The presidential election of 1864

No doubt, Sherman knew just how important the fall of Atlanta was to the cause of reunion. More than a precious industrial and transportation center, Atlanta signaled the success of the commanding general. Grant, and the Commander-in-Chief, Lincoln. It could not have come at a more vital time.

Both the Union and the Confederacy understood the consequence of battlefield decisions that year. The year 1864 would see a presidential election, and by choosing Grant as his commanding general, Lincoln had linked his political future to Grant's military' success. The Rebels, too, recognized its significance. If they hoped to win independence, they must extract a political decision from antiwar forces in the North at the polls. And the key to that would be military success in 1864.

The year opened with Banks's Red River fiasco, followed by stalemates in the two major campaigns. Grant incurred staggering losses in his campaigns in the east - some 60,000 casualties in seven weeks - and eventually locked into a siege with Lee around Petersburg. Sherman's columns did not suffer the same number of losses as Federals back east did, but to observers it appeared as if the Rebels under Johnston were holding their own for quite a few weeks.

More than just the antiwar supporters, more than just the loyalists of the Democratic Party, Lincoln had generated a fair amount of opposition within his own party Conservative Republicans saw him as caving in to the Radicals, while the Radicals believed that Lincoln catered too much to the opponents of abolitionism and to those who interpreted the Constitution narrowly. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase tested the political waters with certain elements of the Republican Party, and Major-General John C. Fremont, the party's nominee for president in 1856, openly courted support to replace Lincoln on the ticket. Both insurgencies failed, but they represented uneasiness with Lincoln's candidacy.

During the summer months, the situation grew tense for Lincoln. After the President withheld his signature and prevented the Wade-Davis Bill, a congressional plan for reconstruction, from becoming law, Wade and Davis drafted a critical manifesto that stoked the fires of opposition against Lincoln. In July, Jubal Early's raid northward nearly seized Washington. The value of Union currency plummeted. And for a while, a sullen Lincoln believed his defeat at the polls was a real possibility. He drafted a letter which he required every cabinet member to sign unseen, declaring,

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the Presidentelect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.

But just as quickly, the tide shifted. The Wade-Davis manifesto went too far, and it pulled Republicans together, at least for the election. The Democratic Party endorsed a peace platform, and then nominated Major-General George B. McClellan, who promptly announced his continued support for the war. The fall ot Atlanta sent assurances to the Northern public that the Union was going to win the war, and that Lincoln was the nation's proper steward. Then, three weeks later, a large Federal force under Major-General Philip Sheridan delivered a powerful blow against Early's raiders and followed it up with yet another.

Lincoln won re-election with overwhelming support from the army. Although not all soldiers were old enough to vote, and some states prohibited their troops in the field from participating, they rallied behind their commander-in-chief and aided his election cause any way they could. Of those who could vote, close to 80 percent cast their ballot for Lincoln, compared to 53 percent of the civilian population. In Sherman's army, about 90 percent cast their ballots for Old Abe. And whether they could vote or not, they clearly expressed their preferences to the folks at home. A Wisconsin man explained to his brother that every man who voted against Lincoln was 'a soldier's enemy.' An Illinois fellow coached his dad to 'Shun all disloyal company and do not vote the copperhead [Democratic] ticket, no matter who might say it is right.' But the bluntest talk came from an Ohioan, who instructed his sister. 'Tell Ben if he votes for Mc[Clellan] I will never speak to him again.'

Bursting with confidence after their victory at Atlanta, soldiers were assured that they would win by Lincoln's victory at the polls. 'We go with our Hartes contented,' an infantryman explained to a friend, 'nowing that we have a President that will not declare peace on no other tirmes then an Uncondishnell Surrender.'

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