150 Years Ago This Week: Lincoln re-elected

November 1864

Abraham Lincoln was re-elected president of the United States on Tuesday, Nov. 8, with Andrew Johnson of Tennessee as vice president. The Republican candidate received 2,330,552 popular votes over Democrat George B. McClellan, with 1,835,985, giving Lincoln a plurality of 494,567 and more than 55 percent of the total vote. Lincoln and Johnson received 212 electoral votes, while Gen. McClellan and George Pendleton of Ohio got 21, carrying only Delaware, Kentucky and New Jersey.

The soldiers in the Union armies got to cast their ballots, and Lincoln received 116,887 votes; Gen. McClellan, 33,748. In the day following the election, Gen. McClellan announced his resignation from the Army. Of the election, Gen. McClellan wrote, “for my country’s sake, I deplore the result, but I am not personally disappointed.” The Confederate press reported that the election proved only that the Federal policy of subjugation was popular in the North. Of the election, President Lincoln said simply, “our re-election will be to the lasting advantage, if not to the very salvation, of the country.”

The second session of the Second Congress of the Confederate States met in Richmond, a meeting destined to be its last. President Jefferson Davis sent a message to the Congress; he was surprisingly optimistic, downplaying the capture of Atlanta: “There are no vital points on the preservation of which the continued existence of the Confederacy depends.” Mr. Davis said supplies would be found, and even the financial outlook “was far from discouraging.” He called for a general militia law and an end to most exemptions from military service.

Davis touched on a singular controversy when he recommended that the government purchase slaves for work in the Army, and then free them on discharge. He did not at this time advocate the use of blacks as soldiers, though he left open the door in case the situation required such employment.

Mr. Davis concluded his remarks by saying the Confederate States desired a negotiated peace, but only with independence, and “not our unconditional submission and degradation.” By telegraph, President Davis wired Gen. John Hood in Alabama to attempt to defeat Maj. Gen. William Sherman in detail “and subsequently without serious obstruction or danger to the country in your rear, advance to the Ohio River.”

At Kingston, Georgia, Gen. Sherman reorganized his army into a right wing commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, consisting of the 15th and 17th Corps; the left wing, commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum, consisted of the 14th and 20th Corps. There would be no general baggage train and a bare minimum number of supply wagons.

“The army will forage liberally in the country during the march,” Gen. Sherman said. If the troops encountered any resistance from local inhabitants, his commanders “should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless, and horses, mules and wagons should be appropriated freely.”

Gen. Sherman was organizing a general movement deep into Georgia, on its way to the sea. He had long anticipated such a campaign, with another Federal force to come in from the coast to meet him. He knew that Gen. Hood, with his Confederate Army of Tennessee, was in northern Alabama, and that he had supplied Maj. Gen. George Thomas with sufficient Federal troops to stop Gen. Hood’s anticipated invasion of Tennessee.

In Washington, in a Cabinet meeting on Nov. 11, President Lincoln opened the sealed pledge document that he had his cabinet sign unseen on August 23, supporting Lincoln when the re-election of the administration was so much in doubt. The next day, Gen. Sherman sent his last message to Gen. Thomas, and moved his troops towards Atlanta. With four Army corps totaling 60,000 infantry, and 5,500 artillery, Gen. Sherman’s army now “stood detached and cut off from all communications to the rear.” Except for homes and churches, the Federals set about destroying Atlanta. The great military campaign to Savannah was about to begin.

Meanwhile, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, fighting between Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s much-reduced Valley Army and Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah resumed with sporadic fighting near Middletown and Nineveh. Gen. Sheridan’s Burning of the Shenandoah Valley from Staunton to Winchester and on both sides of the Massanutten range was just about complete. The devastation of civilian property, which far exceeded what Gen. Sherman would do in Georgia, would take many years of recovery.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.