April 15, 1865, Julia Wilbur's Diary
93 Cameron St. 10 o clock A.M. [Alexandria, VA]
Oh. the bells are giving forth the saddest sound that I ever heard. Tolling, yes, tolling for what seems to us now as the greatest calamity that could have befallen us.
President Lincoln is dead!
Assassinated last night at the theater shot in the head by a person on the stage. The president lingered till 7 this A.M. so all hope is over. And Secretary Seward had his throat cut in bed in his own house, but he was alive at the last despatch. It is said an attempt was made on Sec. Stanton but he escaped. Many rumors are afloat, but the above is certain.
No boat is not even a [?] is allowed to leave Alexandria & even Gen. Briggs was not allowed to go on the train this morning.
I now regret exceedingly that I did not return to W. [Washington] last night, but I remained to see the illumination. But there are precious few Union folks here if the houses of all such were illuminated last night. I never saw a city so dark before not even the lamps were lighted. There were to be fireworks on the cor. of King & Washington, but they were all exploded at once accidentally; & as we walked that way people were gathering in every direction, some were hurt. Hallowell Hosp. & hosp. opposite are illuminated very handsomely, & there was a bonfire in King St. & light appeared from a few dwellings. Many of the houses were entirely closed but through the crevices of others we could see people inside.
I was very, very tired last night.
I slept with Mrs. Fish.
About 6 o’clock this morning the sad news came to us. I could not believe it. Capt. Gale of Gen. Slough’s staff came from W. in the night. Every soldier is on duty now, & none are to be seen in the city. No persons are allowed to leave the city.
It was raining hard but I thought I must go on the 8 o’clock boat, & did not learn till I had nearly reached the wharf that no boats were allowed to leave. I then came to see Mrs. Belding. Found her and Mr. B. at breakfast. Their smiling faces, looked out of place to me. They had not yet heard the bad news. Mr. Baker has been to the Telegraph office and learned that the President died at 7 this morning.
I have been so fortunate as to get a paper, & all the particulars that have transpired are given.
Mr. Belding has just come in and & says the secesh [Confederate-leaning secessionists] are being arrested. The military authorities have been very lenient with secesh lately. No passes have been required for a month or more.
Mr. B. says a wood train has just come in on the Orange & Alex. road, & report a large number of rebel cavalry at Burke’s Station. These are probably some of Lee’s men & horses that were given up by Grant or that Grant allowed Lee to retain.
Mrs. Belden is not able to go out, I helped Mr. B. fix drapery over the windows.—
I called at Magnolia House. Mrs. P. & Mr. G. had just procured some black cambrick & were arranging it over the bow window. Took tea with Miss Collier—Slept with Mrs. Fish last night. Robt. McCarrick called this evening.
The Soldiers go to every secesh house & make the occupants put something black on the doors or windows. Then went to Dangerfields, & told them to put crape on the door, & after they left it was taken off. The soldiers went back & made them put it on again & told them if they took it off they would pull the house down.
Then Dangerfield wrote to Gen. S. to ask to be excused from doing this, but the Gen. sent a piece of black cloth to him & said it must be put over the door. It would have been better if the soldiers had waited till all the Union folks had draped their houses, & then obliged the secesh to do the same, but they could not wait for orders. The soldiers have shot 2 or 3 men today expressing joy that Lincoln is dead.—The Mayor, Mr. Ware said to Mrs. Dogan today that “Lincoln died serving the devil”. This reached Gen. S. & he had an interview with Ware & there were some sharp words.
Sec. Seward is comfortable, & may recover, his son Frederick is in a very critical condition, his son Clarence has only flesh wounds & is able to be about the house. There is a report that Booth has been taken; that his horse threw him on 7th st. & he was taken into a house.—
There is no doubt that it was intended to murder the President, the Vice Pres. all the members of the cabinet and Gen. Grant. & that the managers of the theater knew of it.
Over the next few days, Julia Wilbur recorded the grief she experienced and witnessed in Alexandria and Washington. As she wrote on April 16, "There is no consolation to offer. We all suffer alike."
I ended up using this experience in the Prologue of my biography of Julia Wilbur, A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time. It so captured her & others' emotions, as the war ended and a new trauma befell the nation.