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When Dayton Celebrated the End of the Civil War


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News ,November 12, 1933



By Howard Burba

     Fifteen years ago this morning Dayton citizens were waking after the most colorful, spectacular day and night of their lives, rubbing their eyes and wondering if the event celebrated the day before had, after all, been but a dream.  Echoes of the armistice celebration still hovered near.  Tired, but happy, Dayton rolled out of bed to find the armistice a reality.  Peace, long prayed for, had come again to the world.

     It would be a waste of time and space to recount that hectic celebration for the simple reason that practically everyone now old enough to read has a graphic idea of it.  But it’s different with the closing hours of the Civil War, for few there are who recall from actual experience the joy that surged through Dayton hearts when the glad news of its ending reached this city.

     For some unaccountable reason, no one has seen fit to tell the present generation of readers how Dayton celebrated receipt of the news that the struggle between the states had ended.  It strikes me that now, on the anniversary of the signing of the World War Armistice, would be a fitting time to do so.

     It is merely a coincidence that news of the World War armistice came on a Sunday night, or rather a little after midnight on Monday morning, and that news of the closing and decisive battle of the Civil War came on the same day.  It was the ninth of April, 1865.  Lee was commanding what was then generally recognized as the remnant of the confederate forces.  Sharp reversals during the few previous weeks had practically sealed the doom of the forces under Jeff Davis.  It had for months been apparent that the end was near.

     At Appomattox C. H., 75 miles west of Richmond, the confederate army under Lee staged its final struggle, only to suffer another defeat at the hands of Grant.  And it was on the afternoon of that memorable day, April 9, 1865, that the gallant southern general turned over his sword to his northern opponent—and brought the Civil War to an end.

     Telegraph service was of but limited efficiency in those days.  There were no great news-gathering agencies then, as now, to flash the news to the world within a few seconds after its actual occurrence.  As a result it was well along in the night before it trickled over the singe wire which served to keep Dayton in touch with the outside world.  When it did click forth the historic message of peace, it did so in these words:

     “WASHINGTON D.C.—To The Mayor of Dayton—This department has just received an official report of the surrender this day of General Lee and his army to General Grant, on terms proposed by General Grant.  Details will be given as speedily as possible.

              “E. M. STANTON,

                        “Secretary of War.”

     It was late in the evening when that message was fully verified by additional information, wired in from Buffalo papers in reply to requests of local editors for more information.  So it was not until Monday morning—another incident coinciding with the receipt of World War armistice news—that Dayton was apprised of the momentous happening.

     Then it broke in the shape of a black-type head beneath the blacker wood-cut of a screaming eagle on an inside page of the morning paper of April 10.  The first two sides of that diminutive news sheet had been run off when the news came trickling over the lone telegraph wire.  With the front page already accounted for, it was necessary to place this, the most important piece of news ever printed in the little morning paper up to that moment, on an inside page.  That you may with your own eyes behold the announcement as it was flashed before the eyes of your fathers and grandfathers in Dayton a little more than 68 years ago, it is being reproduced on this page in exact size and type as it appeared that morning.

     “Thank God!  Glory to God in the Highest!” that was the heading above the lead editorial in a column adjoining the news announcement of Lee’s surrender. And in these words the editor poured out his joy from a heart bursting with happiness:

     “Fellow citizens, the great Rebellion is crushed.  The magnificent tidings were received just before midnight.  Lee, and his army of Northern Virginia, surrendered to Grant and his grand old Army of the Potomac, and its heroic comrades, on Sunday the 9th of April, Anno Domini Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-Five.

     “Thank God for the unspeakable mercies He has vouched to us, and give this day to an outpouring of Thanksgiving and Joy.

     “Let the cannon thunder, and glad voices shout joyfully.  Shout, Freemen, Shout!”

