Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865)

by Huy Trinh

African American troops at Lincoln's second inauguration

African American troops at Lincoln’s second inauguration (Wikipedia)

On March 4, 1865, a crowd the size of thirty-five to forty thousand people assembled in front of the East Portico of the Capitol, anxiously waiting for the beginning of Abraham Lincoln’s second term as the President of the United States. [1] The downpour earlier that morning did not stop the mass gathering in the capital, where for the first time ever a large number of “colored people” congregated at a presidential inauguration, noted a correspondent for the Times of London. [2] The correspondent was referring to the presence of African Americans, most of whom were likely former slaves, at the ceremony. They, among others in the crowd, came to the inauguration with high hopes for the future. The war was technically not over, but the Union was poised for victory as Ulysses S. Grant’s army tightened its grip on the Confederate capital of Richmond [3]. Many expected a grandeur declaration of victory from the president, who had proven himself an extraordinary leader in a turbulent chapter of the nation’s history. Others might have wanted to hear him demonizing the insurgents for perpetuating slavery and triggering the conflict in the first place. By the time the president finished his speech, however, those who came with such expectations must have been sorely disappointed.

Lincoln’s second inaugural address contains only over 700 words, making it one of the shortest inaugural speeches. [4] Yet it is considered by many historians, and even by Lincoln himself in his letter to Thurlow Weed, as his finest work. [5] One could not help but wonder how a seven-minute speech achieved such acclaim, especially when placed next to the more well-known Gettysburg Address, the lengthier First Inaugural Address, or the prophetic House Divided Speech?


Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address (Wikipedia)

For starters, the second inaugural address affirms slavery as the central issue over which the Civil War was fought:

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. [6]

The affirmation reflects a major shift in Lincoln’s view of the conflict throughout his presidency. Standing on the same stage four years earlier, the new president emphasized his duty to preserve the Union, at a time when seven Southern states had already unilaterally parted ways with the federal government. He made a plea for peace and unity by assuring the South that he had no intention nor capacity whatsoever to interfere with the existing slavery institutions of those states. [7] To Lincoln, a more practical and achievable goal was likely to prevent the expansion of slavery into new territories in the West, which explained his decision to return to politics after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.

As the war progressed, the roar for emancipation grew louder from radical abolitionists, and yet it appeared that Lincoln’s attention was affixed to saving the Union. When Horace Greeley lamented the president’s apparent lack of commitment to the emancipation of enslaved blacks, Lincoln offered a swift and assertive response in which he called saving the Union his “paramount object”:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. [8]

Emancipation Day in South Carolina, January 1, 1863 courtesy of the House Divided Project

It is important to acknowledge that at the time of Lincoln’s exchange with Greeley, the president had already drafted the Emancipation Proclamation and was advised by William Seward to wait for a Union victory for a public announcement. At this point, however, Lincoln still contemplated the issues of race, slavery, and emancipation within the political and social context of the war, and not for the moral implications of the institution. A year earlier, he rescinded a proclamation issued by John C. Frémont – which freed the slaves in Missouri – out of fear that it would upset the neutrality of the border states. [9] When Lincoln officially issued his own proclamation on September 22, 1862, one might have viewed it as a political maneuver aimed to cripple the slave-dependent economy of the South while augmenting the strength of the Union forces by recruiting black soldiers. [10] Here, it seems that Lincoln saw emancipation as a means to achieve the ultimate purpose of preserving the Union, but not as the end of the war itself.

But there were also signs indicating that the Union commander-in-chief had wrestled with slavery as the core issue of the bloody war. Just a week before publishing his reply to Greeley, on August 14, 1862, he met with a group of prominent black men in the White House and suggested that free blacks should leave for another country, hinting that the president believed the departure of blacks from America would cause the fight to cease to exist. [11] And in his second inauguration, Lincoln finally defined the conflict as a war to abolish slavery, ensuring that the triumph of the Union means the collapse of this deplorable institution in the United States. To African Americans, this affirmation is a promise of racial equality and justice that they were denied for two hundred and fifty years on this continent – a promise made by the president and would be fulfilled by the president himself in his second term.

The second significance of the address lies in the inclusive tone of the words. Historian Ronald C. White notes that Lincoln was the first president that wins a second term since Andrew Jackson. Generally, a reelected president tends to open their inaugural remark with a statement of personal appreciation for the citizens who had entrusted the responsibility of leading the nation to them., the way Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson did. [12] By contrast, Lincoln in his 1865 address only used personal pronouns twice throughout the whole address. Instead, he employed extensively what White called “inclusive language”, with words like “both” and “all” appearing repeatedly [13]. Contrary to the hope of many spectators, Lincoln neither vented his anger toward the South nor professed any self-congratulations. The president again continued his inclusive language in the fourth paragraph:

Both 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 be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. [14]

Lincoln reminded his aroused audience of the common ties between the North and the South, that the soldiers and the people of each side “read the same Bible” and “pray to the same God”. While Lincoln pointed out the irony in the way Southern people appealed to God as they simultaneously oppressed blacks, he immediately asserted in the following sentence: “…but let us judge not that we be not judged.” Here, the president cautioned his listeners against human’s tendency to judge and retribute, and instead encouraged a sense of understanding, empathy, and forgiveness from fellow Northerners [15]. He urged for his people, to recognize “American slavery” as an offence of a whole nation rather than letting the South bear the sole burden of wrongdoings, proclaiming that it was the will of God for the catastrophic war to break out, for it will cleanse the nation of the evils of slavery no matter how long it shall take.

Inscription of the Second Inaugural Address at the Lincoln Memorial

In 700 words, there were no self-appraisals, no celebrating the military successes of the North, nor was there any chastisement of the South for tolerating and perpetuating the brutal subjugation of millions of blacks. Now a hardened politician after four tumultuous years in the capital, Lincoln understood that for “a new birth of freedom” to materialize, all hostilities must abate once the dust settles. The war was fought to resolve the hostilities and release the bitterness between two sides, and thus if hostilities and bitterness still persist after armed conflicts cease, “the war would have been in vain”. [16] Toward the end, all Lincoln tried to do was to extend an olive branch, offering the enemy his willingness to forgive and to enter a new era as a united nation of a united people:

With malice toward 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 a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations. [17]

Lincoln meant every word he had said on that day. Months before he took the podium on March 4, 1865, the president had expressed his inclination for a conciliatory reconstruction. Two days after winning the election, he told a group of serenaders at the White House that he “[has] not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom”, indicating his wish for a smooth and amicable restoration of the Confederate states into the Union. [18] Exactly a month after his speech, Lincoln visited the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, where thousands of frightened citizens inhabited after Robert E. Lee’s army fled the city. When asked by General Weitzel for advice on dealing with the locals, the president simply said, “I’d let ‘em up easy.” [19]

April 9, 1865, Lee and his army surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. With permission from Lincoln, the Commanding General of the Army extended his former foes a generous peace, allowing Lee’s soldiers to return home [20]. In addition, Grant provided rations for the ravaged Confederate army, and he ordered for all celebrations to come to a full stop, declaring that they were now countrymen again. [21] Grant’s acts were reflective of the president’s desire for reconciliation, and the defeated Lee felt nothing but gratitude for the goodwill he was offered.

Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Wikipedia)

Now inscribed on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the inauguration address of 1865 now holds a special place in American history. For renowned Lincoln scholar Ronald C. White, Lincoln’s words from more than 150 years still resonate today, and even more so in a polarized political climate. [22] The speech exemplifies the best of Abraham Lincoln – compassionate, insightful, and humble – just as how Abraham Lincoln “represents the best values of what it means to be an American” – to have the ability to understand and respect others’ opinions and engage in civilized, meaningful conversations. It is important then, for future American generations, to study Lincoln and understand the legacy he left behind, for there is no men of more consequence than he was.


[1] Ronald C. White, Jr., The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006), 326.

[2] Ronald C. White, Jr., A. Lincoln: A Bibliography (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009), 801.

[3] Ronald C. White, Jr., A. Lincoln: A Bibliography (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009), 799.

[4] Jack E. Levin, Malice Toward None: Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (New York: Threshold Editions, 2014), 11.

[5] Ronald C. White, Jr., The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006), 352.

[6] “Second Inaugural (1865)”, Knowledge for Freedom Seminar, Accessed December 13, 2021.

[7] Louis P. Masur, The Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 23.

[8] “Letter to Horace Greeley (August 22, 1862)”, Lincoln’s Writings: The Multimedia Edition, Accessed December 13, 2021.

[9] Masur, 28.

[10] Masur, 56.

[11] Nikole Hannah-Jones, “The Idea of America” from The 1619 Project (New York, NY: The New York Times Magazine, 2019). [WEB]

[12] Ronald C. White, Jr., The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006), 333-335.

[13] Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural Address. Films On Demand. 2015. Accessed December 12, 2021.

[14] “Second Inaugural (1865)”, Knowledge for Freedom Seminar, Accessed December 13, 2021.

[15] Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural Address. Films On Demand. 2015. Accessed December 12, 2021.

[16] Ronald C. White, Jr., A. Lincoln: A Bibliography (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009), 808.

[17] “Second Inaugural (1865)”, Knowledge for Freedom Seminar, Accessed December 13, 2021.

[18] Ronald C. White, Jr., A. Lincoln: A Bibliography (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009), 787.

[19] Ronald C. White, Jr., A. Lincoln: A Bibliography (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009), 812.

[20] Ronald C. White, Jr., A. Lincoln: A Bibliography (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009), 813.

[21] Masur, 79.

[22] Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural Address. Films On Demand. 2015. Accessed December 12, 2021.


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Since the very beginning of the United States of America there was an incredibly divisive issue at the heart of the nation. A nation built upon the ideals of equality and freedom was also built using the institution of slavery, an institution exemplifying the traits of cruelty, subservience, and captivity.

American Civil War

American Civil War (Wikipedia)

Throughout the first half of the 19th century, the tension between the two regions of the United States grew until it could no longer be contained on April 12, 1861, when confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter.[1] Through the first 2 years of the war, Lincoln refused to make the war effort about the emancipation of slaves. While some cases of contraband act and confiscation helped free some slaves, there was no sweeping legislation to free most of the slaves in the nation.[2] However, after the Battle of Antietam the President put forth the Emancipation Proclamation which freed all the slaves within the confederate states.[3] Once it was clear the war is being fought for the freedom of African Americans across the union Frederick Douglas steps in front of a crowd at Rochester NY on March 2, 1863. While this speech appeared to be hopeful and inspirational to rally support behind the northern cause, Frederick Douglas truly feared that a war won without the help of the African American race would invalidate a large portion of the work done to develop the equality of races.

