The tide peaks and ebbs
The 1863 campaign began badly for the north. But a significant event occurred on January 1 of that year. On that day President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves and invited them to join the armed forces of the nation. Up to this point, the ostensible reason for the war had been to keep the nation unified. To this was now added the permanent banishment of slavery from its borders. The overland advance on Richmond was still thwarted. At Chancellorsville, a bloody battle resulted in a severe repulse for the north. This Confederate victory was gained at a high price, however, for it cost the life of Stonewall Jackson, who next to Lee was the ablest of southern commanders.
Not one of these Confederate victories, however, was decisive. The Union government simply mustered new armies and tried again, and in July 1863, came the turning-point of the war. Believing that the crushing defeat at Chancellorsville gave him his chance, Lee struck northward and invaded Pennsylvania. His army almost reached the state capital, and the large northern cities were thrown into great alarm. But a strong Union force intercepted his march at Gettysburg. Here, in a three-day battle, the Confederates made a valiant effort to break the Union lines. But they failed and as Lee's veterans, after losses which permanently crippled them, fell back to the Potomac, it was clear that the "high tide at Gettysburg" had been the high tide of all Confederate hopes. Grant's army was then taking possession of Vicksburg on the Mississippi. The blockade of southern coasts had become an iron cordon which few vessels pierced. The Confederacy was nearing the end of its resources. The northern states, on the other hand, seemed more prosperous than ever; their mills and factories were running full blast; their farms were exporting bumper crops to Europe; their manpower was being restored by immigration.
Grant's slow but inexorable advance on Richmond in 1864 foreshadowed the end. From all sides northern troops closed in, and on February 1, 1865, General Sherman's western army began a march northward from Georgia. Everywhere a desperate enemy tried to obstruct his progress. On February 17, the Confederates abandoned Columbia, the South Carolina capital. Charleston fell into the hands of the Union fleet without a battle when her railroad connections with the interior were cut. Meantime the Confederate positions in Petersburg and Richmond proved untenable, and on April 2, Lee abandoned them. A week later he found himself at Appomatox, in Virginia, hemmed in by the enemy and with no alternative but surrender.
The terms of surrender were magnanimous, and on his return from the conference, Grant quieted the noisy demonstrations of his soldiers by reminding them, "The rebels are our countrymen again." The war for southern independence had become the "Lost Cause."
The hero of that "Lost Cause" was indisputably Robert E. Lee. By virtue of his power of organization, his conscientious attention to details, his tender care for his men, his daring, and his fine presence, he inspired confidence and won the devotion of his troops. The brilliance of his leadership, his humanity throughout the conflict, and his grandeur in defeat aroused admiration. Like George Washington, he was great in peace as in war. In the five years he survived the conflict, he devoted himself to the restoration of the south in economic, cultural, and political fields, and urged the people to become the loyal partners of their late enemies.
To the north, the war produced a still greater hero in Abraham Lincoln. In its early months, few perceived the true stature of this awkward western lawyer. Little by little, however, the nation came to comprehend his deep sagacity, founded upon careful study and hard thinking; his intense love of truth; his inexhaustible patience; and his boundless generosity of spirit. If he seemed at moments to hesitate and vacillate, time always proved that he had known how to wait for the national advantage, how to combine strength with tact. He was anxious, above all, to weld the country together as a union, not of force and repression, but of warmth and generosity of feeling. His foreign policy showed dignity, integrity, and firmness, and though he had to use unprecedented powers, he believed fervently in democratic self- government and commanded the complete faith of the people, who elected him for a second term in 1864.