Nation Grief-Stricken; Lee: Don’t Turn to Guerrilla Warfare

April 17, 1865/2015
Volume 6, Issue 16 (236 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Civil War Book of Days Concludes

This is the last issue of the Civil War Book of Days. We hope you have enjoyed all 236 issues since it began on October 15, 2010/1860.

We would love to hear from you about what you enjoyed the most. What moved you? What was something new you learned? Did you gain a new perspective about events in the war? Contact us if you wish to make a comment. Thank you and on to the last one.

Nation Grief-Stricken at Lincoln’s Death

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), age 42, painted in 1842 by Joseph Kyle (1815 - 1863)

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), age 42, painted in 1842 by Joseph Kyle (1815 – 1863)

April 17, 1865. Receiving the news of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the anti-slavery and women’s rights activist Lucretia Mott wrote from her home outside Philadelphia to her sister Martha Wright on April 17, 1865:

“When a great calamity is over the Nation you want the sun to be darkened & the moon not give her light—but how everything goes on . . . Was there ever such universal sorrow? The mirth of the day before so suddenly ‘turned into heaviness. Men cry in the streets. As we opened the Paper, the news stunned us—we cd. hardly go on with our 7th day work.”

– Submitted by Beverly Palmer, co-editor of Lucretia Mott Speaks, forthcoming from the University of Illinois Press.


Mott MSS, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College

Lee Explains to Davis that It’s Over, Why It’s Over, and Advises Not to Turn to Guerrilla Warfare

April 20, 1865. Eleven days after surrendering to Grant, Robert E. Lee wrote Confederate President Jefferson Davis arguing that hostilities cease and that Confederates not turn to low-intensity, guerrilla warfare, as some Confederates were advocating. Lee’s actions were enormously influential and helped avoid what might have been many years of continued insurgent warfare. Lee also told Davis that the military effectiveness of his troops was “feeble,” due to “morale,” “the state of feeling in the country, and the communications received by the men from their homes, urging their return and the abandonment of the field.” Lee wrote,

Mr. President

The apprehensions I expressed during the winter, of the moral [sic] condition of the Army of Northern Virginia, have been realized. The operations which occurred while the troops were in the entrenchments in front of Richmond and Petersburg were not marked by the boldness and decision which formerly characterized them. Except in particular instances, they were feeble; and a want of confidence seemed to possess officers and men. This condition, I think, was produced by the state of feeling in the country, and the communications received by the men from their homes, urging their return and the abandonment of the field.

General Robert E. Lee, around 1864, courtesy Library of Congress

General Robert E. Lee, around 1864, courtesy Library of Congress

The movement of the enemy on the 30th March to Dinwiddie Court House was consequently not as strongly met as similar ones had been. Advantages were gained by him which discouraged the troops, so that on the morning of the 2d April, when our lines between the Appomattox and Hatcher’s Run were assaulted, the resistance was not effectual: several points were penetrated and large captures made. At the commencement of the withdrawal of the army from the lines on the night of the 2d, it began to disintegrate, and straggling from the ranks increased up to the surrender on the 9th. On that day, as previously reported, there were only seven thousand eight hundred and ninety-two (7892) effective infantry. During the night, when the surrender became known, more than ten thousand men came in, as reported to me by the Chief Commissary of the Army. During the succeeding days stragglers continued to give themselves up, so that on the 12th April, according to the rolls of those paroled, twenty-six thousand and eighteen (26,018) officers and men had surrendered. Men who had left the ranks on the march, and crossed James River, returned and gave themselves up, and many have since come to Richmond and surrendered. I have given these details that Your Excellency might know the state of feeling which existed in the army, and judge of that in the country. From what I have seen and learned, I believe an army cannot be organized or supported in Virginia, and as far as I know the condition of affairs, the country east of the Mississippi is morally and physically unable to maintain the contest unaided with any hope of ultimate success. A partisan war may be continued, and hostilities protracted, causing individual suffering and the devastation of the country, but I see no prospect by that means of achieving a separate independence. It is for Your Excellency to decide, should you agree with me in opinion, what is proper to be done. To save useless effusion of blood, I would recommend measures be taken for suspension of hostilities and the restoration of peace.

I am with great respect,  yr obdt svt

R. E. Lee



April 26, 1865. After an enormous manhunt, John Wilkes Booth was found hiding in a tobacco barn in Virginia. He was shot, and he died a few hours later.

On the same day, Confederate General Joe Johnston surrendered to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman near Durham, NC after ten days of back and forth negotiation. Johnston surrendered all Confederate troops in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, a total of nearly 90,000 soldiers.

On June 17, 1865, Edmund Ruffin (1794-1865), the epitome of the Southern “‘fire-eater,’ as radical defenders of slavery and the society on which it was based were known, . . . wrapped himself in a Confederate flag and committed suicide with a musket. Credited with firing the first shot of the Civil War [when he pulled the lanyard on a cannon that fired what may have been the first shot aimed at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor], Ruffin can also be said to have fired its last. But in a suicide note declaring his ‘unmitigated hatred of Yankee rule,” he foreshadowed the bitter conflicts of Reconstruction and its aftermath, when an unrepentant South rejoined the Union.”


Smithsonian Civil War, Inside the National Collection (2013) p. 68.

Editor’s Note

The Civil War essentially ended with Lee surrendering to Grant at Appomattox Court House, but the story of the Civil War and its effects did not end there, or with John Wilkes Booth’s death, or Jefferson Davis’s capture. The ways in which the war was—and still is—remembered, the war’s aftermath, Reconstruction, the end of Reconstruction, and developments after Reconstruction—they all continue to affect American culture and civic society. Those things are still playing themselves out today, a century and a half later.

– Submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert

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