23 April 1865: “Mankind has lost its best friend since the crusifiction of Christ” and “How I loved him! He was my hero.”

As this blog’s end draws near, we present two different accounts of grief. The first letter mourns the loss of Abraham Lincoln, while the second diary entry laments the loss of Stonewall Jackson.

Item Description: Letter dated 23 April 1865 from R. E. Harris, a Union soldier, to his mother. He describes the funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the search for John Wilkes Booth. This letter was copied from the original manuscript.


Item Citation: Folder 1, Nathaniel Harrison Harris Papers, #1297-z, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Item Transcription:

On board Government

Transport Potomac River

April 23th 1865

Dear Mother

My situation as I write is rather a pleasant one. We are sailing down the Potomac river from Washington intending to land at Chaplain Point about 60 miles from Washington on the Maryland side. We are in search of J. Wilkes Booth the Murderer of our Dear President. We mean to scout three counties in search of him If we get him I fear we will not be able to get him to Washington alive. We have been stationed in Washington since the buriel of the President. Our Quarters were at Mrs. Carpenters boarding house on Penna Avenue while our men were in Barracks beside the Capitol  I tell you this is rather rich soldiering to have Hd. Qr. on Penna Avenue.

We return there when this scout is over. I think we will stay there this summer. Don’t you think we must have a popular Reg’ when they sent for us the only Reg’ from the Army of the James to attend the Funeral of the President. Secretary Stanton sent for us I believe and he has sent us on this raid he has great confidence in this Reg’ And I tell you he might well have   They are Penna Colored men and you can trust them any where and for any thing they can not be bribed. Our Reg’ will be likely to stay in the service. Now is Wills chance as I wrote. While I write the Officers are singing all kinds of songs around and in high glee.

the burriel of the President was one of the most impressing sight I ever witnessed. Delligations from all the Principal Cities and every thing in the grandest order. Our Reg’ led the Procession. I commanded the second company. I suppose we marched apass one hundred thousand people passing up Penna Avenue The Presidents Body was placed under the dome of the Capitol and the day following the funeral he lay in State for the purpose of permitting all the American people who desired to see him to do so. Hundreds of thousands came and passed through to see him  I never wept so much over the death of any person as his. O’ to think that great, good, and honest man to be murdered so. Mankind has lost its best friend since the crusifiction of Christ. I do think there never has been so great and such greatness and such honesty combined in one man “So gentle and so Kind His life was gentle and the elements were so mixed up in him that nature might stand & say to all the world this was a man.”

It has caused the hearts of those who sensured him so harshly to smite them I have had men to me since who had before denounced him as a corrupt man that they felt so miserable since his assassination that they could neither sleep nor eat and were satisfied that he was a pure honest and good man. He is the greatest man I think that ever lived. I sent several papers home I sent a bundle by express. I have never heard whether you received the hundred dollars or not I sent. I am well I want to know whether Will is thinking of doing what I wrote him or not.

My respects to all the family

Write soon I have no more time to write

Your affectionate

son R E H ??? [illegible]

[Herrin?] [Harris?] [Heuse?]



Item Description: Diary entry dated 23 April 1865 by Emma LeConte. She laments the recent defeat of the Confederacy. In particular, she remembers her grief over the death of Stonewall Jackson.


Item Citation: Folder 1, Emma LeConte Diary, #420-z, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Item Transcription:

Sunday April 23rd.
– Dr. Palmer this morning preached a fine and encouraging sermon. He says we must not despair yet, but even if we should be overthrown – not conquered – the next generation would see the South free and independent.

There is another rumor in town to the effect that the French fleet has defeated the Yankee fleet and taken New Orleans. It is only a rumor, and alas, I dare not believe it. The air is so full of rumors that one does not know what to believe – they only keep us in a feverish state of uncertainty.

The more I think of Lee’s surrender the harder it is to bear.

That army – that General – We idolized Stonewall Jackson – we worshipped Lee. It is perhaps well that president has so many enemies, for if all loved as the others, something would happen to him too. How well I remember the death of Stonewall Jackson! I can never forget my feelings when I heard of it. We had heard he was very low, but I did not dream he could die. I was lying on the lounge alone in the library when father came in looking very sad. “Emma” he said gravely, “Stonewall Jackson is dead.” How I loved him! He was my hero. I then admired Lee as grand, magnificent – but Jackson came nearer my heart. There was mourning deep and true throughout the land when that news came. Since then Lee has had the hero-worship, all – both his and Jackson’s – though the dead hero will always be shrined in every southern heart. But I am allowing old reminiscences to fill my mind and page. Not so old either – only two years – but events have crowded so thickly that it seems a long, long time ago. Our beloved Lee! Now that the first crushing grief for the country is passed in some measure away, how deeply I feel for him – how he must suffer – Not only the humiliation, but to hold his hands in this hour of his country’s greatest need – What must it have meant to him to yield that sword! And what are we to do without him! I cannot feel hopeless. Today I do not feel as disheartened as I did last Thursday when the news came – the terrible news. We still have an army in the West – and dark as everything is we must hope. The conviction that the South can not be conquered – that it can never be re-united with the North, is so deeply rooted in my heart. Since the war began that conviction has never been shaken once till last Thursday. Then I was so overwhelmed by the thought of Lee’s surrender that there seemed no ground under my feet. Even now there can be no hope but in foreign aid. But something must turn up – help must come – “The darkest hour’s before the dawn” – If there should be no dawn!

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