1865: A New Birth of Freedom


“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us . . . bind up the nation’s wounds.”

—Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, March 4, 1865

On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Sherman Unleashes Total War on South Carolina


A lone Northern sentry looks out on the Ogeechee River near Savannah as Union forces mobilize toward South Carolina on the continued March to the Sea.

On January 19, 1865, General William T. Sherman led his victorious army out of Savannah toward South Carolina—the state that many Northerners blamed for starting the war.

“The truth is,” Sherman noted, “the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance upon South Carolina. I almost tremble for her fate.”

South Carolinians had reason to fear: Sherman’s troops unleashed the same fury they had on Georgia. “We . . . must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war,” Sherman wrote. Entire towns were looted and torched. Livestock and food stores were taken or destroyed on an even greater scale than in Georgia. “Yesterday we passed the plantation of a Mr. Stubbs,” one of Sherman’s staff officers reported. “The house, cotton gin, press, corn-ricks, stables, everything that could burn, was in flames.”

In February, Sherman’s army reached Columbia, South Carolina’s capital. The city’s mayor Thomas Goodwyn personally begged Sherman to spare it, but that night much of the city was burned to charred rubble. Gangs of drunken Federal troops roamed the streets, setting fire to stores, businesses, and row after row of homes. They destroyed the South Carolina State House, the Methodist church, a Catholic convent, and a priceless museum collection. Sherman blamed the fires on retreating Confederate cavalrymen, but eyewitnesses told a different story: “The city of Columbia, S.C. was burned by a drunken mob,” reported a Northern officer.

The Columbia, South Carolina, capitol building stands on February 17, 1865, the day Sherman’s troops arrived in the city. It would be in flames by nightfall.

An illustration of Sherman’s troops marching through South Carolina. “I almost tremble for her fate,” the general said of the Palmetto State.

Morale in South Carolina Crumbles

From Columbia, Sherman’s columns moved northward, continuing their destruction until they reached North Carolina. There, the troops were brought under control and destruction of civilian property was curtailed. Although controversial, Sherman’s brutal tactics in South Carolina proved as effective as they did in Georgia: civilian morale plummeted, and more Southern troops slipped away from the ranks to return home to protect their families.

The War Comes to an End

The Union’s major victories forced Lee’s surrender.

January 19 General William T. Sherman launches his Carolinas Campaign.

February 17 Columbia, South Carolina is burned while occupied by Sherman’s army.

March 4 President Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated for a second term.

April 9 Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox.

April 14 President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre by John Wilkes Booth, a disgruntled Confederate sympathizer.

April 26 Confederate Army of Tennessee surrenders.

May 10 Confederate president Jefferson Davis was arrested in Georgia.

May 10 Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Abraham Lincoln as president, declared hostilities are ended.

May 12 Last battle of the Civil War occurred at Palmito Ranch in Texas.

May 22 Confederate president Jefferson Davis was imprisoned at Fort Monroe.

December 18 Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified ending slavery in America.

Witness to War: Hell on Earth


Columbia, South Carolina’s once graceful capital, was gutted by Sherman’s army. “Go home and rest assured that your city will be as safe in my hands as if you controlled it,” Sherman told the town’s mayor.

South Carolina’s statehouse was destroyed by Sherman’s army in February 1865, but after the South surrendered, construction on its replacement began.

As they marched into Columbia on February 17, 1865, Sherman’s soldiers sang a perverted version of the patriotic song “Hail, Columbia,” which was regarded as one of a few unofficial national anthems at the time. The troops’ revised lyrics: “Hail Columbia, Happy land. If I don’t burn you, I’ll be damned.” The torching of South Carolina’s capital city became one of the greatest controversies of the Civil War. For residents of the city, the event was “hell on earth,” as described by a Columbia survivor in a letter to her daughter.

