Ending the War: “Tidings of Disaster So Momentous” – The 15th Ohio Learns of the Lincoln Assassination

In our world of 24 hour news stations, social media, cell phones, which give us instantaneous notification of breaking news, we may take for granted that news did travel fast during the Civil War. Telegraph lines allowed for news to travel quickly across states to points north and south, proving especially useful in delivering word of the tragic events surrounding the assassination of the president.

By April 1865 the 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry had earned a respite. The regiment had spent the long summer of 1864 in the battles around Atlanta, their ranks thinned at Resaca, Pickett’s Mills, and Kennesaw Mountain. From Atlanta they would turn to chase Hood into Alabama and Tennessee and were active at Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville. After wintering at Huntsville, Alabama, the regiment was sent into Eastern Tennessee in March 1865, arriving at Greenville on April 4, where they established camp in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains. Greenville was the home of Vice President Andrew Johnson and site of the death of John Hunt Morgan less than a year earlier. This particular camp would hold strong memories for men of the 15th, as it was here they received the best news of the war, quickly followed by the worst.

On the afternoon of April 7 the men received news of the Federal victory at Sailor’s Creek, Lieutenant Andrew J. Gleeson recording in his diary that “This was the best news yet and called forth cheers both loud and long.”[1]  On April 10 the regiment received word of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, and two days later news that Forrest had been captured at Selma.

April 14 was set as a day of celebration in camp. The regimental chaplain delivered a patriotic speech, followed by a 100 gun salute, lively music from several bands, an equestrian parade by several staff officers and visits by the local women of Greenville. The evening saw an illumination of the town of Greenville and an impressive fireworks display.

The following day the regiment received word that Sherman was closing in on Johnston’s army in North Carolina. The telegraph wire seemed to leap with continual good news. The next dispatch would bring those good feelings crashing back to earth…

Captain Alexis Cope, 15th OVI
(Robert Van Dorn Collection)

Captain Alexis Cope, then serving as Acting Assistant Adjutant General of the brigade, wrote home to his father in Ohio:

“Being unengaged this evening I have concluded to write to you though such a thick gloom has fallen upon us today that I fear an attempt to write a cheerful letter will be a failure. A dispatch from Gen’l Thomas at Nashville announced that President Lincoln and Secretary Seward were assassinated last evening. It is terrible news, too great a calamity to realize. Yesterday was our great day of rejoicing. A hundred guns were fired and there was service in all the churches in the morning. In the evening the ladies were out riding, bands were playing and every one feeling joyful over the restoration of the old flag over Fort Sumter. Today we are stricken dumb at the tidings of disaster so momentous. The air has been heavy and I have felt a smothering sensation; horror broods in the atmosphere. The countenances of the officers and men are all gloom. Our Chaplain came up from Main Street a few minutes ago and said he saw old men crying like children.
If the report is indeed true where, oh where shall we find men to take the places of the lost? The thought is so gloomy. I will not indulge it longer. I trust and pray that it may not be true.”[2]

Randall Ross, Chaplain of the 15th OVI, would deliver a patriotic address on April 14 and somber prayer services the following day.

Cope, who also wrote the 15th’s regimental history, noted that “The news rapidly passed from lip to lip and the deepest gloom succeeded the joyfulness of the day before. In the evening the hope was expressed that perhaps the report was not wholly true, as no confirmation of it had been received.”[3]

The following evening the regiment did receive confirmation with the particulars of the assassination. However the war would not end soon for the 15th Ohio. Rather than a Grand Review and a trip home, the regiment was transferred to far off Texas, performing garrison duty at Indianola and San Antonio before being mustered out in December 1865.

[1] Alexis Cope to Caleb Cope. 15 April 1865. Authors Collection

[2] Cope, Alexis. The Fifteenth Ohio Volunteers and its Campaigns, 1861 – 1865.Published by the author. 1916. 707.

[3] Cope, 709-710

1 Response to Ending the War: “Tidings of Disaster So Momentous” – The 15th Ohio Learns of the Lincoln Assassination

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!