The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, was at least as shocking then as John F. Kennedy's murder almost a century later.
But in Civil War-era northern Michigan, most residents probably had few, if any, details for a week. The first reports of Lincoln's slaying in Ford's Theater and death the next morning were published in the Grand Traverse Herald on April 21. Residents would not, however, have found that delay unusual. Battle news often arrived weeks late in these parts.
The Civil War is considered the start of the era of modern journalism, because trains and telegraph wires could move news rapidly across the nation. Rapidly, that is, from one major city to another, but not to the Grand Traverse region, which had neither track nor telegraph until the early 1870s.
Herald publisher Morgan Bates had to rely on other means.
He received the assassination news two ways. A friend in Manistee saw a Saturday, April 15, issue of the Chicago Journal delivered there by ship and hastily wrote a letter to Bates, who received it in time to include it in the Herald's next issue.
On Tuesday, April 18, the Dexter & Noble Co. lumber and mercantile vessel arrived in Elk Rapids with a Chicago Tribune that carried the first dispatches sent from Washington, D.C. Bates ran the dispatches April 21, topped with a long editor's note and livid commentary.
"In the midst of our rejoicing over the surrender of Lee and his army, we were stricken down with grief too deep for utterance," he wrote. That was a reference to Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, who surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, a mere five days before Lincoln was struck down.
"A nation is in mourning for its honored and beloved chief. Treason has done its work, and when the heart and brain recover from the stunning effect of this terrible blow all Rebeldom may look for a stern retribution. The fool murder will be avenged. The Northern heart is fired. Every loyal man is a 'Lincoln Avenger.'
"The Southern rebels and their Northern aiders and abettors are treacherous in everything and can be trusted in nothing. Their parole of honor is a rope of sand."
The first dispatches to the nation's larger papers described the shooting and scene at Ford Theatre, the simultaneous attack on Secretary William H. Seward, and Washington officials gathered around Lincoln's death bed.
One dispatch erroneously reported that Seward had been assassinated. The Herald's April 28 issue repeated that error in a stern and angry editorial penned by Merritt Bates, a retired abolitionist preacher and Morgan's twin brother.
Indeed, Seward, who was already severely injured in an accident, was repeatedly stabbed, and initially was not expected to live.
Particularly bittersweet was the fact that the assassination came in the hour of the North's triumph in the bloodiest war in our history. Richmond, the Confederate capital, had fallen April 2, and Lincoln had gone there and sat at Jefferson Davis' desk days before he was killed. The Stars and Stripes had been again raised at Fort Sumter on the very day Lincoln was shot.
Many historians believe John Wilkes Booth's derringer turned Lincoln into a national martyr and possibly made reconstruction of the South harsher and longer that it would have been under the nation's 16th president.
Indeed, Lincoln had said the North should "let 'em up easy," after the South surrendered. Or, in the magnificent words of his second inaugural address:
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
That was a mere six weeks before his death. The Herald did not forget those words. From 1867 to the early 1880s, it carried a condensed version in its masthead.
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right -- Lincoln."