John Wilkes Booth and the Outcome of the War Between the States

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During this sesquicentennial of the War Between the States a very old question arises:  What was the impact of John Wilkes Booth on the outcome of the War Between the States?  My response is none.

The assassination of Lincoln by Booth certainly shocked the nation.  A President had never been assassinated before, and to have it happen while the President was at ease, enjoying a play at Ford’s Theater, added an element of the grotesque that magnified the horror.  Booth, unknown to all but his closest intimates, had been a Confederate sympathizer throughout the War.  Whether his murder of Lincoln was an act of impulse or a carefully planned conspiracy remains a subject of heated debate.  Nevertheless, whether he decided that evening or after days or weeks of deliberation, Booth, using two pistols, ended the life of Lincoln, Mr. Lincoln and his entourage occupying a theater box on stage, and presenting a target that Booth could not, and did not, miss.  Booth himself being shot to death immediately thereafter ensured that he took whatever planning he engaged in with him to the grave, and made this assassination an endless source of conspiracy theorists ever thereafter. The aptly named play The Marble Heart, starring Booth, will remain forever etched in American memory, along with the date of November 9, 1863 when the first president of the United States to be assassinated died.

Hannibal Hamlin, forgotten Vice-President, thus became President.  On his narrow shoulders many have heaped blame for the defeat of the Union.  Rubbish!  A careful examination of the historical record reveals that he acted in a way almost certainly no different than Lincoln likely would have.

1.  Appointment of Grant as General in Chief–  Grant at the death of Lincoln was in the midst of preparing his crushing defeat of Bragg’s Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  After that, Lincoln, if he had been alive, almost certainly would have appointed Grant as General in Chief as Hamlin did, especially since Lincoln had ever been a supporter of Grant who he viewed as a fighting general who won his battles.

2.  Replacing Meade with Hooker-Hamlin had always been a supporter of Hooker, so his replacing Meade with Hooker is something where Lincoln may not have followed suit.  However, considering the lackluster record of Meade after Gettysburg and Lincoln’s dissatisfaction with Meade, Lincoln would likely have replaced Meade, even though the commander of the Army of the Potomac was likely to be a mere chief of staff for Grant.  After Hooker’s well publicized victory at Lookout Mountain during the battle for Chattanooga, he was a logical choice to replace Meade. (more…)

Published in: on April 1, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on John Wilkes Booth and the Outcome of the War Between the States  
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