Let the Thing Be Pressed

Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., Alexander Gardner, April 10, 1865

After Lincoln’s re-election, the Civil War ground inexorably to an end. While Sherman’s troops left Atlanta and marched to the sea, General Ulysses S. Grant’s forces pounded Confederate strongholds near Petersburg, Virginia. On April 3, 1865, Richmond fell. The next day, Lincoln visited the fallen Confederate capital. Ignoring his own safety, he walked through the streets, surrounded by crowds of cheering African Americans and loyal Unionists while Confederate supporters remained indoors.

Six days later, on April 9, Confederate General Robert E. Lee formally surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, causing wild celebrations throughout the North. The war had taken a terrible toll — approximately 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were dead and nearly half a million more were wounded. Large areas of the South lay in ruin and overall financial costs exceeded six billion dollars.

Rebuilding the war-torn nation would be difficult, as Lincoln acknowledged in what would be his last speech delivered from the White House on April 11, 1865. Looking to the future, Lincoln suggested granting equal voting rights to some African Americans, specifically “the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.” Among those standing in the crowd was the actor John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer who vowed to assassinate Lincoln for endorsing black suffrage.