150 Years Since Pivotal American Moments

Abraham_LincolnThis year marks 150 years since the end of the Civil War.  The last major battle was waged, on April 1, the Battle of Five Forks, located west of Petersburg, VA, and north of Dinwiddie County Courthouse.  I have the diary of my great great grandfather, Ethel Rogers, who served as a Private in the 189th Regiment of NY Volunteers. On April 1, he wrote in his tiny diary, on the six lines he had per day:

clear and plesent
on a march to meet
sheridan halted
out on skirmish
a hard batle
roat a letter Catharine   (Catharine was his wife.)

General Lee told General Pickett that morning, “Hold Five Forks at all hazards.”  If Lee lost his right flank, Petersburg would be lost as well as their western retreat route.  Moving westward was the obvious strategy General Grant outlined.  This would allow the Union to halt the Confederate railroad connection to the south and cause the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg.  General Warren, the commander of the Fifth Corps which included Ethel’s regiment, notified General Sheridan he would not be ready to fight until 4pm.  The Fifth Corps remained in a farmer’s field much of the day, then  arrived at the scene in perfect order at the appointed time. His men performed admirably.  However, Sheridan was angry with the delay, and during the heat of the battle, Sheridan, who was known to be a driver, removed Warren from command on the grounds he had been slow and disobeyed orders. Command of the corps was given to General Griffin.  Griffin’s corps, including Ethel, entered the fray fresh while their counterparts were exhausted from a long day of battle. By evening, Pickett’s troops, who had fought with such gallant fortitude, were defeated; 5,000 were taken prisoner and the survivors fled westward in a disorderly array throwing down their arms as they ran.  Many guns and colors became trophies for Union soldiers.  Some of the battle flags were taken by courier to Lincoln at City Point. Lincoln eagerly received them saying, “Here is something…I can see, feel, and understand. This means victory.”

Griffin’s Fifth Corps were heros — including Ethel!  They won the final battle, then chased the Confederates westward to Appomattox!  From April 1 to April 9, Ethel’s diary reads:

clear and plesent
on the battleground
cald out to march
marched a croas the railroad
south side road camped
for nite

warm and plesent
ready for a march
marching torge
linchburg hrd that
Peters burg and Rich
mond taken) later
halted for nit

warm and plesent
cald out to march
on the way to Linchburg
halted for diner
marched to the Dansvile
Railrod halted

Cloudy but warm
eat breakfast
to work on brest work
cald out to march
came back
captured seven flags

cloudy and rany
ready to march
cald out to march
marched a bout twen
ty milds
halted for all nite

cloudy but warm
ready to march
cald out to march
halted for dinner
halted for nite at

clear and plesent
ready to march
from Prinsedwards
Cort house on a march
halted for dinner
marched in the nite

clear and pleasant
on a march halted
for breakfast
marching in a tne of
hatts the serender
of General Lee at
Appomatox Cort house

Ethel was present at the surrender of General Lee in Appomattox!  Can you read through Ethel’s misspelling “tne of hatts?”  Ethel marched through a ton of hats!  Can’t you just picture the jubilance of the soldiers that the war had ended!  Their celebration continued into the evening with cheering and gun salutes. Grant quieted the celebration by reminding the men the Confederates were now their prisoners, and they should not exult over the South’s downfall.

Skipping ahead to 150 years ago today.  This day, Friday, April 14, 1865, was Good Friday.  Lincoln strolled into Secretary of War Stanton’s office, flopped down on his sofa, and announced he and Mary would be attending the theater that night along with the Grants.  Stanton knew about the assassination rumors and warned Lincoln not to do such a risky thing.  Mary, ecstatic about having an evening out after the end of the war, looked forward to seeing the quintessential comedy, “Our American Cousin.”  However, Julia Grant absolutely refused to spend the evening with Mary Lincoln, whom she saw as unstable and a gossip.  Grant, who won the war with his decisions, did not make the decisions at home.  Mary found another couple to join them — a minor diplomat, Major Henry Rathbone, and his fiancée, the daughter of a senator and a close friend of Mary Lincoln’s.  The President had never met either of them.

John Wilkes Booth and his cohorts had meticulously planned every detail of that evening.  The assassination was to take place at 10:15pm.  On cue, he entered the Presidential box with a loaded Derringer in one hand and a Bowie knife in the other.  As the audience erupted with laughter, and as Lincoln leaned forward and turned his head to the left, Booth pulled the trigger.  Major Rathbone leapt across the box towards the assassin and was stabbed.  Booth vaulted to the stage, theatrics his audiences were used to, yelled “The South shall be free!” and escaped through a stage door to his waiting horse.  Lincoln was taken across  the street to a room in a boarding house where two doctors attended to him.  At 7:22am the vigil ended, and Secretary Stanton mumbled, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

clear and plesent
packed to march
didn’t march out of
got a letter from Orin
getting rations
hering of the death President

This raises questions.  It is now three days since Lincoln died.  Ethel’s unit was a mere 195 miles from Washington, yet it took three days for the news to reach the soldiers on duty? However, the Chaplain of Ethel’s unit recorded Lincoln’s death in his diary on April 15.  My best answer is he did not remember to record the death until a few days later.  When he opened his diary to add that information on the last line of April 15, he was distracted and wrote that sentence on the last line of  the day directly opposite April 15 in his diary — April 18.

This is a condensed sample of the book I am writing based upon Ethel’s diary during his war experience from September 1864 to June 1865.


About 9awalsh

A genealogist and writer who has uncovered legacy stories which must be told. I also write a blog, Deciphering Life, trying to figure out why life becomes so tangled -- www.9awalsh.wordpress.com
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2 Responses to 150 Years Since Pivotal American Moments

  1. dean clark says:

    My great-great grandfather was in this unit. Could you please let me know when the book is done and purchase details.. Thank You.. Dean Clark


    • 9awalsh says:

      I would be happy to! And I would love to communicate with you. Please go to my website http://www.9awalsh.com/ and scroll down a bit on the first page, on the right, and sign up with your email. I would love to communicate with you, learn your ancestor’s name and hometown. Thanks!


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