What led you to write a book about personal responses to Lincoln’s assassination?Visit Martha Hodes's website.
I was in New York City on September 11, 2001, and I remember the moment of Kennedy’s assassination from my childhood. As a historian of the Civil War era, and as someone who lived through those two modern-day transformative events, I wanted to know not only what happened in 1865 when people heard the news of Lincoln’s death but also what those responses meant.
Did anything surprise you during your research?
Almost everything. Not only did I find a much wider array of emotions and stories than I’d imagined, I also found that even those utterly devastated by the assassination easily interrupted their mourning to attend to the most mundane aspects of everyday life. I also found myself surprised by the unabated virulence of Lincoln’s northern critics and the way Confederates simultaneously celebrated Lincoln’s death and instantly—on the very day he died—cast him as a fallen friend to the white South.
Do personal responses to Lincoln’s assassination tell a larger story about American history?
Very much so. The assassination provoked personal responses that were deeply intertwined with different and irreconcilable visions of the postwar and post-emancipation nation. Black freedom, the fate of former Confederates, and the future of the nation were at stake for all Americans, black and white, North and South, whether they grieved or rejoiced when they heard the news.