Tag Archives: Abraham Lincoln

The 1864 Elections: Aftermath

November 10, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech to serenaders after his reelection was confirmed.

Although all returns had not yet been received on the 9th, word spread throughout North and South that Lincoln had most likely won a second presidential term. Republicans and National Unionists rejoiced; George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary:

Laus Deo! The crisis has been past, and the most momentous popular election ever held since ballots were invented has decided against treason and disunion… The American people can be trusted to take care of the national honor.”

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, wrote his wife that the army vote totaled 13,500 for Lincoln and 5,500 for the beloved former army commander George B. McClellan. Meade also stirred up a minor controversy when it was reported that he did not vote himself. He wrote:

“It is probable that some zealous partisan has watched to see what I did. I cannot but be flattered that so much importance is attached to my action, particularly as nearly all other general officers, including Grant, did the same–that is, not vote.”

News of the election reached the Confederacy on the 10th, with an article published in the Richmond Dispatch:

“A well-known citizen of Fredericksburg, who entered the enemy’s lines below Richmond yesterday under flag of truce, was informed by a Yankee officer that Lincoln’s re-election was, beyond a doubt, a fact accomplished… They said Lincoln had been re-elected, and that we might prepare ourselves for four more years of war. Few of our people will be disappointed by the result of this election, since it is only what we have all expected. Had Lincoln allowed himself to have been beaten, he must have been either a fool or a patriot, neither of which his warmest friend nor bitterest foe has ever suspected him of being.”

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On the night of the 10th, Lincoln responded to a massive celebration on the White House lawn, speaking from a second floor window. Unlike the impromptu address that Lincoln delivered in the early hours after election night, this evening the president read from a manuscript. The president said:

“It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies…

“We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forgo, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us… Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.

“But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility.

“But the rebellion continues; and now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country? For my own part I have striven, and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.

“While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result… And now, let me close by asking three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen and their gallant and skillful commanders.”

As he turned from the window, Lincoln told his secretary John Hay, “Not very graceful, but I am growing old enough not to care much for the manner of doing things.”

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, congratulated Lincoln: “The election having passed off quietly, no bloodshed or riot throughout the land, is a victory worth more to the country than a battle won.” Grant later assured Lincoln, “All the troops now in the North will be hurried to the field.”

In his cabinet meeting, Lincoln revealed the sealed document he had asked his officers to sign without reading on August 23. This was Lincoln’s acknowledgement that he would likely lose the election, along with a pledge to help the new president-elect between the election and inauguration.

Lincoln’s victory did not stop Federal officials from persecuting political enemies. In Kentucky, a state that George B. McClellan easily won, authorities arrested three of his top supporters for alleged disloyalty. Among them was Lieutenant Governor Richard Jacob, who was banished to the Confederacy. An elector for McClellan and the editor of the Louisville Journal were also apprehended. Lincoln pardoned the latter two and lifted Jacob’s banishment in February 1865.

A Washington newspaper reported on the 17th that Lincoln told a Maryland committee that he was gratified at the election results, which confirmed “the policy he had pursued would be the best and the only one that could save the country.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11632, 11640; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13122-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 519; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 595-98; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q464

The 1864 Elections

November 8, 1864 – Abraham Lincoln won reelection, thus ensuring that the war to destroy the Confederacy and reunite the Union would continue.

The presidential election pitted the incumbent Lincoln, who pledged to prosecute the war until the Union was restored and slavery abolished, against Democrat George B. McClellan, his former general-in-chief. McClellan had alienated the peace wing of his party by pledging to prosecute the war until the Union was restored, but he was willing to negotiate with the southern states on all other questions, including slavery.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Election Day in Washington was rainy and gray. Government officials had been furloughed to go home and vote, leaving the capital empty and quiet. Prominent banker Henry D. Cooke observed that “the streets wear a quiet Sunday air–in the Department building(s), the empty corridors respond with hollow echoes to the foot fall of the solitary visitor; the hotels are almost tenantless, and the street cars drone lazily along the half-filled seats.”

The Lincoln administration also furloughed soldiers and sailors with the expectation that they would vote for Lincoln. As a result, over 150,000 soldiers and sailors in the Federal military cast ballots for who they wanted as their commander-in-chief. Lincoln even allowed party officials to use a boat on the Mississippi River to collect ballots from the crews of gunboats patrolling the waterway.

