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The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

John Wilkes Booth leaping from box at Ford's Theatre

Abraham Lincoln visited the theater on April 14, 1865. By the next morning the telegraph had delivered shocking news to Americans weary after four years of bloody warfare. The President had been murdered.

Abraham Lincoln
19th Century History Spotlight10

Newspaper Sunday: Shiloh

Sunday April 6, 2014
In early April 1862 the Battle of Shiloh delivered a shock to Americans. The first clash of the Civil War to result in mass casualties, it was an indication that the war would be much bloodier than anyone could have predicted.

A look at the newspapers of the day show how startling the great battle must have been. In the days before the clash in rural Tennessee, the focus of the press in the North was on General George McClellan's campaign in Virginia.

It actually took a few weeks for the name Shiloh to become known, and the first reports of the engagement referred to "a great battle" somewhere "near Corinth." Within days, reporters were able to piece together startling accounts of the brutal fighting. Readers must have been horrified by some of the details.

Thousands of troops on both sides were reported killed and wounded. And a front-page story in the New York Tribune mentioned that a horse couldn't be ridden across a field because of the dead bodies piled on it.

A month after the battle, on May 6, 1862, the New York Tribune sharply criticized the military for the lack of information it had provided:

"In short, all that the People really know of these battles, beyond the fact that our troops were beaten back on the first day, but were reinforced at night, and attacked and finally drove the Rebels on the second, they have learned from newspaper correspondents, who are quite commonly regarded and treated as barely tolerated (sometimes as intolerable) nuisances in the camps. But for them, the whole affair would have been involved in mystery, and in many points utterly inexplicable."

There's no doubt General Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had other pressing business. But there is a possibility they did not want to alarm the public with details of how horrific the fighting had been.

This week in Newspaper Sunday we look at news reports of the Battle of Shiloh. Note: The links below lead to excerpts of newspaper articles at the Chronicling America archive of the Library of Congress. Click the "persistent link" on the excerpt page to view the full page of the newspaper.

  • New York Tribune, April 9, 1862: Very sketchy details of fighting on April 6 had arrived at the War Department in Washington.
  • New York Tribune, April 10, 1862: While the epic Battle of Shiloh had already taken place, the front page of the New York Tribune was still focused on the Army of the Potomac and its position outside Yorktown, Virginia.
  • New York Tribune, April 10, 1862: The fighting at Shiloh, referred to at the time as Pittsburg Landing, received headlines and a map on the last page of the New York Tribune.
  • New York Tribune, April 11, 1862: The full importance of the battle was evident on April 11, when stacked front-page headlines gave details (some of which were inaccurate).
  • Staunton Spectator, April 15, 1862: A Virginia newspaper published a report on the great battle from a Confederate perspective.
  • New York Sun, April 19, 1862: One of the sensationalistic New York City papers, The Sun, published an illustration of a Confederate general at Shiloh with a critical headline: "Beauregard Tried and Found Wanting."
  • New York Tribune, May 6, 1862: A month after the fighting at Shiloh, the New York Tribune published a blistering condemnation of General Grant and the War Department for not having published a comprehensive account of the battle.

Illustration: Depiction of General Grant at Shiloh/Library of Congress

Related: The Battle of Shiloh


Opening Day In the 1890s

Monday March 31, 2014
As baseball season begins again, it's a good time to look back and see what Opening Day was like 120 years ago. In 1894, the New York Giants traveled to play the Baltimore Orioles to begin the season on Thursday, April 19th. And a New York City newspaper, The Evening World, featured prominent coverage on the front page.

A group of New Yorkers had traveled to Baltimore by train, and joined a parade through the city to the ballpark:

"The procession started for the grounds at 1 o'clock. Of course, it was headed by a brass band. Then came the newspaper men, followed by the two nines. Managers Ward and Hanlon had a smart-looking rig all to themselves. Catchers Farrell and Robinson were in the last of the ball-players' carriages, and behind them came the usual contingent of 'leading citizens.' It was really an imposing parade.

"It seemed as if everybody here saw the parade. The windows and doorways of factories, stores, and residences were filled with heads, and the people stood on the sidewalks ten deep."

A large crowd for that era, 12,000 spectators, crowded the ballpark, where many simply stood behind ropes beyond the outfield. In the second inning the game had to be stopped for 15 minutes to allow fans who were still arriving to "find places."

The New York team lost the first game, and would lose the entire three-game opening series at Baltimore. That's not too shocking. The Orioles, in that era, were a dominant team, with stars like John McGraw and Willie Keeler, who is now remembered as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.

The Orioles traveled to New York City at the end of April to play at the Polo Grounds. During that era baseball fans were called "cranks." So when vocal Baltimore supporters showed up in New York, the New York Evening World printed the headline, "Baltimore's Crank Contingent With Loud Voices and a Good Yell."

It rained during the April 28, 1894, Polo Grounds opener, which dampened the mood, though the Giants beat the Orioles. The rivalry between the two teams would go on all that season. The Orioles eventually won the pennant, with the Giants in second place.

However, the Giants got some satisfaction that year by winning the Temple Cup. A predecessor of the World Series, the Temple Cup was awarded after a playoff series between the two top teams in the National League (the only major league at the time).

Illustration: Amos Rusie of the New York Giants, opening day pitcher in 1894/Library of Congress


Possible Photo of Lincoln's Funeral Found

Thursday March 20, 2014
The Washington Post published an interesting story by Michael Ruane this morning: a Maryland man, while looking at the Flickr feed of the National Archives, may have discovered previously unknown photographs of Abraham Lincoln's funeral in New York City.

