the election, he was considered an extremist compared to Stephen A. Douglas and John Bell, who were both moderates, wanting to compromise and use more popular sovereignty. The other extremist on the ticket was John Breckinridge, who was the southern democratic candidate. Lincoln even said when he was elected that he was not going to get rid of slavery in the south. This would be a lie, but he probably didn't know it at the time.
Even though the North had more men, technology, and food, the south had more experienced generals, most of whom had served in the Mexican-American War. The only experienced general the north had was Winfield Scott, who at over 300 lbs was too fat to get onto his horse. The south, literally in some cases, ran circles around the union troops for the first two years of the war. It wasn't until Grant captured the many forts on the Mississippi and Vicksburg and Union victories at Antietam and Gettysburg that Lincoln decided it was time to give another blow to the south. He would free all the slaves that lived in the southern states. Called the Emancipation Proclamation, it didn't free slaves in the border states. The move, while noble, was most likely for political reasons. If Lincoln showed England and France that this was a war about slavery, then they would surely not support the south. It worked and the foreign countries stayed out of the war.
Public opinion towards Lincoln in the north increased greatly at that point. The turning points of the war helped Lincoln win a second term in 1864. After dealing with inept generals like McClellan, Burnside, and Hooker, Lincoln found the right men in Generals Meade, Grant, and Sherman. Meade and Grant chased Lee all the way back to Richmond and beyond (slowly), while Sherman stormed through Georgia, resorting to Total War. Total War is where you burn down houses, ruin train tracks and make sure that no one can get any resources from where you were just at. Confederate General Lee, though a brilliant strategist, had to surrender to General Grant when he realized they would not be able to continue the fight much longer. The south basically ran out of men and supplies. The north won key battles and wore the Confederacy out.
The war had taken a heavy toll on the Lincoln's though. Lincoln had aged terribly in the little over four years he was president. The stress of the job made him look much older than he did before he started. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was certified crazy. She had lost a son, Edward, at the age of four and lost another son, Willie, while Lincoln was in office. This drove her over the edge in grief and routinely shut herself off from others. This probably also helped the aging process for Lincoln.
It was only five days after Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia that Lincoln was assassinated. John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor and southern sympathizer, decided that he had to do something to keep the war going. At first, he and his friends were going to kidnap the president, but when the war suddenly came to a screeching halt, he decided to do something more drastic.
He decided to kill the president, along with Secretary of State William Seward, and the Vice President Andrew Johnson. On the night that Lincoln and Mary attended the British comedy, "My American Cousin", at Ford's Theater, Booth made his move. Booth was able to move around without suspicion due to his reputation at the theater. Booth snuck past the lone security person before the Lincoln's box and locked himself in with a wooden board he had left in the room. After sealing the door, he crept into the back of the box and slowly took out his derringer, which was a one shot pistol. He only had one chance, and if he missed, he would have to finish the job with a camping knife. I'm not talking a puny swiss army knife, this was a huge knife. Lincoln had been looking at someone in the crowd at the point in the show and was leaning over a little bit. Being in almost darkness, Booth aimed the gun for Lincoln's head and fired. If Lincoln had his head down just an inch, the bullet would have just missed him. However, the bullet went through his brain and lodged in the back of one of his eyes. The president slumped over in his seat, appearing as though he was bored with the play. The shot had been fired exactly when a thunder of applause had happened and nobody had heard the shot. But the three others in the box heard and saw a tall slender man standing over the slumped over president. Having used his one bullet, Booth took out his knife and swung wildly at Major Rathbone, who, along with Clara Harris, went to the show with the Lincoln's since the Grant's had declined (Mrs. Grant didn't like Mrs. Lincoln). After a short struggle, Rathbone was stabbed and Booth made for his escape. He jumped out of the box, catching his foot on the flag that was draped below the box and fell awkwardly on to the stage. He knew something was wrong as soon as he landed, but stood up as straight as he could and yelled "Sic Semper Tyrannus", which is Latin for "Thus Always to Tyrants", which happened to be the Virginia state motto. Booth then ran passed the bewildered actors and was able to escape to the horse that was waiting for him. Booth shortly realized that he had badly injured his leg and wouldn't be able to travel as far as he would like to.
