Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Heaven Has Seemed to Prosper and Aid Our Cause": Lydia Atkinson Reactsto Lee's Surrender

Today marks the Sesquicentennial of General Robert E, Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. On this occasion, I thought readers might enjoy a particularly relevant except that I discovered in the diary of Lydia T. Atkinson, a teacher at the contraband camp on Mason's Island.

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

In summer 1864 the Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen had sent Atkinson to teach former slaves at Camp Wadsworth in Langley. Due to government policies of binding out children at the camp, her school lost pupils, and the Friends transferred her to Mason's Island in fall 1864. A few months later, Atkinson learned of the momentous news of Lee's surrender. She described her feelings in a diary entry dated April 10, 1865:
Joy upon Joy—cheer upon cheer—love and thanksgiving and praise everywhere! Glory to God in the Highest on earth and Peace Good Will toward men! At dawn this morning were wakened by the loud thundering of guns from the neighboring forts and half sleepily I murmured “Lee has surrendered!” We really thought little of it however until the paper came announcing the glorious tidings! Oh! such a happy, grateful feeling took possession of the heart -- as we began to realize that the war must indeed be over -- and the blessed angel of Peace rest upon our noble banner. It was not the insanity of joy felt when Richmond fell—but a deep quiet happiness too intense for words! Truly God’s blessing seems now to rest upon the American nation! As we have learned to deal justly by the Negro—so Heaven has seemed to prosper and aid our cause.
Atkinson's sense of happiness and relief are incredibly moving, even after 150 years. Her feelings echo those of a war-weary nation upon learning of Lee's surrender that Palm Sunday at Appomattox Court House. Most strikingly, Atkinson's words bear witness to her deep-seated personal belief in the righteousness of the Union's fight for freedom and emancipation. The Quaker teacher, who through her own deeds contributed to the cause, plainly saw the hand of God in the victory over Lee's army.


On a related note, I wanted to remind readers that I will be speaking this evening before the Arlington Historical Society about the contraband camps of Northern Virginia. The event will start at 7 p.m at the Reinsch Library auditorium on the campus of Marymount University. Please click here for more information. I hope to see you there!


Thanks to the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College for providing me with the excepts from Lydia T. Atkinson's Personal Diary from 1864.


terry said...

Hi Mr. Baumgarten, I would like to contact you as I have some very specific questions that I feel that you could help me with or at least point me in the right direction. Please let me know if this is something that we could do. I am in process of researching some sites up in VA.
Terry Hooker

Ron Baumgarten said...

Terry--I'd be happy to talk. Please feel free to email me at