One hundred and fifty years ago today, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General U.S. Grant, ending the Civil War. For Hattie Bigelow, and the people in the northern states, this was a joyous day. Most Americans, too young to remember the end of World War II, can probably not imagine what this meant to the people. To imagine what Hattie would have experienced, we went to the newspapers of the time.
The Milwaukee Daily Journal dated April 11, 1865 reads “The wildest enthusiasm prevailed throughout the city yesterday, and the people turned out en masse to celebrate the last and greatest victory of the Union army. From morning till night the streets were filled with people, every one bearing in some device the national colors. East Water Street was decorated along its entire length with red, white and blue, as was also Wisconsin, Maine West Water street, and from nearly every building in the city “waved the starry flag.”
“Early in the morning the people began to congregate in numbers at the corners of the principal streets, and as if by common consent, all places of business were closed. Every one was all animation, and in a short space of time was inaugurated one of the largest and most jubilant celebrations Milwaukee has ever witnessed. The cannon were brought out, and peal after peal shook the earth. The bells were rung [with] untiring zeal. Every available carriage or other conveyance was brought out, and every horse bore the national colors affixed to some part of the harness. The Chamber of Commerce took an active part in the celebration, and a delegation from that body hurriedly visited all the prominent business establishments, and organized in a surprisingly short time The Grand Procession.”
That evening buildings of the city were lit up in celebration, as the Milwaukee Daily News states: “In view of the glorious news of the surrender of Lee, the near termination of our bloody war and the prospect of early peace, The Daily News Building, together with the whole of Ludington’s block was illuminated last evening from the fifth story to the street. On East Water and Wisconsin streets and on the front facing Spring street the windows presented one blaze of light. It ia well to rejoice in a time like this. Our country has lived through four years of desperate war, and the government has been shaken to its very foundation. And now that the end approaches, and we hope for a speedy termination of our present great trouble, and the preservation of the old Union, and look to see the starry flag wave over the whole country with not a star erased, it is meet, we say, to rejoice. The hearts of a patriotic people are enlivened with this hope, and in accordance with and symbolic of this, the windows of THE NEWS office were illuminated, presenting a brilliant and gorgeous spectacle of light.”
How exciting it must have been for Hattie and her classmates to be let out of school to join in the celebrations. After four long years of war and suffering, peace had come at last. Colonel Buttrick was put in charge of the more formal procession and celebration to come the following week–but that’s another story.