THE GETTYSBURG DIARY: The Glorious Fourth (Saturday, July 4th, 1863).

"The Glorious Fourth," Mort Kuntsler's painting of the victory at Vicksburg.

“The Glorious Fourth,” Mort Kuntsler’s painting of the victory at Vicksburg.

July of 1776 proved to be a pivotal day in the history of the American colonies. In this month, the thirteen separate “countries” finally banded together as one country: the United States of America. On July 2nd, the 2nd Continental Congress, representing all thirteen colonies, unanimously declared independence from Great Britain. John Adams, delegate from Massachusetts, wrote to his wife of the day, stating that July 2nd would “be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the day of deliverance,” to be observed and celebrated “from this time forward forevermore.” He would be right about the celebrations, but proved to be wrong about the date. Two days later, on July 4th, Congress officially adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and was officially made public for the first time. With this action, July 4th would officially be considered Independence Day, as the day that the colonists officially threw off the chains of Great Britain, and created what officially became the United States of America.

87 years later, the very existence of the country those men created was at stake. For the argument over slavery and states’ rights had culminated in the costliest war in American history. At its heart lay not only the existence of the United States as a whole, but the idea of freedom as well. In September of 1862, following the Battle of Antietam, Union President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring freedom to all of those slaves in the states still in rebellion. But Lincoln knew that, for it to truly work, the Union would have to win the war. And by the end of June, 1863, it looked as though the war was turning against the Union yet again. Not only were troops in the west bogged down in an endless siege around Vicksburg, Mississippi, but Confederate troops were again moving north, this time into Pennsylvania. IT seemed that, at this moment, the fate of the nation truly hang in the balance. However, on July 4th, 1863, 87 years to the day of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, the tide of war changed in favor of the United States.

The first of these changes, and the one which has been the subject of this series of articles, was the culmination of the Battle of Gettysburg. After three days of brutal fighting (July 1st-3rd), Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee struggled hard against Union troops under Major General George Gordon Meade. Despite a great amount of courage and heroism, the Confederates were unsuccessful at driving Meade’s troops from the field. After a disastrous attack on July 3rd, an assault that would forever be known as “Pickett’s Charge,” Lee’s troops were beaten. Although official casualties have never been fully confirmed, Confederate losses have been estimated at nearly 28,000 of the 75,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia, over a third of Lee’s forces. Union casualties numbered nearly 23,000. 51,000 men killed, wounded and captured/missing in three days of fighting. On July 4th, Lee finally acknowledged defeat, and began his retreat back to Virginia. Meade and his troops failed to take the initiative and pursue Lee. By the time they finally moved, Confederates were across the Potomac, and back in Virginia. Lee would never again attempt such an audacious invasion again, and was forced to fight a defensive war that would eventually lead to their ultimate defeat two years later.

On the same day that Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia began the retreat from Gettysburg, Union troops in the western theater achieved an equally important victory. For several weeks, the forces of Major General Ulysses S. Grant had laid siege to the Confederate city of Vicksburg, a vital city along the Mississippi River. At last, with food supplies spent, and the troops no longer able to hold out against the continual assault, the Confederates finally surrendered on July 4th. With Vicksburg gone, control of the Mississippi lay almost entirely in the hands of the Union armies. The Confederacy was officially split in half, and Grant’s start reached its highest peak in the west. With further success at Chattanooga in November, Lincoln knew that Grant was the man who could win the war for him. In March of 1864, Grant was called to Washington, where he was promoted to Lieutenant General, and placed in command of all Union forces in the field. And now, he would face Lee on the fields of Virginia, and one of the greatest contests in military history would soon begin.

With the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the Confederate momentum was officially rocked to its core. With Lee’s great army decimated at Gettysburg, and the vital city of Vicksburg in Union hands, the tide of war shifted to the side of the United States. In less than two years, the war would successfully be won, and the United States restored. It is for this reason that July 4th, 1863, has the right to be called “the Glorious Fourth.”

In the next edition of THE GETTYSBURG DIARY, we will look at Lincoln’s famous address at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, and how his words showed the transformation of the man revered by many as “the Great Emancipator.” Due for release on Tuesday, November 19th, 2013.