Lincoln and his fellow National Unionists were optimistic about their chances, but they expected the election to be close. The president told correspondent Noah Brooks, “I am just enough of a politician to know that there was not much doubt about the result of the Baltimore convention (which nominated Lincoln for reelection), but about this thing I am very far from being certain. I wish I were certain.”

Around 7 p.m., Lincoln and his secretary John Hay walked to the War Department to get the results from the telegraph office, but most results were delayed by storms. The initial messages trickling in indicated larger Republican majorities than expected. To Lincoln’s surprise, he won Philadelphia by 10,000 votes and Baltimore by 15,000. Regarding Maryland, Lincoln remarked, “All Hail, Free Maryland. That is superb!” Results from Boston showed Lincoln ahead by 5,000 votes.

As the night wore on, Lincoln passed the time between messages by reading funny stories from humorist Petroleum V. Nasby. This irritated Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, as Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana recalled:

“The idea that when the safety of the republic was thus as issue, when the control of an empire was to be determined by a few figures brought in by the telegraph, the leader, the man most deeply concerned, not merely for himself but for his country, could turn aside to read such balderdash and to laugh at such frivolous jests was, to his mind, repugnant, even damnable. He could not understand, apparently, that it was by the relief which these jests afforded to the strain of mind under which Lincoln had so long been living, and to the natural gloom of a melancholy and desponding temperament–this was Mr. Lincoln’s prevailing characteristic–that the safety and sanity of his intelligence were maintained and preserved.”

By midnight, dispatches indicated that Lincoln had won Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and all the New England states. Results from New York and Illinois would not come for another two days, but even without them, it was clear that Lincoln had won handily. Those on hand congratulated him, and he simply replied that he was “glad to be relieved of all suspense.”

A band serenaded the War Department at 2:30 a.m., and when Lincoln returned to the White House, a crowd had gathered and demanded a speech. Lincoln said:

“If I know my heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one, but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people’s resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity. I earnestly believe that the consequences of this day’s work… will be to the lasting advantage, if not to the very salvation, of the country.”

The Lincoln-Johnson ticket ultimately won 55 percent of the popular vote, or 400,000 more votes than the ticket of McClellan and anti-war Democrat George H. Pendleton. Lincoln won the Electoral College 212 to 21, with McClellan carrying only New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky. Soldiers voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, 116,887 to 33,748; Lincoln won eight of every 10 soldier votes in the western armies and seven of every 10 in McClellan’s old Army of the Potomac. This indicated that despite their love for McClellan, they wanted to finish the job they had been sent to do.

Democrats made the biggest gains in the major cities, and counties with large Irish and German-American populations. Their base continued to consist mostly of unskilled laborers, immigrant Catholics, border state slaveholders, and anti-war dissidents. Republicans won using the same successful formula from 1860–harnessing the voting power of native-born farmers, high-skilled workers, city professionals, young voters, abolitionists, and New Englanders.

Military victories at Mobile Bay, Atlanta, and the Shenandoah Valley contributed to Lincoln’s reelection. Radical Republican John C. Fremont’s withdrawal from the race also played a part, as did McClellan’s repudiation of his own party’s anti-war stance. McClellan did not express disappointment in defeat. Instead he wrote, “For my country’s sake I deplore the result…” and announced he would retire from the U.S. army.

In addition to Lincoln’s victory, Republicans or Unionists maintained strong majorities in both the House of Representatives (149 to 42) and the Senate (42 to 10). This further ensured that Lincoln’s policies would continue for at least another two years. On the state level, Republicans or Unionists won the governorships and legislatures in every northern state except the three that Lincoln lost (New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky).

Lincoln had the ability to influence the election with military furloughs, martial law, and suspension of habeas corpus. Charles Dana said that all “the power and influence of the War Department, then something enormous from the vast expenditure and extensive relations of the war, was employed to secure the re-election of Mr. Lincoln.” Yet despite all these resources at hand, Lincoln could only garner a 10 percent margin of victory in an election that excluded all southern states. On the flipside, even if the Confederate states had been allowed to vote, and all 81 electoral votes in those states went to McClellan, he still would have lost to Lincoln by over 100 votes.

Soldiers voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln, but ballots were not cast in secret and it was tacitly understood that Democratic military officers who criticized Lincoln could lose their commissions. Curiously, the soldier vote went strongly for McClellan in Kentucky (3,068 to 1,205), where Federal authorities did not supervise the polls. McClellan also soundly won that state’s total popular vote, 61,478 to 26,592. Lincoln lost his home county in Illinois (Sangamon), and all its neighboring counties. Most big cities favored McClellan, with New York City and Detroit voting three-to-one against Lincoln.

