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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

April 21, 1865

Diary Entry on Hearing of Lincoln’s Death, Finally Reaching Home

Eliza Frances Andrews wrote in her diary of finally finding a clean bed in Sparta, then of hearing of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln - correctly guessing this was bad for the South, despite some on the train cheering at the news. She also finally reached her home in Washington, Georgia.

“That delicious clean bed in Sparta! I never had a sweeter sleep in my life than the few hours I spent there. Fred said we must be off at daylight so as to reach Mayfield in time for the train, with our sorry team, so we bid our hosts good-by before going to bed in order not to rouse them at such a heathenish hour. But about two o’clock in the morning the whole town was roused by a courier who came in with news that the Yankees were in Putnam County, only twelve miles off. It is absurd for people to fly into a panic over every wild rumor that gets afloat, but I was glad the courier came, for three o’clock was the hour appointed for us to start, and I was sleeping so soundly that I am sure I would never have waked in time but for him. The moon had just risen as we moved out of Sparta, and I walked with Fred in the pleasant night air till day began to dawn. We tried to get breakfast at Culver’s, and again at Whaley’s, the only public houses on the way, but were refused at both places, so we had to satisfy ourselves with the recollection of Mrs. Harris’s good supper and a crust of stale bread that I found in Arch’s basket. We reached Mayfield about nine and had to wait an hour for the cars to start. Mrs. Hammond had got there before us. She said that she could find no shelter the night before, and had to sleep out under the trees with her little children. She is a sensible woman, and didn’t seem disposed to make a martyr of herself, but I felt ashamed for Georgia hospitality. Our other companions joined us at Mayfield, and the Toombses brought the general with them. I was glad to see him safe thus far, out of Yankee clutches, but I would not like to be in his shoes when the end comes. He brought confirmation of Lee’s surrender, and of the armistice between Johnston and Sherman. Alas, we all know only too well what that armistice means! It is all over with us now, and there is nothing to do but bow our heads in the dust and let the hateful conquerors trample us under their feet. There is a complete revulsion in public feeling. No more talk now about fighting to the last ditch; the last ditch has already been reached; no more talk about help from France and England, but all about emigration to Mexico and Brazil. We are irretrievably ruined, past the power of France and England to save us now. Europe has quietly folded her hands and beheld a noble nation perish. God grant she may yet have cause to repent her cowardice and folly in suffering this monstrous power that has crushed us to roll on unchecked. We fought nobly and fell bravely, overwhelmed by numbers and resources, with never a hand held out to save us. I hate all the world when I think of it. I am crushed and bowed down to the earth, in sorrow, but not in shame. No! I am more of a rebel to-day than ever I was when things looked brightest for the Confederacy. And it makes me furious to see how many Union men are cropping up everywhere, and how few there are, to hear them talk now, who really approved of secession, though four years ago, my own dear old father - I hate to say it, but he did what he thought was right - was almost the only man in Georgia who stood out openly for the Union. We found the railroad between Mayfield and Camack even more out of repair than when we passed over it last winter, and the cars traveled but little faster than our mule team. However, we reached Camack in time for the train from Augusta, and as we drew up at the platform, somebody thrust his head in at the window and shouted: “Lincoln’s been assassinated!” We had heard so many absurd rumors that at first we were all inclined to regard this as a jest. Somebody laughed and asked if the people of Camack didn’t know that April Fools’ Day was past; a voice behind us remarked that Balaam’s ass wasn’t dead yet, and was answered by a cry of “Here’s your mule!” But soon the truth of the report was confirmed. Some fools laughed and applauded, but wise people looked grave and held their peace. It is a terrible blow to the South, for it places that vulgar renegade, Andy Johnson, in power, and will give the Yankees an excuse for charging us with a crime which was in reality only the deed of an irresponsible madman. Our papers ought to reprobate it universally. About one o’clock we reached Barnett, where I used to feel as much at home as in Washington itself, but there was such a crowd, such a rush, such a hurrying to and fro at the quiet little depot, that I could hardly recognize it. The train on our Washington branch was crammed with soldiers; I saw no familiar face except Mr. Edmundson, the conductor. There is so much travel over this route now that three or four trains are run between Washington and Barnett daily, and sometimes double that number. We looked out eagerly for the first glimpse of home, and when the old town clock came into view, a shout of joy went up from us returning wanderers. When we drew up at the depot, amid all the bustle and confusion of an important military post, I could hardly believe that this was the same quiet little village we had left sleeping in the winter sunshine five months ago. Long trains of government wagons were filing through the streets and we ran against squads of soldiers at every turn. Father met us at the depot, delighted to have us under his protection once more, and the rest of the family, with old Toby frisking and barking for joy, were waiting for us at the street gate. Mary Day isn’t able to walk that far yet, but we met her in the sitting-room. She is not exactly pretty, but what I should call picturesque-looking, and her eyes are beautiful. Oh, what a happy meeting we all had, and how beautiful home does look, with the green leaves on the trees and the Cherokee roses in full bloom, flinging their white festoons clear over the top of the big sycamore by the gate! Surely this old home of ours is the choicest spot of all the world. The first thing we did after seeing everybody and shaking hands all round with the negroes, was to take a good bath, and I had just finished dressing when Mrs. Elzey called, with Cousin Bolling’s friend, Capt. Hudson, of Richmond. He was an attache of the American legation in Berlin while Cousin Bolling was there studying his profession, and they have both come back with the charming manners and small affectations that Americans generally acquire in Europe, especially if they have associated much with the aristocracy. People may laugh, but these polished manners do make men very nice and comfortable to be with. They are so adaptable, and always know just the right thing to say and do. Mrs. Elzey says the general is coming to Washington with the rest of his staff, to remain till something is decided, and we begin to know what is before us. ” Source: Eliza Frances Andrews, The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864-1865 (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1908), pp. 170-174.