Civil War Quotes

Any understanding of this nation has to be based and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believed that firmly. It defined us. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.  - Shelby Foote, Famous historian, in "The Civil War," a film by Ken Burns

More Quotes

Thus ended the great American Civil War, which upon the whole must be considered the noblest and least avoidable of all the great mass conflicts of which till then there was record. - Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples

President Abraham Lincoln | Gettysburg 1863 | Union General Ulysses S. Grant

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman | Union General George Thomas

Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain | Confederate General Robert E. Lee

Confederate General James Longstreet | Union Quotes | Confederate Quotes

Abraham Lincoln

Now he belongs to the ages.
Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, April 14, 1865, after President Lincoln was shot

War, at the best, is terrible, and this war of ours, in its magnitude and in its duration, is one of the most terrible.
- Abraham Lincoln - June 16, 1864

As a nation we began by declaring that all me are created equal.  We now practically read it, all men are created equal except Negroes.
- Abraham Lincoln, 1855


My God! My God! What will the country say?
- Abraham Lincoln, responding to the news of the Union defeat at Chancellorsville, May 1863

I can’t spare this man; he fights!
– Abraham Lincoln in response to demands for General Grant’s removal

A house divided against itself cannot stand.
- Abraham Lincoln, 1858

It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination
- Abraham Lincoln

I know the hole he went in at, but I can't tell you what hole he will come out of
- Abraham Lincoln made this remark when asked the destination of Sherman's destructive March to the Sea

If there is a worse place than Hell, I am in it.
- Abraham Lincoln, upon hearing of the Union disaster at Fredericksburg, December 1862

his is essentially a people's contest... whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men - to lift artificial weights from all shoulders - to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all - to afford all, an unfettered start and a fair chance, in the race of life.
- Abraham Lincoln, Message to congress, July 4, 1861

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.
- Abraham Lincoln, Address, Cleveland, Ohio February 15, 1861

I have not permitted myself, gentlemen, to conclude that I am the best man in the country; but I am reminded in this connection of a story of an old Dutch farmer, who remarked to a companion once that it was not best to swap horses when crossing a stream.
- Abraham Lincoln, Reply to National Union League June 9, 1864

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or to detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
- Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address November 19, 1863

If we do not make common cause to save the good old ship of the Union on this voyage, nobody will have a chance to pilot her on another voyage.
- Abraham Lincoln, Address, Cleveland, Ohio February 15, 1861

In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free-honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve.
- Abraham Lincoln, Second annual Message to Congress December 1, 1862

...That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
- Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address November 19, 1863

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.
- Abraham Lincoln, Response to a Serenade November 10, 1864

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan-to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
- Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address March 4, 1865

No State, upon it own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union.  Resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally nothing.  I therefore consider that the Union is unbroken.  There needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless forced upon the national authority.
- Abraham Lincoln, after taking his oath March 4, 1861

I don't s'pose anybody on earth likes gingerbread better'n I do-and gets less'n I do.
- Abraham Lincoln, Quoted by Carl Sandburg Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years

Gettysburg July 1863

They will attach you in the morning and they will come booming - skirmishers three deep. You will have to fight like the devil until supports arrive.
- General John Buford, Gettysburg, July 1, 1863

The enemy is advancing in strong force, I will fight him inch by inch, and if driven into the town I will barricade the streets and hold him back as long as possible.
- General John Reynolds, July 1, 1863

The enemy is here, and if we do not whip him, he will whip us.
- ConfederateGeneral Robert E. Lee, announcing his plans to attach the Union army at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863

Forward! For God's sake, forward!
- General John Reynolds, before being mortally wounded, Gettysburg, July 1, 1863

Hold that ground at all hazards.
- Union Col. Strong Vincent to Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Little Round Top, Gettysburg July 1863 

We ran like a herd of wild cattle.
- Confederate Col. William C. Oates, Little Round Top, Gettysburg, July 2, 1863

I have been a soldier all my life. I have commanded companies, I have commanded regiments. I have commanded divisions. And I have commanded even more. But there are no fifteen thousand men i the world that can go across that ground.
-Confederate General James Longstreet, arguing with Confederate General Robert E. Lee against what became known as Pickett's Charge, July 1863

