On this date, 146 years ago – Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock ordered the following handbills printed and distributed to free blacks in the communities of Virginia and Maryland along the Potomac River. John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln’s assassin, and David Herold, Booth’s accomplice, were still on the run after 10 days.
THE MURDER OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN
APPEAL TO THE COLORED PEOPLE!
HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION,
Washington, D.C., April 24, 1865
To the colored people of the District of Columbia and of Maryland, of Alexandria and the border counties of Virginia:
Your President has been murdered! He has fallen by the assassin and without a moment’s warning, simply and solely because he was your friend and the friend of our country. Had he been unfaithful to you and to the great cause of human freedom he might have lived. The pistol from which he met his death, though held by Booth, was fired by the hands of treason and slavery. Think of this and remember how long and how anxiously this good man labored to break your chains and to make you happy. I now appeal to you, by every consideration which can move loyal and grateful hearts, to aid in discovering and arresting his murderer. Concealed by traitors, he is believed to be lurking somewhere within the limits of the District of Columbia, of the State of Maryland, or Virginia. Go forth, then, and watch, and listen, and inquire, and search, and pray, by day and night, until you shall have succeeded in dragging this monstrous and bloody criminal from his hiding place. You can do much; even the humblest and feeblest among you, by patience and unwearied vigilance, may render the most important assistance.
Large rewards have been offered by the Government, and by municipal authorities, and they will be paid for the apprehension of this murderer, or for any information which will aid in his arrest. But I feel that you need no such stimulus as this. You will hunt down this cowardly assassin of your best friend, as you would the murderer of your own father. Do this, and God, whose servant has been slain, and the country which has given you freedom, will bless you for this noble act of duty.
All information which may lead to the arrest of Booth, or Surratt, or Harold, should be communicated to these headquarters, or to General Holt, Judge Advocate General, at Washington, or, if immediate action is required, then to the nearest military authorities.
All officers and soldiers in this command, an all loyal people, are enjoined to increased vigilance.
Major General U.S. Volunteers
Commanding Middle Military Division