Symposium Spotlight: The Twisting Turns of the Election of ’64—The Point of No Return
by ECW Correspondent Josh Svetz
Rea Andrew Redd has loved the Civil War all his life. Starting with reading Life magazine’s six-part series on the Civil War as a kid, Redd gets as much of a thrill from delving into the Civil War now as he did then. A hobby concerning the ghosts of the past may confuse some. Intrigue is one thing; obsession another. But Redd’s wife gave him some insight, at least, the closest thing he can think of to explain the fascination.
“I have the Civil War DNA,” Redd said. “When you find a hobby you’ve loved since nine years old, where does that come from? I guess I was just born with it.”
Redd will get to showcase his love for the Civil War Aug. 3-5 at the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge in Spotsylvania, Virginia.
Redd’s presentation will explore his chapter in ECW’s Turning Points of the American Civil War, “The Election of 1864: The Point of No Return,” will explore the pivotal presidential election between Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan, how Lincoln won the election and the impact of Lincoln’s win on the Confederacy and its ultimate demise.
Redd, the director of Eberly Library and an adjunct history professor at Waynesburg University, had attended previous Symposiums, but never got the call to present, until this year.
Redd’s friend and a fellow author at ECW Kris White nominated Redd to provide a chapter when ECW needed a fresh take on Lincoln. Redd, a civil war reenactor since 1993, who usually plays the part of Lincoln, fit the bill.
“I’m a Lincoln hobbyist,” Redd said. “I don’t have Lincoln bobble heads, but I have plenty of books. You get me in the right mood with the right lighting and I can pull off a decent Lincoln.”
Outside of Redd’s tendency to become the former president that fascinates him, he knows quite a bit about Lincoln’s biggest struggles, especially in 1864. Redd’s read through countless books, documents and essays all to answer one question: Was the election of 1864 the turning point of the war and did it doom the Confederacy? But answering such a question can’t happen without understanding the stakes.
In 1864, Lincoln’s popularity was low. Hundreds of thousands of Americans had died, families were starving and the American people wanted the war to be over. Lincoln went up for re-election against McClellan, one of his former generals. If McClellan had won, Redd said he planned to finish the war with an armistice, leaving the Confederacy intact.
“Everything goes back to 1860,” Redd said. “The slaves are still the slaves. If there’s no surrender by the confederacy there’d be no emancipation proclamation, probably no new amendments. Slaves that Lincoln declared free would go back to being slaves. Things would be different.”
In fact, Redd said there’d be a good chance that the Confederacy could exist to this very day.
“All the way through the 1900s’ there’d be two parts of the United States, the Union and the Confederacy,” he said. “Every once in a while they’d get together and fight over the west. They’d fight over, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and California would be split in half, northern California for the Union, southern California for the Confederacy. The Confederacy really could have survived the war if McClellan wins.”
But putting revisionist history aside, there were some interesting stories that came from this chaotic time for Lincoln and the America, one in particular involving an envelope.
“Lincoln writes a letter, seals the envelope and passes it to his cabinet and tells them to sign it,” he said. “They sign the envelope and Lincoln puts it in his desk drawer. What the envelope says is that if Lincoln loses the election we, his cabinet, will do everything that’s possible to end the war before McClellan is inaugurated.”
But the cabinet had no idea the stakes contained in that envelope, until Lincoln actually won.
“Once Lincoln wins the election, he takes out the envelope and lets his cabinet read it. They realize if Lincoln had lost they would have had to try and end the war as quickly as possible because they unknowingly took an oath to do so. That’s a 90-day period to try and turn the heat up on the confederacy. It would have been crazy.”
While Redd, a two-time author, is excited about his presentation, he’s just happy to be included with many great minds and enthusiasts of Civil War research.
“I’ve written books before, so I’ve gotten past that thrill,” Redd said. “But for a jury of my peers to cosign me, to let me be published with them, it feels pretty good.”
As for his talk, Redd said to be prepared for a fun and informative time.
“I’m not just going to get up and read my chapter,” Redd said. “I’m searching for new information. I want to make this worthwhile.”
Tickets for the Symposium are $155 each and are still available. For more information about the line-up of events, Aug. 3-5, click here.
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