Builders of our Country Vol. II - G. Southworth

President Lincoln and The Civil War


Although Lincoln was elected President in November, 1860, he was not inaugurated until March, 1861. In those four months great changes took place in the South.

When the thirteen American colonies joined together to form the United States, slavery was general. One by one, however, the Northern States became convinced that slavery was doing them more harm than good. So slavery was abolished in the North. The South still held to it.

Then having recognized the evils of the slave system, the North naturally wanted to keep it out of any new states which might come into the Union. The South, on the other hand, saw no harm in holding slaves and wanted slavery spread into America's western lands. At last, through this struggle for the control of the new states, the South came to believe that the North meant to crush slavery even in those of the original thirteen states which still favored it.

This was not true. And time and again Mr. Lincoln and the Republican party which elected him stated that their great desire and firm purpose was to shut slavery from the new states, not to interfere with it in the South.

Still the South persisted in believing that their theory was right. And the very month after Lincoln's election, South Carolina withdrew from the Union. By the 1st of February six other slave states had followed South Carolina's example, and before many days these seven had formed a government of their own and named themselves, The Confederate States of America.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - II by G. Southworth


The six states to follow South Carolina from the Union were Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. A few months later Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee joined the Confederate State and raised their new flag in place of the stars and stripes.

No sooner had the seven Southern States declared themselves out of the Union than they began to seize upon the United States forts and arsenals within their limits. This was the state of affairs when Abraham Lincoln left Springfield and journeyed to Washington, where he was inaugurated on the 4th of March, 1861.

The new President fully realized the gravity of the responsibility which had fallen upon him. In his inaugural address he went over the situation. But while he denied the right of the Southern States to secede from the Union and vowed to do all in his power to "preserve, protect, and defend it," he assured the Southern sympathizers that if civil war came it would be the South that would start it.

One month went by, and then the South put a final end to all hope of peace between herself and the North. A Southern general demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. The officer in charge refused. Whereupon, on April 12th, Southern batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter and kept on firing until the fort was surrendered.

Charleston Harbor


This was too much. The North was ablaze with resentment. So when Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand men to defend the Union, more than ninety thousand enlisted. The first call for troops was quickly followed by another, and from the Northern States men came marching to the tunes of "Rally round the flag, boys" and "We are coming, Father Abraham, five hundred thousand strong." Washington was turned into a veritable camp and put into a state of defense.

So, too, the men of the South were hurrying to join the Confederate army and rushing to the protection of Richmond, the capital of the Confederate States.

"On to Washington!" was the cry of the South. "On to Richmond!" rang throughout the North.

JULY, 1861—SEPTEMBER, 1862

In July, 1861, the two armies met on the banks of the little Virginia stream, Bull Run. In the beginning the Confederates fell back before the onslaught of the Union troops. Then the Southern general, Jackson, came to their rescue. And so like a stone wall did he and his men stand their ground that he was ever after called "Stonewall Jackson." First the Union advance was checked, and then the Union troops were driven from the field.

Now came a time of comparative quiet, while each side laid its plans and drilled its forces. Part of the North's plan was to close the ports of the Southern States and so keep them from getting supplies from abroad. Well-armed ships were stationed near the mouth of each harbor and did valiant work, capturing hundreds of vessels which tried to run the blockade.

Eight days after the firing on Fort Sumter, the Confederates had seized the United States navy yard at Norfolk, Virginia. But before they succeeded in getting possession, its Union commander had destroyed the shops and ships. One ship, the Merrimac, had burned to the water's edge and then had sunk.

Soon discovering that her engines were not damaged, the Confederates raised the Merrimac and rebuilt her. This time she was covered with plates of iron, was mounted with large cannon, and was made into an ironclad war vessel.

When the ironclad Merrimac was ready, she put to sea and set out to attack the three wooden vessels from the North, which were riding at anchor in Hampton Roads. Two of the three Union ships opened fire on the strange-looking sea monster. Their shots could not pierce her iron plates, and the Merriinac came on unharmed.

Steadily, steadily she drew near the Cumberland, until, with a mighty crash, she tore a gaping hole in the wooden ship. In rushed the water, and the Cumberland filled and sank.

Then turning to the Congress, the Merrimac forced this second ship to surrender, set it on fire, and left it to its fate.

The nest morning the Merrimac came sailing out to destroy the Minnesota, the last of the three Northern ships. But there beside the Minnesota lay another vessel—a queer-looking affair "like a cheese box mounted on a raft." It was the new Union war ship, the Monitor; and it, too, was ironclad.

Never before had two ironclad vessels engaged in battle. For hours they fought without being able to do each other serious damage. The little Monitor had saved the Minnesota and had held in check the dreaded Merrimac. A new era for naval warfare had begun.

Monitor vs Merrimac


The Merrimac had done all the damage she was ever to do. Some weeks later the Confederates were forced to give up Norfolk, and before they went they destroyed their ironclad vessel.

The news that the Monitor had repulsed the Merrimac must have been to Lincoln a ray of encouragement in a storm of troubles. When the war began, everyone felt that a few, short weeks would bring its close. But nearly a year had gone by, and still there were no signs of peace. And everywhere were people willing to blame the country's President because things had not turned out as they had expected. Officers placed in high command proved unfitted for their work. Soldiers deserted, and still others turned cowards in the hour of battle.

