As Easter approached in April, 1865, Abraham Lincoln had much to feel good about. America’s bloody Civil War was finally coming to an end with the Confederacy’s General Lee having surrendered to the Union’s General Grant at Appomattox a few days earlier. The president could now focus his attention on reintegrating the south into the United States and healing the wounds of the conflict.
Lincoln as the Civil War Ended
Yet the four years of war had taken their toll on the man from Illinois. He looked thin and gaunt, having lost a great deal of weight, and his skin had a grayish pallor. His mood also seemed unusually somber as though his mind was preoccupied with unseen torments. For a long time he had been troubled with severe headaches while insomnia kept him from getting much needed sleep.
When Lincoln did manage to sleep it was a restless slumber filled with disturbing images that he carried to his waking hours. While he dismissed most of these nightmares, there was one dream in particular which he recalled with vivid clarity that unsettled him more than any other.
The dream bothered Lincoln so much that he related it to his wife Mary and some White House guests, including his bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, one fateful evening that April. He may have felt that talking about it would help get it off his chest since, as he said, “it had gotten the better of me.”
As Mary and the others listened, Abraham Lincoln told of going to bed one night about a week earlier after a long day waiting for news from the war front. He quickly fell asleep where he dreamed of awaking to the sound of muffled sobbing, as though people were crying from somewhere in the White House. Lincoln arose and set out to find the source of the distress.
Lincoln’s Premonition of Death
Lincoln told his guests how, in the dream, he went from room to room trying to locate the source of the melancholy sounds. Yet everywhere he looked he found nothing. Still he heard the heart-wrenching cries, as though people were mourning for a lost loved one.
Finally Lincoln walked into the East Room of the White House where he saw a dead body, covered in a shroud, laying on a raised platform as though ready for burial. Before the corpse an honor guard stood at attention. Filling the room was a large group of mourners, some weeping, others gazing solemnly at the deceased.
In his dream Lincoln approached a soldier and asked who was this person laying in state at the White House. The soldier replied, “the President, he was killed by an assassin.” And with that a great cry arose from the mourners in the room and a startled Lincoln awoke from his sleep.
Lincoln immediately saw the look of shock in the eyes of his guests from the ghoulish tale he had just related. His wife Mary was so upset she told him she wished he hadn’t told them of the nightmare at all. Lincoln quickly tried to lighten the mood, joking that in the dream it must have been someone else who was shot by a would-be assailant since he was standing there to hear about it. Lincoln told them that it was only a dream anyway and to let it go at that.
Three days later, on Good Friday, April 14, Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington.