March 4, 1865 A.D. He was inaugurated according to the usual form. His Address was brief, but high-toned and solemn, as beseemed the circumstances. Perhaps no State paper ever produced so deep an impression upon the American people. It closed thus: – “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 towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us 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 orphans – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
1864-5 A.D. During the winter months it became very plain that the Confederacy was tottering to its fall. These were the bitterest months through which Virginia had ever passed. The army was habitually now on short supply. Occasionally, for a day, there was almost a total absence of food. One day in December Lee telegraphed to Richmond that his army was without meat, and dependent on a little bread. And yet the soldiers were greatly better off than the citizens. Provisions were seized for the army wherever they could be found, and the owners were mercilessly left to starve. The suffering endured among the once cheerful homes of Virginia was terrible.
Every grown man was the property of the Government. It was said the rich men escaped easily, but a poor man could not pass along a street in Richmond without imminent risk of being seized and sent down to the lines at Petersburg. At railroad stations might be constantly seen groups of squalid men on their way to camp – caught up from their homes and hurried off to fight for a cause which they all knew to be desperate – in the service of a Government which they no longer trusted. It was, of course, the earliest care of these men to desert. They went home, or they surrendered to the enemy. The spirit which made the Confederacy formidable no longer survived.
General Lee had long before expressed his belief that without the help of the slaves the war must end disastrously. But all men knew that a slave who had been a soldier could be a slave no longer. The owners were not prepared to free their slaves, and they refused therefore to arm them. In November – with utter ruin impending – a Bill was introduced into the Confederate Congress for arming two hundred thousand negroes. It was debated till the following March. Then a feeble compromise was passed, merely giving the President power to accept such slaves as were offered to him.
The finances of the Confederacy were an utter wreck. Government itself sold specie at the rate of one gold dollar for sixty dollars in paper money. Feb. 17, 1864 A.D. Mr. Davis, by a measure of partial repudiation, relieved himself for a short space from some of his embarrassments; but no device could gain public confidence for the currency of a falling power. A loaf of bread cost three dollars. It took a month’s pay to buy the soldier a pair of stockings. The misery of the country was deep, abject, unutterable. President Davis came to be regarded with abhorrence, as the cause of all this wretchedness. Curses, growing ever deeper and louder, were breathed against the unsuccessful chief.
General Grant, well aware of the desperate condition of the Confederates, pressed incessantly upon their enfeebled lines. He had one hundred and sixty thousand men under his command. Sheridan joined him with a magnificent force of cavalry. Sherman with his victorious army was near. Grant began to fear that Lee would take to flight, and keep the rebellion alive on other fields. March 29, 1865 A.D. A general movement of all the forces around Richmond was decided upon. Lee struggled bravely, but in vain, against overwhelming numbers. His right was assailed by Sheridan, and driven back with heavy loss – five thousand hungry and disheartened men laying down their arms. April 1. On that same night Grant opened, from all his guns, a terrific and prolonged bombardment. April 2. At dawn the assault was made. Its strength was directed against one of the Confederate forts. The fight ceased elsewhere, and the armies looked on. There was a steady advance of the blue-coated lines; a murderous volley from the little garrison; wild cheers from the excited spectators. Under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry the soldiers of the Union rush on; they swarm into the ditch and up the sides of the works. Those who first reach the summit fall back slain by musket-shot or bayonet-thrust, but others press fiercely on. Soon their exulting cheers tell that the fort is won. Lee’s army is cut in two, and his position is no longer tenable. He telegraphed at once to President Davis that Richmond must be evacuated.
