Good Friday: The Day Lincoln Died

 

01 Gardner Lincoln fatal look

     Today is the day that Lincoln died. It was on April 14, 1865—another Good Friday to be precise—that Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President, was murdered in cold blood.  Young Mary Brennan, an Irish immigrant only recently arrived to our shores, remembered well that dreadful day for the rest of her life.  A devout Catholic, she, like many a Protestant of the day, regarded Good Friday, the day Christ died, as a solemn holy day and one not to be commemorated by going out the theater.  “He never would have died,” she would often say, ”had he not gone to see a play on Good Friday.”  Great grandmother was a font of such sayings and superstitions, she was, and her many descendants can still recite one or another of her sayings at will.

Another political commentary on Secession
A political cartoon from the time of the Civil War, showing John Bull (England) and Napoleon Bonaparte (France) waiting in the background for the US to be destroyed.

     But Abraham Lincoln, never a “technical Christian,” had ample reason to celebrate that Friday, April 14 so many years ago.  Robert E. Lee and his army had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant scarcely a week before and that very morning the general was delivering his report to the President and Cabinet in person.  For the first time in four years, Lincoln, who frequently suffered from “melancholy” seemed uncommonly hopeful, now that the end of the Rebellion was in sight.  Lincoln could at last look ahead to the future, to peace and to the task of rebuilding a nation torn apart by a fratricidal conflict.

pp Lincoln and Cabinet Emancipation Proc.
Lincoln and his Cabinet earlier in the war. Their last meeting was on the day he died, April 14, when he told them of his “usual dream.”

     As his Cabinet chatted before the official beginning of the meeting, Lincoln also told them that Friday about the “usual dream” he had had only the night before.  He explained that before every major event of the war he had dreamed the same dream: of a ship sailing towards a distant shore.  It always portended important war news.  Lincoln, raised on presentments, omens and prophetic dreams, believed that this latest portent was a sign of something momentous about to happen.

Uncle Billy & Uncle Joe

  Cabinet met, Lincoln was expecting news from Sherman in North Carolina, where “Uncle Billy” had run to ground the once proud Confederate Army of Tennessee, now commanded by “Uncle Joe” Johnston.  Johnston’s force was but a hollow shell of what it had once been, but the proud Rebels, barefoot and in rags, could still fight like wildcats—albeit cornered wildcats.  Lincoln hoped to hear that Johnston too had surrendered, marking the end of organized resistance.  Surely the “usual dream” portended this, thought Lincoln.

     Later that day, as Lincoln and his wife readied for the theater, the President was in an uncommonly optimistic mood, not realizing the prophetic dream portended not good news on Good Friday, but ill.  For even as they dressed for the night, across town a band of conspirators were also preparing for the night—but their performance would end in death and mayhem.

     Much has been written about that day and about the conspirators led by John Wilkes Booth; yet, to this day there is no certainty as to how deeply the Booth Conspiracy to do away with Lincoln and his Cabinet ran.  To be sure, many were arrested and most of the leading conspirators executed.  But Mary Lincoln, for one, had her suspicions that there were others involved who got away—including some high placed in the Lincoln administration.  Mrs. Grant too, had had a terrifying incident that day that lead her to believe not all the culprits had been caught.  But historians hate loose ends and the strands of evidence pointing to a broader conspiracy lie moldering in archives and museums little looked at or considered. Still, the truth may still be out there.

John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth, actor, Rebel spy and leader of the conspiracy to murder Lincoln

     What is proven about the events of Good Friday, April 14, is tragic enough, however.  Just as Lincoln’s ship of state was about to reach that far and distant shore of peace, the captain—Lincoln—was cut down.  How different our history would have been had Lincoln survived to oversee the peace as he had the war!  We can be sure that the “Better Angels of our Nature” would have thrived under his leadership and the postwar darkness and violence, and the enduring aftermath of meanness and divisiveness that still dogs our nation to this day would have been greatly diminished, if not prevented entirely.

     Greatness is not to be measured in the number of bombs one drops or the number of innocents one kills; Lincoln did not rejoice in war and wished it brought to a speedy end.  No, what was great about Lincoln and Lincoln’s America was its struggle for equality, for social justice, and for the betterment of the average worker, not some aristocratic elite. The President who created land-grant universities to provide free college education, who redistributed millions of acres of land to any who would settle and till it, who fought and died for racial equality, and who sought to unite the nation from seas to sea with modern transportation: these and other social and economic programs were what truly made Lincoln great—not his leadership of a war that was forced on him by the Cotton Slaveocracy and other elites who benefitted from human bondage.  In the end, Lincoln paid for his achievements in human progress with his life.  As we commemorate Good Friday this April 14, this too should be borne in mind.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.

 

 

 

 

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Picket: A Civil War Christmas, Part 12

alarmed-picket-guard-harpers-weekly-feb-1862
Advance picket guard keeping watch against surprise attack.

December 25, 1861. A nineteen year old private in the Confederate army, Valerius Cincinnatus Giles, was on guard detail along the Potomac River this Winter day, pacing back and forth and occasionally staring over at the Yankees of General Sickles’ New York Brigade on the Maryland side.

Private Giles of the 4th Texas, was on picket duty on December 21, 1861, when he had an uncanny encounter.
Private Giles of the 4th Texas was on picket duty on December 21, 1861, when he had an uncanny encounter.

As a picket, his duty was give the alarm of any enemy activity, lest the vile Yankees should decide to leave the comfort of their warm huts and brave the bleak cold outside. Private Giles’ unit, a detachment of the 4th Texas Infantry, had just relieved another unit guarding that sector. The men would rather have been back in camp, enjoying the holiday as best they could; but duty called, and someone needed to be on duty, no matter what.

Private Giles and his two brothers had all answered the call of duty and volunteered for the Confederate army. Giles, still smartly dressed in his long grey frock coat with black waist belt and black strap over his right shoulder, and adorned with a black Hardee hat with one side turned up, looked the model of a military man. One of Giles’s brothers was serving with the Tenth Texas Infantry in Arkansas, while the other, brother Lew, was with Terry’s Rangers (Eighth Texas Cavalry), somewhere in Kentucky.

There was little likelihood of Valerius being in any personal danger that Christmas; the Yankees desired a break from war that day as much as the Rebels. That afternoon there was a brief to-do when a Yankee steamboat came in sight. But it was soon recognized as a hospital ship and not a gunboat, and so was left alone to ply it trade on the opposite shore.

Picket Duty for either side in Winter was an unpleasant task--all the more so on Christmas Day.  Illustration by William Trego
Picket Duty for either side in Winter was an unpleasant task–all the more so on Christmas Day. Illustration by William Trego

More out of boredom than necessity, Private Giles began to walk his post, tramping through snow knee deep in places. The colder clime of northern Virginia was a change of scene for the Texas boy and there in the piney woods in midwinter, when the earth and green branches of the trees were covered with snow, there was no sound of birds singing or crickets chirping. With not a breath of air blowing, the stillness all around him seemed oppressive.

Valerius’s thoughts naturally started to wander, thinking about his home and family members on that Christmas Day. It was at four p.m. that afternoon when he heard it. He remembered that he was not sleepy or drowsy and perfectly wide awake when he heard it. He heard his brother Lew Giles’s voice, clear as day, calling out his name:

“It was then 4 P.M., December 25, 1861. I was not sleeping or dreaming. and firmly believed at the time that I heard my brother calling me, but it must have been a delusion of the imagination.”

Knowing Lew was far away to the west somewhere in either Kentucky or Tennessee, Val thought at first that somehow it was just his homesickness playing on his imagination; that it was some kind of delusion. Yet he knew his brother’s voice and knew that the voice he had heard was his brother’s.

Gallatin, Tennessee, where Valerius' brother Lew was brought after being wounded in Kentucky.
Gallatin, Tennessee, where Valerius’ brother Lew was brought after being wounded in Kentucky.

It was only later that Val learned that Lew had been wounded at the Battle of Mumfordville, in Kentucky, on the seventeenth of December. Seriously injured, he had been taken to Gallatin, Tennessee, to the home of a family friend, where he lingered for several days.

That at about the same time that his brother was dying, Valerius heard his voice cry out was  unbelievable, but in his heart the young soldier knew it to be true

According to information the family later received from their father’s friend in Gallatin, Lew Giles expired at exactly four p.m. on Christmas Day of 1861.

