Memorial Day arrived on the 160th anniversary of the Civil War's pivotal year.
After the disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg in late 1862, Lincoln's Union forces in 1863 turned the tide against the Confederacy.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, and Congress enacted a national draft in March. Jefferson Davis' Confederacy also imposed a draft, stirring outrage among Southern advocates of states' rights. Lincoln's draft also drew intense opposition, yet the Union prevailed.
Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in May 1863 defeated Joe Hooker's Grand Army of the Republic at Chancellorsville, a few miles away from Fredericksburg, but the victory came with a heavy loss of lives.
The losses included brilliant Confederate tactician and relentless warrior Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, mistakenly wounded by Rebel soldiers who thought Jackson a member of a Union patrol as he returned from a scouting mission with his staff on the evening of May 2. Jackson's forces had just carried out a successful surprise attack from a heavily wooded area known as the Wilderness.
Jackson's left arm was amputated, and he died at home eight days after he was shot. Lee mourned the loss of his most trusted lieutenant.
In July, the Union defeated Lee's invading army at Gettysburg, and the South's Vicksburg fell, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River. While losing at Chickamauga, the Union set the stage for Sherman's March to the Sea with victories in Tennessee.
Lincoln capped the momentous year with his Gettysburg Address in November, calling forth a "new birth of freedom." Schoolchildren used to memorize Lincoln's speech when history and civics were taught in American classrooms.
After the Union gains in 1863, the war lasted for two more difficult years, with an appalling tally of deaths. Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, after the Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox.
The abandonment of Reconstruction led to the restoration of white supremacy in the South, with Jim Crow laws and the horrible spread of lynching, even carried out against black veterans of World War II, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently documented. The GOP, long removed from Lincoln's ideals, doesn't want students to learn such disturbing historic truths.
Begun in 1868 as "Decoration Day" to place flowers on the graves of slain Union soldiers, Memorial Day now honors all Americans killed in wars.
After 160 years, and those sacrifices, Lincoln's vision is far from complete.