After the Baltimore Convention, Mr. Chase proposed to resign his position as Secretary of the Treasury, but he was persuaded by influential friends of himself and Lincoln to reconsider his determination. Chief among these friends was Hon. John Brough, the sturdy "War Governor" of Ohio. Later in the summer of 1864 the relations between the President and Secretary Chase again became inharmonious; the latter determined a second time to resign, and communicated that fact in a confidential letter to Governor Brough. Hon. Wm. Henry Smith, at that time Ohio's Secretary of State, and intimately acquainted with the circumstances as they occurred, says: "Mr. Brough went directly to Washington to bring about another reconciliation. After talking the matter over with Mr. Chase and Mr. Stanton, he called on the President and urged a settlement that would retain the services of Mr. Chase in the Treasury Department. Mr. Lincoln was very kind, and admitted the force of all that was urged; but finally said, with a quiet but impressive firmness, 'Brough, I think you had better give up the job this time.' And thereupon he gave reasons why it was unwise for Mr. Chase to continue longer in the Cabinet."
In the autumn, the Chief-Justiceship became vacant by the death of Judge R.B. Taney (October 11, 1864), and the friends of Mr. Chase, who was then in retirement, desired his elevation to that honorable seat. Congressman Riddle, who was designated to present the matter to the President, says: "After hearing what I had to say, Mr. Lincoln asked, 'Will this content Mr. Chase?' 'It is said that those bitten of the Presidency die of it,' I replied. His smile showed he would not take that answer. I added: 'Mr. Chase is conscious of ability to serve the country as President. We should expect the greatest from him.' 'He would not disappoint you, were it in his reach. But I should be sorry to see a Chief-Justice anxious to swap for it.' I said then what I had already said to Mr. Chase: that I would rather be the Chief Justice than the President. I urged that the purity and elevation of Mr. Chase's character guaranteed the dignity of the station from all compromise; that momentous questions must arise, involving recent exercises of power, without precedents to guide the court; that the honor of the Government would be safe in the hands of Mr. Chase. 'Would you pack the Supreme Court?' he asked, a little sharply. 'Would you have a Judge with no preconceived notions of law?' was my response. 'True, true,' was his laughing reply; 'how could I find anyone, fit for the place, who has not some definite notions on all questions likely to arise?'"
The proposed appointment of Mr. Chase as Chief-Justice was severely criticized by certain friends of Lincoln, who believed Mr. Chase was personally hostile to the President, and could not understand the latter's magnanimity in thus ignoring personal considerations. When told of these criticisms, Lincoln said: "My friends all over the country are trying to put up the bars between me and Governor Chase. I have a vast number of messages and letters from men who think they are my friends, imploring and warning me not to appoint him. Now I know more about Governor Chase's hostility to me than any of these men can tell me; but I am going to nominate him." Which he did, and Chase became Chief-Justice in December, 1864.
The withdrawal of Secretary Chase from the Cabinet was soon followed by that of Postmaster-General Blair, who was succeeded by ex-Governor Dennison of Ohio. Blair received, says Mr. Welles in his Diary, a letter from the President, which, though friendly in tone, informed him that the time had arrived when it seemed best that he should retire, and requesting his resignation, which was promptly given. Mr. Welles says that the President subsequently informed him that "Mr. Chase had many friends who felt wounded that he should have left the Cabinet, and left alone. The friends of Blair had been his assailants, and the President thought that if he also left the Cabinet Chase and his friends would be satisfied and the administration would be relieved of irritating bickerings. The relations of Blair with Stanton also were such that it was difficult for the two to remain." A little later came the resignation of Attorney-General Bates, which, says Mr. Welles, "has initiated more intrigues. A host of candidates are thrust forward—Evarts, Holt, Gushing, Whiting, and the Lord knows who, are all candidates." This gives but a faint idea of the embarrassments and dissensions among Lincoln's friends and official advisers, and of the ceaseless efforts and infinite tact that were needed to maintain a decent degree of harmony among them.
Early in December the President submitted to Congress his fourth annual message—a brief and businesslike statement of the prospects and purposes of the Government. Its first sentence is: "The most remarkable feature in the military operations of the year is General Sherman's attempted march of three hundred miles directly through the insurgent region." Then follows a reference to the important movements that had occurred during the year, "to the effect of moulding society for durability in the Union." The document closes with the following explicit statement: "In presenting the abandonment of armed resistance to the national authority, on the part of the insurgents, as the only indispensable condition to ending the war on the part of the Government, I retract nothing heretofore said as to slavery. If the people should, by whatever mode or means, make it an executive duty to re-enslave such persons, another, and not I, must be their instrument to perform it. In stating a single condition of peace, I mean simply to say that the war will cease on the part of the Government whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it."
New Year's day, 1865, was marked by a memorable incident. Among the crowds gathered in the White House grounds stood groups of colored people, watching with eager eyes the tide of people flowing in at the open door to exchange salutations with the President. It was a privilege heretofore reserved for the white race; but now, as the line of visitors thinned, showing that the reception was nearly over, the boldest of the colored men drew near the door with faltering step. Some were in conventional attire, others in fantastic dress, and others again in laborers' garb. The novel procession moved into the vestibule and on into the room where the President was holding the republican court. Timid and doubting, though determined, they ventured where their oppressed and down-trodden race had never appeared before, and with the keen, anxious, inquiring look on their dark faces, seemed like a herd of wild creatures from the woods, in a strange and dangerous place. The reception had been unusually well attended, and the President was nearly overcome with weariness; but when he saw the dusky faces of his unwonted visitors, he rallied from his fatigue and gave them a hearty welcome. They were wild with joy. Thronging about him, they pressed and kissed his hand, laughing and weeping at once, and exclaiming, "God bless Massa Linkum!" It was a scene not easy to forget: the thanks and adoration of a race paid to their deliverer.
Ever since issuing the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln had earnestly desired that that measure should be perfected by a Constitutional amendment forever prohibiting slavery in the territory of the United States. He had discussed the matter fully with his friends in Congress, and repeatedly urged them to press it to an issue. Just before the Baltimore Convention, he urged Senator Morgan of New York, chairman of the National Republican Committee, to have the proposed amendment made the "key-note of the speeches and the key-note of the platform." Congressman Rollins of Missouri relates that the President said to him, "The passage of the amendment will clinch the whole matter." The subject was already definitely before Congress. In December, 1863, joint resolutions for this great end had been introduced in the House by Hon. James M. Ashley of Ohio, and in the Senate by Hon. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and Hon. J.B. Henderson of Missouri. Senator Trumbull of the Judiciary Committee, to whom the Senate resolutions were referred, reported a substitute for the amendment, which, in April, 1864, passed the Senate by a vote of thirty-eight to six; but reaching the House, June 15, it failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote and was defeated. At the next session of Congress the resolutions were again presented to the House, and after a protracted debate were passed (January 13, 1865) by a vote of one hundred and nineteen to fifty-six. Illinois was the first State to ratify the amendment; and others promptly followed. Lincoln was grateful and delighted. He remarked, "This ends the job"; adding, "I feel proud that Illinois is a little ahead."
Overtures having been made, through General Grant, for a meeting between the President and certain "peace commissioners" representing the belligerents, Lincoln, anxious that nothing should be left undone that might evidence his desire to bring the war to a close, consented to the interview. On the morning of February 2, 1865, he left Washington, quite privately, in order to accomplish his mission without awakening the gossip and criticism which publicity would excite. At Fortress Monroe he was joined by Secretary Seward, who seems to have been the only member of the Cabinet who knew of the President's intention to meet the Southern Commissioners. Lincoln took the full responsibility, as he often did when dealing with risky or unpopular measures. "None of the Cabinet were advised of this move, and without exception I think it struck them unfavorably that the Chief Magistrate should have gone on such a mission," is the comment of Secretary Welles,—although he adds, "The discussion will be likely to tend to peace."
The next morning (February 3) the President and Mr. Seward received the Southern Commissioners—Stephens, Hunter, and Campbell—on board the U.S. steam transport "River Queen" in Hampton Roads. The conference, says Mr. Seward, "was altogether informal. There was no attendance of secretaries, clerks, or other witnesses. Nothing was written or read. The conversation, although earnest and free, was calm and courteous and kind on both sides. The Richmond party approached the subject rather indirectly, and at no time did they either make categorical demands or tender formal stipulations or absolute refusals. Nevertheless, during the conference, which lasted four hours, the several points at issue between the Government and the insurgents were distinctly raised and discussed, fully, intelligently, and in an amicable spirit."
