The other first family

There were two first families in the early 1860s — the Lincolns and the Davises.

Here are photos of the less recognizable Davis clan.


Jefferson and Varina Davismr and mrs jeff



jeff davis kids


The surviving Davis children photographed after the war. Two of the children were already deceased, one from a fall in the Executive Mansion.



Was that the president in aisle 3?

President Lincoln sometimes showed up at Washington’s market district, a basket on his arm and one of his sons at his side. He usually carried an old gray shawl, often rolled into a coil and worn around his neck like a rope.

In Ward Hill Lamon’s biography of Lincoln, he describes the president as walking a little pigeon-toed but with a strong and even thread. He said Mr. Lincoln tended to place his entire foot flat on the ground and lift it all at once.

If he met a friend, Lamon wrote, he would grasp the friend’s hand with one or both of his hands and say his usual greeting: “Howdy, howdy.”

Source: The Lincoln Reader by Paul M. Angle

The first of 12 days on the run

John Wilkes Booth and his sidekick and co-conspirator Davy Herold met up with each other once they had both safely crossed the Navy Yard Bridge on assassination night.

Herold said he caught up with Booth at Soper’s Hill, about eight miles outside Washington. From there they head to Surratt’s Tavern, about 10 miles from the Navy Yard Bridge.

The tavern was owned by Mary Surratt, a Southern-sympathizing widow who, within a matter of weeks, would become the first woman hanged by the U.S. government, convicted as an assassination co-conspirator.

John Lloyd, a former Metropolitan Police officer who leased the tavern from Mrs. Surratt, testified that she gave him field glasses to give to some parties who would come calling for them and she also instructed him to give the parties shooting irons and a couple bottles of whiskey.

Source: John Wilkes Booth’s Escape Route: Notes by James O. Hall, published by the Surratt Society


Happy St. Patrick’s Day

President Lincoln’s ancestors hailed from England, not Ireland, but he took the side of Irish Catholics and other immigrants when tensions flared between Catholics and the Know-Nothings.

The Know Nothings were a group of white, Protestant nativists who got their name because members were instructed to say “I know nothing” when questioned by police. Some lost their jobs to the influx of Catholic immigrants in the mid-1800s.

The tension led to riots in cities, and, eventually, the burning of two Catholic churches and a Catholic school in Philadelphia in 1844.

In 1855, Lincoln wrote his good friend Joshua Speed that, if the Know-Nothings ever took power, the Declaration of Independence would have to be amended to say that all men are created equal “except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.”

“When it comes to this,” he wrote, “I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.” (sic)

Source: National Park Service

Key figures live into 20th Century

While John Wilkes Booth died 12 days after the assassination and four of his fellow conspirators were hanged three months later, two of men arrested as conspirators lived into the 20th Century.

Samuel Arnold, who was convicted by a military tribunal and jailed at remote Fort Jefferson in the Florida Keys, received a presidential pardon in 1869. He lived until 1906.

John Surratt, whose separate trial by a civilian court ended in a hung jury in 1867, had all charges against him dropped. He married a shirttail cousin of Francis Scott Key, and they had seven children.

He worked as a schoolteacher, tried lecturing on the Lincoln assassination, and eventually became treasurer of a steamship company.

He lived until April 22, 1916.

Booth was paralyzed but conscious

After Surgeon General J. K. Barnes examined John Wilkes Booth’s body aboard the Montauk on April 27, 1865, Dr. Barnes reported to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

He wrote that Booth’s left leg and foot were encased in splints and bandages, which covered a fracture of the fibula three inches above the ankle joint.

He wrote the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the neck. He said paralysis of the entire body was immediate, but the assassin was conscious during the two hours he lingered before his death.


How the union became the U.S.

Before 1861, the two words “United States” were generally used as a plural noun: “The United States are a republic.”

After 1865, the United States became a singular noun. The loose union of states became a nation.

Source” Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution by James M. McPherson

Black slaves fighting for the Confederates

On this day in 1865, the Confederacy did something that sounds counter-intuitive. It approved the use of black soldiers.

With Gen. William Sherman riding through the Carolinas and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s army overtaking Gen. Robert E. Lee’s forces, slaves were the only source of fresh manpower for the Confederacy.

Thousands of black slaves were enlisted, but it did not change the course of the war. Nearly 200,000 blacks were fighting for the Union.



That Lincoln charm at work

Carl Schurz, a politically active German immigrant, described his first meeting with Abraham Lincoln on a train:

“I observed a great commotion among my fellow passengers, many of whom jumped from their seats and pressed eagerly around a tall man who had just entered the car. They addressed him in the most familiar style: “Hello, Abe! How are you? and so on… And he responded in that same manner…There was much laughter.”

Then, Schurz’s friend introduced him to Lincoln.

“I must confess that I was somewhat startled by his appearance. There he stood, overtopping by several inches all those surrounding him… on his head he wore a somewhat battered stovepipe hat… his lank, ungainly body was clad in a rusty black dress coat with sleeves that should have been longer; but his arms appeared so long that the sleeves of a store coat could hardly be expected to cover them all the way down to the wrists. .. His black trousers, too, permitted a very full view of his large feet. ..he carried a gray woolen shawl… his left hand held a cotton umbrella of the bulging kind, and also a black satchel that bore the marks of long and hard usage.. his right he had kept free for handshaking, of which there was no end until everybody in the car seemed to be satisfied… I had seen, in Washington and in the West, several public men of rough appearance; but none whose looks seemed quite so uncouth, not to say grotesque, as Lincoln’s.

“He received me with an offhand cordiality, like an old acquaintance,..I soon felt as if I had know him all my life and we had long been close friends.”

Source: The Lincoln Reader, edited by Paul M. Angle

Still a draw 149 years later

Petersen House, the boardinghouse where Lincoln died, attracted pilgrims and relic hunters from the moments after the president’s body was removed on April 15, 1865.

The house directly across from Ford’s Theatre still attracts more than 400,000 tourists annually. Invariably, when they reach the small back bedroom where the president died, a silence falls over them.

The free Petersen House tour now includes a visit to the old Sardo family house next door, which has been transformed into the National Park Service’s Center for Education and Leadership. The center features a three-story-high stack of books written about President Lincoln.

It’s displays include a mock-up of the Lincoln funeral train car and John Wilkes Booth’s own key chain and map book.