Movie Review: “Lincoln”

Lincoln (Touchstone Pictures, Dreamworks SKG, 20th Century Fox, 2012)

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tommy Lee Jones

Running Time: 149 Minutes

Rated: PG-13 for an Intense Scene of War Violence, Some Images of Carnage and Brief Strong Language

When I first heard several years ago that Steven Spielberg planned to do a movie about Abraham Lincoln, I got very excited. One of the greatest film directors of our time tackling a story of one of the greatest Presidents in American history is just exciting to think about. Say what you will about Spielberg’s political beliefs, but his historical films, from Shindler’s List to Saving Private Ryan, are some of the best in the genre. Now, over a decade after his decision to do a film about the Great Emancipator, Spielberg’s Lincoln finally hit the cinemas nationwide this past Friday. This has certainly become one of the more scrutinized films by historians and modern filmmakers. So, here I am to give my thoughts on this remarkable film.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s historical drama “Lincoln.”

The Cast

For this film, Spielberg has assembled one of the greatest all-star casts ever assembled. But this movie truly belongs to it’s leading man: Daniel Day-Lewis. As I expected before seeing the film, Mr. Day-Lewis gives us what will surely be the definitive screen depiction of our 16th President. As the man has a penchant for doing, he delves into the role with a passion never seen by any actor who has donned the top hat. He truly shows the torment of the man who was overseeing the bloodiest war in American history, while also dealing with a wife whom he loves, though she does drive him angry at times, and the loss of his son Willie years ago. But he also shows Lincoln was a fiercely political animal, as he works to get the necessary votes needed to pass the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, and with bringing an end to the war. But most of all, Lincoln shows the humorous nature of the man, telling yarns and jokes to help get his points across. In all three areas, Day-Lewis excels. If he doesn’t at least get a nomination come Oscar time, then something is definitely wrong with affairs in Hollywood.

Another actor who should be considered for an Oscar is Tommy Lee Jones, who portrays Thaddeus Stevens, a member of the Radical Republicans, and a strong voice for abolition in the U.S. House of Representatives. As usual, Jones gives a strong, humorous performance as a man who is not above insulting his Democratic rivals in the House to bring his point across to the people. He also shows that, despite taking a strong stance against slavery, he is willing to calm his rhetoric to get the amendment passed. This is definitely some of Mr. Jones’ finest work, and deserves some recognition come Oscar time.

Sally Field portrays Mary Todd Lincoln. I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed by Ms. Field in the role. She wasn’t bad. She just wasn’t as good as I thought she’d be. But she does manage to get some laughs, as well as some emotional intensity. It is possible that, had she had more screen time, her performance would have been more fleshed out. But still, she does a solid job in the role.

There are several notable minor roles that should be mentioned. James Spader as W.N. Bilbo, one of the three men hired by the Lincoln administration to “bribe” several key Democrats to vote in favor of the amendment. He is a very funny character, and Spader does good in the role. Also turning in fine performances are Lee Pace as Fernando Wood, a Democrat who stands against Emancipation; Hal Holbrook as Francis Preston Blair, the Postmaster General who calls for Lincoln to attempt to bring the war to a peaceful end; David Strathairn as William Seward, Secretary of State, and Lincoln’s closest friend in the cabinet; Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s oldest son, and a man who wants more than anything to do his part by joining the army, and; Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant. Although a very bit role, his performance comes off as very authentic, and he really gives you a good impression of what Grant was like in his short time in the role. The rest of the supporting cast truly does a commendable job in bringing this story to life.

The Script

Tony Kushner’s script covers a very short amount of time in Lincoln’s life, from January to April of 1865, the closing months of the war. But in choosing to focus on this short amount of time, we get to see two of the most important moments in American history: the final abolition of slavery, and the ending of the American Civil War. Here, we get to see Lincoln as a husband, a father, a politician, and as a human being, and how his involvement in affairs brought about great changes in our country. The script also provides Spielberg with his most character-driven piece to date. While the script does occasionally drag in places, it provides a thorough and emotional look at the events depicted in this film.

