Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Our Joy Is Turned Into Mourning": The Celebrations and Sorrow of April 1865

When the news of a Union victory at Petersburg, Virginia, reached the Marietta telegraph office at 10:00 a.m. on April 3, it was greeted with a spontaneous outburst of joy. The long-anticipated end to the Civil War was drawing near, the Union was preserved, slavery was destroyed, and the soldiers would soon be coming home!

Excited Front Street merchants lost no time in displaying the "Stars and Stripes" in front of their business. Cannon boomed at the foot of Greene Street and in front of Captain Levi Barber's office in Harmar, rattling windows up and down the Ohio River Valley.

As the good news spread over town, guns were fired, bands of music paraded through the streets, and local dignitaries made stirring, patriotic speeches at the corner of Front and Greene. Fireworks were launched, and a huge bonfire was built in the evening. The Marietta Times reported that the "crowd dispersed at a late hour, though some . . . continued to rejoice all night."

Similar scenes were being repeated throughout the Northern states. War-weary Americans could not restrain their elation when the fall of Richmond signaled that the four-year struggle was nearly over. The people of Marietta and Washington County were among the millions caught up in the revelry that surged across the North. 
The Marietta Times, April 6, 1865

So high was the public spirit, that on Friday, April 7, an announcement that the remainder of the Army of Northern Virginia had been defeated by General Philip Sheridan at Sayler's (Sailor's) Creek was mistakenly interpreted as the capture of General Robert E. Lee. All of Marietta "went wild," firing cannon, tolling bells, and making noise. A bonfire at the steamboat landing was made spectacular with the addition of several barrels of petroleum. It was "the most jubilant time Marietta ever saw," according to The Marietta Register.

The hoopla stretched eight miles down the Ohio River to the community of Constitution, where residents "demonstrated their joy by blowing the conch-shell, beating the drum, blowing the whistle, beating upon tin-pans, ringing bells and marching around with the flag, singing The Battle Cry of Freedom."  That evening were they disappointed to learn that "the news of Lee's surrender was premature."

A Day of Thanksgiving

When Lee actually did surrender to General Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, the celebrations that followed were orderly, planned events. Governor John Brough, a Marietta native, proclaimed Friday, April 14, a day of thanksgiving and general rejoicing throughout Ohio. He encouraged religious observances to be held during the day and "bonfires, illuminations and the thundering of artillery" to take place in the evening in honor of the "heroic deeds" of the Union armies.

The Marietta Times,  April 13, 1865

Marietta officials immediately called a meeting at the court house and appointed a committee in charge of arrangements. Representatives from each of the city wards stepped forward to serve, and a program for a "Grand Jubilee" was organized. It was suggested that all businesses close, so that "everybody will unite in celebrating."

The Marietta Register, April 13, 1865
The whole town was awakened on the morning of April 14 to the ringing of bells and firing of cannon. The weather was pleasant and the streets were thronged with people anxious to participate in the festivities. A highlight of the day was the arrival by steamboat of the left wing of the 8th U.S. Heavy Artillery, a company of African-American soldiers from Paducah, Kentucky. Under the command of Major Long, these 600 men marched in dress parade to the public common in front of the Congregational Church.

An impressive procession of "citizens in carriages, on horseback, and on foot," wound its way through the main streets of Marietta, accompanied by several bands playing patriotic tunes. Crowds flocked to the corner of Front and Greene streets, where speeches were made by West Virginia State Senator W. E. Stephens, Marietta College President Israel Ward Andrews, and George M. Woodbridge.

The noise of Marietta's thundering cannon called the residents of Constitution from their beds to prepare for their own celebration. While men were busy on the hillside setting up wood for bonfires, the women at the Cutler home prepared candles for an evening display in their old stone house. Julia Cutler described their work:
We cut the candles in half, then dipped the wick in petroleum so that they would ignite readily, then set them in candle stands made by cutting off one side of a potato flat and hollowing out the other side to receive the candle. I placed them all in position, eight in a window, in all one hundred and fifty-six candles.
In the afternoon, the community gathered at the church, which had been decorated with flags, flowers, wreaths of cedar, and a motto hung above the pulpit declaring, "Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory." The choir sang America, speeches were made, and a bountiful picnic dinner was served, including peach pies, white cakes, ginger snaps, jelly tarts, soda biscuits, baked veal, and apples. The most spectacular part of the festivities was saved for the end of the day:
As soon as it was dark a perfect line of bonfires on the three hills back of here loomed up, making a most brilliant appearance. There were also some others lighten on other hills in the neighborhood, but none to compare in regularity and beauty to ours. We illuminated the house, which for about three hours made a very fine appearance. Mr. Boothby had a cannon on the hill which he fired at intervals - this, with the discharge of guns & revolvers and the cheering of the men & boys, the display of fireworks, Roman candles, and some splendid rockets, showed that the people enjoyed the holiday & welcomed the return of peace which we hope is not far distant.
Marietta residents had their own magnificent light display that evening, with "fireworks more extensive than ever before witnessed," and many houses glowed from top to bottom with candlelight. Men, women, and children joined together in singing patriotic songs, then returned to their homes with happy hearts. As The Marietta Times later noted, "Little did anyone, however apprehensive, suspect what the revelations of the never-to-be-forgotten morrow were to disclose."