However, the soldier vote in favor of Lincoln proved the difference in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Indiana, and Illinois. Lincoln won the key state of New York by just 7,000 votes, and he won the states with the most electoral votes (New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio) by just 86,407 out of 1,774,131 ballots cast, or a margin of less than five percent. Missouri also went strongly for Lincoln, where Federal officials required voters to swear allegiance to the U.S. before casting ballots.

For Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln’s victory meant that he could take more military risks without fear of political consequences. These included more aggressive action against the Confederacy and the removal of incompetent political commanders. For most southerners, Lincoln’s reelection was no surprise, and it confirmed their belief that northerners supported the Federal subjugation of the South.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 507-08; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 183-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 543; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19810-26; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 484; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11582, 11603-25; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13096-137, 15248-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 518; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592, 594; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 804-05; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 333-34, 353; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q464

Prelude to the 1864 Federal Elections

November 7, 1864 – By November, most pundits believed that President Abraham Lincoln and his Republican party would win the upcoming elections. However, the Republicans were not taking any chances.

Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

In the presidential election, Lincoln ran for reelection on a “National Union” party ticket that included both Republicans and some War Democrats in a united front. Lincoln’s running mate was Andrew Johnson, the Democratic war governor of Tennessee who had been the only southern U.S. senator not to leave Congress when his state seceded.

Lincoln’s opponent was George B. McClellan, the popular former general-in-chief whom Lincoln had fired. McClellan had alienated political allies by repudiating his own party’s platform that called for peace at any cost, including southern independence and continuation of slavery.

The Republican-dominated National Unionists played up the recent military victories as reasons to reelect Lincoln. At a Cincinnati theater, prominent actor James E. Murdoch recited T. Buchanan Read’s latest poem celebrating Major General Philip Sheridan’s victory at Cedar Creek. Titled “Sheridan’s Ride,” it caused a sensation, and Republicans quickly used the poem to fuel their campaigns:

“Up from the South, at break of day

“Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay…

“But there is a road from Winchester town

“A good, broad highway leading down…

“Still sprang from these swift hoofs, thundering south

“The dust like smoke from the cannon’s mouth

“Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster

“Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster…”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton urged Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant not to provoke a major battle at Richmond or Petersburg out of fear that a military defeat could cost Lincoln the election. Similarly, it was suggested that Major General William T. Sherman wait until after the election to begin his march from Atlanta to the sea.

Every effort was made to furlough soldiers so they could go home and vote. For states allowing absentee voting, election officials were sent to the armies to collect the soldiers’ ballots. Lincoln was confident that the troops would vote for him, even though most who had served under McClellan still revered him.

Two days before the election, Major General John A. Dix, commanding the military department that included New York, announced that Confederate agents from Canada planned to burn New York City on Election Day. That same day, the U.S. State Department issued a communiqué:

“Information has been received from the British provinces to the effect that there is a conspiracy on foot to set fire to the principal cities in the Northern States on the day of the Presidential election.”

New York Gov Horatio Seymour | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

New York Governor Horatio Seymour, an administration opponent, tried calming fears by stating, “There is no reason to doubt that the coming election will be conducted with the usual quiet and order.” Nevertheless, administration officials dispatched Major General Benjamin F. Butler and 7,000 Federal troops to New York City and the harbor forts to supervise the election process. The military presence may have served as a not-so-subtle persuasion for undecided voters to back the National Unionists.

Even without potential panic in New York, Lincoln’s reelection seemed assured before Election Day. On the 7th, James Russell Lowell published “The Next General Election” in the influential North American Review. He supported Lincoln and denounced Democrat attempts to reconcile with southerners. He called Lincoln “a long-headed and long-purposed man” who had “shown from the first the considerate wisdom of a practical statesman.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 507-08; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 183-84; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 543; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19810-26; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-58; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 483; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11582, 11603-25; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12044-54, 13096-137, 15248-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 517; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592, 594; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 780; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 333-34, 353; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Loc 56359-62

From Cyrus Lewis, 1st Missouri Engineers

Letter from Cyrus H. Lewis of the 1st Missouri Engineers to his parents.

Head Qrts. 1st Regt. Engrs.

Mo. Vols.

