Lincoln Annuls Death Sentence of Two Accused of War Profiteering
On March 18, 1865 President Lincoln issued an order annulling the death sentence of two brothers, Benjamin G. and Franklin W. Smith, Boston merchants who had been convicted of fraud in carrying out a government contract.
Lincoln wrote, “. . . In the absence of a more adequate motive than the evidence discloses, I am wholly unable to believe in the existence of criminal or fraudulent intent on the part of one of such well established good character as is the accused. If the evidence went as far toward establishing a guilty profit of one or two hundred thousand dollars, as it does of one or two hundred dollars, the case would, on the question of guilt, bear a far different aspect. That on this contract, involving from one million to twelve hundred thousand dollars, the contractors should attempt a fraud which at the most could profit them only one or two hundred, or even one thousand dollars, is to my mind beyond the power of rational belief. That they did not, in such a case, strike for greater gains proves that they did not, with guilty, or fraudulent intent, strike at all. The judgment and sentence are disapproved, and declared null, and the accused ordered to be discharged.”
Lincoln Speeches and Writings 1859-1865, Library of America, p. 691, 756.
“I believe “Uncle Abe” is the homliest man I have seen for three years. But I guess he is good natured . . .”
On March 26, 1865, Private Edwin C. Hall of Brookfield, Vermont wrote his father from near Petersburg, Virginia:
“. . . The President, Gens Grant, Meade, and Wright were riding around during the day ‘taking observations’. they were here to the fort opposite our camp over half an hour, and I had a good chance to see “Uncle Abe,” and I beleive he is the homliest man I have seen for three years. But I guess he is good natured, for he was a grinning all the time he was here. . . . We all feel as though this is to be the climax of this war. They have begun the game and Grant is going to finish it for them He has got 4 Kings now, while they have but two and if he does not make a mismove he will soon have them cornered. . . .”
Henry James’s First Story Shows Returning Home Harder than People Imagined, For Soldier and Loved Ones
“Ending the war and returning home was harder and more complicated than anyone imagined. . . . [Writes art historian Eleanor Jones Harvey],
As the war came to an end, Henry James published his first short story in the [March edition of] Atlantic Monthly. Titled ‘Story of a Year,’ it followed the turbulent relationship between soldier John Ford and his fiance, Lizzie Crowe. The growing disconnect between their wartime experiences—his in Virginia and hers at home—threatens to topple their relationship, an all too common scenario. In summing up their situation, James noted of his protagonists, ‘John Ford became a veteran down by the Potomac. And, to tell the truth, Lizzie became a veteran at home.’ His message is clear—the war changed everyone’s perspective, affecting hearts and minds, forcing confrontation on values and viewpoints during the conflict and in its aftermath.”
Eleanor Jones Harvey, The Civil War and American Art, p. 225.
Read “Story of a Year,” The Atlantic.
Union Soldier Reflects on How Southern White Populace Experienced Sherman’s March across Georgia and South Carolina
On March 29, 1865, Sergeant Lysander Wheeler of Illinois wrote his family a letter that read in part:
“. . . It will certainly be joyful time When war is ended and Peace is once more reigning in triumph, the North is ignorant of the effects of war in Comparison with the South, here it is dead earnest, the women and children feel it as well as the men. Our men cleared the country most effectively through where we passed many miles in width of everything in the eating line and many things besides that were valuable for in so large an army there are many thieves who go in for Plunder and destruction where they could not carry they very often destroyed many a thousand Dollar Piano in Carolina the boys danced a gig among the keys and then broke them to pieces. The inhabitants generally hid things in their Feather beads and Elsewhere in such a style that before the last foraging party had left a house everything was strewed to destruction and it was a common affair to see molasses and all the feathers in the house on the floor. Women and children crying and nearly scared to death. Expecting the next thing to be killed or something worse. Our men must have something to eat, and if one foraging party left Part, the next along would take the remainder. the whole thing beggars description, perhaps these same women and children would come to the Column and the boys would give them enough to eat at least to last while we were passing. What became of them after the Army goes along is more than I can tell, it is a tough matter but if the rebels would rather fight and leave there families to starve it is a matter of their own choosing certainly not ours. I think these moves of Sherman with the Army is doing more to close out the Rebellion than all the fighting that has been done on the Potomac since the War commenced. . . .”
Robert E. Bonner, The Soldier’s Pen, Firsthand Impressions of the Civil War, pp. 180-81
– All entries were submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert