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Civil War in Cincinnati and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Nickinsons, Canada, the US and the Civil War    Lincoln Assassination   Cincinnati the city

EJP's Cincinnati Google Map http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=202426891661796490166.0004980b2bec7cb370b54&z=15

John Nickinson had produced and EJ Phillips performed in the first production of Uncle Tom's Cabin in Canada in 1853 at the Royal Lyceum in Toronto. We have a playbill from the 1857 production. Nickinson also produced three other "slave" plays.   The theatre closed in 1859 and after several peripatetic years in Canada they moved to Cincinnati in 1862/63.. What was it like for EJ Phillips and John Nickinson to move from Canada to  a border state? Was their move purely an economic decision? 

EJ Phillips’ handwritten autobiography in AM Palmer’s Union Square papers at the Harvard Theatre Collection records that she was engaged by Pike’s Opera House in Cincinnati in 1862 and remained there until the theatre burned in March 1866.  John Nickinson was eventually hired by Samuel Pike, but not until 1863 – so perhaps she was more employable than he was by the time they moved to Cincinnati

Shortly after the U.S. Civil War began in April 1861, Britain declared itself neutral. The Canadian and Maritime governments dutifully echoed that official line and informed their citizens that it was against the law to support North or South, and for individuals to join in the fight.... Business people enjoyed more commerce with Northern than Southern industry. Canadians travelling to Britain often went by way of New York and Boston. Despite such familiarity, however, public and popular opinion of the North and South was divided, volatile and multi-dimensional. It was coloured by class, ethnicity, religion, ideology and region. ... The Toronto Leader was pro-South, while the Toronto Globe was pro-North. The Montreal Gazette was pro-South, while the Montreal Witness was pro-North. The reporting and editorial stances of 84 Canadian papers revealed themselves to be obviously pro-South, with only 33 pro-North and eight neutral. A report of the Confederate victory in the war’s first battle elicited a spontaneous cheer in Canada’s legislature. ...many young Canadians and Maritimers left home to fight. Those who did fought overwhelmingly in Union ranks.Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation, John Boyko, Knopf Canada , 2013

Cincinnati and Pike’s Opera House
Cincinnati REMINISCENCES OF CINCINNATI IN THE WAR TIME.Cincinnati up to the outbreak of the rebellion sympathized with the stave-holders so far as to deprecate any restrictions upon what was termed “their rights under the laws.” Many of the leading families by blood and kindred were connected with the South: indeed largely came from there.  Through trade with the South its citizens had been greatly sustained. “The establishment of an anti-slavery newspaper had resulted in its destruction by a mob, in which were some of the most prominent citizens and the driving of its editor Mr. BIRNEY to a distant city. The quarters of the negro population at times were subject to attacks from the scum of the city, aided by the rabble from the Kentucky side of the Ohio. Free speech if it took the form of public protests against the continuance of slavery, was dangerous. Wendell PHILLIPS was driven from the stage at Pike’s Opera House, and waited for in the streets to be hung up by a howling pro-slavery mob, the mayor refusing to allow the police to suppress it. At the same era Mr. YANCEY, of Alabama, was allowed therein to utter the most bitter disloyal tirade, with threats against the North without a whisper of dissent from an audience of three thousand.

With the firing upon Sumter, April 12, 1861, a spirit of vengeance for the insult to the flag seemed one to take possession of the entire population. All thoughts of trade and money-getting were swept completely from the minds of the people as in any Northern city. These incidents illustrate the conciliatory temper of the public just prior to this event. On April 5th three cannon from Baltimore were allowed to pass through the city en route for Jackson, Mississippi, marked for the “Southern Confederacy” and on the very day before a slave was remanded into the custody of his master by a United States Commissioner in Cincinnati.

The first authentic despatch of the bombardment reached Cincinnati Friday evening, the 12th, and was posted on the bulletin boards. The fact was a surprise to multitudes. Up to that very moment they had believed the South was not earnest.  It was all bluster; there would be no war.  What is note-worthy, the large German population of the city believed differently; among them were many old soldiers who had been engaged in the German revolution of 1848, and they felt war “in the air.” And it was the same with the officers of our army.  We remember meeting on the street a valued acquaintance, in a Captain of the Topographical Corps of Engineers, on the reception of the news of the fall of Sumter. He greeted us with sadness and in tones of anguish exclaimed: “It is terrible—it is terrible; there is great suffering in store for us all; it is to be a long and bloody struggle. God only knows how it will end,” With that he drew in his breath between his closed teeth in his agony of emotion and walked away.  http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ohhamilt/howe/765.html

http://www.cincinnativiews.net/images-3/Pike%201.jpg This theater burned in 1866, but was rebuilt in 1867, and burned again in 1903.  Pike's Opera House was built in New York City in 1868.