Columbia, March 3, 1865

My Dear Gracia:

Doubtless your anxiety is very great to hear something about us after the great calamity that has befallen our town. We have lost everything, but thank God, our lives have been spared. Oh Gracia, what we have passed through no tongue can tell, it defies description! Such a scene as was witnessed on the day and night of 17 February. God grant that we may never see the like again!

The enemy entered the city about nine o’clock in the morning; passed our street about ten, and at dark were still passing. . . . The first thing they did was break open the stores and distribute the goods right and left. They found liquor and all became heartily drunk. The very elements seemed to conspire against us, for the wind blew a perfect gale. Bags of cotton were cut open in the streets and the wind carried it even into the trees. The streets looked as if they were covered with snow. When night came on, the soldiers went about with matches, turpentine and cotton, with which they fired the houses. It was a fearful sight, in whatever direction your eyes, they met the flaming fire. At one time I thought there was no way of escape left for us . . . While I was getting some things out of a trunk there were three men in the room rifling another, but I felt no fear, tho alone. One Yankee was burned to death on our own lot. I can compare that night to nothing but hell on earth. . . .

We stayed all night in the street, protected by a Yankee captain from Iowa who was very kind to us. . . . We have two rooms on the first floor of the [Lutheran] seminary. What we are to do for clothes I know not, but God will provide. Rich and poor are drawing rations alike. There is not a house left on Marion Street. . . .

Your ever affectionate


The Face of War: The Toll of Office

When Abraham Lincoln ran for the presidency in 1860, he was 51 years old. Four and a half years later, the weight of the war was visible on his face.



The Thirteenth Amendment Ends Slavery in America


Following the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, some slaves would be allowed to own their own land.

Though freedom brought widespread rejoicing for America’s former slaves, as seen in this artwork, it also brought new challenges. Most former slaves remained in the South and, lacking resources to strike out on their own, many became dependent on white landowners through sharecropping, a system which often became exploitative.

The end of slavery in America signaled a new beginning for former slaves, but one that came with many challenges. Without food, shelter, and education many freed slaves needed assistance from agencies such as the Relief of Freedom and Refugees.

Following the Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves often found themselves doing the same work they had under the plantation system.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . shall exist within the United States. . . .” So read the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, introduced in early 1864 by Missouri congressman John Henderson.

Turning the amendment into law was not easy. Northern Democrats, who believed the legality of slavery was up to the states, not Congress, sought to corral opposition in the legislature. President Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward counter-maneuvered. Once the amendment was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 it still had to be sent to state legislatures to be ratified. Three-quarters of the state bodies had to approve, which at the time added up to 27 states.

It took almost a full year for state legislatures to ratify the amendment, and some only did so under duress. While most Northern states supported ratification, those in the South resisted. Congress forced the issue by requiring the states to approve the Thirteenth Amendment in order to be readmitted to the Union. Finally, on December 6, 1865, Georgia became the 27th state to do so. Slavery in the United States was officially outlawed.

Lincoln’s Second Inauguration


In spite of an overnight rainstorm that soaked Washington, D.C., a large crowd gathered outside the capitol on March 4, 1865, to hear President Lincoln deliver his second inaugural address.

On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated for a second term in Washington, D.C., this time as the commander in chief who had led the North to an almost certain victory.

A large and enthusiastic crowd tromped through streets muddied by an overnight rainstorm to stand beneath the U.S. Capitol’s new dome and hear Lincoln’s address. “The fears of the olden times were forgotten,” a newspaper reported. “Happy faces and cheerful greetings were everywhere observed.”

In his speech, Lincoln encouraged citizens to put the divisions of war behind them. “Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away,” he said, calling for reconciliation. “With malice toward none; with charity toward all,” he said, “let us . . . bind up the nation’s wounds. . . .”

At the completion of the ceremony, Lincoln lifted the Bible on which he had taken the oath of office and pressed it to his lips. In barely a month, General Robert E. Lee would surrender his army in Appomattox, Virginia, signaling an end to the Civil War.