Atlanta, Ga.

Nov. 3, 1864

DEAR FATHER AND MOTHER,

After a strong time of anxious waiting, I have again received from your hand a welcome letter bringing the pleasing intelligence of your good health and well being. Ah! If there is anything that will afford consolation and comfort to worn and wearied soldiers, it’s the reading of communications from parents and loved ones at home. It inspires the soldiers with more confidence and energy to press onward toward the grand ultimatum of this awful but magnificent warfare.

Union Flag | Image Credit: etseq.law.harvard.edu

Union Flag | Image Credit: etseq.law.harvard.edu

Awful, I say, because of the great destruction of life, and the deep mourning of the land. Magnificent because it is accomplishing the abolition of (that foul stain) human slavery and planting and cultivating in its stead the principals of true radical reform. Hence the great and paramount object the people should have in view is supporting the present administration and carrying to the presidential chair the very man who had presided over the government during the last four years of trial and warfare and who has always been found at the helm guiding and directing the great ship of our country.

The present issue is one of the greatest and most important in the history of our country or that the land has ever known. Here is life or death to our republican form of government and free institutions. If McClellan is elected, we will have peace but it will be upon the recognition of the damnable rotten Confederacy of the south. If such should be the case, I and a thousand would spend the rest of our days in fighting against it.

We have lived, prospered and been protected under a free government, and we wish to preserve the same for the welfare and happiness of our posterity. The welfare of millions yet unborn is dependent upon us, and thus far we are responsible for their welfare. It behooves us then to do all in our power to sustain the government. It is to be one on the 8th day of this month.

Father, I want no greater consolation than to know that you are going to support the government. If I have the privilege of voting, I am going to cast my vote for Lincoln and Johnson and for the people. I have read and studied the Chicago Platform, and I pronounce it treason of the darkest hue. They call it democracy and are holding it up to the people as democracy and are trying to make the people think it’s right by crying peace, peace, and talking about free speech, but when Mr. Murphy of Maryland opposed the nomination of McClellan at Chicago, they hissed him down and cried put him out, put him out. But since he could not say all that he wished to until he had knocked down two or three of his fellow democrats, I think it is a fair demonstration of their democracy.

It is like a thief feigning to be a clergyman or a wolf in lamb’s clothing. It seems that they have taken upon themselves the responsibility of damning to all eternity the black abolitionists and have gone so far as to pronounce the federal soldiers hessians and hirelings right in their face and, yes, of the militia at Chicago, and there was no resistance made. If it has come to such a test that militia will give consent to such views and proceedings by remaining silent, then it is high time that we were waking up to a quicker and keener sense of the duties involving upon as American citizens and soldiers for the maintenance of government and its laws, but perhaps I have already written too much upon this subject. Though it is one that I am deeply interested in, I will drop it, feeling that the hand of kind providence is lifted in behalf of our country.

We are now fitted out for a campaign of fifty days but we have no knowledge of our destination. We ill no doubt be entirely cut off from communicating with our friends for a time. Therefore you must not think it strange if you don’t hear from me for some time…

Yours In Truth,

CYRUS H. LEWIS TO

SAMUEL C. AND MARTHA LEWIS

AND ALL TRUE UNION PEOPLE

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Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 223-225

The 1864 Federal Election Campaign

October 31, 1864 – Party unity, statehood for Nevada, and recent military success worked to shift momentum in favor of President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection.

Campaign poster | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As the Federal elections approached, Lincoln’s chances for victory were much greater than they had been in the summer. Radical Republican John C. Fremont had dropped out of the race in September, and many Radicals and abolitionists who had supported Fremont now switched allegiances to Lincoln. This included the attendees of the National Convention of Colored Men, who gathered on the 4th in Syracuse, New York.

The convention included 144 delegates from 18 states. John S. Rock, a black attorney from Massachusetts, urged participants to support Lincoln over his Democratic challenger, George B. McClellan. Rock declared, “There are but two parties in the country today. The one headed by Lincoln is for Freedom and the Republic; and the other, by McClellan, is for Despotism and Slavery.” Prominent civil rights leader Frederick Douglass, who had opposed Lincoln’s moderate policies in the past, also voiced support for his reelection.

Meanwhile, Lincoln administration officials waged a campaign of fear designed to get voters to oppose anti-war candidates. Just a week before the early elections, Federal Judge-Advocate General Joseph Holt reported that the Sons of Liberty, an anti-war organization, was somehow being funded by the bankrupt Confederate government.

