The American Civil War 150th Anniversary Post – April 13-19, 1865

Things were scary as the end of the war came.  There were so many serious questions, unanswered.  Good thing the US leader had his whole second term to provide continuity and leadership... (Image:  Library of Congress)

Things were scary as the end of the war came. There were so many serious questions, unanswered. Good thing the US leader had his whole second term to provide continuity and leadership… (Image: Library of Congress)

Here is a look at what was happening in the Civil War 150 years ago this week. The assassination is the big news this week. Next week, we’ll look more closely at the knotty problems of reconstruction that President Lincoln referred to in his last public speech, on April 11th.

In lesser but nonetheless interesting news (especially for the Union men on Wilson’s raid who had hit Tuscaloosa and burned the university there, and now were lost in West Central Alabama), US General John Croxton and his “Lost Brigade” finally leave Northport this week and head east. Hearing of Wilson’s success at Selma and his move on Montgomery, Croxton will head this week for Talladega. (See sources 29 and 30 for more information.)

April 13

Military events: US Secretary of War Stanton halts the draft and starts demobilizing the army. (27)

Other: “Jefferson Davis met with his cabinet and generals at Greensboro. All present except Davis and Secretary of State Judah Benjamin favored allowing Joseph E. Johnston to ask William T. Sherman (now closing in from Raleigh, North Carolina) for surrender terms. Davis reluctantly wrote a letter, signed by Johnston, to Sherman seeking ‘a temporary suspension of operations… the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.'” (27, including quote)

Lincoln assassination conspiracy: General Grant, with his wife and staff, arrives in Washington by boat and immediately gets to work at the War Department. Then during the day he goes for a drive with Mrs. Lincoln. Lewis Powell strolls over to Secretary of State William Seward’s home and asks a male nurse how Seward is doing. The nurse says he is recovering. Booth goes to Baltimore to try to get Michael O’Laughlen back into the conspiracy. O’Laughlen refuses and Booth goes back to Washington. O’Laughlen follows him to try to talk him out of it. Booth bursts into the National Theatre to ask if the president has been invited to the evening’s show – he has.

Booth sends David Herold and George Atzerodt over to the Kirkwood House, where Vice President Andrew Johnson is staying. In the meantime, Booth goes back to Ford’s and reexamines the passageways and alleys. He does the same at the National.

That evening there is a massive “illumination” (firewords, gas fires, etc) in Washington. O’Laughlen wanders through it with friends who don’t know about the conspiracy (it’s unclear from Kauffman if he ever made contact with Booth). Lincoln has a very bad headache and stays in, while the Grants and War Department employees have a party at the War Department and watch the fireworks. One of the soldiers on the steps is approached by Michael O’Laughlen, who asks for Grant but does not see him. O’Laughlen is later identified again at the War Department as having asked for Secretary of War Stanton, but doesn’t get in. Kauffman thinks O’Laughlen, rather than wanting to attack the men, wanted to warn them but lost his nerve.

Herold and Atzerodt meet Booth in Lewis Powell’s room at the Herndon House. It’s agreed that Booth will assassinate Lincoln, Powell will kill Seward, and Herold and Atzerodt will kill the Vice President. It’s the first time Atzerodt realizes what is going to happen, and he wants no part of it. He soon leaves Washington but returns. Booth watches and waits through the night but doesn’t find an opportunity to attack the president. Herold goes to Maryland to wait for Booth (no, apparently they weren’t very organized), and when Booth doesn’t show, he spends the night there with a friend. (18)

April 14

Military events: South Carolinna operations: “Federals raised the U.S. flag over Fort Sumter, South Carolina to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the fort’s surrender to the Confederates. Some 4,000 Federal officers, dignitaries, and former slaves attended the ceremony, including Brigadier General Robert Anderson, who had surrendered the fort in 1861.” (27, including quotes)

Lincoln assassination: Partying continues throughout the North. The conspirators decide to try again. Powell strolls by Secretary Seward’s house again and asks how he is doing. Atzerodt checks into the Kirkwood House, takes the key, and then walks out without even looking at the room. O’Laughlen tries to meet Booth again; no one today knows if the two men ever meet. Booth has breakfast at his hotel and then picks up his mail at Ford’s Theatre. There, he learns that the Lincolns have just sent in a reservation for the night’s performance, and they will be bringing General Grant along. Booth says nothing and sits on the steps to read his mail. (It turns out that Mrs. Lincoln reserved the box before inviting General Grant. The President doesn’t mention it to Grant until that afternoon, and Grant begs off, saying he just wants to go see his kids in Burlington, New Jersey. By then, it’s already in the papers that the general will be there.)

