‘Something to remember’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
While to us the Civil War ended suddenly, over a period of days early in April 1865, for Regina Shober Gray[1] it still dragged on at the end of the month:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 30 April 1865: We had a thoroughly fine discourse to-day from James Freeman Clarke,[2] and he made an admirable prayer for us & our country – not too long, but comprising all our need. It has been a sad solemn week. The slow march of the martyred President’s funeral train has shaken earth with the heavy tramp of this mighty army of mourners; for hundreds of miles across our wide country, hundreds of thousands of men & women have stood with bowed, bared heads & burdened hearts in the funeral train of this good great man, revered in life, sainted in death. Had ever mortal man such grand burial pageant before?

This day week we were all distressed & anxious at hearing of Sherman’s[3] armistice & peace treaty with Johnston,[4] granting the rebels such terms as the loyal people would never have consented to yield them, when they were strongest – far less now, when rebeldom is in a state of collapse. There is no accounting for or excusing Sherman’s ineffable blunder, except on the plea of insanity. There is a taint of it in his blood, and on dit, disorbée in mind himself in early life – and perhaps the great weight of toil, responsibility, &c he has borne so long, shows it effects in this way at last.

It only proves that there are “gifts, and gifts” – that in diplomacy the great military leader was helpless as a child in the hands of wily & unscrupulous rebel politicians.

Some say he is a man of inordinate ambition and thought by this to make himself foremost man in the country – and to win the North by securing peace on any terms, and South by granting them all they ever asked &c. Others say he has always had “southern proclivities.” At any rate the terms he was fool enough to expect our government to accede to were absurd & ruinous, such a surrender of all we have been fighting to secure, that the affair is called “Sherman’s Surrender.”

It only proves that there are “gifts, and gifts” – that in diplomacy the great military leader was helpless as a child in the hands of wily & unscrupulous rebel politicians. Gen. [Ulysses S.] Grant however has settled the matter right; and Johnston’s surrender virtually closes the war & Grant “has fought it out on this line”! We shall have no more great slaughtering battles, though there may be some fighting yet across the Mississippi – and plundering bands will infest the southern country for some time yet no doubt.

We realize all the blessing this implies, all the relief it promises, and we accept it with thankful hearts. But oh! where is the glad elation of spirit that made us so triumphant over Lee’s surrender? It is something to remember, something to have lived through, that spontaneous burst of loyal triumph & glad acclaim, sweeping like a great wave over the country, & lifting on its crest the whole heart of a people. But now we are too stunned, too shocked, too crushed by the terrible vicissitudes we have borne, to be lifted up into rejoicing. The horror of that last fearful sacrifice is still too dark upon us – ah! shall we ever again be the glad rejoicing people we were, three weeks ago, come tomorrow?

It is something to remember, something to have lived through, that spontaneous burst of loyal triumph & glad acclaim…

Booth & his accomplice Harrold[5] were traced last Wednes’y to a barn near Port Royal, Va. on the Rappahannock, to which they fled from a swamp in Maryland. They were fully armed & desperate – refused to surrender – the barn was fired – Harrold gave up – and Booth was shot in the neck – ball wounding the spine – lingered in great agony 2 or 3 hours – besought those around to kill him and put him out of misery – sent a farewell to his mother telling her “he died for his country”!! Poor misguided deluded wretch! The whole account reads like the wildest tragic romance.

His body has since been disposed of by order of government, no one knows or is to know how, save the two men, sworn to secrecy, who rowed away with it in the [murky] midnight from the monitor anchored in the stream, where it had laid fettered & manacled & wrapped in a blanket. A desperate death, a dishonored burial, & a nameless grave!

It is a disappointment to many that he was not taken alive & reserved for the ignominy of public trial & execution. But as Fred Gray[6] says “If he was not hung like a dog at least he was shot & buried like one” – and it may be just as well, for there is so much mawkish sentimentality among us Northerners about capital punishment, forbearance, & magnanimity to rebels &c that with the plea of insanity which doubtless would have been urged, as it always is now-a-days for all great carnivals, many would have ended in feeling interest instead of detestation; & pity instead of righteous abhorrence!

