150 Years Ago This Week: Two momentous days in April

April 1865

On Wednesday, April 19, the first of many funeral processions for Abraham Lincoln began, in Washington. It took 20 days over a route which was mostly aligned to the route the 16th president took on his way to his first inauguration in 1861.

The funerals held in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland and eventually Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, were seen by hundreds of thousands of people, not including the many thousands who watched the passing of the funeral train along the rights-of-way. From a bedroom window of his family home on Broadway in New York City, watching the funeral procession down on the street was 7-year-old Theodore Roosevelt. Mrs. Lincoln and son Tad did not make the trip with the funeral train; the grief-stricken widow remained in seclusion in the White House while President Andrew Johnson patiently lived in his hotel room until Mrs. Lincoln finally vacated weeks after her husband’s body left the city for Springfield.

For 12 days following the assassination, Federal cavalry and detectives tracked John Wilkes Booth and accomplice David Herold through southern Maryland and the Northern Neck of Virginia. On Wednesday, April 26, Booth and Herold were trapped in a tobacco barn on the property of Richard Garrett in Caroline County near Bowling Green, Va. Herold surrendered but Booth refused to be captured until the barn was set afire and a bullet from the revolver of Sgt. Boston Corbett brought the actor down with a severed spinal cord. He was dragged out of the burning barn and died around 7 a.m. on the porch of the Garrett farmhouse, his head cradled in the lap of schoolteacher Lucinda Holloway, who lived nearby.

Later, Booth (his body tied up in an army blanket) and Herold were on their way back to Washington aboard the gunboat John S. Ide from Belle Plain, Va. By this time, all of those who had conspired with Booth against President Lincoln had been arrested and held in Washington, awaiting a trial by a military commission.

Beginning on April 17, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, entered into negotiations in North Carolina with Maj. Gen. William Sherman, commander of all of the Union forces in the western theatre of the war, to discuss terms of surrender. When talks included reconstruction as Gen. Sherman was taken to understand them from the meetings in March with Lincoln and Lt. Gen. Grant, Gen. Sherman received instructions from Gen. Grant that political questions and reconstruction issues were not his concern.

On the same April 26 when Booth and Herold were captured in Virginia, Gen. Sherman and Gen., Johnston met at the Bennett farmhouse near Raleigh and the Army of Tennessee was surrendered with terms similar to those agreed at Appomattox on April 9 between Gen. Grant and Robert E. Lee.

That same evening, the steam paddle-wheeler Sultana left Memphis heading north with more than 2,000 recently released Union soldiers from Confederate prison camps in the South. When a faulty boiler repair failed under intense steam pressure at about 2 in the morning of April 27, the explosion and fire aboard Sultana and the frigid waters of the Mississippi River resulted in more than 1,800 deaths; it remains the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history, exceeding the death toll of the British liner Titanic by more than 300, and ended the lives of so many who had fought for the Union and had endured horrid conditions in captivity.

The news of the loss of Sultana and all the souls on board, however, was hardly noticed above the news of the death of John Wilkes Booth and the capture of Davy Herold, and Gen. Johnston’s surrender the day before.

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