Lincoln was not projected to win re-election in the fall of 1864. He himself predicted that he was "… going to be beaten, and badly beaten" by a general whom he had twice relieved for a lack of aggression in the field – George B. McClellan – who was running upon a platform of a negotiated peace with the Confederacy. The continued existence of the United States of America was on the election table.

Then on Sept. 4, 1864 the War Department received a report that concluded as follows:
Hood, at Atlanta, finding me on his road, the only one that could supply him, and between him and a considerable part of his army, blew up his magazines in Atlanta, and left in the night-time… So Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.

W.T. Sherman, Major-Gen.

Look at any map of the South even today and you will grasp the significance: Atlanta is the hub. Like ancient Rome, all roads lead to Atlanta. Sherman could turn in any direction he chose with no significant organized resistance – and he did so – 60,000 strong, in three columns, cutting a 60 mile wide swath 300 miles to Savannah and the sea. The South no longer had the ability to conduct extended conventional warfare, and the end of the war was finally in sight. Lincoln was resoundingly voted a second term.
When he again took the oath of office on March 4, 1865 he did not gloat, he did not threaten to bring down the fist of retribution upon the South. He touched upon the causes of the war, noting that both sides hated war "…but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came."
His view of slavery was nonetheless clear. Both sides, he said, "…read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we not be judged."
Both the North and the South were the subject of God’s righteousness: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’"
He then applied the healing poultice to his torn and bleeding country:
"With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
The South was perfectly capable of launching decades of guerrilla war – Thank God, and men like Lincoln, Grant, Lee and Johnston, it did not. We should also hope and yes, pray, for such wise leaders of genuine humility who can nonetheless expertly harness and drive our language to such noble purposes.
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