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Radical secessionists were quick to act following the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. Scarcely one month later, calls to arms sounded across North and South. The immediate advantage in the contest lay with the South, particularly in the area of leadership, and had it been a short war, it doubtless would have ended with a Union defeat. Much of the credit for Northern tenacity can be attributed to President Lincoln, who preferred death in the cause of liberty over surrender.

To Lincoln, this democratic union of states represented the hope of America, and an example to the entire world. While deftly maintaining the support of Congress, Lincoln battled incompetence in military leadership. Finally, generals not afraid to confront the enemy emerged from the ranks, topped by Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. These were men who understood the brutality of war, and from that point forward, the tide of battle changed. The object of the overall struggle also changed. No longer was it only a war for the preservation of the Union, but both from desire and necessity, the war became a battle for liberty and freedom for slaves.

Call to Arms

President Lincoln struggled vigorously to avoid war. Realizing that whoever fired the first shot would lose moral ground, he was determined not to initiate the seemingly inevitable conflict. The Civil War began with the Southern bombardment of Fort Sumter, near Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12 and 13, 1861. Following the surrender of the fort, the northern states rallied behind Lincoln’s call for troops to preserve the Union.

Bombardment of Fort Sumter

In 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States. As more states followed suit and the Confederate States of America took shape, many federal installations in the South were taken over by state governments. Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, continued to fly the U.S. flag, even as Confederate forces surrounded it. Lincoln decided to resupply the fort but not reinforce it, unless resistance was met. After negotiations failed, the first shot was fired in the pre-dawn hours of April 12, 1861. Over the next 34 hours approximately 40,000 shells, many of them incendiary, landed on the fort, setting fire to its interior buildings and casements. Unable to mount an effective defense, the commander of the Fort Sumter garrison, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered with the honors of war.

Currier & Ives. Bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor: 12th & 13th of April, 1861. [New York]: Currier & Ives, [1861?]. Hand-colored lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (118.01) Digital ID # ppmsca-19520

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Port Royal Band Book

Brass bands flourished in the United States throughout the last half of the nineteenth century and were popular in both the North and South during the Civil War. In July 1861, cornetist Gustavus W. Ingals was commissioned to organize selected New Hampshire and Massachusetts musicians to become the band of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment. The band became one of the finest such ensembles and is now best remembered as the Port Royal Band because of an extensive duty tour at Port Royal Island, South Carolina. Its instruments consisted mostly of saxhorns—cornets and tubas—and they played largely from “part books,” like the one displayed here, designed for individual instruments.

“Hail to the Chief” from Port Royal Band Book, 1861–1865. Holograph part book. Music Division, Library of Congress (123) Digital ID # al0123

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Sketch of Charleston Harbor

This published “sketch” detailing Charleston fortifications provides insight as to how the city was able to withstand repeated attempts by Union warships to enter the harbor. Confederate forces did not evacuate Charleston until February 17, 1865, when they were in danger of losing their only escape route during General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”

W.A. Williams. Sketch of Charleston Harbor By W.A. Williams, Civil Engineer. Boston: L. Prang & Co., [186-?]. Lithograph map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (119) Digital ID # cw0385000

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Lincoln’s Call to Arms

Fort Sumter surrendered on April 13, 1861. The next day, a Sunday, Lincoln met with his cabinet and military officers and drafted this proclamation calling forth the militia “of the several states” to suppress the rebellion and maintain law and order. The president called for 75,000 militia to serve for 90 days, and also set July 4 as the date of a special meeting of Congress. Northerners received the proclamation with enthusiasm. To most Southerners it was an act of coercion and induced the four remaining slave states—Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina—to secede.

Abraham Lincoln. Proclamation by the president for calling up the militia, [April 15, 1861]. Holograph manuscript. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (120.00.01) Digital ID # al0120p1, al0120p2

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Message to Congress, July 4, 1861

In his lengthy and detailed address to Congress, Lincoln outlined the events that ignited the war. He also cast considerable light on his own view of the fundamental purpose of government. All who listened knew that the time for action had arrived, and senators and representatives voted in unison to increase by twenty-five percent the president’s request for both money and men to fight the war.

