Diary of Orrin Brown—April 17, 1865

In memory of Abraham LincolnDiary of Orrin Brown, New Bern, North Carolina

Monday–Apr. 17th

We have had a very cool night and it has been cool all day with a N. E. wind I have taken a pretty bad cold in consequence so I do not feel any better than I did yesterday. We drew a cup of Been Soup for our dinner today. The Sargent that came with us went to the Hospital today.

We received the sad news of the death of our President this PM which the most of the soldiers feel to be a great loss to our country just as Peace and Prosperity is about to return to our nation. The flags were all lowered to half mast. I read 3 Chapts. today.

17 April 1865 was the first time Gen. Sherman and Confederate Gen. Johnston met in person, at a farmstead near Durham, North Carolina.  Angley, Cross & Hill describe the event:

News of the death of President Lincoln reached North Carolina, exciting concern about the impact on the talks and the possibility of retribution against Tar Heels by Union troops…

Just as Sherman prepared to enter the rail car to depart Raleigh for the talks, he was halted by a telegraph operator, who at that moment was receiving an urgent coded message for the general.  For thirty minutes the train stood still.  The message, from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, announced the death of the president.  Sherman swore the operator to secrecy and boarded the train.

Cavalry officers Gen. Judson Kilpatrick and Gen. Wade Hampton were both in attendance at the talks…to begin with.  The two legendary hot heads soon got into it, and were both ordered to leave like spoiled children.  Alone, Sherman shared the dire news of Lincoln’s death with Johnston, who quickly disavowed the assassination.  Author Robert L. O’Connell suggests that, given their close post-war friendship, the two men likely got along from the start.  Their talks would continue the next day.

News of the President’s demise was taken hard by the Union troops.  If the conspirators’ aim had been to avenge the Southern cause, it seems they did the exact opposite, changing the general tiredness from four years’  constant conflict into a collective hardened heart, as reflected in many diaries and letters of the time.  Yet Lincoln’s death also became a national catharsis—as Christ died for our sins, Lincoln died to save our nation.



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