Irredeemable Loss & Grief…Assassination of President Lincoln

Today in History, April 14, 1865:

Within a week of the surrender at Appomattox, a coward assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

If you were old enough on 9/11, you experienced the indescribable loss, grief, and helplessness we all experienced.

I use this in an attempt to fathom the emotions Americans must have felt at the loss of Lincoln. He had led them through the most traumatic time in our nation’s history…the times ahead were still uncertain. How would the North and South reunite? Was the war really over? They needed his steady hand on the rudder stearing the ship of state more than ever.

And suddenly Abraham was gone.

I post “O Captain! My Captain!” By Walt Whitman almost every year on this date, because I believe he came closest to capturing the grief the nation must have felt.

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

When “Wild Bill” Says Don’t Wear That Watch…

Today in History, July 21, 1865:

In the first recorded instance of a “quick draw” gunfight, “Wild Bill” Hickok shoots and kills his friend Davis Tutt.

The two had been arguing over a watch that Tutt took as security for a loan. Hickok told him not to wear it…and he did.

So in the town square in Springfield, Missouri, the two stood sideways to each other and drew. Tutt missed, Hickok did not, shooting Tutt through the heart from 75 yards.

The Last to Surrender

Today in History, June 23, 1865:

The last Confederate General surrenders to Union authorities. Cherokee Chief and Confederate Brigadier General Stand Watie surrendered his Cherokee Rifles Cavalry Brigade at Ft. Towson in Oklahoma Territory.

Watie had a checkered past…he was one of the Cherokees that voted for the law that moved the tribe to the Oklahoma Territory, and part of his family was assassinated as a result. He competed with Chief John Ross for the leadership of the tribe…Watie was a slave owner, Ross was a Union sympathizer. Watie and his unit were important in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas also.

The Tragedy of the SS Sultana

Today in History, April 27, 1865:

The SS Sultana.

They had left their farms, their jobs and their families, to fight for the Union, some for glory, some for honor. Any glory in the war faded, as it always must, as they fought through terrible battles. They saw their friends die mutilated, many of them suffered irreparable injuries.

Then they were captured by their enemy and sent to horrific prison camps such as the despised Andersonville. Conditions there were unspeakable; even if the Confederates had any sympathy for them, the South didn’t have the resources to care for it’s own, much less it’s prisoners.

Finally after months or years of starvation and brutality, the war was over; they were liberated. They were going home! Can you imagine the joy, the rapture they must have felt? Most had to have believed it would never happen, that they would die in their captivity.

They marched (those that could still walk) to ports on the Mississippi to board steamships for the trip north and home. Desperate to get home as quickly as possible, they begged, cajoled, bartered or simply boarded the overloaded river boats clandestinely. You can take just one more, right?

The steamer SS Sultana was one of those commissioned by the Union Government to get them home. Her capacity was for 376 passengers. 376. By the time she sailed from the captured city of Vicksburg, MS she was loaded down with at least 2,400…mostly those Union prisoners on their way home.

At 2 AM on the 27th of April her decks and quarters were jammed beyond capacity, but their must have been peace amongst the passengers. The ship was top heavy and as she made the turns of the river, the water in her inter-connected boilers sloshed back and forth, lowering the water levels in the boilers opposite the turn. One of the boilers had been hastily patched to allow her use on the trip.

Suddenly, one of the boilers burst, causing at least two more to follow. The ship exploded, the suddenly escaping steam burned hundreds to death in an instant, setting the wooden ship afire to kill hundreds more. Most of those that managed to escape the ship into the water, already emaciated, drowned before they could be rescued; the first ship to reach them was an hour away in the frigid waters.

Of the 2,400, as many as 1,900 perished. 7 to 9 miles above Memphis on the river, even the recently defeated Confederates there responded with compassion, opening their homes to the few survivors.

No one was ever prosecuted for the disaster, however Maj. Gen. Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana, commander of the Department of the Mississippi, was relieved of his command by Lt. Gen. Grant.

Assassin’s Demise

Today in History, April 26, 1865:

Union Army forces track down John Wilkes Booth 12 days after he assassinated President Lincoln. In the meantime, he had been hidden by Confederates, treated by Doctor Samuel Mudd (your name is mud) and hidden in a barn on the Garrett farm in Virginia, where he was found.

The barn was set afire and his associate surrendered. Booth refused…a Union soldier, Boston Corbett, saw Booth inside the barn and fired his Colt revolver…causing a mortal wound to Booth.

