“Lowell in late April 1865” by Jim Peters
Here’s another post by Jim Peters about events in Lowell 150 years ago this month:
The Lowell Courier has been my main source of information for the reaction of the people of Lowell, who lost many soldiers on the Union side, in the War Between the States. If it is true, as is written in John Quincy Adams’ statement to the Supreme Court, that there was little choice but going to war over slavery, then the war was fought by a Lincoln who had to protect slavery in the four states that did not secede. If the war was fought over secession, then a whole new luster is placed on our efforts. The statements of the President often seemed to state that the war was over secession, not slavery. But, right in the middle of this anamoly was the 13th. Amendment banning slavery. So, the war was fought over both of these issues.
Lincoln said, in his first Inaugural Address:
“Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.” (1st. Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861)
It was obvious that anarchy and despotism was not something that this President was going to tolerate. The war was going to be fought partially over secession, which was totally inadmissible in this President’s eyes, and slavery as the secondary issue.
So, where was Lowell in this fight. Right in the middle of it. Lowell sent more men per household percentage, than other cities in the Commonwealth. Our favorite citizen, Benjamin Butler, delivered so many men to Governor Andrew that he was appointed a General in the Army. He was destined to not be very effective, but he was also destined to be looked upon affectively. He was partially loved by the people of Lowell.
Between April 22, 1865 and May 1, 1865, there was still some fighting by Confederates who did not belong to Lee’s beloved Army of Northern Virginia. They were, more or less, guerilla fighters. They fought for Jeb Stewart and fought the Army forces of William Tecumseh Sherman.
On April 24, 1865, the Courier noted that the “Mob spirit, when excited, is dangerous in all countries and expecially so in a free country. The only salvation or safety of this country, under God, is in the supremacy of the law and the law can only be excuted by its chosen officers.” (Page 2) Speaking about Lincoln, the newspaper stated that, “No unworthy spirit of revenge ever found a pace in his heart; there was manifested in his life no want of courage, manliness, vigor, or sense of justice; but all these were tempered with a mildness, kindness, and friendliness toward all the people of the country. (Ibid) It then compared his pull on the heartstrings to be like George Washington’s. “…others, under the excitement of the moment, interpret the death of Mr. Lincoln as a visitation of Divine Providence upon him because his policy was not sufficiently severe upon the rebels.” (ibid)
Upon his death, there were those who said that Andrew Johnson would be harder on the rebels than Abraham Lincoln and that was to be a good thing. That is exactly what the newspaper was alluding to; and the argument did not necessarily fall upon deaf ears. Some people wanted to exact revenge. Lincoln had said in his Second Inaugural Address, “With malice towards none.” Some peope wanted malice.
The Lowell Courier continued to print the first page full of advertisements, most dealing with lotions and spirits designed to cure any illness. Again, Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Supreme Court justice and a medical doctor, stated that all medicines extant at that period of time could be loaded onto a ship and sunk at sea and no harm would come to those people who took that medicine. The paper also had a huge obituary for the Honorable George S. Boutwell, who died on April 19th, 1865. It was quite an obituary.
Returning to Lincoln, in the Boutwell obituary it said, “He recognized the obligation to return fugitives from slavery, and it was no part of his purpose to interfere with slavery in the States where it existed…His purpose was the supression of the rebellion.” (April 27, 1865). Negro troops made a spirited fight with guerillas along a line. They drew fire from four forts. They were in the zone in forty five minutes “This was a sight seldom seen in a lifetime before this bloody war. Generals Andrew and Steele were among the killed.” In small skirmishes the war continued on. Not all of the Confederates immediately laid down their arms. “Do not know where we are to go, but were put under marching orders at one o’clock.” (ibid)
The “Montreal Gazette” stated on April 25th. that the “opinion…(is)…that when the Confederates get their 300.000 slave soldiers in the field, fighting for freedom, they will astonish the Federals. We think so too.” (April 25, 1865) On April 27, 1865, the Courier again took the time to welcome less than benevolent treatment of the Confederate States by Andrew Johnson. Specifically, it said that we tender “…to Andrew Johnson…our cordial and hearty support in the discharge of the duties charge to him in the dispensation of Providence have so suddenly devolved upon him.” (ibid.) In the same page, under another headline, we learn by Telegraph
“J. Wilkes Booth Killed.” Apparently, he hid in a barn in St. Mary’s County, Maryland and was fired upon by Colonel Baker’s forces. His companion, named Harold, was captured and Booth was reportedly killed. “The body of Booth and Harold are now in Washington.” (ibid)
On Friday, April 28, 1865, the Lowell Preacher Dr. Davis cited that it was difficult making sense of worldly news, especially when it was as heavy-hearted as the death of a beloved President. “Nothing can be accomplished in the way of right progress, without calm consideration,” he said.
He continued, “The first state of mind was surprise.” Then the imagination takes over and envisions the dark telegraph story. “Down leaps th murderous Booth and flies across the stage, while the screams of the wife draws all attention to the iron ball…” (ibid). Our nation stands not in a President, it has survived the death of a Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson, and it will outlive the violent death of President Lincoln.” He wished that Lincoln could have seen the triumph of his cause.
We were about to take ourselves to glory, he says, and not give the glory to God. The April 29th. and 30th. editions speak of a typhus scare. They are worried about a mosquito-borne disease. They do note the surrender of Confederate guerilla General Johnston. The war is finally over.
Other issues divided the country and still do. Patriot’s Day is celebrated only in Massachusetts, while Jefferson-Jackson Day is celebrated in the South. Jefferson and Jackson were both noted slaveholders. Slaves were emancipated but did not know what to do or where to go. Congress began the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in March, 1865, before the end of the war. You could take advantage of the Homestead Act and garner Forty Acres and a Mule, to allow you to farm your own forty acres. The Freedman’s Act gave out 17 million dollars in food and clothing to worthy Caucasians and African Americans. It was an amount unheard of up to that time.
That is where Lowell was at the end of the Civil War, which really ended with the surrender of General Johnston. Lowell looked forward to re-establishing its cotton cloth-making mills in the future. By the 1880’s, the steam driven power looms would replace the canal-run looms. Soon, the south would take over its manufacturing of its own cloth, signalling the end of an era in Lowell. World Wars would keep the looms running through the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. A trolley and bus strike, augmented by the use of the automobile, would end organized labor in Lowell’s mills. They would become historic by the 1970’s, when Paul Tsongas, a little-known Congressman from Lowell would make them into the first Urban National Park.