Democrats accused Holt of releasing a report filled with “absolute falsehoods and fabrications… too ridiculous to be given a moment’s credit.” Even Lincoln recognized that the Sons of Liberty was “a mere political organization, with about as much of malice (as of) puerility.” But anti-Federal conspiracies did exist (although on a much less influential level), and pro-Republican Union Leagues used this to scare voters into supporting pro-war candidates.

Early elections took place in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana on the 11th, and many believed that these would be a preview of what would happen in the rest of the states in November. Lincoln and other officials stayed near the telegraph in the War Department until after midnight awaiting returns. While waiting, Lincoln read passages from Nasby Papers, a comedic book about an uneducated Copperhead named Petroleum V. Nasby.

In the end, Lincoln and the Republican Party enjoyed more support than most expected. In Indiana, Republican Governor Oliver P. Morton won reelection, and Republicans won eight of the 11 congressional seats. Lincoln had urged Major General William T. Sherman to furlough his Indiana soldiers so they could go home and vote. Sherman responded by sending 29 Indiana regiments home, along with Major Generals John A. Logan and Francis P. Blair, Jr. (two former politicians) to urge voters to support the president and his party. Convalescing Indiana soldiers were taken from hospitals if they proved well enough to travel. This effort paid off.

In Ohio, Republicans gained 12 congressional seats and a 50,000-vote majority. The results in Pennsylvania were closer. Pennsylvania soldiers were allowed to submit absentee ballots, and when they were tallied a few days later, the Republicans won out. An editorial in Harper’s Weekly declared, “The October elections show that unless all human foresight fails, the election of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson is assured.”

Questionable electioneering tactics helped secure these victories. Each of Lincoln’s cabinet members was required to donate $250 to Republican candidates, and each employee of the Treasury, War Department, and Postal Department was to donate five percent of his salary. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton fired 30 War Department employees for either refusing to support the Republicans or failing to show enough enthusiasm for them.

Nevertheless, the soldier vote contributed to the Republican victories more than anything else. Acknowledging this, Lincoln told the 198th New York Volunteers, “While others differ with the Administration, and, perhaps, honestly, the soldiers generally have sustained it; they have not only fought right, but, so far as could be judged from their actions, they have voted right…”

Despite his success in these three states, Lincoln still worried that the results may not be so favorable in the rest of the North. Two days after the elections, he wrote out a scorecard in which he guessed that he would win 117 electoral votes, while the “Supposed Copperhead Vote” would give McClellan 114. Lincoln included Pennsylvania in McClellan’s total, not yet aware that the soldier vote would move that state into his column. Lincoln also supposed that McClellan would win New Jersey, Illinois, and all the border states (i.e., Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri).

In neighboring Maryland, an election took place to ratify a new state constitution, which included a 23rd article in the bill of rights: “All persons held to service or labor as slaves are hereby declared free.” Before the vote, Lincoln wrote influential Maryland politician Henry W. Hoffman, “I wish all men to be free. I wish the material prosperity of the already free which I feel sure the extinction of slavery would bring. I wish to see, in process of disappearing, that only thing which ever could bring this nation to civil war.”

Federal military officials were stationed at the polls to ensure that only men who had pledged loyalty to the U.S. could vote. When the votes were counted, the new constitution failed. However, Republican Governor Augustus Bradford declared that after counting the absentee soldier vote, the new constitution was approved by a vote of 30,174 to 29,799, or a majority of just 375. Only 59,973 total votes were cast, compared to 92,502 in the 1860 election.

Despite the dubious results, Marylanders who voted for the new constitution serenaded Lincoln at the White House. Referring to claims that McClellan would grant Confederate independence if elected, Lincoln told them, “I am struggling to maintain government, not to overthrow it. I am struggling especially to prevent others from overthrowing it.”

In Kentucky, Governor Thomas Bramlette tried preventing Federal military forces from influencing the election. He instructed county sheriffs to oppose Federals trying to suppress the Democratic vote, and if they could not, they were to terminate the election process because, “If you are unable to hold a free election, your duty is to hold none at all.”

Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, instructed Acting Master John K. Crosby to “proceed with the U.S.S. Harvest Moon under your command to Savannah River, Warsaw, Ossabaw, Sapelo, and Doboy, and communicate with the vessels there, in order to collect the sailors’ votes already distributed for that purpose. A number of ballots will be given you, in order to enable the men to vote.”

