About

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….

Preface

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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Prologue

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….

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Chapter Summaries

Abraham Lincoln gains national fame debating Stephen A. Douglas for the Illinois Senate seat in 1858.  The “Little Giant”, as Douglas was nicknamed, again faces Lincoln in the presidential election of 1860.  Many of the issues previously debated by the two men are factors in the general election.
 
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.
On May 1, 1833, President Andrew Jackson wrote presciently, “the tariff was only a pretext, and disunion and southern confederacy the real object.  The next pretext will be the negro, or slavery question.”
 
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.
Lincoln is sworn into office of a country that is rapidly coming apart.  Though he extends an olive branch to Southern leaders, he refuses to concede Fort Sumter.  South Carolina militia bombards the fort with a U.S. garrison inside.  In response, Lincoln raises an army to protect Federal property.  In response, Virginia, the most populous Southern state, secedes.  Three other states immediately follow to join the Confederacy.  Lincoln offers the command of the U.S. Army to U.S. Colonel Robert E. Lee.  He replies he could not fight against his homeland of Virginia.
Most do not anticipate a long war ahead.  Southerners cried wolf so often that Northerners see the secessions as another tactic to get the more populous North to acquiesce to its demands.
 
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.
Union General Ulysses S. Grant gains Northern attention by capturing Confederate forts, cities and soldiers along the Mississippi Valley.  However, the victories are achieved with an unexpectedly great loss of life and limb.  For the first time, the war’s human cost begins to concern the Northern populace.
 
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.
When Confederate General Joseph Johnston is wounded defending the Virginia Peninsula against McClellan’s advance, President Davis replaces him with Robert E. Lee.  Confederate fortunes ascend quickly.  Lee proves to be a superb field commander who uses his cavalry and daring to repeatedly defeat a much larger and better-equipped foe.
With recent Union Army of the Potomac losses to Confederate forces led by General Robert E. Lee along the Virginia Peninsula and so close to Washington, DC, Northerners in both political parties have grown anxious.  Mid-term elections are only a few months away.  The Republican majority in both houses of Congress that has generally acceded to President Lincoln’s appeals is at risk.
 
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.
General Robert E. Lee’s string of decisive victories on Southern soil brings confidence to the Confederate leadership that an invasion of the North will instill fear in the Union citizenry and sway public opinion before the mid-term election.
 
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.
In his reply to Horace Greeley, President Lincoln cleverly introduced that, if he could save the Union by abolishing slavery, he would do so.  Previously, the restoration of the Union and the abolition of slavery were widely viewed as separate, rather than interrelated, matters.  Lincoln’s conclusion points to a third way – abolish slavery in order to restore the Union.
 
President Lincoln uses the victory at Antietam, however marginal, to announce the Proclamation of Emancipation.
1862 is the first election since hostilities began.  It occurs on the heels of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in September.  Republicans are anxious; despite the nobleness of the Proclamation and the rhetoric of Abolitionists, the majority of whites in the North are still intolerant and fearful of what emancipation would mean to their own lives and livelihood.  In the end, it could have been worse.
While the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia is commanded ably and consistently by General Robert E. Lee, President Lincoln is anything but satisfied with the leadership of the Union Army of the Potomac.  With the mid-term election behind, Lincoln replaces General George B. McClellan, the darling of the Democratic Party who publicly stated his intention to become President, if not dictator.  He turns to General Ambrose Burnside with the advice to aggressively pursue Lee.  Burnside fails miserably and is replaced.
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is the gauntlet of the war.  The war is no longer just about states’ rights.  Southern states will never return to the Union with slavery intact.  The only way forward to ensure its way of life endures is through victory.  Likewise, for the North, the war is no longer about preserving the Union but destroying the old south.
Beginning with the utterly disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg, the casualty rate of every new battle surpasses previous high water marks.  With new enlistments falling rapidly, Lincoln and the War Department begin mustering free black men and former slaves into new ‘colored’ regiments.  Frederick Douglass not only personally recruits enlistees but also contributes his two sons to the Massachusetts 54th.  However, Union losses on the battlefield continue, including a masterful defeat of the Army of the Potomac by General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Chancellorsville, despite being outnumbered two-to-one.
In this the third year of the war, fighting is intensifying on both fronts.  In the Western Theater, Grant relentlessly pursues Vicksburg knowing, with Northern morale falling, he cannot fail.
 
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.
Twin Union victories on the 4th of July propel the spirits of Northerners to new heights and of Southerners to new lows.  Grant gets another “unconditional surrender” under his belt with the capture of Vicksburg and the newly appointed General George Meade defeats Lee at Gettysburg with the help from some truly extraordinary heroics on his flanks: on the left flank at Little Round Top and on the right flank against a formidable Rebel cavalry charge.
 
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.
Confidence in Jefferson Davis begins to wane.  The loss of Vicksburg is a huge blow to the Confederacy.  In the North, Peace Democrats step up their white supremacy rhetoric and viciously attack Lincoln.
The upcoming 1864 Presidential election is as important for the Confederacy as it is for Lincoln.  With resources and manpower running thin, the best chance for Confederate independence may lie in the defeat of Abraham Lincoln.
 
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.
Grant dogs Lee at great loss of life and limb.  Sherman moves towards Atlanta but gains are few.  When results are not so quickly forthcoming, the Peace Democrats step up their white supremacy rhetoric and viciously attack Lincoln.  By mid-summer, Lincoln is under enormous pressure from many angles, including his supporters, to drop emancipation as a war aim.  Lincoln wavers but does not fall.  In doing so, he expects to lose in November.
As happened several times before, the winds of the war shifted and gave lift to the Union fortunes.  While Grant held Lee in check, Sherman finally took Atlanta.  It appeared that a genuine corner in the conflict had finally been turned.
 
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.
Success on the battlefield sealed Lincoln’s re-election and gave him the mandate to press the fight and abolish slavery forever with the 13th Amendment. Lincoln confirms his commitment to restoring the Union and abolishing slavery, effectively ending any and all speculation – both North and South – that the ‘old,’ divided United States will return.
If there was one event that signaled the end was near, it was Sherman’s March to the Sea.  His 60,000-man army mowed through Georgia, essentially unopposed, destroying everything along the way that could lend support to the Confederate war effort.  Terror and demoralization reigned in his path and in his wake.  Lee could do nothing as he was paralyzed under a siege to Grant at Petersburg, guarding Richmond.  Desertion intensified as men left the front to save their families and homes from the Yankee invaders.
 
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.
Re-elected President Abraham Lincoln delivers a message for the ages with an inaugural address that also hints at how he would welcome the South back into the Union.
With Sheridan on his western flank, Sherman coming up from the South on his rear, and Grant relentlessly pushing the envelope in his front, Lee had no choice but to evacuate his position at Petersburg and leave Richmond unprotected.  Lee headed west, the Confederate government headed south and Lincoln went to Richmond.
 
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.”
The name of Abraham Lincoln was near and dear to our hearts in the darkest and most perilous hours of the Republic.

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