The meeting was fruitless. The commissioners asked, as a preliminary step, the recognition of Jefferson Davis as President of the Southern Confederacy. Lincoln declined, stating that "the only ground on which he could rest the justice of the war—either with his own people or with foreign powers—was that it was not a war of conquest, for the States had never been separated from the Union. Consequently he could not recognize another government inside of the one of which he alone was President, nor admit the separate independence of States that were yet a part of the Union. 'That,' said he, 'would be doing what you have so long asked Europe to do in vain, and be resigning the only thing the armies of the Union have been fighting for.' Mr. Hunter, one of the commissioners, made a long reply to this, insisting that the recognition of Davis's power to make a treaty was the first and indispensable step to peace, and referred to the correspondence between King Charles I. and his Parliament as a trustworthy precedent of a constitutional ruler treating with rebels. Lincoln's face then wore that indescribable expression which generally preceded his hardest hits, as he remarked: 'Upon questions of history I must refer you to Mr. Seward, for he is posted in such things, and I don't pretend to be. My only distinct recollection of the matter is that Charles lost his head.'"
Alexander H. Stephens, one of the commissioners at the meeting on board the "River Queen," and the Vice-President of the waning Confederacy, was a very small man physically, with a complexion so yellow as to suggest an ear of ripe corn. Lincoln gave the following humorous account of the meeting with him: "Mr. Stephens had on an overcoat about three sizes too big for him, with an old-fashioned high collar. The cabin soon began to get pretty warm, and after a while he stood up and pulled off his big coat. He slipped it off just about as you would husk an ear of corn. I couldn't help thinking, as I looked first at the overcoat and then at the man, 'Well, that's the biggest shuck and the smallest nubbin I ever laid eyes on.'"
So strongly were Lincoln's hopes fixed on finding some possible basis for a peaceful restoration of the Union that a few days after his return from his meeting with the Southern Peace Commissioners he presented to the Cabinet (February 5, 1865) a scheme for paying to the Southern States a partial compensation for the loss of their slaves, provided they would at once discontinue armed resistance to the Federal Government. It was, says Mr. Welles, who was present at the meeting referred to, as "a proposition for paying the expenses of the war for two hundred days, or four hundred millions of dollars, to the rebellious States, to be for the extinguishment of slavery. The scheme did not meet with favor, and was dropped." But it showed, adds Mr. Welles, "the earnest desire of the President to conciliate and effect peace."
The evening of March 3, 1865, the President had remained with his Cabinet at the Capitol until a late hour, finishing the business pertaining to the last acts of the old Congress. His face had the ineffaceable care-worn look, yet his manner was cheerful, and he appeared to be occupied with the work of the moment, to the exclusion of all thoughts of the future or of the great event of the morrow.
Rain prevailed during the morning of inauguration day, but before noon it had ceased falling. The new Senate, convened for a special session, was organized, and Andrew Johnson was sworn in its presence into the office of Vice-President. Shortly after twelve o'clock, Lincoln entered the chamber and joined the august procession, which then moved to the eastern portico. As Lincoln stepped forward to take the oath of office, a flood of sunlight suddenly burst from the clouds, illuminating his face and form as he bowed to the acclamations of the people. Speaking of this incident next day, he said, "Did you notice that sunburst? It made my heart jump." Cheers and shouts rent the air as the President prepared to speak his inaugural. He raised his arm, and the crowd hushed to catch his opening words. He paused, as though thronging memories impeded utterance; then, in a voice clear and strong, but touched with pathos, he read that eloquent and imperishable composition, the Second Inaugural Address.
Fellow-Countrymen: At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement, somewhat in detail, of a course to be pursued, seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the Nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this, four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avoid it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city, seeking to destroy it with war,—seeking to dissolve the Union, and divide the effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the Nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish; and the war came. One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease when, or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayer of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses, for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses, which, in the Providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those Divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said: "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and for his orphan; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
This address was probably, next to the Gettysburg oration, Lincoln's most eloquent and touching public appeal. Gladstone of England said of it: "I am taken captive by so striking an utterance as this. I see in it the effect of sharp trial, when rightly borne, to raise men to a higher level of thought and action. It is by cruel suffering that nations are sometimes born to a better life. So it is with individual men. Lincoln's words show that upon him anxiety and sorrow have wrought their true effect."
As the procession moved from the Capitol to the White House, at the close of the inaugural ceremonies, a bright star was visible in the heavens. The crowds gazing upon the unwonted phenomenon noted it as an auspicious omen, like the baptism of sunshine which had seemed to consecrate the President anew to his exalted office.
Close of the Civil War—Last Acts in the Great Tragedy—Lincoln at the Front—A Memorable Meeting—Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and Porter—Life on Shipboard—Visit to Petersburg—Lincoln and the Prisoners—Lincoln in Richmond—The Negroes Welcoming their "Great Messiah"—A Warm Reception—Lee's Surrender—Lincoln Receives the News—Universal Rejoicing—Lincoln's Last Speech to the Public—His Peelings and Intentions toward the South—His Desire for Reconciliation.
Great events crowded upon each other in the last few weeks of the Civil War; and we must pass rapidly over them, giving special prominence only to those with which President Lincoln was personally connected. The Army of the Potomac under Grant, which for nearly a year had been incessantly engaged with the army of General Lee, had forced the latter, fighting desperately at every step, back through the Wilderness, into the defenses about Richmond; and Lee's early surrender or retreat southward seemed the only remaining alternatives. But the latter course, disastrous as it would have been for the Confederacy, was rendered impracticable by the comprehensive plan of operations that had been adopted a year before. Interposed between Richmond and the South was now the powerful army of General Sherman. This daring and self-reliant officer, after his brilliant triumph at Atlanta the previous fall, had pushed on to Savannah and captured that city also; then turning his veteran columns northward, he had swept like a dread meteor through South Carolina, destroying the proud city of Charleston, and then Columbia, the State capital. General Johnston, with a strong force, vainly tried to stay his progress through North Carolina; but after a desperate though unsuccessful battle at Bentonville (March 20, 1865), the opposition gave way, and the Union troops occupied Goldsboro, an important point a hundred miles south of Richmond, commanding the Southern railway communications of the Confederate capital. The situation was singularly dramatic and impressive. In this narrow theatre of war were now being rendered, with all the leading actors on the stage, the closing scenes of that great and bloody tragedy. Grant on the north and Sherman on the south were grinding Lee and Johnston between them like upper and nether millstones.
The last days of March brought unmistakable signs of the speedy breaking-up of the rebellion. Lincoln, filled with anticipation not unmixed with anxiety, wished to be at the front. "When we came to the end of the War and the breaking-up of things," says General Grant, "one of Lincoln's friends said to me, 'I think Lincoln would like to come down and spend a few days at City Point, but he is afraid if he does come it might look like interfering with the movements of the army, and after all that has been said about other Generals he hesitates.' I was told that if Lincoln had a hint from me that he would be welcome he would come by the first boat. Of course I sent word that the President could do me no greater honor than to come down and be my guest. He came down, and we spent several days riding around the lines. He was a fine horseman. He talked, and talked, and talked; he seemed to enjoy it, and said, 'How grateful I feel to be with the boys and see what is being done at Richmond!' He never asked a question about the movements. He would say, 'Tell me what has been done; not what is to be done.' He would sit for hours tilted back in his chair, with his hand shading his eyes, watching the movements of the men with the greatest interest." Another account says: "Lincoln made many visits with Grant to the lines around Richmond and Petersburg. On such occasions he usually rode one of the General's fine bay horses, called 'Cincinnati.' He was a good horseman, and made his way through swamps and over corduroy roads as well as the best trooper in the command. The soldiers invariably recognized him, and greeted him, wherever he appeared amongst them, with cheers that were no lip service, but came from the depth of their hearts. He always had a pleasant salute or a friendly word for the men in the ranks."