Frederick Douglas

Frederick Douglas (The Guardian)

Frederick Douglas, a former slave who turned into an incredibly influential abolitionist, gave an essential speech to win over the hearts of a powerful fighting force. Throughout the speech he developed his argument with a historical base. In the very beginning of the speech, he emphasized how and when the war between regions was started. Frederick Douglas highlighted the firing on Fort Sumter. Within that first paragraph Douglas claimed that he predicted that the final cause of the war would be to end the institution of slavery saying that “I predicted that the war then and there inaugurated would not be fought out entirely by white men”.[4] He then moved on to the politics of Emancipation and his pressure to manufacture a new cause for the war. Within the speech Frederick Douglas claimed that “I have implored the imperiled nation to unchain against her foes, her powerful black hand”. [5] In this excerpt he is demonstrating his support for a cause of war to be built out of equality for all men no matter the race so that the African populous in America may fight upon the unions side. Then the speech shifted towards a call to action. Douglas changed his tone to compel people into action and fight for their basic rights to be protected. He does this by shaming the “weak and cowardly men” while spotlighting the ideas of the “brave men” fighting with the union forces.[6] Douglas wrapped up the speech by imploring the listeners to think about not only themselves but other slaves, their children, and their future within the United States of America. Through these ties Douglas created the nature of the speech to be one of a call to action. Frederick Douglas, a powerful orator successfully conjures up the feelings of hope

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln (Wikipedia)

and necessity which madee this speech one of an inspirational message with an incredibly powerful effect on the African American contingent in Union at that time. Douglas uses a multitude of powerful words such as “imperiled nation”, “unchain”, and “great struggle” to stir up the emotions and create support for the northern cause showcasing the true nature of the speech.[7]

Frederick Douglas, one of the most famous orators and former slaves of all time, was not always destined for greatness. He was born on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1818 as a slave.[8] He never knew either of his parents. At 8 years old he was loaned out to a client in Baltimore. Although he was not allowed to attend school in Baltimore, Douglas first began to learn to read and write on the streets of Baltimore.[9] He read a multitude of sources however the most prominent piece of literature that influenced his actions was a book called “The Columbian Orator”.[10] This book was filled with passionate speeches and scintillating debates. When he arrived back to the eastern shore of Maryland, Douglas rebelled and educated the other slaves on the plantation to such a degree that he was sent back to Baltimore.[11] On his return trip to Baltimore, he met Anna Murray, a young free African American woman, who facilitated his escape to freedom by buying him a train ticket.[12] Once free, Frederick Douglas became the man

Frederick Douglass, from the 1855

Frederick Douglass, from the 1855 (Wikipedia)

that he is known for today. He gained fame as a powerful orator pushing for the abolition of slavery and eventually developed his own newspaper, “The North Star”.[13] When the Civil War broke out, he repeatedly pushed Abraham Lincoln to change the true nature of the war from one of national unity to a war fought over the abolition of slavery. Douglas helped galvanize the support of the black populous to support the Union war effort and ultimately led to the defeat of the Confederate states. Throughout Frederick Douglas’s youth he felt the hardships of being a slave. This experience made him determined to put an end to the awful institution by any means possible. For the rest of his life, he was committed to establishing a better future for his children and wife. Douglas died in 1895 at the age of 77 due to a heart attack.[14]

When the Civil War started in 1861, the north was extremely confident in the fact that it would be a quick and decisive war. However, within the first two major battles of the war that idea would soon prove to be a fantasy. In the battles of Bull Run and Wilson Creek in 1861, the union forces were soundly defeated which signaled that the war would drag on for many years.[15] While the Union forces had greater men and manufacturing fueling them, they had to capture and occupy land whereas the Confederate forces simply had to defend. This difference in military objectives led to an increasing number of defeats for the Union army. A

The Capture of Rickett's Battery

“The Capture of Rickett’s Battery” by Sidney King, 1964. (Wikipedia)

lack of major victories in the eastern theater was quelling the excitement of war and damaging the northern morale. By September 1862, the Confederate states seemed to be winning the war so far. Frederick Douglas alluded to this by pointing out that the effort to incorporate the black citizens of the Union should have started sooner.

Lincoln was extremely clear in the intentions of the war at the outbreak of the Civil War: to maintain the Union. The balance of states that held up the Union position was too vital to potentially sever. However, as the time slowly dragged on, the importance of emancipation grew increasingly distinct due to a lack of major military victories for the northern states. Within the speech, Douglas alluded to all the times he petitioned the President to change the focus of the war from one of unity to one of equality. However, Lincoln was firm in his judgement to wait a while longer which can be seen in Lincoln’s response to Horace Greeley, an abolitionist and editor of the New York Tribune and colleague to Douglas, in August of 1862 where he states, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy Slavery”.[16] Even with this façade to the American public, Congress and Lincoln had already begun to slowly chip away at slavery. Beginning with the Contraband act and Confiscation acts in 1861, the northern armies began to become a haven for blacks escaping the southern war effort.[17] While these acts were justified because they hurt the southern war effort, they also began the slow adjustments necessary for emancipation.

A staggering war effort and a lack of decisive policy measures made the President a relatively unpopular man in Washington D.C. However, these two issues would be combined and solved through the same action: The Battle of Antietam. The Battle of Antietam would culminate to be the

Emancipation Proclamation

Emancipation Proclamation (Wikipedia)

bloodiest day in American history in which 23,000 men were killed or wounded on the battlefield.[18] It ended the Confederate armies first foray into union territory and was one of the first major victories for the northern states along the eastern seaboard. President Lincoln saw this as the most apt time to release a draft he had been working on for months: the Emancipation Proclamation. This revolutionary action was an executive order set to free the slaves within the southern states. The abolitionists were overjoyed by the news of a first great step towards the ending of the fight they have dedicated their lived towards. Frederick Douglas commented on the proclamation in a speech in October of 1862, “But read the proclamation for it is the most important of any to which the President of the United States has ever signed his name”.[19] Now less than 3 months after the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglas was once again urging people to join the war and support the northern cause with the greatest possible sacrifice a man can make.

In the speech “Men of Color to Arms” Douglas portrayed the tone of an inspirational speaker. He created feelings of hope and courage to encourage people to fight for a cause bigger than themselves. However, when you consider the context and message of the speech, you will find that Douglas is also speaking out of fear. This is not a fear of the southern state’s military or political power. It is a fear born out of the attitudes of the northern populous, congressmen, and Union soldiers. Douglas feared that a war won without the help of the African American race would invalidate a large portion

United States Colored Troops

United States Colored Troops (WIkipedia)

of the work done to develop the equality of races. This fear from Douglas is not irrational. In February of 1864, black soldiers stationed in Zanesville, Ohio were tormented by racial slurs and attacked.[20] Racist opinions permeated throughout the entire nation, north or south. The lack of an established black regiment throughout the army would only have developed the ideas of the American population of 1860s that equality was unrealistic as blacks would always be less than whites. Even union soldiers fighting on the front lines held these same sentiments. For example, John Cuddy, a private in the Union army, wrote home to his parents claiming, “Dear friends this ware is an auffel thing fighting for ngroes now is a bad thing”.[21] This demonstrates the direct disconnect between the grand visions of the abolitionists and the common person. Political power in the north was also a major obstacle which could only be overcome by demonstrating that the blacks of American had also given all they could to defeat a common enemy. The Northern Democrats were an obstacle which could have easily endangered the building of equality between races. Horacio Seymour, a northern democrat commented on the Emancipation Proclamation by calling it “unconstitutional”.[22] Only military success would help begin to turn opinions.

Frederick Douglas, a slave, an abolitionist, a father, and an orator, looked to turn the tide in both the efforts of the Civil War and the war against the racist outlooks. He aimed to complete both tasks with the speech in Rochester, NY named “Men of Color to Arms”. Within this speech he projected a confident and inspirational tone while also looking to prevent the invalidation of the

4th United States Colored Infantry Regiment

4th United States Colored Infantry Regiment (Wikipedia)

abolitionists work in the future. With the help of influential speakers like Frederick Douglas, enrollment by African Americans swelled to nearly 200,000 in all the armed forces. These armed forces served with distinction quelling any concerns about their ability on the battlefield.[23] Sixteen black soldiers were awarded the medal of honor and helped tear down the wall of racial prejudice.[24] While the fight to end the war against racial discrimination continues today, the fight may have not been started had it not been for people like Frederick Douglas and speeches like “Colored Men to Arms”.

[1] “Civil War Timeline,” National Park Service, last modified March 5, 2021,

[2] Louis Masur, The Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 39.

[3] “Civil War Timeline”

[4] “FREDERICK DOUGLASS, MEN OF COLOR, TO ARMS (1863),” House Divided Project at Dickinson College, last modified n.d.,




[8] “Frederick Douglass,” National Park Service, last modified July 24, 2021,

[9] “Frederick Douglass”

[10] “Frederick Douglass”

[11] “Frederick Douglass”

[12] “Frederick Douglass”

[13] “Frederick Douglass”

[14] “Frederick Douglass”

[15] “Civil War Timeline”


[16] Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003), 190.

[17] Zinn, People’s History of the United States, 190.

[18] “Antietam: A Savage Day In American History,” npr, last modified September 17, 2012,


[19] “Frederick Douglass Project Writings: Emancipation Proclaimed,” University of Rochester, last modified n.d.,

[20] Zinn, People’s History of the United States,  195.

[21] “John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, January 16, 1863,” House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,

[22] Masur, The Civil War, 43.

[23] “Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War,” National Archives, last modified September 1, 2017,

[24] “Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War”



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John T. Cuddy’s Wartime Letters to his Family

John T. Cuddy Letter: July 7, 1861

John T. Cuddy Letter, January 16. 1863

Image of John T. Cuddy's letter to his parents from July 7, 1861.

John T. Cuddy Letter to John H. Cuddy from July 7, 1863 (

From “having more fun than ever”[1] as a Union soldier in 1861 to wishing “that this ware was over”[2] in 1863, John Taylor Cuddy was a Union Army soldier who documented his experiences throughout most of the Civil War. He was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. During the war period, he experienced events such as Antietam and the Second Battle of Bull Run.[3] As he experienced the trials and tribulations as a Union soldier, he began writing back to his family in letters that are preserved in the Dickinson College Archives. Two of his letters to his father illustrated the different feelings among soldiers over the purpose of the war and its politics as it evolved from 1861 to 1863.

Cuddy’s letter to his father on July 7, 1861, marked one of his earliest correspondences to his family after recently being deployed into the Union Army. He described in his letter his optimism of a speedy end to the conflict. “I hope to get our discharge in three months” [4] is what Cuddy described to his parents in his optimistic letter from 1861. He even elaborated on how life in the Army was fun and exciting while he was stationed at Camp Wayne in West Chester, Pennsylvania.[5] In addition to his social life being described as exquisite in his letters, he also mentioned how all 1600 of the men in his camp had abundant food and clothing. This letter demonstrates a stark contrast to his letters from later in the war.

