Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 6. Segment 8
The Final Year

In Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln has finally found the strong general he has been searching for for the East See It Now - Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Like Robert E. Lee, Grant is a fighter. Both generals know that the longer the war goes on, the more likely it is that Northerners will tire of supporting it. Grant is anxious to fight it out as quickly as possible. So he attacks, and attacks, and attacks. At one point the explains his tactics this way: "President Lincoln … said he did not care to know what I wanted to do…. He wished me to beat Lee; how I did it was my own matter. Here then [was] the basis of all plans…. First to use the greatest number of troops practicable against … the enemy. And second; to hammer continuously at the … enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him."

By 1864, the battles are all taking place on Confederate soil. For ten weary months, Grant lays siege to Petersburg, Virginia. Then General William Tecumseh Sherman marches the U.S. Army of the West from Tennessee to Georgia and on to the Carolinas. That army's march is one of the most famous in military history. Sherman says, Hear It Now - Gen. Sherman "War is the remedy our enemies have chosen—and I say let us give them all they want."

Like Grant at Vicksburg, Sherman breaks the rules he had learned when he was a cadet at West Point. When he marches east he leaves his supply lines—something a general is never supposed to do. The Northerners slash, burn, and destroy the countryside. They slaughter livestock, steal crops, and feast on their takings. There are no halfway measures with General Sherman; he believes in "total war." He wants to destroy the South's ability to make war and to feed its people See It Now - Destruction of the South. His strategy is cruel, but effective. Eliza Andrews was a Southern woman in Sherman's pathway. She wrote: Hear It Now - Eliza Andrews "There was hardly a fence left standing all the way from Sparta to Gordon. The fields were trampled down and the road was lined with carcasses of horses, hogs, and cattle that the invaders, unable either to consume or carry away with them, had wantonly shot down, to starve out the people and prevent them from making their crops. The stench in some places was unbearable. The dwellings that were standing all showed signs of pillage ... while here and there [were] lone chimney stacks."

There are no telephones, so in the North no one knows what is going on. There are rumors that Sherman is losing. But when he captures the city of Atlanta, word quickly reaches Washington. It is clear that the North is winning and that the war will soon be over.

At the beginning of April 1865, Confederate troops set fire to supplies in Richmond and retreat from the city Check The Source - Abraham Lincoln Enters Richmond. Lee's tired, shoeless army races west. Grant wants to surround Lee's army so there will be no way out. And finally he does that at a place in Virginia called Appomattox Court House Check The Source - The Prelude to Appomattox.

On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee—proud, erect, and wearing his handsomest uniform—walks into the parlor of farmer Wilmer McClean's house See It Now - The McLean House. He has come to surrender to U.S. Grant See It Now - "Surrender of Gen. Lee". Grant later remembers: Hear It Now - Ulysses S. Grant "I felt sad at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and so valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought Check The Source - Robert E. Lee Surrenders to Ulysses S. Grant."

Grant writes out the official surrender terms. They are kinder than anyone expected. The Southern soldiers can go home, and—as long as they give their promise not to fight against the country again—they will not be prosecuted for treason. They must surrender their guns, but they can take their horses. Lee speaks to one of Grant's aides, a Native American named Lt. Colonel Ely Parker Ely Parker. He says, "I'm glad to see one real American here." Parker replies: "We are all Americans."

Robert E. Lee, brave as he is, still doesn't seem to understand why so many men and women have been willing to fight and die in this terrible war. "We are all Americans": It is those words. Our nation began with a declaration that said all men are created equal. That powerful idea excited people all over the world. But our Constitution had not guaranteed that equality. This Civil War—terrible as it was—will cause the Constitution to be changed for the better. Three amendments will soon be passed: the Thirteenth, the Fourteenth, and the Fifteenth. They will make sure that we are all Americans. They will give the nation a new birth of freedom Check The Source - Post Civil War Amendments to the Constitution.

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