|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing|
|Edition description:||1st ed|
|Product dimensions:||5.91(w) x 8.66(h) x (d)|
|Age Range:||10 Years|
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A Fateful April
IN APRIL 1861 the new President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, conferred with his closest advisers in a series of emergency meetings. Among the many burning issues under discussion was the importance of keeping a certain Colonel Robert Edward Lee of Virginia in the Army. Finally, Lincoln made--or approved--the decision to offer this man, who had only recently been promoted to Colonel, the awesome job of commanding a large new army. Then, as the meeting adjourned, the President walked to the window of his office and looked out at a Washington drenched in sunlit, blooming splendor.
April is the time of rebirth in nature and hope and love among human beings. But in 1861, the United States, not yet one hundred years old, seemed nearer death. What had begun as a noble rebellion against tyranny, a heroic fight against hopeless odds, and an experiment in a new kind of democratic government was on the verge of coming to a bitter end.
Blessed in its hearty people, its vast land, its bountiful resources, its freedoms, its splendid isolation from the corruptions of the Old World, the United States had nevertheless had a corruption of its own: slavery. In the Southern states, black people toiled against their will, while their white masters often lived the good life in large manors. For a long time, some people, including great men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, had guilty consciences about this evil in their midst. But they were content to let God and time bring about the solution.
Time passed, and no solution was in sight. Gradually, the slavery issue rose in the list of national priorities.Various compromises agreed to in the past were becoming unworkable, and new ones could no longer be hammered out. Extremists on both sides increasingly raised their voices and backed their voices with actions.
On the one hand, some die-hard Southerners glorified slavery, justified it with quotations from the Bible, and wanted to spread its blessings to the many territories being settled in the West and Southwest. On the other hand, Northern abolitionists came to see the slave owners as satanic and slavery as a wickedness that had to be wiped out everywhere at once. Peaceful resolution was becoming impossible.
In fact, rebellion was in the air. The Abolitionists were encouraging the black slaves to rise against their masters, and the Southerners were openly discussing the idea of seceding from the Union. "Secession" was a nice name for rebellion. But the United States itself had been formed by a rebellion against an oppressive, remote, unsympathetic central government. This violent solution came easily to the grandchildren of the makers of the American Revolution.
Newly elected President Lincoln barely had had time to take off his hat and coat in the White House before facing the prospect of presiding over only half a nation or, worse, no nation at all. Slavery took a back seat as an issue; the central concern was the preservation of the Union. If individual states could pick up their marbles and go home every time some debate did not go their way, then the Union was a farce. Yesterday the snag might have been trade policy, today it was slavery, tomorrow something else. For the Union to work, it had to be accepted by everyone.
The new President was receiving bulletins almost hourly about turmoil and dissolution. Slave states were seceding one after another. Suddenly, the bonds of trust that connected individuals and groups by tradition and shared experiences were being torn. In particular, the United States Army had overnight become a question. It contained many officers and units with a strong Southern background. Could they be relied on to follow orders from Washington--even if those orders forced them to aim their guns at fellow Southerners?
War is bad, but at least it unites a country against a common enemy who speaks a different language and acts differently. How much more terrible is civil war, which divides cities and families and makes the enemy hard to recognize because he speaks the same language and was your friend, relative, or playmate only yesterday.
Therefore, at the very beginning of his presidency, Lincoln had to make sure of the Army. In a situation in which reason and laws cease to dominate men's affairs, the only thing that works is force, and whoever has military power runs the show. If Lincoln had a strong army under his control, the rebellion might be quashed quickly or even prevented, and he could then turn to the delicate task of healing the wounds through talk, persuasion, compromise. But if he could not rely on the Army, talk was useless and the Union was finished. The new President had no other choice.
Thus it was that Lincoln made the offer to Robert E. Lee, who, he had been told, was the best soldier in America. Lee would be given command of a large army to be raised quickly for the purposes of, at the least, protecting Federal depots and property in the South, enforcing Federal laws, and, at the worst, bringing rebellious Southern forces to heel. That he came from a border state contaminated by slavery was all the better. It would send a signal to the South that one of her sons was high in the councils of power and that this area should not feel neglected. It could also be a warning to the South that if one of her sons, one of the best and most patriotic Southerners, saw that his duty lay with the Union, then the Southern rebels were the ones who were out of line. A powerful Federal army acting gently under the command of a Southerner would be like a well-meaning, respected teacher using a ruler on a stubborn or ignorant pupil's knuckles for his own good and not like a foreign despot coming to mutilate and conquer.
The problem for Lincoln and his advisers, though, was where Lee stood. He was one of those ideal soldiers who had not mingled in politics, or looked for financially advantageous positions, or been pushy about promotions or assignments. He had gone through the decades dutifully discharging whatever responsibilities the Army placed on him, and he had kept his feelings about current issues to himself.
So the offer was made to the Colonel during that fateful April of 1861. Lee rode home to Virginia, across the Potomac, past the budding leaves and blossoming flowers of spring, his mind churning and too preoccupied to enjoy the scenery. He went straight to his bedroom, ignoring his family. After pacing up and down all night, he finally wrote his reply. Of all the people in that distracted land during those painful days none agonized more than Robert E. Lee. He had no difficulty in making up his mind, but that did not make the pain any easier to bear. He went through torture not because of indecisiveness, but because of the price to be paid for his decision.
What Lee decided reflected the man and the life he had lived before that fateful spring day.
Table of Contents
Contents1: A Fateful April,
2: A Fine and Private Virginian (1807–1859),
3: A National and Personal Crisis (1859–1861),
4: Military Organizer and Presidential Adviser (April 1861–May 1862),
5: The Emergence of General Lee: The Battle of the Seven Days (June–July 1862),
6: Going North: Second Manassas and Antietam (July–September 1862),
7: High Tide: Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville (September 1862–May 1863),
8: The Turning Point: Gettysburg (May–July 1863),
9: Against the Tide: The Wilderness and Spotsylvania (July 1863–May 1864),
10: Dangerous Stalemate: Cold Harbor and the Siege Line (May 1864–March 1865),
11: A Fateful April Four Years Later,
12: Retirement, Recuperation, Reconciliation (April–September 1865),
13. College President and Last Days (1865–1870),