Join the journey into one of the most captivating and seminal events in all of American history. We Are All Americans is the story of how the United States was transformed during the Civil War through the words of the three most central figures of the time – Jefferson Davis, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The story is communicated by three, contemporary reporters who describe the events as they unfold, in time linear fashion.
The world was watching what would happen to the American experiment in democracy. When the minority – represented by the 9 million southerners (3.5 million of whom were slaves) – left the union to form its own government, the sustainability of “majority rule” was thrown into question. more….
Robert Penn Warren called the Civil War the “American oracle.” It changed the country’s destiny. It was the great pivot upon which the path of the American story forever turned.
One hundred and fifty plus years later, in an age where history is any news older than 24 hours, it is easy to think of the American Civil War as ancient history – or to not even think of it at all. Yet, for all the progress in race relations that has been made in the U.S. since then, it is unfortunately evident that bigotry and hatred of “those not like me” is still extant in the American fabric. more….
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The 1850’s began with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act as part of the Compromise of 1850 that sought to quell sectional discord and keep the Union intact. The Act required officials and citizens of Free states to cooperate in the return of escaped slaves. For those Americans at the silent center of the slavery question, it forced them to support slavery in their own, supposedly ‘free’ backyards. more….
Despite frequently declaring that he is not an abolitionist, Lincoln states he is morally opposed to slavery and that it should not be allowed to expand into Federal territories. That is enough for Southerners to intensify their threats to break up the Union if Lincoln were to be elected.
As for Stephen Douglas, he is caught in the unfavorable position of being a Southern sympathizer just as events, including the John Brown saga, fuel the momentum of abolitionism across the North. Attempting to appeal to both sides, Douglas loses his Southern support and the Democratic Party splits. That split gives the opening for Lincoln and the Republican Party to take control of the Federal government.
The issue of states’ rights v. Federal powers dominates the next two decades. Ironically, in the years leading up to the Civil War, it is the Northerners who use the argument of states’ rights to nullify the execution of the Fugitive Slave Act while Southerners seek to expand the power of the Federal government to protect and expand slavery. The roles reverse with the election of Abraham Lincoln. After decades of threatening to leave the union, Southerners, led by South Carolina, act.
This time, however, the South is not bluffing. In electing Jefferson Davis as its President, the Confederacy goes all-in – independence or extermination is how Davis would later describe their purpose.
After the Confederates rout the raw Federal soldiers at Bull Run, Lincoln follows suit and ‘escalates’ the war with substantial call-ups and puts the Union war production effort into high gear.
When “little Napoleon” General George McClellan got the Army of the Potomac to within six miles of Richmond, combined with victories by western armies and the navy, Northern spirits and expectations of a short war soar.
Appalling body counts are giving traction to the Democrats opposition to the war and support for peace with the South, even if that means the Confederacy achieves its independence and separation from the Union.
Radical Republicans and Abolitionists, who have had high hopes for the President since the election, increasingly feel the window of opportunity to act is closing. As such, they continue to apply public pressure for Mr. Lincoln to emancipate the slaves.
Ever cognizant of the need to keep the “border states” in the Union fold, Lincoln treads lightly in responding to an editorial by the influential Horace Greeley.
On his way north, Lee’s plans to plans to divide his army into three units were lost and discovered by Union soldiers. Despite this advantage, McClellan cannot destroy Lee’s army at Antietam, Maryland. The blood shed on a single day of fighting stuns the world.
President Lincoln uses the victory at Antietam, however marginal, to announce the Proclamation of Emancipation.
In the Eastern Theater, Lee seizes on his masterful victory at Chancellorsville to bring the fighting into Maryland and Pennsylvania, hoping to convince Europe that the Confederacy is deserving of recognition and their support.
Lee offers his resignation while Lincoln immortalizes the brave who gave their life, not for land, but for a principle, with 271 words in November.
Lincoln’s prospects for re-election are directly related to battlefield success. To bring that success to the Eastern Theater, Lincoln brings Grant from the West after he saves the day for a trapped Union army at Nashville. Grant leaves his Army of the Tennessee in the hands of William T. Sherman. The Northern public expects Grant and Sherman to immediately conquer the South and end the war. However, Lee is still in command in the East and Sherman has a long way to go to reach Atlanta.
Almost immediately thereafter, the ‘other’ general Grant took from the West, Philip Sheridan, showed the Confederates and the World that the U.S. now had a first rate cavalry. Sheridan began to employ the same tactics Sherman used in the South – destroy the means that support the fight – in the Shenandoah Valley. Between the two, the “cruelty of war” was delivered to the doorsteps of the Southern populace.
Sherman delivered the city of Savannah as a Christmas present to Lincoln. The newfound “might” of the Union army gave life to “right” and Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Lincoln met with Confederate representatives to discuss peace. Davis was unimpressed.
Lee was expecting to find rations at Appomattox and an escape route to fight another day. Sheridan beat him there and seized his rations. Lee met with Grant to discuss terms while Lincoln returned to Washington.
Amid the jubilation and celebrations, Lincoln, rather informally from the second floor of the White House, asked the crowd to look forward to the next task at hand – reconstruction – and to accept Louisiana as a model for Southern states to rejoin the Union. For the first time publicly, Lincoln expressed support to the idea of enfranchising former slaves. In the crowd was a famous and firm supporter of the Confederate cause – John Wilkes Booth. Booth is quoted as saying upon hearing Lincoln’s words: “That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever give.”