In a ceremony at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865, Brigadier General Robert Anderson, the U.S. Army major who surrendered the fort in hopes of avoiding conflict, victoriously raised the U.S. flag above the fort’s battered walls. The flag raising at Fort Sumter occurred four years from the day that it was lowered in surrender—the event that ignited the Civil War.

The End is Near


This image was taken in early 1865 by Alexander Gardner; it marked one of the last times President Abraham Lincoln posed for a photographer before he was assassinated.

Accompanied by a seemingly endless line of supply wagons, victorious troops from the Army of the Potomac entered Petersburg.

After a ten-month siege at Petersburg, where Grant used the Army of the Potomac to stretch Southern troops thinner and thinner, Union soldiers finally broke through the Confederate line.

It started at a crossroads called Five Forks when Grant ordered the cavalry to attack a weakened section of Lee’s line. The sector was defended by troops under General George Pickett, known for his heroic charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee instructed Pickett to “hold Five Forks at all hazards,” but on April 1, Pickett briefly left his station to share in a shad bake with other Southern officers.

The fish fry gave the North the opening it needed and General Philip Sheridan launched the attack. Before daylight Grant had ordered a general assault on Lee’s lines at Petersburg. His long, arduous siege was over.

Lee’s army was forced into retreat and members of the Confederate government evacuated Richmond on Sunday, April 2, 1865. Richmond’s citizens also fled, and warehouses of military supplies were set afire by retreating Southern troops. An eyewitness described the chaotic scene: “a column of white smoke rose up as high as the eye could reach, instantaneously followed by a deafening sound. The earth seemed to rock and tremble as with the shock of an earthquake. . . .” After four years of warfare and stubborn resistance, Richmond was occupied by Northern troops.

When Lee’s defensive line at Petersburg collapsed, the Confederate capital of Richmond could no longer be defended. Confederate officials evacuated the city and the army set fire to military stores—causing a blaze that ravaged much of the city.

Even heavy artillery was not enough to hold off the Union attack on Petersburg. On April 2, 1865, Lee’s army was forced to retreat.

Lee led his battered Army of Northern Virginia on a march for the railroad at Danville, Virginia, with Grant’s 60,000-man army in determined pursuit. The Southern general’s remaining gamble was to unite his depleted army with Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s army, which was trying to hold off Sherman’s Federal army in North Carolina.

It was not to be. As Lee withdrew across southern Virginia, he suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek on April 6, 1865. There, more than one-fourth of his 30,000 troops were captured by Federal forces. Lee personally rallied the remnants of his army, and resumed his path westward. It would be the last march for the Army of Northern Virginia.

General Joseph E. Johnston


When Joseph E. Johnston joined the Confederacy, he was one of the highest-ranking military men to leave Union forces. Johnston had served as a second lieutenant in the army and as a quartermaster general during the Mexican-American War. With his experience, he became a senior officer and general in the Southern army. Johnston led successful battles early on in the war, including a victory in the First Battle of Bull Run. But he soon came under criticism for inadequate offensive strategy and was replaced by Robert E. Lee as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862. Johnston later commanded troops fighting against Union forces marching from Chattanooga to Atlanta, but ultimately surrendered to General William T. Sherman in April 1865 in the largest surrender of the war.

Surrender at Appomattox


Lee led his depleted army in a retreat from Petersburg, hoping to regroup and continue to fight, but his march was blocked near the Virginia hamlet of Appomattox Court House. There, on April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant, triggering an end to the Civil War.

It was Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, now skeletal thin with little more than 20,000 troops, was being pursued by Grant with an army five times that size. After beating back Northern cavalry near the community of Appomattox Court House in southwest Virginia, the Confederates resumed their retreat when they came to a phalanx of blue-uniformed Northern infantry.

Poised defiantly under red, unfurled battle standards, Lee’s army steeled itself as the Federal troops prepared to make a death attack. Then a lone Confederate horseman emerged from the Southern lines, bearing a white flag. General Lee was ready to meet with General Grant.