     And shout they did, as we learn from a perusal of not only the issue of the morning of April 10, but in subsequent editions of the Dayton newspaper.  Hard-by the editorial appeal for great and prolonged jollification we find the statement that:

     “The cannon thundered, the bells rang, the people shouted and ran wild this morning, and tore open darkness and daylight, singing and shouting with joy and John Brown.  It was a carnival of delight.  Fireworks flashed and spluttered and ‘there was fluttering among the Volscians.’  Let us give this day to glory!

     “Mr. William Kiefer, the telegraph operator, had the distinction of receiving the dispatches announcing the crowning mercy, and he took them skillfully.

     “Our always hospitable fellow-citizen, Col. J. Greer notwithstanding the (ordinarily) outré hour of the morning, (2 o’clock) opened his mansion to the people and they poured in upon him in generous streams, and that he proved equal to the occasion need not be writ.  And the pen is not made that can record gratitude, the overwhelming joy of the people, over the grand tidings which thrill the liberty-loving people of our immortal republic.”

     Good old John Brough was Ohio’s governor at the time the glorious news broke.  Informed of Lee’s surrender the moment the news reached Columbus, Brough lost not a moment in calling in his private secretary, F. A. Marble, and dictating a proclamation to the people of the Buckeye State which they read in their morning papers of April 10 along with the official dispatch from Secretary of War Stanton.  Let us read that historic proclamation of Ohio’s governor into this record:

     “STATE OF OHIO,   

            “EXECUTIVE OFFICE,

                        COLUMBUS, O., APRIL 9.

     “The God of Battles has blessed our armies and the glorious cause of human freedom.  Under His approving smiles, the patriotic and brave men in the field have achieved, unparalleled triumphs.  The rebel capitol has been conquered and given back to the Union, and the army that held it in rebellion has been broken and scattered.  The military power of the rebellion, the strongest obstacle to peace, has received a terrible shock.

     “For all this, we owe praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God; recognition of the services and sacrifices of our noble soldiers, and rejoicing over the triumph of the right, the crushing of the rebellion and an early return of peace and prosperity in the land.          

     It is therefore recommended that Friday next, the 14th day of April being the anniversary of the fall of Fort Sumpter, be generally observed by the people of the state of Ohio as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God and general rejoicing, and that religious assemblages and other observances mark the day, and that the evening be given to bonfires, illuminations and the thundering of artillery, public assemblages, and speeches, and such other manifestations as may be suggested to appropriately mark the heroic deeds of our armies and the general joy of our people at the early restoration of the Constitution and good government.

     “Witness my hand at Columbus the day and year above written.

                                                                 “JOHN BROUGH.”

     With that official admonition in mind, Daytonians set about arranging their part in the celebration on the 14th of April.  But they did not cease in their merry-making while planning an even greater hour of it.

     “The roar of freedom’s guns was heard many miles from the city Monday morning,” states the Dayton paper in its issue of Tuesday, following its presentation of the first news of Lee’s surrender, “and a large number of people came to town to learn the cause and then to join in the great rejoicing.  Mr. Fox, county clerk, procured a horse and buggy and conveyed the glorious news to the southern portion of the county, causing a ray of joy to illumine his pathway to the Burg.  At that place he raised a perfect furore by the thrilling intelligence of the capture of Lee and his army.  The cannon was fired, the bells were tolled, bonfires were lighted and the people were jubilant.”

     Nearby is a brief item declaring that “the first effigy we have seen for a long while was suspended last evening from the telegraph posts near the southwest corner of Fourth and Main sts.  It was doubtless intended for Jefferson D., or some particular friend of his.”

     On the previous day a committee of local citizens had met at the office of the morning newspaper and agreed upon a program of celebration.  It was decided that national salutes should be fired at sunrise, at noon and at sunset on April 14; that religious observance should be held in all local churches; that the National Guard should be invited to head a great parade of citizens in the afternoon, and that at night there should be bonfires.  This parade was to be followed by a display of fireworks in front of the courthouse.  The following committees were named to complete the plans:

     “On Singing and String Band—Dr. Brewster and W. J. Comly.  On Brass Band—R. M. Marshall.  On National Guard—Col. John G. Lowe, Dr. J. W. Dietrich, Fred Fox, Esq., and Dr. Brewster.  On veterans—Capt. William Brown.  On Artillery—H. W. R. Brunner and C. A. Starr.  On Fireworks—R. M. Marshall.  On Printing—H. W. R. Brunner and C. A. Starr.  On Bonfires—C. A. Fox and C. L. Bauman.  On Finance—H. W. R. Brunner, A. Pruden and D. W. Woodmansee.

