Letter from Apr. 15, 1865

James S. Knox to his Father

  • Full Title

    James S. Knox to his Father

  • Description

    James S. Knox, a witness to the assassination, writes a detailed letter to his father describing the event, as well as the attacks at the Seward home, and the national feeling, saying that "the nation is aroused and terrible will be its vengeance."

  • Transcription

    Ac 9360
    Washington, DC
    April 15, 1865
    Dear Father,
    It is with sad feeling that I take up my pen to address you. Last Friday night at 10 oclock, I witnessed the saddest tragedy ever was had in this country. Notwithstanding my promise to you not to visit the theatre, I cannot resist the temptation to see General Grant and the President, and when the curtain at Ford’s rose on the play of Our American Cousin my room mate and I were seated on the second row of the orchestra seats, just beneath the President’s box. The President entered the theatre at 8 ½ o’ck, amid deafening cheers and the rising of all. Everything was cheerful, and never was our magistrate more enthusiastically welcomed. Or more happy. Many pleasant allusions were made to him in the play, to which the audience gave deafening responses, while Mr. Lincoln laughed heartily and beamed frequently to the gratified people. Just after the 3rd Act, and before the scenes were shifted, a muffled pistol shot was heard, and a man sprang wildly from the national box, partially tearing down the flag, then shouting “ ‘sic semper tyrannis’, the south is avenged “ with brandished dagger, rushed across the stage and disappeared. The whole theatre was paralyzed. But two men sprang for the stage, a Mr. Stewart and myself. Both of us were familiar with the play, and suspected the fearful tragedy. We rushed after the murderer, and Mr. Stewart being familiar with the passages, reached the rear door in time to see him spring on his horse and ride off – I became lost amid the scenery and was obliged to return. My roommate had followed me and secured the murderer’s hat. The shrill cry of murder from Mrs. Lincoln first roused the horrified audience, and in an instant the uproar was terrible. The silence of death was broken by shouts of “kill him”, “hang him” and strong men wept and cursed, and tore the seats in the impotence of their anger, while Mrs. Lincoln, on her knees uttered shriek after shriek at the feet of the dying President. Finally the theatre was cleared and the President removed. Still greater was the excitement in the city. Rumors of the murder of Sec’y Seward and his son reached us as we gained the street – Mounted patrols dashed everywhere, bells tolled the alarm, and excited crowds rushed about the avenues, Despair was on every countenance, and black horror brooded over the city. Until long after midnight I was detained at Police Hd.Qrs., giving my evidence, and when I sought my room, in a distant part of the city – dark clouds had gathered in the heavens, and soldiers sternly paced their patrol. May I never see another such night. I could not sleep. I could only think, (but?) thought was weary, and in despair thought again.
    Yesterday morning the President died. At 8 ½ ock, the kindest, noblest, truest heart ceased to beat, and Abraham Lincoln was dead. Let no man ever speak to me again about Southern Chivalry, or talk in sympathy with traitors. The events of last night can never be forgotten and while there is strength in my arm, I never can, never will, endure it – nor am I alone – the nation is aroused and terrible will be its new glower, Treason, pardoned, forgiven, patiently dealt with by our president, viper like, has stung the breast, that kindly treated it, and the traitor South has slain its bravest, noblest friend. Bitter, bitter will be the tears of repentance. But I cannot write of it – Andrew Johnson has been sworn, His speech was simple, “The duties now are mine, the results are God’s”. I trust he may perform his task faithfully, but, oh, for the Confidence, and the hope that we had in Lincoln, like a ship without a rudder is the nation tossed. Outwardly are we quiet, but in each heart, what horror, misgivings and despair-
    But I must cease – (Lolita?) & Will R – left here Friday night. I presume by this time they are with you. By them you can learn of me better than I can write. Love to all.
    Your affect son
    James Knox
    [Transcription by Dale Anderson.]

  • Source

    Library of Congress

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    This item is in the public domain and may be reproduced and used for any purpose, including research, teaching , private study, publication, broadcast or commercial use, with proper citation and attribution

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    James S. Knox. "James S. Knox to his Father". Remembering Lincoln. Web. Accessed November 30, 2020. https://rememberinglincoln.fords.org/node/753