Lewis Powell had the job of assassinating Secretary of State, William Seward. Booth knew that Seward would just continue what Lincoln started and had to be eliminated. Seward had just been in a carriage accident and was in bed with a neck brace on. Powell pretended to be a delivery boy that was delivering medicine from Seward's doctor. He was able to get all the way to the stairs before Seward's son stopped him and told him that he would give the medicine to his father. Powell protested, saying that he had to give Seward the medicine personally. This went back and forth for awhile, until Powell, who was a beast by the way, pushed the son aside and stormed upstairs to the room. Not knowing what was going on outside the door, Seward's daughter, who was in the room with him, opened the door up and told her brother that Seward was awake now. This gave away where Seward was. Powell made for the door, but was stopped by Fredrick, Seward's son. Powell pulled out his revolver, aimed it at Fredrick's forehead, and watched as the gun misfired. Instead of trying to fire it again, he proceeded to beat Fredrick over the head with the gun repeatedly until the gun was useless. Powell pushed his way into the room and pulled out his knife. Seeing her brother on the floor, Fanny let out a terrible scream that woke up her other brother Augustus. Sergeant Robinson was with Fanny in the room and for the moment was confused on what was transpiring. In the dim lit room, Powell couldn't quite see where Seward was on the bed and began to throw down huge thrust of his knife. His first and second strike missed Seward. Finally on his third try, he cut open Seward's cheek. Seward was saved by his brace it turns out. If he didn't have it on, the knife would of went through his jugular. Powell proceeded to wrestle Augustus and Robinson for a few minutes until he was able to escape into the city streets.
David Atzerodt was the final assassin, or should I say would be assassin. Atzerodt went drinking to get the courage to kill Johnson, but the more he drank the worse he felt, and finally decided to leave without killing the Vice President.
Booth was eventually caught while in a barn. After troops surrounded the barn, they set it on fire and waited for Booth to come out. One soldier, seeing inside the barn that Booth was raising a gun, feared that he was about to shoot another soldier and tried to shoot him in the arm or hand. Instead he shot him near the same spot that Lincoln was shot. How's that for ironic? Booth died a little while later, his last words being "Useless...useless..." while looking at his hands. Booth, by reading newspapers from various sources found that instead of causing a revolution or an uprising in the south again, had made a martyr of Lincoln and Booth was denounced in newspapers even in the South. Southerners had realized that Lincoln was going to be lenient on them and his way of Reconstruction was going to be the best route for the U.S. Atzerodt and Powell were caught inside the city of Washington D.C. and were hung a short time later. Lincoln stayed alive for under a day eventually died of his wounds at a house across from the theater. Seward was badly wounded, but lived due to his neck brace. He served in the same position under President Johnson and acquired Alaska from Russia. People thought it was dumb at the time and labeled it Seward's Folly.
Lincoln's death rocked the United States like nothing before. Just when things were starting to get better, the president was gone. The odd thing was Lincoln knew his death was coming. He had vivid dreams throughout his presidency that told of victories, and one a couple days before his assassination of his own death. Mary Todd Lincoln was so engulfed with grief that she didn't go to his funeral.
Lincoln is by far the best president we have ever had in our existence as a country. Was he perfect? No, of course not. But, with the help of his best generals won the Civil War and started the U.S. on the road to Reconstruction before his tragic death. Did he free the slaves? Sort of. He freed some slaves. He didn't live long enough to see the 13th amendment passed, but was a chief constructor of it. Lincoln's perception of the slave issue changed during the war, and some think that the Emancipation Proclamation was not just a political move. Lincoln has given one of the most well known and short and sweet speeches of all time, The Gettysburg Address. If it weren't for a man like Lincoln, we wouldn't of come out of the war like we did. We could of ended up with another Pierce or Buchanan.
-I realize I went a lot into the assassination of Lincoln. I just finished reading "Manhunt" and really enjoyed the book. I would urge any that are interested to pick up the book, or the audio book like I did and learn a little about the assassination and the attempted getaway.