| This Country of Ours|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Stories from the history of the United States beginning with a full account of exploration and settlement and ending with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The 99 chapters are grouped under 7 headings: Stories of Explorers and Pioneers, Stories of Virginia, Stories of New England, Stories of the Middle and Southern Colonies, Stories of the French in America, Stories of the Struggle for Liberty, and Stories of the United States under the Constitution. Ages 10-14 |
LINCOLN—THE END OF THE WAR—THE PRESIDENT'S DEATH
 NO President ever took up his burden in a more great hearted
fashion than Lincoln. No President ever faced the difficulties of
his position with so much tenderness, and so much strength. But
he felt his burdens lie heavy on his shoulders. Deep lines of pain
were graven on his face, and to his sad eyes there came a deeper
sadness. Yet he never lost heart, and even in the gravest moments
he would pause to tell a funny story.
"I should break down otherwise," he said.
He had no anger against the south, only a deep pity, a deep desire
to see the country one again. So, much as he longed for peace, he
would listen to no proposal which did not mean peace with union.
And, as Jefferson Davis declared that he would rather die than see
North and South united, the war continued.
On the 1st of April a great battle was fought at Five Forks, a few
miles from Petersburg. In this the Confederates were defeated, and
more than five thousand were taken prisoner. The next day, true to
his hammering policy, Grant ordered a great assault all along the
lines before Petersburg. At daybreak the attack began, and again
the Federals were victorious. All that brave men could do the
Confederates did. But their valour availed them nothing. They were
far outnumbered, and their line was pierced in many places.
 That morning President Davis was sitting in church at Richmond when
a dispatch from Lee was brought to him. "My lines are broken," it
said; "Richmond must be evacuated this evening."
Quickly and silently Davis left the church. His day of
power was over, and with his Cabinet and officials he fled from
Soon the news spread throughout the Southern capital, and panic
seized upon the people. Warehouses, filled with tobacco and cotton,
were set in flames. All that was evil in the city broke loose, the
prison was emptied, rogues and robbers worked their will. Soon the
streets were filled with a struggling mob of people, some bent on
plunder, others on fleeing from the place of terror and turmoil.
The night passed in confusion and horror past description. Then
the next day the Federals took possession of the distracted city,
and in a few hours the tumult was hushed, the flames subdued, and
something like order restored.
Meanwhile, without entering the city, Grant was hotly pursuing Lee
and his army. The chase was no long one. Lee's army was worn out,
ragged, barefoot and starving. Grant, with an army nearly three
times as large, and well equipped besides, soon completely surrounded
him north, south, east, and west. Escape there was none.
"There is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant," said
Lee, "and I would rather die a thousand deaths." But like the brave
soldier he was, he faced what seemed to him worse that death rather than
uselessly sacrifice gallant lives.
A few letters passed between the two great leaders, then they met
in a private house at Appomattox Court House. The contrast between
the two was great. Lee looked the Southern aristocrat he was.
White-haired and tall, erect still in spite of his sixty years, he
was dressed in splendid
 uniform, and wore a jewelled sword at his
side. Grant, half a head shorter, fifteen years younger, seemed
but a rough soldier beside him. He wore only the blue blouse of a
private, and carried no sword, nothing betraying his rank except
his shoulder straps.
It was Lee's first meeting with "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.
But this time Grant drove no hard bargain. "I felt like anything
rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so
long and valiantly," he said, many years after. The war was over,
and there was no need of severity. So officers and men alike were
all released on the promise that they would not again take up arms
against the United States. The officers were allowed to keep their
swords, their horses and belongings. The privates also were allowed
to keep their horses, for as Grant said, "they would need them
for their spring ploughing."
Everything being settled Lee returned to his men to break the
news to them. His face was stern and sad as he faced his worn and
ragged troops. As he looked at them words failed him. "Men," he
said, "we have fought through the war together, and I have done
the best I could for you." Then he ceased. Tears blinded and choked
him, sobs burst from the hardy men who had followed him joyfully
to death. So they said farewell.
Grant on his side would allow no rejoicing in his camp, no firing
of salutes. "The war is over," he said, "the rebels are our countrymen
again." And indeed this was the end of the war, although for a week
or two the Confederates elsewhere still held out.
When the news was heard throughout the country people went mad with
joy. The great day of peace had come at last, and all the world
went a-holidaying. People who were utter strangers to each other
shook hands in the street, they laughed and cried, bonfires were
lit and bells
 rung. Never had there been such rejoicing in the land.
And among those who rejoiced none was more glad than the President.
"I thank God," he said, "that I have lived to see this day. It seems
to me that I have been dreaming a horrid dream for five years. But
now the nightmare is gone." And already his thoughts were turned
to the binding up of the nation's wounds.
It was the 14th of April and he had promised to go to the theatre
that evening. He did not want to go, but his presence had been
announced in the papers, and thinking that the people would be
disappointed if he failed to appear, he went.
It was about nine o'clock in the evening when the President entered
his box with his wife and one or two friends. As soon as he appeared
the people rose from their seats and cheered and cheered again, and
the actors stopped their play until the audience grew calm again.
In a few minutes all was quiet once more, and for an hour the play
went on. Then while everyone in the box was intent upon the stage
a man crept softly through the door and stood beside the President.
Suddenly a sharp pistol shot rang out, and without a groan the
great President fell forward, dying.
His wicked work done, the man sprang from the box on to the stage
shouting, "Sic semper tyrannis,"—"Thus let it ever be with tyrants."
As he sprang his foot caught in the flag which draped the box. He
fell with a crash and broke a bone in his leg. But in spite of the
hurt he jumped up. Then fiercely brandishing a dagger and shouting,
"the South is avenged," he disappeared.
The murderer was a man named John Wilkes Booth. He was a second
rate and conceited actor having a vast idea of his own importance.
With him and the small band of fanatics he ruled the leaders of
the South had
noth-  ing whatever to do. Indeed, by his act he proved
himself to be their worst enemy.
Now hurrying out of the theatre he mounted a horse which was held
in readiness, and galloped away through the night.
Meanwhile the theatre was in wild confusion. "He has shot the President."
"Hang him! shoot him!" cried a hundred voices. But the murderer
was gone. Women wept, men swore, the confusion was unutterable.
Meanwhile the dying President was quickly carried into a house
near. But nothing that love or science could do availed. The kind
grey eyes were closed never to open again, the gentle voice was
stilled forever. All night he lay moaning softly, then as morning
dawned a look of utter peace came upon his face and the moaning
Deep silence fell upon every one around the bed. The Secretary of
War was the first to break it.
"Now he belongs to the ages," he said.
So the great President passed on his way. And the people mourned
as they had mourned for no other man. As to the negroes they wept
and cried aloud, and would not be comforted, for "Massa Linkum was
dead," and they were left fatherless.
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