Well, it is all over now. The battle is lost, and many of us are prisoners, many are dead, many wounded, bleeding and dying. Your Soldier lives and mourns and but for you, my darling, he would rather, a million times rather, be back there with his dead, to sleep for all time in an unknown grave.
- Confederate Major General George Pickett, CSA, to his fiancee, July 4, 1863

That old man...had my division massacred at Gettysburg!
- Confederate Major General George Pickett said these words to John S. Mosby shortly after paying Lee a visit in Richmond

Well, it made you famous.
- Confederate Mosby's reply to Pickett

All this has been my fault.
- Confederate General Robert E. Lee repeatedly spoke this line to the survivors of Pickett's Charge as they stumbled back to Confederate lines.

Do you see those colors? Take them!
- General Winfield S. Hancock issued this order to the 1st Minnesota on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, as the Union line was being driven back. The Minnesotans carried out the orders, driving back the Confederates and taking the colors at a loss of one-third of the regiment

Union General Ulysses S. Grant

The right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy, to relieve themselves of the oppression, if they are strong enough, either by withdrawal from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable. But any people who resort to this remedy, stake their lives, their property, and every claim for protection given by citizenship - on the issue. Victory, or the conditions imposed by the conqueror - must be the result.
- General Ulysses S. Grant

There are but two parties now: traitors and patriots. And I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter and, I trust, the stronger party.
- General Ulysses S. Grant, 1861

No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.
- General Ulysses S. Grant, at Fort Donelson, TN, 1862

If men make war in slavish obedience to rules, they will fail.
- General Ulysses S. Grant

Retreat? NO. I propose to attach at daylight and whip them.
- General Ulysses S. Grant, to Col McPherson, Shiloh, 1862

There never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword.
- General Ulysses S. Grant

It will be all right if it turns out all right.
- General Ulysses S. Grant made this comment as he watched soldiers from his army storm Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga - without orders.

I would not have the anniversaries of our victories celebrated, nor those of our defeats made fast days and spent in humiliation and prayer; but I would like to see truthful history written. Such history will do full credit to the courage, endurance and soldierly ability of the American citizen, no matter what section of the country he hailed from, or in what ranks he fought....For the present, and so long as there are living witnesses of the great war of sections, there will be people who will not be consoled for the loss of a cause which they believed to be holy. As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man.
- General Ulysses S. Grant

I have never advocated war except as a means of peace.
- General Ulysses S. Grant

The right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of oppression, if they are strong enough, whether by withdrawal from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable.
- General Ulysses S. Grant

Wherever the enemy goes, let our troops go also.
General Ulysses S. Grant, August 1864

...but for a soldier his duty is plain. He is to obey the orders of all those placed over him and whip the enemy wherever he meets him.
- General Ulysses S. Grant, letter to Washburne, June 19, 1862

I never knew what to do with a paper except to put it in a side pocket or pass it to a clerk who understood it better than I did.
- General Ulysses S. Grant, about paperwork and administration


Union General William Tecumseh Sherman

It's a disagreeable thing to be whipped.
- General William T. Sherman

The scenes on this field would have cured anybody of war.
- General William T. Sherman

A battery of field artillery is worth a thousand muskets.
- General William T. Sherman

Many and many a person in Georgia asked me why we did not go to South Carolina; and, when I answered that we were en route for that State, the invariable reply was, - Well, if you will make those people feel the utmost severities of war, we will pardon you for your desolation of Georgia.
- General William T. Sherman

The whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak violence upon South Carolina. I almost tremble for her fate.
- General William T. Sherman

I would make this war as severe as possible, and show no symptoms of tiring till the South begs for mercy.
- General William T. Sherman, September, 1863

I think I understand what military fame is; to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers.
- General William T. Sherman

If you don't have my army supplied, and keep it supplied, we'll eat your mules up, sir
- General William T. Sherman warning to his army quartermaster prior to the army's departure from Chattanooga toward Atlanta

I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast.
- General William T. Sherman

War’s Legitimate Object Is More Perfect Peace.
- General William T. Sherman

Oh, it is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization.
- Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman upon hearing of South Carolina’s secession from the Union.

You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end.

The North can make a steam engine, locomotive or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or a pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth-right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with.

You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing!
You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it…Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them?