     “All veteran soldiers are invited to participate,” read the call, “and our friends in the country are cordially solicited to unite with the people of Dayton on this occasion.  All citizens of Dayton are respectfully requested to fling out their flags on Friday, April 14, and otherwise decorate their residences, stores, etc. and at night to illuminate.”  The chairman of the general committee was W. D. Bickham, then a new addition to the city’s editorial profession, later one of its most talented and vigorous newspaper owners.

     On the day of the parade the local paper presented what it saw fit to call “A History of the Reception of The Great News in Dayton.”  It is the one and only pen-picture of the day to be found in the files of any local newspaper.  You will agree that it is especially interesting now, 68 years since it appeared.

     “Sunday night, April 9, 1895 [1865], was memorable in our history.  An eclipse of the moon was pending, and accordingly the atmosphere was chill.  A dreary rain was also drizzling.  The company which customarily assembled in our editorial room every evening to hear the dispatches read was unusually slim—not numbering more than a dozen, prior to 10 o’clock, when these, wearied with waiting, retired.

     “The telegraph office was opened—as usual on Sunday night—but the Buffalo operator was slow to call on the receivers at points in the west to take reports.  It had begun to look as if our Monday morning paper would be dull.  Some half-dozen late visitors, however, had dropped in, and we expressed the conviction that something would come before the line closed.  Our first trip to the telegraph office was fruitless.  ‘Billy’ Keifer, who presided at the telegraph instrument said: ‘Buffalo hasn’t called up yet.’

     “At half past ten we found him at work on a dribbling report.  He looked up excited and said: ‘Haven’t got anything yet but will have a bully report.  Buffalo says to be prepared for a big report, for Lee has surrendered, sure pop!’

     “When we got back to our sanctum we found Messrs. Charles Parrot, Harry Thomas, William Craighead and Ed H. Powell ‘setting it out.’  We reported progress, and they stayed.  At 11 Billy Keifer was ‘called’ from Columbus.  The superintendent said: ‘Send another operator, we have a government dispatch of 1300 words.  Lee has surrendered!’

     “Not long after there was a wild yell of exultation in the sanctum, repeated ‘till the little party was hoarse.  It was taken up by the compositors, who roared like mountain winds.  We quickly stirred up Manager Kiersted, who was snugly in bed, but he turned out speedily, a willing captive to such thrilling tidings.  Now the lightning begun to flash glorious symbols, and messengers sped up and down the streets, pulling door-bells, shouting wildly, and explaining to night-caps suddenly thrust from quickly raised windows—‘Lee has surrendered!’—to which the response was a wild, three-story scream.

     “C. L. Baumann at midnight suddenly dashed into the sanctum, heard the tidings with a Teutonic roar of exultation, and sped down street after Comstock and the cannon.  Judge Haynes dropped in, his sparkling eyes and joyous countenance expressing his exultation.  Directly our friend, Col. Greer, entered and at his orders a soldier who was standing just outside moved at double-quick to the engine house and directly the bells were jingling with mad music.  Comstock had but seven cartridges for the cannon, and he soon had them shot.  The powder flashes blazed like lightning and the deep thunder of the guns roared magnificently down the streets and died away in the valleys.  Hundreds of citizens were now thronging the streets.

     “The murky darkness, too, was suddenly dispelled by blazing bonfires and old men and young, who managed to find fireworks, were filling the air with fiery streams of dazzling sparks.  Citizens opened their doors to congratulate and be congratulated.  The treble voices of delighted women, piercing down through the night from upper chambers, gave curious harmony to the muscular carnival without.

