Alternative History

A Night at the Ford is my attempt at a Civil War Era Alternate History, detailing what would happen if President Abraham Lincoln's trip to the Ford Theater at the tail end of the War Between the States did not result in his untimely death.

This is a work in progress, as I would like to work on this differently than my other TL's: starting with the Timeline first, then expanding articles, instead of the other way around. So, I hope you enjoy!

Tbguy1992 03:48, August 17, 2011 (UTC)

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Nine Days in April: April 14-April 22, 1865

April 14, 1865

While watching Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C., recently re-elected President Abraham Lincoln, the leader of the victorious Union forces in the American Civil War, narrowly avoids being shot in the back of the head by would be assassin, and Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, when Major Henry Rathborne, who was sitting in the Presidential box with his wife and Mary Todd Lincoln notices the door to the box open. Glancing behind, Major Rathborne spots the gun, and shouts to alert the President, who looks over to the Major in time for the bullet from the single shot derringer pistol to miss the President. Lincoln then rose up to confront his would be assassin, and though Booth tried to stab his target with a knife, both he and Rathborne are able to subdue him. Booth is then taken under arrest by US Army officer’s that were in attendance in the theater.

At the same time, another pro-South agent, Lewis Powell, had come to Secretary of State William H. Seward’s home in Lafayette Park, near the White House. The injured Secretary (he had been thrown from a carriage nine days earlier) was the intended target of Booth’s affiliate, which, coupled with an attack on Vice-President Andrew Johnson would have thrown the US Government into disorder and confusion, possibly allowing the South to rise again against the North, as General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Union General Ulysses Grant on April 9. Powell was able to enter the Secretary’s home, claiming he had medicine for Seward. When his son (and Assistant Secretary of State) Fredrick confronted the intruder, he stabbed the man in the chest with a silver bowie knife, then ran up to the room that contained Seward, pushing aside his daughter Fanny, and shot the Secretary of State with his 1858 Whitney Revolver, mortally wounding him. At the time, he was in a neck splint to try to heal his carriage injury, and was unable to move enough to escape. Powell then ran out of the house, but not before a Sergeant Robinson and the waiter that admitted the assassin in the house to begin with attacked him, but both were stabbed and allowed Powell to escape to his horse. Moments later, a messenger came with a message for Seward, but was confronted by the panicking Fanny Seward, who cried "Oh my God, father's dead!" William H. Seward, hanging on to the last, croaked; “I’m not dead; send for a doctor, send for the police. Close the house.” He then slipped unconscious, and would not wake up again.

April 15, 1865

The news of the near assassination of President Lincoln, as well as the brutal slaying of Secretary of State Seward, quickly sweeps through Washington. Reports of Vice-President Johnson also nearly escaping assassination are widespread, though it is later found that, although John Wilkes Booth had sent a man to kill Johnson, he developed cold feet, and got drunk and left the hotel the Vice-President was staying at.

Booth is taken, under armed guard, to the Old Capitol Prison, along with other suspects in the assassination attempt. Booth was imprisoned along with other prisoner’s including the infamous commandment of the Confederate prison near Andersonville, Georgia, Henry Wirz.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton declared martial law in Washington D.C., and the pursuit for Lewis Powell, murderer of Secretary of State William H. Seward, was begun in earnest. US Cavalry squadrons under the command of General George Custer fanning out in the surrounding area, tracing every clue that came up, and there were many by the dumbstruck populace: rumors of Powell fleeing south into Virginia, or even north into Maryland, were widespread, and the horsemen were soon hunting down many leads, false or otherwise.

President Lincoln, still shocked at the event’s the night before, asked the Supreme Court to figure out how to try the assassins, wither by military or civilian courts. Plans for a state funeral for Seward also began, his body lying in state under the unfinished Capitol Rotundia.