Weak Points

To me, there were only three weaknesses in the film. First and second, as already mentioned, are Sally Field’s slightly disappointing turn as Mary Todd Lincoln, and the tendency of the film to drag at times. But these are not a major problems with the film. The third weakness is in the choice of actor to portray Robert E. Lee in the brief depiction of the surrender at Appomattox. While the scene itself is depicted fairly accurately, the fact that they chose to cast a man who, although he looks like Lee in the face, is rather chunky to play the frail, skinny commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, is somewhat distracting from the emotional impact of the scene. But again, this is a minor quibble in an overall moving film.

The End (Spoiler Alert!)

As my friend Greg Caggiano said in his review of the film, the way Spielberg and Kushner chose to end the film is very moving, and different from how it is generally portrayed. Instead of seeing Lincoln at the theater, we see him prepare to leave the White House to go to the theater. And here, Lincoln gives a line that is meant to be off the cuff, but turns out being prophetic: “I have to go, but I wish I could stay.” Then, we see Lincoln walking down a corridor, as one of his help looks on. We then cut to Tad Lincoln, the President’s son, watching a performance of “Aladdin,” which is interrupted by news that the President has been shot. We then go to the Petersen House, where Lincoln dies. But the film does not end there. It ends with Lincoln giving his Second Inaugural Address. This is probably the most powerful scene in the film, as Mr. Day-Lewis gives a powerful rendition of what I believe is Lincoln’s greatest speech. The way Spielberg chose to end his cinematic story truly moved me to tears, and proved to be a powerful way to end the film.

Final Thoughts

Lincoln is definitely one of the greatest films made about Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. From the amazing performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and an all-star cast, a powerfully-written script, to a moving finale, this is definitely the defining portrait of the man considered by many to be our Greatest President. If you have an interest in American history, or enjoy serious, thought-provoking drama, then Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is definitely a movie worth seeing.

Grade: 9 out of 10.

MOVIE NEWS: Spielberg’s “Lincoln” Bio-pic Gets November Release Date!

Daniel Day-Lewis and his Lincoln appearance.

We have often discussed the film Lincoln, the $50 Million project from Director Steven Spielberg, on this blog and the To Appomattox blog. But today, we finally have confirmation of the film’s release date. Although a December release date was rumored, the film is now scheduled for limited release on Friday, November 9th, according to ComingSoon.net. The film will then go wide on November 16th, a week later. The film stars Academy Award-winner Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, who is supported by an all-star cast, including Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robert Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, and Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant. It is based in part on the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

This is one that a lot of us history lovers have waited for, and now we have less time to wait than originally planned. When the film is released, a review will be posted here. So, stay tuned!

Museum of the Confederacy Opening New Museum in Appomattox, Virginia

Image of the New M.O.C. Building at Appomattox, VA

The Museum of the Confederacy is set to open a new museum in the town of Appomattox, Virginia on Saturday, March 31st. The first of three new locations planned (the others will be located in Fredericksburg and Hampton Roads, VA), the grand opening of the new museum, located just a few miles from the site where Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met to discuss the terms of surrender for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, will include special ceremonies including living histories with Civil War reenactors, actors portraying Generals Lee and Grant, and a keynote address by acclaimed historian James I. Robertson, Jr. To learn more about the event, click here.

The Importance of the Western Theater in the American Civil War

On this day in 1861, the first major battle of the Civil War in the west took place when around 5,400 Union troops under General Nathaniel Lyon attacked Confederate General Ben McCullough’s force of 12,000 at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri. General Lyon was killed in the action, and the Federals forced to retreat, in what became the first defeat for Union forces in the west. Over 2,500 men fell on both sides during the battle. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek was the first battle in a part of the war often overlooked in light of events in Virginia. Here, we shall look at the Western Theater of the American Civil War, and its importance in the outcome of the conflict.

