Posts Tagged ‘Ford’s Theatre’

lincoln-drawingApril 14, 1865, was one of the happiest days of Abraham Lincoln’s life. It was Good Friday. General Robert E. Lee had surrendered five days earlier and the Civil War was over. The Union had been saved. Lincoln had a relaxing breakfast with his 21-year-old son Robert, whom he called “Bob,” who had just arrived for a visit. Robert Lincoln (1843-1926) had studied law at Harvard University until the closing weeks of the war when he joined the Union Army as part of General Ulysses Grant’s staff.

“Well, my son, you have returned safely from the front,” President Lincoln said. “The war is now closed, and we soon will live in peace with the brave men that have been fighting against us.” (1) He was eager to see the country heal and wanted no persecutions for the Confederacy, no “bloody work.” (2) Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Lincoln’s personal assistant, said that Lincoln’s face “was more cheerful than [she] had seen it for a long while.” (1)

At 11 a.m. he met with his regular cabinet and General Grant, who was concerned that not all of the Confederate forces under Johnston had surrendered to General Sherman. Lincoln told Grant not to worry, that good tidings were coming, “for he had last night the usual dream which he had preceding nearly every great and important event of the War.” He described the dream. He had seen himself on the water in some type of boat moving rapidly “towards an indefinite shore.” (1)

That afternoon, he took his usual carriage ride with Mary. Mary had never seen her husband so “cheerful,” she told a friend, “his manner was even playful. At three o’clock, in the afternoon, he drove out with me in the open carriage….I said to him, laughingly, ‘Dear Husband, you almost startle me by your great cheerfulness.'”

He replied, “And well I may feel so, Mary. I consider this day, the war, has come to a close….We must both, be more cheerful in the future – between the war and the loss of our darling Willie – we have both been very miserable.” As the carriage rolled toward the Navy Yard, Lincoln recalled happy memories of is old Springfield home and the adventures as a lawyer riding the circuit. He keenly felt the pressures of the presidency lifting and the future looking brighter.


Once back at the White House, Lincoln sat down and began reading a book, something humorous by John Phoenix. Mary kept calling him to dinner but he wouldn’t put the book down; he was totally absorbed – as always. Finally, Mary insisted he come to the table at once. They had to eat early, she reminded him, as they had plans to see Laura Keene perform in the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre that evening. It had been announced in the papers; they had to go. Lincoln preferred to stay home. He had no need for the escape of the theatre that day; he was already jubilant. But go he must, as he didn’t want to disappoint the people.

The morning edition of the National Republican had announced that Ulysses and Julia Grant would join the Lincolns in the president’s box for the play, but Julia didn’t want to go, saying she had her heart set on visiting their children in New Jersey. While that may have been true, it was more likely that it was an excuse to get out of an engagement with Mary Lincoln, whom she despised.

The Lincolns had a hard time finding a replacement for the Grants. Secretary of War Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Chase also declined. Stanton had been trying for months to keep the president from exposing himself to the danger of such public places and both men thought the theatre a frivolity. It was decided that Clara Harris and her fiance, Major Henry Rathbone, would substitute for the Grants.

A little after eight o’clock, the carriage that would take Abraham and Mary to Ford’s Theatre rolled onto the front drive. Lincoln no doubt sighed. “I suppose it’s time to go,” he told Speaker Schuyler Colfax, “though I would rather stay.” He assisted Mary into the carriage and they took off.

(1) Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005)
(2) Freedman, Russell. Lincoln: A Photobiography. (New York: Scholastic Inc., 1987)

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Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814-1869)

Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814-1869)

Much has been made of Democratic President Obama’s attempt to incorporate a Republican into his cabinet, a move that today’s political pundits liken to an overture made by the President Lincoln when, in 1862, he appointed Democrat Edwin Stanton as secretary of war in his Republican administration. Stanton was not just Lincoln’s political opponent, he was one of his most scathing critics, referring to the “imbecility” of the Lincoln administration’s handling of the Civil War. Not only that, he and Lincoln had met on another occasion – in a courtroom six years earlier – and Stanton had treated Lincoln with surly condescension.

During that case, Stanton headed a team of lawyers that included Lincoln that challenged Cyrus McCormack’s patent on the reaper. Nationally-renowned patent lawyer George Harding was another member of that same team. Harding never forgot the first time he caught sight of Abraham Lincoln arriving at the Burnet House in Cincinnati where the lawyers were lodged. Lincoln approached Harding and Stanton. Harding described Lincoln as a

“tall, rawly-boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end of the handle.” (1)

Lincoln introduced himself to the two men, saying,

“Let’s go up in a gang.”

Both Stanton and Harding were shocked that this country bumpkin was part of their team. Stanton pulled Harding aside, whispering,

“Why did you bring that d____d long armed Ape here?”

Though the three of them spent a week together in trial and stayed at the same hotel, neither Harding nor Stanton asked Lincoln to join them for a meal or go with them to or from court. The brief Lincoln prepared for use in the trial was never even opened by Harding and Stanton. The judge presiding over the trial hosted a dinner for both teams of lawyers yet Lincoln was not invited.

Yet, in 1862, Lincoln set aside his ego and offered Stanton “the most powerful civilian post” – the post of secretary of war. Stanton accepted the position only to “help save the country.” While Stanton was hot-tempered and brusque, Lincoln recognized his brilliance and ability. Over the three years of their working relationship, Stanton and Lincoln grew close.

On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, Edwin Stanton was alerted. When he arrived at the Petersen boardinghouse across from Ford’s Theatre, he found that the president had been placed diagonally across a bed to accommodate his large frame. Lincoln was stripped of his shirt. “His large arms were of a size which one would scarce have expected from his spare appearance,” noted Stanton’s companion. Edwin Stanton and the other cabinet members except for Seward were present when President Lincoln was pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865. Stanton’s tribute at that moment is still with us today.

“Now he belongs to the ages,” Stanton said of Lincoln.

Death Bed of Lincoln

Death Bed of Lincoln

Throughout that long night when the president had lingered between life and death, the task had fallen to Secretary of War Stanton to alert the generals. Coolly and with self-possession, Stanton dictated numerous dispatches. But when the president was pronounced dead, Stanton could bear his grief no longer. He could not stop the tears from flowing down his face. No one could control his grief that long night. One witness observed, “there was not a soul present that did not love the president.”

But “Stanton’s grief was uncontrollable,” recalled Horace Porter, “and,” some time later, “at the mention of Mr. Lincoln’s name, he would break down and weep bitterly.” (1) Stanton later wrote that he came to love Lincoln more than any other person outside of his immediate family.

(1) Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.

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