Many Confederates saw Booth as a hero. However many Southerners wept openly at Lincoln’s death, and Confederate Generals, including Lee and Johnston, denounced Booth’s actions.

Fortunately, in the interim between his deed and his death, Booth was able to see news accounts that recorded his hero’s denunciation of his act. So when he died, he knew what he was.

Appomattox

Today in History, April 9, 1865:

After years of foiling every move the Union made, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had finally been run to ground. Several Yankee Generals had been bested by him, but he had finally met his match…not tactically, but in determination, by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

At Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, Lee, his army starving and with nowhere else to run, in spite of the fact that he would “rather die a thousand deaths”, agreed to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant.

Lee arrived in his best uniform; Grant, typically, arrived in a muddy private’s uniform. Grant offered terms that included Confederate officers keeping their horses and sidearms, enlisted men keeping their horses so that they could farm their land, as long as they agreed to abide by their paroles and obey the laws of the land. Lee was very appreciative of these terms, saying they would be helpful to his army, men he loved.

As Lee mounted his horse and left the site of the surrender, Union soldiers began to cheer. Grant quickly silenced them, reminding them that the Confederates were once again their countrymen.

The surrender document was signed in the home of Wilmer McLean. Ironically, in the first battle of the war, First Bull Run, or First Manassas if you are from the South, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters were in McLean’s home in Manassas, where cannon shot destroyed part of the house. McLean moved south to Appomattox Courthouse to keep his family safe. So, as is said, the Civil War began in Wilmer McLean’s front yard, and ended in his parlor.

McLean’s home was almost completely stripped of furniture by Union officers seeking momentos of the occasion.

Lee was given the opportunity by Grant to allow one of his subordinates to accept the surrender…to avoid humiliation. Lee refused…his FATHER, Light Horse Harry Lee, had been with Washington at Yorktown and witnessed the ungentlemanly act of British Gen. Lord Cornwallis sending a subordinate to surrender his sword to Washington. Lee refused to dishonor his family name by repeating the act. Grant did not require Lee to surrender his sword, but Lee was the man that represented his army at Appomattox Courthouse. Both gentlemen, North and South, maintained their honor.

Appomattox Courthouse; The Beginning of the End

Today in History, April 9: 1865 – One of the most momentous events in American history. After years of foiling every move the Union made, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had finally been run to ground. Countless Yankee Generals had been bested by him, but he had finally met his match…not tactically, but in determination, by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. At Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, Lee, his army starving and with nowhere else to run, in spite of the fact that he would “rather die a thousand deaths”, agreed to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant. Lee arrived in his best uniform; Grant, typically, arrived in a muddy private’s uniform. Grant offered terms that included Confederate officers keeping their horses and sidearms, enlisted men keeping their horses so that they could farm their land, as long as they agreed to abide by their paroles and obey the laws of the land. Lee was very appreciative of these terms, saying they would be helpful to his army, men he loved. As Lee mounted his horse and left the site of the surrender, Union soldiers began to cheer. Grant quickly silenced them, reminding them that the Confederates were once again their countrymen. The surrender document was signed in the home of Wilmer McLean. Ironically, in the first battle of the war, First Bull Run, or First Manassas if you are from the South, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters were in McLean’s home in Manassas, where cannon shot destroyed part of the house. McLean moved south to Appomattox Courthouse to keep his family safe. So, as is said, the Civil War began in Wilmer McLean’s front yard, and ended in his parlor.

Lee was given the opportunity by Grant to allow one of his subordinates to accept the surrender…to avoid humiliation. Lee refused…his FATHER, Light Horse Harry Lee, had been with Washington at Yorktown and witnessed the ungentlemanly act of British Gen. Lord Cornwallis sending a subordinate to surrender his sword to Washington. Lee refused to dishonor his family name by repeating the act. Grant did not require Lee to surrender his sword, but Lee was the man that represented his army at Appomattox Courthouse. Both gentlemen, North and South, maintained their honor.

Other notables at the meeting were Captain Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s son.  Robert had insisted on serving despite his father’s reservations, so Grant found a place for him on his staff.  Major Gen. Phillip Sheridan, who had been a very successful commander and who would one day command all of the US Army.  Also Grant’s adjutant, Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian who was chosen to write out the surrender because he had the best hand writing of those present.

Poor McLean’s woes were not over, either.  Officers present made off with almost everything except the wallpaper in the room to remember the occasion.