On the last day of the month, Nevada became the 36th state in accordance with a hurried act of Congress endorsed by Lincoln. The territory had less than 20 percent of the required population to become a state, but being heavily Republican, it was expected to contribute electoral votes in Lincoln’s favor.

Lincoln did not seem eager to make Nevada a state for his benefit; in fact, he exerted no influence to bring in the states being restored under his reconstruction plan (Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas) for the election. But he did hope to bring Nevada into the Union because it might add enough Republican representation in Congress to pass the proposed Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery.

With or without Nevada, as October ended, Lincoln’s reelection seemed a foregone conclusion.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19426-43; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 473, 475; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11503-15, 11537, 11593, 11603; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11786-807, 13117-27; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 505, 508-09, 516; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 661-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 582-83, 585-86, 588, 591; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 782-83, 804; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 523-24; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q464

The Battle of Chaffin’s Bluff

September 28, 1864 – Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding the Federal Army of the James, planned to send 20,000 men north to seize Confederate Forts Harrison and Gilmer, which made up a vital part of the Chaffin’s Bluff defenses southeast of the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia.

After Federal forces captured the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg in August, both sides returned to their siege lines and regrouped for much of September. Most of the action in Virginia this month occurred in the Shenandoah Valley, with Major General Philip Sheridan’s Federals scoring major victories over the Confederate Army of the Valley under Lieutenant General Jubal Early.

President Abraham Lincoln worried that General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg, would reinforce Early in the Valley. Lincoln wrote Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, “I hope it will lay no constraint on you, nor do harm anyway, for me to say I am a little afraid lest Lee sends re-enforcements to Early, and thus enables him to turn upon Sheridan.”

Grant replied, “I am taking steps to prevent Lee sending re-enforcements to Early by attacking him here.” This attack would consist of a two-pronged assault on Lee’s Confederates defending Richmond (i.e., their left flank) and those defending the South Side Railroad southwest of Petersburg (i.e., their right flank). Grant hoped to stretch the Confederate siege lines to their breaking point, thus leaving either Richmond, Petersburg, or both open to Federal capture.

Maj Gen B.F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Preparations for the attack on Richmond involved reuniting Butler’s army, which consisted of two infantry corps (X under Major General James B. Birney and XVIII under Major General E.O.C. Ord), and Brigadier General August V. Kautz’s cavalry. According to Butler’s plan:

  • Ord’s 8,000 troops would cross the James on a pontoon bridge and attack Forts Harrison and Gilmer at Richmond’s southern defenses near Chaffin’s Farm.
  • Birney’s 10,000 troops and Kautz’s horsemen would cross on Ord’s right, 18 miles downstream, and attack the Confederates’ easternmost defenses at New Market Heights.

Butler received intelligence (which proved correct) that the Confederate garrisons were lightly defended. Activity swirled around Butler’s headquarters the night before the attacks, as the commanders studied 16 pages of orders for this operation. A New York Times correspondent wrote, “Portents of a coming something were unmistakable. In all my experience, I never knew a plan to be kept so profoundly secret.”

Lee, whose army was spread dangerously thin already, began shifting troops from the Petersburg sector under Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson to reinforce Lieutenant General Richard Ewell’s Confederate defenders outside Richmond. However, Butler’s secrecy ensured that the Confederates did not know where (or even if) an attack would take place.

On the night of the 28th, Ord’s Federals crossed the James at Aiken’s Landing and headed up the Varina Road, while Birney’s men crossed at Deep Bottom. Birney had orders to turn the enemy right at New Market Heights; this would push the Confederates away from Forts Harrison and Gilmer so Ord could capture them. Just 2,000 unsuspecting Confederates held New Market Heights against Birney’s entire corps.

Map of fighting at New Market Heights | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Birney’s Federals advanced through the thick fog on the morning of the 29th. Brigadier General Charles J. Paine’s division led the assault, with a brigade of black troops in the frontline. The blacks charged unsupported, and many were either taken prisoner or killed after they surrendered. Birney regrouped and sent Paine’s troops forward again, this time supported by Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry’s division on their right. However, the Federals were stopped again by ferocious enemy fire.

As the Confederate fire slackened, the Federals launched a third charge that finally overran the works. But they soon learned that the Confederates had withdrawn because of the results of the fighting at Forts Harrison and Gilmer, not because of their charges. Paine’s division sustained 800 casualties, most of whom were black troops.

