United States history overview
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Appomattox and Lincoln's assassination
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 9, 1865 you have the battle at Appomattox Courthouse, and after that battle the Confederate army is essentially routed. It has to surrender. This right here is Robert E. Lee. And on April 9, 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, that the surrender actually did not take place in the courthouse in that city. And I actually shouldn't even call it a city. It's like a little town with a handful of buildings. It took place in this gentleman's house, Wilmer McLean. 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 happens 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 9, 1865. The major Confederate army surrenders to the Union army. The reason why this is not the formal end of the Civil War is that you still had 175,000 Confederate troops 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 for most people this tells you, hey, there's a 99.9% chance that the Union has won. It just has to, either these people need to find out that 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 14, 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, 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's the vice president, and Ulysses S Grant, and we assassinate Seward, who was the Secretary of State. And the idea there is if you assassinate everyone who is in line to become president, then 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 14, 1865 shortly after 10:00 PM Abraham Lincoln is watching a play at Ford's Theater. 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 theater, he picked a time in the play where everyone would laugh and clap. And he said, hey, I'll just shoot right then. People will 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 in that moment shortly after 10:00 PM, shoot Abraham Lincoln and assassinate him on April 14, 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 at least was feeling pretty good about the course of the war.