Abraham Lincoln. Message to Congress in Special Session, July 4, 1861. Holograph manuscript with pasted-on emendations. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (121.00.00) Digital ID # al0121p1a, al0121p1b, al0121p2, al0121p3, al0121p4, al0121p5, al0121p6, al0121p7

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General Irvin McDowell and Staff

West Point trained Brigadier General Irvin McDowell assumed command of the Union Department of Northeast Virginia in May 1861. The abandoned Lee Mansion served as his headquarters preceding the Union defeat in the battle referred to in the North as “First Bull Run” and in the South as “First Manassas.” McDowell’s subsequent performance as a division and corps commander did little to redeem his reputation, and he was eventually placed in virtual isolation as commander of the Department of the Pacific.

General Irvin McDowell and Staff, Arlington House, 1862. Albumen photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (126) Digital ID # ppmsca-19388

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Bull Run Campaign

This Confederate map, drawn by Captain Samuel P. Mitchell of the 1st Virginia Regiment, depicts the positions of troops, roads, and railroads during the Bull Run Campaign of 1861. Also noted are locations of battles and skirmishes, and the number of men killed and wounded on both sides. The battle was a jarring setback for the Union, one that shook the belief held by many Northerners that the Union could win the war quickly and at little cost.

F. W. Bornemann. Lithograph Sketch of the Country Occupied by the Federal & Confederate Armies on the 18th & 21st July 1861. Richmond: W. Hargrave White, [ca. 1861]. Lithograph map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (127) Digital ID # cw0566000

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“The Government is in Great Peril”

Publisher and political advisor Thurlow Weed’s dire assessment of the military and political situation in the North just five months into the war must have disturbed Lincoln. While Weed was far from battle, he was very close to the grim truth of the situation. However, despite his grave warnings, Weed was personally confident that the North had the power and will to preserve the government.

Thurlow Weed to Abraham Lincoln, August 18, 1861. Holograph letter. Abraham Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (125.00.00) Digital ID # al0125, al0125_01, al0125_02

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Battle Lampooned

This cartoon from a popular British weekly lampoons the performance of Union troops at the First Battle of Bull Run or First Manassas. Reacting to England’s support for the Confederacy, a few Northern newspapers called for an American invasion of Canada. The cartoon suggests that Great Britain had little to fear, as a mocking John Bull, Britain’s equivalent to Uncle Sam, chides Federals, who have abandoned their weapons as they flee toward Washington.

“How They Went to Take Canada” from Punch, August 17, 1861. Bound volume. General Collections, Library of Congress (124) Digital ID # al0124

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Battling Incompetence

Lincoln changed the command structure of the Union army several times before choosing Ulysses S. Grant as the general-in-chief who could lead Union forces to final victory. George McClellan, Lincoln’s first appointment as general-in-chief, was, even after Lincoln rescinded that higher appointment, the most popular commander of the Army of the Potomac, the main Union army in the East. But McClellan lost Lincoln’s confidence because of his reluctance to take offensive action. When the general failed to pursue the retreating Confederate army after the Battle of Antietam in 1862, Lincoln removed him from command. Under McClellan’s first two successors—Ambrose E. Burnside and Joseph Hooker—the failures mounted.

General War Order No. 1

After months of waiting, President Lincoln became convinced that General McClellan did not have a plan of attack on Confederate forces in Northern Virginia. General War Order No. 1, while directed at all Union land and naval forces, was also designed to spur McClellan into action. (Lincoln’s Special War Order No. 1, used on January 31, was specifically aimed at forcing McClellan to begin offensive operation in Virginia.). The day specified in both those war orders for this forward movement, George Washington’s birthday, bestowed a sense of purpose. However, because no attention was given to such variables as weather, transportation, communications, and logistics, it is difficult to believe that Lincoln expected much to happen.

Abraham Lincoln. General War Order No. 1, January 27, 1862. Holograph manuscript. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (133.00.00) Digital ID # al0133, al0133p1

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Peninsular Campaign in Virginia, 1862

The Peninsular Campaign, the first large-scale Union offensive in the East, took place in Virginia’s lower peninsula between March and July 1862. Leading the powerful Army of the Potomac, General George B. McClellan planned to capture Richmond by circumventing the forces protecting the Confederate capital. McClellan’s strategy succeeded until Robert E. Lee took command of those defending forces (renaming them the Army of Northern Virginia) and turned the operation into a humiliating Union defeat. J. Knowles Hare’s map of Richmond and vicinity is a post-mortem on the Peninsular Campaign. Not only does the map detail the location and dates of battles, it also shows General McClellan’s well-conducted “Union retreat.”

