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Extending freedom

Although the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 technically only freed slaves in the Confederacy (which was out of the reach of the law), more and more slaves were freed as the Union Army rolled up Southern territory. More than 200,000 freed slaves joined the Union Army and fought to free those still held in bondage.

Paid less than whites until the last year of the war, they fought bravely in difficult battles. About 10 percent of Union forces were black, and they suffered more than their share of casualties. Southern slaves never rose up against their masters, but they did run away to freedom when they could.

The presidential election of 1864 and the end of the war

Lincoln won reelection in 1864 on the Republican ticket, cleverly including a loyal border-state Democrat as vice president. When Lincoln won, desertions from the Confederate Army increased. General Grant, now in command of the main Union Army, hammered relentlessly at Lee throughout 1864. Finally, in April 1865, the Confederacy surrendered. Lincoln visited the defeated Southern capital of Richmond. When grateful slaves tried to kneel in front of him, he pulled them up and said, "You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty."


People will tell you the AP never asks about battles, but that isn't necessarily true. Don't get lulled into studying nothing about the way the Civil War unfolded. At a minimum, remember Antietam, which kept out foreign intervention and let in the Emancipation Proclamation. The battle of Gettysburg stopped the South's invasion of the North and marked the last real chance for the South to win the war.


Question: How many Southerners owned slaves?

Answer: Only about one quarter of Southern whites owned slaves.


Question: What was the role of black troops in the Civil War?

Answer: Black soldiers made up 10 percent of the Union Army. They suffered more than their share of casualties and by the end of the war were paid the same as white troops.

The loss of Lincoln

A few days after he knew the war would end, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, an actor with Southern sympathies who thought he could somehow revive the Confederacy by killing Lincoln. Actually, killing Lincoln hurt the South. Lincoln had planned to let Southern states rejoin the Union on relatively easy terms. With Lincoln gone, Democratic Vice President Andrew Johnson would have to try to manage Reconstruction, the rebuilding of the South with free blacks (see Chapter 13), through a Republican-controlled Congress eager to make sure that the South learned a lesson.


Question: What was the impact of the assassination of President Lincoln?

Answer: Without the forgiving Lincoln to guide the process, Reconstruction of the South after the war became a partisan political controversy.


More than 600,000 men died in the Civil War — close to the total for all the other wars the United States has ever fought. Family members fought one another. Mary Lincoln, the president's wife, had three brothers killed fighting for the Confederacy. Four million slaves were freed, although real social freedom took another 100 years to accomplish. Extreme states' rights were abolished, and the twin national challenges of nullification and secession, which first threatened the Union when George Washington was president (see Chapter 9), were finally laid to rest.

The Union's victory in the Civil War expanded federal power. The first 12 amendments to the Constitution, in place before the war, all limited the power of the government. The next three amendments, passed after the war, all expanded national power.

The Civil War led to a national banking system with national currency; the first income tax (3 percent, starting in 1861); the first draft (1863); and, through attempts to help freed slaves, the Freedman's Bureau (1865) was the beginning of a national welfare system.

Before the Civil War, the term United States was plural. People said, "The United States — they have decided to expand." After the war, United States was singular, as in "The United States — it has decided to grow." Small words can make a big difference.

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