One week from the publication date of this blog will be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. While Lincoln’s funeral train was tracing in reverse Lincoln’s trip from Illinois to Washington 1861, Jefferson Davis was hiding from federal troops trying to find him. Eighty years later, in 1945, three days from the anniversary of Lincoln’s death, Franklin Roosevelt’s heart gave out as the European war was coming to a close in Europe with western allies closing on Berlin from the southwest and the Russians from the east. The other part of World War II, being fought in the Pacific, against the Japanese, had a little over three months to go.
First, Lincoln and Davis! It was Good Friday, April 14, 1865. The Civil War was over! President Lincoln and his wife had planned an evening at the theatre; Laura Keene was performing in “Our American Cousin.” A little after 10:13, John Wilkes Booth sneaked into the president’s box and shot him point blank in the back of head. Lincoln lived a few hours before dying from his wound the next day while Booth led authorities on a twelve day chase before he died in a barn, set on fire by United State Army troops. A quick investigation proved Booth had not acted alone; his accomplices were rounded up, incarcerated awaiting trial, and for some eventual execution.
While in the north, Americans were mourning the death of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis was fleeing south with a price on his head. From the time Ulysses S. Grant took overall command of the Federal forces in 1864, he decided to go after the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, with a goal to destroy it, rather than capture Richmond However, after the Battle of Five Forks, April 1, 1865, General Robert E. Lee told Davis Richmond would have to be evacuated and the president became a fugitive carrying what was left of the government’s gold. Davis started his journey by train to Danville, Virginia. After Lee surrendered, he went into North Carolina, where he hoped to meet up Gen. Joseph Johnston who was in command of another Confederate army. He stayed in Greensboro for a while, then moved to Charlotte, as long as it was safe. Finally, Davis went south to Georgia, where he was finally captured near Abbeville, after 38 days on the run.
Eight decades later, the United States was nearing the end of another war.¹ In the spring of 1945, the Allies were getting closer to the Japanese Home Islands. American bombers had bases, first in China then in the Caroline Islands, well within range of Japanese cities. Although the first bombing raid on Tokyo was that led by General James Doolittle in April 1942, launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet, bombing of the home islands didn’t resume until the fall of 1944 when the B-29 super fortresses performed strategic bombing raids against targets in the Japanese capital and other major cities in the Home Islands. Meanwhile, in the spring of 1945 the Allies were preparing to invade Japan itself. United States armed forces had invaded Iwo Jima, hopefully they would have learned something since the bloody invasion of the tiny Tarawa Atoll, that 3300 causalities in November 1943.
Iwo Jima was a volcanic hell with 23,000 Japanese dug in on Mount Suribachi. It took almost 24,000 American causalities to secure the island. Then the high casualty rate on Okinawa, an estimated 65,000 all types, prompted the Allies’ decision to use the A-Bomb rather than invade Japan. When Harry S. Truman succeeded FDR in April 1945, he knew nothing about this atomic weapon. After giving his consent, two bombs were used against Japan: the first on 6 August 1945, was dropped on Hiroshima; and the second on 9 August on Nagasaki. The devastation and fatalities caused by these two bombs led the Japanese to surrender on 15 August.
¹ In case you think there is no direct connection between the two wars, the American commander on Okinawa, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. was the son of a Confederate general and governor of Kentucky. Buckner was the highest ranking American general officer killed in action during World War II.
Lincoln’s Assassination and Jefferson Davis
James L. Swanson. Bloody Crimes
James L. Swanson. Manhunt
James L. Swanson and Daniel R. The Lincoln Assassins
William C. Davis. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour
War in the Pacific
James Bradley. Flags of Our Fathers
Robert Gant. The Twilight Warriors
Max Hastings. Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45
Robert Leckie. Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II
Donald L. Miller. D-Days in the Pacific
Martin Russ. Line of Departure: Tarawa
Ronald H. Spector. Eagle Against the Sun
Joseph A. Springer. Inferno