The Price of Freedom: Americans at War Home Collection Search

Civil War

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Leaders

President Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln sat at the center of the war. Three of his most important political actions during the war were issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, naming Ulysses S. Grant commander in chief of Union armies, and winning re-election in 1864.

Freeing the Slaves

Although Lincoln had always opposed slavery, he had not favored abolition when elected. But after the battle of Antietam, he decided that freeing the slaves in the rebellious South was critical to winning the war. The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, made a negotiated settlement between North and South almost impossible. It solidified Lincoln’s political support. It ended the possibility that England would recognize the Confederacy. It encouraged Southern slaves to escape and join the Union Army. And it was a major step toward a more just nation, where all would be free.

Appointing Grant

In 1864, Lincoln named Ulysses S. Grant general in chief of all the armies, then supported him as he led the Union to victory. At the beginning of the war, the Union Army had suffered from uneven senior leadership. Despite superior numbers, equipment, supplies, and rail transportation, Union generals continually lost important battles. Although Lincoln had little military experience himself, he exercised his authority as commander in chief and replaced his generals one after another. He finally found the determined military leader he sought in Grant.

Winning Reelection

To win the war, Lincoln had to maintain popular support and win reelection in November 1864. His Democratic opponent was George McClellan, the man Lincoln had named and then replaced as general of the Army of the Potomac. Although McClellan himself vacillated on negotiating peace, many of his supporters strongly favored it.

In early 1864, Lincoln was convinced that a war-weary electorate would vote against him. But by election day, military successes by Generals Grant, Sheridan, and Sherman gave voters confidence that victory was near, and Lincoln handily won reelection, with 55 percent of the popular vote.


Exhibition Graphics

Election-Day, 8th November, wood engraving by Thomas Nast

Election-Day, 8th November, wood engraving by Thomas Nast

Grand National Union and Democratic banners, 1864

Grand National Union and Democratic banners, 1864

Grand National Union and Democratic banners, 1864

Grand National Union and Democratic banners, 1864

Commemorative lithograph of the Emancipation Proclamation, 1864

Commemorative lithograph of the Emancipation Proclamation, 1864


Related Artifacts

Ulysses S. Grantís Letter from Fort Donelson
Grantís Commission
1864 Election Poll Book
Republican Election Ticket for 1864
Democratic Election Ticket for 1864


Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Printable ScriptVisit the MuseumEducationCredits