“Lowell Happenings in April 1865” by Jim Peters

Another in a series of articles about Lowell at the end of the Civil War, 150 years ago this month:

The Confederate Army was far from finished at the beginning of the month of April, 1865. In fact, it was said that they had “some of the finest fighting men in all the history of warfare.” Lee was encircling Richmond and St. Petersburg and met with the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, to exact a pledge, on April 1, 1865, to allow his forces to join with General Johnson in the hills of South Carolina and carry out a war that would today be called a “guerilla war.” He knew his men were too tired, unfed, and without supplies to make it from day to day. A guerilla war seemed the way to progress, if indeed they could. Jefferson Davis was for the plan, but wanted to protect Richmond from the million men that U.S. Grant had at his disposal.

Lee still had four armies in the field. The end of the war struck President Abraham Lincoln as being a long way off. The fall of Richmond saw the torching of part of the city, not by the invaders, but by the citizens. Abraham Lincoln was anxious to get to Richmond as soon as he could and he took a boat to its shore. Jefferson Davis had left for Petersburg. The southern equivalent of the White House was still in good condition and could be used for meetings, and the like, if President Lincoln wanted to do so.

In Lowell, April 1, 1865, General Benjamin Butler of Lowell told the press that he did not want to leave New Orleans because “It is altogether the greatest southern city I have ever visited. The New York Tribune is quoted in the Lowell “Courier” as saying that President Lincoln (should) issue a proclamation assuring the rebels that they can have quiet submission by obeying the laws.” The law stated that a southern citizen could take an oath of allegiance to the United States and keep his property and farm. Many southerners took the oath.

In the meantime, the cash-strapped Union was floating bonds to fund the war. On April 4, 1865, in Lowell, the “Courier” reported that over 100,000 watches (yes, timepieces) …(were) to be sold at one dollar each without regard to value.” This generous offer was being made by Geo. Demerit and Co. of 303 Broadway Street in New York, NY. Its pertinence is that the “Courier” still ran advertisements on its front page and war news elsewhere in the newspaper. It is an aside.

On Page 2 of the same day it was observed that “We fought not to enslave people but to liberate them from bondage, to place them on an equal footing with ourselves.” {Courier, April 4, Page 2} Elsewhere in the article on the war they listed the demise of “General Potter, who is reported mortally wounded.” Some news was fit to print.

It was also reported that we took 4,000 prisoners and 20 artillery pieces from Confederate General James Longstreet. Longstreet had played a pivotal role in the Battle of Gettysburg. Heading on to April 5, 1865, General Banks created a “Board of Education for freedmen.” Education of slaves had heretofore been forbidden by the Southerners. {Courier, April 5, 1865, Page 2}

On Page 1, “Sasta’s Pulmonic Balsam” for all diseases of the throat, lungs, and chest, was offered for sale.

On April 6, 1865, in Richmond, Mr. Winthrop was quoted as saying, “God bless President Lincoln. I believe that Presidents Washington and Lincoln would rank as the greates men of the country.” Quite a statement for a Richmond resident and Southerner.

Things were not going well for the Confederate Army. They were supposed to intercept a train full of food, but all it had on it were clothes for the men, and gunpowder. They used these items as best they could, but the southern retreat was rife with the dead bodies of soldiers who had starved to death. Lee decided to stop eating so he would suffer like his men. {The Wartime Papers of R.E. Lee; Bramwall House}

Things would get worse for Lee. On Friday, April 7, 1865, “The news of the death of his son, W.H.F. Lee, in the battles, has been received.” {Courier} Lee found himself surrounded by Grant’s armies, and was forced to exact some sort of possible surrender to General Grant. On April 9, 1865, Lee met with his generals and made a decision that was the rejoining of the states in the North and South. His generals wanted to continue guerilla warfare, but Lee, being a statesman as well as a military leader, pursued a two day effort to come to grips with how he would surrender to Grant. Guerilla warfare would have greatly exacerbated the bloodshed and the need to keep Northern troops in the field. Surrender, which must have been difficult for Lee, was what he saw as his only option.

At this moment in history, Lowell had 36,785 men, women, and children living in the confines of the city. Over 500 men had died from Lowell and are listed in the Memorial Library. A great many men died in the war from the city, One person who died in the second day at Gettysburg is buried in the Lowell Cemetery not far from U.S. Senator Paul E. Tsongas. Another, who died early in the fighting was a victim of disease at Anderson State Prison, He is buried in approximately the same area of the cemetery. But the two best known were Ladd and Whitney who were supposed to be honored on April 19, 1865 in land near the Smith Baker Center, which was then the Universalist Church in downtown Lowell. Because of Abraham Lincoln’s death, their dedication occured on Bunker Hill Day, instead.

But, I digress. According to Lowells newspapers, on April 8, 1865, the paper said that “…among those rights we can never rcogize (is) the right of secession.” One day before the surrender of the Army of Virginia by Robert E. Lee, “Another Washington dispatch says Sherman’s column is again in motion and it is beieved Johnston will not attempt to hold Raleigh, but retreat ito the interior.” {The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee} Again, the paper was beset with the news of many miraculous medicines for virtually every sort of ailment.

On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Men on both sides threw aside their weapons and celebrated with one another. {April, 1865, Winik} Lowell’s celebration included many church services which will be outlined in our April 10, 1865 missive. The celebrations were incredible and deserve to be listed, by church. I will do that in the next installment.