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Later stages of the Civil War - the election of 1864 and Sherman's March

The Civil War's later stages saw Ulysses S. Grant take charge, leading to victories in Gettysburg and Vicksburg. William Tecumseh Sherman's destructive march through the South aimed to break Confederate morale. The 1864 election saw Lincoln reelected, solidifying the war's end and slavery's abolition.

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Video transcript

- All right so we've been talking about the later stages of the Civil War. And in the last video we just did a brief overview of the end of 1863 after the north has won the battle of Gettysburg and Lee has been turned around and sent back down to Richmond where he will be encamped for some time and Ulysses S. Grant not only takes control of the Mississippi River with the victory at Vicksburg, he also comes up into Tennessee, takes control of the state of Tennessee and in return Lincoln makes him General in Chief of the Union armies. So now let's move on and talk about 1864 and Sherman's March of the Sea and the election of 1864. Both would be very important to the United States victory. All right so let's take a look at our map again. Now as we recall Lee is here in Richmond and Grant who was in Tennessee now coming over to challenge Lee at the siege of Richmond. So Grant has crossed over from the Western theater of the war where he's been pretty much the entire time into the Eastern theater and he's going for the killing blow now. You're remember that thanks to the Anaconda strategy the union now has control of the entire area of the South through a blockade on this side, control of the Mississippi and now control of Tennessee. So there's just this litte area that's left. So now what happens? Well one of Grants generals who served under him in this Tennessee campaign is now going to turn his attention to a massive campaign of total war in the south. So this is William Tecumseh Sherman and Sherman's idea is that he is going to cut a swath through the South and he is going to try to destroy the South's morale by not only trying to get rid of food stuffs and interrupt supply lines, destroy infrastructure, burn houses. He's gonna make things so bad on the home front that the Confederate soldiers who are fighting up here with Lee are gonna get upset that their property and their families are not being protected at home. So he's trying to win a morale victory by making people in the South really tired of being at war and also by making Lee's soldiers want to desert and come back and defend their home territory. So Sherman turns his troops toward Atlanta and in September of 1864 Sherman takes Atlanta. There's a very famous scene of this in Gone with the Wind where you see Scarlet O'Hara looking out over the many injured people in the city of Atlanta. That's Sherman's doing. But now let's turn attention away from the military campaigns for a second and talk about the politics of 1864. Now in 1864 it's an election year. It's been four years since Lincoln was elected in November of 1860 so now Lincoln has to stand for reelection. And this is a really interesting election for lots of reasons. One is that it's the first election during wartime since 1812. So in the election of 1864 soldiers are going to cast their ballots either by getting short leaves to go to the ballot box or by sending in their ballots by mail. Another thing that's really interesting about this is that Lincoln is not at all sure that he's going to win this election. In fact many in his own party, the Republican Party, feel that he's been considerably too soft on the south, that his plans for reunification are not nearly punitive enough. There are many who want to replace Lincoln with a more radical candidate in 1864 but that does not end up happening. But one interesting thing that does end up happening is to try to increase Lincoln's appeal his running mate is Andrew Johnson. Johnson was a slaveholder, believe it or not from Tennessee and the idea was that maybe Johnson could pick up some of the Democrats who might necessarily have voted for McClellan and maybe he could pick up some of the border states the same way that we often might choose a vice president today because they come from a crucial swing state. And this is gonna be important later because after Lincoln is assassinated Andrew Johnson will take over as president and he is quite a different president then Lincoln might have been in the circumstances. Now on the Democratic side the candidate is George McClellan. You might remember McClellan because he was one of the first commanders of the Union army and Lincoln sent him down for failing to really go after the enemy strongly in the early stages of the war. Now the Democratic Party is having some internal struggles at this point. There are some who think that the war against the South is very foolish, that no one should be fighting in the north to end slavery which Lincoln has clearly made a war goal by this point. So many just wish to have peace with the South on the terms of the South which is as a separate nation with the continuation of slavery. And then there are those Democrats who would like to continue the war and McClellan ends up being one of those. Obviously being a general, it would have been pretty difficult for him to say that the war was pointless without having disappointed so many people who had fought for him or with him. This election is really crucial because many in the South are hoping that if someone other than Lincoln gets elected, if the Democrats are elected, that is gonna be their last best hope to try to achieve their independence from the union. If Lincoln is replaced by someone who is pro-South, who is pro-slavery then perhaps they'll just end the war and that would be the end of it. So whites the South are really holding on to the idea that Lincoln will be defeated in 1864. And there are a lot of reasons to think that Lincoln might have been defeated in this. Lincoln himself was not very sure that he will win this election. Remember that there has not a single American president who has been reelected in more than 30 years. The last president to be reelected was Andrew Jackson in 1832. So reelection is very a unusual thing at this point and McClellan was a very popular general. He got popular because he was very keen to spare the lives of his soldiers which is quite different from the approach that Ulysses S. Grant will end up taking at the end of the war. But there are several things that go in Lincolns' favor. One is the capture of Atlanta by Sherman in September and some very good military victories also in this eastern theater of the war. So McClellan who had hoped that the war was going badly didn't have much on his side when it actually came to election day 'cause at that point the war was going pretty well. Remember that Sherman is here in Atlanta and Sherman is now going to pick up what is known as his March to the Sea when he cuts a 60 mile wide swath of destruction through Georgia. So things are looking pretty good for the United States at this point. And the turning point for Lincoln in this election is really the votes of the soldiers and they have a really strong pro-Lincoln mandate. One of Lincoln's campaign slogan is Vote As You Shot. So Lincoln ends up trouncing McClellan in the election of 1864 and he really comes away with a strong mandate to finish the war, finish it with an unconditional surrender of the South and the end of slavery. And having triumpthed in the election of 1864 Lincoln it gets even more good news from Georgia which is a telegram from General Sherman from the city of Savannah saying Mr. President, I wish to offer you the city of Savannah as a Christmas present. So in December 25, 1864 Sherman's March to the Sea has concluded. And from there he's going to start heading north. And we'll get to that in the next video.