On Good Friday 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln was fatally wounded at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. He died the next day, his martyrdom on Easter weekend providing an eerie parallel with the biblical theme of suffering and redemption.
Here in Louisiana, of course, the wounds of the Civil War meant mixed responses to the assassination. A young Sarah Morgan, who had been displaced from her Baton Rouge home and was living in New Orleans when Lincoln was shot, had conflicted emotions about the tragedy. Two of her brothers had died while serving in the Confederate Army. To put it mildly, she wasn’t a fan of Honest Abe.
Even so, she shuddered at the thought of rejoicing about what John Wilkes Booth had done. “To me, it is all Murder,” Morgan wrote in her diary. “Let historians extol blood shedding; it is a woman’s place to abhor it ... I abhor this, and call it foul murder, unworthy of our cause — and God grant it was only the temporary insanity of a desperate man that committed this crime! Let not his blood be visited on our nation, Lord!”
Morgan’s diary entry about Lincoln is included in “President Lincoln Assassinated!!!,” a recent anthology of personal writings and reportage from those grim days after Lincoln was killed. To read the book is to connect with a horrible sense of shock that must have been similar to — if not greater than — the profound loss America felt after the JFK assassination and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
There is another new book about the period after the Lincoln assassination — “Mourning Lincoln,” by historian Martha Hodes.
Here is how Hodes describes the walking nightmare of those days among citizens of the Union: “Shot on Good Friday and dead on Saturday: The timing of the assassination made Easter Sunday 1865 a particularly important — and confusing — occasion, as shocked mourners came to church for what should have been a day of rejoicing over both the resurrection of Christ and military victory. The reversal of fortunes was manifested materially, as churchwomen re-arranged the colorful springtime displays they had readied.”
For African-Americans in both North and South, the death of the Great Emancipator was a special loss, Hodes says. “A New Orleans minister asserted that his people felt ‘deeper sorrow for the friend of the colored man,’ ” she tells readers, “and black clergymen in the North allowed that their people felt the loss ‘more keenly.’ ...”
The largeness of Lincoln’s impact on national life is evident in the way that his assassination still resonates a century and a half after it happened.
The country’s ability to survive that loss is a testament to the resilience of the Constitution that Lincoln worked so tirelessly to defend.