150 Years Ago This Week: Lincoln’s second inauguration

March 1865

On Saturday, March 4, at the Capitol in Washington, Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address, outlining his second term and talking directly to the Confederate people, concluding with the words: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The president took his oath of office from newly appointed Chief Justice Salmon Chase, formerly secretary of the treasury. Among those present in the crowd that day was the celebrated Shakespearean actor John Wilkes Booth. Before the inauguration, Vice President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee took his oath of office; he was ill, and having taken too much whisky as a medicine, he made a rambling, incoherent address which shocked many who heard him. That evening, at the inaugural ball, President Lincoln shook hands with some 6,000 persons.

In Richmond, the Confederate Congress approved a revision of the design of the national flag of the Confederate States; to the white field was added a broad red vertical stripe. Since 1863, the national Confederate flag, with its field of white, had appeared like a white flag of truce when hanging limp on a pole.

The following day, President Lincoln asked Hugh McCulloch of Indiana, comptroller of the treasury, to be secretary of the treasury, replacing William Fessenden, who had resigned to serve in the Senate from Maine.

Union Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick
Union Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick

On March 6, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston again assumed command of the Confederate Department of North Carolina; he now led all Confederate troops south of Petersburg, Va., and in the Carolinas. Maj. Gen. William Sherman’s Union troops crossed into North Carolina, marching towards Fayetteville. Gen. Johnston had sent all available Confederate troops to Gen. Braxton Bragg north of Wilmington, and the Southerners led an attack against Col. Jacob Cox’s troops near Kinston. In a battle that lasted two days, the Federal lines broke under the Confederate onslaught. There were a number of attacks and counterattacks but the Confederates had insufficient troops in the ranks to sustain a complete victory.

There was a substantial number of clashes between opposing forces west of the Mississippi River as well as in North and South Carolina. Confederate cavalry under Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton and Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler surprised Union cavalry at Monroe’s Crossroads, S.C. The Union cavalry leader, Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, was for the second time in his military career nearly captured in his bed. He managed to escape by jumping out a first-floor bedroom window clad only in his underwear. The engagement was called “The Battle of Kilpatrick’s Pants.”

By a vote of 9 to 8, the Confederate Senate on March 8 approved the bill authorizing the use of black slaves as soldiers. It went to the House for debate. The same day, Gen. E. Kirby Smith, commander of Confederate troops west of the Mississippi River, offered in a letter to President Jefferson Davis to resign following newspaper attacks against Gen. Smith. President Davis refused to accept to offer to resign.

In North Carolina, Gen. Sherman’s Federal troops occupied Fayetteville on Saturday, March 11. The same day, Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Union troops reached Goochland C.H., west of Richmond, on their way from the Shenandoah Valley to join Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant at Petersburg.

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.