At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see that in the end you will surely fail.
- General William T. Sherman on December 24, 1860

I see every chance of a long, confused and disorganizing civil war, and I feel no desire to take a hand therein.
- General William T. Sherman in January 1861

You might as well attempt to put out the flames of a burning house with a squirt-gun. I think this is to be a long war-very long-much longer than any politician thinks

I begin to regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash-and it may be well that we become so hardened. 
- General William T. Sherman
in a letter to his wife  July, 1864.

Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless for us to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses and people will cripple their military resources. I can make this march, and make Georgia howl.  - General William T. Sherman , from a telegram sent to General Ulysses S. Grant at Atlanta, Georgia. September 9, 1864.

Wars are not all evil, they are part of the grand machinery by which this world is governed.
- General William T. Sherman

War is at best barbarism…Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot, nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.
- General William T. Sherman. These words are from his June 19, 1879 address to the Michigan Military Academy.

Union General George Thomas


Quotes about General Thomas:

There is nothing finer in history than Thomas at Chickamauga. 
- Henry M. Cist, The Army of the Cumberland   


Under the shadow of a spreading oak, near Snodgrass house, is a grizzled soldier, calm, silent, immovable, who resolves to hold the field until night comes-hemmed in by appalling ruin yet supreme above disaster -The Rock of Chickamauga."   
- J.S. Ostrander ,  Two September Days

Confederate General Robert E. Lee

It is well that war is so terrible - we should grow too fond of it.
- Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Fredericksburg, 1862

Strike the tent!
- Confederate General Robert E. Lee spoke these words in delirium, shortly before he passed away on
October 12, 1870

Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.
- Confederate General Robert E. Lee

I believe it to be the duty of everyone to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony.
- Confederate General Robert E. Lee

I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country that the dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, an I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation.
- Confederate General Robert E. Lee

Confederate General James Longstreet

Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?
- Confederate General James Longstreet

General, unless he offers us honorable terms, come back and let us fight it out!
- Confederate General James Longstreet said this to General Robert E. Lee as he rode off to discuss terms for surrender at Appomattox

The next time we met was at Appomattox, and the first thing that General Grant said to me when we stepped inside, placing his hand in mine was, Pete, let us have another game of brag, to recall the days that were so pleasant. Great God! I thought to myself, how my heart swells out to such magnanimous touch of humanity. Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?
- Confederate General James Longstreet

I hope to live long enough to see my surviving comrades march side by side with the Union veterans along Pennsylvania Avenue, and then I will die happy.
- Confederate General James Longstreet at a Memorial Day Parade in 1902

Union Quotes

Let me tell you what is coming.... Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet... You may, after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence...but I doubt it.
- Texas Governor Sam Houston, 1861

"I shall await the first shot, and if you do not batter us to pieces, we shall be starved out in a few days."
- Maj. Robert Anderson, U.S.A., April 11, 1861

"I am out of money,we are all out of money,but we dont need money down here- Dont need anything but Men , Muskets, Ammunition, Hard Tack, Bacon and Letters from home."
- Lt. Col. James Austin Connolloy, June 20,1864

Before I die let me implore that in some way it may be stated that General Pope has been outwitted, and that [Irvin] McDowell is a traitor.
- Col Thornton F. Brodhead, 1st Michigan Cavalry

...the company is going down hill. The Capt is dead drunk more than half his time. He doesn't get out of his tent to take command of the company more than two days in the week.
- Private Perry Mayo 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Company C

For myself, I care not whether treason be committed North or South; he that is guilty of treason is entitled to a traitor's fate!
- Andrew Johnson, 1861

My plans are perfect, and when I start to carry them out, may God have mercy on Bobby Lee, for I shall have none.
- General (Fighting) Joe Hooker

They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance
- Union General John Sedgwick spoke these words just moments before being shot dead by a confederate sniper at Spotsylvania

Conquer or be conquered.
- Union Adm. David Farragut

Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war, only patriots - or traitors.
- Sen. Stephen Douglas, 1861

Brave men die in battle.
- General William Rosecrans, after Battle of Stone River, December 1862

To tell the truth, I just lost confidence in Joe Hooker.
- General Joseph E. Hooker

It can hardly be in human nature for men to show more valor, or generals to manifest less judgment.
- Anonymous Northern reporter at Fredericksburg, 1862

The men continue their drunkenness & gambling almost without reproof....
- Lt. Col. Charles B. Hayden, 2nd Michigan Vol. Inf.

