Mourning Lincoln

Mourning Lincoln

by Martha Hodes


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Mourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes

How did individual Americans respond to the shock of President Lincoln’s assassination? Diaries, letters, and intimate writings reveal a complicated, untold story.

The news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 15, 1865, just days after Confederate surrender, astounded the war-weary nation. Massive crowds turned out for services and ceremonies. Countless expressions of grief and dismay were printed in newspapers and preached in sermons. Public responses to the assassination have been well chronicled, but this book is the first to delve into the personal and intimate responses of everyday people—northerners and southerners, soldiers and civilians, black people and white, men and women, rich and poor.
Through deep and thoughtful exploration of diaries, letters, and other personal writings penned during the spring and summer of 1865, Martha Hodes, one of our finest historians, captures the full range of reactions to the president’s death—far more diverse than public expressions would suggest. She tells a story of shock, glee, sorrow, anger, blame, and fear. “’Tis the saddest day in our history,” wrote a mournful man. It was “an electric shock to my soul,” wrote a woman who had escaped from slavery. “Glorious News!” a Lincoln enemy exulted. “Old Lincoln is dead, and I will kill the goddamned Negroes now,” an angry white southerner ranted. For the black soldiers of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts, it was all “too overwhelming, too lamentable, too distressing” to absorb.
There are many surprises in the story Hodes tells, not least the way in which even those utterly devastated by Lincoln’s demise easily interrupted their mourning rituals to attend to the most mundane aspects of everyday life. There is also the unexpected and unabated virulence of Lincoln’s northern critics, and the way Confederates simultaneously celebrated Lincoln’s death and instantly—on the very day he died—cast him as a fallen friend to the defeated white South.
Hodes brings to life a key moment of national uncertainty and confusion, when competing visions of America’s future proved irreconcilable and hopes for racial justice in the aftermath of the Civil War slipped from the nation’s grasp. Hodes masterfully brings the tragedy of Lincoln’s assassination alive in human terms—terms that continue to stagger and rivet us one hundred and fifty years after the event they so strikingly describe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300195804
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 02/24/2015
Pages: 408
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 3.80(d)

About the Author

Martha Hodes is professor of history at New York University. She is the author of two previous prize-winning books, The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century and White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South.

Table of Contents

Good Friday, 1865 1

1 Victory and Defeat 22

Interlude: Rumors 43

2 Shock 46

Interlude: Men Weeping 68

3 Glee 70

Interlude: Public Condolences 92

4 God 94

Interlude: Love 115

5 Blame 117

Interlude: Best Friend 139

6 Funeral 141

Interlude: Springtime 166

7 Everyday Life 168

Interlude: Young Folk 186

8 Everyday Loss 189

Interlude: Mary Lincoln 206

9 Nation 210

Interlude: Relics 231

10 Justice 234

Interlude: Peace 254

Summer 1865 and Beyond 257

Note on Method 275

Notes 279

Essay on Sources 353

Acknowledgments 373

Index 377


What led you to write a book about personal responses to Lincoln’s assassination?

I was in New York City on September 11, 2001, and I remember the moment of Kennedy's assassination from my childhood. As a historian of the Civil War era, and as someone who lived through those two modern-day transformative events, I wanted to know not only what happened in 1865 when people heard the news of Lincoln’s death but also what those responses meant.
Did anything surprise you during your research?

Almost everything. Not only did I find a much wider array of emotions and stories than I'd imagined, I also found that even those utterly devastated by the assassination easily interrupted their mourning to attend to the most mundane aspects of everyday life. I also found myself surprised by the unabated virulence of Lincoln's northern critics and the way Confederates simultaneously celebrated Lincoln's death and instantly—on the very day he died—cast him as a fallen friend to the white South.
Do personal responses to Lincoln's assassination tell a larger story about American history?

Very much so. The assassination provoked personal responses that were deeply intertwined with different and irreconcilable visions of the postwar and post-emancipation nation. Black freedom, the fate of former Confederates, and the future of the nation were at stake for all Americans, black and white, North and South, whether they grieved or rejoiced when they heard the news.

Praise for Mourning Lincoln

“There are many books on the Lincoln assassination and the public response to it.  But Martha Hodes’s work is the first to focus in great detail on the responses of ordinary individuals, Northern and Southern, white and black, soldiers and civilians, women and men, in their diaries and personal correspondence, and to blend such response into the larger story of public events.  The amount of research is simply staggering.  This is a highly original, lucidly written, book.”—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom
 “Beautiful and terrible, Hodes's marvelously written story of the assassination fills the mind, heart and soul.  People never forgot the event; this book is a page-turner that makes it all unforgettable again as it also explains how one shocking death illuminated so many others.”—David W. Blight, Yale University

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