J. Knowles Hare. Hare’s Map of the Vicinity of Richmond, and Peninsular Campaign in Virginia. . . . New York: 1862. Lithograph map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (134) Digital ID # cw0602000

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“Distinct and Different Plans”

General George B. McClellan stated his objections to the president’s Special War Order No. 1 in a lengthy letter to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Lincoln read the letter and, in deference to McClellan’s supposed superior knowledge in military affairs, attempted to engage his general in reasoned discourse. In the end, however, Lincoln allowed McClellan to have his way, with disastrous results.

Abraham Lincoln to General George B. McClellan, February 3, 1862. Manuscript letter [copy in the hand of Secretary of War Stanton]. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (135) Digital ID # al0135

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General George Brinton McClellan

General George B. McClellan’s victory at the little known battle of Rich Mountain, West Virginia, just ten days before the Union disaster at First Bull Run, made him the logical candidate to replace the disgraced General Irvin McDowell. McClellan’s credentials as a war leader seemed impeccable, and he proved an excellent organizer and administrator. However, to the dismay of almost the entire nation, the “Little Napoleon,” as he was popularly known, demonstrated little fighting spirit.

Mathew. B. Brady. Gen’l. Geo. B. McClellan, 1861. Carte-de-visite photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (130) Digital ID # ppmsca-19389

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Special Order No. 191

Following his tactical success in the Battle of Second Manassas (Second Bull Run, August 28–30, 1862), Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia into western Maryland to secure supplies and recruits—and in the vain hope of winning its people to the Confederate cause. His Special Order No. 191, popularly known as “Lee’s Lost Order,” was discovered by Union troops at an abandoned Confederate campsite near Frederick and turned over to McClellan. Armed with the knowledge that Lee had divided his forces, McClellan realized he could destroy Lee’s army piece by piece. However, once again McClellan’s overly cautious nature proved his undoing, giving Lee enough time to reconcentrate his forces.

Robert E. Lee. Special Order No. 191, September 9, 1862. Holograph manuscript. George McClellan Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (143.00.00) Digital ID # al0143, al0143p1

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Walt Whitman’s Civil War Diary

In December 1862 Whitman saw the name of his brother George, a member of the 51st New York Infantry, listed among the wounded at Fredericksburg. Whitman rushed from Brooklyn to the Washington area to search the hospitals and encampments for George. During this indoctrination to the ghastly consequences of warfare, he began to make acquaintance of the soldiers and recorded accounts of those who had served in battle. Here Whitman recounts the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam.

Walt Whitman. Diary kept during the Civil War, 1862. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (147) Digital ID # ww0024a

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Lincoln on the Antietam Battlefield

Frustrated by General McClellan’s hesitation to pursue a badly battered Confederate Army following the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln visited the battlefield to impress upon the general the need to aggressively pursue Lee’s army. McClellan continued his cautious pursuit, and Lincoln subsequently replaced him with General Ambrose Burnside.

Alexander Gardner. “President Lincoln of Battle-field of Antietam, October 3, 1862” from Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War, 1863. Albumen print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (146) Digital ID # ppmsca-12544

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Battle of Antietam

The battle along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, proved to be the bloodiest single day of the entire war. Casualties on both sides numbered more than 26,000. Although not a clear Union victory, the fact that General Lee had been forced to lead his army back to Virginia constituted a reversal of fortune for the North. President Lincoln had been waiting for a strong showing by the Union troops before issuing his preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation, which he did five days later.

Alexander Gardner. Antietam, Maryland, Confederate dead by a fence on the Hagerstown road, September 1862. Facsimile. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (145) Digital ID # cwpb-01097

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Lincoln Fires McClellan

In response to Lincoln’s concern about the slow pace of the Union troops under General George McClellan, the general responded “You may find those who will go faster than I, Mr. President; but it is very doubtful if you will find many who will go further.” In this letter, Mary Todd Lincoln, who believed her great antipathy to the general was shared by the public, strongly hinted to Lincoln about removing McClellan from command. Whether she influenced her husband’s decision is unknown, but on November 5, 1862, Lincoln placed the Union forces under the command of General Ambrose Burnside.