The language in Cuddy’s 1861 letter to his father connects to the historical context of the early war period. Like many other Americans, Cuddy at the time believed that the war would lead to a hasty conclusion and decisive victory for the United States. As we know during the battle of Manassas, citizens followed the Union Army to Centerville, Virginia to watch what they believed to be the quick end to the conflict.[6] The United States had a clear set of advantages over the Confederacy at the time of the outbreak of the war. Textile mills, iron works, transit networks, railroads, and food production were all resources that the United States had abundantly more of than the Confederate states.[7] Cuddy shared his optimism with his family when he shared his prediction of events that he believed would occur. He truly felt like much of the public. He thought that the Civil War would have been a simple, clear, and decisive victory for the Union. Unfortunately for Cuddy, his perception of a quick end to the war proved to be vastly incorrect.

Scott's Great Snake blockade political cartoon

Political cartoon depicting the United States’ blockade on the Confederate states. (

Although many Americans were optimistic like Cuddy for a hasty end to the war, many politicians were more cautious on how long they believed the war would last. Abraham Lincoln knew that the Confederacy could eventually fall, but he was not as optimistic as most of the American public in such a hasty conclusions. When thinking of a lack of resources that the Confederates had, Lincoln prepared to demonstrate a form of political power to increase the strain on their economic structures. He believed that through limiting the Confederacy’s availability of resources, most southerners would eventually rebel against the pro-slavery leaders of the Confederacy. [8]  Many Americans (including Lincoln) also believed that the South was simply under the involuntary control of “the slave power conspiracy.”[9] He ultimately initiated a Confederate-wide blockade in 1861. Likewise of Lincoln, Cuddy likley believed in this theory as he clearly thought that the United States would easily “make the South in the Union again.”[10] Unfortunately for Lincoln’s popularity and the optimism of the American public, the war was set to rage on for many more years.

Image of John T. Cuddy's letter to his father on January 16th, 1863.

Letter from John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy: January 16th, 1863. (

Many began to recognize that the war was going to be much worse than they initially thought. John T. Cuddy’s tone in his letter to his father on January 16th, 1863, demonstrates the shift that occurred in his outlook and opinion of the Civil War between 1861 and 1863. He mentions more than once his desire for an end to the war and that he would never again be a soldier after his service under the Union. He mentioned throughout his letter how he hoped that God would protect him through the war’s end and once again reassured his hopes of an end to the war by the Spring of 1863. He specifically pointed out Abraham Lincoln in his letter as well. He spoke out blaming Lincoln for making the war an issue over slavery and causing it to drag out for so long. Most soldiers for the Union at the time were still contending with the debate over whether Slavery could still exist in a government like the Union after it was reunified.[11] This question that existed was precisely what was going through Cuddy’s head when he learned about Lincoln’s emancipation.


Soldiers like John T. Cuddy were upset with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation because at the time, factions existed in the Union that dominated Lincoln’s approval. Since Cuddy joined the Union cause early in the war in 1861, he held a viewpoint of most soldiers who believed that they were fighting in the war to preserve the Union more than to abolish slavery.[12] The historical occurrence of the time explains why Cuddy explicitly pointed out that he was upset about Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves. There were conservatives (like Cuddy) who were fighting in the Civil War to preserve the United States and then there were abolitionist who believed that the war was meant to be over slavery. Unfortunately for Abraham Lincoln, he was disliked by both political factions throughout the war. His popularity among anti-slavery Republicans began to slide as he made pro-slavery decisions like when he declared General Freemont’s martial law to begin freeing contraband slaves in the border state of Missouri as null in 1861.[13] Later on, when Lincoln emancipated the slaves in the Confederacy in 1863, he clearly angered conservatives like Cuddy who were very hopeful for an end to a war that they joined to preserve the Union.[14] Imagining how Cuddy must have been feeling at the time, his frustrations over Abraham Lincoln in his letters were clearly justified at the time as he was probably exhausted from the struggles that he and his fellow soldiers were experiencing in 1862 and 1863.

Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclemation on January 1, 1863

Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. January 1, 1863 (

When we look at John Cuddy’s letters to his father during his time fighting for the United States during the Civil War, his intentions in his first letter were to reassure his family members that he not only was happy and safe, but that the war would be short and easy for the Union. Contrary to his expectations, Cuddy ended up fighting in a brutal three-year war before dying in a prisoner of war camp in 1864.[15] The documentation of his experiences has helped display the political and emotional struggles that the everyday soldiers in the United States Army experienced during the American Civil War.

[1] John T. Cuddy “John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, July 7, 1861.” John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, July 7, 1861 | House Divided., June 9, 2010.

[2] John T. Cuddy “John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, January 16, 1863.” John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, January 16, 1863 | House Divided., June 9, 2010.

[3]Cuddy, John Taylor,” House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,

[4] John T. Cuddy, “John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, July 7, 1861.” John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, July 7, 1861 | House Divided., June 9, 2010.

[5] Ibid

[6] Jim Burgess, “Spectators Witness History at Manassas,” American Battlefield Trust (Hallowed Ground Magazine, March 26, 2021),

[7] Louis P. Masur, “1861,” in The Civil War: A Concise History (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 21-30, 25.

[9] Varon, Elizabeth R. Armies of Deliverance : a New History of the Civil War  College edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021, 4.

[10] John T. Cuddy “John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, July 7, 1861.” John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, July 7, 1861 | House Divided., June 9, 2010.

[11] Gary W. Gallagher. The Union War. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2011, 77.

[12] Joseph L. Locke and Ben Wright, “The American Yawp: A Massively Collaborative Open U.S. History Textbook,” in The American Yawp: A Massively Collaborative Open U.S. History Textbook (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019).

[13] Lorraine A. Williams, “Northern Intellectual Reaction to the Policy of Emancipation.” The Journal of Negro History 46, no. 3 (1961): 174–88.

[14] Hans L. Trefousse, “Introduction.” In First among Equals: Abraham Lincoln’s Reputation During His Administration, ix–xvi. Fordham University Press, 2005.

[15] Archives at Dickinson College, “John T. Cuddy,” John T. Cuddy papers | Dickinson College (Archives & Special Collections at Dickinson College, 2021),

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John Cuddy: An Exception to the Rule

Portrait of John Cuddy

John Cuddy (House Divided)

All quotations from John Cuddy’s 1863 Letter are written exactly as they appear in his writings

John Taylor Cuddy, like any teenage boy, was eager to prove himself as a worthy, capable young man at the outset of the Civil War.  In April, 1861, Cuddy readily joined the Carlisle Fencibles, a volunteer corps of troops formed in his hometown of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Perhaps blinded by both naïveté and a tidal wave of patriotism, Cuddy shared the same hyper-optimistic view of the impending war as many of his fellow soldiers and Northern citizens. In a July 1861 letter to his father, Cuddy bluntly stated, “the north is going to rase a big armey and then we will make the south in the union agin the south cannot stand before our army we will soon lick the south and then we will come home.”[1] In hindsight, it is easy to look upon Cuddy and his contemporaries as wide-eyed and foolish, but every man had his own reason for joining the fight. Contrary to what one might assume, most Union soldiers did not answer the call to arms due to personal anti-slavery sentiments. In fact, in a war whose cause can best be traced back to slavery, many soldiers on the anti-slavery side essentially fought in spite of their personal beliefs on the institution. In January 1863, John Cuddy wrote a very different letter to those he loved back in Carlisle, one that showed just how much he had changed his tune on the war and his reasons for fighting. At the start of the war, John Cuddy exemplified the stereotype of the eager Union volunteer, but as the war droned on, he proved to be the exception to the rule of the dutiful soldier.

John Cuddy's 1863 Letter

Cuddy Letter, 1863 (House Divided)

On the 16th of January, 1863, John Cuddy wrote a letter to family and friends with a demeanor much different from that of his jovial first letter home nearly two years prior. In striking contrast with his early-war sentiment, Cuddy then stated, “i hope and pray to god to spare me through this ware and let me get home safe again.”[2] From there, he went on to address his friends, and complained that “Old abe done a bad thing wen he freed all the slaves” and lamented about “fighting for ngroes.”[3] He then made a point of saying how he was sick of the war and the fighting, and how he wished he could come home and be with those he loved. In his final paragraph, Cuddy questioned what was gained by fighting in the war because he felt that more was lost than was gained. He rounded out his writing by once again stating how he wished the war would end, and how he hoped to be with friends and family sooner rather than later.

While it may be tempting to attribute Cuddy’s change in opinion on the war to the shock and distaste of the horrors of battle, the true reason behind this transition was not quite so clean-cut. At the outset of the war in 1861, the North was caught up in rage militaire, or the fervent need to stand by the stars and stripes in an effort to prove one’s masculinity and patriotism.[4] The unifying nature of rage militaire and the desire to “lick the south”, as Cuddy put it, made it easy to put aside partisan differences for the benefit of preserving the Union.[5] The excitement over the prospect of battle and the optimistic prediction of a swift end to the war as portrayed in Cuddy’s first letter reflect the concept of rage militaire perfectly. Initially, in the eyes of Cuddy and his fellow soldiers, patriotism and hardly anything more was the only reason for wanting to join the fight. But as the war evolved into something more complex, so too did opinions and expectations surrounding how it should have been fought. 

The John Cuddy who wrote home in January of 1863 was a very different man than the one who was so enamored by rage militaire just two short years prior. Clearly worn out from the trials of battle and military life, Cuddy was also clearly grappling with the blow dealt by President Lincoln’s recent Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation ensured that all enslaved individuals in Confederate territories were irrevocably freed from bondage. Issued on January 1, 1863, the document “elated Northern Republicans, dismayed Northern Democrats, and outraged Southern rebels.”[6] For Union soldiers, however, “contact with African Americans as Union armies moved southward influenced attitudes about slavery and race, building support for emancipation.”[7] Even among those soldiers who were opposed to emancipation as a matter of principle, perhaps due to Democratic loyalty, the necessity of the proclamation as a wartime measure was widely acknowledged. Troops were relieved to find that the war was no longer just a duel between the North and South, but a battle between morality and sin. [8] While those back home were more distinctly divided over the issue of emancipation, the men on the front lines knew that it not only meant that an end to the war may have been on the horizon, but also that they had something more to fight for.

Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation (Wikipedia)

Despite the overwhelmingly- sometimes begrudgingly- positive reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation from the Union Army, John Cuddy did not hold the same optimistic views as his peers. While his words may sound angry, Cuddy’s tone seems more tired when he says “this ware is an auffel thing fighting for ngroes now is a bad thing” and that “Old abe done a bad thing wen he freed all the slaves.”[9] It is certainly possible that Cuddy was wholly opposed to the idea of emancipation, since his hometown of Carlisle housed a great Democratic majority, and support for Lincoln was sparse.[10] However, it is unlikely that Cuddy’s statements were intended to be as malicious as they may come across. After all, he was a young man who went into what he thought would be a swift war with a sense of patriotic duty and high hopes of adventure, only to be met with years of horrific battle. Cuddy said so himself that he was “tiard of ware,” and so he was, in all likelihood, expressing deep frustration over the situation he found himself in.[11] Others in his situation presumably felt news of the proclamation had a relieving effect rather than an aggravating one, and were able to overlook personal prejudices about emancipation in favor of the greater good of repairing the nation. For Cuddy, emancipation exacerbated both his existing prejudices and his resentment towards the war as a whole, which resulted in his unique dissatisfaction towards the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Cuddy was clearly resentful over the longevity of the war and the direction in which its ideological goals appeared to be headed. Not only this, but he was also a man consumed by sorrow and loss. Although crude in phrasing, but nevertheless poignant in meaning, Cuddy asked, “What have we gained by fighting yet we lost more then we ganed[?].”[12] By this point in the war, Cuddy’s unit had lost many of its original men. In the latter part of his letter, he mentioned the need for his division to recruit more men, as they only had 2,500 men remaining at the time of his writing.[13] Not even a year prior to the writing of this 1863 letter, Cuddy lost one of his close friends, William Henderson, to pneumonia, and four of his fellow soldiers to a single cannonball at Antietam just a few months after that.[14] Miserable in the absence of those he loved and mourning the loss of his comrades, Cuddy expressed distaste for the proclamation that did nothing to benefit his immediate situation. The Emancipation Proclamation did nothing for his fallen friends, and it did not bring his family any closer, it only transformed the conflict into something of greater moral substance, and to Cuddy this was not enough.

Modern views of the Civil War tend to focus on its two-sidedness, painting it as a war of right vs. wrong with hardly any sense of nuance. Even during the war, many tended to hold a relatively similar view, with each side essentially wanting revenge for wrongs committed by the other. There is some truth to this notion, as the ideological differences that permeated the Union were largely able to be overlooked in favor of the larger uniting goal of restoring the United States. But, as demonstrated by the case of John Cuddy, putting aside those differences was not as easily done as it may have appeared, especially as the circumstances of the war evolved over time. The Civil War may have had two sides, but it was not strictly two-sided, and there was instead a spectrum of opinions that existed within each faction. Although John Cuddy may be a small exception to the stereotype of the moral, duty-bound Union soldier, he was proof that each side of the Civil War had many sides of their own. 

Works Cited:

[1] “John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, July 7, 1861,” House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, [WEB].

[2] John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, January 16, 1863,” House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, [WEB]

[3] “John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, January 16, 1863”

[4] Zachery A. Fry, A Republic in the Ranks : Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac, (Civil War America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2020), 16, [WEB].

[5] “John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, July 7, 1861,” 

[6] Louis Masur, The Civil War, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 48.

[7] Gary W. Gallagher, The Union War, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 80.

[8] Masur, 48.

[9] John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, January 16, 1863,”

[10] “From Carlisle to Andersonville,” House Divided, April 19, 2011, video, [WEB].

[11] John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, January 16, 1863,”

[12] John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, January 16, 1863,”

[13] John T. Cuddy to John H. Cuddy, January 16, 1863,”

[14] “From Carlisle to Andersonville,”

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An Analysis of “The Color Line,” Frederick Douglass (1881)

Douglass Statue

Douglass Statue in New York, courtesy of Law & Liberty

“Few evils are less accessible to the force of reason, or more tenacious of life and power, than a long-standing prejudice.”[1] This powerful quote opened “The Color Line,” an article written by Frederick Douglass in 1881. As a formerly enslaved person later known for his literature and orations focusing on equal rights for Black Americans, Douglass offered numerous insights regarding race relations in America. Throughout the Reconstruction Era, as some in the politically reunified country attempted to reconcile the horrific cost of slavery on human lives, Douglass asserted himself as a scholar on the topics of enslavement and the prejudice that came from it. His position in American politics and his autobiographical experiences further contextualized his authorship of “The Color Line” in 1881, including his life as an enslaved man, his complicated relationship with Abraham Lincoln, and his various political roles in the 1870s. Douglass’ article offered an opening in which the impact of slavery was philosophically analyzed through the lens of its past and its anticipated future in the (Re)united States of America. “The Color Line” could be used today to view Douglass’ life through sociological and philosophical lenses in a work that is shorter than his autobiographies, but just as impactful.

Article First Page

First Page of “The Color Line,” courtesy of Internet Archive

“The Color Line” was published in 1881 in The North American Review, the oldest literary magazine in the United States.[2] The article was eleven pages in length and was presented as an informative text about how the color line came to be and why it was persistent in American society. As presented by Douglass throughout his article, the color line described the social division between Black people and White people in America. This division was created by slavery and continued through the introduction of divisive legislation by Southern state governments, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses in the years following the implementation of the 15th Amendment.[3] In Northern states, the color line was more evident socially in the “widely divergent spheres” of the two races.[4] As a phenomenon that was both old (in the relationship between slaveholders and those enslaved) and new (as a sociolegal development after the Reconstruction Amendments), the color line was an important issue for Douglass to discuss in his article.

In the opening paragraph of “The Color Line,” Douglass discussed the nature of prejudice in society and its lasting impact on those it oppressed. He claimed that “few evils” were as rigid as “long-standing prejudice,” which he argued was a “moral disorder,” that became stronger as it denied arguments against it, especially as it created new, ugly images of Black people in society. Douglass further claimed that it was easy for people “to see repulsive qualities in those we despise and hate,” as prejudice added a new tint to the lenses of oppressors’ vision.[5] In the remainder of the article, Douglass discussed the origins of prejudice in slavery, its effects on the Black race, and its persistence in society. After the first paragraph, he discussed the existence of prejudice in historical England. He claimed that prejudice has existed elsewhere in other forms, but “of all the races and varieties of men which have suffered from this feeling, the colored people of this country have endured the most.” Douglass further argued that prejudice was “unreasoning,” and it made the Black man “the slave of society” even after slavery was abolished in America in 1865.[6]

Douglass Portrait Young

Portrait of Douglass as a Young Man, courtesy of National Park Service

Even though some claimed that prejudice was “natural, instinctive, and invincible” in society, Douglass argued that if this were true, then it would have been true universally.[7] He claimed that there was “no color prejudice in Europe,” which discredited his first and second caveats of prejudice, and he further argued that most prejudices in America came from the guilt of White people, as they found it easier to oppress those they had harmed, rather than to make reparations for their actions.[8] Additionally, since White people in the South were economically interested in keeping Black people enslaved, they continued to oppress and belittle them. “Out of slavery has come this prejudice and this color line,” Douglass asserted in his article.[9] After he established the origins of the American color line, Douglass claimed that the prejudice in society could not be attributed to merely the color of one’s skin—there must have been an association of skin color with undesirable conditions, such as “slavery, ignorance, stupidity, servility, poverty, [and] dependence.”[10] Douglass claimed that this color line must have been man-made, for it was too inconsistent to be natural. One example of this inconsistency was the way White men feared the rise of the Black race, yet they claimed Black people were “originally and permanently inferior.”[11]

In his closing paragraph, Douglass asserted his belief in great men to overcome the effects of prejudice. “Men who are really great,” he wrote, “are too great to be small,” and he included Abraham Lincoln amongst others in his subsequent list of great men he knew.[12] In an optimistic outlook, Douglass stated that “the number of those who rise superior to prejudice is great and increasing,” but he still envisioned a nation in which all people “respect[ed] the rights and dignity” of each other. As seen in his first paragraph, he ultimately knew that prejudice would be difficult to rid the country of.[13] The descriptions of discrimination in “The Color Line” were likely an attempted appeal to members of the public who supported the abolition of slavery during the Civil War, as it would have been in their ability to perhaps open the eyes of those who denounced equal rights. Additionally, when he wrote this article, Douglass was focused on an updated version of his autobiography, which may have contributed to his philosophical views regarding experiences with prejudice.

Douglass house

Douglass’ First Place of Residence in New Bedford, courtesy of National Park Service

Douglass was born in the Eastern Shore region of Maryland in 1818 as an enslaved man, and at the age of eight, he was hired out by his master and relocated to Baltimore, where he taught himself how to read and write. At the age of fifteen, he was sent back to the Eastern Shore, where he taught other enslaved people and eventually attempted to escape. He was then returned to Baltimore where he met Anna Murray, a free Black woman. Murray helped Douglass escape by providing him with money for a train ticket, which he boarded under disguise and rode to New York City, where he declared himself free. In New York, he married Anna, and they moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts after they decided it would not be safe for Douglass to live in the city as a fugitive. In Massachusetts, Douglass attended abolitionist meetings and spoke about his experiences as a slave, and he soon began to work as an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. To prevent himself from being captured and enslaved again, Douglass traveled overseas to Europe where he gave speeches about emancipation and sold copies of his first autobiography. After abolitionists in Europe offered to purchase his freedom, Douglass returned to America as a free man. He and Anna relocated to Rochester, New York, where he started a newspaper, The North Star.[14]

Lincoln and Douglass

Lincoln and Douglass Meet During the Civil War, courtesy of Library of Congress

When the Civil War began in 1861, Douglass worked to ensure that emancipation would be a result. He continued to speak about his experiences, and he even denounced President Abraham Lincoln’s inaction on slavery at the beginning of the war.[15] After the Emancipation Proclamation was presented on January 1, 1863, Douglass worked to recruit Black soldiers to join the war effort. He believed that serving in the army would guarantee them citizenship after the war ended.[16] During the war, Douglass also met with Lincoln to advocate on the behalf of Black soldiers who were not receiving equal treatment to White soldiers.[17] The relationship between Douglass and Lincoln was historically complicated, as the orator was oftentimes frustrated with the president, but eventually praised his character and decision-making. This was particularly evident in “The Color Line,” when Douglass mentioned him as a man “too great to be small.”[18] Douglass’ work during the Civil War exhibited his desire for Black representation and equality in the nation, and it additionally helped him gain standing in the Republican Party, which he became closely aligned with in the following years.[19]

