Spielberg’s Lincoln chronicles the last months of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and life, and the film is hitting theaters today! Due to the amount of key political and military figures in the film, it’s a little hard to keep track of who’s who – so we’ve created a character guide to brush up on American history!
THE LINCOLN FAMILY
Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis): 16th President of the United States of America from March 1861 until his death by assassination in April 1865. He was the president throughout the entire Civil War and one of the highest regarded presidents in American history. He is best known for abolishing slavery under the 13th Amendment of the Constitution and for leading the Union/The North to victory in the Civil War.
Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field): Lincoln’s wife and the First Lady of the United States from 1861-1865. Mentally unstable and extremely depressed due to the death of two of her children (and after the film takes place, a total of three children), she blames herself for her husband’s unhappiness.
Robert Lincoln (Joseph Gordon-Levitt): Lincoln’s eldest son and his only child to make it to adulthood. Studying to become a lawyer in Boston, he quits school and enlists, against his parents’ wishes, in the Union Army. Later in life, he became the U.S. Secretary of War and U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Edward Lincoln: Lincoln’s second son who died when he was three years old in 1850. His death is said to what sparked the beginning of Mary Todd’s severe depression.
William “Willie” Lincoln: Lincoln’s third son who passed in 1862 from Typhoid Fever. Dying at 11 years of age, his death set Mary Todd Lincoln into an ever deeper depression and severe mental instability.
Thomas “Tad” Lincoln (Gulliver McGrath): Lincoln’s youngest son who frequently interrupted his father’s meetings and ran freely around The White House. He outlived his father, but died in 1871 at the age of 18 from Tuberculosis.
KEY PEOPLE IN LINCOLN’S CABINET
William Seward (David Stratharim): Secretary of State during the Lincoln Administration. A loyal member of the Republican Party, he severely opposed slavery and was a huge supporter of the 13th Amendment. Although not mentioned in Lincoln, Seward was also attacked the night of Lincoln’s assassination, but survived.
Edwin Stanton (Bruce McGill): Secretary of War from 1862 – 1868. He helped to manage the Union Army and lead the North to victory.
Gideon Welles (Grainger Hines): Secretary of the Navy from 1861 – 1869.
Montgomery Blair (Byron Jennings): U.S. Postmaster General from 1861 – 1864, Lincoln accepted Blair’s early resignation - and makes a snarky comment about his early resignation in the film.
William Dennison, Jr. (James ‘Ike’ Eichling): U.S. Postmaster General from 1864 – 1866, succeeding Blair.
James Speed (Richard Topol): U.S. Attorney General from 1864 – 1866. He became a part of the Radical Republicans and advocated for African-American males the right to vote.
John Palmer Usher (Dakin Matthews): A kind and unobtrusive man, Usher was Secretary of the Interior from 1863 – 1865.
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones): Representing Pennsylvania’s 9th district from 1859-1868, he was one of Congress’ most influential and outspoken members and lead the Radical Republicans. As demonstrated in Lincoln, he had very heavy influence in the passing of the 13th Amendment.
George Yeaman (Michael Stuhlbarg): A Democrat from Kentucky, Yeaman voted against his party in support of the 13th Amendment.
Wells A. Hutchins (Walton Goggins): A Democrat from Ohio, Hutchins also voted against his party in support of the passing of the 13th Amendment.
Charles Sumner (John Hutton): Changing parties many times, he is best known as a Republican Senator from Massachusetts. Sumner helped lead the Radical Republicans alongside Thaddeus Stevens and supported anti-slavery.
Fernando Wood (Lee Pace): A Democratic Representative from New York, he was sympathetic to the Confederacy and was in high favor of slavery.
James Mitchell Ashley (David Costabile): An Abolitionist Republican from Ohio. He had a large roll in suporting Union Troops to defeat the South.
OTHER KEY PEOPLE IN SUPPORT OF THE UNION
W.N. Bilbo (James Spader): A political operative who was once imprisoned but freed by Lincoln. He, along with two partners, lobbied members of Congress to support and pass the 13th Amendment.
Elizabeth Keckley (Gloria Reuben): A former slave who became the personal modiste for Mary Todd Lincoln. As a freed slave who worked for the First Family, she took advantage of her position and became a civil activist to help blacks later in life.
