• Kristin Wenger

"The Nation's grief is too great to smile."

April 15th.


For the past two decades, that date has represented the end of tax season and a return to “normalcy” for our family. Whatever that means. This year, everything is different. My husband has been working from home for the past month, the tax deadline has been extended to July 15th, and no one is quite sure what a return to “normalcy” after a pandemic will look like.


But, it’s important to keep things in perspective. After all, April 15th was a significant date to previous generations for other reasons.




Thanks to books, movies, and history class, most of us are familiar with the details of those two catastrophic events. But in the midst of our current national crisis, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how our ancestors processed these tragedies as they experienced them?


Here is a peek at a personal diary entry from April 15th, 1865. It was written by Miles Rock, my 5th great uncle, when he was 24 years old and living in Washington D.C. after serving in the Union army.[1] I have transcribed select portions of his writing for ease of reading.




Sat. April 15 1865
This Morning, at Breakfast table I heard rumor that the President was assasinated [sic]. When I passed I could not believe it + paid no attention to it. On my way to the Capitol I passed the Telegraph office, where crowds were collected, and had to open my ears to the awful probability. Soon after reaching the office I learned the positive fact from Capt. Harvey. I never before groaned so in spirit...
The Jubilee to be had today is postponed. This has been the longest day to me of any since I am out of the Army, perhaps of any since my birth. The heavens were clouded, some mournful drops fell – a dark and weary day.




Abraham Lincoln, assassinated on Good Friday, died the day before Easter [2]


Miles continues, describing his feelings at a prayer meeting that Saturday afternoon:

Our hearts swell with anguish of feeling… I never before felt as sad in my life. Never before so much lost control over my feelings.




Mon. Apr. 17/65
A fine day. News that Mobile + 6,000 rebels are taken, but no one cares. The Nation’s grief is too great to smile.

Does that sentiment seem familiar today? 155 years ago, the nation experienced another Easter weekend when nothing was as it should be. Although Miles was deep in grief at that moment, he went on to live an amazing and full life. You can read the rest of his story here.


Miles Rock in his Civil War uniform [3]


This April 15th, be encouraged by the lives of those who have gone before us. They experienced great challenges and periods of tremendous grief, but eventually they were able to smile again. We will, too.


[1] Miles Rock, personal diary entries, 15-17April 1865, held by descendant of Miles Rock [name and address redacted upon request for privacy]; digital images shared with author, 2 April 2020. Note: This descendant read my 2018 blog post about Miles Rock and reached out to connect with me. I am incredibly grateful for his willingness to take time to share digital images of the amazing pieces of family history he inherited. [2] John H. Buffard, lithographer, “Abraham Lincoln,” (Boston: Bufford's Publishing House,1862); digital image, Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/resource/pga.05516/ : accessed 6 April 2020). [3] “Miles Rock in Civil War Uniform,” photograph added by Dan Gwinn, Genealogy.com (https://www.genealogy.com/ftm/g/w/i/Dan-Gwinn/PHOTO/0007photo.html: accessed 2 November 2018).

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