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Lincoln’s Assassination

Children of the Civil War era never forgot the moment that they learned of President Lincoln’s assassination.

It was the spring of 1865. Father was coming up the hill, mother and I were watching for him. Usually he walked with a brisk step, head up, but now his step was slow, his head dropped. Mother ran to meet him cry¬ing, "Frank, Frank, what is it?" I did not hear the answer; but I shall always see my mother turning at his words, burying her face in her apron, running into her room sobbing as if her heart would break. And then the house was shut up, and crape was put on all the doors, and I was told that Lincoln was dead.

From that time the name spelt tragedy and mys¬tery. Why all this sorrow over a man we had never seen, who did not belong to our world my world? Was there something beyond the circle of hills within which I lived that concerned me? Why, and in what way, did this mysterious outside concern me?

Ida M. Tarbell, All in the Day's Work, 11

Why does not the President call out the women? If there are enough men? We would go and fight too - we would better all die together. Let us suffer still more - give up yet more - anything, anything that will help the cause - anything that will give us freedom and not force us to live with such people - to be ruled by such horrible and contempible creatures - to submit to them when we hate them so bitterly. It is cruel - it is unjust. I used to dream about peace - to pray for it - but this is worse than war. What is such peace to us? What horrible fate has been pursuing us the last six months? Not much farther back than that we had every reason to hope for success. What is the cause of this sudden crushing collapse? I cannot understand it - I never loved my country as I do now - I feel I could sacrifice everything to it - and when I think of the future - Oh God! It is too horrible. What I most fear is a cancilistory [conciliatory] policy from the North - that they will offer to let us come back as before - Oh, no - no! I would rather we were held as a conquered province - rather sullenly submit and bide our time. Let them oppress and tyrannize, but let us take no favors of them. Let them send us away out of the country - anywhere away from them and their hateful presence. We are all very wretched…. It seems dreadful to see any one smile. It seems impossible to utterly despair. If we did we would be even more miserable than we are. We feel instinctively that something must happen to avert our doom. It is so terrible as to be unthinkable. We have been so confident of final success that we cannot believe we are conquered. What misfortune will I have to chronicle tomorrow I am too sick at heart to write any more….

Hurrah! Old Abe Lincoln has been assassinated! It may be abstractly wrong to be so jubilant, but I just can't help it. After all the heaviness and gloom of yesterday this blow to our enemies comes like a gleam of light. We have suffered till we feel savage. There seems no reason to exult, for this will make no change in our position - will only infuriate them against us. Never mind, our hated enemy has not the just reward of his life. The whole story may be a Yankee lie. The despatch purports to be from Stanton to Sherman - It says Lincoln was murdered in his private box at the theatre on the night of the 14th - (Good Friday - at the theatre) The assassin brandished a dagger and shouting, "Sic semper tyrannis - Virginia is avenged", shot the president through the head. He fell senseless and expired next day a little after ten. The assassin made his escape in the crowd. No doubt it was regularly planned and he was surrounded by Southern sympathizers. "Sic semper tyrannis." Could there have been a fitter death for such a man? At the same hour nearly [Secretary of State William] Seward's house was entered - he was badly wounded as also his son. Why could not the assassin have done his work more thoroughly? That vile Seward - he it is to whom we owe this war - it is a shame he should escape.

Seventeen-year-old Emma LeConte of Columbia, South Carolina, Diary, 1864-1865, 64-65

Although I was but four and a half years old when Lincoln died, I distinctly remember the day when I found on our two white gateposts American flags companioned with black. I tumbled down on the harsh gravel walk in my eager rush into the house to inquire what they were "there for." To my amazement I found my father in tears, something that I had never seen before, having assumed, as all children do, that grown up people never cried. The two flags, my father's tears, and his impressive statement that the greatest man in the world had died, constituted my initiation, my baptism, as it were, into the thrilling and solemn interests of a world lying quite outside the two white gateposts.

Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House, p. 33.

We hadn't been in Chicago long when the war ended, and a few days later President Lincoln was assassinated. Then came that long, strange railroad funeral journey, when they took his body to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and a few other places en route, stopping almost everywhere to let the people see him in his coffin. When he lay in state in the Court House in Chicago we - my uncle's family and ours - were among the vast crowd that filed by his bier . . . . We had to stand in line a long time and I grew very tired and impatient; but finally we got in. When we reached the coffin, my uncle lifted me slightly so that I could look in and see his face, by then sallow and shrunken. I was tremendously impressed ....

Eddie Foy, who was nine years old in 1865, Clowning through Life, 19 20

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