(Note: This is the third and final segment in a series introducing readers to Abraham Lincoln under title of The Price of Fame. Click here to view the first segment and second segment.)
“Who is dead in the White House?”
Lincoln demanded of one of the soldiers...
As the calendar year 1863 unfolded, the clouds started to lift. That summer Grant and Sherman were victorious through military siege at The Battle of Vicksburg (
Mississippi). During the same fateful “4th of
July weekend,” the North prevailed at the Battle of Gettysburg. Following their invasion of the North into Pennsylvania, the Confederates had hit their “high water
mark.” From that point forward, the
South’s dwindling resources would compel purely defensive military operations.
President Lincoln settled on Grant as the leader of all Union armies, conferring the title of Lieutenant General. The last namesake of this exalted status had been none other than George Washington. Grant would come and stay east for the duration of the war, tracking the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee. He would appoint
head of western operations. The two
would pair to prosecute a harsh, unforgiving “total war.” This was designed to demonstrate to the
Confederacy the resolve of the people of the North to preserve the Union intact by defeating the South decisively in battle on its own turf.
In late September 1864
would telegraph President Lincoln the fall of Atlanta, which was now ours “and fairly
won.” The news electrified the North, catapulting
Lincoln to an
upset victory in his 1864 re-election effort.
The year 1864 would end with the news of
Sherman’s March to
the Sea, with the capture of as a
“Christmas present” to the president.
The end of the war could now be seemingly measured in weeks if not days. Savannah,
All the politicians could agree on the prosecution of the war to the end, the only terms being “unconditional surrender” to lawful Union authority. From there, President Lincoln faced a difficult path, for when it came to reconstruction of the rebellious states, there was little harmony. The left favored a lenient peace. The right, the so called radical reconstructionists within
own party, favored a harsh, unforgiving peace.
But something else began to preoccupy President Lincoln’s mind as the calendar turned to April 1865, even as
Richmond fell on April 2 and the happy news of the war’s
end with Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox
on April 9. He hadn’t been sleeping well, for he had been having a recurring dream
which had gotten the better of him.
He thus confided to his wife, Mary. He had been in the White House, hearing subdued sobs, as if people were weeping. He left his bed, wandered downstairs. The rooms were lit, the objects all familiar. But the mourners were invisible. What could be the meaning? He entered the East Room and was met with a sickening surprise. Before him was a coffin on which a corpse rested in funeral vestments. Soldiers were guarding it.
“Who is dead in the White House?”
Lincoln demanded of one
of the soldiers. “The President” was the
answer; “he was killed by an assassin!”
A loud burst of grief from the crowd followed.
“That is horrid!” Mrs. Lincoln cried out. “I wish you had not told it.”
declared calmly, “it is only a dream.
Let us say no more about it.”
On April 14, 1865 President Lincoln’s dream came true. His war end celebration to enjoy the fruits of victory would be a painfully brief five days following
Appomattox. Called home, Abraham Lincoln’s fame
and success, such as he enjoys today, was not achieved until someone had first
put a bullet in his head, and then not assured until long after his passing. Such is the price of fame --- sometimes.