The Life and Legacy of Abraham Lincoln

More of this Feature

• Part 2: Up through the Ranks
• Part 3: Leader of the Free World
• Part 4: And in the End

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The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln Quotes
The Story of the Gettysburg Address
The Gettysburg Address: Structure and Style
Text of the Address
• The Battle of Gettysburg
• 
The Civil War
• More on Abraham Lincoln

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Part 4: And in the End

Speeches wouldn't win the war, though, and Lincoln knew it. In March 1864, frustrated again with his top commander's refusal to pursue the enemy, Lincoln named Grant as General-in-Chief of all Union armies. William T. Sherman became Commander in the West. Grant vowed to engage Lee's army again and again, and this he did, at Petersburg, and the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. At Cold Harbor, Grant ordered a direct assault on Lee's position, and the result was massive numbers of dead on both sides. In the immediate aftermath of this battle, Lincoln was nominated to run for re-election.

The election campaign was very much a referendum on the war effort. Residents of Southern states weren't voting, of course. In the North, public opinion was by no means 100 percent behind the war effort. Hoping to capitalize on this, the Democratic Party named Lincoln's former top general, McClellan, as its presidential candidate.

During the latter days of the election campaign, the Union troops began to deliver. Sherman captured Atlanta in September. Union General Philip Sheridan finally won a victory in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, in October. And Admiral David Farragut won control of Mobile Bay, giving the Union complete control of the Mississippi River. As a result, Lincoln won re-election, with 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 of the 233 available electoral votes. A month later, Sherman reached Savannah, ending his "March to the Sea," which devastated the land and the infrastructure in a 60-mile-wide path.

Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1865. Three weeks later, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, ending the war. Lincoln didn't get to enjoy much of it, however. On April 14, he was killed while watching a play at Ford's Theater, in Washington. The assassin was John Wilkes Booth, who escaped but was later hunted down. Lincoln's death was part of a larger plot, but no other high-ranking public officials were harmed in the end. Lincoln, shot in the head, lay in a coma most of the night and then died the next morning. His Vice-president, Andrew Johnson, became President.

In the aftermath of the war, the Union accepted the Confederate states' return while also passing a series of constitutional Amendments. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment extended the Fifth Amendment rights of citizenship, due process, and equal protection to the states and, therefore, former slaves. The Fifteenth Amendment extended to former slaves the right to vote. These Amendments were part of Lincoln's overall plan to reunite the country, called Reconstruction, which began as early as 1863 but went into full implementation after the war ended. Johnson attempted to carry out Lincoln's vision and was successful in part.

Abraham Lincoln is remembered for his determination to preserve the Union, his well-known speeches and political campaigns, and his tenacity in the face of prolonged depression, both personal and national. His steely resolve gave the Union and its armies the impetus to remain in the fight until the tide had returned, and his actions to improve the lives and prospects of former slaves are remembered to this day for their importance and their vision.

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