In Ord’s sector, the Federals had to charge over 1,400 yards of open ground, a desperate effort even with the benefit of fog. The Confederates were initially surprised by the enemy’s approach, but they quickly regrouped and poured heavy fire into the attackers. They killed hundreds of Federals in the first attack wave, including the wave commander, Brigadier General Hiram Burnham.

Federal charge on Fort Harrison | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The subsequent attack waves were disorganized, but their sheer numbers overwhelmed the Confederates, and the Federals seized Fort Harrison by 7:30 a.m. The Federals then turned south to attack Fort Gilmer, the key to the Chaffin’s Farm defense line. The Confederate defenders at Gilmer had heard the firing at Harrison and were ready. They held firm with support from Confederate gunboats on the James, wounding Ord in the process. He was temporarily replaced as corps commander by Brigadier General Charles A. Heckman, with Major General Godfrey Weitzel replacing Heckman the next day.

Meanwhile, Kautz’s cavalry advanced down the Darbytown Road, but Confederate artillery drove them back. As the day ended, the Federals held Fort Harrison and New Market Heights, but the Confederates retained Fort Gilmer as they fell back to stronger, more compact defenses.

Ewell notified Lee that Fort Harrison had fallen. Fearing that this would open the road to Richmond, Lee hurried reinforcements to that sector and asked General Braxton Bragg, advisor to President Jefferson Davis, to call out all Richmond militia. Lee considered launching a night attack to retake Harrison but opted to wait until the next day. He reported that night, “The enemy still hold Battery Harrison on the exterior line. Our loss is very small.”

Both sides disengaged for the night, with the Confederates forming a new defense perimeter and the Federals fortifying against an expected attempt to retake Harrison the next day. Lee sent eight infantry brigades numbering 10,000 men north of the James for the impending assault.

On the 30th, the entrenched Federals easily repelled four desperate Confederate charges. Lee personally directed three of the assaults, fearful that losing Harrison might collapse his left flank. Brigadier General George J. Stannard led the strong Federal defense before being severely wounded in the final attack. Meanwhile, Federals made another effort to capture Fort Gilmer. Four companies of the 7th U.S. Colored Troops lost about half their men as they reached the fort’s ramparts, but the Confederates ultimately drove them off.

The Confederates who could not reclaim Harrison fell back to works between the fort and Richmond, beyond Federal gun range near Chaffin’s Bluff. This eventually became an even stronger line than the original one. Lee reported the loss of Harrison to the Confederate War Department that evening, as well as the loss of about 2,000 men in the two-day contest.

The Federals sustained 3,327 casualties (383 killed, 2,299 wounded, and 645 missing) out of about 20,000 engaged. Black troops comprised 1,773 of the total casualties, and of the 16 Congressional Medals of Honor earned by black soldiers in the war, 14 were awarded for this battle alone.

While the Confederates were now behind stronger defenses, Lee had no more men to reinforce either the troops stretching southwest of Petersburg or the Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley. Only a lack of effective Federal coordination prevented a major breakthrough that could have opened a path to Richmond.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 138-48, 150, 155; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 464-65; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 11745-76; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 502-03; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7941-52, 7964; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 192; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 575-77; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 123-24; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177, 179-80, 393

The Shenandoah Valley: Sheridan Plans an Offensive

September 16, 1864 – Major General Philip Sheridan unveiled a plan to drive Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederates out of the Shenandoah Valley once and for all.

Maj. Gen. P.H. Sheridan | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As September began, Sheridan’s Federal Army of the Shenandoah began coming out of its defenses and moving down the Valley Turnpike toward Winchester. Early’s Army of the Valley blocked Sheridan at Bunker Hill, north of Winchester. The Confederates were reinforced by elements of Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s corps from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Both sides maneuvered and skirmished, with Early’s main force setting up at Stephenson’s Depot and Sheridan’s moving east of Winchester, between Berryville and Clifton. No major confrontation seemed imminent, so Anderson’s Confederates began heading east toward Snicker’s Gap; from there they were to move through the Blue Ridge and return to Lee’s army at Petersburg.

