In July 1864, the war was not going well for President Abraham Lincoln's administration. Washington was threatened by a southern army; Federal forces seemed to face stalemate in Virginia and Georgia; and a Union invasion of the Red River Valley in Louisiana had failed. Casualties were piling up and Northern voters were disenchanted with the war.
Lincoln believed he would lose the election in November to the peace Democrats. Southern armies could no longer win a decisive victory on the battlefield, but they could deny victory to the Union armies and seek a negotiated peace with Lincoln's successor.