Traverse City Record-Eagle

Record-Eagle 150th Anniversary

April 4, 2009

Assassination spurs heated response

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.'

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