Anderson’s lead division under Major General Joseph B. Kershaw advanced toward Berryville, unaware that Sheridan had stationed Brigadier General George Crook’s VIII Corps there. The two forces collided near sunset on the 3rd. The Federals fell back but then regrouped and counterattacked. Kershaw disengaged for the night, and Early came up with three reinforcing divisions the next day. But as Early wrote after the war:

“I at first thought that I had reached his (Sheridan’s) right flank, and was about making arrangements to attack it, when casting my eye to my left, I discovered, as far as the eye could reach with the aid of field glasses, a line extending toward Summit Point. The position the enemy occupied was a strong one, and he was busily engaged fortifying it, having already made considerable progress. It was not until I had this view that I realized the size of the enemy’s force, and as I discovered that his line was too long for me to get around his flank, and the position was too strong to attack in front, I returned and informed General Anderson of the condition of things.”

The Confederates fell back west toward Winchester and took positions on high ground east of the Valley Turnpike. The Federal army doubled the size of Early’s, but Sheridan did not pursue the Confederates. This was mainly because Sheridan had to detach units to guard his supply lines, prevent raids into Maryland or Pennsylvania, and protect both the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Also, with the presidential election coming in two months, Sheridan did not want to risk jeopardizing Abraham Lincoln’s reelection with a defeat.

The two armies probed each other’s defenses for the next two weeks, looking for exploitable weaknesses but finding none. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, encouraged Sheridan on the 9th:

“I would not have you make an attack with the advantage against you, but would prefer just the course you seem to be pursuing–that is, pressing closely upon the enemy, and when he moves, follow him up, being ready at all time to pounce upon him if he detaches any considerable force.”

This strategy would prevent Early’s Confederates from reinforcing Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. But it would also allow Early to control the Valley, where his men could ensure the continued transfer of the rich harvests to Lee’s besieged forces at Petersburg.

Another three days of sparring prompted President Lincoln to write Grant: “Sheridan and Early are facing each other at a deadlock. Could we not pick up a regiment here and there, to the number of say 10,000 men, and quietly but suddenly concentrate them at Sheridan’s camp and enable him to make a strike? This is but a suggestion.” Grant replied that he intended “to see Sheridan and arrange what was necessary to enable him to start Early out of the Valley. It seems to me it can successfully be done.”

Meanwhile, Early held strong positions along Opequon Creek, and after delays, Anderson’s Confederates began leaving the Valley on the 14th to rejoin Lee, who desperately needed them on the Petersburg siege lines. That same day, Grant left Petersburg to confer with Sheridan at Charles Town.

Rumors quickly spread among Sheridan’s army that Anderson was leaving, but Sheridan informed Grant, “I have nothing new to report for yesterday or today. There is as yet no indication of Early’s detaching.” Sheridan asked his cavalry commanders to determine whether Early’s army had been weakened by Anderson’s departure. When they were slow in gathering information, Sheridan enlisted troops to serve as scouts and asked Crook if he knew of any civilians at Winchester who would be willing to provide intelligence.

Crook recommended Rebecca Wright, a Quaker teacher and known Unionist. Sheridan wrote her a letter of introduction, which was smuggled to her by a black messenger who wrapped it in tinfoil and carried it under his tongue. Wright read the message and answered: Anderson’s men and three batteries had returned to Petersburg, and Early’s reduced army was scattered around Winchester and highly vulnerable to attack.

This meant that Sheridan’s chance of defeat was greatly reduced. And news of William T. Sherman’s capture of Atlanta meant that even if Sheridan was defeated, Lincoln’s reelection bid was already gaining momentum. Sheridan therefore resolved to take the offensive, but to increase his chance of success even further, he would wait until Anderson’s Confederates were far enough away so they could not hurry back to help Early.

As Sheridan plotted his moves, Grant arrived in Charles Town and met with him at the Rutherford House. Grant had a specific plan in mind for Sheridan to drive Early out of the Valley and destroy Lee’s supply line. Worried that administration officials might reject this plan, Grant had bypassed Washington and traveled straight to Sheridan’s headquarters.

But before Grant could share his plan, Sheridan revealed one of his own. Most of his Federals would seize the Valley Turnpike at Newtown, below Winchester, while his cavalry would confront the small Confederate force in Winchester. The Federals would cut off Early’s supply lines and escape route, forcing him to fight on ground of Sheridan’s choosing.

According to Sheridan, Grant “neither discussed nor disclosed his plans, my knowledge of the situation striking him as being so much more accurate than his own.” Instead, Grant simply told Sheridan, “Go in.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 452-54, 458-60; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11585-616; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 492-95, 497; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 108-09; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 564-65, 569-70; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 776; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 677-79