November 1863–April 14, 1865
On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln offered “a few appropriate” remarks at the dedication of a cemetery to fallen Federal troops at Gettysburg. In his brief and eloquent “Gettysburg Address,” Lincoln articulated the purpose of the war and looked beyond it to a time when the nation would once again be made whole.
Yet even greater sacrifice lay ahead. In spring 1864, the Union and the Confederacy plunged into bloody campaigns that inaugurated a fourth year of fighting, prolonging and increasing the horrors of war. Casualty lists had grown to the hundreds of thousands. Civilians on both sides strained to help their governments cope with never-ending waves of the sick and wounded, as well as white and black refugees fleeing before armies or following in their wake. Throughout the year, the Union pursued a “hard war” policy, aimed at destroying all resources that could aid the Rebellion. But the South continued to fight; the end was not yet in sight.
The year 1865 opened with Union victories in the East that closed Lee’s most vital supply line. Further south, U.S. General William T. Sherman’s army stormed out of Georgia and through South Carolina, where Charleston fell in mid-February. By April, Sherman was pursuing Confederates under Joseph Johnston in North Carolina. Lee, unable to hold Petersburg or Richmond, evacuated those cities and was forced to surrender on April 9, 1865. With final victory in sight, Union luminaries gathered on April 14 for a special ceremony at Fort Sumter to again raise the Federal flag. Later that evening actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.
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