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Abraham Lincoln: Martyr (Part Three)

2017-06-19

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  • VOA Learning English presents America’s Presidents.
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  • Today we will finish our story about Abraham Lincoln.
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  • He led the United States during the Civil War.
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  • That conflict lasted from 1861 to 1865.
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  • In it, the southern states of the Confederacy battled the Northern states of the Union.
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  • As a wartime president, Lincoln was known for several things.
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  • He was actively involved in plotting the military campaign.
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  • When Lincoln was unhappy with the performance of his top generals, he dismissed them.
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  • He also greatly increased the power of the presidency, even beyond what the U.S. Constitution permitted.
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  • And, Lincoln struck at the issue at the heart of the Civil War: slavery.
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  • He ordered that enslaved people in the Confederate states be “forever free.”
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  • His order is called the Emancipation Proclamation.
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  • Seven months after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, the Confederacy and the Union clashed in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
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  • The army of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was on the offensive.
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  • Lee planned to move the fighting out of the South and invade the North.
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  • He won a major victory against Union forces at Chancellorsville, Virginia.
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  • Then he pushed across Maryland and into Pennsylvania.
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  • A Union army, led by General George Meade, met Lee’s troops near a small, crossroads town called Gettysburg.
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  • In the first days of July 1863 – a little more than two years after the start of the Civil War – Confederate and Union troops each struggled to claim the territory. Both sides suffered massive casualties.
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  • But Lee believed Confederate troops were close to winning, and that Meade had spread his soldiers thin.
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  • So, on the third day of fighting, he ordered a direct attack on Union forces.
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  • Lee’s soldiers aimed at the center of the Union line, positioned behind stone walls at the top of a ridge, or raised area.
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  • Confederates first used cannons to fire artillery at the ridge.
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  • Then about 15,000 Confederate soldiers began marching across more than a kilometer of an open field.
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  • The Union soldiers behind the walls fired on them.
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  • At the same time, more Union forces attacked the Confederate soldiers on the left and right.
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  • In half an hour, three-quarters of the soldiers in the open field had been killed or wounded.
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  • Thousands more on each side also died.
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  • The surviving Confederate forces quickly withdrew and waited for Meade to attack again.
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  • But, much to Lincoln’s dissatisfaction, he did not.
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  • The following morning, Lee led the survivors back to Virginia.
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  • He left behind 28,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing, more than one-third of his total army.
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  • The Union had suffered 23,000 casualties, almost as many.
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  • The Battle of Gettysburg is important in American history for several reasons.
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  • One is the large number of killed and wounded soldiers – the largest until World War II in the 20th century.
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  • Another reason is because it was a turning point in the war.
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  • It ended Lee’s invasion of the North and weakened his army permanently.
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  • Over the same days, Union troops won another major victory under General Ulysses S. Grant in the southern city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
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  • The battles at Vicksburg and Gettysburg began to turn the conflict to the Union’s favor.
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  • Finally, the Battle of Gettysburg is almost always linked to a speech Lincoln gave there, known as the Gettysburg Address.
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  • It is only about 270 words long. But it is one of the most famous speeches in American history.
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  • Lincoln spoke at the opening of a cemetery for all the soldiers who had died at Gettysburg.
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  • But he also used the event to speak to the entire country about the war.
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  • He said the conflict was a test of whether the American form of government could survive.
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  • That is, a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
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  • He also pointed to the Declaration of Independence as the country’s founding document.
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  • He said the nation had been “conceived in liberty.”
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  • And, he said, it was dedicated to the idea that “all men are created equal.”
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  • Historians have noted that, in the speech, Lincoln changed the reasoning behind the war effort.
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  • It continued to be a struggle to reunite the country.
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  • But after the Gettysburg Address, it was also more clearly a struggle to free enslaved people.
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  • In 1864, Lincoln won re-election to a second term as president.
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  • His new vice president was Senator Andrew Johnson from the Southern state of Tennessee.
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  • At the swearing-in ceremony, the president spoke about the need for the North and South to come together again peacefully.
