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.

“Oh…Do You Remember the Fun of Him?”

Today in History, January 6, 1919:

“Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”

-Vice President Thomas Marshall.

President Theodore Roosevelt dies at Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, New York in his sleep of a heart attack. “Teddy” had taken every last drop of adventure and worthiness that he could squeeze out of life in the preceding 60 years.

Roosevelt had been a sickly child; constantly plagued by breathing problems, he could rarely play with the other children. His father, Theodore Sr., a remarkable man himself, told “Teedie” that if he wanted to have a successful life, he would have to take charge and force his body into the form he needed to match his intellect. Roosevelt did just that. He took exercise as his “raison detre” until he was barrel chested and of vigorous health. Each time he became sick during his life, he would simply work through it.

As a young man, while serving in the New York Assembly, Roosevelt was called home from Albany by an urgent message. After the train ride to NYC, he arrived home to be met at the door by his brother, “There is a curse upon this house.”

Roosevelt’s wife and mother died on the same day…February 14, 1884, within hours of each other. Writing in his diary only a large X and the words “The light has gone out of my life”, Roosevelt fled into the west, becoming a rancher and for a time a lawman in the Dakota Territory. The experience would strengthen him and give him a background people respected.

During his life he was a state rep from New York, the Police Commissioner for New York City, Governor of New York, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (he oversaw the building of a modern US Navy while his boss was not paying attention), he led the “Rough Riders” (1st Volunteer US Cavalry) up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, became Vice President, and the President after President McKinley was assassinated.

As President he defined the modern presidency, breaking up monopolies, seeing that mistreated workers got a fair shake, sent the “Great White Fleet” around the world establishing American as a world influence, saw the Panama Canal built, saw the establishment of the National Parks Service, and countless other accomplishments.

He worked tirelessly for the American people. After the Presidency he traveled extensively, going on an African Safari, and exploring an unknown region of South America, “The River of Doubt”; a region so treacherous that it was considered a no-man’s land. He nearly died in the mapping of the river, now called “Rio Roosevelt” in his honor.

All of his male children fought in WWI, and the only reason Teddy didn’t was because the Democrat President (Wilson) refused to let him, afraid Roosevelt would run against him in the next election and win. One of his sons, Quentin, would be shot down over France and be killed. That was the last straw for the “Old Lion”. He mourned dreadfully until his death.

One of his other children, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would be the only General to go ashore with the troops at D-Day in WWII; Teddy Jr would die of a heart attack himself several weeks after the Normandy invasion. The entire world would mourn President Roosevelt’s passing; he had become larger that life, a hero to people the world over. The quintessential American. And in case you couldn’t tell, my favorite Hero.

At TR’s funeral at Oyster Bay, what I believe is the best, most heartfelt eulogy was spoken in passing. Walking from the church a New York City Police Captain who had served with Roosevelt more than 20 years earlier when he was Police Commissioner, was overcome with emotion. He turned to TR’s sister and asked, “Oh…do you remember the FUN of him?”

You’ve Seen Much About Assassination Today – Some History About “Jack” Kennedy


Today in History, November 22, 1963:

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  Thanksgiving must have been miserable in ’63.

This being the 55th anniversary of that terrible event, the coverage has been immense, so there isn’t much I could add about the event itself. And I would just as soon not mention the person who took JFK from us. So…a little history about JFK that not everyone may know.

To say that JFK came from a political family is an understatement. In the latter part of the nineteen century and early of the twentieth, both of his grandfathers were rivals in Massachusetts politics. John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald rose from a Boston shopkeeper’s son to be Mayor, a US Representative and political boss, and was none to happy when PJ Kennedy’s son Joseph began courting his daughter Rose. PJ served in the Mass House and Senate and was also a political mover and shaker.

Nonetheless, Honey Fitz loved the many resulting grandchildren, doting on his namesake, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

JFK’s father rose in politics as well, making note as an Irish Catholic appointed to Ambassador to England for FDR. Joe brought his children with him, and JFK watched the German bombing of England first hand. Joe was a controversial isolationist and did not have FDR’s trust.

During his senior year at Harvard JFK would write a thesis called “Why England Slept” about England’s pre-war actions. Joe would see this published, although it didn’t win a Pulitzer like the 1957 “Profiles in Courage” by JFK…which Joe also made sure was acclaimed.

JFK’s older brother Joe was being groomed for high political office, but was killed in WWII while piloting a B-24 Liberator on a dangerous mission over Europe. So the mantle fell to “Jack”, also a war hero for his exploits in the Pacific Theater.

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.

Victory and Assassination

Today in History, April 4: 1865:

150 years ago today. President Lincoln enters Richmond, the Confederate Capitol. Lincoln had been at City Point when informed that Richmond had been taken the day before by Union Army forces.

He immediately sailed on the USS Malvern, Flag Officer David Dixon Porter’s flagship for Richmond. After he disembarked, he was initially escorted through crowds by a contingent of sailors, who were very relieved when they were met by a group of Union Cavalry to assist in escorting the President to the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Many former slaves attempted to pay homage to Lincoln, who would not allow it. Onlookers watched from the windows and street corners.

At Davis’ house, Lincoln sat in Davis’ chair, then toured the house.

When later asked by Union Gen. Weitzel how the conquered rebels should be treated, Lincoln indicated that he would not give an order in that regard, but that his advice would be to, “Let them up easy….let them up easy”.

As for the nervous sailors and cavalrymen that escorted him? As it turns out, Lincoln was safer in the Confederate capitol that his own. He had only ten days until he would be assassinated.

103 years later to the day, another man dedicated to civil rights and the advancement of justice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

April is a Historic month with many stories to tell.

“We, As a People, Will Get to the Promised Land…

Today in History, April 3, 1968:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gives his “I have been to the mountaintop” speech at Memphis, Tennessee. The speech supported striking workers, civil rights, the Constitution, and, comments that if his death were to come he would be at peace. Because he had been “to the mountaintop” as Moses had, and had seen the future success of his works.

The next day an assassin would end Doctor King’s life.

But not his dream.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Rawhide Down!!

Today in History, March 30, 1981:

“I hope you’re all Republicans”. President Ronald Reagan quipped to the medical team preparing to operate on him at George Washington University Hospital after he had been shot. “Today, sir, we all are.” ”

“Ronny” was leaving the D.C. Hilton where he had given a speech to Union members when he, a Secret Service agent, a D.C. Police Officer, and Press Secretary James Brady were shot by a man attempting to impress Jodie Foster.

Reagan showed his usual good form and humor in the hospital. When he awoke, a nurse was holding his hand; he looked up and asked, “Does Nancy know about us?” When Nancy arrived, he commented, “Honey, I forgot to duck” (quoting Jack Dempsey). While waiting for surgery, he stated, “All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia” (W.C. Fields quote). Within two weeks the President was back at work.

I’m glad we were allowed to have his honor, humor, positive attitude and leadership as long as we did.