April 15

This Day in History

Civil War

Apr 15, 1865:

President Lincoln dies

President Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, dies from an assassin’s bullet. Shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington the night before, Lincoln lived for nine hours before succumbing to the severe head wound he sustained.

Lincoln’s death came just after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Lincoln had just served the most difficult presidency in history, successfully leading the country through civil war. His job was exhausting and overwhelming at times. He had to manage a tremendous military effort, deal with diverse opinions in his own Republican party, counter his Democratic critics, maintain morale on the northern home front, and keep foreign countries such as France and Great Britain from recognizing the Confederacy. He did all of this, and changed American history when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, converting the war goal from reunion of the nation to a crusade to end slavery.

Now, the great man was dead.  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said, “Now, he belongs to the ages.” Word spread quickly across the nation, stunning a people who were still celebrating the Union victory. Troops in the field wept, as did General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Union commander. Perhaps no group was more grief stricken than the freed slaves. Although abolitionists considered Lincoln slow in moving against slavery, many freedmen saw “Father Abraham” as their savior. They faced an uncertain world, and now had lost their most powerful proponent.

Lincoln’s funeral was held on April 19, before a funeral train carried his body back to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. During the two-week journey, hundreds of thousands gathered along the railroad tracks to pay their respects, and the casket was unloaded for public viewing at several stops. He and his son, Willie, who died in the White House of typhoid fever in 1862, were interred on May 4.

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