If I owned Texas and Hell, I'd rent out Texas and live in Hell.
- General Phillip H. Sheridan

I think that Lee should have been hanged. It was all the worse that he was a good man and a fine character and acted conscientiously. It's always the good men who do the most harm in the world. - Henry Adams

Hello, Massa; bottom rail on top dis time
- A black Union soldier spoke these words to a Confederate prisoner he recognized--his former master

Confederate Quotes

South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.
- Confederate James Petigru, upon hearing of South Carolina's secession

Look men! There stands Jackson like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians!
- Confederate General Barnard E. Bee

Before this war is over, I intend to be a major general or a corpse.
- Confederate General Isaac Trimble

If the Confederacy falls, there should be written on its tombstone: Died of a Theory.
- Confederate Jefferson Davis

The dead covered more than five acres of ground about as thickly as they could be laid.
- A Confederate survivor so described the Union dead at the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1864

America has no north, no south, no east, no west. The sun rises over the hills and sets over the mountains, the compass just points up and down, and we can laugh now at the absurd notion of there being a north and a south. We are one and undivided.
- Confederate Sam Watkins - 1st Tennessee

Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

He had somehow, with all his modesty, the rare faculty of controlling his superiors as well as his subordinates. He outfaced Stanton, captivated the President, and even compelled acquiescence or silence from that dread source of paralyzing power, the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War.
- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, speaking of General Grant

...On they come, with the old swinging route step and swaying battle flags. In the van, the proud Confederate ensign. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood; men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word, nor whisper or vain-glorying, nor motion of man, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!
- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Confederate surrender at Appomattox...

In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls."
- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Speaking at the dedication of the Monument to the 20th Maine, October 3, 1889, Gettysburg, PA

But out of that silence rose new sounds more appalling still; a strange ventriloquism, of which you could not locate the source, a smothered moan, as if a thousand discords were flowing together into a key-note weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear, yet startling with its nearness; the writhing concord broken by cries for help, some begging for a drop of water, some calling on God for pity; and some on friendly hands to finish what the enemy had so horribly begun; some with delirious, dreamy voices murmuring loved names, as if the dearest were bending over them; and underneath, all the time, the deep bass note from closed lips too hopeless, or too heroic, to articulate their agony...It seemed best to bestow myself between two dead men among the many left there by earlier assaults, and to draw another crosswise for a pillow out of the trampled, blood-soaked sod, pulling the flap of his coat over my face to fend off the chilling winds, and still more chilling, the deep, many voiced moan that overspread the field.
- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain-20th Maine- (At the end of the first day's fighting at Fredericksburg...)

I think we continually need to understand how important an event the war was - how defining, how central to who we are.  Everything that came before it led up to it, and everything of importance to this country - at least up to 1940 - was a consequence of it.  Even now there's an echo of the war, however faint, in almost everyone's life.
- Ken Burns - Movie Director


 This will be a great day in our history; the date of a New Revolution - quite as much needed as the old one. Even now as I write they are leading old John Brown to execution in Virginia for attempting to rescue slaves! This is sowing the wind to reap the whirlwind which will come soon! 
- Poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, commenting on the execution of John Brown in December of 1859

Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactment's - I submit;  so let it be done. 
- John Brown

In war, men are nothing, a man is everything. 
- Napoleon

The war for our Union, with all the constitutional issues which it settled, and all the military lessons which it gathered in, has throughout its dilatory length but one meaning in the eyes of history. It freed the country from the social plague which until then had made political development impossible in the United States. More and more, as the years pass, does the meaning stand forth as the sole meaning. 
- William James, 1897

Historical Note


"March 29 - A good day for spring fever and it took hold of a good many. Have been busy all day preparing to leave for the south. This eve the 15th Mich came in tired, dirty and used up. The regt. Numbers about 900 and are armed with Austrian muskets, a very clumsy looking gun."

From The Civil War Diary of Cyrus F. Boyd, Fifteenth Iowa Infantry, 1861-1863


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