Appomattox Court House and Lincoln's Assassination From Lee's Surrender to Grant to Lincoln's Assassination
Appomattox Court House and Lincoln's Assassination
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- In the video where I give an overview
- of American history through the Civil War,
- I commented that it's unfortunate
- that Abraham Lincoln is assassinated
- shortly before the end of the Civil War.
- And, although that is technically correct,
- what I want to do is clarify that comment
- a little bit in this video.
- Because, in actuality, by the time he was assassinated,
- Lincoln knew that the Union was very, very, very
- likely to win the war -- that the major Confederate armies
- had already surrendered to the Union.
- Although it wasn't formally done,
- there was still some fighting going on
- in some parts of the South.
- So, if we go back to April 9th, 1865,
- you have the battle at Appomattox Courthouse;
- and after that battle,
- the Confederate Army is essentially routed.
- It has to surrender.
- And this, right here, is Robert E. Lee.
- And on April 9th, 1865, after that battle,
- he surrenders to Ulysses S. Grant.
- And one point of confusion some people often have --
- and I had this the first time I learned it --
- is that "Appomattox Courthouse" is the name of the city;
- the surrender actually did not take place
- in the courthouse in that city.
- (And I shouldn't even call it a "city";
- it was a little town with a handful of buildings.)
- It took place in this gentleman's house: Wilmer McClean.
- And I'm showing his image because his set of circumstances, or how he is tied to the Civil War,
- is frankly fascinating because in 1861, the first battle of the Civil War
- occurred on his property in Manassas, Virginia.
- This is in Northern Virginia. He was sympathetic with the Confederate army.
- He did not like that northern Virginia was so close to the North-South border.
- So, he picks up his bags and his family and he moves them down to the small town of
- Appomattox Courthouse which is in central Virginia. So, the very first
- major land battle of the Civil War literally occurs on this guy's property
- and the last major (or, really, the major) surrender of the Civil War
- occurs inside this guy's house after he moves and it's all coincidence.
- He just happened to have the nicest house near the battlefield,
- where everyone felt that it was appropriate to have this kind of major end to a major war.
- But regardless, that happens on April 9th, 1865, [and] the major Confederate army surrenders to the Union army.
- The reason why this is not the formal end of the Civil War is that if you still had 175,000 Confederate
- troops [at] other places in the South, continuing to fight on. You have to remember that we didn't have a
- telephone at this point in time, so we didn't have instant communication. So, these people who were fighting,
- many of them did not even know that the Confederate army had already surrendered to the Union. But to
- some degree, this major surrender is what leads to Lincoln's assassination,
- because this was-- for most people, this tells you, "Hey, there's a 99.9% chance that the Union has
- won. Either these people need find out their major army has surrendered or the Union has to go and essentially
- force all of the rest of the armies to surrender. So, you go to April 14th, 1865: Lincoln already knows that
- Robert E. Lee's army has surrendered; he knows that victory is imminent.
- But, you have this gentleman right over here: John Wilkes Booth, who is sympathetic to the Confederate
- cause, and in his mind, all is not lost yet. He does see this as a major blow to the Confederate cause,
- and he thinks that they need to do something desperate if they want to have any chance of being able
- to come back, [or] being able to maintain their independence from the Union.
- So, he coordinates with a couple of his buddies, and he says, "Hey, our only chance is if we assassinate not
- only Abraham Lincoln but also Andrew Johnson who is the Vice-President,
- and Ulysses S. Grant. And we assassinate Seward who is the Secretary of State."
- And, the idea there is if you assassinate everyone who is in line to become President, it would just
- throw the entire Union leadership in disarray, and maybe it would give these characters over here a fighting
- chance to maintain their independence, or maybe come back against the Union army.
- Unfortunately, for John Wilkes Booth (or, I guess-- well, you could take it either way), the other three people
- were not able to fully execute on their plan. Seward was injured; he actually did get stabbed
- in the face and all that, but he was not assassinated. And John Wilkes Booth was the
- only person who was able to carry out his assassination. So, you have on
- April 14th, 1865, shortly after 10:00 p.m., Abraham Lincoln is watching a play
- at Ford's Theatre, and his booth-- the guy who was supposed to guard the booth
- was out drinking with his buddies. So, I guess the Secret Service really--
- the security was not, back then, what it is now (hopefully, what it is now).
- And John Wilkes Booth, who actually used to act at this theatre,
- picked a time in the play where everyone would laugh and clap, and he said, "Hey, I'll just
- shoot right then; people would think it's part of the play or something, or they wouldn't notice as much,
- and then I'll be able to run out." And so he is able to, right at that moment
- shortly after 10:00 p.m., shoot Abraham Lincoln and assassinate him on April 14th, 1865.
- But, the whole point here is to just understand that Lincoln did know that Robert E. Lee's army
- had surrendered at the time of his assassination. So, he was at least feeling pretty good
- about the course of the war.
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