American Civil War

March 17, 1865: Lincoln Comments on Confederate Plans to Enlist Black Troops

Last photo of Abraham Lincoln

Making a short speech on March 17, 1865 to the 140th Indiana Infantry regiment, Lincoln commented on the plans of the Confederacy to enlist black soldiers:

FELLOW CITIZENS—It will be but a very few words that I shall undertake to say. I was born in Kentucky, raised in Indiana and lived in Illinois. (Laughter.) And now I am here, where it is my business to care equally for the good people of all the States. I am glad to see an Indiana regiment on this day able to present the captured flag to the Governor of Indiana. (Applause.) I am not disposed, in saying this, to make a distinction between the States, for all have done equally well. (Applause.) There are but few views or aspects of this great war upon which I have not said or written something whereby my own opinions might be known. But there is one—the recent attempt of our erring brethren, as they are sometimes called—(laughter)—to employ the negro to fight for them. I have neither written nor made a speech on that subject, because that was their business, not mine; and if I had a wish upon the subject I had not the power to introduce it, or make it effective. The great question with them was, whether the negro, being put into the army, would fight for them. I do not know, and therefore cannot decide. (Laughter.) They ought to know better than we. I have in my lifetime heard many arguments why the negroes ought to be slaves; but if they fight for those who would keep them in slavery it will be a better argument than any I have yet heard. Continue reading

John Wilkes Booth: Born Under an Unlucky Star


Since the fall of 1864 John Wilkes Booth along with others had been plotting against Lincoln.  A supporter of the Confederacy, Booth was also a popular actor, a son of the great actor Junius Brutus Booth who had written  a letter, perhaps tongue in cheek, to Andrew Jackson, threatening to assassinate him.  His brother Edwin Booth, perhaps the foremost American actor of his day and who had saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln, was a firm supporter of Lincoln and the Union, and had banned his brother from his house in New York.  Booth had an unexplained trip to Montreal in 1864.  It is tempting to suspect that he got in contact with Confederate intelligence operatives active in Canada, but no evidence has been found linking Booth to Confederate intelligence then or later.

Initially Booth and his co-conspirators had planned to kidnap Lincoln and smuggle him South and trade him for Confederate prisoners of war.  They gathered on March 17, 1865 to do so when Lincoln was en route to a play but Lincoln unknowingly foiled the plot by changing his plans.  Booth and his band awaited another opportunity.

In 1874 Asia Booth in a memoir of her brother, that remained unpublished until 1938, recounts a strange event that occurred to Booth while he was a schoolboy and that summed up his life: Continue reading

March 15, 1865: Lincoln and the Almighty

On March 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took time to scribble a thank you note to Thurlow Weed.  A political fixer of the first order and a political powerhouse in New York, Weed had been critical of Lincoln after the Emancipation Proclamation and had only grudgingly supported him for re-election.  Interestingly enough, there is no record of Weed sending a letter to Lincoln complimenting him on the Second Inaugural.  Thus Lincoln was either mistaken, or the letter from Weed has vanished along with most correspondence written in the 19th century.  However, that fact is secondary to what Lincoln said in the note:




MARCH 15, 1865



     Every one likes a compliment. Thank you for yours on my little notification speech and on the recent inaugural address. I expect the latter to wear as well as–perhaps better than–anything I have produced; but I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them. To deny it, however, in this case, is to deny that there is a God governing the world. It is a truth which I thought needed to be told, and, as whatever of humiliation there is in it falls most directly on myself, I thought others might afford for me to tell it.

          Truly yours,

                    A. Lincoln

Lincoln underlines in this note the passage in the Second Inaugural in which he thought the War might be a punishment from God inflicted on both North and South: Continue reading

March 13, 1865: Confederate Congress Authorizes Black Troops




Perhaps a war winning measure if the year had been 1861, by 1865 the action of the Confederate Congress authorizing the enlistment of black troops could only be regarded as a just before midnight measure of a dying nation. The measure is interesting for two reasons:  the black troops were to be treated precisely the same as white troops in regard to pay and rations, and the measure explicitly did not provide for enlisted slaves to be granted their freedom.  A historical curiosity now, the whole issue of black troops might have been one of the few paths to victory for the Confederacy if it had been undertaken prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  However, if the leaders of the Confederacy had been willing to consider such a measure at the onset of the struggle, it is likely that secession would never have occurred, since the preservation of slavery was the core reason for the creation of the Confederacy.  Here is the text of the statute: Continue reading

March 12, 1865: Letter From Sherman to Grant




With his invasion of North Carolina underway, Sherman took time after the capture of Fayetteville, North Carolina to bring Grant up to speed with his immediate plans:

FAYETTVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA, Sunday, March. 12, 1865.