     “Shouting, singing ‘John Brown’ and ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home,’ and ‘We’ll All Drink Stone Blind,’ every man, shaking both hands with every other man, and every other man hugging his patriotic brother, perfected a merry pandemonium whose like will never again stir up the great hearts of this generation of patriots.  New magazines of powder were found, and the cannon roared until broad daylight in the morning.

     “When the paper was issued at four o’clock in the morning there was an eager rush for details.  The press, had it worked like lightning, would have been too slow to satisfy popular vehemence.  But still the shouting went on; still men and boys sung ‘John Brown’ and still the exultation of those grand hours waxed intense until sheer exhaustion compelled unwilling cessation.  Such was the night of Sunday, and the early morning of Monday, April 10, 1865.”

     Friday the fourteenth dawned as Dayton’s greatest day to date.  All arrangements for the great parade had been completed, and early morning found hundreds of rural dwellers coming in to join in the jollification.  But one hundred per cent loyalty to the stars and stripes did not prevail in Dayton on that day as it did when the World War armistice was signed.  It should be remembered that not all of Dayton’s population was sympathetic with the Union cause.  There were a good many “secessionists” living in Dayton during the Civil War.  In fact, the fiery speeches of Clement Valandigham had in a way served to stamp Dayton as “a hot bed of secession” among other Ohio cities.

     But those sympathetic with the gallant Lee recognized that with his capitulation they had backed a lost cause.  And if they did not turn out and participate actively in the jollification they at least were loyal to the point of remaining silently within their homes.  “While we devote this day to expression of our great joy,” the little local newspaper cautioned, “let all be careful that it shall be altogether a day of rejoicing.  While we cheer and sing and shout let us be careful that the feelings of none shall be willfully wounded.  Let us cheer and sing until we crack our throats, and shake the empyrean with the roar of glad voices and thunder of cannon, but let us not by any act of impropriety mar the grand festival of a grateful, patriotic people.”

     The program went forward as scheduled.  At 9 o’clock in the morning the churches were thrown open, and prayers and sermons of thanksgiving ascended.  An hour later, headed by a brass band, the National Guard marched down Main st., followed by a wild, shouting, cheering, joy-crazed throng of citizens.  At 1 p. m. the event was repeated, but on a more elaborate scale.  This time there was a regular line of formation, and in this line marched not only the National Guard but local veterans who had been serving in the Union ranks, civic organizations on foot and city officials in carriages, with the local fire department bringing up the rear.

     The procession moved from First and Main west to Perry st., then south to Second, west on Second to St. Marys, and south on St. Marys to Third, east on Third to Main, south on Main to fifth, east on Fifth to Brown, south on Brown to Green and Jackson, south on Jackson to Richard, east on Richard to Wayne, north on Wayne to Third, east on Third to Sears, north on Sears to Second, west on second to Jefferson, south on Jefferson to Third, west on Third to Main, north on Main to Water (now Monument av.) and there it disbanded.

     One familiar with Dayton can easily believe that after covering the extensive line of march it was a tired citizenship which scattered at nightfall to partake of the evening meal and an hour’s rest before the fireworks program should be started in front of the courthouse.  Tired they were, but happy, and their enthusiasm had not wholly spent itself.  The streets about the courthouse were jammed with this same singing, shouting, happy bunch of patriotic roisterers when the fireworks began to light the skies.  It was to be the glorious climax of a grander day than Dayton had ever known.  The Civil War was at an end.  Four years of bitter strife had been brought to a close.  Families were to be reunited.  Old bitterness was to be forgotten.  Wounds were to be dressed and allowed to heal, and their scars hidden forever.

     It would have been all that a happy, peace-loving people could have asked for had the program carried.  But unlike the celebration of a similar event, the Armistice celebration of 15 years ago, this one had an unexpected and shocking and a terrible climax.

     At the height of the peace celebration on the night of April 14, 1865, there came over the lone telegraph wire the never-to-be forgotten message:

     Lincoln has been assassinated!