Aside from the President's desire to be at the front at this critical time, he had an almost feverish anxiety to escape from the petty concerns and details of official life in Washington. In Welles's Diary is this entry (March 23, 1865): "The President has gone to the front, partly to get rid of the throng [office-seekers, politicians, etc.] that is pressing on him. The more he yields, the greater the pressure. It has now become such that he is compelled to flee. There is no doubt he is much worn down. Besides, he wishes the war terminated, and, to this end, that severe terms shall not be exacted of the Rebels."
Much of the time during the President's visit to the army he had his quarters on the steamer "River Queen," lying in the James river at City Point. It was the same vessel on which he had received the Southern peace commissioners a month before, and the one on which he had made the journey from Washington. On the 27th of March a memorable interview occurred in the cabin of this vessel, between President Lincoln, Generals Grant and Sherman, and Admiral Porter. General Sherman thus describes the interview: "I left Goldsboro on the 25th of March and reached City Point on the afternoon of the 27th. I found General Grant and staff occupying a neat set of log huts, on a bluff overlooking the James river. The General's family was with him. We had quite a long and friendly talk, when Grant remarked that the President was near by in a steamer lying at the dock, and he proposed that we should call at once. We did so, and found Mr. Lincoln on board the 'River Queen.' We had met in the early part of the war; he recognized me, and received me with a warmth of manner and expression that was most grateful. We sat some time in the after-cabin, and Mr. Lincoln made many inquiries about the events which attended the march from Savannah to Goldsboro, and seemed to enjoy the humorous stories about 'our bummers,' of which he had heard much. When in lively conversation his face brightened wonderfully, but if the conversation flagged it assumed a sad and sorrowful expression. General Grant and I explained to him that my next move from Goldsboro would bring my army, increased to 80,000 men by Schofield's and Terry's reinforcements, in close communication with Grant's army then investing Lee and Richmond; and that unless Lee could effect his escape and make junction with Johnston in North Carolina, he would soon be shut up in Richmond with no possibility of supplies, and would have to surrender. Mr. Lincoln was extremely interested in this view of the case, and we explained that Lee's only chance was to escape, join Johnston, and, being then between me in North Carolina and Grant in Virginia, he could choose which to fight. Mr. Lincoln seemed impressed with this; but General Grant explained that at the very moment of our conversation General Sheridan was pressing his cavalry across James River from the north to the south, that with this cavalry he would so extend his left below Petersburg as to meet the South Shore Road, and that if Lee should 'let go' his fortified lines he (Grant) would follow him so close that he could not possibly fall on me alone in North Carolina. I in like manner expressed the fullest confidence that my army in North Carolina was willing to cope with Lee and Johnston combined, till Grant could come up. But we both agreed that one more bloody battle was likely to occur before the close of the war. Mr. Lincoln repeatedly inquired as to General Schofield's ability to maintain his position in my absence, and seemed anxious that I should return to North Carolina. More than once he exclaimed, 'Must more blood be shed? Cannot this last bloody battle be avoided?' We explained that we had to presume that General Lee was a real general; that he must see that Johnston alone was no barrier to my progress, and that if my army of 80,000 veterans should reach Burksville he was lost in Richmond; and that we were forced to believe he would not await that inevitable conclusion, but would make one more desperate effort."
General Sherman adds this personal tribute to Lincoln to the account of the interview on board the "River Queen": "When I left Mr. Lincoln I was more than ever impressed by his kindly nature, his deep and earnest sympathy with the afflictions of the whole people, resulting from the war, and by the march of hostile armies through the South. I felt that his earnest desire was to end the war speedily, without more bloodshed or devastation, and to restore all the men of both sections to their homes. In the language of his second inaugural address, he seemed to have 'charity for all, malice toward none,' and above all an absolute faith in the courage, manliness, and integrity of the armies in the field. When at rest or listening, his legs and arms seemed to hang almost lifeless, and his face was careworn and haggard; but the moment he began to talk his face lightened up, his tall form, as it were, unfolded, and he was the very impersonation of good humor and fellowship. The last words I recall as addressed to me were that he would feel better when I was back at Goldsboro. We parted at the gangway of the 'River Queen,' about noon of March 28, and I never saw him again. Of all the men I ever met, he seemed to possess more of the elements of greatness, combined with goodness, than any other."
A few days after the interview described by General Sherman, the President changed his quarters to the cabin of the "Malvern," Admiral Porter's flagship. The Admiral says: "The 'Malvern' was a small vessel with poor accommodations, and not at all fitted to receive high personages. She was a captured blockade-runner, and had been given to me as a flag-ship. I offered the President my bed, but he positively declined it, and elected to sleep in a small state-room outside of the cabin occupied by my secretary. It was the smallest kind of a room, six feet long by four and a half feet wide—a small kind of a room for the President of the United States to be domiciled in; but Mr. Lincoln seemed pleased with it. When he came to breakfast the next morning, I inquired how he had slept: 'I slept well,' he answered, 'but you can't put a long sword into a short scabbard. I was too long for that berth.' Then I remembered he was over six feet four inches, while the berth was only six feet. That day, while we were out of the ship, all the carpenters were put to work; the state-room was taken down and increased in size to eight feet by six and a half feet. The mattress was widened to suit a berth of four feet width, and the entire state-room remodelled. Nothing was said to the President about the change in his quarters when he went to bed; but next morning he came out smiling, and said: 'A miracle happened last night; I shrank six inches in length and about a foot sideways. I got somebody else's big pillow, and slept in a better bed than I did on the "River Queen."' He enjoyed it greatly; but I do think if I had given him two fence-rails to sleep on he would not have found fault. That was Abraham Lincoln in all things relating to his own comfort. He would never permit people to put themselves out for him under any circumstances."
On the 2d of April the stronghold of Petersburg fell into the hands of the Union troops. Lincoln, accompanied by Admiral Porter, visited the city. They joined General Grant, and sat with him for nearly two hours upon the porch of a comfortable little house with a small yard in front. Crowds of citizens soon gathered at the fence to gaze upon these remarkable men of whom they had heard so much. The President's heart was filled with joy, for he felt that this was "the beginning of the end." Admiral Porter says: "Several regiments passed us en route, and they all seemed to recognize the President at once. 'Three cheers for Uncle Abe!' passed along among them, and the cheers were given with a vim which showed the estimation in which he was held by the soldiers. That evening," continues Admiral Porter, "the sailors and marines were sent out to guard and escort in some prisoners, who were placed on board a large transport lying in the stream. There were about a thousand prisoners, more or less. The President expressed a desire to go on shore. I ordered the barge and went with him. We had to pass the transport with the prisoners. They all rushed to the side with eager curiosity. All wanted to see the Northern President. They were perfectly content. Every man had a chunk of meat and a piece of bread in his hand, and was doing his best to dispose of it. 'That's Old Abe,' said one, in a low voice. 'Give the old fellow three cheers,' said another; while a third called out, Hello, Abe, your bread and meat's better than pop-corn!' It was all good-natured, and not meant in unkindness. I could see no difference between them and our own men, except that they were ragged and attenuated for want of wholesome food. They were as happy a set of men as ever I saw. They could see their homes looming up before them in the distance, and knew that the war was over. 'They will never shoulder a musket again in anger,' said the President, 'and if Grant is wise he will leave them their guns to shoot crows with. It would do no harm.'"
The next day (April 3) the Union advance, under General Weitzel, reached and occupied Richmond. Lee was in retreat, with Grant in close pursuit. When the news of the downfall of the Confederate capital reached Lincoln on board the "Malvern," he exclaimed fervently: "Thank God that I have lived to see this! It seems to me I have been dreaming a horrid dream for four years, and now the nightmare is gone. I want to see Richmond."
