America’s Most Revered Good Friday: April 14, 1865
During the Civil War, Americans in both the North and South were regularly asked to perform penance to support the soldiers in combat.
Throughout the war, President Davis regularly asked the people of the Confederate States of America to pray for their soldiers. As revealed in the thought-provoking Civil War history book “Upon the Altar of the Nation”, in three-day or week-long prayer events throughout the war, the people of the southern states complied: fasting, saying extra prayers, and attending church services in cities, towns and villages all over The South.
In the North, President Lincoln often did the same thing, asking Americans to call on God to protect Union forces engaged in combat.
Largely ignored in history books about the Civil War, this national spiritual movement is a special insight into the mindset of Americans of that era. They were God-fearing and humble. And just as impressively, they believed in the power of communal prayer.
Belief in the God of the Bible was an unspoken given among Americans of that era. This is why President Lincoln’s religious tone in his Second Inaugural Address resonated across the nation: everybody understood his concise, humble and reverent message about the importance of God in America.
One of the fascinating twists at the end of the Civil War was Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Just like this year, Good Friday in 1865 fell on Friday, April 14th. Two days later, April 16th was Easter Sunday. General Lee had surrendered his army a week earlier, and the nation was experiencing a week-long exhale as the Civil War ended.
But on that Good Friday evening, the bitter John Wilkes Booth shot the president in the back of the head less than a half mile from the White House during a play performance at Ford’s Theater. Booth leapt from the president’s box to the stage, shouting at the audience as he limped across the stage to escape. Mrs. Lincoln screamed as she and the other guests in the president’s box realized what had just happened. Bleeding profusely, President Lincoln could not be moved very far. A group from the audience carried the president across the street to a boarding house and crammed his unconscious 6’4” frame into a small bed in hopes of saving his life.
Members of his cabinet waited at his bedside through the night, desperately listening for his faint heaving breaths between the wails of his distraught wife whom they kept in a different room across the hall.
At dawn on the morning of April 15th, Holy Saturday morning, Lincoln exhaled for the last time. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton whispered to the men packed in the room, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Thanks to the technological miracle of that age called the telegraph, people across the continent learned of Lincoln’s murder by Easter Sunday. In retrospect, General Grant declared, “In his death the nation lost its greatest hero; in his death the South lost its most just friend.”
The president’s death was a jolting closure to one of the world’s most brutal wars. Americans instantly made the religious connection of Lincoln sacrificing his life for America at the instant when victory was secure. Contemporary scholars noted that like Moses, Old Abe was able to see the Promised Land but not allowed to enter it.
Americans intuitively understood that Lincoln was the redeemer of America’s founding principles celebrated in the Declaration of Independence which were branded on the souls of every American child from that day forward.
Because Christianity was so ingrained in American society, in a powerful and another unspoken way across American culture, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on Good Friday and death during the Pascal Triduum fused him in the hearts of Americans as the Civil War’s sacrificial lamb, and turned him into an American Martyr.
–The Beltway Bandit