Mary Lincoln to Abraham Lincoln, November 2, 1862. Holograph letter. Abraham Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (149.00.01) Digital ID # al0149p1, al0149p2, al0149p3, al0149p4

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Sketch of the Battle of Fredericksburg

This map of the battle of Fredericksburg was compiled by Confederate topographical engineer Jedediah Hotchkiss and records the disposition of Union and Confederate forces on December 13, 1862. The map also gives the names of field commanders, the positions of generals’ headquarters, roads, railroad lines, houses, and the names of some residents.

William Willis Blackford. Sketch of the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13th, 1862. Pen, ink, and pencil map mounted on cloth. Jedediah Hotchkiss Map Collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (164) Digital ID # cwh00123

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“Experience Enough to Know”

When news of her father’s death in battle reached Mary Frances “Fanny” McCullough of Bloomington, Illinois, she became so depressed that family and friends feared for her life. A pretty and normally vivacious twenty-one-year-old, Fanny withdrew to her room and would neither eat nor sleep. Abraham Lincoln had bounced Fanny on his knee as a child while he visited the home of Lieutenant Colonel William McCullough during his days as a lawyer on the Eighth Illinois Circuit, and knowing this, Judge David Davis, also a resident of Bloomington, asked the president to write Fanny on the family’s behalf. The result was one of the most touching condolence letters ever conceived.

Abraham Lincoln to Fanny McCullough, December 23, 1862. Holograph letter. On loan from the Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation (150.00.01) Digital ID # al0150a, al0150b

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Major General Ambrose E. Burnside

In his memoir of the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant characterized the physically impressive Ambrose E. Burnside as an officer who was generally liked and respected, but not fit to command an army. Unfortunately, this opinion was not shared by the Lincoln administration, which pressured Burnside to assume command of the Army of the Potomac. The result was an ill-advised frontal assault on well-positioned Confederate troops at the Battle of Fredericksburg, which cost the Union more than 12,700 casualties.

Gen’l. Burnside, ca. 1861. Carte-de-visite photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (162) Digital ID # ppmsca-19392

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Hooker Appointed Commander

By January 1863, Lincoln had recognized that General Burnside had lost the confidence of the army. Summoning Joseph Hooker to the White House, he named him the new head of the Army of the Potomac. President Lincoln used the opportunity to warn Hooker that his earlier criticism of General Burnside, and the withholding of his support, had undermined the morale of the troops he now commanded. Aware of Hooker’s weaknesses as well as his demonstrated fighting ability, in crafting this letter, Lincoln attempted to counsel his new commander.

Abraham Lincoln to General Joseph Hooker, January 26, 1863. Holograph letter. Alfred Whital Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (166) Digital ID # al0166

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Major General Joseph Hooker

Politics, partisanship, and indecision combined briefly in the career of General Joseph Hooker to ruin an otherwise brilliant military record. Few questioned the courage of “Fighting Joe,” as the general was popularly known, but because of his personal conduct he developed about as many enemies to the rear as he had on the front. The final blow was his mismanagement of troops in the Battle of Chancellorsville, which cost him the battle and the confidence of President Lincoln.

Major General Joseph Hooker. Carte-de-visite photograph, between 1861 and 1865. Civil War Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (165) Digital ID # cph-3c11519

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The Army of the Potomac

April 1863 provided a brief respite for the weary president. With Congress in adjournment and preparations for the spring campaign well underway, Lincoln gathered a small entourage aboard the Carrie Martin and sailed down the Potomac River to visit the headquarters of General Joseph Hooker. To his delight, he found the Army of the Potomac in excellent condition. Morale had been rebuilt, as is evident in this drawing by Civil War artist Edwin Forbes. However, whatever reassurance Lincoln gained from his review of the Union cavalry may have been offset by talk of flanking Lee’s army to get to Richmond.