A desperate death, a dishonored burial, & a nameless grave!

We had a report last Friday that Jeff. Davis and his $15,000,000 specie train were captured – but it was too good to be true; some times the devil helps his own, and I doubt not he will get Davis out of the scrape with money enough to live sumptuously on, & dress in purple & fine linen, if he care to! and luxuriate in refinements of European capitals and cultivate Art!

It is said that Johnston & his cavalry chief Wade Hampton[7] quarreled about the surrender, H. calling J. a coward, whereupon J. shot him dead on the spot without compunction; a fitting end enough for the “violent man.” He has been among the most unscrupulous of rebel tyrants, overriding, plundering, hanging & shooting without mercy his own people as much as ours. A brave but wicked man.

Mosby’s[8] guerillas have surrendered – 12 or 14 hundred of them – but he has escaped; another of their hard-riding, fierce, merciless, dare-devils!

Continued here.


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

[2] The Rev. James Freeman Clarke (1810–1888), rector of the Church of the Disciples 1841–50 and 1854–88.

[3] Major General (later General of the Army) William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891).

[4] Confederate General Joseph Eggleston Johnston (1807–1891).

[5] David Edgar Herold (1842–1865).

[6] The diarist’s brother-in-law Frederic Gray (1815–1877).

[7] Lieut. General Wade Hampton (1818–1902), Governor of South Carolina 1876–79 and Senator from South Carolina 1879–91.

[8] Colonel John Singleton Mosby (1833–1916).

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.

9 thoughts on “‘Something to remember’

  1. Interesting letter. I have a gg grandfather who was present in the troops (PA) at the Sherman/Johnston surrender, but, unfortunately, no correspondence from him concerning it. However, another gg grandfather (whose name was Sherman, no relation) wrote 160 letters from March ’62 to just 4 days before he was killed at the Battle of Cedar Creek, VA, Oct. 19, 1864. As is the character of the entry above, his narrative of events was so eloquent and interesting I’ve always been curious as to what his comments would have been had he lived through the end of the War. I’ve published the letters, accompanied by a lot of researched footnotes, and we have donated the originals to the Connecticut Historical Society. Thank you for keeping this history alive.

  2. If Wade Hampton was shot dead by Johnston in 1865, the one who died in 1902 must be another man. (Or … the story is incorrect in some of its details.)

      1. Wow- she minced no words about Sherman! However, her family never experienced the utter destruction that accompanied Sherman’s March to the Sea and the financial difficulties that lasted for the next two generations of her husband’s cousins. There really wasn’t much more that Sherman could have done to grind Georgians further into the ground.

        Sherman’s name lived in infamy for many decades in certain Savannah parlors. A distant cousin of mine, Sophie Meldrim Coy Shonnard, had an haute couture dress shop called “Chez Ninon” on Fifth Avenue (NYC) during the 1970s that looked out on the Saint-Gaudens statue of Sherman in the Grand Army Plaza. She once remarked to me, with some contempt, that Sherman needed a girl to find his way– (referring to the winged Victory in front of Sherman).

        1. Sherman destroyed property to end any possibility or hope of that terrible war continuing. He did the right thing. The South’s long-lasting economic problems had many causes, the end of slave labor, little industry, poor education and many others.

          On a brighter topic, Mrs Gray’s astute and passionate observations continue to impress me. How topical her thoughts are even today, whether one agrees or not.

          1. Well, she knows what she knows — as can be said of us. I have to remind myself from time to time that she was born in 1818 and died in 1885 — her perspective is often so modern that she feels quite contemporary. As a product of her times, of course, she can miss the point or miss the larger picture — no doubt we do the same!

        2. Carolyn, she was painfully aware of Aunt Eliza Clay and the other Clay cousins, both during the war and in the years after. (Later, in the 1870s, she and Dr. Gray spent the winter, in part, in Bryan County.) It is in entries like this one that one gets the shift in her point-of-view: she began the war with a certain amount of sympathy for the slave owner, and ended it a committed Lincoln Republican — one committed to the Union’s survival. (She has a lot to say, too, about the Confederacy’s treatment of Union prisoners, none of it good.)

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