That afternoon the two commanders and their staff officers convened in the parlor of a two-story brick farmhouse near the courthouse at Appomattox. One of Lee’s officers urged him not to surrender, but to turn the army lose in the Appalachian Mountains to wage guerilla war. Lee would not hear of it: he and his army had fought honorably, and they would surrender honorably.

Compelled to Yield

Lee was immaculately uniformed; Grant was rumpled, “dusty and a little soiled” from being in the field, an officer noticed. The two had many common acquaintances—Lee had once headed West Point—and they had both served in the Mexican-American War. They briefly exchanged small talk, then Lee moved the conversation to the reason for their meeting.

Grant offered generous terms: Lee’s troops could go home—no prison camps. Officers could keep their sidearms, cavalrymen could keep their horses, and the half-starved Southerners would be issued rations by the Northern victors. Then it was done, and Lee slowly rode away. He issued General Order Number Nine to his troops: “After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. . . . I earnestly pray that a Merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.”

Grant and Lee met to discuss surrender terms at the home of Wilmer McLean, a Virginia farmer who had moved to Appomattox from Manassas to escape the war.

Upon hearing of Lee’s surrender, General Joseph Johnston surrendered his Confederate army to General William T. Sherman in North Carolina after negotiations in this Durham farmhouse

When Northern artillery began firing celebratory salutes, Grant ordered it stopped. “We did not want to exult over their downfall,” he later explained. From North Carolina to Texas, Southern commanders one by one followed Lee’s example, and laid down arms. After four years of warfare, the fighting had finally ended.

Mathew Brady captured a photograph of General Robert E. Lee with his eldest son Major General George Washington Custis Lee, left, and Colonel Walter Taylor, right, following the surrender.

As depicted in this sketch by an eyewitness, Lee rode through the ranks of his army after surrendering. He was enveloped by his soldiers. Some wept. Others just silently removed their hats. “I love you just as well as ever, General Lee,” one yelled.

Tragedy at Ford’s Theatre


After Lincoln’s assassination in Washington, D.C., a special train, right, carried his body to mourning events along a 1,654-mile route that included stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Columbus. In Chicago, left, 7,000 people an hour viewed his body.

The nation mourned as Lincoln’s funeral procession made its way through the East. Here crowds in New York City’s Union Square gathered as the procession approached.

A week after Appomattox, President Abraham Lincoln gave an impromptu speech to a crowd that gathered on the White House lawn to mark the end of America’s bloodiest war. Lincoln asked a band to play “Dixie,” signaling his intention to restore the South back into the Union with easy terms. A week later, he was dead—assassinated while attending a play in Washington, D.C.

It was the evening of April 14, 1865, Good Friday. Lincoln and the First Lady had gone to Ford’s Theatre to see the English farce, “Our American Cousin.” While Lincoln’s sole bodyguard was absent, actor John Wilkes Booth, embittered by the defeat of the South, slipped into the presidential box. He shot the president in the rear of the head with a .44 caliber derringer, then escaped, only to be cornered 12 days later and killed by Federal troops.

Lincoln was carried across the street to the Petersen House, the private home of William and Anna Petersen, where he died early the next morning.

On the evening of April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was mortally wounded while attending a play, Our American Cousin, at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

John Wilkes Booth, a well-known American actor, gained entrance to Ford’s Theater and shot Lincoln from behind while he was watching the play. Booth was later killed by Federal troops.

After a funeral in the East Room of the White House, Lincoln’s body was escorted in a military procession along Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, where it lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda until carried by a special train to Springfield, Illinois for burial.

After a military trial, four convicted conspirators in the Lincoln assassination were hanged on July 7, 1865.

A Just and Lasting Peace


Seventy-five years after the Battle of Gettysburg, two Civil War veterans—one Southern, one Northern—clasped hands as friends at the once-bloodied wall on Cemetery Ridge.