Later that day, Louis Weichmann meets Booth coming out of Surratt’s boardinghouse. Mary Surratt doesn’t say what he wanted but asks Weichmann to rent a carriage to go out to the country. She brings a package with her. Out in Surrattsville, Mrs. Surratt tells her people there to have the “shooting irons” ready, as well as a couple of bottles of whiskey. She unwraps her package – a large field glass – and leaves it there with the firearms. (18)

Lewis Powell tells his landlady he will be checking out soon.

Booth is practicing his escape in the alley behind Ford’s Theatre, riding a horse down the alley, turning around and riding it back down again. It’s a very spirited horse that might break loose if tied. Someone will have to hold it. Later in the day Booth leaves a note for the Vice President at Kirkwood House: “Don’t wish to disturb you. Are you at home? J. Wilkes Booth.” Still later, Booth asks a friend if he’s going to Ford’s tonight, saying, “You ought to go. There is going to be some splendid acting tonight.”

Lewis Powell and David Herold are at the park near Secretary Steward’s house. They see that one of Seward’s doctors has stayed, throwing off the conspirators’ schedule. Herold gallops off to tell the others to wait. At Kirkwood House, Herold can’t find Atzerodt, who is drinking at a nearby bar. Atzerodt won’t go through with his part.

Mary Surratt arrives back at her Washington boardinghouse at about the time the Lincolns enter Ford’s Theatre. Booth is waiting for her. They talk privately and then Booth leaves. At Ford’s, he asks Ned Spangler to hold his horse out in the alley and goes inside. After talking with the doorman and ordering a drink in Ford’s, Booth walks upstairs, edges along the wall to the president’s box, and shows the White House messenger there a card. The messenger lets him into Lincoln’s box.

Lincoln's box at Ford's Theatre.  (Library of Congress)

Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre. (Library of Congress)


At the same time, Lewis Powell enters William Seward’s house and assaults Seward, two of his sons, a male nurse, and a White House messenger. Powell then runs from the house, screaming, “I’m mad! I’m mad!” and escapes on a horse. His victims are seriously injured but live.

Meanwhile, at Ford’s Theatre, Booth shoots the president and escapes. Lincoln dies nine hours later.

The bedroom where Lincoln died.  (Library of Congress)

The bedroom where Lincoln died. (Library of Congress)


Powell goes to ground in the countryside, and Booth meets up with David Herold somewhere on the way to the tavern in Surrattsville. (18) Please see my timeline of the escape for more details of his escape and capture, or better still, read Michael Kauffman’s book, American Brutus.

April 15

Military events: General Grant learns of Lincoln’s assassination and leaves Burlington for Washington. Late in the afternoon he orders the arrest of certain CSA officials in Richmond, but later suspends the order. (6)

Alabama operations: CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest, having gotten his troops in order after the engagement at Selma, establishes his headquarters in Gainesville. (3)

Other: Andrew Johnson is sworn in as President. (6) Unaware of Lincoln’s assassination, CS President Davis and others leave Greensboro for Charlotte. (27)

Lincoln assassination: Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles orders: “If the military authorities arrest the murderer of the President and take him to the Yard, put him on a monitor and anchor her in the stream, with strong guard on vessel, wharf, and in yard. Call upon commandant Marine Corps for guard. Have vessel immediately prepared to receive him at any hour, day or night, with necessary instructions. He will be heavily ironed and so guarded as to prevent escape or injury to himself.” (21, including quote)

April 16

Battles: Alabama/Georgia operations/Wilson’s raid: Columbus, Georgia/Girard, Alabama. More information here.

April 17

Military events: North Carolina operations: At the Bennett Place, CS General Joseph Johnston and US General William Sherman start negotiations for peace. (5)

Other: From the 17th to the 19th, “Lieutenant W. H. Parker [CSA], commanding naval escort entrusted with the Confederate archives, treasury, and President Davis’ wife, successfully evaded Federal patrols en route southward from Charlotte (see 8-11 April) and arrived at Washington, Georgia, on the 17th. Parker, still with-out orders as to the disposition of his precious trust and unable to learn of the whereabouts of President Davis and his party (including Secretary Mallory), decided to push on through to Augusta, Georgia, where he hoped to find ranking civilian and military officials. The escort commander recorded: ‘We left the ladies behind at the tavern in Washington for we expected now a fight at any time.’ The escort again, however, managed to elude Federal patrols and arrived without incident at Augusta where Parker placed his entrusted cargo in bank vaults and posted a guard around the building. Having learned upon arrival that armistice negotiations between Generals Sherman and Johnston were in progress, the escort commander decided to remain in the city and await the outcome of the conference.” (21, including quote)

