Lincoln’s Premontions of Death
According to Ward Lamon, Marshal of Washington and a former law partner of Abraham Lincoln, three days before his assassination, Lincoln spoke about a strange dream that he had:
“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”
It is a striking account if true, and appropriate for a Halloween Day. However, there are problems with it. First, there was no contemporary mention of it in the aftermath of the assassination. Surely Lamon would have mentioned such a prophetic statement by Lincoln at the time. Second, during the time period in question when the dream purportedly occurred, the latter part of March, Lincoln was not at the White House but with the Army of the Potomac. Third, the story didn’t appear in print until 1895, two years after Lamon’s death, in a book of reminiscences compiled by Lamon’s daughter.
However, I am inclined to believe it based upon this incident involving a Lincoln dream which is well authenticated. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, made this notation in his diary regarding the cabinet meeting that occurred at noon on the day of the assassination of Lincoln:
“Congratulations were interchanged, and earnest inquiry was made whether any information had been received from General Sherman. General Grant, who was invited to remain, said he was expecting hourly to hear from Sherman, and had a good deal of anxiety on the subject. The President remarked that the news would come soon and come favorably, he had no doubt, for he had last night his usual dream which had preceded nearly every important event of the war. I inquired the particulars of this remarkable dream. He said it was in my department — it related to the water; that he seemed to be in a singular and indescribable vessel, but always the same, and that he was moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore; that he had had this singular dream preceding the firing on Sumter, the battles of Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, Stone River, Vicksburg, Wilmington, etc. General Grant remarked, with some emphasis and asperity, that Stone River was no victory — that a few such victories would have ruined the country, and he knew of no important results from it. The President said that perhaps he should not altogether agree with him, but whatever might be the facts, his singular dream preceded that fight. Victory did not always follow his dream, but the event and results were important. He had no doubt that a battle had taken place or was about being fought, ‘and Johnston will be beaten, for I had this strange dream again last night. It must relate to Sherman; my thoughts are in that direction, and I know of no other very important event which is likely just now to occur.
Lincoln was an extremely remarkable man and apparently he had some remarkable dreams.