My great-grandfather was a Confederate cavalry soldier fighting under Johnson's remaining forces after Lee's surrender. In his diary, he writes on April 18, 1865, "Good news today. Lincoln has been killed while in his box at theater. Washington and Bill Seaward stabbed in several places." I'm not sure who this "Washington" person is, but I know that the assassination of Lincoln and the attempted assassination of William Seward occurred on April 14, 1865 -- just four days before the diary entry. I assume that there was no telegraph service between the north and south during the war. How else did news from the northern states, such as Lincoln's assassination, make its way to the people of the Confederate states and its soldiers in particular?

  • after looking into the telegraph issue extensively, all the line were still in place between the north and south during the war, the telegraph companies themselves had their locations taken over in the south by the confederates , but their is never any mention of communication by telegram stopping between the north and south, and most articles just harp on how the new agency all relied heavily on the telegraph.
    – Himarm
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:18
  • The means that your great-grandfather got the news was a special case. On the day the news arrived, Johnson and his generals were meeting Wm. Sherman arranging a surrender. Sherman himself told them about the assassination, which presumably spread to the troops.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 19:30

2 Answers 2


As soon as the death was published in northern newspapers it would have become available to the south. For an important event, like Lincoln's assassination, a man would have used a horse and carried a newspaper right to Richmond, which is about 100 miles away from Washington DC, where the assassination occurred. Since the first reports were published on the 16th of April, they would have been printed in Richmond on the 17th of April and the next day, the 18th of April all of the newspapers in the south would have published the news, having received it by telegraph or courier.

  • Lincolns death was after the end of the war, so assuming communications were outlawed during the war, telegraph's would have been legal by Lincolns death.
    – Himarm
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:30
  • @Himarm Good point, no need for a spy. I have updated my answer. I suspect that it took some time before telegraph lines were established. In those days putting up lines was very time consuming and painstaking. So, it is likely the Washington newspapers still had to be carried by post or courier. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:33
  • afaik the the north/south never cut the lines between them when the war started, prior to the war, however, you were able to send telegraphs from practically anywhere in the north to all major southern cities.
    – Himarm
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:51
  • @Himarm If that were true I would have expected the OP's ancestor to have gotten the news of Lincoln's assassination on the 16th instead of the 18th. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:54
  • The telegraph lines were not cut - just not used. The day after Richmond fell, the station in Fort Monroe got telegraphs from Richmond, which then were transmitted on to Washington either by underwater cable or by boat.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 19:28

Besides official or secret agent movement of news and papers, it was routine for soldiers on picket duty to swap newspapers and reading material along with coffee and tobacco when armies were in contact. The desire for different reading material was very strong.

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