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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Gray Matter: So Far and Yet So Near

Monday, August 1, 2005

Recently, I was surprised to read that 150 years have gone by since Abraham Lincoln was shot.  Causing my particular dismay was the fact that  I  can clearly remember my grandmother's graphic recollections of that very day.  I'm still not sure whether I should be proud or amazed that my memories bridge so many years.

Grandmother was born, in 1850.  They lived near her father's sister and family in Pike County, Illinois, which was on the Mississippi River.  When war was declared following the attack at Ft. Sumter it was THEIR president who was calling up soldiers for the Union army!   Apparently swept up in that rush of patriotic fervor, Great-Grandfather Ezekiel Johnston and his brother-in-law decided to draw lots.  One would enlist in Lincoln's army and the other would stay to care for the two families.  As a result of that decision Ezekiel, at age 42, became a soldier while his family moved in with their kin. Grandma told harrowing tales of their experiences, including that of huddling terrified while raiding parties broke into the cabin searching for food during the night.

While on night picket duty in early 1863, near Jackson, TN, Ezekiel fell from a make-shift bridge, severely injuring his right hip.  He was treated at the Regimental Hospital, but  was left too lame for regular duty.  By mid-summer he was  transferred to  the Veterans Reserve, or Invalid Corp., in Washington DC and put on light duty. A year or so later, after further complications, he was again hospitalized.   It was here Cpl. Johnston developed a true personal devotion to his supreme commander, for it seems Lincoln regularly visited the sick and wounded in those area hospitals, paying particular attention to his Illinois soldiers.

Meanwhile,  Ezekiel's wife and children had moved from Pike County to Logan County in central Illinois to be  nearer her family.  So this was where he came  when given an early Disability Discharge in January of 1865. 

There, on the evening of April 15, as Grandma told it, she and her siblings had walked the short distance from their house to their small country church  to attend a youth meeting.  It was to be conducted by the circuit- riding preacher from Lincoln, the county seat.  When they reached the church, the minister hastily announced the sad news that President Lincoln had been shot and had died that morning.  With a few words of consolation and a prayer, he dismissed them so he could hasten back to his congregation in town.

By the time they got home their father, who was still quite weak, had gone to bed.  Hearing something of their terrible news, he got up and listened in great distress as they recounted what they had heard.  Grandmother said she finally went to bed but slept fitfully.  In great seriousness she told us that she would never forget hearing her father, overwhelmed by grief, pacing the floor in the next room the whole night long.

Her stories made an indelible impression on my  young mind.  Now, this recent reminder of all that took place so long ago, has had a profound impact on my old one.  Thank you for letting me share  my rambling recollections with you.