By John C. Waugh
Southern Illinois University Press, 2014
The final five months of the Civil War were among the most telling of Abraham Lincoln’s life. This book recreates the drama of those five crucial months. It takes Lincoln from the day of his reelection in early November 1864 — which General U. S. Grant described as “a victory worth more than a battle won” — to the end of the war in early April 1865. In those five months, as the war was winding down, Lincoln was the central figure in great events.
In early December he sent his last annual message to Congress. In late January 1865 he successfully pushed through Congress the 13th Amendment ending slavery throughout the United States. On March 4 he delivered his second inaugural address, one of the great speeches in the English language. Late that same month, as the war appeared about to end, he made an extended sixteen-day visit to Grant’s army before Petersburg. On April 4 he walked into a just surrendered and burning Richmond with his son Tad and sat in Jefferson Davis’s chair. A week later Lee’s army of Northern Virginia surrendered at Appomattox Court House and Lincoln saw his four long years of toil ended in victory.
On the night of his reelection on November 8, 1864, Lincoln called on the nation to “re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country.” In this lively compact book, Jack chronicles in detail Lincoln’s own role in the final five months, as he and Grant worked together to bring the war to an end.
The book centers on Lincoln, but also recounts the dramatic final military campaigns and battles of the war, including William T. Sherman’s march through Georgia to the sea; the Confederate army’s defeat at the battle of Franklin and its final destruction before Nashville; and the Union victory at Fort Fisher that closed the Confederacy’s last open port. The book follows Sherman’s march on through the Carolinas and the burning of Columbia; Grant’s massive final campaign launched in early Spring 1865 with the Battle of Five Forks; the hurried Confederate evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond; and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
Jack enlivens his narrative with illuminating quotes from a wide variety of Civil War participants and personalities, including New Yorker George Templeton Strong, southerner Mary Boykin Chesnut, Lincoln’s secretaries John Nicolay and John Hay, writer Noah Brooks, and many others.
(The book is one of a series of volumes for the Concise Lincoln Library being written by various Lincoln historians and published by the Southern Illinois University Press as part of the four-year Civil War Sesquicentennial. )
What Historians Think
“In the hand of a master historian and storyteller, even a timeless tale can be enlivened and made to sing. The ending is of course unchanged, but with beautiful prose resting on a firm foundation of essential research and his unimpeachable expertise, Waugh educates and entertains.”
— Lynda Crist, editor of The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Rice University
“In a vivid recounting of the critical five months between Lincoln’s reelection in November of 1864 and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April of 1865, John C. Waugh combines a thoughtful analysis of political activities with a vibrant, fast-paced narrative of the military campaigns to illuminate the almost breathtaking denouement of the Civil War.”
— Craig L. Symonds, author of Lincoln and His Admirals
“Bravo to master storyteller John C. Waugh for this fast-paced and enthralling account of the Civil War’s decisive final weeks! A lifetime of research and writing on this endlessly compelling topic is evident in his presentations of the crucial players and decisive battles. His smoothly conversational narrative, and talent for seasoning it with personality studies and eye-catching quotations, sent me from cover to cover in just one intensely focused sitting.”
— Richard A. Baker, coauthor of The American Senate: An Insider’s History