Abraham Lincoln visited Cincinnati in 1859 and 1861, staying at the Burnet House   http://library.cincymuseum.org/lincoln/1861.htm where EJ Phillips stayed in 1893.

One surprise as I expanded my chronology of plays and other events was that a group from Pike's including John Nickinson and the Zavistowskis went to Nashville in 1863 June 22-July 20. Albert Nickinson  was born July 8, 1863 in Cincinnati.  I can't imagine that EJ Phillips was happy about this trip.  The New York Clipper reported that Nashville audiences were large and enthusiastic for Napoleon's Old Guard and School for Scandal.  John Nickinson played Sir Peter Teazle and traditionally played Havresack in the Old Guard. . 

Nashville Civil War history: The General Assembly was in session at Nashville when Fort Donelson fell on February 16, 1862. Soon after at the end of the month, Nashville became the first state capital to fall to the Union troops... Governor Harris issued a call for the legislature to assemble at Memphis, and the executive office was moved to that city. In the meantime President Lincoln appointed future President Andrew Johnson Military Governor of Tennessee. He set up offices in the capitol at Nashville. Confederate uprisings and guerrilla attacks continued sporadically in the city....Refugees poured into Nashville during the war, because jobs were plentiful in the depots, warehouses and hospitals serving the war effort, and furthermore the city was much safer place than the countryside. Unionists and Confederate sympathizers both flooded in, as did free blacks and escaped slaves, and businessmen from the North.[21][22] Nashville, with its very large transient population, had flourishing red light districts...  A secret Confederate underground operated in the city, smuggling arms, medicines and information to the Confederacy, helping prisoners escape, and giving information to Confederate spies.[24]    Wikipedia History of Nashville Civil War accessed 2018 Feb 5 

In December 1863, the Great Western Sanitary Fair was held at Cincinnati. The purpose of the fair was to raise funds to support the activities of the Cincinnati branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. The Sanitary Commission was a voluntary service which helped provide support for Union sick and wounded. The organizers of the fair wished to obtain the autographs of famous persons, along with other items, to be auctioned off to raise money. Senator John Sherman of Ohio (1823-1900) approached Lincoln and asked him to donate his original draft of the recent Amnesty Proclamation for the auction. The proclamation offered amnesty to those engaged in rebellion if they would take an oath of allegiance and it contained a general outline of Lincoln’s reconstruction plan. Since the original draft was in poor condition, Lincoln actually offered to hand copy the entire document, including all corrections, additions, etc. When asked if he minded the additional labor required to copy the entire document, Lincoln replied that if the labor relieved the sufferings of a single soldier, he would cheerfully perform it. http://library.cincymuseum.org/lincoln/items/amnesty.htm

EJ Phillips’ handwritten autobiography reported
“During the war I witnessed many striking and patriotic scenes here. The soldiers from every state going to and from the battle field. Our audiences were frequently composed chiefly of soldiers. It was after the Surrender of Vicksburg [July 1863] that General Grant was most enthusiastically received here by the soldiers, many of whom had been with him through his campaign. T Buchanan Read [1822-1872] recited his poem of Sheridan’s Ride and arose with a greater ovation Capt. Wm. E Sheridan [1839-1887] who had been the ‘leading man” of the Opera House before the war and gave up his position to join the army resumed his position in Septr 1865. Made his appearance in “Effie Deans’ [character in Heart of Midlothian] carrying his arm in a sling, it having been wounded in battle. The company he commanded was present to give him a reception and they did it most heartily. Poor fellow! He is at rest now in a strange land. [He died in Australia.] 

During this season of 1864-65 a most unique performance of Hamlet was given by Gentlemen of the Cities of Cincinnati and Columbus for “The Benefit of the widows and orphans of the Soldiers, who died in the war”.  Hamlet was represented by Ex Lieutenant Governor [Charles] Anderson [1814-1895 later governor of Ohio after the death of  Gov. John Brought in 1865] of Ohio. All the other parts were played by Lawyers, Doctors, Bankers, and Brokers – Mrs. Thomas Barry [Clara Biddies married 1856] Ophelia -- a young lady of the Opera House Stock Co “players”, and I as “Queen Gertrude”.  The house was crowded! Very large prices had been paid for seats and boxes.  One box sold for $600.”

John Nickinson died in in Cincinnati in Feb 1864, leaving EJ Phillips little, if anything to support her and their two young children.  She was leading woman in Pike's Stock Company in Cincinnati, playing in the Shakespearean and "standard drama", one of the “excellent resident dramatic company”. 