It was Communion Sunday in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and President Davis was in his pew among the other worshippers. No intelligence from the army had been allowed to reach the public for some days. But the sound of Grant’s guns had been heard, and the reserve of the Government was ominous. Many a keen eye sought to gather from the aspect of the President some forecast of the future; but in vain. That serene self-possessed face had lost nothing of its habitual reticence. In all that congregation there was no worshipper who seemed less encumbered by the world, more absorbed by the sacred employment of the hour, than President Davis. The service proceeded, and the congregation knelt in prayer. As President Davis rose from his knees the sexton handed him a slip of paper. He calmly read it. Then he calmly lifted his prayer-book, and with unmoved face walked softly from the church. It was Lee’s message he had received. Jefferson Davis’s sole concern now was to escape the doom of the traitor and the rebel. He fled at once, by special train, towards the south. Then the work of evacuation commenced. The gunboats on the river were blown up; the bridges were destroyed; the great warehouses in the city were set on fire, and in the flames thus wickedly kindled a third part of the city was consumed. All who had made themselves prominent in the rebellion fled from the anticipated vengeance of the Federals. The soldiers were marched off, plundering as they went. Next morning Richmond was in possession of the Northern troops. Among the first to enter the capital of the rebel slave-owners was a regiment of negro cavalry.
April 4, 1865 A.D. About midnight on Sunday Lee began his retreat from the position which he had kept so well. Grant promptly followed him. On the Tuesday morning Lee reached a point where he had ordered supplies to wait him. By some fatal blunder the cars laden with the food which his men needed so much had been run on to Richmond, and were lost to him. Hungry and weary the men toiled on, hotly pursued by Grant. Soon a hostile force appeared in their front, and it became evident that they were surrounded.
April 7. General Grant wrote to General Lee asking the surrender of his army, to spare the useless effusion of blood. Lee did not at first admit that surrender was necessary, and Grant pressed the pursuit with relentless energy. Lee wrote again to request a meeting, that the terms of surrender might be arranged. April 9. The two leaders met in a wayside cottage. They had never seen each other before, although they had both served in the Mexican War, and Lee mentioned pleasantly that he remembered the name of his antagonist from that time. Grant drew up and presented in writing the terms which he offered. The men were to lay down their arms, and give their pledge that they would not serve against the American Government till regularly exchanged. They were then to return to their homes, with a guarantee that they would not be disturbed by the Government against which they had rebelled. Grant asked if these terms were satisfactory. “Yes,” said Lee, “they are satisfactory. The truth is, I am in such a position that any terms offered to me must be satisfactory.” And then he told how his men had been for two days without food, and begged General Grant to spare them what he could. Grant, generously eager to relieve his fallen enemies, despatched instantly a large drove of oxen and a train of provision waggons. In half an hour there were heard in the Federal camp the cheers with which the hungry rebels welcomed those precious gifts.
Lee rode quietly back to his army, where the surrender was expected. When its details became known, officers and men crowded around their much-loved chief, to assure him of their devotion, and to obtain a parting grasp of his hand. Lee was too deeply moved to say much. “Men,” he said, with his habitual simplicity, “we have fought through the war together, and I have done the best I could for you.” A day or two later the men stacked their arms and went to their homes. The history of the once splendid Army of Northern Virginia had closed.
Lee’s surrender led the way to the surrender of all the Confederate armies. Within a few days there was no organized force of any importance in arms against the Union. The War of the Great Rebellion was at an end.
When the closing operations against Richmond were being arranged, President Lincoln went down to General Grant’s head-quarters at City Point, and remained there till Lee’s surrender. He visited Richmond on the day it was taken, and walked through the streets with his little boy in his hand. The freed slaves crowded to welcome their deliverer. They expressed in a thousand grotesque ways their gratitude to the good “Father Abraham.” There had been dark hints for some time that there were those among the Confederates who would avenge their defeat by the murder of the President. Mr. Lincoln was urged to be on his guard, and his friends were unwilling that he should visit Richmond. He himself cared little, now that the national cause had triumphed.
