The Second Father

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Abraham Lincoln.

In February 1861, Abraham Lincoln traveled to the Western Railroad Depot carrying his trunk tied with a rope and with the inscription, “A. Lincoln, White House, Washington, D.C.” Friends and family prepared him for the train ride from Illinois to Washington which would take twelve days and bring the President-elect into contact with tens of thousands of citizens. Lincoln had been “unusually grave and reflective” as he lamented “parting with this scene of joys and sorrows during the last thirty years and the large circle of old and faithful friends,” and when he went to his law partner for sixteen years, Billy Herndon, he assured him that his election to the presidency merely placed a hold on his partnership role: “If I live I’m coming back some time, and then we’ll go right on practising law as if nothing had ever happened.” As he stood on his private train car and addressed the crowd of well-wishers, the sentiment was no less heartfelt: “My friends—No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. . . . I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.” And so, with the crowd moved to tears, Lincoln would leave Springfield for the last time in his life with the train slowly moving “out of the sight of the silent gathering.” Within the train car, furnished with dark furniture, “crimson curtains, and a rich tapestry carpet,” Lincoln “sat alone and depressed” without his usual “hilarious good spirits.” Read more

The Second Battle of Bull Run

After General George McClellan’s campaign to take Richmond fell flat, he became even more disenchanted with the Lincoln administration but vowed that if provided with 50,000 men, he would mount another attack on the Confederate front.[i] Whether a man who had “lost all regard and respect” for President Lincoln and had called the Lincoln administration “a set of heartless villains” was dedicated to restoring the Union became a question for years to come, and Lincoln recognized that even if he sent 100,000 men, McClellan would find Confederate General Robert E. Lee to have 400,000.[ii] Regardless, a Union general from the Western Theater, John Pope, had come to the Eastern Theater prepared to replace McClellan as the top commander in the East and take on the Confederates with the tenacious and fearless approach to fighting that had characterized the western battles.[iii] Read more

The First Battle of Bull Run

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The First Battle of Bull Run. Chromolithograph by: Kurz & Allison. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Three months after the firing on Fort Sumter, the Confederacy and Union had produced armies capable of fighting and mobilized to northern Virginia; roughly halfway between Washington and Richmond. There, near a “sluggish, tree-choked river” known as Bull Run, the first major battle following the secession of the South would occur.[i]  Read more

On to Richmond

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Troops Assembled in Front of the U.S. Capitol Building in 1861.

Although the Confederacy had awakened the North’s spirit by initiating hostilities at Fort Sumter, both sides could have still hoped for reconciliation. While some advocated for immediate peace, others wished for a full prosecution of war against the South, viewing its expanding secession as nothing short of treason. By the end of spring 1861, there was a decisive answer to the question of whether there would soon be peace. Read more

The Awakened Giant

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A Crowd Gathering in New York City’s Union Square in 1861. Harper’s Weekly (May 4, 1861), at 277.

The news from Fort Sumter spread throughout the country, and its coming awakened a restless energy in the North. That energy ignited patriotism and a new sense of collectivism throughout northern cities and states that would lead to a then-unparalleled war effort directed against the Confederacy. Read more

The Compromise of 1850

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“United States Senate, A.D. 1850.” By: Peter F. Rothermel.

Upon President Zachary Taylor taking office, he sent a message to Congress deploring the sectionalism that was pervading the country. See David Potter, The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861, 91. He looked to George Washington’s warnings against “characterizing parties by geographical discriminations,” which appeared by 1849 to be a prescient warning. Id. citing James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (11 vols.; New York, 1907), V, 9-24. President Taylor offered hope for northerners and those Americans who wanted to preserve the Union with his vow: “Whatever dangers may threaten it [the Union] I shall stand by it and maintain it in its integrity.” David Potter, The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861, 91 citing James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (11 vols.; New York, 1907), V, 9-24. Read more

A Deadlocked and Destructive Congress

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The United States Capitol in 1848. Unknown Photographer, credit Library of Congress.

During President James Polk’s administration, Congress grappled with resolving sectional tension arising out of whether slavery would be extended to newly acquired land from Mexico as well as the Oregon territory. Congress did not resolve that sectional tension but exacerbated it in what may have been one of the most deadlocked and destructive Congresses in American history. Read more