In 1872, the Douglass family moved to Washington D.C. where Frederick held several office positions before the election of President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, “including assistant secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, legislative council member of the D.C. Territorial Government, board member of Howard University, and president of the Freedman’s Bank.” Later, between 1877 and 1891, Douglass served under five presidents at three different positions.[20] After serving as the U.S. Marshall for Washington D.C. under President Hayes from 1877 until the change of administration in 1881, Douglass was appointed as the Recorder of Deeds for Washington D.C. under President James A. Garfield.[21] This less-involved position frustrated Douglass, which could have contributed to his thoughts on the prejudice he saw and felt as a Black politician in America. Throughout his political career, Douglass aligned himself with the Republican Party, although he presented his ideas during and after the Civil War as typically radical.[22] It was during these years in his political career that Douglass published “The Color Line.” Additionally, over the course of his life, Douglass produced three autobiographies: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845, My Bondage My Freedom in 1855, and Life and Times in 1881.[23]

White men threatening Black voter

Terrorizing a Black Voter at the Ballot Box, courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives

When “The Color Line” was published in 1881, Black people were beginning to experience the oppression and racism of the Jim Crow Era in the American South.[24] The Reconstruction Amendments—including the 13th in 1865, the 14th in 1868, and the 15th in 1870—had appeared to offer legislative protection to those of African descent, but they were quickly circumvented by legislators repulsed by racial equality.[25] Through the implementation of poll taxes, residency requirements, grandfather clauses, literacy tests, and other discriminatory regulations, Black people were largely prevented from exercising their constitutional right to vote in the South from the 1870s until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[26] During a campaign address for President Garfield in 1880, Douglass spoke about the nullification of the Reconstruction Amendments by the South, and this racist legislation was likely at the forefront of his mind when writing his article in 1881.[27] In “The Color Line,” Douglass presented readers with an explanation for the persistence of prejudice in society as seen in the regulations preventing the Black vote. He alerted his audience that because of the characteristics of prejudice, it could survive and thrive in post-Civil War American society for years to come.

In the election of 1880, Douglass campaigned for Republican candidate James Garfield, but his role was less important than it had been during the two previous administrations. As “a new generation of black leaders” came into the political realm, Douglass was slowly pushed out.[28] This new generation was mentioned in the last paragraph of Douglass’ article when he referred to numbers growing of people “who rise superior to prejudice.”[29] When Garfield was elected in 1880, Douglass hoped for another presidential appointment to a position of importance, even though internally he was only waveringly faithful to the new Administration. Instead, he received what he saw as a demotion to the Recorder of Deeds for Washington D.C., which likely left a bitter impression with prejudice on his mind. Around the publishing of “The Color Line” in 1881, Douglass also completed an updated version of his autobiography titled Life and Times, in which he reflected heavily on his experiences with great men and sought to define “the theory of the American self-made man.”[30] As Douglass reflected on his life while writing this third autobiography and “The Color Line,” he must have also considered his various encounters with prejudice.

Douglass as a politician

Douglass as a Politician, courtesy of Library of Congress

Even though the Reconstruction Era ended in 1877, Douglass believed that White Americans still had to evolve in their thoughts and actions towards other races. By claiming there are “few evils” that act in the same ways as prejudice, he asserted that racial discrimination was one of the worst societal diseases man could experience.[31] This was perhaps the mindset of someone tired of people with the same skin color as him being treated with such hatred. This prejudice “refus[ed] all contradiction,” namely from Southern legislators and White supremacists, which allowed it to “[distort] the features of the fancied original” and render the voice of the Black man silent.[32] Furthermore, because it “create[d] the conditions necessary to its own existence,” Douglass believed that prejudice would continue to affect Black lives in the future. By hating Black people for more than merely the color of their skin and associating the entire race with undesirable qualities—as discussed by Douglass in the rest of his article—the White race was (and will continue to be) consistently oppressive to People of Color.[33]

In the opening paragraph of “The Color Line,” Douglass described the prejudice that had taken hold of American society during and after the abolition of slavery. He claimed this prejudice would continue to affect the lives of Black people in the future, such as the implementation of discriminatory legislation following the Reconstruction Amendments that affected Black people at the ballot boxes. Douglass’ multiple careers during the initial years of these Jim Crow laws further allowed him to effectively analyze the philosophy of this prejudice through his growing disappointment with American politics.

Douglass Statue

Douglass Statue at Talbot County Courthouse in Maryland, courtesy of Maryland Office of Tourism

Today, “The Color Line” may seem to be one of Douglass’ more insignificant works, especially in the wake of his speech in 1876 at the Emancipation Memorial in Washington D.C., proceeding his reflections on the Lost Cause in 1883, or when he published three separate autobiographies: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845, My Bondage My Freedom in 1855, and Life and Times in 1881.[34] Despite these other, more famous works by Douglass, “The Color Line” can serve several purposes when analyzed fully. Although it is not directly an autobiographical work, it reflects many of Douglass’ experiences as an enslaved man, a writer, an orator, an abolitionist, a war-time recruiter, and a politician. This article could therefore be used to peer into Douglass’ life through sociological and philosophical lenses, especially since it is much shorter and easier to sift through than a full autobiography. By incorporating explanations for the history of prejudice into “The Color Line,” Douglass provided a glimpse into the possible future of race relations in American society.



[1] Frederick Douglass, “The Color Line,” The North American Review, University of Northern Iowa, vol. 132, no. 295 (June 1881), 567, [WEB].

[2] Author Unknown, North American Review, University of Northern Iowa, 2021, Accessed Dec. 6, 2021, [WEB].

[3] Farrell Evans, “How Jim Crow-Era Laws Suppressed the African American Vote for Generations,” History, May 13, 2021, Accessed Dec. 9, 2021, [WEB].

[4] John Mecklin, “The Philosophy of the Color Line, American Journal of Sociology, vol. 19, no. 3 (Nov. 1913), 354, [WEB].

[5] Douglass, “The Color Line,” 567. [6] 568. [7] 569. [8] 571. [9] 573. [10] 575. [11] 576. [12] 577. [13] 577.

[14] Author Unknown, “Frederick Douglass,” National Park Service, July 24, 2021, Accessed Dec. 6, 2021, [WEB].

[15] Louis P. Masur, The Civil War, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), 41.

[16] Masur, 56-57.

[17] Author Unknown, “Frederick Douglass.”

[18] David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2018), 337: Author Unknown, “Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln: Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)” from The Lincoln Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Legacy from 1860 to Now, Library of America, Feb. 9, 2013, Accessed Dec. 10, 2021, [WEB]: Douglass, “The Color Line,” 577.

[19] Roy E. Finkenbine, “Douglass, Frederick,” American National Biography, February 2000, Accessed Dec. 8, 2021, [WEB].

[20] Author Unknown, “Frederick Douglass,” National Park Service, July 24, 2021, Accessed Dec. 6, 2021, [WEB].

[21] Noelle Trent, “Frederick Douglass,” Britannica, Oct. 5, 2021, Accessed Dec. 11, 2021, [WEB].

[22] Louis P. Masur, The Civil War, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), 41.

[23] William L. Andrews, “African American Literature,” Britannica, Jul. 28, 2020, Accessed Dec. 12, 2021, [WEB].

[24] Evans, “How Jim Crow-Era Laws Suppressed.”

[25] Author Unknown, “The Reconstruction Amendments,” National Constitution Center, Accessed Dec. 13, 2021, [WEB].

[26] Evans, “How Jim Crow-Era Laws Suppressed.”

[27] Blight, Frederick Douglass, 616.

[28] Blight, Frederick Douglass, 612.

[29] Douglass, “The Color Line,” 577.

[30] Blight, Frederick Douglass, 615, 619.

[31] Douglass, “The Color Line,” 567. [32] 567. [33] 571.

[34] Anna Maria Gillis, “Frederick Douglass Lived Another Fifty Years After Publishing His First Autobiography,” Humanities, vol. 38, no. 1 (2017), from National Endowment for the Humanities, Accessed Dec. 12, 2021, [WEB]: Andrews, “African American Literature.”

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Douglass, 1876 speech

Frederick Douglass, Speech, 1876

Frederick Douglass on Lincoln and Reconstruction from The Gilder Lehrman Institute on Vimeo.

1876 memorial

Emancipation Memorial, Washington DC (Wikipedia)

This close reading will cover excerpts from Frederick Douglass’s speech at the dedication of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, DC in April 1876.

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Sample Reflection

From US Diplomatic History, Fall 2020:

A recurring theme in this chapter that I had not previously considered was the oversimplification of Stalin’s motives during the Cold War Era by the Truman administration and U.S. officials. The Truman administration seemed to believe that Stalin’s leadership style was merciless and “pathological” (according to Kennan as discussed by Herring), and that behind every action he took, there was an underlying motive for expansion and thus global hegemony (p.604). Secretary of Commerce, Henry Wallace, was the remaining official in the executive branch who disagreed with the “get-tough” approach and pushed for negotiation with Stalin. He believed that many times the U.S. provoked certain reactions from an insecure nation and that taking a hard line would only make the Soviets do the same. He had a falling out with Truman over how to engage with the Soviets and was fired in late 1946. In George Kennan’s Long Telegram, he spoke about dangerous Soviet behavior and bad intentions. Herring wrote that this “helped destroy what little remained of American eagerness to understand its onetime ally and negotiate differences,” (p. 604). Although one can never know for sure, after reading Herring, I now wonder if it is possible that the Cold War could have been prevented had the U.S. not refused to listen to differing opinions- like those of Wallace.


  • Good reflections engage both the content and the source, acknowledging how all sources have their own perspectives
  • Reflections should both summarize and analyze, using a combination of examples and snippets of quotation
  • Citation rules can be flexible for this types of informal reflections, but it’s always important to clarify for the reader where you are getting specific or quoted information.  Usually, a parenthetical reference to a page number or online source is enough.
  • Don’t be afraid to personalize these informal reflections with an occasional first-person pronoun, with a question of your own, or with or connection to a different class or to the modern day.  That’s not the right approach for formal essays assigned in this class, but it is acceptable for these exercises in thoughtful engagement.
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The Life and Escape of Moses Roper- Revised

Moses Roper faced extreme adversity during his time as a slave. He was brutally beaten and tortured on a consistent basis and demeaned to a point that would break the average person, however not Roper. Separated from his mother at the age of six, Roper became determined to reunite with his family while attempting to break free from the shackles of slavery. Roper was taken from his birthplace of North Carolina by a man named Mr. Sneed. Sneed had difficult selling Roper as he had descended from a white father and half white mother, so he traded Roper to Mr. Michael, a man who made a living by purchasing slaves in northern territory and bringing them further south to sell. Roper moved between different slave owners and traders until he was finally sold to a man named Mr. Hodge. At the time, the narrative was meant to show the American people of the horrors of slavery and to make an argument for the freedom of all people. Today, Roper’s narrative allows for a deeper understanding of the physical, emotional, and mental effects the institution of slavery had on those enslaved, allowing for more extensive studies of this stain on the history of the United States of America.