April 9, 1865 A.D. He returned unharmed to Washington on the evening of Lee’s surrender. The next few days were perhaps the brightest in his whole life. He had guided the nation through the heaviest trial which had ever assailed it. On every side were joy and gladness. Flags waved, bells rang, guns were fired, houses were lighted up; the thanks of innumerable grateful hearts went up to God for this great deliverance. No heart in all the country was more joyful and more thankful than Mr. Lincoln’s. He occupied himself with plans for healing the wounds of his bleeding country, and bringing back the revolted States to a contented occupation of their appointed places in the Union. No thought of severity was in his mind. Now that armed resistance to the Government was crushed, the gentlest measures which would give security in the future were the measures most agreeable to the good President.
On the 14th he held a meeting of his Cabinet, at which General Grant was present. The quiet cheerfulness and hopefulness of the President imparted to the proceedings of the council a tone long remembered by those who were present. After the meeting he drove out with Mrs. Lincoln, to whom he talked of the good days in store. They had had a hard time, he said, since they came to Washington; but now, by God’s blessing, they might hope for quieter and happier years.
In the evening he drove, with Mrs. Lincoln and two or three friends, to a theatre where he knew the people expected his coming. As the play went on the audience were startled by a pistol-shot in the President’s box. A man brandishing a dagger was seen to leap from the box on to the stage, and with a wild cry – “The South is avenged!” – disappeared behind the scenes. The President sat motionless, his head sunk down upon his breast. He was evidently unconscious. When the surgeon came, it was found that a bullet had pierced the brain, inflicting a deadly wound. He was carried to a house close by. His family and the great officers of State, by whom he was dearly loved, sat around the bed of the dying President. He lingered till morning, breathing heavily, but in entire unconsciousness, and then he passed away.
At the same hour the President was murdered a ruffian broke into the sick-room of Mr. Seward, who was suffering from a recent accident, and stabbed him almost to death as he lay in bed. His bloody work was happily interrupted, and Mr. Seward recovered.
The assassin of Mr. Lincoln was an actor called Booth, a fanatical adherent of the fallen Confederacy. His leg was broken in the leap on to the stage, but he was able to reach a horse which stood ready at the theatre door. He rode through the city, crossed the Potomac by a bridge, in the face of the sentinels posted there, and passed safely beyond present pursuit. A week later he was found hid in a barn, and well armed. He refused to surrender, and was preparing to fire, when a soldier ended his miserable existence by a bullet.
The grief of the American people for their murdered President was beyond example deep and bitter. Perhaps for no man were there ever shed so profusely the tears of sorrow. Not in America alone, but in Europe also – where President Lincoln was at length understood and honoured – his loss was deeply mourned. It was resolved that he should be buried beside his old home in Illinois. The embalmed remains were to be conveyed to their distant resting-place by a route which would give to the people of the chief Northern cities a last opportunity to look upon the features of the man they loved so well. The sad procession moved on its long journey of nearly two thousand miles, traversing the States of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Everywhere, as the funeral train passed, the weeping people sought to give expression to their reverential sorrow. At the great cities the body lay in state, and all business was suspended.
At length Springfield was reached. The body was taken to the State House. His neighbours looked once more upon that well-remembered face, wasted, indeed, by years of anxious toil, but wearing still, as of old, its kind and placid expression.
Four years before, Lincoln said to his neighbours, when he was leaving them, “I know not how soon I shall see you again. I go to assume a task more difficult than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington.” He had nobly accomplished his task; and this was the manner of his home-coming.
The Great Rebellion was at an end. It was not closed by untimely concessions which left a discontented party, with its strength unbroken, ready to renew the contest at a more fitting time. It was fought out to the bitter end. The slave-power might be erring, but it was not weak. The conflict was closed by the utter exhaustion of one of the combatants. Lee did not surrender till his army was surrounded by the enemy and had been two days without food. The great questions which had been appealed to the sword were answered conclusively and for ever.
The cost had been very terrible. On the Northern side, two million seven hundred thousand men bore arms at some period of the war. Of these there died in battle, or in hospital of wounds received in battle, ninety-six thousand men. There died in hospital of disease, one hundred and eighty-four thousand. Many went home wounded, to die among the scenes of their infancy. Many went home stricken with lingering and mortal disease. Of these there is no record but in the sad memories which haunt nearly every Northern home.