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  • In that speech, his famous Second Inaugural, Lincoln called on all Americans to finish the war.
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  • He urged them to care for the wounded, the wives and children of soldiers killed in battle, and to seek a “just and lasting peace.”
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  • Most importantly, Lincoln asked Americans to reunite “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”
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  • In other words, with respect and kindness.
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  • A few weeks later, the war effectively ended.
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  • Lincoln’s military plan had worked.
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  • He had finally found two generals whom he trusted: Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman.
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  • Sherman led a campaign across the southern states.
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  • His path through Georgia, from the city of Atlanta to the city of Savannah, was known as Sherman’s March to the Sea.
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  • The march destroyed farms and houses along the way.
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  • The destruction was terrible. It was also effective.
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  • The Confederate Army was left with little food or communication.
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  • At the same time, Grant surrounded Lee’s army in Virginia.
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  • Grant cut these Southern troops off from supplies, too.
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  • Lee realized he must surrender to Grant – although, he said, he “would rather die a thousand deaths.”
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  • The two men met on April 9, 1865 at a farmhouse in the town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
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  • Lee famously wore his finest military uniform and sword.
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  • Grant famously wore his fighting clothes, still marked with mud.
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  • ​Lee and Grant spoke briefly, then Grant wrote the terms of surrender.
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  • As Lincoln had asked, the terms were respectful and generous.
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  • Lee’s officers were free to keep their horses and their weapons, and the Union army would give the Confederate soldiers food.
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  • When some Union troops began to play a victory song, Grant told them to stop. “The war is over,” he said. “The rebels are our countrymen again.”
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  • Five days after Lee surrendered, Lincoln and his wife Mary went to a theater in Washington, DC.
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  • To put it mildly, the last years had been very difficult for them.
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  • While Lincoln was supervising the war effort, both his third and fourth son became sick with typhoid.
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  • The younger boy recovered. The older did not. Willie Lincoln died in the White House at age 11.
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  • Mary and Abraham Lincoln were crushed.
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  • Mary Lincoln blamed herself; she believed God was punishing her.
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  • In their own ways, the Lincolns continued to mourn in the years after Willie's death.
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  • At one point, Lincoln said he hoped he and Mary could feel happier.
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  • He urged them to have some pleasant times together.
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  • So, with the war coming to an end, they went to a light-hearted play at Ford’s Theater.
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  • It was the night of Friday, April 14, 1865 – a day that Christians were marking that year as Good Friday, the anniversary of Jesus’ death.
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  • The theater was not far from the White House.
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  • The Lincolns had seats in a box high above the stage.
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  • Toward the end of the performance, a man entered their box and shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head.
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  • Then the gunman jumped to the stage, breaking his leg as he landed.
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  • He called out a Latin expression, “Sic semper Tyrranis!” It means “Thus always to tyrants.”
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  • Some observers say the man added, “The South is avenged.”
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  • The gunman was a southerner named John Wilkes Booth.
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  • He had plotted to kill the president after hearing Lincoln support voting rights for African-Americans.
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  • Booth briefly escaped, but was later captured and hanged.
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  • Lincoln was taken to a nearby boardinghouse.
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  • He seemed lifeless and could hardly breathe. Doctors examined him but found they could not save him.
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  • Lincoln died the following morning. He was 56 years old.
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  • The emotions of many Americans changed from joy at the coming end of the Civil War to shock and mourning.
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  • Thousands lined up along railroad tracks as Lincoln’s body made its way from Washington, DC to his home in Illinois.
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  • Even many Southerners mourned Lincoln’s death.
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  • They understood that he would treat them kindly when the country was reunited.
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  • A little more than six weeks after Lincoln's assassination, the last Confederate army surrendered, and the war was considered officially over.
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  • The country was reunited and the process of legally freeing enslaved people had begun.
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  • Although these acts are tremendous parts of Lincoln’s legacy, in time his public image would grow only larger and more celebrated.
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  • As one witness to Lincoln’s death reportedly said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
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  • I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
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