For more true Civil War stories, see: Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.  Now out is my latest Civil War book,  Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife.

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover

Ambrose Bierce is famed as a noted American writer, satirist and cynic. Less well known is Bierce’s military career during the Civil War, where he fought with distinction in many of the major battles of the war. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife chronicles his wartime experiences in depth for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paranormal Presidency cover   suitable for online use 96dpi
The Paranormal Presidency delves into the more esoteric aspects of Abraham Lincoln and his presidency
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War,  uncanny tales of the Civil War.

The Lincoln Assassination Plots, Part 1

Part 1: Conspirators, Indicted and Unindicted

In The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, I document President Lincoln’s fatalism, as well as several incidents that led him to believe he would not survive alive his term of office.  That much is historical fact.  Whether or not Lincoln did indeed experience genuine presentiments of his own death–and whether these dreams, portents, prophecies and other unexplained portents surrounding his life and death were truly supernatural is not susceptible to proof.  However, we do know that Lincoln possessed ample evidence that his life was in immanent danger on numerous occasions throughout his presidency.  John Wilkes Booth’s conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln was only the last and most successful of several threats to Lincoln’s life.

THE BALTIMORE PLOT

As Lincoln was on his way to Washington to be inaugurated in February of 1861, for example, a plot was uncovered to murder the President as he traveled through Maryland.  It was well known that the city of Baltimore was a hotbed of Secessionism.

The Baltimore Riots
Baltimore was a hotbed of disloyalty and Secessionist sentiment in early 1861, as demonstrated by the Baltimore Riots, when a mob, partly composed of local militia, attacked Federal volunteers passing through town.

To foil the assassins, the President Elect was snuck through Baltimore in disguise. Unfortunately, the anti-Lincoln press had a field day with this fact and the anti-Lincoln press to ridicule him mercilessly.  As a result, Lincoln resolved never to shrink from the threat of assassination again.

LINCOLN IN DISGUISE FLEEING ASSASSINS harpers l
Lincoln was ridiculed by the northern press for passing through Baltimore in disguise (Harpers)

Here Lincoln’s fatalism came into play.  For the remainder of his presidency, Lincoln’s attitude was that if it was his time to die, nothing could prevent it; if it was not, then no plot could possibly succeed.    Lincoln believed he would not die before he had accomplished the mission he was foreordained to carry out.

Although there were several instances when his life was in danger during the war, he ignored those threats.  Because these plots were not successful and the conspirators essentially escaped, details of them remain murky.

Of course, our main interest is with the one plot that did succeed.  Who were involved in the Booth plot? How far up in the Confederacy did it go?  Were members of the Lincoln Administration involved and why?

The accepted version of the Booth Conspiracy is that all members of the assassination ring were apprehended and brought to justice save one—Mrs. Surratt’s son.  John Surratt did indeed flee to Europe, where he spent some years as a member of the Swiss Guards, the Pope’s bodyguard, and eventually returned to the United States without suffering either death or imprisonment.  Were there others involved; and if so, who were they?

It has long been believed that there were conspirators who may have escaped justice–including, perhaps, the chief conspirator himself.

Immediately after his capture by Union forces, Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy was accused by the Republican administration that followed the death of   Lincoln of complicity in the assassination plot.  However, there was no paper trail leading to Davis being implicated in the plot.  The truth died with John Wilkes Booth on a farm in northern Virginia–perhaps–so no formal charges were ever brought against Davis.

Just because there was no hard evidence of the Booth Plot going higher up in the Rebel government, it does not follow that the Confederate government was not involved in the conspiracy.  Then, as now, governments used “plausible deniability” when conducting black operations which they knew the public might condemn.  Jefferson Davis may well have been unaware of the Booth Conspiracy; but the Confederate Secret Service was aware of it on a certain level, and perhaps even involved in its planning and execution. Unfortunately, when Richmond fell to the Yankees, the most sensitive documents of the Confederate espionage apparatus went up in flames.  Some documents were destroyed deliberately, others fell prey to the chaos of the abandonment of the city and in the subsequent Yankee occupation.

Yet there are hints that Confederate Intelligence was involved and that Booth was not the “lone assassin” historians portray him as.  It is known that Booth traveled to Canada and made contact there with Confederate spies.  There was an active Rebel covert network operating along the Canadian border and while there Booth received money to further his clandestine activities on behalf of the Confederacy.

