By John A. O'Brien
Wednesday, June 14, 2023
The Fourth of July in 1863 may rightfully be celebrated as the second founding of the United States. Union battlefield victories at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Vicksburg, Mississippi put the war on the certain course of Confederate defeat, even if the struggle would persist for another two years. With the fall of Vicksburg, the "Father of Waters once again flowed unvexed to the sea" and the Confederacy was permanently severed. After Gettysburg, Lee's diminished army would from then be strategically limited to a defensive war. President Lincoln gave all credit and honor to Generals Grant and Meade and the the brave men who fought under them. But Lincoln had undergone a leadership transformation that deserves to be studied and acknowledged. This change brought the necessary confluence of war strategy, generalship and political will to more effectively wage the war. The process was not easy and received very little recognition at the time.
The Emancipation Proclamation was widely blamed for undermining the political unity of purpose that secession alone provoked in the North. Lincoln's reputation for pardoning deserter soldiers was viewed as a military weakness that undermined morale. His indecision with generals was self-defeating. In January 1863, Sen. William P. Fessenden captured the mood of many Lincoln supporters when he wrote that “Lincoln lacked the force of character requisite to make the changes necessary to improve the army.” And Sen. John Sherman wrote to his brother, the general, “How fervently I wish that Lincoln was out of the way. Any body would do better. I was among the first of his political friends to acknowledge how fearfully we were mistaken in him. He has not a single quality befitting his place….” Conservative Unionist Congressman John W. Criswell of Maryland, described “the conviction of the president’s incapacity is every day becoming more universal…”
Yet, the hapless appearing chief executive successfully arranged the strategic elements necessary to achieve the great results of July 1863 and to eventually win the war. The Lincoln Group will honor the 160th anniversary of these critical battles with a zoom program on June 27 at 6 p.m until 7:30. You are invited to join me in a discussion that will review the wartime environment and the personal issues that Lincoln faced and ameliorated in late 1862, as he shaped a more decisive war strategy. See the Events page for more information.
The zoom link is: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88191709910