Fellow Member Robin Smith presented us with another of his well researchEd and illustrated talks, this time on the US Civil War that constitutes the central event in American history. Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson F. Davis were the leaders of North and South respectively. Lincoln, honest and upright, was the sort of man that is hardly ever at the summit of politics. Davis, although a just man, believed passionately that slavery rested on firm moral foundationns. The Confederate Constitution held that slaves should be considered property like wagons or cattle. Lincoln's speech at the Illinois Republican Convention stated his belief that a "house divided against itself cannot stand", and summed up his attitude to the complex political issues of slavery. He fought the war because of his steadfast belief in the preservation of the Union.
From 1816 to 1865 there were 15 000 clashes between the forces of North and South. The North had to occupy the South in order to re-establish the Union, the South had to defend itself and ensure supplies to its army and people. Three months passed from the fall of Fort Sumter until the first clash at Bull Run. Union commander McDowell was the first one to be replaced when George B. McClellan took command after the Union defeat. Mcclellan in turn was replaced when he was driven from the James Peninsular and then failed to follow up his initial success at Antietam. Huge losses at Antietam caused Lincoln to look to Ambrose Burnside, but he failed too and Joseph Hooker took his place.
Virginian Robert E. Lee defended his home state valiantly, winning a great victory at Chancellorsville, but was then beaten by George Mead, yet another Union commander, at Gettysburg. In the west, Ulysses S.Grant enjoyed unbroken success. His letter demanding "immediate and unconditional surrender" of the Confederate Force inside Fort Donelson, made him an instant hero. He struck a stunning blow at Vicksburg on the Mississippi, which split the Confederacy in two in July 1963, the day after Lee's repulse at Gettysburg.
After another victory for Grant outside Chattanooga, Lincoln appointed him Lieutenant General, the first man to hold this rank since George Washington. The war was now continued with greater skill and determination by Grant in Virginia and Sherman in Georgia. By the end of 1864, Richmond was besieged, Atlanta, Georgia, had fallen, and George B. Thomas outside Nashville had annihilated the army of another of the South's heroes, John Bell Hood, who had lost an arm at Gettysburg and a leg at Chickamauge, Georgia.
The first nine days of April 1865 saw Grant and his cavalry generals, Phillip H. Sheridan and George Armstrong Custer, cut off the escape of Lee from Richmond, forcing his surrender at Appomattox Court House. Grant offered terms to the defeated Confederates that amounted to a general amnesty so that no Confederate soldier, from Lee down could ever be charged with treason. Stopping the wild celebrations of his victorious soldiers, Grant merely said: "The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again!"
After a lengthy Q&A session the Vice-Chairman handed the customary "thank-you" bottle to Robin. However, he also had to say good-bye and "good luck" to him on behalf of our Branch, since he and his wife are to move to Natal shortly to take up residence there. Our loss will be Durban Branch's gain!, but we hope Robin will stay in touch with us.
All visitors are welcome. Tea and biscuits will be served.
Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167