Edwin Forbes. President Lincoln Reviewing the Army of the Potomac on Monday, April 6, 1863. Graphite drawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (168) Digital ID # ppmsca-19523

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Lincoln Redirects Hooker’s Strategy

Although invigorated by reviewing and talking with the troops, Lincoln had traveled to the Army of the Potomac’s encampment principally to meet with General Hooker. Early in the war, the president, acutely aware of his limited experience in military matters, had tended to defer to his generals. By 1863, however, he was armed with knowledge gained from his study of military science—and from his own, and his generals’, costly mistakes. After Hooker spoke repeatedly of moving against the Confederate capital, Richmond, Lincoln wrote a memorandum to the general pointing out that the Army of the Potomac and Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia were “face to face with a narrow river between them,” and stressing that Hooker’s main objective must be to "harrass and menace" and, when the opportunity arose, “pitch into” Lee’s Confederate force.

Abraham Lincoln to General Joseph Hooker, [April 6, 1863]. Holograph letter. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (167) Digital ID # al0167

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Emancipation Proclamation

Almost as soon as Lincoln took office, abolitionists and radical Republicans began pressuring the president to issue an emancipation proclamation. Lincoln hesitated for fear of jeopardizing the fragile Union coalition that included slave-owning, border states. Nearly two years after taking the oath of office, on January 1, 1863, he issued the final Emancipation Proclamation that declared that all slaves within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”  Tying emancipation directly to military victory, this crucially important document marked the expansion of Northern war aims to include emancipation along with preservation of the Union, thus altering the nature of the war. Lincoln considered the document his greatest achievement.

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Draft of the Emancipation Proclamation

On July 13, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln consulted secretaries William H. Seward and Gideon Welles on the particulars of the Emancipation Proclamation. Both men were speechless. Seward anticipated anarchy in the South and perhaps foreign intervention in the war. Seeing that Welles was even more confused, Lincoln let the matter rest, but on July 22 he presented this draft proclamation to the full cabinet, to mixed reactions. Cabinet secretaries Stanton and Bates advocated the document’s immediate release. Chase was cool to the idea, fearing it would result in widespread disorder. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair was in opposition and believed that it would lead to Republican defeat in the coming fall congressional elections. Seward and Caleb Smith also opposed the measure. Lincoln again dropped the issue; however, it was clear to his advisors that he was set on issuing an emancipation proclamation by year’s end.

Abraham Lincoln. Initial draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, July 22, 1862. Holograph manuscript. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (153.00.00) Digital ID # al0153p1, al0153p2

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Final Version of the Emancipation Proclamation

President Lincoln issued the first printing of the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation as an order from the commander-in-chief to the armed forces. Because the president had direct control over the army, it was unnecessary to go through Congress to activate the proclamation. The preliminary version differs from this final version of January 1, 1863, by placing a greater emphasis on the preservation of the Union as the motivating force behind the proclamation.

Abraham Lincoln. Emancipation Proclamation Issued by the President of the United States, Issued January 1st, 1863. Washington, D.C.: Gideon & Pearson, 1863. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (155) Digital ID # al0155

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Lincoln Reads the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet

Lincoln withheld the Emancipation Proclamation he drafted in July 1862 until a favorable turn in military events. Encouraged by the repulse of the Confederate forces at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, on September 22 he presented his preliminary version of the proclamation to his Cabinet. Chase recorded the momentous occasion and quoted the president as declaring “my mind has been much occupied with this subject . . . I think the time has come now.” Lincoln issued the preliminary proclamation that same day.

Salmon P. Chase. Holograph journal, open to September 22, 1862. Salmon Chase Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (154) Digital ID # al0154

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Emancipation of the Slaves

Disappointed by the reaction of most Cabinet members to his initial draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in July 1862, President Lincoln waited exactly two months before issuing what has come to be known as the “Preliminary” Proclamation, the original of which is in the New York State Library in Albany. This lithograph celebrating the event is undated, but it was probably published in the fall of 1862.

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An Arrival in Camp—Under the Proclamation of Emancipation

As Union armies moved into the South, thousands of slaves fled to their military camps. Although some Union officers sent the runaways back to their masters, others allowed them to remain with the troops, using them as a work force and considering them “contraband of war.” Artist Alfred Waud made this sketch of wandering freedmen from a photograph the day the final Emancipation Proclamation was issued, January 1, 1863. The sketch was published in Harper’s Weekly on January 31, 1863.

