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American History Stories, Volume IV by  Mara L. Pratt

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THE WAR IS OVER

PICTURE to yourself if you can, the joy of the people in the North when the news of these surrenders spread over the land! The telegraphs flashed it over the wires from city to city and from town to town, until the news reached the lonely homes away out on the prairies and away up on the mountains.

Our "Union boys," the "boys in blue" tossed up their hats for joy. Faces in the homes—even in those whose soldier boys would never come back to them—shone with thankfulness that this cruel war was over.

But nobody was happier than Lincoln himself. Washington was all one blaze of light; fireworks were shooting, bonfires were blazing, and bands were playing.

[173] President Lincoln came out upon the balcony of the White House, and asked one of the bands to play the tune of "Dixie." This had been the favorite tune of the Confederates all through the war, just as "John Brown's Body" had been the favorite with our soldiers.

"I have always thought Dixie one of the best songs I ever knew. Our enemies over the way tried to make it their own; but I think we captured it with the rest; and I now ask the band to give us a good turn on it."

This was Abraham Lincoln's last public speech.

Next evening, the 14th of April, the president went to the theatre to see an English play, called "Our American Cousin." For four years the heavy duties of his great office, the sorrow which he had felt at the horrors of the war, had made an evening of amusement almost impossible for him.

But the war was over; he could lay off some of his cares. There was now to be a little time for laughter and enjoyment; a holiday for the nation and its president. So Mr. Lincoln went to the theatre, sitting in a box just above the stage. About half-past ten o'clock in the evening, as the play drew near its close, a man named John Wilkes Booth, wrapped closely in a cloak, entered the box. He came up behind the president and shot him in the back of the head. The ball entered the brain, Lincoln's head drooped forward, his eyes closed, and he never spoke afterwards. It is hoped [174] that he felt no more pain, though he lingered until next morning, and then quietly passed away.

After the shot the murderer with the cry, "Thus may it be always with tyrants," leaped over the box railing down upon the stage. Rushing hastily through the frightened actors, hardly conscious of what had been done, he escaped through a back entrance, mounted a horse made ready for him at the theatre door, and rode rapidly away.

This news of horror so quickly following that of joy, spread over the country, filling it with gloom. This good, simple man, Abraham Lincoln,—this gentleman of the people,—had won to himself all loyal hearts. His face, so full of pathos, winning in spite of its rugged plainness, his manly, truthful nature; his noble humanity; had gained him the regard even of those who at first sneered at the "vulgar rail-splitter." Across the ocean in England where he had been held up to ridicule, his name was now mentioned with reverence.

The assassin, as he leaped from the box upon the stage, had caught his foot in the American flag, which draped the front of the President's box. He fell forward and broke his leg in the fall. A party was at once sent in pursuit of him. On the 21st of April he was found in a barn near Fredericksburg. Defiant to the last, he stood at bay, like a hunted wild animal, with loaded weapon, prepared to take the life of any one who attempted to take him alive.

[175] The barn was set on fire, and, as he attempted to escape, he was shot at by one of those in pursuit, and so captured. He died soon after from the effects of the wound, and his body was buried secretly.

Andrew Johnson, the vice-president now became president, and the people set to work to bring the country back into its old condition of peace and prosperity. Since then the country has grown very rapidly, and we are to-day the freest, the happiest, the richest, the best nation, I hope you all think, on the face of the earth.

Peace shall unite us again and forever,

Though thousands lie cold in the graves of these wars;

Those who survive them shall never prove, never,

False to the flag of the Stripes and the Stars!


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