Death sends the North into mourning

By the beginning of 1865, it became clear that the Union was about to win the Civil War. Lincoln turned his attention to the task of putting the country back together as quickly and painlessly as possible. In his second inaugural address in March 1865, he seemed willing to forgive the Southern states for their rebellion. "Fondly do we hope—fervently [with intense feeling] do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away," he stated. "With malice [ill will] 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 his orphan; to do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations." Sadly, Lincoln would not live long enough to put his postwar plans into action.

On April 9, Confederate general Robert E. Lee (18071870; see entry) surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885; see entry) at Appomattox, Virginia, to end the Civil War. People throughout the North poured into the streets in wild celebration. The end of the war gladdened Lincoln's heart, too. At times it had seemed to him that the war might never end, or that it would end in failure for the Union after years of heartache and pain. But Lee's surrender was a sure sign that Lincoln's heroic efforts to restore the Union had succeeded. When thousands of people gathered outside the White House to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and other patriotic songs, the president led them in loud cheers for General Grant and his soldiers.

President Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

(Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos, Inc.)

President Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

(Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos, Inc.)

But the celebrations came to an abrupt end a few days later. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln and his wife attended a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington called Our American Cousin. They were seated in a fine balcony overlooking the stage. Midway through the performance, a fanatical supporter of the Confederacy named John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865; see entry) slipped into the rear of the balcony and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Booth then leaped out of the balcony and landed on the stage below. He broke his leg in the fall, but still managed to limp off the stage and escape on horseback before anyone could capture him.

Physicians in the audience rushed to Lincoln's side, but they could do nothing for him. Concerned that the president would not survive any attempt to carry him to the White House, which was more than six blocks away, the doctors decided to take him to a boarding house across the street from the theater. Lincoln died there early the next morning.

The funeral train of President Abraham Lincoln.

(Reproduced with permission of UPI/Corbis-Bettmann.)

News of Lincoln's death had an incredibly shattering impact on communities all across the North. After all, the Union's victory in the Civil War had made the president extremely popular. Northern communities realized that during the previous four years, Lincoln had managed to keep the dream of a restored Union alive despite many periods of doubt and discouragement. They also knew that victory would not have been possible without his guidance and determination. His assassination plummeted them into a mood of deep grief and rage. "While the nation is rejoicing . . . it is suddenly plunged into the deepest sorrow by the most brutal murder of its loved chief," wrote one Union veteran.

The nation remained in mourning in the weeks following Lincoln's death. Thousands of citizens paid their respects to their fallen president when the White House held a service in his honor. On April 20, Lincoln's body was placed on a train so that he could be buried in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. As Lincoln's funeral car passed through the American countryside during the next few days, millions of farmers and townspeople gathered along the train's route to pay their respects.

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