In September 1862, Union troops were soundly defeated by Confederate forces led by Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee at Manassas Junction, Virginia. The North called it the Second Battle of Bull Run. President Abraham Lincoln’s somber mood afterward was recorded in a diary entry by Attorney General Edward Bates, who wrote that Lincoln “seemed wrung by the bitterest anguish—said he felt almost ready to hang himself.”
Soon afterward Lincoln wrote out a private musing on a small piece of lined paper. He sought to discern the will of God among the cacophony of voices all around him after news of one of the most discouraging defeats of the war.
Ronald C. White Jr.'s most recent book is The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words (Random House). He teaches American intellectual and religious history at San Francisco Theological Seminary.