The vessel started up the river, but found it extremely difficult to proceed, as the channel was filled with torpedoes and obstructions, and they were obliged to wait until a passage could be cleared. Admiral Porter thus describes what followed: "When the channel was reported clear of torpedoes (a large number of which were taken up), I proceeded up to Richmond in the 'Malvern,' with President Lincoln. Every vessel that got through the obstructions wished to be the first one up, and pushed ahead with all steam; but they grounded, one after another, the 'Malvern' passing them all, until she also took the ground. Not to be delayed, I took the President in my barge, and with a tug ahead with a file of marines on board we continued on up to the city. There was a large bridge across the James about a mile below the landing, and under this a party in a small steamer were caught and held by the current, with no prospect of release without assistance. I ordered the tug to cast off and help them, leaving us in the barge to go on alone. Here we were in a solitary boat, after having set out with a number of vessels flying flags at every masthead, hoping to enter the conquered capital in a manner befitting the rank of the President of the United States, with a further intention of firing a national salute in honor of the happy result. Mr. Lincoln was cheerful, and had his 'little story' ready for the occasion. 'Admiral, this brings to my mind a fellow who once came to me to ask for an appointment as minister abroad. Finding he could not get that, he came down to some more modest position. Finally he asked to be made a tide-waiter. When he saw he could not get that, he asked me for an old pair of trousers. It is sometimes well to be humble.'
"I had never been to Richmond before by that route," continues Admiral Porter, "and did not know where the landing was; neither did the cockswain nor any of the barge's crew. We pulled on, hoping to see someone of whom we could inquire, but no one was in sight. The street along the river-front was as deserted as if this had been a city of the dead. The troops had been in possession some hours, but not a soldier was to be seen. The current was now rushing past us over and among rocks, on one of which we finally stuck; but I backed out and pointed for the nearest landing. There was a small house on this landing, and behind it were some twelve negroes digging with spades. The leader of them was an old man sixty years of age. He raised himself to an upright position as we landed, and put his hands up to his eyes. Then he dropped his spade and sprang forward. 'Bress de Lord,' he said, 'dere is de great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seed him. He's bin in my heart fo' long yeahs, an' he's cum at las' to free his chillun from deir bondage! Glory, Hallelujah!' And he fell upon his knees before the President and kissed his feet. The others followed his example, and in a minute Mr. Lincoln was surrounded by these people, who had treasured up the recollection of him caught from a photograph, and had looked up to him for four years as the one who was to lead them out of captivity. It was a touching sight—that aged negro kneeling at the feet of the tall, gaunt-looking man who seemed in himself to be bearing all the grief of the nation, and whose sad face seemed to say, 'I suffer for you all, but will do all I can to help you.' Mr. Lincoln looked down on the poor creatures at his feet. He was much embarrassed at his position. 'Don't kneel to me,' he said, 'that is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy. I am but God's humble instrument; but you may rest assured that as long as I live no one shall put a shackle on your limbs, and you shall have all the rights which God has given to every other free citizen of this Republic.' It was a minute or two before I could get the negroes to rise and leave the President. The scene was so touching that I hated to disturb it, yet we could not stay there all day; we had to move on; so I requested the patriarch to withdraw from about the President with his companions, and let us pass on. 'Yes, Mars,' said the old man, 'but after bein' so many yeahs in de desert widout water, it's mighty pleasant to be lookin' at las' on our spring of life. 'Scuse us, sir; we means no disrepec' to Mars Lincoln; we means all love and gratitude.' And then, joining hands together in a ring, the negroes sang a hymn, with the melodious and touching voices possessed only by the negroes of the South. The President and all of us listened respectfully while the hymn was being sung. Four minutes at most had passed away since we first landed at a point where, as far as the eye could reach, the streets were entirely deserted; but now what a different scene appeared as that hymn went forth from the negroes' lips! The streets seemed to be suddenly alive with the colored race. They seemed to spring from the earth. They came tumbling and shouting, from over the hills and from the water-side, where no one was seen as we had passed. The crowd immediately became very oppressive. We needed our marines to keep them off. I ordered twelve of the boat's crew to fix bayonets to their rifles and surround the President, all of which was quickly done; but the crowd poured in so fearfully that I thought we all stood a chance of being crushed to death. At length the President spoke. He could not move for the mass of people—he had to do something. 'My poor friends,' he said, 'you are free—free as air. You can cast off the name of slave and trample upon it; it will come to you no more. Liberty is your birthright. God gave it to you as He gave it to others, and it is a sin that you have been deprived of it for so many years. But you must try to deserve this priceless boon. Let the world see that you merit it, and are able to maintain it by your good works. Don't let your joy carry you into excesses. Learn the laws and obey them; obey God's commandments and thank Him for giving you liberty, for to Him you owe all things. There, now, let me pass on; I have but little time to spare. I want to see the capital, and must return at once to Washington to secure to you that liberty which you seem to prize so highly.' The crowd shouted and screeched as if they would split the firmament, though while the President was speaking you might have heard a pin drop."
Presently the little party was able to move on. "It never struck me," says Admiral Porter, "there was anyone in that multitude who would injure Mr. Lincoln; it seemed to me that he had an army of supporters there who could and would defend him against all the world. Our progress was very slow; we did not move a mile an hour, and the crowd was still increasing. It was a warm day, and the streets were dusty, owing to the immense gathering which covered every part of them, kicking up the dirt. The atmosphere was suffocating; but Mr. Lincoln could be seen plainly by every man, woman, and child, towering head and shoulders above that crowd; he overtopped every man there. He carried his hat in his hand, fanning his face, from which the perspiration was pouring. He looked as if he would have given his Presidency for a glass of water—I would have given my commission for half that.
"Now came another phase in the procession. As we entered the city every window flew up, from ground to roof, and every one was filled with eager, peering faces, which turned one to another, and seemed to ask, 'Is this large man, with soft eyes, and kind, benevolent face, the one who has been held up to us as the incarnation of wickedness, the destroyer of the South?' There was nothing like taunt or defiance in the faces of those who were gazing from the windows or craning their necks from the sidewalks to catch a view of the President. The look of every one was that of eager curiosity—nothing more. In a short time we reached the mansion of Mr. Davis, President of the Confederacy, occupied after the evacuation as the headquarters of General Weitzel and Shepley. There was great cheering going on. Hundreds of civilians—I don't know who they were—assembled at the front of the house to welcome Mr. Lincoln. General Shepley made a speech and gave us a lunch, after which we entered a carriage and visited the State House—the late seat of the Confederate Congress. It was in dreadful disorder, betokening a sudden and unexpected flight; members' tables were upset, bales of Confederate scrip were lying about the floor, and many official documents of some value were scattered about.
"After this inspection I urged the President to go on board the 'Malvern.' I began to feel more heavily the responsibility resting upon me through the care of his person. The evening was approaching, and we were in a carriage open on all sides. He was glad to go; he was tired out, and wanted the quiet of the flag-ship. I was oppressed with uneasiness until we got on board and stood on the deck with the President safe; then there was not a happier man anywhere than myself."
On Sunday, April 9, the President returned to Washington; and there he heard the thrilling news that Lee, with his whole army, had that day surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. Lincoln's first visit, after reaching the capital, was to the house of Secretary Seward, who had met with a severe accident during his absence, and was a prisoner in a sick room. Lincoln's heart was full of joy, and he entered immediately upon an account of his visit to Richmond and the glorious successes of the Union army; "throwing himself," as Mr. Carpenter says, "in his almost boyish exultation, at full length across the bed, supporting his head upon one hand, and in this manner reciting the story of the collapse of the Rebellion. Concluding, he lifted himself up and said, 'And now for a day of Thanksgiving!'"
In Washington, as in every city and town in the loyal States, there was the wildest enthusiasm over the good news from the army. Flags were flying everywhere, cannon were sounding, business was suspended, and the people gave themselves up to the impulses of joy and thanksgiving. Monday afternoon the workmen of the navy-yard marched to the White House, joining the thousands already there, and with bands playing and a tumult of rejoicing, called persistently for the President. After some delay Lincoln appeared at the window above the main entrance, and was greeted with loud and prolonged cheers and demonstrations of love and respect. He declined to make a formal speech, saying to the excited throng beneath:
I am very greatly rejoiced that an occasion has occurred so pleasurable that the people can't restrain themselves. I suppose that arrangements are being made for some sort of formal demonstration, perhaps this evening or to-morrow night. If there should be such a demonstration, I, of course, shall have to respond to it, and I shall have nothing to say if I dribble it out before. I see you have a band. I propose now closing up by requesting you to play a certain air or tune. I have always thought "Dixie" one of the best tunes I ever heard. I have heard that our adversaries over the way have attempted to appropriate it as a national air. I insisted yesterday that we had fairly captured it. I presented the question to the Attorney-General, and he gave his opinion that it is our lawful prize. I ask the band to give us a good turn upon it.
