19th Century: 1868

Elizabeth Keckley (1825-1905)

                                                              Behind the Scenes

Chapter IX: Behind the Scenes

  .  While some of the emancipated blacks pined for the old associations of slavery, and refused to help themselves, others went to work with commendable energy, and planned with remarkable forethought.  They built themselves cabins, and each family cultivated for itself a small patch of ground.  The colored people are fond of domestic life, and with them domestication means happy children, a fat pig, a dozen or more chickens, and a garden.  Whoever visits the Freedman's Village now in the vicinity of Washington will discover all of these evidence of prosperity and happiness.  The schools are objects of much interest.  Good teachers, white and colored, are employed, and whole brigades of bright-eyd dusky childrenare there taught the common branches of education.  These children are studious, and the teachers inform me that their advancement is rapid...

     The days passed without any incident of particular note disturbing the current of life.  On Friday morning, April 14th- alas! what American does not remember the day- ...Sherman had swept from the northern border of Georgia through the heart of the Confederacy down to the sea, strikingthe death-blow to the rebellion.  Grant had pursued General Lee beyond Richmond, and the army of Virginia, that had much such stubborn resistance, was crumbling to pieces.  Fort Sumter had fallen; - the stronghold first wrenched from the Union, and which had braved the fury of Federal guns for so many years, was restored to the Union; the end of the war was near at hand, and the great pulse of the loyal North thrilled with joy.  The dark war-cloud was fading, and a white-robed angel seemed to hover in the sky, whispering "Peace- peace on earth, good-will toward men!"  Sons, brothers, fathers, friends, sweethearts were coming home.  Soon the white tents would be folded, the volunteer army be disbanded, and tranquillity again reign.  Happy, happy day!- happy at least to those who fought under the banner of the Union.  There was great rejoicing throughout the North.  From the Atlantic to the Pacific, flags were gayly thrown to the breeze, and at night every city blazed with its tens of thousand lights.  But scarcely had the fireworks ceased to play, and the lights been taken down from the windows, when the lightening flashed the most appalling news over the magnetic wires.  "The President has been murdered!" spoke the swift-winged messenger, and the loud huzza died upon the lips.  A nation paused in the midst of festivity, and stood paralyzed with horror- transfixed with awe.

     Oh, memorable day!  Oh, memorable night!  Never before was joy so violently contrasted with sorrow...

     No common mortal had died.  The Moses of my people had fallen in the hour of his triumph.  Fame had woven her choicest chaplet for his brow.  Though the brow was cold and pale in death, the chaplet should not fade, for God had studded it with the glory of the eternal stars.