Illinois Ancestors: April 1865 — Civil War's good, bad, worst days

Illinois Ancestors: April 1865 — Civil War's good, bad, worst days

As America continues to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, it is appropriate to take note of important events that took place in April of 1865.

The only good day during the Civil War — or any war, for that matter — is the day the war ended. Thus, April 9, 1865 should be remembered as the day that General Robert E. Lee and his Confederate Army was forced to surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse, ending many days, months, and years of death and destruction.

The National Park Service lists commemorative events, which will be held at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park from April 8 to April 12, 2015, at its website at No tickets or advanced registrations are required.

April 14, 1865, was a bad day for the United States. It was the day that President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. He died at 7:22 the following morning at the Petersen House boarding house across the street. (The March 2015 issue of Smithsonian Magazine includes several interesting articles about the assassination.)

The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition has been planning a series of events, culminating in a living history re-enactment of the arrival of Lincoln's coffin in Springfield and the processional held, taking him on his final journey to Oak Ridge Cemetery.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of Lincoln and his funeral in Springfield, the Illinois State Museum is exhibiting rarely seen objects from its permanent collection that honor the memory of our 16th president. One of the objects in the exhibit is a hairwork necklace worn by the wife of Lincoln's bodyguard as she rode on the funeral train from Washington, D.C., to Springfield.

The Remembering Lincoln exhibit is in the Illinois State Museum, 502 S. Spring St., Springfield, located at the corner of Spring and Edwards streets in the Capitol Complex just south of the State Capitol. The exhibit is on the 2nd floor and will continue until May 10, 2015, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Visit for more information.

April 27, 1865, was the date of "the worst maritime disaster in American history" — when the steamship Sultana exploded and burned on the Mississippi River. It was carrying hundreds of Union veterans, mostly previously released from Andersonville and other prison camps in the South. More people died from that disaster than from the sinking of the Titanic, and yet history seems to have overlooked this disaster — perhaps because of other headlines of the day such as "Lee Surrenders," "Lincoln Murdered" and "Booth Killed." Details of the Sultana disaster can be read at

Pam Newhouse, a descendant of a Sultana victim (Pvt. Adam Schneider), has created a website, Sultana Remembered, at At the 28th annual Sultana Reunion to be held in Marion, Ark., on April 23-27, the new Sultana documentary will be shown at a major theater in Memphis, Tenn. (Marion is a 20-minute Interstate drive from Memphis, west of the Mississippi River.)

Plans are also being made to have the video placed "in various media outlets such as PBS, [and] various cable channels like the History Channel." Also a curriculum for school students is being prepared for elementary, middle school and high school students "which we hope, along with the documentary, to get into schools across the nation."

Full details can be accessed from the website, which also has links to searchable databases and informative articles.

Which of your ancestors were living in April 1865? Could any of them have been directly affected by these events? Perhaps a family member viewed the Lincoln funeral train as it passed through town? It might be appropriate to speculate on one's own reactions to such events, and record them in one's family's history.

Queries, genealogical questions from researchers and genealogical materials readers would like to share will be printed in this column free. Joan Griffis may be reached via email at or by sending a letter to Illinois Ancestors, c/o The News-Gazette, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.

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