Alfred R. Waud. An Arrival at Camp—Under the Proclamation of Emancipation, January 1863. Pencil and Chinese white drawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (157) Digital ID # ppmsca-09900

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Lincoln Defends the Emancipation Proclamation

On March 26, 1864, former Senator Archibald Dixon, Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, and Albert G. Hodges, editor of the Frankfort, Kentucky, Commonwealth, met with Lincoln to discuss the recruitment of slaves as soldiers in Kentucky. Considerable dissatisfaction had arisen in the Blue Grass state because, although the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply in the border states, runaway slaves could gain their freedom through military service. Lincoln heard the group’s complaints but persuasively outlined the benefits of allowing blacks to serve in the federal army. Hodges was so convinced that he asked the president to put his arguments in writing. The result is perhaps Lincoln’s most candid statement on slavery.

Abraham Lincoln to Albert Hodges, April 4, 1864. Holograph letter. Abraham Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (160.00.01) Digital ID # al0160p1, al0160p2, al0160p3

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A Southern View

During the Civil War, no artist attacked the Northern war effort more savagely than the satirical printmaker and Southern sympathizer Adalbert J. Volck. A dentist in Baltimore, a city which harbored strong secessionist sentiment, Volck covertly published numerous scathing caricatures of Union leaders, including this portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln as the Devil himself, composing the Emancipation Proclamation while trampling on the United States Constitution.

Adalbert J. Volck. “Caricature of Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation,” from V. Blada’s War Sketches. Baltimore, 1864. Alfred Whital Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (161) Digital ID # al0161

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“Broken eggs can not be mended”

Lincoln had a long and somewhat complicated relationship with General John McClernand. The fact that the two men were so well acquainted accounts for this tempered response to a report by McClernand that declared the white people in the South looked upon the recently issued Emancipation Proclamation as an attempt to enslave or exterminate them. Lincoln’s underlying anger is evident as he attempts to defend an action that many of the North praised.

Abraham Lincoln to General John A. McClernand, January 8, 1863. Holograph letter. On loan from the Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation (158.00.01) Digital ID # al0158_01, al0158_02

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Success through Trial and Error

During the first years of the war, Lincoln struggled to find a commander who would attack the Confederate armies aggressively. In 1863, Ulysses S. Grant led a successful campaign against Vicksburg, Mississippi, thereby securing Union control of the Mississippi River. In March 1864, Lincoln named Grant commander of the Union armies. Grant carried out a strategy of simultaneous attacks on the South’s economy as well as its armies. On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army of Northern Virginia, effectively ending the war.

Union Victories, 1863

On April 16, 1863, Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fleet successfully fought its way past Vicksburg’s Confederate batteries toward a rendezvous with Grant’s troops south of the city, a key event in the eventual Union capture of this pivotal Confederate bastion. The nearly simultaneous Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg were the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. After Gettysburg, Lee’s forces never regained enough strength to seriously threaten the North. The fall of Vicksburg re-opened the Midwest to trade with the outside world and allowed the Union forces of General Ulysses S. Grant to operate virtually unopposed in the deep South.

Admiral Porter’s Fleet Running the Rebel Blockade of the Mississippi at Vicksburg, April 16th, 1863. New York: Currier & Ives, 1863. Lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (175) Digital ID # ppmsca-19399

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Vicksburg Daily Citizen

Vicksburg, Mississippi, like many Southern cities, suffered acutely from the ravages of the Civil War. However, this final edition of the Vicksburg Daily Citizen attests to the determination of the city’s defenders. This issue of the Confederate newspaper is printed on the back of wallpaper, supplies of every kind having been exhausted during the long and difficult siege. The defiant spirit is still in evidence on July 2 as the paper reads: “The Yankee Generalissimo surnamed Grant has expressed his intention of dining in Vicksburg on the Fourth of July. . . . Ulysses must get into the city before he dines in it.” Vicksburg surrendered two days later.