Joy Turned Into Mourning

As soon as Julia Cutler saw her brother William's face the next morning, she knew that something was wrong. William had gone to Marietta on business at an early hour on April 15, and returned to Constitution on the 11:00 a.m. train. When he told Julia he had heard that President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated, she could hardly believe it. "It is a Copperhead lie," she said, "to mar the rejoicing over the late victories." But the report was all too true. Julia wrote of the profound sadness in her diary:
Our joy is turned into mourning, our season of hope & promise into the blackness of darkness. People sit down and weep, as if bereaved of a dear friend.
The atmosphere in Marietta was one of gloom. Both local newspapers ruled their columns with thick, black lines. The Marietta Register claimed they had "never seen such universal sadness, such unutterable melancholy, as beset our people," and described the reaction in town:
The mournful intelligence of the assassination of our great and good President was received with profound sorrow in our community. The enthusiasm and gladness of Friday were followed by almost universal lamentation on Saturday. Banners which but the day before were proudly waving everywhere in the city, in honor of the national triumph, were now arrayed in the tokens of sadness.
The funeral of Abraham Lincoln was scheduled for noon on Wednesday, April 19, at the nation's capital. People across the country, including Washington County, joined in observing the sad occasion in their own communities.

Stores and businesses in Marietta closed their doors from 11:30 until 2:30, so that everyone might attend religious services. Afterward, a funeral-like procession of about 2,000 people under the direction of William R. Putnam moved solemnly up Putnam Street to Second, up Second to Scammel, and down Scammel to Front while the bells tolled.

The Marietta Times, April 20, 1865

In Beverly, the residents gathered to adopt an appropriate resolution acknowledging their "great affliction," expressing their sympathies to Lincoln's family, and supporting President Andrew Johnson. Led by E. S. McIntosh, the group prepared a formal statement:
Whereas in the midst of our rejoicing for the victory with which Heaven has blessed our aims, the same spirit which has attempted the life of the nation has now succeeded in assassinating our great and good Chief Magistrate, and sought the life of our Secretary of State. Therefore, Resolved, in the death of our President, one of the greatest men of the age has fallen, and the nation is called upon to mourn the loss of our second Washington.
In Constitution, Julia Cutler learned that her nephew, Brevet Brigadier General Rufus Dawes, and his wife Mary Gates of Marietta, had nearly been eye-witnesses to the national tragedy. Married over a year, the couple's honeymoon had been delayed due to Rufus' military service. They were enjoying a belated trip, taking in Gettysburg and Washington, D.C., and Mary wrote to her mother about the excitement:
We barely escaped seeing the whole affair. Just after we got into Washington Friday, we heard that Grant and President Lincoln were to be at Ford's Theater that evening, and we made our arrangements to be there; but we walked over the Capitol grounds and around the streets so long before supper that I was so completely tired out that I told Rufe that, if there was any possibility of seeing President Lincoln anywhere else, I just could not go to the theater. So we contented ourselves to give up seeing him for the evening.
Although they missed the shocking event at Ford's Theater, Rufus and Mary may had been more closely associated with the perpetrator than was comfortable. They were staying at the National Hotel, where early in the evening some men in the room next door were creating a disturbance with their drinking, singing, and swearing. Eventually the rowdy gang went out, and all was quiet for the rest of the night. A few days later it was revealed that the adjoining room had been "occupied by J. Wilkes Booth, who was there doubtless with his accomplices preparing themselves for the dreadful deed."

The people of Constitution expressed their grief at the death of the President in a variety of ways. The women of the neighborhood draped the church pulpit in black and hung cedar wreaths on the walls. Julia Cutler experienced heartache, "such as one feels when the dead are in the house." Dyer Burgess seemed to feel a special bond with Lincoln. Harboring great distrust of the Masons, Burgess had once written to the White House demanding to know if Lincoln had any
Elizabeth Emerson Bailey
such affiliations. His fears were laid to rest by a letter of reply in Mary Todd Lincoln's own hand. A rabid abolitionist, Burgess was entirely upset by the assassination and believed that he, too, would be murdered. Julia did not think he was in any danger, but noted that "nothing irritates him so much as to tell him so."

Elizabeth Bailey, daughter of Caleb and Mary Dana Emerson and wife of William D. Bailey, was ready with a poem for every significant occasion. The verse she submitted to The Marietta Register as a memorial to Abraham Lincoln put into words the events and emotions of April 1865:
                       Lincoln Is Dead

A lightning shock suspends the nation's breath,
Turning the son of victory into the wall of death;
This monstrous deed that treason wrought at last,
At which all Christendom will stand aghast.

Of all the cruelty, the wrong, the pain,
That wait on war in treason's hellish train,
No deed devised by Satan's cunning art
Has stabbed so deep the country's bleeding heart.

Lincoln! dear name! all hearts before thee bow -
All loyal hearts to thee do reverence now;
Thy name, our talisman, in coming time,
Shall be the watch-word for all deeds sublime.

Seward - the polished Statesman and the country's pride,
They sought to lay, a marble corpse, by our chieftain's side.
God is omnipotent - His will be done - 
He will accomplish what He has begun.

Our father, Abraham, has lived to see
The fall of Richmond, and the fall of Lee;
Slavery is crushed, and with Rebellion's fall,
Our flag is floating upon Sumter's wall.

His mission ended, God permits the deed,
To rouse up freedmen to the strength they need -
With a stern hand, and swift to punish crime,
And put a mark on treason for all time.
                             Constitution, O., April 17, 1865

Harper's Weekly, April 29, 1865

  • Cutler, Julia. Diary of 1865, April 3 - 17. Ephraim Cutler Family Collection, Marietta College Library.
  • Cutler, Julia. Letter to Kate Dawes McLean, April 24, 1865. Ephraim Cutler Family Collection, Marietta College Library.
  • The Marietta Register, Marietta, Ohio. April 6, 13, 20 and 27, 1865.
  • The Marietta Times, Marietta, Ohio. April 6, 13 and 20, 1865.
  • Timmons, Bascom N. Portrait of an American: Charles G. Dawes. New York: Henry Hold and Co., 1953.
  • Turner, Justin G. and Linda Levitt Turner. Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters. New York: Knopf, 1972.