Today is the anniversary of the end of the Civil War, or at least the major surrender of the Union’s major Confederate opposing force.
Once of generals was the anti-slavery Union general from West Point that was Lincoln’s original pick to head the entire Union forces, the general who inherited slaves and freed them years before the end of the Civil War, the general whose wife and mother-in-law worked to free slaves in general, the general whose wife (assisted by their daughter) ran a school teaching slaves to read and write.
That was General Robert E. Lee.
The general he surrendered to was General Ulysses S. Grant. The surrender was a surprisingly polite, formal affair, with each man attended by staff and dressed in the best uniforms they could muster from the muddy Virginia battlefields.
President Abraham Lincoln was greatly heartened by the news. For months, it looked as though the Union would prevail, but it was hardly a certainty.
The Second Inaugural Address
Just a month before, Lincoln had begun his second term of office by delivering one of the shortest inaugural addresses in US history. I am including it below in its entirety, as it explains his very conciliatory position suggesting that each side thought God was on their side, but neither side could claim it. It is all worth study, but you can skip down to the last paragraph, where I’d wager that you’ve heard phrases from that paragraph before:
At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish.
And the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.
The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
April 9, 1865
The date of surrender was the realization of this March 5 inaugural speech. But he could not enjoy it long — a half dozen men in his audience formed a plot to assassinate Lincoln and other Union figures. In Lincoln’s case it was successful, five days after this surrender.
(Trivia bit: Lincoln was not the first Republican president to be assassinated; that would wind up being William McKinley in 1901, 36 years later. Why? Because during Lincoln’s second election, he ran as a member of the new Union party, not the decade-old Republican party, in order to include a larger group.)
But the actual surrender of Lee to Grant remains one of the key dates of the Civil War.
It is also (except for the year) my birthday.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle