In the midst of a civil war, voters in 25 states went to the polls on November 8, 1864 for the Presidential election. Incumbent President Abraham Lincoln was doubtful of his re-election especially given the unpopular creation of a military draft of the previous February and the disastrous spring campaigns of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor. The Democratic Party, who had General George McClellan for their candidate, campaigned for a negotiated end to the rebellion. Lincoln’s Republican Party urged the nation not “to change horses in the middle of the stream.”
James Lockwood, who had resigned his commission as an officer in the 16th Connecticut in 1863, remembered many decades later his trip to Hartford’s Hall of Records to cast his vote that year. He was accompanied by his brother-in-law Major Henry Pasco (also of the 16th Connecticut) one of the thousands of officers furloughed home by General Ulysses S. Grant to cast their vote for the President’s re-election. Nearing the Hall of Records, Lockwood and Pasco came upon a gang of copperheads (Democrats) trying to prevent a group of soldiers (also on furlough) from voting. Lockwood and Pasco went to their fellow soldiers’ aid “and soon sent a procession of the enemy in search of some one to bandage their heads and the soldiers voted without further molestation.”
This would have made a great story but . . .
Major Henry Pasco had been captured along with most of the 16th Connecticut in Plymouth, NC on April 30, 1864 and did not escape from his rebel captors until February 1865 – he could not have been in Hartford for the election. We’ll probably never know whether Lockwood had been at the scene of this election disturbance with another comrade, had heard of this disruption from someone else or totally fabricated the story.
Abraham Lincoln’s winning of the electoral votes of 22 states (losing Delaware, Kentucky and McClellan’s home state of New Jersey) can be credited to Sherman’s successful summer campaign to take Atlanta and the Union victory at the battle of Cedar Creek in mid-October. And the votes of the citizen-soldiers who voted for their Commander in Chief during brief visits home or by absentee ballot played a critical role in his re-election.
In addressing serenaders who gathered on the White House lawn to celebrate his victory, the philosopher Lincoln imparted words that we would do well to remember during this year’s election:
Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us therefore study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.
Foote, Shelby The Civil War: A Narrative (1986: First Vintage Books Edition)
George Q. Whitney Civil War Collection 1861-1925 Connecticut State Library (Record Group 69:23)
Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. “Abraham Lincoln: Campaigns and Elections.”