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America’s Civil War—final days

America’s Civil War—final day

by William H. Benson

April 28, 2020

Abraham Lincoln won a second term as president in the 1864 election in November, and he was inaugurated on Saturday, March 4, 1865, on the Capitol’s east front. Crowds came, stood, and “huddled in a swamp of puddles and mud,” to hear the president speak “about the issues of so grave an hour.”

As Lincoln approached the podium, the sun broke through the clouds, “and flooded the the spectacle with glory and with light.”

First, Lincoln reminded them of his previous inauguration four years before, on March 4, 1861.

“All thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it—all sought to avert it. Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.”

It was an awful war, a bloody carnage beyond adequate description. “Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained,” Lincoln said.

Lincoln finished. “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

Lincoln then placed his hand on an open Bible and repeated the oath of office after Chief Justice Salmon Chase. The president then slipped away from the crowd and into the Capitol. There, he asked an associate, “Did you notice that sunburst? It made my heart jump.”

A month later, on Sunday, April 9, in Wilmer McLean’s living room in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant. The Confederacy in the South was finished. The Union had won the war and defeated the South, but at a great cost of men and treasure.

Grant wrote the surrender document in “his manifold order-book,” and Lee signed it. Grant then introduced his officers to Lee, who remained stoic, until he saw a Union Colonel, Ely Parker, “a full-blooded Seneca Indian, and the reigning chief of the Six Nations.”

Lee said, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Parker replied, “We are all Americans.”

At 4:30 p.m., Grant sent word to Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, that Lee had surrendered.

Less than a week later, on Good Friday, April 14, John Wilkes Booth, a 26-year-old actor who often played the lead in Shakespeare’s Richard III, shot Lincoln in the head, when the president and his wife were watching a play, “Our American Cousin,” in a box in the balcony in Ford’s Theater.

A doctor pronounced President Abraham Lincoln dead at 7:22 a.m. on Saturday, April 15.

Why did he go to the theater? He had explained, “I want to get this burden off; to change the current of my thoughts. A hearty laugh relieves me; and I seem better able after it to bear my cross.”

On May 23, the Army of the Potomac paraded in front of a stand in front of the White House. General William Tecumseh Sherman said, “It was magnificent. In dress, in soldierly appearance, in precision of alignment and marching, we cannot beat those fellows.”

The next day Sherman’s troops, the Army of Tennessee, marched before the stand, before the new president, Andrew Johnson, as well as foreign dignitaries then in Washington D.C.

“Soon after the review, the troops were ordered into various camps, where the paymaster paid them his last visit, and then they separated, never again to meet in large bodies, except on Memorial Day, the 30th of May, of each year, when they meet to honor the memory of comrades who gave their lives for their country.”

The final word on a war belongs to a historian, but before the historian, there is a statistician.

Of the 2,778,304 men who served in the Union Army, 4,903 were from Colorado, 206 were from the Dakota’s, and 3,157 were from Nebraska. The “Indian Nations” provided 1,018 men, and the “Colored Troops” numbered at least 99,337 men.

Of the 360,222 Union men who died because of the war, 323 were from Colorado, 6 were from the Dakota’s, 239 were from Nebraska, 1,018 were from the “Indian Nations,” and 36,847 were from the “Colored Troops.” More than a third of the African-Americans who fought lost their lives.

The states that lost the most men included: New York, 46,534; Ohio, 35,475; Illinois, 34,834, and Pennsylvania, 33,183.

A sobering statistic. A total of 110,070 men were killed in action or died of wounds received when fighting in battle, but a total of 224,586 men died of diseases, including pneumonia, typhoid, dysentery, and malaria. Infectious diseases caused almost two-thirds of all deaths.

“And the war came,”in the spring of 1861. And the war went away in the spring of 1865.