Remembering Lincoln Spotlight: Private Collections

As we build the Remembering Lincoln digital collection, we are looking for contributions not just from institutions but from individuals. We know that a lot of people have diaries, letters, newspapers and other primary sources from their ancestors, and that also many private collectors out there have relevant items. Recently, two people—a teacher and a collector—brought documents down to the Center for Education and Leadership so our Art Director could photograph them for inclusion in the Remembering Lincoln digital collection!

Just before Christmas, Vance Gage, a retired teacher at the Maret School, brought in the diary of his ancestor, Dr. Moses Gage. Dr. Gage, a physician in Bethel, New York, had stopped writing in his diary in 1834. He picked the same book up on Saturday, April 15, 1865, when he learned of President Abraham Lincoln’s death and began a new entry by noting the exact length of time elapsed—30 years, five months and 23 days, showing his calculations on an adjoining page.

Dr. Gage then turned his thoughts to the assassination, describing the emotional whiplash felt by many Americans at the end of one of the most momentous weeks in our country’s history. The previous Sunday, the main Confederate Army under General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House, a signal that the end of the Civil War was at hand. Then on Friday night came Lincoln’s assassination. Dr. Gage expressed how the exuberance of the prior week turned into shock and grief:

Yesterday, Friday the 14th, Abraham Lincoln President of the U.S. was assassinated in the City of Washington, at the time when we were all congratulating ourselves that the slaveholders rebellion was nearly over, and when hope pointed to the bright future, when the glory of this republic was about to be revealed, the man who had did more than all others was stricken down by the hand of the Assassin.

Dr. Gage also speculated, as did many newspapers on April 15, that Secretary of State William Henry Seward had died from the wounds Lewis Powell inflicted upon him. You can view the diary page at a large size by clicking on the image below. Also, it’s available on HistoryPin and Pinterest, and it will be on the main Remembering Lincoln website when it is launched in March. Thanks to Hollis Bowe, our former Major Gifts Coordinator and Vance’s former student, for making the connection!

Meanwhile, just after the New Year, Paul and Brenda Pascal brought a diary that Paul’s father Leo acquired likely in the 1940s or 1950s. The Pascals own an extensive collection of Lincoln and Civil War artifacts, images and documents. This particular diary belonged to a German-born artist named Johannes Oertel, living at the time in Westerly, Rhode Island. Oertel wrote an eloquent, five-page entry expressing his feelings about the assassination on April 19, 1865, four days after Lincoln’s death. Here’s an excerpt that shows where he squarely placed the blame:

Most memorable day! A day of mourning and lamentation! A continent in tears! The Nation weeping, and her foes dismayed and fleeing in disguise and terror! This cursed rebellion has culminated its gigantic atrocities in the foul murder of our great, good, beloved President.

He then expressed how the country “received a paralysis shock” upon hearing the news: “A feeling of horror and deep gloom spread over the land, and men were struck dumb with awe.” Like Dr. Gage, Oertel considered Lincoln the country’s savior. After listing a series of reasons why the Union’s triumph in the Civil War was just, he said, “And to this end President Abraham Lincoln has contributed more than any other man. He has established freedom, and has died its martyr.” He concluded by expressing hope that God would “impart wisdom, and strength, and firmness to his successor, Mr. Andrew Johnson.”

You can view the full diary pages on HistoryPin and Pinterest. Of course, it will be on the main Remembering Lincoln website when it is launched.

We’re looking for more items! Do you own an item that fits within the scope of Remembering Lincoln? Do you know of something in a private or institutional collection? Please fill out this form to let us know about it, and we’ll get in touch.

David McKenzie is Digital Projects Manager in the Education Department at Ford’s Theatre. He is also a part-time History Ph.D. student at George Mason University, studying 19th-century U.S. and Latin American history, as well as digital history. Before coming to Ford’s in October 2013, he worked at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, The Design Minds, Inc. and the Alamo.