Vicksburg Daily Citizen, July 2, 1863. Vicksburg, Mississippi. Newspaper printed on wallpaper. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (176.00.01) Digital ID # vc46a.4p1, vc46a.4p2

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Field of Gettysburg

For the first three days of July 1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, became the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, when General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia clashed with the Union Army of the Potomac, led by General George Meade. This oval-shaped map depicts the positions occupied by both Union and Confederate troops and artillery throughout the three-day battle, along with roads, railways, and homes with the names of residents.

Theodore Ditterline. “Field of Gettysburg, July 1st, 2nd, & 3rd, 1863” from Sketch of the Battles of Gettysburg. . . . New York: C. Alvord, 1863. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (171.01) Digital ID # cw0331000

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Major General George Gordon Meade

General Hooker’s poor performance in the Battle of Chancellorsville proved his undoing, and President Lincoln was again forced to find a replacement to lead the Army of the Potomac. The choice fell on a career officer named George Gordon Meade. To his credit, Meade demonstrated conspicuous courage in the Battle of Gettysburg, which occurred just two days after he assumed command. However, he, too, lacked the aggressive spirit that Lincoln knew was necessary to achieve a Northern victory and preserve the Union. Meade soon found himself under the watchful and authoritative eye of the new Union general-in-chief, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, who established his headquarters with Meade’s army—and saluted Meade’s command abilities in his postwar memoir.

George Gordon Meade, Major General, United States Army (1815–1872). Philadelphia: Henszey & Co., [ca. 1864]. Carte-de-visite photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (170) Digital ID # ppmsca-19398

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Lincoln Criticizes General Meade

Following the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln penned this sharp criticism of General Meade’s failure to pursue Lee immediately. Possibly written in an effort to gain control of Lincoln’s own emotions, the letter was never sent. It is likely that Lincoln knew that the end result would be Meade’s resignation, and he had run out of generals qualified, and available, to command the Army of the Potomac.

Abraham Lincoln to George Meade, July 14, 1863. Holograph letter. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (174.00.01) Digital ID # al0174p1, al0174p2, al0174p3

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General View of the Union Lines

New York artist Edwin Forbes covered the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Civil War sketch artists traveled with the armies, sharing the dangers and hardships of soldiers in the field. This painting depicts a camp scene on Little Round Top shortly before the ill-fated Confederate attack known as “Pickett’s Charge.”

Edwin Forbes. General View of the Union Lines on the Morning of July 3, 10 AM, During the Attack of Johnston’s Div. C.S.A. Oil painting, between 1865 and 1895. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (172) Digital ID # cph-3b52476

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Gettysburg Address

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Gettysburg Address

This document represents the earliest known of the five drafts of what may be the most famous American speech. Delivered by President Abraham Lincoln in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, at the dedication of a memorial cemetery on November 19, 1863, it is now familiarly known as “The Gettysburg Address.” Drawing inspiration from his favorite historical document, the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln equated the catastrophic suffering caused by the Civil War with the efforts of the American people to live up to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” This document is presumed to be the only working, or pre-delivery, draft and is commonly identified as the “Nicolay Copy” because it was once owned by John George Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary. The first page is on White House (then Executive Mansion) stationery, lending strong support to the theory that it was drafted in Washington, D.C. But the second page is on what has been loosely described as foolscap, suggesting that Lincoln was not fully satisfied with the final paragraph of the Address and rewrote that passage in Gettysburg on November 19 while staying at the home of Judge David Wills.

Abraham Lincoln. “Nicolay Copy” of the Gettysburg Address, 1863. Holograph manuscript. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (186.00.01) Digital ID # al0186p1, al0186p2

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Lincoln’s Gettysburg Invitation

Judge David Wills’s letter to Abraham Lincoln is the official invitation to the president to participate in the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Wills carefully explained to Lincoln that the proposed cemetery was planned and financed by states having soldiers buried at Gettysburg. Wills, who had conceived the idea of a national cemetery and had organized the dedication, made it equally clear to the president that he would have only a small part in the ceremonies. Although there is some evidence Lincoln expected Wills’s letter, its late date makes the author appear presumptuous, especially when one realizes that Edward Everett, the principal speaker for the occasion, received his invitation in September.

