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Siege of Petersburg

Lincoln’s stirring Gettysburg speech cannot cover the stalemate that characterises the Civil War. The Confederates are winning nearly every battle, but the Union is winning the war effort. This lack of progress is such that by August, there is a very real possibility that Lincoln will not be re-elected as President. Ironically, the man who looks like beating him is his failed General, George McClellan.

But General Sherman takes Atlanta, the South’s fledgling industrial centre, in September 1864 and success on the battlefield is matched at the ballot box. The Union army votes overwhelmingly for Lincoln and he’s returned as President with a landslide result.

Sherman now pursues a policy of ‘hard war’. His famous ‘March to the Sea’ sees 62,000 troops wreak a 100km wide path of destruction across Georgia. Wherever he goes, he takes from the South all that he needs, and anything that is surplus, he destroys. This scorched earth policy is devastatingly effective. In December, he takes Savannah and offers it as a Christmas present to his president.

Southern troops are now demoralised. Many believe they’ve been engaged in ‘a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.’ The South is so desperate, that in early 1865, a ‘Negro Soldier Law’ is introduced. The slave owners are willing to grant freedom to their slaves who will fight for them. It’s hoped they will fill the depleted ranks of the South which now have 14 and 15 year olds in their ranks.

On 9 April 1865, Lee avoids another battle and another senseless loss of life, and surrenders, symbolically handing over his sword to General Grant. The surrender is not unconditional and Lee requests his men will be left alone and that they can return with their horses (so they can plough their fields). These and other conditions are granted by the General, with the blessing of Lincoln. The President wants a lasting peace so that he can step up the Reconstruction of his deeply divided country. The bloodiest war in American history is over.

Did you know?

The area where American military dead are buried, the famous Arlington Cemetery, was originally the house and estate of the Robert E. Lee. When he joined the Confederacy, his old friend and fellow graduate from the West Point military academy, Montgomery Meigs, turned the gardens into a cemetery. If the traitor ever returned, Meigs wanted to make sure Lee slept next to the ghosts of the men he had killed. , By the end of the war there were 16,000 bodies burned on the Lee estate.