The band did give "a good turn" not only to "Dixie," but to the whimsical tune of "Yankee Doodle," after which Lincoln proposed three cheers for General Grant and all under his command; and then "three more cheers for our gallant navy," at the close of which he bowed and retired amid the inspiring strains of "Hail Columbia" discoursed with vigor by the patriotic musicians.
As additional despatches were received from the army, the joyful excitement in Washington increased. Tuesday evening, April 11, the President's mansion, the Executive Departments, and many of the business places and private residences, were illuminated, bonfires were kindled, and fireworks sent off, in celebration of the great event which stirred the hearts of the people. A vast mass of citizens crowded about the White House, as Lincoln appeared at the historic East window and made his last speech to the American public. It was a somewhat lengthy address, and had been prepared and written out for the occasion. "We meet this evening, not in sorrow but in gladness of heart," began the President. "No part of the honor or praise is mine. To General Grant, his skilful officers and brave men, all belongs." Mr. Brooks, who was in the White House during the delivery of this address, gives the following glimpses behind the scenes: "As Lincoln spoke, the multitude was as silent as if the court-yard had been deserted. Then, as his speech was written on loose sheets, and the candles placed for him were too low, he took a light in his hand and went on with his reading. Soon coming to the end of a page, he found some difficulty in handling the manuscript and holding the candlestick. A friend who stood behind the drapery of the window reached out and took the candle, and held it until the end of the speech, and the President let the loose pages fall on the floor, one by one, as fast as he was through with them. Presently Tad, having refreshed himself at the dinner-table, came back in search of amusement. He gathered up the scattered sheets of the President's speech, and then amused himself by chasing the leaves as they fluttered from the speaker's hand. Growing impatient at his father's delay to drop another page, Tad whispered, 'Come, give me another!' The President made a queer motion with his foot toward the boy, but otherwise showed no sign that he had other thoughts than those which he was dropping to the listeners beneath. Without was a vast sea of upturned faces, each eye fixed on the form of the President. Around the tall white pillars of the portico flowed an undulating surface of human beings, stirred by emotion and lighted with the fantastic colors of fireworks. At the window, his face irradiated with patriotic joy, was the much-beloved Lincoln, reading the speech that was to be his last to the people. Behind him crept back and forth, on his hands and knees, the boy of the White House, gathering up his father's carefully written pages, and occasionally lifting up his eager face waiting for more. It was before and behind the scenes. Sometimes I wonder, when I recall that night, how much of a father's love and thought of his boy might have been mingled in Lincoln's last speech to the eager multitude."
The President's speech on this occasion was largely devoted to the impending problem of Reconstruction in the South. The problem was complex and difficult, with no recognized principles or precedent for guidance. Said Lincoln: "Unlike the case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organization for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with and mould from disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment, that we, the loyal people, differ amongst ourselves as to the mode, manner, and measure of reconstruction. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these States and the Union." The problem thus touched upon was one that had long occupied the thoughts of Lincoln, especially since the downfall of the Confederacy had been imminent. His practical and far-seeing mind was already addressing itself to the new issues, duties, and responsibilities, which he saw opening before him, and which he well knew would demand all of his wisdom, firmness, and political sagacity. As was to be expected, a great diversity of views prevailed. A powerful faction in Congress, sympathized with by some members of the Cabinet, was for "making treason odious" and dealing with the insurgent States as conquered provinces that had forfeited all rights once held under the Constitution and were entitled only to such treatment as the Government chose to give them. Lincoln's ideas were very different. His mind was occupied with formulating a policy having for its object the welfare of the Southern people and the restoration of the rebellious States to the Union. His broad and statesmanlike views were outlined, the day after the public address just referred to, in discussing Secretary Welles's plans for convening the legislature of Virginia. Says Mr. Welles in his Diary: "His idea was that the members of the legislature, comprising the prominent and influential men of their respective counties, had better come together and undo their own work. Civil government must be reestablished, he said, as soon as possible; there must be courts, and law and order, or society would be broken up, the disbanded armies would turn into robber bands and guerillas, which we must strive to prevent. These were the reasons why he wished prominent Virginians who had the confidence of the people to come together and turn themselves and their neighbors into good Union men." Lincoln had no thought of leaving any of these questions to the military authorities. In March he had directed a despatch from Stanton to Grant, saying: "The President wishes you to have no conference with General Lee, unless it be for the capitulation of his army, or on some other minor and purely military matter. He instructs me to say that you are not to decide, discuss, or confer upon any political question. Such questions the President holds in his own hands, and will submit them to no military conferences or conventions." During his meeting with Grant at Petersburg the President revealed to the General many of his plans for the rehabilitation of the South, and it could easily be seen that a spirit of magnanimity was uppermost in his heart. And at the conference with Grant, Sherman, and Porter, on board the "River Queen," the same subject was broached. "Though I cannot attempt to recall the words spoken by any one of the persons present on that occasion," says General Sherman, "I know we talked generally about what was to be done when Lee's and Johnston's armies were beaten and dispersed. On this point Mr. Lincoln was very full. He said that he had long thought of it, that he hoped this end could be reached without more bloodshed, but in any event he wanted us to get the men of the Southern armies disarmed and back to their homes; that he contemplated no revenge, no harsh measures, but quite the contrary, and that their suffering and hardships during the war would make them the more submissive to law." Says Hon. George Bancroft: "It was the nature of Mr. Lincoln to forgive. When hostilities ceased he who had always sent forth the flag with every one of its stars in the field was eager to receive back his returning countrymen."
One of the last stories of personal interviews with President Lincoln relates to his feeling of clemency for the men lately in rebellion. It is told by Senator Henderson of Missouri. "About the middle of March, 1865," says Senator Henderson, "I went to the White House to ask the President to pardon a number of men who had been languishing in Missouri prisons for various offenses, all political. Some of them had been my schoolmates, and their mothers and sisters and sweethearts had persisted in appeals that I should use my influence for their release. Since it was evident to me that the Confederacy was in its last throes, I felt that the pardon of most of these prisoners would do more good than harm. I had separated them, according to the gravity of their offenses, into three classes; and handing the first list to him, I said, 'Mr. President, the session of the Senate is closed, and I am about to start for home. The war is virtually over. Grant is pretty certain to get Lee and his army, and Sherman is plainly able to take care of Johnston. In my opinion the best way to prevent guerilla warfare at the end of organized resistance will be to show clemency to these Southern sympathizers.' Lincoln shook his head and said, 'Henderson, I am deeply indebted to you, and I want to show it; but don't ask me at this time to pardon rebels. I can't do it. People are continually blaming me for being too lenient. Don't encourage such fellows by inducing me to turn loose a lot of men who perhaps ought to be hanged.' I answered, 'Mr. President, these prisoners and their friends tell me that for them the war is over; and it will surely have a good influence now to let them go.' He replied, 'Henderson, my conscience tells me that I must not do it.' But I persisted. 'Mr. President, you should do it. It is necessary for good feeling in Missouri that these people be released.' 'If I sign this list as a whole, will you be responsible for the future good behavior of these men?' he asked. 'Yes,' I replied, 'I will.' 'Then I'll take the risk.' He wrote the word Pardoned, signed the order of release, and returned the paper to me. 'Thank you, Mr. President,' I said, 'but that is not all. I have another list.' 'You're not going to make me let loose another lot!' he exclaimed. 'Yes,' I answered, 'and my argument is the same as before. The guilt of these men is doubtful. Mercy must be the policy of peace.' With the only words approaching profanity that I ever heard him utter, he exclaimed, 'I'll be durned if I don't sign it! Now, Henderson,' he said, as he handed me the list, 'remember that you are responsible to me for these men, and if they don't behave 'I'll put you in prison for their sins.'"
