As many of you know, this year is the 150th Anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the death of President Abraham Lincoln. Several years ago we had the privilege to host Dr. Joe Wheeler, whose biography “Abraham Lincoln – A Man of Faith and Courage” quickly became one of my personal favorites. I would like to share with you several highlights from the book in honor of President Lincoln. The first involves Lincoln’s obedience to God in the face great trial and opposition…
THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION
On July 22, 1862, Lincoln called together perhaps the most remarkable Cabinet meeting of his presidency. Lincoln told them he had a document he wished to share with them. He told them he was now convicted that on January 1, 1863, he should delcare the slaves forever free.
There was considerable discussion. Seward contended that to issue such a proclamation in the midst of all their continuing defeats would appear ridiculous to the world. Ultimately, and reluctantly, Lincoln agreed, so the matter was put on hold. Nevertheless, later that year Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation to the nation and promised to sign it on January 1, 1863.
Because Lincoln was so dissatisfied with McClellan’s lackluster performance commanding the Union armies, he replaced him with John Pope, who promptly marched into the unmitigated disaster of Second Manassas (or Second Bull Run). The Union lost 16,054 men compared to the South’s 9,197. Still Lincoln had not found the man who could lead the Union to victory on the field of battle.
As mentioned in chapter two, Robert E. Lee now concluded that the Conferacy’s best chance to win the war hinged on forsaking defense to attack the North. On September 4, he led his men across the Potomac near Leesburg, Virginia, leading to the battle of Antietam, where over 26,000 men fell. Even though it was anything but a victory, to Lincoln it was close enough for his purpose, given that Lee had been forced to withdraw his men back into Virginia.
Artist Frank B. Carpenter, who painted Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation, had plenty of opportunities to ask Cabinet members what had happened during that post-Antietam Cabinet meeting. He was told that on that memorable September 22, 1862, only five days after the terrible battle: “I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee were driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result with the declaration of freedom for the slaves.” Then, knowing the division in the Cabinet, he didn’t even take a vote…
Had Lincoln been able to follow his personal convictions, he would have abolished slavery when yet a teenager. But he had not the power then, and the moment was not right. Even as a young politician he wouldn’t have been able to do it. Many of the abolitionists were so vitriolic that to embrace abolitionism was often a political kiss of death.
When he became president, he was still not granted the power instantly to end slavery. In 1860 and early 1861, when peace and war were teetering, a consensus on slavery would have been impossible. Though many in the North despised slavery, they would never have responded so magnificently to the call to arms had it been just to free the slaves. What they volunteered to fight for was to save the republic.
The same was true during the early days of the war. Had Lincoln tried to abolish slavery any earlier than he did, he’d have lost not only the vital border states (Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas, and Missouri) but also a significant portion of his Northern support, a reality Northern radicals failed to comprehend.
As we’ve seen, Lincoln did eventually announce the Emancipation Proclamation to the nation, promising to sign it into effect on the first day of 1863.
RIPPLES OF THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION
When the president signed that most precious document of the nineteenth century, he set in motion more forces than he realized. Lincoln spoke often of Providence, the Almighty who remains all-powerful behind the scenes. Long since at the end of his own resources, Lincoln made no secret of his conviction that his only bedrock was God.
Perhaps it was during his pivotal visit with General Scott that Lincoln experienced his epiphany of epiphanies: the reason nothing the Union did worked, the reason Union forces quailed in almost every battle, was that the nation had not come to grips with the moral issue of the age: slavery. Saving the Union just to preserve the status quo – which included the continued existence of slavery – gave the North no moral high ground at all, neither on the American continent nor in the rest of the world, nor in the eyes of God.
It was during this crucial period of his journey that Lincoln penned “Meditation on the Divine Will,” in which, (as we saw in chapter in two), he wondered why God refused to bless the efforts of either North or South. “Yet the contest proceeds” was his haunting, inconclusive conclusion.
What is especially fascinating about the war from January 2, 1863 (the day after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed), onward is that Providence appears finally to take sides. Though Confederate victories continued to occur, an ever-so-subtle shift occurred.
The first evidence of this shift was the Battle of Stones River, which was fought from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863, near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. What was remarkable about the battle was the very fierceness with which it was fought. It was as if both sides realized a new factor had entered the war on January 1. Suddenly the existence of the Union, the existence of the Confederacy, and the continued institution of slavery in America were all at stake.
Every Confederate soldier realized that with one stroke of his pen, Lincoln had made it impossible to ever return to the prewar status quo. If the North won the war, slavery was dead. Only if the North were defeated or worn down to the point of exhaustion would it agree to allow the continued existence of a slave nation next door. In that case, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would be reduced to merely a piece of paper. But if the North won such a clear victory over the Confederacy that full surrender took place, it would be so much more. If that occurred, all the slaves would be free. (But to guarantee that, a constitutional amendment would be needed.)
Though the North lost 17,287 men at Chancellorsville, compared to the South’s 12,463, those figures were deceiving. The most significant outcome of the battle was that Lee’s right-hand man, Stonewall Jackson, the brilliant general of the South, was killed on the first evening by friendly fire. The loss was catastrophic to the South. Indeed, it represents the turning point of the war.
The North was thrown into disarray in late June with the news that General Lee had moved his rebel army across the Potomac. Rumor had it that he planned to march up to Harrisburg, take Philadelphia and Baltimore, and circle back to Washington. With Jeb Stuart’s (Lee’s eyes and ears) hard-riding cavalry on the rampage, Lee had no way of knowing that like two giant crab’s, he and General George Meade (who had been given command of the Union forces only hours before) were backing into each other in a little Pennsylvania town few had ever heard of – Gettysburg.
For the first time in the war, nothing would go right for Lee – how terribly he missed Stonewall Jackson! Most damaging of all was the moment when Lee determined to take what he considered the weakest section of Cemetery Ridge.
Mid-afternoon of the third day, after perhaps the fiercest cannonades of the war, into the clearing surged the flower of the Army of Northern Virginia, nine thousand in the first wave, six thousand in the second – a forest of horsemen, slanting rifles glinting in the sunlight, red flags rippling above the columns. Federal artillerymen changed to shrapnel, then to canister. As fast as men fell, others took their places; during the last 200 yards, the meadow ran scarlet with blood. In the end, what was ever after called Pickett’s Charge had failed. Futile though it was, it will live forever as one of the most gallant moments in the history of the war.
Hours later, on July 3, Lee retreated, his aura of invincibility shattered, and the tilt northward became clear. This pivotal and bloodiest battle of the war (43,000 casualties; 430,000 if we apply the rule of ten) is now considered one of the most significant battles of all time. Here was the high tide of the Confederacy, for had the Civil War ended in a stalemate, the United States, today the world’s only superpower, would never have been.
Taken from Abraham Lincoln – A Man of Faith and Courage by Dr. Joe Wheeler