Courtesy of Spartacus Educational

Hodge soon sold Roper to a slave master named Mr. Gooch who owned a plantation in Cashaw County, South Carolina. Mr. Gooch was a very cruel slave master who immediately began to beat Roper when he was unable to complete the unreasonable tasks that were bestowed upon him. While with Mr. Gooch, Roper determined that he was around the age of thirteen. It was at this age, after being threatened with floggings for an uncontrollable mistake, Roper made his first of many attempts to escape. Escaping from slavery was highly dangerous and could result in the severe injury and death of a slave. In his journal, Milton Polsky explains, “Running away was considered an unpardonable sin by the master class”(1). This knowledge of how masters dealt with runaway slaves was no secret to those enslaved, as Roper explains “When the slave runs away, the master always adopts a more rigorous system of flogging; this was the case in the present instance”(2). Not only did the slaves see what would happen upon being caught and returned, many experienced it. Yet Roper continued to try and try again. This speaks volumes to conditions under slavery. Roper describes his mind and spirit by writing, “Here again words are insufficient to describe the misery which both body and mind whilst under this treatment, and which was most dreadfully increased by the sympathy which I felt for my poor degraded fellow sufferer”(3).

This constant pain and suffering did not make Roper any less determined to achieve his ultimate goal of freedom. Unfortunately, Gooch recognized this vigor and determination of Roper and proceeded to break him down as much as possible. In her academic journal, “Revising Torture: Moses Roper and the Visual Rhetoric of the Slave’s Body in the Transatlantic Abolition Movement” Martha J. Cutter Writes, “Torture endeavors to dehumanize and render powerless its subjects; it also intends to shred human dignity and condense a person to a body in pain…”(4). During his second attempt at freedom, Roper was captured and imprisoned after he could no longer continue due to extreme hunger, prompting him to beg for food from a nearby house. Roper describes his treatment upon his return to Mr. Gooch;

In the morning after his breakfast he came to me, and without giving me any breakfast, tied me to a large heavy barrow, which is usually drawn by a horse, and made me drag it to the cotton field for the horse to use in the field. Thus, the reader will see, that it was of no possible use to my master to make me drag it to the field, and not through it; his cruelty went so far as actually to make me the slave of his horse, and thus to degrade me (5).

Courtesy of Documenting the American South

Torture Device used by Mr. Gooch; Courtesy of Documenting the American South

Roper went on to escape one final time before being sold. He made his way back to where he was originally taken in North Carolina by deceiving white men of his freedom. Here, Moses found his family, but remained near them for too long and was captured and returned back to Mr. Gooch. Upon his return, Moses was sold multiple times and found himself in the custody of Mr. Register. Register was a drinking man, which enabled the final escape of Roper. This escape lasted for almost sixteen months. During this time, Roper was traveled through much of New York but was unable to find a safe haven where he could work and live without the fear of being returned to the south.

Moses Roper eventually heard of a ship sailing to England from New York, and on November 29th, 1835, he reached Liverpool. He writes, “My feelings when I first touched the shores of Britain were indescribable, and can only be properly understood by those who have escaped from the cruel bondage of slavery”(6). Roper persevered from some of the most difficult and trying times imaginable, and he recorded his entire experience in an attempt to expose America to the cruel reality of slavery. Even by the end of his journey, Moses Roper highly regards the free institutions of the United States and hopes that “may America soon be indeed the land of the free”(7).

(1)  Polsky, Milton. “The American Slave Narrative: Dramatic Resource Material for the Classroom.”The Journal of Negro Education 45, no. 2 (1976): 169.

(2) Roper, Moses, “A Narratives of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper From American Slavery: (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1838), 15.

(3) Roper, Moses, “A Narratives of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper From American Slavery: (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1838), 20.

(4) Cutter, Martha J. “Revising Torture: Moses Roper and the Visual Rhetoric of the Slave’s Body in the Transatlantic Abolition Movement.” ESQ: A Journal Of The American Renaissance no. 3: 371 (2014). Project MUSE, EBSCOhost (accessed November 13, 2016).

(5) Roper, Moses, “A Narratives of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper From American Slavery: (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1838), 19.

(6) Roper, Moses, “A Narratives of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper From American Slavery: (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1838), 84.

(7) Roper, Moses, “A Narratives of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper From American Slavery: (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1838), 89.

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Slaughter at Gettysburg: July 1st – 3rd, 1863 (Lengthened)



General Buford (Courtesy of Civil War Cavalry)

James McPherson, historian and author of several books including The Battle Cry of Freedom, stated that “Gettysburg proved a significant turning point in the war, and therefore in the preservation of the United States and abolition of slavery”.  His statement is well founded, as General Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac was able to inflict disastrous losses on General Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia that could not be replaced due to Southern manpower shortages.  Yet on many occasions over the three day battle, Confederate troops came close to victory; however, aside from acts of valor by Union troops, there were several factors that contributed to Confederate defeat:  poor reconnaissance and communication, strong Union defensive positions, poor and insufficient equipment, and strategic errors on the part of General Lee.

The First Day of Battle                                              On June 30th, 1863, Confederate troops under General J. Johnston Pettigrew moved towards the town of Gettysburg in search of supplies.  It was not long before Pettigrew spotted Union cavalry south of the town, causing him to pull out and report to his superiors: General Harry Heth and General A. P. Hill.  Although the threat was believed to be local militia, on the morning of July 1st Heth sent his division, accompanied by General Pender’s, into Gettysburg to perform a reconnaissance in force; it was not long before they encountered Union troops entrenched along McPherson’s Ridge northeast of Gettysburg.  The “local militia” that Pettigrew had encountered the day before was in fact Union cavalry; an entire division under the command of General John Buford.  Having spotted the Confederates the day before, Buford had ordered his cavalry to dismount and set up a defense along McPherson’s Ridge where they hoped to stall the advancing rebel army until Union regulars could arrive.  At 7:30am on July 1st, 1863, the first shot was fired, marking the beginning of the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War.[1]

General Reynolds (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

For several hours Buford’s cavalry held the advancing Confederates at bay.  In fact, Buford stated that one of his brigades under Colonel Gamble “had to be literally dragged back a few hundred yards to a position more secure and better sheltered.”[2]  Finally, at around 10am, General Reynolds, commander of the 1st Corp of the Union Army of the Potomac, arrived on the scene and his corps soon followed.  After a short briefing session with Buford, he began deploying his men, taking up positions starting on the Southwestern end of McPherson’s Ridge, extending Northeast across the Chambersburg Pike along McPherson’s Ridge and onto Oak Ridge, and then East to Barlow’s Knoll along the western bank of Rock Creek. Sadly, while ordering the attack of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, General Reynolds was shot and killed by a sharpshooter as he was shouting to his troops: “Forward men, forward for God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods!”  As he turned to look back, the sharpshooter’s round struck him in the back of the head, killing him instantly.[3]

Despite the death of General Reynolds, the 1st Corps and Buford’s cavalry had managed to temporarily hold the Confederates at bay, even successfully counterattacking in the case of Rufus Dawes’ 6th Wisconsin Regiment.[4]

Dawes at the Railroad Cut (Courtesy of Padre Steve’s World)

During a half-hour lull in the fighting from 11:30am to 12pm, the Confederates were able to bring of reinforcements, which included the rest of General Heth’s division, a second division from A. P. Hill’s Corps, under General Pender, and two divisions from General Ewell’s 2nd Corps;  Heth’s remaining brigades and general Pender’s division reinforced Heth to the Northwest of Union positions and Ewell’s divisions arrived from Carlisle to the North.  The Union Army too had brought up reinforcements, but not enough to match the Confederate numbers; the remainder of Reynold’s (now Doubleday’s) 1st Corps and two divisions of General Howard’s 11th Corps were all that arrived in time to face the resumption of the Confederate assault.[5]

At 1400 hostilities resumed as Confederate troops made attacks all along the Union front line.  Unfortunately, General Barlow of the Union 11th Corps had positioned his troops on what is now known as Barlow’s Knoll, creating a salient, or bulge, on the right flank of the Union line which opened the position up to attack from multiple directions.[6]  Barlow’s division soon crumpled and Early’s troops, who had engaged the Union right, soon began to roll up the Union lines.[7]  As the right flank collapsed, Confederate troops broke through Union positions on McPherson’s Ridge.[8]  These two events caused a general collapse of the Union front line, leading to a full scale retreat to Cemetery Hill to the southeast of Gettysburg.  Upon arrival, General Hancock took command of the Union troops had that escaped the rebel onslaught, famously noting that the positions the Union now occupied were, “…the strongest position by nature on which to fight a battle that I ever saw.”[9]  The next several days would prove him right.

The Second Day of Battle                                                                                                               During the night of July 1st and the morning of July 2nd, General Meade, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, positioned his troops in a fishhook shape, which extended south of Cemetery Hill along Cemetery Ridge, and east to Culp’s Hill where it then turned south again to Spangler’s Spring; Confederate positions mirrored Union lines to their northwest.[July 2nd: Blue Lines]  Early on July 2nd, the Union 3rd Corps, under General Sickles, was assigned positions anchored on the right of Cemetery Ridge and running south down to Little Round Top.  Seeing elevated ground to his front, Sickles made one of the most controversial decisions of the entire war;  against the orders of General Meade, Sickles advanced his Corps forward to positions spanning from the wheat field south and slightly east to Devil’s Den.[July 2nd, Union Troops Under Sickles] Sickles’ justification for his advance was that Confederate occupation of this ground would have made his originally assigned positions untenable, but his advance left his Corps overextended and forming a salient, just as Barlow’s division had on July 1st.[10]

In Sickles’ defense, his advance caught Confederate General Longstreet completely off guard.  Due to the absence of General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, the army’s primary reconnaissance force, the Confederates had no idea Union troops had been positioned anywhere further south than Cemetery Ridge.  Longstreet’s men were the first to learn of the arrival of Sickles’ 3rd Corps, and thus Longstreet was forced to extend his line further south to Warfield Ridge[11] [July 2nd, Confederate Troops under Hood and McLaws]; his attacks were delayed until 4pm that afternoon.[12]  Not only was Longstreet delayed, but Sickles’ positions, although not as strong as those originally assigned to him, were quite formidable.  Not only were Sickles’ troops positioned on elevated ground, but the terrain, especially around Devil’s Den and Little Round Top, was incredibly rocky which severely hampered the attacker’s movement and provided the defenders with ample cover.  Longstreet’s assault began with General Hood’s division hitting Union positions at