Lincoln Assassination
In April 1865  EJ Phillips played Emelia in Othello.
The play was billed as “Last Night But Two of the Eminent Tragedian Junius Brutus Booth Received Nightly with Admiration by Crowded and Delighted Audiences who will appear this Thursday Evening April 13 1865, and Tomorrow, Friday Farewell Benefit”.  Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14th .

According to cousin Charles Seymour Jr. "Directing Theater is a Family Affair"  http://www.charlesseymourjr.com/directors/overview.htm "the acting company had to leave town under the protection of a covered wagon to protect their lives"   The Centennial History of Cincinnati 1904 reports that "Junius Brutus Booth, brother of the assassin was closing a two weeks' engagement at Pike's Opera House. He was stopping at the Burnet House. While there was no public demonstration again him, it was well known that his life would not be worth a farthing should be seen on the streets or in public. Of course the bills were taken down, and there was no performance that night. Mr. Booth was well pleased quietly to escape from the Burnet and disappear." (Tarbell's Lincoln vol. II page 247)

At the time of Lincoln’s murder, Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., older brother of assassin John Wilkes Booth, was wrapping up a two-week engagement at Pike’s Opera House in Cincinnati in a production of 
The Three Guardsmen. When news of the assassination reached the Queen City, the play was quietly ended and newspapers reported on April 17th that Junius Brutus Booth had left the city.  

From a newspaper advertisement in the
Cincinnati Daily Gazette, April 14, 1865.
Saturday Afternoon, April 15.
The eminent Tragedian,
Junius Brutus Booth,
Will appear in conjunction with the
And renowned
BENEFIT of the popular Artiste,

MISS E. J. PHILLIPS, [Let's hope she got the money from this performance.]
And positively last night of the eminent tragedian,

Lincoln Originals, Cincinnati Museum Center, 2009

Othello playbill April 1865, Pike's Opera House, Cincinnati, Ohio

Did the April 14th performance take place at all? Did EJ Phillips receive any money from her benefit? Did the entire acting company have to leave town under cover?  How soon were they able to work again? EJ Phillips’ was a single parent with small children to support. We know little of her years in Cincinnati during the Civil War.  I've been trying  to learn more about her life during this time

Pike's Opera House was built by Samuel Pike in Cincinnati in  1859. "here was where Wendell Phillips was chased from the building after expressing his views on slavery; James Murdoch read "Sheridan's Ride" only a few hours after it had been written by Thomas Reed; and Junius Brutus Booth who had to sneak out of town after learning that his brother had shot President Lincoln. It should be noted that the person working at the Western Union telegraph office who received the message on Saturday, April 15, 1865 that Lincoln had been assassinated was 17-year-old Thomas Alva Edison."  http://www.cincinnativiews.net/entertainment.htm     What is the source of the Junius Brutus Booth "sneaking out of town" quote?

Cincinnati, A guide to the Queen City, Federal Writer's Project 1943 [reprinted 1973] gives the location of the theater as the east side of 4th St near the intersection with Vine St. and describes Samuel Pike as "a wealthy liquor dealer" who heard Jenny Lind sing and "vowed he would build a theater worthy of such a voice."  This book notes that "The news of Lee's surrender brought great rejoicing to the North.  At Pike's Opera House in Cincinnati, where Junius Brutus Booth Jr. was playing a two week engagement, theatergoers wondered when the other generals would lay down their arms. Appearing for rehearsal on the morning of April 15, Booth was told that his brother had shot the President. "My God, can it be possible?" he exclaimed and fell in a faint. When he recovered consciousness he left the theater and stole out of the city. Flags at half mast and black bunting everywhere the city mourned the dead Lincoln. On April 17 formal memorial services were held at Pike's Opera House. Hundreds had to be turned away."   http://books.google.com/books?id=g9vJrsMSnEQC&vq=booth&dq=%22samuel+pike%22+theatre&source=gbs_navlinks_s   Did EJ Phillips try to go?  Had she left town as well?

Junius Brutus Booth Jr. [1821-1883] was the youngest son of Junius Brutus Booth, and brother of Edwin and John Wilkes. EJ Phillips worked with his third wife Agnes Booth in the Madison Square Theatre Co.  I have this playbill and also have a crazy quilt made of squares EJ Phillips embroidered during her many Union Square, Madison Square Theatre Company and other stock company train trips, twelve of them between New York and California.  One square has lavender brocade from a ball gown worn by the wife of theater proprietor and manager Samuel N. Pike at a reception for the Prince of Wales in 1860 in Cincinnati. When EJ Phillips was playing at his Opera House Mr. Pike brought the dress to her saying it was too conspicuous for his wife to wear often, and if she could use it, she might have it. She wore that dress in plays for many years.

