My Favorite Quotes and Speeches from the American Civil War

My Favorite Quotes and Speeches from the American Civil War

The American Civil War produced many famous figures, speeches, and quotes. These words, spoken in moments of profound gravity, encapsulate the ideals, struggles, and hopes of a nation divided. Here are some of my favorite quotes and speeches from the Civil War era and why they hold a special place in my heart. These are a few selections that I find the most intriguing.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with it. As our case is new, we must think and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” – Excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 speech to Congress.

“Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” “Yes,” said Grant, “Lick ’em tomorrow though.” – Gen. U.S. Grant responding to Gen Sherman’s remark following the costly Union victory at the Battle of Shiloh.

” I saw an open field in our possession the second day, so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing in any direction, stepping on dead bodies without a foot touching the ground.”- Gen. U.S. Grant commenting on the fearful losses at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.

“June 3 Cold Harbor I was killed.”- Final diary entry of a Federal soldier killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia in 1864.

“I struggled on, clinging to my gun and cartridge box. Many times, I sat down in the mud, determined to go no further and willing to die to end my misery. But soon, a friend would pass and urge me to make another effort, and I would stagger a mile further. In daylight, we could see the spires of Washington, and it was a welcome sight. The loss of the regiment in this disastrous affair was ninety-three killed, wounded, or missing. -Private Elisha Hunt Rhodes following the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861.

“When the grave was ready, they placed the bodies therein two deep. All the monument reared to those brave men was a board upon which I cut with my pocket knife the words 125 rebels.” -Pvt. Wilbur Crummer 45th Illinois on the mass grave burials following the Battle of Shiloh.

The lives of our soldiers are too precious to be sacrificed in the attainment of successes that inflict no loss upon the enemy beyond the actual loss in battle.” Gen. Robert E. Lee on after failing to destroy the Union Army following the Battle of Fredericksburg.

“If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it.”- Abraham Lincoln following the disastrous Union defeat at the Battle of¬†Chancellorsville.

Quote from Abraham Lincoln after the disastrous Union defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville

“Atlanta is ours and fairly won.”- Gen. W.T. Sherman following the fall of Atlanta, Georgia to his forces in September 1864.

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”- Frederick Douglass

“General Lee, I have no division.”-Gen. George Pickett in response to Gen. Lee’s order to rally his division for a possible Union counterattack at the Battle of Gettysburg.

“I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states’ rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not as fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is that they will overwhelm the south.”- Sam Houston on southern secession.

Why These Quotes Matter

These quotes and speeches are more than just historical artifacts; they are powerful expressions of the human spirit in times of turmoil. They offer timeless lessons in leadership, resilience, and the pursuit of justice. Each one, in its own way, speaks to the values I hold dear: equality, courage, integrity, and compassion.

The American Civil War was a defining moment in our nation’s history, and the words spoken during this time continue to inspire and challenge us. By reflecting on these quotes, I am reminded of the importance of standing up for what is right, of understanding different perspectives, and of the enduring power of hope and determination.

In a world that often feels divided, these words from the past provide a beacon of wisdom and strength. They encourage us to look beyond our differences and work together towards a common goal, much like the vision Abraham Lincoln so eloquently described at Gettysburg.

Nancy Vawter
Nancy Vawter

Nancy Vawter has been a reporter and writer since shortly after her graduation from the University of Arizona. She spent seven years with the New York Post, working as a national feature writer in New York. She later taught journalism as an assistant professor at American University in Washington.