April 16, 1865

President Lincoln, having recovered from his shock of the previous few days, went back to work. His first action was to appoint General Ulysses S. Grant as his new Secretary of State, who accepted. As well, work began on his ideas for Reconstruction, which, in opposition to the Radical Republican’s, Lincoln wanted to reunite the union as soon as possible, and work on rebuilding the devastated economy of the nation.

April 17, 1865

The funeral for William H. Seward is held in Washington. Lincoln gives the eulogy and, echoing his second inaugural address, calls for “the victors to help the vanquished…” and that “…superior might does not make unequivocal right.” He called upon the nation to work hard for rebuilding the union, and that prosperity and freedom where available to all.

April 18, 1865

Lincoln first meets with leaders of Congress, outlining his plan for Reconstruction, based on giving freed slaves the right to vote, economic diversification of the agriculturally dependent South, and some compensation to the white planters for losing an investment (i.e. the slaves.) Radical Republicans rejected the offer outright, instead demanding military occupation and “reducing the rebellious territories to a colony of America.” Moderate Republican’s and the Democrats invited are amiable to the President’s idea, and agree to work with him to try to bring it to fruition.

April 19, 1865

Lewis Powell, the murderer of Secretary of State Seward, at last reaches Richmond, Virginia, after escaping the US Cavalry squads sent to find him. He plans on hiding out in the city until the smoke clears, and sends a telegraph to John Wilkes Booth, who he did not know was already arrested.

April 20, 1865

Word of Powell’s telegraph reaches General Custer, who with all haste, sends all available men to Richmond, and starts to search the city block by block. Powell is just able to keep ahead of the Cavalry squads for the day, but stops for the night at a boarding house.

April 21, 1865

In the middle of the night, the cavalry units sent to find Powell close in on the boarding house. The manager gives Powell notice, and he flees on horseback, heading for Newport News. The Cavalry, finding he has escaped, begin to hunt him down again in the Virginia country side.

April 22, 1865

Another meeting held by Lincoln with Congress leaders, as well as representatives of the Southern states, leads to another deadlock, as the Southerner's and Moderate Republican's stall any attempt by the Radical Republican's to try to impose a harsh peace on the south, while the Southerner’s try to do everything they can to get slavery reinstated.

Lewis Powell, almost halfway to Newport News, is stopped by an infantry platoon, and identification is demanded. When he refuses to give his name, a soldier tries to dismount him, but Powell pulls a gun out and shoots. The gun misfires, and the Union soldiers then knock Powell of his horse and tie him up. General Custer himself arrives to take charge of the prisoner, and Powell is loaded into a carriage and is taken north to Washington D.C. The hunt for the murderer is over.

Starting Reconstruction: Late April 1865-December 1865

Late April, 1865

President Lincoln and representatives of both the Democrats and the Republicans arrive at the White House on the 23. News of Lewis Powell's arrest arrived at the White House during the meeting, at which point Lincoln remarked that "one problem has been solved, but other, more important ones, need to be discussed." Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens, head of the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives relents from his position that the South should be dealt with harshly after Lincoln pointedly asked how the government was supposed to pay for the proposed occupation. He admits that it would be expensive, but ultimately he agrees that some lenient measures should be taken, although he said that he and the other Radicals would under no circumstances "...allow the Freedmen to be put back into bondage, nor be discriminated against."

Thereafter, planning for Reconstruction began in earnest, with four major points:

1. After a seceded state gathered 25,000 signatures for a petition, a new constitutional committee would be established to write a new document for the state, wherein that the state will renounce any effort to leave the country, and all freed slaves and blacks will receive full rights under the law.
2. The Federal Government will resume up to 35% of all debts the states collected, although paying the militia and buying weapons must be handled by the local state. In return, the states will allow Northern business men to come south and build up local industry.
3. A military occupation of major cities and forts by Union troops will be in place until the new constitutional committee is finished its work, and elections for as new governor and legislatures are confirmed and they are sworn in.
4. Except for a few Confederate Leaders (including Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet), all Southerners that renounce the Confederacy before or on the day of the election can vote.