The photos in question show the facade of Grace Church, a landmark Episcopal cathedral located where Broadway bends at the corner of 10th Street. In one, a large crowd has gathered and something passing by appears as a blur.

Is it Lincoln's funeral procession? It could be. The funeral observances for Lincoln included a large procession up Broadway. There is no question the horse-drawn hearse carrying Lincoln's body rolled past Grace Church on its way to a ceremony held at nearby Union Square.

And it's also true that photographer Mathew Brady owned a studio near Grace Church. So it's conceivable, even likely, that one of his staff photographers would have aimed a camera out the window to capture the scene.

However, it's worth noting that Lincoln's funeral would not have been the only massive public event on that corner. Two years earlier, General Tom Thumb had been married at Grace Church in a colossal event promoted and publicized by Phineas T. Barnum.

Could the event in the photo be Tom Thumb's wedding? I suspect not, as the spectators in the newly discovered photo do not seem to be dressed for very cold weather. And Tom Thumb was married in the winter, on February 10, 1863.

A number of spectators seen outside Grace Church hold umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun. And umbrellas can also be seen in another photo taken along Broadway on April 25, 1865, the day of the Lincoln procession.

Could it be another event in warm weather? Perhaps. One enormous public event which comes to mind would be the funeral for Ulysses S. Grant. It also featured a massive procession up Broadway. And it was believed to have drawn an even larger crowd than Lincoln's funeral.

Grant's funeral procession in New York City took place on August 8, 1885. And the New York Tribune, on its front page the next day, mentioned crowds gathered at Grace Church.

To our eyes, the spectators near the church do not seem to be dressed for an August day. But if they had gathered for a funeral procession, it's likely the spectators would have been dressed fairly formally despite the heat.

What may rule out Grant's funeral is perhaps the year, not the season. It was 20 years after Lincoln's funeral, perhaps too late to have been captured on a glass negative belonging to Brady.

The largest public funeral in New York City before Lincoln's would have been that of Bill Poole, a bare knuckles boxer and enforcer for the Know-Nothings.

Poole was murdered, perhaps at the behest of boxer and future congressman John "Old Smoke" Morrissey. And newspapers claimed 100,000 people lined the streets for his funeral procession.

To be honest, I am very curious about the funeral for Bill Poole, and would be fascinated by any photographs of it that might surface. But it's unclear if Poole's funeral passed Grace Church. And it took place in March 1855, which is likely outside the time frame.

So it's entirely possible that the photograph spotted in a Flickr feed could be Lincoln's funeral. If it is, it doesn't tell us much we didn't already know. But it's still fascinating to look at the people in the photograph and think of what they might have been experiencing that sunny yet sad afternoon on Broadway.

Incidentally, when I first saw the photo in the Washington Post this morning I immediately recognized it as Grace Church. Years ago, I happened to live directly across the street from the church, in a college dormitory. A few months back I posted my own vintage photo of the church, which I snapped when I was 19, for Twitter's "Throwback Thursday."

Update: March 23, 2014: After thinking about this, something that nags at me is what should be in the photograph but isn't: visible signs of mourning.

Confirmed photos of Lincoln's funeral procession taken only blocks away, at 13th Street and Broadway, show mourning crepe on buildings as well as a lamppost that is shrouded with black fabric.

Yet in the newly discovered photograph there is no black crepe to be seen at all. There is a visible lamppost, and it is unadorned.

The newspapers described how the entire city was decorated for mourning. It's odd that Grace Church is undecorated in the "new" photo (especially as one newspaper report mentioned that Trinity Church, the other fashionable Episcopal church in New York, was "entirely draped in black").

And the New York City government had issued guidelines for the public which requested that men wear a "badge of mourning" on the left arm. The spectators in the newly discovered photograph don't seem to be wearing mourning accessories.


Photograph: Detail of photograph showing crowd outside Grace Church/U.S. National Archives


"Old Smoke" Morrissey: Bare Knuckles Champ to Congressman

Monday March 17, 2014
In the 19th century Irish Americans gravitated toward politics. In New York City Tammany Hall became a bastion of Irish power in the time of Boss Tweed, and even the St. Patrick's Day Parade became a political symbol.

One immigrant from Tipperary achieved something remarkable: he rose to become a boxing champion in the brutal bare knuckles era, and then kept rising to be elected to Congress in the 1860s. Only in America!

John Morrissey, who arrived in upstate New York as a child, began brawling as a teenager. Moving to New York City, when boxing was still illegal, he found meaningful work as a political enforcer. When Know-Nothings tried to prevent the Irish from voting, Morrissey's enormous fists ensured the sanctity of the polls.

In the fight ring, Morrissey showed unusual tenacity and was nearly unbeatable. On the side, he ran gambling joints in lower Manhattan. And when his life calmed down a bit, he was offered a chance to run for a New York City congressional seat. And, of course, he won.

He became bored in Congress and only served two terms. But he was known as a genial figure in the Capitol, where visitors always wanted to shake his hand.

Known as "Old Smoke," a nickname he'd earned in a brutal saloon fight, Morrissey was beloved by the Irish community. And he acquired interesting friends in New York society, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, the richest man alive.

When Morrissey died in 1878, the New York Sun devoted half its front page to a dramatic account of his final hours. There would never again be anyone quite like Old Smoke.

Full story: John "Old Smoke" Morrissey

Illustration: John Morrissey in his boxing days/Library of Congress


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