Lincoln's whole feeling toward the vanquished Southern people was one of peace and magnanimity. While many were clamoring for the execution of the Southern leaders, and especially Jefferson Davis, Lincoln said, only a day or two before his death: "This talk about Mr. Davis wearies me. I hope he will mount a fleet horse, reach the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and ride so far into its waters that we shall never see him again." And then he told a pat story—perhaps his last—of a boy in Springfield, "who saved up his money and bought a 'coon,' which, after the novelty wore off, became a great nuisance. He was one day leading him through the streets, and had his hands full to keep clear of the little vixen, who had torn his clothes half off him. At length he sat down on the curb-stone, completely fagged out. A man passing was stopped by the lad's disconsolate appearance, and asked the matter. 'Oh,' was the only reply, 'this coon is such a trouble to me!' 'Why don't you get rid of him, then?' said the gentleman. 'Hush!' said the boy, 'don't you see he is gnawing his rope off? I am going to let him do it, and then I will go home and tell the folks that he got away from me.'"
At the last Cabinet meeting ever attended by Lincoln, held in the morning of the day on which he was shot, the subject of Reconstruction was again uppermost, and various plans were presented and discussed. Secretary Stanton brought forward a plan or ordinance which he said he had prepared with much care and after a great deal of reflection. It was arranged that a copy of this should be furnished to each member of the Cabinet, for criticism and suggestion. "In the meantime," says Secretary Welles, "we were requested by the President to deliberate and carefully consider the proposition. He remarked that this was the great question now before us, and we must soon begin to act." What that action would have been had Lincoln lived—what wrong and misery would have been spared to the South and shame and dishonor to the North—no one can doubt who comprehends the fibre of that kindly, just, and indomitable soul.
The Last of Earth—Events of the Last Day of Lincoln's Life—The Last Cabinet Meeting—The Last Drive with Mrs. Lincoln—Incidents of the Afternoon—Riddance to Jacob Thompson—A Final Act of Pardon—The Fatal Evening—The Visit to the Theatre—The Assassin's Shot—A Scene of Horror—Particulars of the Crime—The Dying President—A Nation's Grief—Funeral Obsequies—The Return to Illinois—At Rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery.
It is something to be ever gratefully remembered, that the last day of Lincoln's life was filled with sunshine. His cares and burdens slipped from him like a garment, and his spirit was filled with a blessed and benignant peace.
On the morning of that fatal Friday, the 14th day of April, the President had a long conversation at breakfast with his son Robert, then a member of Grant's staff, who had just arrived from the front with additional particulars of Lee's surrender, of which event he had been a witness. The President listened with close attention to the interesting recital; then, taking up a portrait of General Lee, which his son had brought him, he placed it on the table before him, where he scanned it long and thoughtfully. Presently he said: "It is a good face. It is the face of a noble, brave man. I am glad that the war is over at last." Looking upon Robert, he continued: "Well, my son, you have returned safely from the front. The war is now closed, and we will soon live in peace with the brave men who have been fighting against us. I trust that the era of good feeling has returned, and that henceforth we shall live in harmony together."
After breakfast the President received Speaker Colfax, spending an hour or more in discussing his plans regarding the adjustment of matters in the South. This was followed by an interview with Hon. John P. Hale, the newly appointed Minister to Spain, and by calls of congratulation from members of Congress and old friends from Illinois. Afterwards he took a short drive with General Grant, who had just come to the city to consult regarding the disbandment of the army and the parole of prisoners. The people were wild with enthusiasm, and wherever the President and General Grant appeared they were greeted with cheers, the clapping of hands, waving of handkerchiefs, and every possible demonstration of delight.
At the Cabinet meeting held at noon the President was accompanied by General Grant. The meeting is thus described by one who was present, Secretary Welles: "Congratulations were interchanged, and earnest inquiry was made whether any information had been received from General Sherman. General Grant, who was invited to remain, said he was expecting hourly to hear from Sherman, and had a good deal of anxiety on the subject. The President remarked that the news would come soon and come favorably, he had no doubt, for he had last night his usual dream which had preceded nearly every important event of the war. I inquired the particulars of this remarkable dream. He said it was in my department—it related to the water; that he seemed to be in a singular and indescribable vessel, but always the same, and that he was moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore; that he had had this singular dream preceding the firing on Sumter, the battles of Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, Stone River, Vicksburg, Wilmington, etc. General Grant remarked, with some emphasis and asperity, that Stone River was no victory—that a few such victories would have ruined the country, and he knew of no important results from it. The President said that perhaps he should not altogether agree with him, but whatever might be the facts his singular dream preceded that fight. Victory did not always follow his dream, but the event and results were important. He had no doubt that a battle had taken place or was about being fought, 'and Johnston will be beaten, for I had this strange dream again last night. It must relate to Sherman; my thoughts are in that direction, and I know of no other very important event which is likely just now to occur.'" "Great events," adds Mr. Welles in his Diary, "did indeed follow; for within a few hours the good and gentle as well as truly great man who narrated his dream closed forever his earthly career."
After the Cabinet meeting the President took a drive with Mrs. Lincoln, expressing a wish that no one should accompany them. His heart was filled with a solemn joy, which awoke memories of the past to mingle with hopes for the future; and in this subdued moment he desired to be alone with the one who stood nearest to him in human relationship. In the course of their talk together, he said: "Mary, we have had a hard time of it since we came to Washington; but the war is over, and with God's blessing we may hope for four years of peace and happiness, and then we will go back to Illinois and pass the rest of our lives in quiet." He spoke, says Mr. Arnold, "of his old Springfield home; and recollections of his early days, his little brown cottage, the law office, the court room, the green bag for his briefs and law papers, his adventures when riding the circuit, came thronging back to him. The tension under which he had for so long been kept was removed, and he was like a boy out of school. 'We have laid by,' said he to his wife, 'some money, and during this term we will try and save up more, but shall not have enough to support us. We will go back to Illinois, and I will open a law office at Springfield or Chicago, and practise law, and at least do enough to help give us a livelihood.' Such were the dreams, the day-dreams of Lincoln, on the last day of his earthly life."
Mr. Neill, the President's private secretary, states that between three and four o'clock of this day he had occasion to seek the President to procure his signature to a paper. "I found," says Mr. Neill, "that he had retired to the private parlor of the house for lunch. While I was looking over the papers on his table, to see if I could find the desired commission, he came back, eating an apple. I told him what I was looking for, and as I talked he placed his hand upon the bell-pull. I said: 'For whom are you going to ring?' Placing his hand upon my coat, he spoke but two words: 'Andrew Johnson.' 'Then,' I said, 'I will come in again.' As I was leaving the room, the Vice-President had been ushered in, and the President advanced and took him by the hand."
Charles A. Dana, the Assistant Secretary of War, says that his last recollections of President Lincoln are indelibly associated with the seditious Jacob Thompson. "Late in the afternoon," says Mr. Dana, "a despatch was received at the War Department from the provost marshal of Portland, Maine, saying that he had received information that Jacob Thompson would arrive in Portland during that night, in order to take there the Canadian steamer which was to sail for Liverpool. On reading this despatch to Mr. Stanton, the latter said, 'Order him to be arrested—but no; you had better take it over to the President.' I found Mr. Lincoln in the inner room of his business office at the White House, with his coat off, washing his hands preparatory to a drive. 'Hello,' said he, 'what is it?' Listening to the despatch, he asked, 'What does Stanton say?' 'He thinks he ought to be arrested,' I replied. 'Well,' he continued, drawling his words, 'I rather guess not. When you have an elephant on your hands, and he wants to run away, better let him run.'"
During the afternoon the President signed a pardon for a soldier sentenced to be shot for desertion; remarking, as he did so, "Well, I think the boy can do us more good above ground than under ground." He also approved an application for the discharge, on taking the oath of allegiance, of a Southern prisoner, on whose petition he wrote, "Let it be done." This act of mercy was his last official order.
It had been decided early in the day that the President and Mrs. Lincoln would attend Ford's Theatre in the evening, to witness the play of "The American Cousin." Lincoln had invited General Grant to accompany his party to the theatre, saying that the people would expect to see him and should not be disappointed. But the General had declined, as Mrs. Grant was anxious to start that afternoon to visit their children, who were at school in Burlington, New Jersey.