Francis Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook): The father of Montgomery Blair, he was a supporter and adviser to Lincoln. With Lincoln’s consent, Blair traveled unofficially to Richmond (the Confederacy Capitol) and asked Jefferson Davis to appoint representatives to travel to D.C. to discuss peace negotiations. This resulted in the Hampton Roads Conference (Reference “Civil War Events”).
Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris): Commander of the United States Army from 1864 – 1869 and led the Union to victory over the Confederacy. He was an alcoholic and later became President of the United States – and is reputed for not being one of the best men for the job.
Lydia Smith (S. Epatha Merkerson): Congressman Thaddeus Steven’s biracial housekeeper. Stevens never married, and Smith lived with him, romantically, for many years.
John Hay (Joseph Cross): Personal assistant and secretary to Lincoln.
John George Nicolay (Jeremy Strong): Working with John Hay, Nicolay was also a secretary to Lincoln. The two collaborated together on Lincoln’s official biography, published in ten volumes from 1890-1894.
IMPORTANT FIGURES OF THE CONFEDERACY
Alexander Stephens (Jackie Earle Haley): Vice President of the Confederate States of America. He met with Lincoln in February 1865 on a failed attempt to make peace and end the Civil War, but it was a failed attempt mainly due to Stephens’ disagreement with the passing of the 13th Amendment.
R.M.T. Hunter (Mike Shiflett): Secretary of State for the Confederacy from 1861-1862, and then became a Senator from Virginia from 62-65. He attended the Hampton Roads Conference with Stephens and Campbell.
John Archibald Campbell (Gregory Itzin): Assistant Secretary of War for the Confederacy and attended the Hampton Roads Conference with Hunter and Stephens.
Robert E. Lee (Christopher Boyer): General of the Confederate Army, he surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, ending the Civil War.
Jefferson Davis: President of the Confederate States of America.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
November 6, 1860: Lincoln is elected as the 16th president of the United States with 180 Electoral votes and 40% of the popular vote. His campaign focused heavily on not spreading slavery into non-slave states.
December 20, 1860 – June 8, 1861: Eleven southern states seceded from the U.S.A. and form the Confederate States of America: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina.
March 4, 1861: Lincoln is inaugurated as the 16th President of the United States. Seven states have seceded from the Union at this point. Lincoln states he would not accept the secession and hoped to create a peaceful resolution.
April 12-14, 1861: Shots are fired and The Battle of Fort Sumter occurs, thus marking the start of the Civil War. Four more states will secede after the first battle of the War.
June 1861: West Virginia is born, not wanting to secede with the rest of Virginia as a slave state. Four other slave states commit to staying part of the Union, including Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri.
February 20, 1862: Lincoln’s third child, Willie, dies at the age of 11.
January 1, 1863: Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, stating that all slaves in areas of rebellion were free.
July 1-3, 1863: The Battle of Gettysburg occurs, which was the bloodiest and most Northern fought battle of the Civil War. Union troops defeated Lee’s Confederate Army, which ended Lee’s invasion of the North.
November 8, 1864: Lincoln is re-elected as the President of the United States for a second term, winning 212 electoral votes and 55% of the popular vote. This is the first time since 1832 a President has won re-election, and the first time since 1812 there was an election during a war.
January 31, 1865: The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution is passed, abolishing slavery.
February 3, 1865: Confederate representatives Alexander Stephens, R.M.T. Hunter, John Archibald Campbell, meet Union representatives President Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward to negotiate peace terms aboard the River Queen near Newport News, Virginia. Lincoln refused to consent to a treaty and demanded the C.S.A. to voluntarily abolish slavery, and also to fully restore the Union. The conference was unsuccessful, as the C.S.A. could not agree to Lincoln’s terms, and merely wanted to be recognized as an independent country.
April 1-3, 1865: After 10 months of fighting in the Richmond-Petersburg area, Richmond, the Capitol of the Confederacy, falls to the Union.
April 7-9, 1865: On April 7, Grant’s troops surrounded Lee’s, and within the next two days, Grant called upon Lee to surrender. On April 9, the two generals met at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, which marked the official end of the Civil War.
April 14, 1865: Lincoln is shot while watching a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. by John Wilkes Booth. Booth was a well-known stage actor, who was a Marylander and sympathetic towards the Confederacy and a supporter of slavery. Lincoln died the next morning.
Be sure to also check out Hypable’s review of Lincoln before seeing the film!