‘To the light at last’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The Confederate army was in full flight, with repercussions as far north as Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yet even in triumph there were intimations of some fresh disaster; reading the penultimate paragraph in the diarist’s[1] 10 April entry sends chills:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Tuesday, 4 April 1865: Frank [Gray][2] has just come in – all lectures and recitations are suspended to day at Harvard in honor of the taking of Richmond. The students had a great excitement yesterday on receiving the news and were allowed to cut recitations for the rest of the day. This morning after prayers, President Hill[3] made a short address and dismissed them as he said to “meditate for the day” on this great blessing – whereupon they all adjourned to the green, sang Old Hundred[4] with vim, and after some cheering, scattered. The public schools yesterday were dismissed at once on reception of the news. To-day there will be a great meeting in Faneuil Hall[5] – ah! how the great “golden-mouthed” orator Ed. Everett[6] will be missed there. How he would have thrilled all hearts to-day; and my poor brother John,[7] how this news would have gladdened his heart!

Sunday, 9 April 1865: The whole country has been rejoicing over the successes in Virginia. President Lincoln is in Richmond. Sheridan[8] has overtaken and captured a large division of Lee’s[9] retreating army, thousands of prisoners – 6 generals among them – artillery &c; and we are daily hoping to hear of Lee’s surrender. Thank God, peace and a righteous honorable peace seems no longer a hopeless dream merely! We shall yet be a United and a Free people.

We have had lovely weather, but this p.m. has clouded over with a raw east wind. I have been busy with dressmaking all the week – am tired out and feel miserably to-day…

Monday, 10 April 1865: Yesterday p.m. Gen. Lee surrendered the “Army of Northern Virginia” to Gen. Grant.[10] Officers and men are paroled, officers retaining their side arms & personal luggage – all public stores paraded & all arms, ammunition, & artillery given up. The army to disband and return to their homes. Bells are ringing & salutes firing, and schools have been dismissed – the streets thronged with excited and rejoicing crowds.

God be thanked! He has led us by a way we knew not – a way we should never have dared to choose ourselves, so darkened has it been with ruin, desolation, & bloodshed…

God be thanked! He has led us by a way we knew not – a way we should never have dared to choose ourselves, so darkened has it been with ruin, desolation, & bloodshed; but it has led us to the light at last – and in no other way could we have accomplished the annihilation of slavery; that most stupendous of chartered wrongs was so hedged in and guarded by constitutional guarantees, by pride, by passion, by prejudices of race & caste, that nothing short of this fearful war, this agony of desperate struggle for our National life, could have educated the public mind of the north to insist upon the absolute emancipation of the slave, or have reduced the South, by its own act and deed, to strike off the fetters from the slave, by giving him arms & a soldier’s duty.

Thank heaven that they did so – before the surrender of Richmond & downfall of their bogus government. It was a most significant sign of the great onward march of progress & civilization, even amidst all the horrors & barbarisms of war; virtually a decree of abolition – practically the death blow to Slavery dealt by the maddened leaders of the rebellion, whose sole object, in plunging a peaceful people into [un]necessary war, was to aggrandise the Slave power, to plant it more firmly than ever amidst our enlightened civilization – to revive the Slave trade, and force upon [the] repugnant & shrinking sense of the North all the horror and barbarism of this awful stigma upon Christian civilization – this maddening mockery and disgrace to Freedom and all our Institutions.

But it will come surely; God himself will see to that…

There is yet much to be done & many difficulties to be settled and obstacles to be surmounted before the final assurance of freedom to the slave, forevermore in our Country, shall raise its [paeans] of triumph through all the length and breadth of our land, unfettered & regenerate at last. But it will come surely; God himself will see to that – do we not see his guiding hand throughout all these weary years of patient waiting and long drawn agony? Even the disasters he has permitted us were blessings in disguise – and He cannot, oh, he cannot blast our hope and darken our promise now!

From all quarters we hear martial music in the streets, accompanying impromptu processions of societies or citizens – cheers & shouts, and tonight a general illumination is proposed; with all this, the weather is gloomy – a drizzling Northeasterly rain, which does not seem to damp the triumph of the crowd in the least. There is a great demand for flags of all sizes – and the young girls even sport small ones on the shoulder or in the button hole!

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] The diarist’s eldest son, Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904), a junior at Harvard College.

[3] The Rev. Thomas Hill (1818–1891), President of Harvard 1862–68.

[4] Old Hundredth from Pseaumes Octante Trois de David (1551), with lyrics from Psalm 134.

[5] Faneuil Hall (1743) on the Boston waterfront.

[6] Edward Everett (1794–1865), a former Harvard president (and Secretary of State, and Massachusetts governor, and U.S. Minister to Great Britain, etc.). He died in January 1865; in 1822, he had married Dr. Gray’s cousin Charlotte Gray Brooks.

[7] The diarist’s elder brother, John Bedford Shober (1814–1864), who had died the previous November.

[8] Union Major General Philip Henry Sheridan (1831–1888), later (1888) General of the Army.

[9] Confederate General Robert Edward Lee (1807–1870).

[10] Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), Commanding General of the U.S. Army 1864–69 and President of the United States 1869–77.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

3 thoughts on “‘To the light at last’

  1. I have looked forward to all the diary entries. This one is powerful. Thank you for letting us learn about and appreciate this remarkable lady.

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