With President Lincoln’s birthday approaching on Feb. 12, I can’t help but look ahead to the anniversary of another joyful day that turned terribly wrong. In fact, most of us will miss it.
April 9, 1865, a slice of history that has been long forgotten. There were wild celebrations on the streets of Washington, D.C. that night. The news had spread like wildfire.
Robert E. Lee accepted the terms of surrender that Union General Ulysses S. Grant presented to him at Appomattox Courthouse. Hostilities, for the most part, were ended. The nation, led by Lincoln’s gracious vision of Reconstruction, would attempt to leave slavery, succession, and four years of bloody Civil War behind.
So much hope. Abraham Lincoln was 56 at the time.
We all know what came next. The President and Mrs. Lincoln attended Ford’s Theater that night. Midway through the production of “Our American Cousin,” a shot rang out and a voice that some recognized shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (Thus, always to tyrants!)
Then, in a twist of fate, Old Glory intervened.
The American flag draped the President’s theater box. As John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor of the time, yelled those words, he jumped to stage, breaking his leg. The plot to kill the President, the Vice-President, and the Secretary of State that night was well-planned, but catching his spur on the flag was not. It set Booth’s escape awry, and an intense manhunt would be played out over the next twelve days.
I knew little about the chase that followed until an old friend, Brad, told me about a book he’d read, aptly titled Manhunt by James L. Swanson. I was captivated by the events following the assassination, such that I wrote a poem that tells the story. Years later another close friend, Bill, and I put those words to music and recorded the song.
Manhunt is still available through Amazon. Worth the read, for you American history buffs.
But, if you’d prefer the “Cliff Notes,” I have attached the recording of our song here: