A Union Soldier Reacts to President Lincoln’s Assassination



Lincoln’s assassination was part of a larger plot to murder other government officials, including Vice President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of State William H. Seward, and General Ulysses S. Grant. Only Lincoln was killed. Following the assassination, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered War Department agents to apprehend the conspirators. Despite wild rumors of involvement by top Confederate officials, the actual conspirators included, apart from Booth, an ex-Confederate soldier, a carriage maker, and a druggist’s clerk. Eight individuals were arrested; a military commission found all of them guilty. Four were hanged. Of the remaining four, one died in prison in 1867 and three others received presidential pardons in 1869.

In the following letter, an unidentified Union soldier reacts to Lincoln’s assassination. Like many Northerners, he blamed the Confederate leadership for the President’s death. His anger and thirst for vengeance against “traitors,” sentiments that were surely widespread, make it all the more remarkable that the North’s victory was not followed by a massive and bloody extermination of Confederate leaders and their northern sympathizers.


I will now try to quote a few lines to you to inform you that I am enjoying good health at present and I hope that these few lines will find you enjoying the same…. I have learnt since I have been in the service not to let my mind be troubled till trouble comes. Then its time enough…. Father we have heard that President Lincoln has been killed by some traitor in Washington. If that is true I say that we ought to hang every damn rebel in the Southern Confederacy. I go in for killing every one and burn every traitor up north by a stake. I think instead of taken Lee’s Army prisoners it would have been better to have hoisted a black flag and butchered every one but now they have paroled them and what are they doing. They are awaiting an opportunity to kill some of our best men. Last Saturday the devilish rebs tried to blow the arsenal at City point but we here caught it because they had done it and some that were paroled and on their way to Richmond tore up the railroad but they were caught and ought to hang and I say they ought to hang every one. I tell you it is a very hard blow for this nation to lose our President at this present time but I still hope it is not true but I fear it is for there are many traitors up North that are first the ones that would kill him. If it had not been for the traitors of the north this war would have ceased long ago but they are trying to destroy this government. They are aiding the South every day. Now, if true, they have killed President Lincoln to aid this rebellion.…


Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Union soldier’s letter to his parents