As the hour approached for leaving for the theatre, the President was engaged in a conversation with two friends—Speaker Colfax and Hon. George Ashmun of Massachusetts. The business on which they had met not being concluded, the President gave Mr. Ashmun a card on which he had written these words: "Allow Mr. Ashmun and friend to come in at 9 A.M. to-morrow—A. Lincoln." He then turned to Mr. Colfax, saying, "You are going with Mrs. Lincoln and me to the theatre, I hope." Mr. Colfax pleaded other engagements, when Lincoln remarked: "Mr. Sumner has the gavel of the Confederate Congress, which he got at Richmond to hand to the Secretary of War. But I insisted then that he must give it to you; and you tell him for me to hand it over." He then rose, but seemed reluctant to go, expressing a half-determination to delay a while longer. It was undoubtedly to avoid disappointing the audience, to whom his presence had been promised, that he went to the play-house that night. At the door he stopped and said to Speaker Colfax, who was about to leave for the Pacific coast, "Colfax, do not forget to tell the people in the mining regions, as you pass through, what I told you this morning about the development when peace comes. I will telegraph you at San Francisco."
It was nine o'clock when the Presidential party reached the theatre. The place was crowded; "many ladies in rich and gay costumes, officers in their uniforms, many well-known citizens, young folks, the usual clusters of gaslights, the usual magnetism of so many people, cheerful, with perfumes, music of violins and flutes—and over all, and saturating all, that vast, vague wonder, Victory, the Nation's victory, the triumph of the Union, filling the air, the thought, the sense, with exhilaration more than all perfumes." As the President entered he was greeted with tremendous cheers, to which he responded with genial courtesy. The box reserved for him, at the right of the stage, a little above the floor, was draped and festooned with flags. As the party were seated, the daughter of Senator Harris of New York occupied the corner nearest the stage; next her was Mrs. Lincoln; and behind them sat the President and Major Rathbone, the former being nearest the door.
In his quiet chair he sate, Pure of malice or guile, Stainless of fear or hate; And there played a pleasant smile On the rough and careworn face,— For his heart was all the while On means of mercy and grace.
The brave old flag drooped o'er him,— A fold in the hard hand lay; He looked perchance on the play,— But the scene was a shadow before him, For his thoughts were far away.
It was half-past ten o'clock, and the audience was absorbed in the progress of the play, when suddenly a pistol shot, loud and sharp, rang through the theatre. All eyes were instantly directed toward the President's box, whence the report proceeded. A moment later, the figure of a man, holding a smoking pistol in one hand and a dagger in the other, appeared at the front of the President's box, and sprang to the stage, some eight or ten feet below, shouting as he did so, "Sic semper tyrannis!" He fell as he struck the stage; but quickly recovering himself, sprang through the side-wings and escaped from the theatre by a rear door.
At the moment of the assassination a single actor, Mr. Hawk, was on the stage. In his account of the tragical event he says: "When I heard the shot fired, I turned, looked up at the President's box, heard the man exclaim, 'Sic semper tyrannis!' saw him jump from the box, seize the flag on the staff, and drop to the stage. He slipped when he struck the stage, but got upon his feet in a moment, brandished a large knife, crying, 'The South shall be free,' turned his face in the direction where I stood, and I recognized him as John Wilkes Booth. He ran towards me, and I, seeing the knife, thought I was the one he was after, and ran off the stage and up a flight of stairs. He made his escape out of a door directly in the rear of the theatre, mounted a horse, and rode off. The above all occurred in the space of a quarter of a minute, and at the time I did not know the President was shot."
Scarcely had the horror-stricken audience witnessed the leap and flight of the asassin when a woman's shriek pierced through the theatre, recalling all eyes to the President's box. The scene that ensued is described with singular vividness by the poet Walt Whitman, who was present: "A moment's hush—a scream—the cry of murder—Mrs. Lincoln leaning out of the box, with ashy cheeks and lips, with involuntary cry, pointing to the retreating figure, 'He has killed the President!' And still a moment's strange, incredulous suspense—and then the deluge!—then that mixture of horror, noises, uncertainty—(the sound, somewhere back, of a horse's hoofs clattering with speed)—the people burst through chairs and railing, and break them up—that noise adds to the queerness of the scene—there is inextricable confusion and terror—women faint—feeble persons fall and are trampled on—many cries of agony are heard—the broad stage suddenly fills to suffocation with a dense and motley crowd, like some horrible carnival—the audience rush generally upon it—at least the strong men do—the actors and actresses are there in their play costumes and painted faces, with mortal fright showing through the rouge—some trembling, some in tears—the screams and calls, confused talk—redoubled, trebled—two or three manage to pass up water from the stage to the President's box—others try to clamber up. Amidst all this, a party of soldiers, two hundred or more, hearing what is done, suddenly appear; they storm the house, inflamed with fury, literally charging the audience with fixed bayonets, muskets, and pistols, shouting, 'Clear out! clear out!'.... And in the midst of that pandemonium of senseless haste—the infuriated soldiers, the audience, the stage, its actors and actresses, its paints and spangles and gaslights,—the life blood from those veins, the best and sweetest of the land, drips slowly down, and death's ooze already begins its little bubbles on the lips."
It appears that Booth, the assassin, had long been plotting the murder of the President, and was awaiting a favorable moment for its execution. He had visited the theatre at half-past eleven on the morning of the 14th, and learned that a box had been taken for the President that evening. He engaged a fleet horse for a saddle-ride in the afternoon, and left it at a convenient place. In the evening he rode to the theatre, and, leaving the animal in charge of an accomplice, entered the house. Making his way to the door of the President's box, and taking a small Derringer pistol in one hand and a double-edged dagger in the other, he thrust his arm into the entrance, where the President, sitting in an arm-chair, presented to his view the back and side of his head. A flash, a sharp report, a puff of smoke, and the fatal bullet had entered the President's brain.
Major Rathbone, who occupied a seat in the President's box, testifies that he was sitting with his back toward the door, when he heard the discharge of a pistol behind him, and looking around saw through the smoke a man between the door and the President. Major Rathbone instantly sprang toward him and seized him; the man wrested himself from his grasp, and made a violent thrust at the Major's breast with a large knife. The Major parried the blow by striking it up, and received a wound in his left arm. The man rushed to the front of the box, and the Major endeavored to seize him again, but only caught his clothes as he was leaping over the railing of the box. Major Rathbone then turned to the President. His position was not changed; his head was slightly bent forward, and his eyes were closed.
As soon as the surgeons who had been summoned completed their hasty examination, the unconscious form of the President was borne from the theatre to a house across the street, and laid upon his death-bed. Around him were gathered Surgeon-General Barnes, Vice-President Johnson, Senator Sumner, Secretaries Stanton and Welles, Generals Halleck and Meigs, Attorney-General Speed, Postmaster-General Dennison, Mr. McCulloch, Speaker Colfax, and other intimate friends who had been hastily summoned. Mrs. Lincoln sat in an adjoining room, prostrate and overwhelmed, with her son Robert. The examination of the surgeons had left no room for hope. The watchers remained through the night by the bedside of the stricken man, who showed no signs of consciousness; and a little after seven o'clock in the morning—Saturday the 15th of April—he breathed his last.
