The year was 1862 and the United States was engulfed in the Civil War. Forces on both sides were beginning to realize the human and financial cost of war. Five of the ten most costly battles were fought in 1862–at Antietam (Maryland), the Second Manassas (Virginia), Stone’s River (Tennessee), Shiloh (Tennessee), and Fort Donelson (Tennessee). At the Battle of Antietam alone, more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or went missing–the most casualties in one day in American history.
With the war weighing heavily on President Lincoln, tragedy came to the White House in February. His son Willie died of a fever, which devastated the Lincoln family.
Willie Lincoln had charmed many in his ten short years and was thought to be most like his father. U.S. diplomat, Thomas H. Nelson of Indiana wrote the following in a letter of condolence to the Lincolns:
â€œHis rare qualities of head and heart won for him the love and admiration of all who knew him, and gave high promise of future excellence, while his fine physical organization seemed to indicate long life and vigorous health.â€
His sonâ€™s death would not keep him from his duties though. In 1862, Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. This legislation allowed any U.S. citizen (or immigrant who intended to become a citizen), who had not borne arms against the United States, to claim 160 acres of public land. The applicant was required to live on the land for five years and improve it by building a dwelling and starting a farm. After fulfilling the requirements the applicant could then apply for the deed to the property at the local land office. The Homestead Act helped bring in a wave of immigration and the Railroad Act, also of 1862, provided for the construction of a transcontinental railroad that would accelerate westward expansion.
In September Lincoln issued a warning to Confederate states that unless they returned to the Union by 1 January of the following year, he would grant freedom to slaves in those states. It did not however, free slaves in loyal states. The irony of this was not lost on Secretary of State William Seward, who remarked, â€œWe show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”
The effects of the American Civil War were also being felt overseas. The blockade of southern ports prevented the export of cotton upon which textile mills in Lancashire, England, depended. By late 1862, an estimated three-fifths of the workforce in Lancashire was out of work.
To the south of the border, the French Army occupied Mexico in an attempt to collect a debt. France was not happy with the growth of the United States, and Mexican occupation would allow the French Army to aid the Confederate Army. A Confederate victory would result in two smaller and less powerful countries. As the French marched toward Mexico City, they were met by Mexican forces and farmers armed with only the tools of their trade. The French were defeated on the 5th of May, Cinco de Mayo, and forced to retreat to the coast. Eventually they regrouped and made their way back to Mexico City, but Mexican forces under the leadership of Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz managed to stall the French long enough for the Civil War to end.