On This Date in History: Historian Stephen B. Oates wrote in With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln that one night in the second week of April 1865, President Lincoln spoke with his wife Mary and long time friend Ward Hill Lamon that he had ghostly dreams. Lincoln told Mary Todd and Lamon that his most recent dream resulted in his waking and going to his bible where his search led him consistently to passages regarding dreams, supernatural visitations and visions. When Mary asked what that particular dream was about, Oates describes Lincoln with a sad and serious voice responding:
“There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but he mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestiments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers. ‘The President.’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin!’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd.”
Mary Todd said the story was “horrid” and wished she had never asked to hear about the dream. Lamon said that, as Lincoln spoke, he was pale, “grave and gloomy.” But, when the President awoke on the morning of April 14, 1865 he had slept quite well. He had no concerns regarding reconstruction and no bad dreams. Instead, he had a dream that he had frequently had on the eve of good news. He had the same dream prior to Union victories at Antietan, Gettysburg and Vicksburg. So, when he awoke from the dream in which he was on a ship moving quickly toward a distant shore, he surmised that the day must be filled with good news. After all, it was Good Friday. However, I wonder if he recalled that “Good Friday” gained the moniker because it was the date that commemorates the death of Jesus of Nazareth.
That Good Friday in Washington D. C. the weather began under sunny and pleasant conditions. The President and First Lady planned on taking care of some executive business and then attending a performance of Our American Cousin, a comedy that was scheduled for the stage at Ford’s Theatre. During a cabinet meeting at 11AM, Lincoln asked, Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant if he and his wife Julia would like to accompany the Lincolns to the theatre. Grant replied to this verbal invitation in the affirmative if they were in town but, if he was able to attend to his duties, that they were hoping to catch a train that night to visit their children who were then in Burlington, New Jersey. Grant was able to finish his work before the evening train left Washington on the 14th and so he sent word to the President that he and his wife would not be able to attend. Mrs. Lincoln was quite fond of Miss Clara Harris and so, after several people besides the Grants had declined the invitation, Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, Miss Harris, accepted the invitation. It’s not clear whether or not assassin John Wilkes Booth knew that Grant was not in the box with Lincoln but, when he shot the President in the head, he also stabbed Major Rathbone in the head and neck. The young major apparently had a bright political future but his life resulted in a tragic scenario. Rathbone went on to marry Harris and they had 3 children. But, his mental health had deteriorated with speculation being he never overcame the trauma of the assassination. Rathbone murdered his wife in 1883 and tried to kill himself but doctors saved his life. He lived out the rest of his life in an insane asylum.
The final letter known to have been written by Abraham Lincoln was a reply to James H. Van Allen, who had written Lincoln to guard against assassination. The president assured Van Allen, “I intend to adopt the advice of my friends and use due precaution…I thaink you for the assurance you give me that I shall be supported by conservative men like yourself, in the efforts I may make to restore the Union, so as to make it, to use your language, a Union of hearts and hands as well as states. Yours truly, A. Lincoln.” Just prior to his leaving the White House for Ford’s Theatre, Lincoln concluded a meeting he had with George Ashmun, who had come seeking a political appointment. The final words written by Abraham Lincoln was on a pass of admission for Mr. Ashmun that read, “Allow Mr. Asmum and friend to come in at 9 AM to-morrow. A. Lincoln.” By 9AM April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was dead.
The President of the United States sat with his wife, Major Rathbone and Clara Harris in a special box at Ford’s Theatre watching the popular comedy Our American Cousin. The presidential party had but one body guard. John Frederick Parker was assigned to guard the door. He was there when the president arrived around 9PM but he disappeared following the intermission. It is thought that he joined some other men in the saloon and then found a seat to see the play. Incredibly, Lincoln’s missing body guard remained on the security staff after the events at Ford’s Theatre. On this date in 1865, John Wilkes Booth , at about 10:15 PM, fired a single shot .41 caliber derringer into the back of the head President Abraham Lincoln. Booth escaped by leaping to the stage but caught a spur in the bunting and he broke his leg when he hit the stage. It is said that he shouted out, “Sic Semprer Tyrannus” which means “death to tyrants” in Latin. The President was taken across the street to 453 Tenth Street at the home of William Petersen. They placed him in the bed of a room rented by boarder William Clark. Throughout the night, family and friends gathered around the President as he breathed laboriously but never regained consciousness. At 7:22 AM, Abraham Lincoln breathed his last and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Ulysses S. Grant learned of the assassination in Philadelphia. At the time, he was told that Secretary of State William H. Seward had also been murdered and it was likely Vice-President Andrew Johnson was also dead. Naturally, with the potential decaptitation of the government, the commander of the Union Army was asked to return to Washington immediately. Grant wrote in The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant that it was impossible for him to describe his feelings. He said of Lincoln, “I knew his goodness of heart, his generosity, his yielding disposition, his desire to have everybody happy, and above all his desire to see all the people of the United States enter again upon the full priviliges of citizenship with equality among all.” Since he was near his final destination, he accompanied his wife to Burlington and then immediately took a special train back to the nation’s capital. He said upon his return he noticed the stark contrast of the crowds in Washington that had been so joyous when he left had “turned to grief.” Grant speculated that the South would have been saved much hardship had Lincoln lived and that “Mr. Lincoln’s assassination was particularly unfortunate for the entire nation.”
Historian William J. Cooper, Jr says in Jefferson Davis, American that Confederate President Jefferson Davis, like Grant, felt great regret upon hearing of the death of President Lincoln. Davis felt that the South would have been dealt with much more leniently and expected no special considerations for himself or his Confederate colleagues from the new Democrat President Andrew Johnson. Davis was right as the Johnson administration accused Davis as complicity in planning Lincoln’s assassination. He issued a proclamation calling for the arrest of Davis and a reward of $100,000 in gold. Later, during the trial of Booth’s co-conspirators, it was determined that no evidence existed to suggest any involvement by Davis or other high ranking Confederate officials. The conclusion reached was the death of Abraham Lincoln was planned and executed by a small group of people led by John Wilkes Booth. Booth had been a famous actor, well known across the nation. He thought that he would be thought of as a hero. Instead, his actions have placed him at the top of the list of American villains with whom no one wishes to acknoeledge any family ties or association.
Weather Bottom Line: Weather still looks on line. Warm and nice through the rest of the week. High pressure moves off to the east and a little cold front comes through late Friday bringing perhaps some showers or even a t’storm. Thunder Over Louisville Weekend looks good still with highs on Saturday in the mid to upper 60’s.