A vivid account of the death-bed scene, together with particulars of the attacks upon Secretary Seward and his son Frederick a half-hour later than the attack upon the President, is furnished in the contemporaneous record of Secretary Welles, a singularly cool observer and clear narrator. "I had retired to bed about half-past ten on the evening of the 14th of April," writes Mr. Welles, "and was just getting asleep when Mrs. Welles, my wife, said some one was at our door.... I arose at once and raised a window, when my messenger, James Smith, called to me that Mr. Lincoln, the President, had been shot; and said Secretary Seward and his son, Assistant Secretary Frederick Seward, were assassinated.... I immediately dressed myself, and, against the earnest remonstrance and appeals of my wife, went directly to Mr. Seward's, whose residence was on the east side of the square, mine being on the north.... Entering the house, I found the lower hall and office full of persons, and among them most of the foreign legations, all anxiously inquiring what truth there was in the horrible rumors afloat.... At the head of the first stairs I met the elder Mrs. Seward, who was scarcely able to speak, but desired me to proceed up to Mr. Seward's room.... As I entered, I met Miss Fanny Seward, with whom I exchanged a single word, and proceeded to the foot of the bed. Dr. Verdi, and, I think, two others, were there. The bed was saturated with blood. The Secretary was lying on his back, the upper part of his head covered by a cloth, which extended down over his eyes. His mouth was open, the lower jaw dropping down. I exchanged a few whispered words with Dr. Verdi. Secretary Stanton, who came after but almost simultaneously with me, made inquiries in a louder tone till admonished by a word from one of the physicians. We almost immediately withdrew and went into the adjoining front room, where lay Frederick Seward. His eyes were open, but he did not move them, nor a limb, nor did he speak. Doctor White, who was in attendance, told me he was unconscious and more dangerously injured than his father.... As we descended the stairs, I asked Stanton what he had heard in regard to the President that was reliable. He said the President was shot at Ford's Theatre, that he had seen a man who was present and witnessed the occurrence. I said I would go immediately to the White House. Stanton told me the President was not there but was at the theatre. 'Then,' said I, 'let us go immediately there.' ... The President had been carried across the street from the theatre, to the house of a Mr. Peterson. We entered by ascending a flight of steps above the basement and passing through a long hall to the rear, where the President lay extended on a bed, breathing heavily. Several surgeons were present, at least six, I should think more. Among them I was glad to observe Dr. Hall, who, however, soon left. I inquired of Dr. H., as I entered, the true condition of the President. He replied the President was dead to all intents, although he might live three hours or perhaps longer.... The giant sufferer lay extended diagonally across the bed, which was not long enough for him. He had been stripped of his clothes. His large arms, which were occasionally exposed, were of a size which one would scarce have expected from his spare appearance. His slow, full respiration lifted the clothes with each breath that he took. His features were calm and striking. I had never seen them appear to better advantage than for the first hour, perhaps, that I was there. After that, his right eye began to swell and that part of his face became discolored ... Senator Sumner was there, I think, when I entered. If not, he came in soon after, as did Speaker Colfax, Mr. Secretary McCulloch, and the other members of the Cabinet, with the exception of Mr. Seward. A double guard was stationed at the door and on the sidewalk, to repress the crowd, which was of course highly excited and anxious. The room was small and overcrowded. The surgeons and members of the Cabinet were as many as should have been in the room, but there were many more, and the hall and other rooms in the front or main house were full. One of these rooms was occupied by Mrs. Lincoln and her attendants, with Miss Harris. Mrs. Dixon and Mrs. Kinney came to her about twelve o'clock. About once an hour Mrs. Lincoln would repair to the bedside of her dying husband and with lamentations and tears remain until overcome by emotion.... A door which opened upon a porch or gallery, and also the windows, were kept open for fresh air. The night was dark, cloudy, and damp, and about six it began to rain. I remained in the room until then without sitting or leaving it, when, there being a vacant chair which some one left at the foot of the bed, I occupied it for nearly two hours, listening to the heavy groans, and witnessing the wasting life of the good and great man who was expiring before me.... A little before seven in the morning I re-entered the room where the dying President was rapidly drawing near the closing moments. His wife soon after made her last visit to him. The death-struggle had begun. Robert, his son, stood with several others at the head of the bed. The respiration of the President became suspended at intervals, and at last entirely ceased at twenty-two minutes past seven o'clock."
The news of the President's assassination flashed rapidly over the country, everywhere causing the greatest consternation and grief. The revulsion from the joy which had filled all loyal hearts at the prospects of peace was sudden and profound. All business ceased, and gave way to mourning and lamentation. The flags, so lately unfurled in exultation, were now dropped at half-mast, and emblems of sorrow were hung from every door and window. Men walked with a dejected air. They gathered together in groups in the street, and spoke of the murder of the President as of a personal calamity. The nation's heart was smitten sorely, and signs of woe were in every face and movement.
A scene which transpired in Philadelphia, the morning after the murder, reflects the picture presented in every city and town in the United States. "We had taken our seats," says the delineator, "in the early car to ride down town, men and boys going to work. The morning papers had come up from town as usual, and the men unrolled them to read as the car started. The eye fell on the black border and ominous column-lines. Before we could speak, a good Quaker at the head of the car broke out in horror: 'My God! What's this? Lincoln is assassinated.' The driver stopped the car, and came in to hear the awful tidings. There stood the car, mid-street, as the heavy news was read in the gray dawn of that ill-fated day. Men bowed their faces in their hands, and on the straw-covered floor hot tears fell fast. Silently the driver took the bells from his horses, and we started like a hearse cityward. What a changed city since the day before! Then all was joy over the end of the war; now we were plunged in a deeper gulf of woe. The sun rose on a city smitten and weeping. All traffic stood still; the icy hand of death lay flat on the heart of commerce, and it gave not a throb. Men stood by their open stores saying, with hands on each other's shoulders, 'Our President is dead.' Over and over, in a dazed way, they said the fateful syllables, as if the bullet that tore through the weary brain at Washington had palsied the nation. The mute news-boy on the corner said never a word as he handed to the speechless buyers the damp sheets from the press; only he brushed, with unwashed hand, the tears from his dirty cheeks. Groups stood listening on the pavement with faces to the earth, while one, in choking voice, read the telegrams; then with a look they departed in unworded woe, each cursing bitterly in his breast the 'deep damnation of his taking off.' Mill operatives, clerks, workers, school children, all came home, the faltering voice of the teacher telling the wondering children to 'go home, there will be no school to-day.' The housewife looked up amazed to see husband and children coming home so soon. The father's face frightened her and she cried, 'What is wrong, husband?' He could not speak the news, but the wee girl with the school-books said, 'Mamma, they've killed the President.' Ere noon every house wore crape; it was as if there lay a dead son in every home. For hours a sad group hung around the bulletins, hoping against hope; then, when the last hope died, turned sullenly homeward, saying, 'When all was won, and all was done, then to strike him down!' The flags in the harbor fell to half-mast; the streets were rivers of inky streamers; from door-knobs floated crape; and even the unbelled car-horses seemed to draw the black-robed cars more quietly than before."
On Saturday the remains were borne to the White House, where they were embalmed and placed on a grand catafalque in the East Room. Little "Tad" was overcome with grief. All day Saturday he was inconsolable, but on Sunday morning the sun rose bright and beautiful and into his childish heart came the thought that all was well with his father. He said to a gentleman who called upon Mrs. Lincoln, "Do you think, sir, that my father has gone to heaven?" "I have not a doubt of it," was the reply. "Then," said the little fellow in broken voice, "I am glad he has gone there, for he was never happy after he came here. This was not a good place for him!" Tuesday the White House was thrown open to admit friends who desired to look upon the still form as it lay in death. Wednesday, the 19th, the funeral services took place. Mrs. Lincoln was too ill to be present; but her two sons sat near the coffin in the East Room. Next in order were ranged Andrew Johnson (now President) and the members of the Cabinet, and after them the foreign representatives, the chief men of the nation, and a large body of mourning citizens. The services were conducted jointly by the Rev. Dr. Hall, Bishop Simpson, Dr. Gray, and the Rev. Dr. Gurley, the latter delivering the discourse. At two o'clock the funeral cortege started for the Capitol, where the remains were to lie in state until the following morning. The procession was long and imposing. "There were no truer mourners," says Secretary Welles, "than the poor colored people who crowded the streets, joined the procession, and exhibited their woe, bewailing the loss of him whom they regarded as a benefactor and father. Women as well as men, with their little children, thronged the streets, sorrow and trouble and distress depicted on their countenances and in their bearing. The vacant holiday expression had given way to real grief." The body was borne into the rotunda, amidst funeral dirges and military salutes; and the religious exercises of the occasion were concluded. A guard was stationed near the coffin, and the public were again admitted to take their farewell of the dead. While these obsequies were being performed at Washington, similar ceremonies were observed in every part of the country. It had been decided to convey the remains of Lincoln to the home which he left four years before with such solemn and affectionate words of parting. The funeral train left Washington on the 21st. Its passage through the principal Eastern States and cities of the Union was a most mournful and impressive spectacle. The heavily craped train, its sombre engine swathed in black, moved through the land like an eclipse. At every point vast crowds assembled to gain a tearful glimpse as it sped past.
Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities, Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peep'd from the ground, spotting the gray debris, Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the endless grass, Passing the yellow-spear'd wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprisen, Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards, Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave, Night and day journeys a coffin.
Coffin that passes through lanes and streets, Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land, With the pomp of the inloop'd flags, with the cities draped in black, With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veil'd women standing, With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night, With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads, With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces, With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn, With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour'd around the coffin, The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs— With the tolling, tolling bells' perpetual clang.