The losses on the Southern side have not been accurately ascertained. The white population of the revolted States numbered about a fourth of the loyal Northern population. At the close of the war the North had a full million of men under arms. The Southern armies which surrendered numbered one hundred and seventy-five thousand. When to this is added the number who went home without awaiting the formality of surrender, it appears probable that the Southern armies bore to the Northern the same proportion that the population did. Presumably the loss bore a larger proportion, as the deaths from disease, owing to the greater hardships to be endured, must have been excessive in the rebel army. It must be under the truth to say that one hundred and fifty thousand Southerners perished in the field or in the hospital.
The war cost the North in money seven hundred million sterling. It is impossible to state what was the cost to the South. The Confederate debt was supposed to amount at the close to thirty-five hundred million dollars; but the dollar was of so uncertain value that no one can tell the equivalent in any sound currency. Besides this, there was the destruction of railroads, the burning of houses, the wasting of lands, and, above all, the emancipation of four million slaves, who had been purchased by their owners for three or four hundred million sterling. It has been estimated that the entire cost of the war, on both sides, was not less than eighteen hundred million pounds sterling.
Great wars ordinarily cost much and produce little. What results had the American people to show for their huge expenditure of blood and treasure?
They had freed themselves from the curse of slavery. That unhappy system made them a byword among Christian nations. It hindered the progress of the fairest section of the country. It implanted among the people hatreds which kept them continually on the verge of civil war. Slavery was now extinct.
For three-quarters of a century the belief possessed Southern minds that they owed allegiance to their State rather than to the Union. Each State was sovereign. Having to-day united itself with certain sister sovereignties, it was free to-morrow to withdraw and enter into new combinations. America was in this view no nation, but a mere incoherent concourse of independent powers. This question had been raised when the Constitution was framed, and it had been debated ever since. It was settled now. The blood shed in a hundred battles, from Manassas to Petersburg, expressed the esteem in which the Northern people held their national life. The doctrine of States’ Rights was conclusively refuted by the surrender of Lee’s army, and the right of America to be deemed a nation was established for ever.
It was often said during the war that republican institutions were upon their trial. It was possible for the war to have resulted so that government by the people would ever after have been deemed a failure. It has not been so. The Americans have proved conspicuously the capacity of a free people to guide their own destinies in war as well as in peace. They have shown that the dependence of the many upon the few is as unnecessary as it is humiliating. They have rung the knell of personal government, and given the world encouragement to hope that not the Anglo-Saxon race alone, but all other races of men will yet be found worthy to govern themselves.
Terrible as the cost of the war has been, have not its gains been greater? The men who gave their lives so willingly have not died in vain. America and the world will reap advantage, through many generations, by the blood so freely shed in the great war against the Southern slave-owners.
In all civil strifes, until now, the woe which waits upon the vanquished has been mercilessly inflicted. After resistance has ceased, the grim scaffold is set up, and brave men who have escaped the sword stoop to the fatal axe. It was assumed by many that the Americans would avenge themselves according to the ancient usage. Here, again, it was the privilege of America to present a noble example to other nations. Nearly every Northern man had lost relative or friend, but there was no cry for vengeance; there was no feeling of bitterness. Excepting in battle, no drop of blood was shed by the Northern people. The Great Republic had been not merely strong, resolute, enduring – it was also singularly and nobly humane.
Jefferson Davis fled southward on that memorable Sunday when the sexton of St. Paul’s Church handed to him General Lee’s message. He had need to be diligent, for a party of American cavalry were quickly upon his track. They followed him through gaunt pine wildernesses, across rivers and dreary swamps, past the huts of wondering settlers, until at length they came upon him near a little town in Georgia. May 10, 1865 A.D. They quietly surrounded his party. Davis assumed the garments of his wife, and the soldiers saw at first nothing more formidable than an elderly and not very well-dressed female. But the unfeminine boots which he wore led to closer inspection, and quickly the fallen President stood disclosed to his deriding enemies.