In March, 1861, Lincoln had accepted the task of steering the nation through the storm of rebellion, the divided opinions and counsels of friends, and the fierce onslaught of foes at home and abroad. In April, 1865, the national existence was assured, the nation’s credit was established, the troops were prepared to return to their homes and resume their work as citizens. At no time in history had any people been able against such apparently overwhelming perils and difficulties to maintain a national existence. There was, therefore, notwithstanding the great misfortune, for the people South and North, in the loss of the wise ruler at a time when so many difficulties remained to be adjusted, a dramatic fitness in having the life of the leader close just as the last army of antagonists was laying down its arms. The first problem of the War that came to the administration of 1861 was that of restoring the flag over Fort Sumter. On the 14th of April, the day when Booth’s pistol was laying low the President, General Anderson, who four years earlier had so sturdily defended Sumter, was fulfilling the duty of restoring the Stars and Stripes.
The news of the death of Lincoln came to the army of Sherman, with which my own regiment happened at the time to be associated, on the 17th of April. On leaving Savannah, Sherman had sent word to the north to have all the troops who were holding posts along the coasts of North Carolina concentrated on a line north of Goldsborough. It was his dread that General Johnston might be able to effect a junction with the retreating forces of Lee and it was important to do whatever was practicable, either with forces or with a show of forces, to delay Johnston and to make such combination impossible. A thin line of Federal troops was brought into position to the north of Johnston’s advance, but Sherman himself kept so closely on the heels of his plucky and persistent antagonist that, irrespective of any opposing line to the north, Johnston would have found it impossible to continue his progress towards Virginia. He was checked at Goldsborough after the battle of Bentonville and it was at Goldsborough that the last important force of the Confederacy was surrendered.
We soldiers learned only later some of the complications that preceded that surrender. President Davis and his associates in the Confederate government had, with one exception, made their way south, passing to the west of Sherman’s advance. The exception was Post-master-General Reagan, who had decided to remain with General Johnston. He appears to have made good with Johnston the claim that he, Reagan, represented all that was left of the Confederate government. He persuaded Johnston to permit him to undertake the negotiations with Sherman, and he had, it seems, the ambition of completing with his own authority the arrangements that were to terminate the War. Sherman, simple-hearted man that he was, permitted himself, for the time, to be confused by Reagan’s semblance