Life on the Stage,"  1901 Clara Morris Harriott, S. S. McClure Company, New York  http://www.authorama.com/19th-century-actor-autobiographies-5.html includes an excerpt from Some Recollections of John Wilkes Booth, providing some insight.

Wikipedia used to say "Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., himself was briefly imprisoned in Washington, DC, after his brother assassinated Abraham Lincoln. At the time of the assassination, he was fulfilling an acting engagement in Cincinnati, Ohio. Even so, he was arrested and hurried by train to the Old Capitol Prison." citing the Cambridge Guide to Theatre, 1995 Cambridge University Press.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junius_Brutus_Booth,_Jr. [no longer on the web]

Lincoln Assassination witnessed
EJ Phillips never mentions the assassination but she  did know William Jason Ferguson (1841-1930) who was famous as the actor who saw Lincoln shot. His stage career had begun at Ford's Theatre as a call boy.  "The construction of the Theatre supports the claim that Ferguson  was the sole witness.  His description has been accepted as the most reliable account of the shooting (Sat Evening Post and NY Times (Apr 18, 1915)" and his book I Saw Booth Shoot Lincoln (1930)"

EJ Phillips knew him from when they were both in the Union Square Theatre Company.  He played Joseph Pinglet in The Gay Parisians going on the trip west in Aug 1896 with EJ Phillips. "Mr. Ferguson caught cold, has a sore throat this Morning.  [Grandson] Jack could not be more childish over it than he is."

Ferguson reports "There was much animosity shown against the actors and employees of the theater, it being supposed that they were implicated in the murder.  Some of them were arrested.  manager John T. Ford was among the number.  Hew as imprisoned for forty days, and then released, entirely exonerated.  A shopkeeper whose place of business was near the theater vigorously defended our people, and was with difficulty rescued from the intensely angered crowd that assailed him.  A rope was actually tied about this neck."

Other actors mentioned in Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination she knew were JG Saville and HB Phillips. and of course Laura KeeneIt would not be surprising if actors were chased out of town in Cincinnati as well.

EJ Phillips wrote about going to the Soldiers' Home in Washington DC, but doesn't mention the Lincoln Cottage which is on its grounds.

GAR "Grand Army"  EJ Phillips did mention this.  The Grand Army of the Republic was made up of Union veterans of the Civil War.  They held encampments from 1869 through 1949.    

1886 San Francisco
The City is full of strangers, the G.A.R., badges are very conspicuous on Men and women.  This is Sunday, but every few minutes a band passes playing Yankee Doodle or Hail Columbia.  The City is ornamented with arches, flags, portraits of the War Generals and in many places Grant & Lee hang side by side!  ...  We have the New York division's [G.A.R.] headquarters in this hotel, also Wisconsin and Kansas, and I think Missouri. ... With this Grand Army business it seems all the trains are late.

1894 Rochester "This has been a hard week, but there is nothing so bad but it might be worse.  We feared we should have to open with a matinee yesterday, it being Washington's birthday and the City being full of GAR [Grand Army of the Republic] people on their annual convention, and we were overjoyed on our arrival to find we were not to give a matinee.

EJ Phillips and Booths     Washington DC and Lincoln      Washington DC and Arlington

Bogar, Thomas A, Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination: Untold story of the actors and stagehands at Ford's Theatre, Regnery History, 2013 https://www.amazon.com/Backstage-Lincoln-Assassination-Stagehands-Theatre/dp/1621570835/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
Centennial History of Cincinnati, 1904 Chapter XLIII Cincinnati in War Time http://books.google.com/books?id=eJxABLtxX60C&q=theatre#v=snippet&q=war%20time&f=false
Ferguson, William Jason, I saw Booth Shoot Lincoln, Pemberton Press 1969
Phillips, Christopher, The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and The Remaking of the American Middle Border, Oxford University Press, 2016 https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-rivers-ran-backward-9780195187236?cc=us&lang=en&

Cincinnati in the American Civil War, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati_in_the_American_Civil_War
Civil War Cincinnati Tours http://americanlegacytours.com/?q=tours/civil-war-cincinnati
Ford's Theatre, Museum and Petersen House, Washington DC https://www.fords.org/visit/historic-site/  Visited in Nov 2017 and would recommend for getting a sense of Civil War Washington DC and environs.
Ohio in the American Civil War, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_in_the_American_Civil_War
Reminiscences of Cincinnati in war time, Historical collections of Ohio, 1888 

Last Updated August 25, 2020

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