From the Washington Herald, 4/10/1915, p. 6, c. 4
LINCOLN AND BOOTH
The Inner Story of the Great Tragedy of Fifty Years Ago
By WINFIELD M. THOMPSON.
No. 1 – Lincoln’s Last Journey.
THE STEAMER RIVER QUEEN,
On which Lincoln made his last journey from City Point to Washington. From a war-time photo in the collection of the Loyal Legion, Boston.
In the strange, appealing life story of Abraham Lincoln, no chapter is filled with deeper human interest than that which terminated in his last journey, on April 8 and 9, 1865, from City Point, on the James River, to Washington, where he was to meet his death at the hands of an assassin.
This period of Lincoln’s life showed his greatness under the supreme test of victory. He had seen Lee’s army driven from the trenches of Petersburg with Grant in pursuit; had walked the smoking streets of captured Richmond; had visited the late official residence of Jefferson Davis – and when common men were joyous, he mourned the cost in blood of the Federal triumph. With the Union safe he longed to see a quick end to the final acts of strife.
In his craving for peace, and news from Grant that the end had been accomplished by the capture of Lee’s army, he had tarried several days after the fall off Richmond at Grant’s base on the James.
Here his heart went out to all about him who were suffering. Tenderness for the thousands of soldiers of both sides in the military hospitals at City Point radiated from him. On his last day there he walked the hospitals five hours without rest, and in that time shook hands with not less than 5,000 wounded soldiers.
To a guest who expressed the hope that Jefferson Davis, if taken, would be hanged, he replied by quoting a phrase from his second inaugural address: “Let us judge not, that we be not judged.” (An adaptation of Matthew, vii:1.)
Thinks of Boyhood Days.
Lincoln’s stay at City Point, from March 24 to April 8, constituted his longest absence from Washington since his arrival there from his home in Springfield, Ill., in February, 1861, to prepare for his inauguration.
Mrs. Lincoln and their young son Thomas (“Tad”) had gone with him to City Point; had returned to Washington, and on April 5 had rejoined him with a party of guests, including Senator Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, and the Marquis de Cambrun, a distinguished French exile.
The newcomers, keen for news of the fall of Richmond, listened eagerly to what Lincoln told them of his visit to the fallen Confederate capital. They were impressed that “his only preoccupation was the necessity of wiping out the consequences of the war.”
When he went with them for a drive through Petersburg they were struck by his stopping his carriage to examine a noble tree, because, he said, it reminded him of one of the great oaks he played under when a boy. This was the first of several references made in the last few days of his life to scenes familiar in his days of obscurity and poverty.
It had been Lincoln’s purpose to remain at City Point for tidings of Lee’s surrender, but on receipt of news from Washington that Secretary of State William H. Seward – the virtual head of the government in the President’s absence – had been seriously injured by being thrown from his carriage, he decided to begin his return trip – his last journey – on the evening of April 8.
Has Band Play “Dixie.”
A few hours before departure of the President’s boat a military band came on board and gave a concert. After several pieces had been played, Mr. Lincoln, as a complement to his French guest, suggested that they play “The Marseillaise.” He was so pleased with it that he ordered it played a second time.
He then asked the marquis if he had ever heard “Dixie,” the patriotic song of the Confederates. On a negative answer being made, he said: “That tune is now Federal property. It belongs to us,” adding that it was “good at any rate” to show the Confederates at that time that “with us they will be free to hear it again.”
Several similar references to “Dixie” were to be made by Lincoln in his last days. It will be noted that this, the first, was made the day before Lee’s surrender, while a large Confederate army under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was yet in the field and Jefferson Davis was still uncaptured.
As at 10 o’clock the President’s steamer left the wharf at City Point he lingered on deck. He stood for a long time gazing through the darkness at the few lights on shore and the dim forms of many Federal ships anchored in the wide river. He seemed absorbed in meditation.
“Duncan Is in His Grave.”
Next morning the President’s steamer, having rounded Fortress Monroe, was in the Potomac, steaming northward for Washington. It was Palm Sunday, falling on a date great in the annals of peace, for it was the day of Lee’s surrender.
Lincoln, in one of those strange revelations of his many-sided nature, seemed on this day to put thoughts of the war out of his mind. Most of his day was spent in the company of Charles Sumner and the Marquis de Chambrun in the discussion of literary topics. It was an oddly contrasted group thus engaged on the deck of the steamer on the wide Potomac in the hours of the closing scene at Appomattox. Lincoln, the great, sympathetic, rough son of the prairie, unskilled in social finesse, limited in education, yet a master mind of the ages; Charles Sumner, a cold man, the finished product of the relatively older civilization and the higher educational standards of Massachusetts, and the titled Frenchman, the ally of royalty, to whom the ideals and antecedents of both Lincoln and Sumner were alike foreign – three more sharply dissimilar men probably could not have been brought together by arrangement in such a place.
Their discussion turned to poetry, and Lincoln produced a quarto volume of Shakespeare, of whom he never tired as a companion in his leisure time, and turning to the tragedy of Macbeth he read aloud a number of its finer passages.
At the conclusion of reading the lines describing the remorse of Macbeth after the murder of Duncan, the President paused and spoke of how true the description of the murderer was, when, his dark deed achieved, in his torture he envied the sleep of his victim.
As if impressed with the beauty of the lines, or by some unuttered presentiment, Lincoln read over a second time this passage:
Duncan is in his grave;
After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.
Treason has done his worst; nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing
Can touch him further.
After Lincoln’s assassination persons who heard of his strange reading of Macbeth on the last Sunday of his life, recalled these lines from the play, so applicable to the tragedy in which he was the Duncan:
Besides this, Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or Heaven’s cherubin horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind.
Not to Think of Enemies.
As the steamer was passing Mount Vernon, the Frenchman turned a compliment by saying to the President: “Mount Vernon and Springfield, the memories of Washington and your own, those of the Revolutionary and civil wars; these are the spots and names America shall one day equally honor.”
To this Lincoln responded: “Springfield! How happy, four years hence, will I be to return there in peace and tranquility!”
As the steamer approached Washington Mrs. Lincoln, looking at its roofs and spires, topped by the great white dome of the Capitol, exclaimed: “The hateful city; it is full of our enemies!”
Lincoln replied, in a soothing manner: “This is not so – now. We must never think of that.”
At that moment the man who in five days was to take Lincoln’s life, John Wilkes Booth, was lodged at a hotel not a mile from the White House, impatiently waiting the hour when he might strike down the nation’s head.
At the dock the President’s guests went their several ways.
As Lincoln’s carriage was driven toward the White House its occupants noticed an air of unwonted excitement among the people in the streets. Bonfires were seen at various points, and people were laughing and cheering. Young “Tad” became so excited that the carriage was stopped and the President’s personal guard asked a citizen: “What is the matter?” The man looked at him in astonishment and said: “Why, where have you been? Lee has surrendered.”
(Copyright, 1915, by Winfield M. Thompson.)
Tomorrow – Booth’s plot to kidnap Lincoln.