Mourning Lincoln in Sherman’s Savannah

Editor’s Note: The Georgia Historical Society is pleased to contribute items from its collection to the Remembering Lincoln digital collection (going live on March 18). The majority of items are clippings from its newspaper collection responding to President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Learn more about those clippings in the following guest post by Lynette Stoudt, Director of the Research Center at GHS.

Georgian news accounts of the Lincoln assassination date from April 19, 1865—four days after Lincoln’s assassination—to May 6, 1865. Although published in the Savannah Republican and the Savannah Daily Herald (the two newspapers that Union General William T. Sherman allowed to continue operating after his army seized Savannah, Georgia, in December 1864), these are actually reprints of original accounts in the New York Herald and special dispatches from correspondents in New York. Topics covered in the articles include the shooting and death of Lincoln, injuries to Secretary of State William Seward and his son Frederick Seward, the identification and arrest of John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s funeral, Lincoln’s autopsy, raising funds for a monument in Springfield, Illinois, and a memorial service held in Savannah, Georgia.

But one of the most interesting articles covers local happenings. Published in the Savannah Republican on April 24, 1865, the article is titled, “Great Mass Meeting in Savannah.” It provides a detailed description of a memorial service held for Lincoln in Savannah. The article suggests this was the largest meeting ever held in the city, with between 4,000 and 5,000 participants—all the more remarkable for a Confederate city that Union forces had captured only five months before. The account states:

There was to be seen the commingling of those in all walks in life—from the humblest class to those more blessed in the eyes of fortune and position—all eager to blend their sympathies alike, and all impressed with the solemnity of the occasion that called them together.

Johnson Square, in today’s National Historic Landmark District, set the stage for the service. The platform was decorated with American ensign in folds gathered with black drapery, white flowers and American flags draped in mourning. The article states:

Another flag, also draped in mourning, was suspended from the limb of a tree in the square on which the late President was hung in effigy by the rebels in 1861.

The memorial service included resolutions, music and remarks by General Milton S. Littlefield, General Henry Washburn, A.W. Stone and Col. Stewart L. Woodford. In the final address of the service, Col. Woodford, the Union military commandant of Savannah, left Savannahians with these poignant words:

Freedmen of Georgia – You, too, have cause to mourn this day. When Abraham Lincoln fell beneath the assassin’s hand, you lost your truest, best and most patient friend. Four years ago you were, in the judgment of the local law, mere things, the chattles [sic] and creatures of your master’s will. Rebellion gave our President fit opportunity to do you justice. He struck the shackles from your limbs, and to day [sic] you stand beside his grave as free by human law as you are rightfully by God’s decree… White men and women of Savannah, we charge you this day to read aright the teachings of the hour. Remember that slavery is dead; it shall never be recalled to hideous life again. By your own act you have set the bondman free. No power can now reassemble the scattered armies of rebellion. It is wisdom, a- it is duty, to submit yourselves to the law and to be, hereafter loyal [to] the government under which you were born, and beneath whose flag you will die.

Lynette Stoudt is Director of the Research Center at the Georgia Historical Society. She holds a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University.