By early 1864, Lincoln recognized the need for an all-controlling hand to end the war. His chances of remaining president were slim as long as Richmond remained in Confederate hands. The war had to be won, or at least begun to be won, by November. Thus, Lincoln, appointed Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to command all the Union armies. In May 1864, Grant launched the devastatingly bloody Overland Campaign.
In the Trenches
After suffering nearly 50,000 casualties in May and early June, Grant found his army at the gates of Petersburg and his progress grinding to a halt. Lee had once again arrived in time to blunt his enemy's attacks. With his veteran army's terms of enlistment expiring, Grant knew he needed to change strategy. New soldiers, unaccustomed to the horrors of combat, would soon flood the ranks and with the political stakes so high, Grant shifted from trying to punch Lee out to slowly strangling him.
For nine months, the two armies stood, locked in a sanguinary network of trenches. Meanwhile, Grant stretched his lines ever farther, compelling Lee's already outnumbered men to eventually cover a nearly 75-mile front. The endgame was on.
Politics of War
By 1864, the war between the political parties was almost as vicious as the War Between the States. The Republican Party fought for victory over the Confederates, the restoration of the Union and the abolition of slavery. Lincoln ran for re-election with Tennessee War Democrat Andrew Johnson as his Vice-President.
Democrats felt betrayed that Republicans were overstepping their Congressional bounds in making the war one for Republican ideals, namely emancipation. Democrats took their opposition to Lincoln a step further, promoting opposition to the war in general. Democrats nominated former commander George B. McClellan for President with George Pendleton as Vice-President.
End in Sight
In the fall of 1864, Lincoln's re-election was still in doubt, and the outcome of the war was far from certain. Grant stretched his lines north of the James River for operations that, though significant, are largely forgotten today. He gave Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler permission to undertake some interesting operations that loomed large in popular imagination of the time.
Richmond is Taken
On April 2, 1865, Grant assaulted the Petersburg front. Lee's thin line collapsed and the Confederates evacuated Petersburg and Richmond that night, retreating west. The next day, this message from Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel crackled across the telegraph wires: "We took Richmond at a quarter past eight this morning. I captured many guns. The enemy left in great haste."
Knowing the Northern public would be clamoring for views of the city that had resisted them for so long, photographers spent more than a month ranging over the streets of Richmond and the forts of Petersburg.