Lincoln assassination: Between the 17th and the 25th of April, “Four of the five Lincoln assassination suspects arrested on the 17th were imprisoned on the monitors U.S.S. Montauk and Saugus which had been prepared for this purpose on the 15th and were anchored off the Washington Navy Yard in the Anacostia River. Mrs. Mary E. Surratt was taken into custody at the boarding house she operated after it was learned that her son was a close friend of John Wilkes Booth and that the actor was a frequent visitor at the boarding house. Mrs. Surratt was jailed in the Carroll Annex of Old Capitol Prison. Lewis Paine was also taken into custody when he came to Mrs. Surratt’s house during her arrest. Edward Spangler, stagehand at the Ford Theater and Booth’s aide, along with Michael O’Laughlin and Samuel B. Arnold, close associates of Booth during the months leading up to the assassination, were also caught up in the dragnet. O’Laughlin and Paine, after overnight imprisonment in the Old Capitol Prison, were transferred to the monitors at the Navy Yard. They were joined by Arnold on the 19th and Spangler on the 24th. George A. Atzerodt, the would-be assassin of Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Ernest Hartman Richter, at whose home Atzerodt was captured, were brought on board the ships on the 20th. Joao Celestino, Portuguese sea captain who had been heard to say on the 14th that Seward ought to be assassinated, was transferred from Old Capitol Prison to Montauk on the 25th The last of the eight conspiracy suspects to be incarcerated on board the monitors was David E. Herold. The prisoners were kept below decks under heavy guard and were manacled with both wrist and leg irons. In addition, their heads were covered with canvas hoods the interior of which were fitted with cotton pads that tightly covered the prisoners’ eyes and ears. The hoods contained two small openings to permit breathing and the consumption of food. An added security measure was taken with Paine by attaching a ball and chain to each ankle.” (21, including quote)

April 18

Military events: North Carolina operations: Generals Johnston and Sherman agree on terms of surrender. (5) Grant has only authorized the surrender of Johnston’s army, but Sherman exceeds his authority by offering generous terms.

Other: President Davis and others reach Concord, North Carolina. (27)

April 19

Military events: “U.S.S. Lexington, Acting Lieutenant William Flye, conveyed Colonel John T. Sprague, Chief of Staff to General John Pope, from Cairo and up the Red River to meet Confederate General Kirby Smith. At the ensuing conference, Smith was given the terms under which the surrender of his forces would be accepted.” (21, including quote)

Other: “Jefferson Davis and his party reached Charlotte, where Davis received a wire from Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge: ‘President Lincoln was assassinated in the theatre in Washington on the night of April 14. Seward’s house was entered on the same night and he was repeatedly stabbed and is probably mortally wounded.’

Confederate General Wade Hampton suggested that the Confederate forces withdraw across the Mississippi River and continue resisting. Davis considered the proposal.” (27, including quote)

Lincoln assassination: The president’s funeral is held in Washington.

Procession up Pennsylvania Avenue during Lincoln's funeral.  (Library of Congress)

Procession up Pennsylvania Avenue during Lincoln’s funeral. (Library of Congress)




(1) The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

(2) Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).

(3) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).

(4) The Lincoln Log timeline.

(5) Blue and Gray Timeline.

(6) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.

(7) Civil War Interactive.

(8) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).

(9) This Week in the Civil War.

(10) CWSAC Battle Summaries

(11) The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War.” (2002) David J. Eicher.

(12) The Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion…, Richard Miller Devens (1866).

(13) Memoirs of W. T. Sherman

(14) The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War. James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., 1995.

(15) A. Lincoln, A Biography, Ronald C. White, Jr. (2009)

(16) The Sword of Lincoln, the Army of the Potomac. Jeffrey Wert (2005)

(17) Black Artillerymen from the Civil War through World War I (PDF), Roger D. Cunningham.

(18) Michael W. Kauffman. American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. Random House. New York. 2004. (Note: I use this source heavily for details of the assassination; it is probably the best general-information book on the assassination out there. However, for balance, here is an informed review of its pros and cons, and much, much more.)

(19) Timeline 1865. State of Tennessee

(20) Up From Slavery. Booker T. Washington

(21) Naval History of the Civil War. History Central.

(22) Arthur F. Loux. John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day. McFarland & Company. Jefferson, North Carolina. 2014. (Note: I have more confidence in Kauffman’s dates (source 23, above), but will use this to work in the other conspirators and events. Take these dates as general times of the month unless backed up by Kauffman.)

(23) The Legacy of the Civil War: April 1865.

(24) The American Civil War Photo Gallery.

(25) The Final Campaign. Talladega County American History & Genealogy Project

(26) Capture of Jefferson Davis.

(27) Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond. James C. Clark. McFarland & Company. Jefferson, North Carolina. 1984.

(28) The Papers of Jefferson Davis, timeline. Rice University

(29) Croxton’s Raid: The Lost Brigade.

(30) The Yankee Invasion of Pickens County, Alabama.

Categories: American Civil War

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