Posts Tagged ‘Robert E. Lee’

President Lincoln and son "Tad" (Thomas) in a February 9, 1864 photograph by Anthony Berger of the Brady Studio.

President Lincoln and son "Tad" (Thomas) in a February 9, 1864 photograph by Anthony Berger of the Brady Studio.

April 11, 1865 became the official day of celebrating the end of the Civil War. An even larger crowd was assembled on the White House lawn than the night before. (See last post.) The band was playing triumphant music, people were waving banners and shouting, “Hoorah!” and calling out for President Lincoln to speak. It was evening, but Washington D.C., was blazing with light. The Capitol, other government buildings, the White House, and private homes were lit up from within to ring in the good news.

A great cheer went up from the crowd when the President appeared on the second-floor balcony to deliver his speech. There he stood patiently and quietly as waves of applause rolled toward him. Finally, the crowd settled down and Lincoln, holding a candle in his left hand and his notes in his right, prepared to speak. But the juggling of the candle and his manuscript instantly proved awkward for the president. So he gave the candle to his friend Noah Brooks to hold. Son Tad knelt at his feet to catch each fluttering page of his father’s notes as he dropped them.

The crowd was silent when Lincoln began:

“Reuniting our country is fraught with great difficulty…and we differ among ourselves as to the mode and manner and means of reconstruction….”

Lincoln continued in this same vein, spelling out in greater and more boring detail the plans he had for reuniting the torn nation. The crowd was somewhat taken aback by the president’s tone. This was not the speech they’d expected. They had come to hear a rousing speech, praising the Union troops for their bravery and sacrifice, but, instead their president was droning on with no merriment, skipping past the present and jumping into the future without pausing to savor victory. Not waiting for the end of the president’s speech, some members of the crowd drifted away no doubt to find a jazzier way to spend the celebration.

John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865)

John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865)

One of the people in the crowd that day was the famous young actor and Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Along with him were drugstore clerk David Herold and former Confederate soldier Lewis Powell, also known as Lewis Payne. Just weeks earlier, these three men and five others had been planning to kidnap Lincoln and exchange him for Confederate P.O.W.s. But now that the Confederacy had collapsed, Lee had surrendered, and Rebel P.O.W.s were being released, there was no incentive to kidnap the president. Still, Booth wanted to act. He hated Lincoln and considered him a tyrant along the lines of Julius Caesar. He was determined to do something heroic in defense of the South and to punish Lincoln.

Booth was startled to hear what the President said next.  Lincoln said something that no other president had ever said publicly. He told the crowd that he was in favor of granting some black men the right to vote, especially, “the very intelligent and those who served our cause as soldiers.” One hundred eighty thousand black men had served in the Union Army.

Booth went ballistic. He turned to his fellow co-conspirator Powell. “That means nigger citizenship. That is the last speech he will ever make,”  he vowed.  He begged Powell to shoot Lincoln then and there. When Powell said no, Booth proclaimed, “By God, I’ll put him through.”

Booth was true to his word. It was the last speech Lincoln ever made. Four days later, the president would be dead, killed by a bullet fired into his head by John Wilkes Booth.


For related posts on this blog, see left sidebar “Categories.” Select Mary and Abraham Lincoln. In particular, you might enjoy reading “The Lincoln Assassination: Mary Surratt & the 7 Hoods.”

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Confederate General Robert E. Lee, seated, with 2 of his officers, photographed by Mathew Brady in April, 1865, following Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Richmond, Virginia.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee, seated, with 2 of his officers, photographed by Mathew Brady in April, 1865, following Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Richmond, Virginia.

At daylight on April 10, 1865, the firing of 500 cannons spread the news throughout Washington, D.C.,  that the War Between the States was over and the Union preserved. The cannons were so loud that they broke windows on Lafayette Square, the neighborhood around the White House. (1) “Guns are firing, bells ringing, flags flying, bands playing, men laughing, children cheering – all, all jubilant,” wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells. (2)

Expecting the president to make a speech, several thousand people gathered outside the White House. President Lincoln was not sure what to say as he was planning on giving a formal address the following evening.Just then, his twelve-year-old son Tad appeared at a second-floor window, waving a captured Confederate flag. It gave the president an idea. He asked the Marine Band to play a favorite tune of his, “Dixie,” the unofficial Confederate anthem.

“I have always thought ‘Dixie” one of the best tunes I ever heard,” he told the surprised crowd. “It is good to show the rebels that with us they will be free to hear it again.”

True to the promise he made in his second inaugural address, Lincoln was already trying to bind up the nation’s wounds.
Now let’s hear Elvis Presley sing “Dixie.”

(1) White, Ronald C. A. Lincoln. (New York: Random House, 2009)

(2) Fleming, Candace. The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. (New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2008)

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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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