Lieutenant-General U. S. GRANT, commanding United States Army, City Point, Virginia.

DEAR GENERAL: We reached this place yesterday at noon; Hardee, as usual, retreating across the Cape Fear, burning his bridges; but our pontoons will be up to-day, and, with as little delay as possible, I will be after him toward Goldsboro. A tug has just come up from Wilmington, and before I get off from here, I hope to get from Wilmington some shoes and stockings, sugar, coffee, and flour. We are abundantly supplied with all else, having in a measure lived off the country.

The army is in splendid health, condition, and spirits, though we have had foul weather, and roads that would have stopped travel to almost any other body of men I ever heard of.

Our march, was substantially what I designed–straight on Columbia, feigning on Branchville and Augusta. We destroyed, in passing, the railroad from the Edisto nearly up to Aiken; again, from Orangeburg to the Congaree; again, from Colombia down to Kingsville on the Wateree, and up toward Charlotte as far as the Chester line; thence we turned east on Cheraw and Fayetteville. At Colombia we destroyed immense arsenals and railroad establishments, among which wore forty-three cannon. At Cheraw we found also machinery and material of war sent from Charleston, among which were twenty-five guns and thirty-six hundred barrels of powder; and here we find about twenty guns and a magnificent United States’ arsenal.

We cannot afford to leave detachments, and I shall therefore destroy this valuable arsenal, so the enemy shall not have its use; and the United States should never again confide such valuable property to a people who have betrayed a trust.

I could leave here to-morrow, but want to clear my columns of the vast crowd of refugees and negroes that encumber us. Some I will send down the river in boats, and the rest to Wilmington by land, under small escort, as soon as we are across Cape Fear River. Continue reading

Joe Johnston Back in Command



It would take a heart of granite not to feel sympathy for Joseph Johnston.  A general regarded by his Union adversaries as having the highest abilities, he was fated after his moment of glory was cut short by his wounding at Seven Pines in 1862, and his replacement in command by Robert E. Lee, to spend the rest of the War being called upon by Jefferson Davis, a man he cordially hated and who returned his hate, to retrieve bad situations that were beyond retrieval.  So it was when Davis on February 25, 1865 placed him in command of the Departments of Southern Virginia, and of North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.  Under his command to oppose Sherman he had the 12,000 men under General Hardee who had resisted the advance of Sherman across South Carolina, Wade Hampton’s 6000 cavalrymen and the 6600 men who made up the shattered remnant of his Army of Tennessee.  Continue reading

A Confederate View of the Second Inaugural

Civil War as Crusade


John B. Jones was a clerk in the War Department of the Confederacy.  During the Civil War he kept a diary which gave his take on the events of the War day by day.  His entry for March 8 is interesting:



President Lincoln’s short inaugural message, or homily, or sermon, has been received. It is filled with texts from the Bible. He says both sides pray to the same God for aid—one upholding and the other destroying African slavery. If slavery be an offense,—and woe shall fall upon those by whom offenses come,—perhaps not only all the slaves will be lost, but all the accumulated products of their labor be swept away. In short, he “quotes Scripture for the deed” quite as fluently as our President; and since both Presidents resort to religious justification, it may be feared the war is about to assume a more sanguinary aspect and a more cruel nature than ever before. God help us! The history of man, even in the Bible, is but a series of bloody wars. It must be thus to make us appreciate the blessings of peace, and to bow in humble adoration of the great Father of all. The Garden of Eden could not yield contentment to man, nor heaven satisfy all the angels. Continue reading

March 6, 1865: Last Confederate Victory


Although the Confederacy would win some skirmishes after March 6, 1865, the Battle of Natural Bridge in Florida was the last significant Confederate victory, and ensured that Tallahassee would end the Civil War as the only unconquered Confederate state capital east of the Mississippi.



The Confederate defenders consisted of the odds and ends of a  few small Confederate military units, elderly volunteers and teenage cadets from the Florida Military and Collegiate Institute.  About a thousand all told, this motley, but sturdy, force held the bridge against unimaginative Union assaults for the entire day.  The Union expedition, consisting of the 2nd and 99th Union Colored Infantry, sustained 148 casualties to 51 Confederates.  They withdrew to the Union fleet at the end of the day from which they had landed, the Union offensive to take Tallahassee ended.  Florida State University Army ROTC remembers the cadets who fought there that day with a battle streamer on their flag, one of four Army ROTC programs nationally to have a battle streamer for a Civil War action.

