There were two decisive periods in American History that were critical to our very existence as a democratic republic. George Washington was the indispensable man. His generalship and leadership during the Revolution. If things had turned out differently the United States as we know it would not exist The first period was formed and shaped by George Washington. Like the great Roman General Cincinnatus he would retire from his position as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and retire to Mt. Vernon as a citizen planter. The position of king or dictator was his for the asking. Instead his retirement saved our Republic. Again he would guarantee the success of the Constitutional Convention by his presence and leadership. As president he led the country by setting the example. He knew that present and future generations were watching him. Everything he did was as a good role model. He truly was the father of our country. The second most decisive period was the Civil War. Especially in the way that it ended. Six men. Three Union and three Confederate leaders decided that four long years of bloody Civil War, 750,000 deaths, one million wounded, and billions of dollars of property damage in today's dollars was enough tragedy for our nation to endure.
Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman, could have exacted retribution by hanging all Confederate leaders. They could have starved the southern people and imprisoned others. Instead Lincoln;s orders to his Generals were to "let em up easy". His worst fear, that kept him up nights, was the intentions of three Confederate generals that were still the most popular and dangerous. They were Robert E. Lee, Joseph Johnston, and Nathan Bedford Forrest. His fear was that these men, instead of surrendering, would form partisan bands and retreat into the mountains or backwoods. Using hit and run guerrilla tactics they could extend the war indefinitely. America could easily have turned into a country where warfare and turmoil were a perpetual thing. Much like Northern Ireland was until a few years ago. Lincoln breathed easier when he heard of Lee's surrender to Grant on April 9, 1865. Lee told his men to go home and work to bring our country back together. He spent the next five years of his life preaching that message until his death in 1870. Joseph Johnston surrendered his Army, along with the remnants of the Army of Tennessee, on April 26, 1865 to William T. Sherman. Johnston preached the same message to his troops. He was always grateful to Sherman for his fair treatment. Johnston died of pneumonia after standing hatless in the rain at Sherman's funeral. Asked why he didn't wear a hat he replied " Sherman would have done the same for me". In the midst of all this on April 14th 1865 John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at Ford's theater.
The most feared soldier, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was so feared by Union forces that Sherman nicknamed him that "Devil Forrest". Sherman offered any general that could kill Forrest a huge financial reward and a promotion. If anyone was capable of conducting guerrilla warfare, it was Forrest. He surrendered on May 9, 1865. The following are the last lines of his farewell address to his troops. " I have never on the field of battle sent you where I was unwilling to go myself nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be magnanimous." A country that can produce moments and people like this is truly exceptional.