Judge David Wills to Abraham Lincoln, November 2, 1863. Holograph letter. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (181.00.01) Digital ID # al0181p1, al0181p2, al0181p3

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Dedication Ceremony, November 19, 1863

Lincoln is pictured in the center of the platform, hatless with his bodyguard, Ward Lamon, and Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s private secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, orator Edward Everett, and Gettysburg attorney and organizer David Wills may be among those near the president.

Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, November 19, 1863. Facsimile from glass plate negative. Brady-Handy Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (185) Digital ID # cwpb-07639

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End in Sight

By early 1865, the Civil War was drawing to an end. Much of the Southern landscape was devastated, the Southern economy was shattered, and the demoralized Confederates saw little chance of winning. After four years of fighting and the death of 620,000 soldiers—more than in all other American wars combined—both Northerners and Southerners were relieved when the bloody conflict ended. However, despite Lincoln’s appeal for unity and forgiveness in his second inaugural address, Southern whites were justifiably concerned as to how the victorious Federal government, which was rapidly falling under the control of Northern radical Republicans, would deal with them.

Ulysses S. Grant’s Commission as Lieutenant General

President Lincoln summoned General Grant to the White House for consultation concerning the war, and he used the opportunity to personally award Grant the highest military rank the nation had to offer. Congress had acted with unusual haste to revive the rank of lieutenant general, to which no U.S. Army officer except George Washington had been promoted before on a permanent basis.

Abraham Lincoln. Ulysses S. Grant’s commission as Lieutenant General, March 10, 1864. Holograph manuscript. Ulysses S. Grant Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (192) Digital ID # al0192

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Map of 1864 Military Campaign

The routes of marches and the sites of battles fought by several army corps during Lieutenant General Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign in Virginia are clearly shown on the above map. Compiled and drawn by Charles Sholl, a civil and topographical engineer with the Army of the Potomac, the map was published in New York by Captain R. Chauncy.

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The War Takes its Toll on Lincoln

Military leaders cannot escape the burdens of war, and nowhere are the multiple responsibilities of military leadership more heavily felt than at the highest level of command. The casualties suffered by the forces of General Ulysses S. Grant during the 1864 Overland Campaign in Virginia exceeded expectations, and this letter by President Lincoln, written as the Battle of the Wilderness concluded, provides a rare glimpse of the pain Lincoln felt.

Abraham Lincoln to an unnamed correspondent, May 7, 1864. Holograph letter. On loan from a private collector (193) Digital ID # al0193

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General Sherman Reviewing his Army

On December 23, 1864, the Union Army under the command of General William T. Sherman captured and occupied Savannah, Georgia. Civil War artist William Waud sketched Sherman reviewing his army in Savannah before moving on to his next campaigns in South and North Carolina. Sherman’s review took place on Bay Street in front of the Customs House. The mounted officers directly behind Sherman are identified by Waud as Generals Alpheus S. Williams, John A. Logan, Henry W. Slocum, John W. Geary, Charles R. Woods, and John E. Smith.

William Waud. General Sherman Reviewing his Army in Savannah before Starting on his New Campaign, [December 1864–January 1865]. Pencil drawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (198) Digital ID # ppmsca-09919

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Sherman’s Christmas Gift to Lincoln

After greatly boosting Union morale by occupying the vital Confederate railroad center of Atlanta, Georgia, Major General William T. Sherman, who had assumed command of the western armies after Grant’s promotion to general-in-chief, proposed a daring operation to which Grant and Lincoln somewhat hesitantly agreed. Leading 62,000 troops divided into two main columns, Sherman embarked on a “March to the Sea.” The general intended to make the Confederates “howl” by having his men confiscate or destroy all materials useful to the Southern war effort as they marched across nearly 300 miles of hostile Georgia toward the port city of Savannah. Out of touch with the North and living largely off the land, Sherman and his forces kept Lincoln in suspense regarding the success of this operation for thirty-two days. December 22, Sherman relieved the president’s anxiety, and sparked renewed celebrations in the North, with a message dispatched by telegraph: “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah.”

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  • Abraham Lincoln to William T. Sherman, December 26, 1864. Holograph letter. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (197.00.00) Digital ID # al0197p1, al0197p2

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  • William T. Sherman to Abraham Lincoln, December 22, 1864. Telegraph message. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (196) Digital ID # al0196

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