At the end of the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg, Lieutenant Colonel John R. Lane of North Carolina was hit in the back of the neck by a .58 caliber bullet. Lane went down, an eyewitness reported, “as limber as a rag” and presumably dead. The bullet was fired by a Northern soldier from Michigan—Corporal Charles McConnell—who would always remember how he steadied his rifle against a tree and shot down the tall Southern officer. Miraculously, Lane survived his wound and the war.

Decades later, the two former enemies were introduced at a postwar veterans’ event. Although they had fought hard and done their best to kill each other in battle, Lane and McConnell became close friends. In 1903, on the 40th anniversary of Gettysburg, they made a joint appearance at ceremonies on the battlefield. As a crowd of several thousand applauded, McConnell told Lane, “I thank God I did not kill you.”

Their experience was remarkable, but it was not unique. Despite four years of unprecedented bloodletting, the soldiers of the Civil War were Americans—and in the decades that followed the Civil War, they led the nation in an extraordinary healing process.

A lithograph published at war’s end portrayed a soldier returning from the war being embraced by his family.

So many on both sides never returned home—more than 620,000. The soldiers’ section of Richmond’s Oakwood Cemetery contained more than 17,000 graves.

The war left widespread destruction and poverty in its wake in the South. Full recovery would require generations of effort.

Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain described the actual surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox to Harper’s Weekly artist John R. Chapin, who detailed the event in this sketch. After battling each other for more than three years, the armies ended the war with a mutual salute.

At Appomattox, General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was given the honor of overseeing the surrender of Lee’s army. He ordered Northern troops to salute the surrendering Southern soldiers as their returning countrymen.

Confederate Brigadier General John B. Gordon led Lee’s troops to the surrender site at Appomattox, and led the Southern soldiers in returning the Northern troops’ salute.

It was, perhaps, an unlikely recovery from a war that claimed more than 620,000 lives and a Reconstruction Era marred by inequities. Unlike civil wars that had ravaged other countries and often lead to renewed fighting, the American Civil War was followed by an extraordinary national reconciliation—led in no small way by the former soldiers in blue and gray.

General Ulysses S. Grant set the tone when he granted generous surrender terms at Appomattox. So did General Robert E. Lee when he kept his defeated troops from resorting to guerilla warfare at war’s end.

Northern General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, assigned to oversee Lee’s troops as they stacked their arms at Appomattox, insisted his men maintain a respectful silence during the ceremony. When the Southern soldiers came alongside, he ordered Northerners to assume the position of “carry arms,” a military salute of respect. Surprised, Lee’s troops responded by returning the gesture, thus ending the Civil War with the former foes saluting each other as Americans all.

To be sure, there was lingering bitterness and divisions across the country. There would be injustices for generations to come. But many veterans found a bond in their service. Some even began holding joint reunions on the old battlefields, greeting each other as “my friend the enemy.” They shook hands, swapped stories, and helped the nation begin to heal.

At the end of the war in May 1865 more than 150,000 victorious Northern troops paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. in what was proclaimed as the Grand Review. Afterwards, all Federal volunteer troops were discharged to return to civilian life.

In the years following the war, William T. Sherman remained active in the veterans’ community, where he was a highly regarded speaker. He appears here, in the center of the front row, along with Union soldiers.

Under the gaze of their white Northern schoolteachers, former slaves assembled outside their first schoolhouse on South Carolina’s St. Helena Island. Freedom brought opportunities for education, but the nation had a long way to go to provide equality for people of color.

Captured by Northern troops after the fall of Richmond, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was shackled and imprisoned without trial at Fort Monroe, Virginia for two years. Eventually, Federal authorities decided not to prosecute former Confederate leaders, and freed Davis and others.

Jefferson Davis wrote A Short History of the Confederate States of America shortly before his death in December 1889.

In 1901, the U.S. Congress authorized a massive monument to General Grant in front of the U.S. Capitol, and two decades later it was officially dedicated.

In Baltimore, Maryland, a monument was built to honor common Confederate soldiers. Similar statues were erected throughout the country.

At the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913, an elderly Confederate soldier shook hands with an aging Union veteran.

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