The Civil War, 1861-1865

Author: Charles Dickens  | Date: 1865

Lincoln’s Presentiment on the Day of His Assassination

I am going to-morrow to see the President, who has sent to me twice. I dined with Charles Sumner last Sunday, against my rule; and as I had stipulated for no party, Mr. Secretary Stanton was the only other guest, besides his own secretary. Stanton is a man with a very remarkable memory, and extraordinarily familiar with my books. He and Sumner having been the first two public men at the dying President’s bedside, and having remained with him until he breathed his last, we fell into a very interesting conversation after dinner, when, each of them giving his own narrative separately, the usual discrepancies about details of time were observable. Then Mr. Stanton told me a curious little story which will form the remainder of this short letter.

On the afternoon of the day on which the President was shot, there was a cabinet council at which he presided. Mr. Stanton, being at the time commander-in-chief of the Northern troops that were concentrated about here, arrived rather late. Indeed, they were waiting for him, and on his entering the room, the President broke off in something he was saying, and remarked: "Let us proceed to business, gentlemen." Mr. Stanton then noticed, with great surprize, that the President sat with an air of dignity in his chair instead of lolling about it in the most ungainly attitudes, as his invariable custom was; and that instead of telling irrelevant or questionable stories, he was grave and calm, and quite a different man.

Mr. Stanton, on leaving the council with the Attorney-General, said to him, "That is the most satisfactory cabinet meeting I have attended for many a long day! What an extraordinary change in Mr. Lincoln!" The Attorney-General replied, "We all saw it, before you came in. While we were waiting for you, he said, with his chin down on his breast, "Gentlemen, something very extraordinary is going to happen, and that very soon." To which the Attorney-General had observed, "Something good, sir, I hope?" when the President answered very gravely: "I don’t know; I don’t know. But it will happen, and shortly, too!" As they were all imprest by his manner, the Attorney-General took him up again: "Have you received any information, sir, not yet disclosed to us?" "No," answered the President; "but I have had a dream. And I have now had the same dream three times. Once, on the night preceding the Battle of Bull Run. Once, on the night preceding" such another (naming a battle also not favorable to the North). His chin sank on hisbreast again, and he sat reflecting. "Might one ask the nature of this dream, sir?" said the Attorney-General. "Well," replied the President, without lifting his head or changing his attitude, "I am on a great broad rolling river—and I am in a boat—and I drift—and I drift!—But this is not business—" suddenly raising his face and looking round the table as Mr. Stanton entered, "let us proceed to business, gentlemen." Mr. Stanton and the Attorney-General said, as they walked on together, it would be curious to notice whether anything ensued on this; and they agreed to notice. He was shot that night.


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Chicago: Charles Dickens, "Lincoln’s Presentiment on the Day of His Assassination," The Civil War, 1861-1865 in Great Epochs in American History, Vol.9, Pp.16-17 Original Sources, accessed June 17, 2024,

MLA: Dickens, Charles. "Lincoln’s Presentiment on the Day of His Assassination." The Civil War, 1861-1865, in Great Epochs in American History, Vol.9, Pp.16-17, Original Sources. 17 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: Dickens, C, 'Lincoln’s Presentiment on the Day of His Assassination' in The Civil War, 1861-1865. cited in , Great Epochs in American History, Vol.9, Pp.16-17. Original Sources, retrieved 17 June 2024, from