This primary source starter comes to us courtesy of Cheryl Lederle of the Library of Congress.
“O, fatal day. O, noble victim. Treason has done its worst. The President has been assassinated.” This hand-written diary entry, dated half past 10 o’clock PM, April 14, 1865, concludes simply, “I have just come from near the scene, it is too True.”
The writer, Horatio Nelson Taft, is mourning the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. For Taft, though, Lincoln was more than just a political leader–he was a family friend. An examiner for the U.S. Patent Office, Taft lived in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. His younger sons played regularly with the Lincoln boys, Willie and Tad. His older son, Charles, was one of the doctors who attended the wounded president from Ford’s Theater to the nearby boarding house where Lincoln ultimately died.
Taft’s diaries chronicle many events in the war-torn nation’s capital, but the relationship between the Taft and Lincoln families provides a unique lens on the events. And Taft’s raw, unfiltered emotional response to the assassination raises many questions about the ways in which personal perspectives contribute to the record of history.
Subsequent entries add context, with Taft telling additional details of Lincoln’s death as he learns them.
After reading and analyzing these sections of the diary, students may:
- Read entries from the days immediately following the assassination and construct a timeline of events.
- Identify clues to Taft’s emotional state as he wrote the diary.
- Compare Taft’s response to other accounts of the assassination, such as a newspaper of the time or a textbook, and analyze the point of view in each.
Three volumes of Taft’s descriptions of life in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War are available in the collection Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft.
Get the printable version for a copy of the primary source and the Library’s primary source analysis tools and guides.
How did you respond when you read Taft’s entries on the assassination? Let us know in the comments section.