By Maury York
An important document penned in Louisburg on April 15, 1865 - the day President Abraham Lincoln died from the gunshot fired by assassin John Wilkes Booth the night before - has been located in the National Archives in Washington.
Officials in Louisburg were aware that the Union army commanded by General William Tecumseh Sherman had reached Raleigh after its recent victory at the Battle of Bentonville.
The town commissioners passed a resolution formally surrendering the town to Union forces. Mayor W. H. Pleasants wrote a letter noting this action and asking for protection for the town.
Jones Fuller, a local businessman, and Dr. Ellis Malone carried the letter to Raleigh, where they met with General Sherman.
Sherman assured the emissaries that peace was at hand, and he wrote a quick reply to Mayor Pleasants stating that "I am ... now in correspondence with General [Joseph Eggleston] Johnston, which I hope will result in universal peace."
Indeed, Johnston surrendered his Confederate troops to Sherman on April 26, 1865, near Durham Station, effectively ending the war.
Sherman's staff filed Mayor Pleasants's letter among the records of the headquarters of the Military Division of the Mississippi.
The correspondence was published in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901).
Later transferred to the National Archives, the Louisburg document is carefully preserved in a folder that includes a hand-written letter from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton apprising General Sherman of Lincoln's assassination and warning him to be more careful about his safety than Lincoln had been.
At the time he replied to Mayor Pleasants, General Sherman had not anticipated moving troops through Louisburg.
After the war ended, however, things changed. By May 1, 1865, thousands of troops of the Army of the Tennessee moved through Franklin County on their way to Richmond and then Washington.
Many soldiers commanded by Generals Oliver Otis Howard and John Alexander Logan passed through Louisburg.
They camped in the groves of the male academy on the east side of present-day Main Street and of Louisburg Female College on the opposite side.
They stored so much grain in the academy building that the floor collapsed. Some local residents, including diarist Anna Fuller, were filled with anxiety and gloom.
Former slaves, however, greeted the troops with jubilation. Although most of the soldiers passed quickly through town, some of them remained until July 27.
Published in The Franklin Times on August 22, 2013.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College.
Photo credit: Military Command Correspondence Relating to "Official Records," Division of the Mississippi, Letters, Telegrams and Reports, April 1865, National Archives, Washington, D.C.