Confederate Sharpshooter at Devil’s Den (Coutesy of HistoryNet)

Devil’s Den and attempting to flank around Union lines via the currently undefended Little Round Top.  The fighting for Devil’s Den was fierce as Union troops under Brigadier General J. H. Hobart Ward attempted to halt the Confederate advance with the assistance of an artillery battery, but they were eventually overwhelmed.  After being driven out of Devil’s Den, Ward’s men briefly tried to make a stand in the valley between Devil’s Den and Little Round Top (known as the Valley of Death), but his brigade was soon sent into full retreat (Ward refers to Little Round Top as Sugar Loaf Hill in his report).[13]


Having pushed Union troops out of Devil’s Den the Confederates now faced an ever more treacherous obstacle: Little Round Top.  Having fought hard to take the elevated and rocky position of Devil’s Den, the Confederates now had to descend down into a small, open valley and assault a hill that was taller, steeper and just as rocky; however, until recently, Little Round Top had been undefended.  Had word of Sickles’ predicament had not reached General Sykes, commander of the Union 5th Corps, all may have been lost for the Union that day.  Upon hearing of the situation, Sykes dispatched his 1st Division to aid Sickles.  The first person to see the message was Colonel Strong Vincent of the 3rd Brigade, who, entirely on his own volition, ordered his men to Little Round Top.[14]  Vincent placed most of his regiments on the western slope to meet the Confederate advance from Devil’s Den except for the 20th Maine, under command of LTC Joshua L. Chamberlain, which was ordered to hold the southern slopes of the hill; the extreme left of the Union line. Originally about 1,000 strong, the 20th Maine’s years of service had left it with “28 officers and 358 enlisted men”.[15]  Miraculously, with the help of the infamous bayonet charge by the 20th Maine, the Union troops on Little Round Top were able to throw back the Confederate assault, ending hostilities on the left flank of the Union line.  Although they barely held, Chamberlain’s depleted regiment fought as many of 3 enemy regiments during the battle, which speaks strongly of Little Round Top’s defensibly.

Fighting at the Wheat Field (Coutesy of Paul’s Voyage)

Over an hour after the start of Hood’s attack (5:30pm), General McLaws began his assault on Union positions in the Wheat Field and Peach Orchard.  Union troops were able to hold off initial assaults, but were eventually forced out of both the Peach Orchard and Wheat Field with heavy casualties on both sides.  Union troops were driven back across Plum Run, some heading for Cemetery Ridge and others for Little Round Top.  The fighting was so heavy, that one Union battery was forced to retreat using a technique called “retire by prolonge”, in which the gun is continuously fired while it is being dragged away.[16]  During the retreat, General Sickles’ leg was mangled by a cannonball; it was later amputated and can be seen on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.[17]  Confederate troops eventually advanced as far as the Valley of Death, but were thrown back by a Union counterattack under the command of General Crawford.  Unable to hold the ground he gained, Crawford again withdrew to Little Round Top, putting an end to the day’s fighting in that sector at around 1930.[18]

Charge of the 1st Minnesota (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

To the north of McLaws, General Anderson’s division began its attack at 6pm, targeting Sickles’ right flank and Cemetery Ridge.  Union troops along the Emittsburg Road, many of whom had already been engaged in the fighting against McLaw’s division, were soon overrun and forced back to Cemetery Ridge.  One of Anderson’s brigades, under General Wilcox, almost made it through a gap in the Union line, but the heroic charge of the 262 men of the 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment was able to successfully plug the gap and halt Wilcox’s advance.  During the charge, the 1st Minnesota suffered 82% casualties.[19]  Like Hood’s and McLaw’s, Anderson’s assault was also halted, and he ordered his men to fall back to Seminary Ridge.[20]

Culp’s Hill (Courtesy of Civil War Talk)

That evening, Confederate troops under General Ewell attacked Union positions on Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill on the northeastern bend of the “fishhook”.  Both attacks were unsuccessful, resulting in only mild gains at the base of Culp’s Hill and none on Cemetery Hill.[21]  Lee’s choice to keep Ewell’s corps positioned on the right flank of the Union front line is a controversial one, as it could do little good against the formidable Culp’s and Cemetery Hill’s.  Many historians believe that Ewell’s men could have been shifted over to assist in the assault on Cemetery Ridge.  As the attack there was extremely close to being successful, Ewell’s men would most likely have provided the push necessary to break the Union line; however, Lee’s indecisiveness in regards to Ewell’s Corps left it sitting on the Union right flank, where it remained for the rest of the battle, being of little use to the Confederate cause.  In Lee’s defense, the absence of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry left him fairly clueless as to the exact whereabouts of Union forces.  He knew Ewell had Northern troops sitting in front of him, but he didn’t know enough specifics to make a well-informed decision on the matter.[22]  What can be criticized is the Confederate’s assault itself; specifically the engagement of its divisions in peace meal, rather than simultaneously.  Had Culp’s Hill been hit at the same time as Sickles’ 3rd Corps, or perhaps even before, arriving Union reinforcements may have been sent to other parts of the line, which could ultimately have led to a collapse of the Union left flank.

The Third Day of Battle                                                                                                                     On the morning of July 3rd, Lee’s army was in a less than ideal situation.  Having failed to break Union lines the previous day, his adversary still held the vital high ground, but this time without the salient created by Sickles’ corps the day before.  Not only that, but by now the rest of the Union Army had arrived and had reinforced Union positions to the south around Little Round Top and Big Round Top.  Lee originally hoped to resume his attack on the left, but the events on Culp’s Hill that morning soon changed his mind.  At around dawn, Ewell renewed his assault, but, after six hours of intense fighting, the Confederates were repulsed and driven off Culp’s Hill entirely.[23]  Lee, who had been planning to use Culp’s Hill as a diversion to resume his attack on the Union left, was now forced to change strategy.  Instead of hitting the flanks as he had done the previous day, he would try for the Union center.  General Longstreet’s final division, commanded by General George Pickett, had arrived during the night; as it was the only Confederate division still fresh, Lee planned to take full advantage of it.  Pickett’s division, along with Pettigrew’s, Trimble’s and two brigades of Anderson’s, would assault Union positions on Cemetery Ridge by advancing from Seminary Ridge across just over a mile of open ground.  While a charge of this scale, and on open terrain, was bound to sustain heavy casualties, General Lee believed that Union forces in the center were weak.  Lee ordered General Longstreet to plan the attack, a task that he took on grudgingly.[24]

The battle opened with a massive artillery barrage by Confederate guns (around 150) on Cemetery Ridge, which lasted from 1pm to 2pm.  Union guns responded in turn, striking rebel artillery, as well as Confederate infantry concealed in the woods when shots went long.  At around 1400, General Longstreet received the following message from his artillery commander, Colonel Alexander:

“If you are coming at all, come at once, or I cannot give you proper support, but the enemy’s fire has not slackened at all.  At least eighteen guns are still firing from the cemetery itself. -Alexander”[25]

Pickett’s Charge (Courtesy of Roadboy’s Travels)

Filled with a sense of foreboding Longstreet gave a nod, as he was too distraught to speak, ordering the infantry forward.[26]  The men, some 12,500 of them, quickly formed up and began the assault, heading for a large grove of trees on Cemetery Ridge.  Unfortunately for the Confederates, the artillery bombardment had been ineffective.  Not only was it nearly impossible for Confederate gunners to tell if they were hitting their targets due to the massive amount of smoke caused by the bombardment, but their shells were of poor quality, causing many to detonate to late, or not at all.  It was not long before Union artillery began to take its toll, cutting large gaps in Confederate formations.  As they advanced, they came into range of Union muskets and their ranks were further decimated.  Most of the Confederate officers leading the assault were either killed or wounded.  In the instance of a Colonel Whittle, who had lost his left arm and been shot through the right leg in previous engagements, was hit in both of his remaining limbs.[27]  General Armistead’s brigade was able to successfully make it over the low stone wall that Union troops were positioned behind, but they were soon thrown back and Armistead was mortally wounded.  The Confederates began to retreat, pulling back across the field while still taking heavy fire; several infantry formations were cut off by Union troops and shot to pieces.  In total, the casualties Confederate casualties at Pickett’s Charge exceeded 50%.  Lee’s final assault had failed, and the Confederate Army would never again be strong enough to go on the offensive.[28]

There were two other engagements that day, both involving cavalry. To the east of Gettysburg at 11am, Confederate cavalry under General JEB Stuart engaged Union cavalry under General David Gregg and the infamous General Armstrong Custer at the Rummel Farm, which resulted in a Union victory.[29]  To the south around Warfield Ridge at 3pm, Union General Kilpatrick attempted to charge Confederate lines.[July 3rd: Kilpatrick’s Failed Charge]  The ground he chose was very rocky and contained several fences; his men were subsequently cut to pieces.[30]

Courtesy of History Channel

Conclusion                                                      Union victory at Gettysburg, in combination with the fall of Vicksburg the following day, is considered the turning point of the American Civil War.  The sheer number of casualties suffered by the Confederacy were simply irreplaceable, and Lee was never again able to take the offensive against the Union.  Even if Lee had won (say the left flank collapsed on July 2nd or Pickett’s Charge broke the Union center), it is likely that Lee’s invasion of the north would still have ended, as his army was at ~62% strength after the battle and in enemy territory with no way to easily replenish its numbers.[31]  However, defeat at Gettysburg could have cost the Confederacy the entire war.  Had General Meade acted decisively, it is very likely that the Union Army could have caught the retreating Confederates before they crossed the Potomac River and obliterated them.  Unfortunately, Meade was too cautious in his pursuit and missed the opportunity.  Lincoln was furious and Meade offered to resign after realizing his mistake, but, as Meade had only recently taken command, Lincoln refused to accept his resignation and Meade remained commander of the Union Army of the Potomac for the remainder of the war.

The battle of Gettysburg is the 4th deadliest engagement in American military history, with roughly 51,000 total casualties (23,055 Union and ~28,000 Confederate) after 3 days of fighting in an area just over 9 square miles.  Although only 7,863 Americans died compared to the 26,277 of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918, the 19,276 of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-45, and the 12,513 of Okinawa in 1945,  Gettysburg lasted only three days while these other engagements lasted several months each.[32]  Not to mention, if adjusted for population, the battle of Gettysburg would have taken 25,809 lives had occurred in the same year as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which brings home just how devastating this three day engagement was, especially for the Confederacy, as they had seriously limited manpower compared to the Union.[33]  To this day, Gettysburg remains arguably the most famous battle of the American Civil War, and hopefully we will not soon forget it, nor the sacrifices that were made on those Pennsylvania fields.


[1] Harry W. Pfanz Gettysburg–the First Day, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) 51-68.

[2] Pfanz, 68.

[3] Pfanz, 69-79.

[4] Pfanz, 109.

[5] Pfanz, 115-130.

[6] Pfanz, 227-238.

[7] Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003) 224.

[8] Pfanz, 269-293.

[9] David G. Martin, Gettysburg, July 1,(Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo, 2003) 284.

[10] Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg–the Second Day,  (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) 124.

[11] National Park Service. GETT_S2.pdf (n.d.): n. pag. National Park Service. National Park Service. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

[12] Pfanz, 176.

[13] J. H. Hobart Ward, “Brig. Gen. J.H. Hobart Ward’s Official Report For The Battle Of Gettysburg.” Civil War Home. N.p., 4 Aug. 1863. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

[14] Pfanz, 208.

[15] Pfanz, 232.

[16] Pfanz, 3.

[17] Pfanz, 334.

[18] Pfanz, 390-400.

[19] Pfanz, 410-414.

[20] Pfanz, 350-424.

[21] Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, comp. Pennsylvania at Gettysburg: Ceremonies at the Dedication of the Monuments Erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Mark the Positions of the Pennsylvania Commands Engaged in the Battle. Vol. 1. Harrisburg, PA: E. K. Meyers, 1893. Accessed November 28, 2016, 204, 424. [Google Books]

[22] Pfanz, 104-113.

[23] Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, 603. [Google Books]

[24]  James Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America, (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1992), Accessed November 29, 2016, 388. [Google Books]

[25] Longstreet, 392. [Google Books]

[26] Longstreet, 392. [Google Books]

[27] Longstreet, 394. [Google Books]

[28] Longstreet, 394. [Google Books]

[29] “The Rummel Farm on the Gettysburg Battlefield.” The Battle of Gettysburg. Stone Sentinels, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

[30] Longstreet, 395. [Google Books]

[31] U.S. War Department, ed. “The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.” Cornell Library. Accessed December 2, 2016.

[32] “10 Deadliest Battles in American History.” History Lists. WordPress, 18 Mar. 2008. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.

[33]”US Census Bureau Publications – Census of Population and Housing.” US Census Bureau. US Census Bureau Administration and Customer Services Division, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2016; “Historical National Population Estimates: July 1, 1900 to July 1, 1999.” U. S. Census Bureau, 11 Apr. 2000. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.

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Slaughter At Gettysburg: July 1st-3rd, 1863

By Tom Forte

NOTE:  Bolded text in paragraphs refers to Google map place marks

Introduction                                                                                                                                          James McPherson, historian and author of several books including The Battle Cry of Freedom, claims that,”Gettysburg proved a significant turning point in the war, and therefore in the preservation of the United States and abolition of slavery.” His statement is well founded, as General Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac was able to inflict disastrous losses on General Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia that could simply not be replaced due to Southern manpower shortages.  Yet on many occasions over the three day battle, Confederate troops came close to victory.  However, aside from acts of valor by Union troops, there were several factors that contributed to Confederate defeat:  poor reconnaissance and communication, strong Union defensive positions, poor and insufficient equipment, and strategic errors on the part of General Lee.

The First Day of Battle                                                                                                                     

General Reynolds (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

The battle began at 7:30am on July 1st, 1863, when two Confederate divisions encountered a division of dismounted Union cavalry under General John Buford to the Northeast of the town of Gettysburg.[1]  The Union cavalry, though heavily outnumbered, held out until 10:00am when the Union 1st Corps, under General Reynolds, arrived on the scene to reinforce the hard-pressed cavalry.  Although he was able to stave off the Confederate assault, General Reynolds was killed while ordering the men of the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment forward into battle [July 1: 10:40am: Death of General Reynolds]; “Forward men, forward for God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods!”, he was then hit in the head by a sharpshooter and killed instantly.[2]

At 2:00pm, the Confederate assault resumed, except this time reinforced by several more divisions.  The Union had brought up reinforcements as well, but they were still outgunned.[3]  Due to a salient (or bulge) created on the Union right flank by men under General Barlow [July 1: 2PM: Barlow’s Knoll], the right flank was soon broken and Confederate troops began rolling up the Union line.[4]  To add to the this disaster, Union lines along McPherson’s Ridge also broke around the same time, causing the Union Army to go into full retreat.[5]  In various states of disorder, Union troops were able to make it to Cemetery Hill to the southeast of Gettysburg.  General Hancock, who had been sent forward by the commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, General Meade, to take command of the Union troops engaged at Gettysburg remarked that Cemetery Hill was: “…the strongest position by nature on which to fight a battle that I ever saw”.[6]  The next several days would prove him right.

The Second Day of Battle                                                                                                              

Confederate Sharpshooter at Devil’s Den (Courtesy of HistoryNet)

During the night of July 1st, General Meade positioned his troops in a fishhook shape in order to take advantage of the extremely defensible high ground to the southeast of Gettysburg.[July 2: Blue Lines]  Early in the morning, General Dan Sickles, commander of the Union 3rd Corps, spotted high ground to the front of his troop’s positions, and decided to order his men forward to occupy it.  Sickles’ decision is one of the most controversial of the entire war, as his corps was now massively overextended and, like Barlow’s men the day before, formed an easily attackable salient in the Union lines.[July 2, Union Troops Under Sickles]  In Sickles’ defense, his choice to advance caught Confederate General Longstreet completely off guard.  Due to the absence of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, which served as the Confederate’s primary reconnaissance force, General Lee had very little idea of where the Union lines were; in fact, he didn’t know that Union troops had been positioned as far south as the territory the 3rd Corps occupied.  This development forced Longstreet to delay his attack until 4:00pm so he could maneuver his troops to properly assault the Union left flank.[7][July 2: Confederate Troops Under Hood and McLaws]  Although he was overextended and creating a salient, Sickles’ positions were quite formidable, as the terrain was both rocky and elevated, especially around Little Round Top and Devil’s Den, which gave the defenders a good vantage point and ample cover, while simultaneously hampering the attackers.

When Longstreet ordered his corps to attack at 4:00pm, things initially went well for the Confederates, although casualties were very heavy on both sides.  After heavy fighting, Union troops were driven out of the Wheat Field, the Peach Orchard, and Devil’s Den.  At the time of the start of the assault, there were no Union troops on Little Round Top, and a brigade under Colonel Strong Vincent was scrambled to defend the hill against the advancing Confederates.[8]

Fighting at Little Round Top (Courtesy of Gallon)

On the extreme left flank, the depleted regiment of the 20th Maine was able to hold out against several Confederate regiments, winning the day with a famous bayonet charge: “Our gallant line withered and shrunk before the fire it could not repel.  IT was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer.  As a last desperate resort, I ordered a charge”.[9]

Charge of the 1st Minnesota (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

North of Little Round Top, the Confederate advance was barely halted at Cemetery Ridge after a desperate charge by the 1st Minnesota; it lost 82% of its men in the process.[10]  During the evening, attacks were also made against Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, but the Confederates only gained limited ground at Culp’s Hill and none at Cemetery Hill.[11]  Many historians believe that Confederate troops under General Ewell (those that attacked Cemetery and Culp’s Hill) would have been better off used elsewhere on the battlefield and, if shifted south, could have been the additional force necessary to break Union lines on Cemetery Ridge; but again, due to the absence of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, Lee did not feel safe making a decision such as this one, and he paid dearly for it.[12] However, Lee’s choice to commit his units to battle in a piecemeal (one at a time) fashion can certainly be criticized. Had Lee had his corps attack simultaneously all along the Union front line, Union reinforcements may have been sent to the wrong locations and potentially allowed breakthroughs.

The Third Day of Battle

Pickett’s Charge (Courtesy of Roadboy’s Travels)

On July 3rd, Lee’s originally planned to renew his attack on the flanks, but that morning Ewell’s small hold on Culp’s Hill was lost and he decided to change his strategy.[13]  He would instead assault the Union center, which he believed would be less heavily defended than the flanks by this point in the battle.  General Pickett’s division had arrived during the night and it, along with the division of Generals Pettigrew and Trimble, would make the assault with a force of 12,500 men.  The attack began at 1:00pm with a massive artillery bombardment that lasted around an hour, then, at 2:00pm, the Confederates advanced.[14] [July 3: 1:00PM: Pickett’s Charge]  Unfortunately, due to the large amount of gun smoke and poorly made artillery shells, the bombardment was largely ineffective, and Union artillery quickly began tearing gaps in Confederate lines.  Once in range, the Union infantry opened fire.  One Confederate brigade was able to make it into Union lines, but it was soon repulsed and the Confederates were forced to retreat under a hail of lead.  For the Union Pickett’s Charge was won and, with it, the Battle of Gettysburg.


Courtesy of History Channel

Gettysburg, along with the fall of Vicksburg, is considered the turning point of the American Civil War.  The Confederate army was never able to fully recover from its defeat, forcing it to remain on the defensive for the rest of the war.  Even if Lee had won, it is likely he would have been forced to withdraw anyway, as his army was at ~62% strength following the battle and had no way to easily replenish his loses.[15]  Lee’s army could have been completely destroyed, by General Meade was too slow in his pursuit and the Confederate Army was able to escape.  The battle of Gettysburg is the 4th deadliest engagement in American military history, with roughly 51,000 total casualties (23,055 Union and ~28,000 Confederate with 7,863 total deaths) after 3 days of fighting in an area just over 9 square miles.[16]    To this day, Gettysburg remains arguably the most famous battle of the American Civil War, and hopefully we will not soon forget it, nor the sacrifices that were made on those Pennsylvania fields.

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[1] Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg–the First Day (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) 51-68.

[2] Pfanz, 69-79.

[3] Pfanz, 115-130.

[4] Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003) 224.

[5] Pfanz, 269-293.

[6] David G. Martin, Gettysburg, July 1 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo, 2003) 284.

[7] Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg-the Second Day (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) 176.

[8] Pfanz, 208.

[9] Joshua L. Chamberlain, “Gettysburg After Action Report, 6 July 1863”, Combat Studies Institute, 8.

[10] Pfanz, 410-414.

[11] Gettysburg Battle-field Commission, comp. Pennsylvania at Gettysburg: Ceremonies at the Dedication of the Monuments Erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Mark the Positions of the Pennsylvania Commands Engaged in the Battle. Vol. 1. Harrisburg, PA: E. K. Meyers, 1893. Accessed November 28, 2016, 204, 424. [Google Books]

[12] Pfanz, 104-113.

[13] Gettysburg Battle-field Commission, 603.

[14] James Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1992) 392. [Google Books]

[15] U.S. War Department, ed. “The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.” (Cornell Library).

[16] “10 Deadliest Battles in American History” History Lists, WordPress, 2016.

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