Diary Entry from Emma Edwards Holmes of Camden regarding the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, 22 April 1865

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Emma Holmes (1838-1910) was a young woman in her twenties when the Civil War began in 1861.  A native to South Carolina, Holmes’ diary, with detailed entries from February 1861 to March 1866, reflects the struggles endured by southern women through the course of the fight.  Union advances on Charleston forced Emma out of her home in the Holy City, and she took refuge for the remainder of the war in Camden. Emma had four brothers serve in the Confederate Army, and all survived.

On April 14th, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC, but news did not reach Holmes in Camden until the 22nd of that month.  In this diary entry from the same day, she expresses shock at the murder of the president and horror at the idea that the South would reenter the union. "Our souls recoiled shuddering at the bare idea," wrote the proud Confederate diarist and teacher.

The Diary of Miss Emma Holmes has been published by Louisiana State University Press.


Holmes, Emma.  Diary Entry, 22 April 1865.  Emma Edwards Holmes Papers. Manuscripts Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.


Saturday the 22nd news arrived that Lincoln had been assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.  After shooting him, the man sprung out brandishing a dagger exclaiming “Sic Semper Tyrannus” “Virginia is avenged” – and that the same night, April 11th [should be April 14]. Seward had been stabbed in several places and his son mortally wounded. 

It all seemed so Theatric and improbable that for many days we could not believe it till confirmed on official authority.  The following Wednesday we were still more confounded and bewildered by hearing that negotiations for peace were arranged between the generals, on the terms that we were to go back into the Union, on the footing we had previously been, all our right, privileges, property and Negroes restored as far as possible, on condition we would fight the French. 

To go back into the Union!!!  No words can describe all the horrors contained in those few words – our souls recoiled shuddering at the bare idea – what can ever bridge over that fearful abyss of blood, suffering, affliction, desolation and unsummed anguish stretching through these past four years.  The blood of our slain heroes cried above against such an end, if end it could be – peace on such terms is war for the rising generation.  We could not, we would not believe it.  Our Southern blood rose in stronger rebellion than ever and we all determined that if obliged to submit never could the subdue us.  We knew our armies were surrounded by Sherman, Sheridan, [George] Stoneman and Grant while our men and horses were starving and the officials were winking at the men leaving.  An armistice of 40 days had been agreed upon after Lee’s surrender while negotiations were going on [1] for the surrender of Johnston’s army was inevitable. However, though everyone talked about public events, no one tried to speculate on our future, such sudden and unspecified darkness had fallen upon our prospects everyone seemed to cast thought aside and while patiently waiting a ray of light to try to enjoy the present reunion of friends.    

[1] Editor's Note: No such armistice agreement was made between Lee and Grant.

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 3-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction, and South Carolina’s role in these events.

Indicator 3-4.1 Compare the conditions of daily life for various classes of people in South Carolina, including the elite, the middle class, the lower class, the independent farmers, and the free and the enslaved African Americans.

Indicator 3-4.5 Summarize the effects of the Civil War on the daily lives of people of different classes in South Carolina, including the lack of food, clothing, and living essentials and the continuing racial tensions.

Standard 5-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of Reconstruction and its impact on racial relations in the United States.

Indicator 5-1.1 Summarize the aims of Reconstruction and explain the effects of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on the course of Reconstruction.

Standard 8-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Civil War—its causes and effects and the major events that occurred during that time.

Indicator 8-3.6 Compare the effects of the Civil War on daily life in South Carolina, including the experiences of plantation owners, women, Confederate and Union soldiers, African Americans, and children.

Standard 8-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the impact of Reconstruction on the people and government of South Carolina.

Indicator 8-4.1 Explain the purposes of Reconstruction with attention to the economic, social, political, and geographic problems facing the South, including reconstruction of towns, factories, farms, and transportation systems; the effects of emancipation; racial tension; tension between social classes; and disagreement over voting rights.

Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.

Indicator USHC-4.4 Summarize the effects of Reconstruction on the southern states and the roles of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments in that era. 

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