March 2, 1865: End of the War in the Valley




It had been a long and grueling War in the Shenandoah Valley with some towns changing hands some seventy times between Union and Confederate forces.  On March 2, 1865 it came to an end.  Jubal Early’s force, stripped over the winter to shore up Lee’s thin ranks holding the lines at Petersburg, was now reduced to 1500 men.  Sheridan was moving South, initially under orders to move into North Carolina and link up with Sherman advancing into North Carolina.  Not wanting to leave Early in his rear, Sheridan sent twenty-five year old Brigadier General George Armstrong with a division of cavalry, 2,500 men, to find Early.

Custer had graduated dead last in his class at West Point in 1861, making him the class goat.  The “goat” had a spectacularly successful War, rising in rank from Second Lieutenant to Major General of Volunteers. (He had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General of Volunteers, passing over the intervening ranks, in 1863.)  Daring and combative, Custer had helped transform Union cavalry from lackluster to an able strike force.

Early posted his small force on a ridge due west of Waynesboro, Virginia.  Arriving at 2:00 PM on March 2, Custer quickly saw that Early had fortified his position and that head on attacks would probably not work, but that Early’s left could be turned.  (Early had thought that a thick wood adequately protected this flank.)  Sending one brigade to turn the Confederate left while he attacked frontally with two brigades worked  to perfection.  Virtually the entire Confederate force was taken prisoner with Early and fifteen to twenty Confederates escaping.  Here is Sheridan’s account of the battle from his Memoirs: Continue reading

Lee Ponders the Coming Campaign

 Lee Ponders Defeat

One hundred and fifty years ago, Winter still held the nation in its grip, but all knew that Spring was coming, and with Spring an inevitable push by Grant against Lee to end the War.  In a letter of February 22, 1865 to Longstreet, Lee considers the options of the Army of Northern Virginia in the coming campaign.  Like a master chess player who is losing a game, all the moves are clear to Lee, but a path to victory for the Confederacy is not.  At best Lee can contemplate his Army either striking Grant or Sherman’s army but leaving unsaid what Longstreet already knew:  that either Grant or Sherman’s forces were strong enough to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia in open battle.  Here is the text of Lee’s letter: Continue reading

February 25, 1865: Lee Will Not Give Up the Texas Brigade


..”Attention Texas Brigade” was rung upon the morning air, by Gen. Gregg, “the eyes of General Lee are upon you, forward, march.” Scarce had we moved a step, when Gen. Lee, in front of the whole command, raised himself in his stirrups, uncovered his grey hairs, and with an earnest, yet anxious voice, exclaimed above the din and confusion of the hour, “Texans always move them.”
…never before in my lifetime or since, did I ever witness such a scene as was enacted when Lee pronounced these words, with the appealing look that he gave. A yell rent the air that must have been heard for miles around, and but few eyes in that old brigade of veterans and heroes of many a bloody field was undimmed by honest, heart-felt tears. Leonard Gee, a courier to Gen. Gregg, and riding  by my side, with tears coursing down his cheeks and yells issuing from his throat exclaimed, “I would charge hell itself for that old man.”


Private Robert Campell, 5th Texas Infantry

The fighting erupted early on the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness.  Grant assumed that Hill’s corps had been fought out on the first day and could be overrun with a strong attack.  At 5:00 AM Hancock attacked with three divisions, with two in support.  By 6:00 AM Hill’s corps was in full retreat and disaster loomed for Lee.  At that time the 800 man Texas Brigade, perhaps the elite fighting unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the vanguard of Longstreet’s corps arrived and saved the day.  Longstreet launched a two division counterattack up the Orange Plank Road, with the Texans, who suffered 650 casualties, leading the attack on the north side of the Road.

This action by the Texan Brigade, and similar actions on many other fields, caused Lee to treasure the unit as his shock troops.  This caused Lee to deny a request by the Governor of Texas in February of 1865.  The request and the denial are contained in this letter from Jefferson Davis to the Governor of  Texas: Continue reading

Robert Todd Lincoln Goes to War


Robert Todd Lincoln


A recent biography of Robert Todd Lincoln is entitled Giant in the Shadows and that is an accurate description of him.  One of the foremost attorneys of his day, a noted philanthropist, Secretary of War and Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, he lived a life of accomplishment, and from the election of his father as President, he knew that nothing that he did mattered to History and he would always be remembered for being the son of Abraham Lincoln.  It is hard being the son of a great man, and it is to his credit that Robert did not allow his accident of birth to overwhelm him.  Throughout his life he never ran away from his father and his memory, a man and a memory that he loved.  However, he was intent on being his own man, and his first major action demonstrating this was his desire to enlist in the Union Army.  His father was sympathetic to his desire to fight for his country but was fearful that his wife would lose what often seemed to be a tenuous grasp on sanity if harm should come to Robert and he be added to the ranks of the two Lincoln sons who had already died.  Nevertheless, he sided with Robert and told Mary on several occasions that many families had lost all their sons in the War and that Robert had to obey his conscience and join the Army.  Mary Todd Lincoln knew that it was a “noble and manly” impulse, as she called it, that led her oldest son to want to join the Army, but allowed her fears to long cause her to battle against his desire to serve.  It didn’t help that many of her relatives had already died serving in both the Confederate and Union Armies.

