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Monday, November 12, 2012

Elections of 1860, 1862 and 1864 Revisited

As we put another presidential election cycle behind us in the United States, the last thing many of us want to hear about is politics. Both parties have put forth their visions and the people have chosen. It has been another bitter struggle played out on the Internet, on the radio and on television. Hopefully all of you had the opportunity to chose who you felt was best by voting. As we look around the world we should realize what a gift we have to elect our leaders. Millions do not have that choice. Our own country offers some incredible examples of the power of the vote. Perhaps there is no greater example of this than the elections of 1860, 1862 and 1864.


The country was bitterly divided in 1860. John Brown’s Raid of Harpers Ferry in 1859 crystallized the slavery issue. In the South, slave owners fears of an insurrection were piqued when Brown attacked Harpers Ferry. In the North, a growing abolitionist movement continued to gain steam. The Democratic Party could not agree on a candidate, splitting the electorate. An opportunity presented itself for the relatively new Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln prevailed in a close vote. Shortly after, in December 1860, South Carolina became the first of several states to leave the Union. The stage was set for civil war.


The year 1862 brought Senate midterm and local elections. In the midst of civil war, the nation moved forward with the vote. The war had not gone as quickly as most predicted, and it was obvious the end was a long way off. In the Eastern Theater, Union armies were pushed back from the gates of Richmond in a series of bloody battles. The Confederate army under Robert E. Lee humiliated the Union army under John Pope and pushed the war into Maryland. Lincoln returned George McClellan to command to drive Lee back. McClellan gained a hard fought victory over Lee at Antietam in September and the Confederates retreated across the Potomac.

In the Western Theater, Union armies found more success. Early victories at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, Island Number 10 on the Mississippi River, and Forts Henry and Donelson allowed for the capture of Nashville, Tennessee, an important state capital. Fighting in the West also brought the nation its first shocking casualty figures in a Union victory at Shiloh, Tennessee. In September, Confederate armies invaded Kentucky and threatened Louisville and Cincinnati before being pushed back at Perryville.

Fall 1862 found the Union fighting back invasions in border states that threatened major cities, potential foreign intervention from England and France and growing casualty lists. Predictably, the elections did not go well for the Republican Party.


1864 was a presidential election year. Union armies were having success but the end was still a long way off. General Ulysses S. Grant led Union armies against Lee in Virginia. Hard fought battles at The Wilderness and Spotsylvania pushed Lee down towards Richmond. Grant continued to press Lee at Cold Harbor, but was stopped in a vicious battle. Grant continued to press on. By mid June, Grant threatened Lee at Petersburg, Virginia. He would still be there in November, locked in siege warfare. A Confederate army invaded Maryland and threatened Washington D.C. before finally being pushed back in the summer.

In Georgia, Union General William T. Sherman pushed towards Atlanta. Sherman battled General Joseph Johnston most of the spring and summer. North of Atlanta, Sherman suffered a bloody setback at Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman continued to push towards Atlanta. Confederate President Jefferson Davis grew frustrated with Johnston’s retreat towards Atlanta and replaced him with General John Bell Hood. Hood came with a reputation as a fighter from the East under Robert E. Lee and joined the western Confederate Army of Tennessee in September 1863. Hood launched several desperate attacks to drive Sherman back. 

In the midst of continued fighting the presidential election was held. The Democratic Party nominated former Union General George B. McClellan as their candidate and ran on a platform to end the war. Lincoln felt he was likely to lose the election in 1864 and feared the country would be permanently split with the recognition of the Confederacy. Casualty lists continued to mount with no end in sight. Lincoln’s presidential hopes looked grim in late summer. September finally brought some good news. Sherman finally took Atlanta. Later that fall, the Confederate army that threatened Washington earlier in the summer was defeated. These victories helped propel Lincoln to a second term in 1864. The citizens of the United States voted to continue the war and victory came in 1865. Lincoln lost his life shortly after Appomattox, never getting to put in place his ideas for bringing the country back together.

Elections of today are filled with partisan bickering. If you look at American elections through history you will find not much has changed. During our nation’s darkest hour, people still were able to make their voice heard through voting. It is important that we as citizens remember this fundamental obligation now, and in the future, regardless of your political affiliation.

- population-we™ blog post by Ron Wiley
© 2012 population-we, LLC
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