The accepted line traditionally has been that the Confederate spy ring in Canada was just humoring an independent operator and simply gave him money in the hopes he might do a bit of mischief on his own.  Believe that if you will; but again bear in mind we are dealing with a clandestine organization where incriminating documents would have been foolish to leave behind.

Julia Dent Grant
Julia Grant also had presentiments of danger, as did her husband Ulysses.

THE UNKNOWN CONSPIRATOR

There is evidence that at least one member of the Booth ring escaped undetected.  Mrs. Grant—who, along with her husband, also believed in presentiments as the Lincolns did.  In her memoirs, Julia describes how on the day of Lincoln’s assassination she was being shadowed by suspicious men.  One of them may have been Booth himself; but the other she never could identify.  Julia relates how the unknown conspirator even followed her and the General that day to the train station when they left on vacation.

General Grant

For reasons unknown, this conspirator did not fulfill his mission of killing General Grant—surely a “high value” target in the Lincoln administration—but he did send the couple an anonymous note admitting he was detailed to kill them that day.  The note never became part of the official record of the Booth assassination, so we have only Julia Grant’s word for it.

But why would Mrs. Grant lie about such a thing in her memoirs?  We have first hand testimony, therefore, that at least one conspirator who escaped the Federal manhunt.  There may have been more.

For more about Lincoln and the Booth Conspiracies, go to The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.  Also dealing with the Late Unpleasantness is Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, an in depth look at the wartime experiences of a famous American author.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
True accounts of uncanny events and unsolved mysteries of the Civil War, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War is available at better book stores everywhere.
ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor, served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.

 

Abraham Lincoln and the Undiscovered Country

“DEATH, THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, FROM WHOSE BOURNE NO MAN RETURNS” —Shakespeare

 

Lincoln "cracked plate" photo
Abraham Lincoln was a complex, multi-faceted man. The common mis-perceptions of him have been carefully cultivated by his hagiographers

The Paranormal Presidency deals with Lincoln’s belief in and experience of the paranormal, and while but one aspect of this many faceted man, it is one which has hitherto been overlooked. 

To a large degree, how we perceive the Sixteenth President today is as much a reflection of his various biographer’s own biases and beliefs. as it is a reflection of the man himself and his life’s work.

If you peruse even a small fraction of the many biographies of Lincoln, you will find a quite voluminous literature on Lincoln as secular saint and devout Christian–despite the fact that he resisted joining any denomination until the very end of his life.

My book deals with his beliefs relating to his supernatural, irrational side; yet there is also a book out that argues that his love of mathematics caused him to be highly rational. Indeed, a good case can be made for Lincoln being, if not an outright atheist, at the very least a “free thinker” or skeptic, although the evidence is complex and subject to debate.

There is no doubt that Lincoln was personally opposed to slavery.  Yet Lincoln’s detractors can quote Lincoln directly, expressing things that by any modern standard would be considered overtly racist.

Lincoln has been portrayed as shy with women to the point one writer even theorized he was a homosexual; yet his former law partner gathered testimony that as a young man long, lanky Abe had several sexual encounters; even so, Herndon may well have suppressed even more explicit accounts of Lincoln’s sexual exploits as a young man.

The bottom line to all this is that the common biographical portrait of Abraham Lincoln, which has been heavily sanitized and sanctified, is almost certainly false.  He was a man–a great man–but one who had foibles and faults.  Some admirers have thought to protect his memory by suppressing those aspects of which they disapproved.  My view is similar to his law partner Herndon’s; that Lincoln’s character and accomplishments was great enough to endure the truth–the whole truth.  In following posts we shall explore several aspects of that truth.

One aspect of Lincoln’s character which runs like a golden strand through his life and career, was his fatalism.  From a very early age, Abraham believed that he was fated for greatness; but he also believed that he would not long live beyond achieving those great things.

To a large extent, death stalked Lincoln throughout his life and career; it informed all his actions and motivated him to strive to achieve his goals before he should be struck down. To what extent this fatalism was a self-fulfilling prophecy is a moot point. That he believed in his personal destiny is something which I document in depth in my book.

pp Lincoln and Cabinet Emancipation Proc.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
This new book for the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.