Abraham Lincoln, ever a born compromiser, found a solution which he set forth in a letter to Grant.


Lieut. General Grant:

Please read and answer this letter as though I was not President, but only a friend.  My son, now in his twenty second year, having graduated at Harvard, wishes to see something of the war before it ends.  I do not wish to put him in the ranks, nor yet to give him a commission, to which those who have already served long, are better entitled, and better qualified to hold.  Could he, without embarrassment to you, or detriment to the service, go into your Military family with some nominal rank, I, and not the public, furnishing his necessary means?  If no, say so without the least hesitation, because I am as anxious, and as deeply interested, that you shall not be encumbered as you can be yourself.

Yours truly


Grant assured Lincoln that his son would be welcome as an officer on his staff.  On February 11, 1865, Robert joined the Army as an adjutant on Grant’s staff with the rank of Captain.  By all accounts he was a hardworking officer, and well-liked by his fellow staff officers.  He would have preferred a combat assignment, but by that time of the War he was probably more useful where he was.  The Union army had no shortage by the end of the War of seasoned combat officers, and with his Harvard education Robert was probably more useful as a staff officer than as a green officer in a combat command. Continue reading

For Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things, and Battles Long

Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

William Wordsworth, The Solitary Reaper



An interesting collection in the video above of photos of Civil War generals during and after the War.  As the Civil War was drawing to a close one hundred and fifty years ago, the hundreds of thousands of photographs taken during the War ensured that it would not be remembered as other conflicts had been remembered.  Unlike, say, the American Revolution, the reality of the War would not be sweetened by a few score paintings that would fix the War visually in historical memory.    Unthinkable in 1865, even when the millions of men who had fought in the War were all dust, the photographs would remain to show a small part of what they saw.  John Adams, who feared that the true history of the American Revolution was lost forever and that posterity was being given myths instead of truths regarding the great times he lived through, would have hailed the advent of photography as helping to preserve some of the reality of the stubborn facts of history. Continue reading

February 18, 1865: Charleston is Taken

The Civil War began with the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.  The Confederates had tenaciously held onto Charleston in the face of repeated assaults by sea and land during the course of the War.  The fall of the city was anti-climactic, with General Beauregard evacuating the Confederate garrison on February 15, and the mayor of Charleston surrendering the town to the Union forces.  The North went wild in celebration with the news, although by this point in the War Charleston had little military significance in the face of the overwhelming tide of Union victory.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis


It has been said ‘The world loves, not those who would sacrifice themselves for others, if they could find an opportunity, but those who have found one and used it.’ She, our mother, the state, saw the distinction, and applied it to her sons of the sword and gun; and now it is the text of the sermon she means these stones to preach immemorially. In other words, making this matchless structure speak for her, she says: ‘They are my best beloved, who in every instance of danger to the nation, discover a glorious chance to serve their fellow men and dare the chance, though in so doing they suffer and sometimes die.’

General Lew Wallace, speech on the dedication of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis in 1902


My family and I vacation each year in Indianapolis in August as we attend the GenCon Convention.  A city of approximately 850,000, the state capitol of Indiana is a very livable city where it is still possible to park on the street in the major business section.  Indianapolis is filled with monuments and the most striking by far is the Civil War memorial, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indie.  Dedicated in 1902 to Indiana’s silent victors, the Hoosiers who fell in the War, the monument stands 284 feet tall on Monument Circle.  The Monument is huge, taking up an acre of space.  Costing a bit over a half million when built, the estimated cost to build such a structure today is half a billion.

There is an observation deck on top and tourists can either take an elevator or climb the 331 steps.  I recommend the elevator.  Several years ago I climbed the seemingly endless and narrow winding steps with my kids.  Being young teenagers then, they had no trouble.  I was about fifty at the time, and on that muggy day almost killed myself getting to the top! Continue reading

February 10, 1865: Lincoln Reports to the House

Thaddeus Stevens

On February 10, 1865, pursuant to a House of Representatives Resolution drafted by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, Lincoln sent a report to the House which basically consisted of a timeline of the events that led up to the Hampton Roads Conference.  Radical Republicans were furious when they first learned of the Hampton Roads Conference, afraid that Lincoln was trying an end run around them by ending the War on terms generous to the Confederates.  After the report was read in the House, tension ebbed when it was clear that the Hampton Roads Conference had ended without any agreement being reached, or any further meetings planned.  Here is the text of Lincoln’s report: Continue reading

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