When it comes to the history of the American Civil War, the events of the Eastern Theater, and primarily those that took place in Virginia, are the most studied of them all. But the Western Theater, primarily the events in Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia, are sadly overlooked in the realm of Civil War study. Although some battles and campaigns are mentioned, the attention to given to this part of the war, and to the men that fought it, pales in comparison to what has been lavished on the events of the east. But the events of the Western Theater of the American Civil War are just as important, and in some cases, probably more important, than the events of the east. To me, there are three reasons that this theater of war was important to the Union war plan.

1. Splitting the Confederacy

It was in this theater of the war that the United States would deal a severe blow to the Confederacy by tearing the country asunder by dividing the country. The Union first did this by taking control of the Mississippi River, which served as a natural divide, with the Confederate States of Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas to the west of the river. Control of this river would divide the far western states from the rest of the country, and would allow passage for Union gunboats. The campaign to take control of this vital waterway was planned and led by Union General Ulysses S. Grant, and, although it would take longer than expected, was successful. With the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4th, and the capitulation of Port Hudson on July 9th, the Union took complete control of the Mississippi, and divided the South in two.

But Union plans would eventually lead to the Confederacy being divided yet again. In 1864, with Tennessee securely in Federal hands, Union General William T. Sherman began his infamous Atlanta Campaign, which ended with the taking of that city that September. With that success behind him, Sherman then made his legendary “March to the Sea,” capturing Savannah in December. With this campaign, the Confederacy was now split into three parts, with the Union in control of much of the country between the Mississippi and Tennessee/Georgia. Sherman was also able to march virtually unopposed through South Carolina, leaving a path of destruction in his wake before entering North Carolina in March, 1865.

2. Success in Georgia and Lincoln’s Reelection

The Elections of 1864 became heavily connected with the Western Theater of the war. By September of that year, the chances of Abraham Lincoln winning reelection were slim at best. Not only had previous presidents before him failed to gain a second term in office, but many citizens of the United States felt the war was not going well, and were ready to see it over. To make matters worse, Lincoln faced strong opposition from the Democratic Presidential nominee, General George B. McClellan, former commander of the Army of the Potomac. Although he was not fully supportive of the idea, McClellan ran on a peace platform that, if elected, would see him seek negotiations for an end to hostilities, and possibly see the war conclude with the Union still divided, and slavery still in existence in the South.

But with news of the fall of Atlanta in September, things brightened for Lincoln and his administration. People began to realize that the war could be won, and that the Union could be preserved. That November, Lincoln won reelection, and was given the opportunity to see the war to its conclusion. Had the Confederacy held on to Atlanta until the time of the 1864 Election, things might have turned out differently.

3. The Rise of Ulysses S. Grant

The most important element of the Western Theater of the war is that this is where Union General Ulysses S. Grant made a name for himself. Yes, he is remembered as the man made Lieutenant General, the second since George Washington, and sent to defeat Lee in Virginia, culminating in the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. But had it not been for his success in the West, Grant would never have gained prominence in the eyes of Lincoln, who saw in him the man who could defeat Lee, and end the war.

He first gained recognition in capturing Fort Donelson in February 1862, where his call for surrender with no conditions earned him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. Although taken by surprise at the Battle of Shiloh in April, and nearly undone by drinking and superior officers jealous of his popularity, he would go on to lead the successful taking of the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and taking control of the Mississippi River from the Confederates, in July of 1863. Then, the icing on the cake came when he successfully broke the Confederate siege of Chattanooga by driving Braxton Bragg’s army from their positions on Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge on November 24-25, 1863. It was because of these successes that Lincoln called Grant east, pinned a third star on him, and gave him supreme command of all Union forces in the field.

Conclusion

These are the reasons why the Western Theater of the American Civil War was vital to the Union war effort. The taking of the Mississippi River, and Sherman’s successful campaigns in Georgia, split the Confederacy in three. Moreover, Sherman’s taking of Atlanta made it possible for Lincoln to win reelection, and continue the war effort. Finally, it was the actions of Ulysses S. Grant in this theater of war that gained him prominence, and brought him east to finish the fight against Lee. Without these successes in the west, victory for the Union may not have been achieved, and the preservation of the Union, and the ending of the “peculiar institution” of slavery, would possibly have been in vain.

Sincerely,

Steven Hancock, Civil War Diary.

Works Consulted

McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.