3rd Division, 9th Army Corps
Nottoway Court House, Va.
April 16th 1865
With feelings of profound grief I write these few lines to you. The sun is shining brightly, but a gloom seems thrown around all the beauty of nature. One week ago the nation and army were rejoicing in exultation over a most glorious [capitulation] — the favor of God seemed resting upon this land, long drenched in fraternal blood — and all seemed happy in the prospect of immediate peace. One week of joy, of glory, of conscious pride, and now — how changed. The loyal North and the friends of Liberty everywhere plunged into the deepest gulf of mourning. Oh! God! how mysterious thy providence! Truly His ways are past finding out! He has seen fit to afflict us! Without a word of warning, struck down by the hand of an assassin, we mourn for the noble man — the gifted statesman, the pure, unsullied christian Chief Magistrate of the Nation — Abraham Lincoln. In a time when his counsels seemed most needed to end this war and give us lasting peace — when the entire Christian World was looking to him for guidance and hope — God has taken him from us and would draw our souls from the power of man up to the fountain of all Power and Might and Glory. But terrible is the stroke! What can we do in this awful hour? For one, I lose not hope. I look away from this wicked world and behold the hand of a wise, eternal Father, directing and controlling all events. And though bowed to earth in deep bereavement, His providences dark and unknown, but He would teach us not to place our trust in men and things — but in Him. Though human foresight cannot discern the cause of this terrible and sudden chastisement in removing the most prominent man in the world, yet we must trust the Hand which doeth all things well.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
Dark and awful seemed the night to us who had only learned the sad truth. At 8 P. M., we received the tidings in a dispatch from Washington. We cannot hope even for his recovery, for the dispatch says “he cannot live.” I fear the dreadful effect of this act on the army. An awful retribution will be heaped upon the South. Anarchy will result unless God restrain the loyal men. But I will trust Him. I will have unshaken faith that all will work for our greatest good. What a state of society! That a president is unsafe in the capital of the Nation and in the broad light of day! The same spirit which struck down Sumner in the Senate Chamber has now consummated its foul intentions and now the dying — perhaps dead — body of President Lincoln lies a victim to the insidious treason of Northern Copperheads. I invoke the vengeance of a just God upon the worse than villains who have done this act. May they be brought to justice — justice? no, we cannot give them that. God only can. May these atrocious murderers be brought to light.
My heart is too full. The waves of grief, of patriotism, of all the impulses of my soul, surge in billows, and vain is my effort to write as I would. Nothing but the firm trust and faith that an all wise and merciful God will make our way plain before us, sustains me in this trying hour. While many are cursing the offenders and crying that there is no justice or wisdom or love in this act, I look away and believe there is all of goodness and wisdom in ever event of life, and although this Providence is sudden and terrible, we must bow in humble submission before His throne and say, “God, Thy will be done.” Oh! God our help in ages past, our hopes for years to come, be thou our guide while troubles last, and our eternal home.”
Gussie, darling, this loss comes upon us — upon all who love their country and Freedom as a personal grief. It comes home to us, in our home circles, in our public walks, in every daily hope for National honor and peace. The annihilation of one of our armies would carry mourning and dismay to some of our people. This affects all. Every interest, every hope, every heart, every man, woman, and child all over this broad land will feel the storming blow. But we have Grant, [Vice President Andrew] Johnson, [Secretary of State William] Seward, [Secretary of the Treasury Salmon] Chase, and many more able noble men left. Johnson as Vice President will be the official head, and front, and Grant the right arm. Let us thank God even for the drunkenous of Johnson, for he has solemnly sworn never to partake of intoxicating drinks again. He will keep this oath and we know him to be a clear, form, loyal man and statesman. But oh! for a Lincoln! He has gone in honor such as no earthly man ever achieved — beloved by all good men and women — deeply regretted and sadly mourned — in the full prime of his powers of mind and body — with fame worldwide and firmly fixed as the mountains. He has gone to rest — to his eternal reward and imperishable remembrance! Oh! May we look upon this as a bereavement and Providence of God. May He give us help and still sustain us.
Gussie dearest, I am well and very comfortably situated. Would write you more but trust you will excuse a short letter this time. My best love — deep, true, and trusting — is all your own. Think kindly of me as ever my own “little one.” And believe me ever yours, — Will
Sunday, April 16th, 1865
A glorious day. Warm and clear tho’ the roads are very bad. Remained in quarters all day. Read some and wrote to Gussie Haywood. By mail received a letter from Spaulding exulting over the victories. Mustered Captain Lipp of the 56th Massachusetts Volunteers and Doctor McCulloch of the 2nd Maryland. Received orders to appoint visiting days for the 2nd Division. Had a short nap in the afternoon.
A dispatch was received announcing the death of the President. J. Wilkes Booth, the actor, is the assassin. The sad intelligence cast a gloom upon us all. There is no room for doubt. It was published in General Orders. Secretary Seward and son were assassinated instead of Stanton. Both were living but dangerous.
Matthews moved down and camped nearby. Also Cilley and Moore. General Sheridan went to City Point. The cavalry goes tomorrow. Had a long chat with Brown tonight. Read and retired at 10 but Cilley and Bertolette came in and did not leave until 12 o’clock.
[Entry from Willie’s Journal]