From William Hamblin, 4th Massachusetts

Letter from Private William Hamblin, Company K, 4th Massachusetts Heavy Artillery to his wife.

Fort Barnard

April 16, 1865


Massachusetts state flag | Image Credit:
Massachusetts state flag | Image Credit:

I suppose you have all heard the dreadful news of the murder of the President ere this. It does not seem possible that he could have been killed in the manner he was, after having the for the last four years passed through so much danger with his life in his hand, to be at last struck down by a drunken, miserable play actor, a dissipated fool who did not know when he had done the deed and cried “Revenge for the South!” that he had killed a man who had that day been kindly urging the mild treatment of the rebels and who has on more occasions than one risked his reputation for honesty of purpose to shield the South from the just desserts that she was receiving and has always stood ready to listen to any decent proposals for terminating the war.

In killing the President the South has lost their best friend. With the feeling that has been awakened by the assassination of the President, the treatment that the Vice President who succeeds him received at the hands of the rebels in Tennessee, the feeling that must prevail in the Armies of Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan and the Navy everywhere–I am inclined to think the South and all who sympathize with her will meet with rather harsh treatment hereafter. If the inhabitants of the South are not reduced to a worse situation than the Irish under the English Government, then I am mistaken in the signs of the times. I am afraid they don’t realize what is in store for them, but they will soon be undeceived if Johnson has his own way and I hope to God he will!!

It seems so sad right in the midst of our rejoicings at the prospects of a speedy peace, and while Lee is doing what he can to put a stop to the slaughter of innocent men on his part, that this thing should have happened. There is but one response to this, the last argument of “Southern Chivalry,” and that is a cry for vengeance, and you may be sure it will come. Thank God the President, in using his influence in the selection of his chief officers of State, has left the Government in such hands that we need not fear any loss of National dignity. The Government will go on in spite of this terrible bereavement. If the South will not learn what they have lost, they will be made to drink the dregs of the cup that Lincoln would have spared them, and it is my desire that they should…

All the flags on all the forts today are at half mast, every citizen who is caught within our lines is picked up and trotted off to the Guard House, Martial Law is proclaimed in Washington, we are kept sleeping at night with our equipments on all ready to start for Washington or Richmond as the case may be at a moment’s notice–as Theodore Parker used to quote, “The mills of God grind slow but they grind exceeding fine,” and if the South isn’t ground down after this, I am much mistaken. I suppose you read all the particulars in the papers at home but I will try and get you a paper here and send it. You have no idea of the bitter, revengeful feeling that prevails…

Affectionately Yours,



Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 235-36

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