As Commander-in-chief, Lincoln looked into these cases; and while he was severe on wilful insubordination, he was always ready to give a man the benefit of the least doubt. "Leg cases" was the name he gave for cowardice in the face of the enemy. And he was inclined to show pity to such offenders "because," he said, "if Almighty God has given a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help running away with them?"

The doorkeepers at the White House had standing orders to admit every person who came seeking a pardon for some one condemned to death. In every way Lincoln did all in his power to lessen the burden of those made to suffer through the war.

Early in 1862 New Orleans fell before Captain Farragut. This was a great victory and a great step gained toward conquering the rebellion in the West.

But in the East the army was still trying to take Richmond, and the Confederates were still successfully fighting them off. Late in the summer of 1862 the Southern general, Lee, crossed the Potomac and attempted to march on Philadelphia.

The Union troops hurried to stop him. The two forces met at Antietam, where, on September 17th, they fought one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The "Boys in Blue" defeated the "Boys in Gray" and drove them back across the river. But even with so signal a success to encourage them, the North could not see that the South was any nearer giving up than in the beginning.

JANUARY, 1863—APRIL, 1865

Lincoln constantly turned the situation over in his mind. For weeks he thought about it, until certain facts came to stand out from the rest clear and unquestioned. He was convinced that slavery was not only the cause of the war, but that it was also the means by which the South was keeping up her strength. Did not the slaves raise crops with which to supply the Southern army and carry those supplies to the camps? And were they not of the greatest help to the troops in the digging of trenches, the building of fortifications, and the daily work of camp life? To take away the slaves would be to strike a hard blow at the Confederate strength.

When elected President, Lincoln truthfully said that he had no intention of interfering with slavery in the South. However, at that time he had taken an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Union. There now seemed but one way to keep that oath. This was to free the slaves. So on New Year's day, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, which gave freedom to more than three million slaves living in the Confederate States.

Month after month the war went on. In June, 1863, General Lee made another effort to invade Pennsylvania, and for the second time crossed the Potomac. There were seventy thousand men in his army when it reached Gettysburg, and there he entered into a three-day battle with the Northern troops. But when, on the third day, utterly defeated, he fell back into Virginia, he had lost more than twenty thousand. This was the last attempt to enter Pennsylvania. The Northern army, too, had lost heavily. This battle of Gettysburg is the greatest and the saddest in our history.

Battle of Gettysburg


While the eastern armies were fighting at Gettysburg, another battle was taking place in the West. The Union General had been trying for weeks to capture the Confederate city of Vicksburg. Day and night he had kept up his attack. Night and day his big guns went on shelling the city. At last, on July 4th, the very day after the Union success at Gettysburg, Vicksburg surrendered.

The persistent general who had won this victory was Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln soon saw in him the one man who could put an end to the war; and in March, 1864, Grant was given command of all the Union armies.

At once he made his plans and began to carry them out. Battle followed battle all through that year. In April, 1865, Grant finally raised the stars and stripes over the city of Richmond and a few days later received the surrender of General Lee and his army.

That very month the four years struggle came to an end. The Civil War was closed and the Union was saved.


In the White House the President's family are at breakfast. All are happy, for Robert, the eldest son, has just come home from serving as General Grant's aide-de-camp.

There is much for Lincoln and his boy to talk over. But some of it must be kept for another time, as this is a morning on which the President meets his cabinet.

Lincoln and his son


By afternoon he is free. The carriage is called, and Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln drive out together. The long years of the war have saddened Lincoln's face and cut deep lines in it. But to-day the lines are softened, and the face is bright. With a smile he turns to Mrs. Lincoln. "Mary," he says, "we have had a hard time of it since we came to Washington; but the war is over, and, with God's blessing, we may hope for four years of peace and happiness; and then we will go back to Illinois, and pass the rest of our lives in quiet."

Many a friend receives a hearty greeting, many an acquaintance a cordial bow. And late in the afternoon the drive is over.

Then comes dinner. And all too soon it is eight o'clock, and Mr. Lincoln is due at the theater. This is the 14th of April, 1865—the night of a benefit performance; and guests have been invited to share a box with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln.

When they reach the theater the play has already begun. But the people in the crowded house are watching the President's box; and, catching sight of his tall figure, they rise from their seats and welcome him with cheers, while the orchestra strikes up "Hail to the Chief!"

The play goes on. It is good, and Lincoln listens and laughs and enjoys it all.

The players are going through the third act. The people are pleased and do not notice a pale, handsome man who is making his way toward the President's box. Quietly he slips in, stands one instant behind Lincoln, and then deliberately aims a pistol at him and fires.

The shot rings out. A woman screams. The murderer leaps to the stage and escapes. All is now confusion. Some try to follow the murderer; some try to reach the Lincoln box. But in the midst of all the uproar, the President sits quiet. His head has fallen forward on his breast.

Strong arms lift him and carry him from the theater to a modest brick house across the way. He is put to bed. His son and friends are summoned, and all watch beside him through the night. They have no hope. The assassin has done his work. Slowly the hours drag by. The dawn comes. It is a little after seven, and Abraham Lincoln has ceased to breathe.

[Illustration] from Builders of Our Country - II by G. Southworth


The watchers bow their heads. A prayer is said; and in the stillness a solemn voice proclaims, "Now he belongs to the ages."