Saturday, April 17, 2021

Account of Captain Edwin Eliaphron Bedee, in the Union army who was part of the historic tragedy witnessed President Lincoln get shot at Ford's Theatre.

Captain Edwin Bedee (1837-1908)
Captain Bedee was seated in the second row on the left side of the theatre in the back of the orchestra. A commanding view could be had of President Abraham Lincoln watching the play. The sound of a shot rang out above the actor's voice on stage. Captain Edwin Bedee stared as a man vaulted from the President's box onto the stage.

Little did  Edwin Bedee, 12th Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers, know when he enlisted, August 18, 1862, in Meredith, New Hampshire, that he would witness the tragic shooting of one of American's greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, on the fateful day of April 14, 1865.

When Captain Bedee saw the man drop onto the stage from the President's box, his first reaction was to pursue the fleeing assassin. Instead, Bedee, like the rest, listened as Booth boldly uttered the incredible words, "Revenge for the South!"

Sensing a catastrophe, Captain Bedee sprang from his chair, climbed over some rows, bolted past the orchestra and footlights, and across the stage in the direction Booth had disappeared.

A scream shattered the mounting noise. "They've got him!" Bedee presumed the assassin was caught. Another scream. It was Mrs. Lincoln.

"My husband is shot!" A doctor was called for. Captain Bedee reeled around and bounded across the stage towards the box. As he was scaling the box, a man appeared and stated he was a physician. Captain Bedee stepped aside, pushed the doctor up to the railing, and followed directly behind. Had the Captain not given assistance to the surgeon, he would have been the first to reach Lincoln. The only entrance to the box was believed locked by Booth when he slipped in to do his foul act, which apparently kept anyone from hastily entering from the outside passageway.

President Lincoln lay reclined in his chair, his head tilted back as though he were asleep. The doctor searched for the wound seeking some evidence of blood or torn clothing, the surgeon started to remove Lincoln's coat and unbutton his vest. Meanwhile, Captain Bedee was holding the president's head. Suddenly, he felt a warm wetness trickling into his hand. "Here is the wound, doctor," Captain Bedee said as one of his fingers slid into the hole in the back of Lincoln's head where the ball had only moments before forced an entry.

During the removal of some of the president's clothing, papers fell from his pocket. Mrs. Lincoln, apparently rational in spite of the shock of the calamity handed the packet to Captain Bedee remarking, "You are an officer, and won't you take charge of these papers?" Captain Bedee took the papers while she removed others from her husband's inner pocket and placed them in Dedee's hand.

By now others had gained entrance to the box through the door. One was a surgeon. Together the two doctors worked over the President and then Lincoln was removed to the house across the street from the theater, Bedee helped carry the dying man. He waited at the house where Secretary of War Stanton was soon to arrive. Upon the Secretary's arrival, Captain Bedee delivered the papers to him writing his own name and regiment upon the wrapper which Stanton placed around the documents. Secretary Stanton gave the Captain two assignments: first to go to the War Department with a message, and secondly, to contact the officer in command at Chain Bridge on matters dealing with the escaping assassin.

When the missions were completed Captain Bedee returned to Stanton. The Secretary thanked him for his diligence in handling the duties assigned to him and also for caring for the President's papers. He was then told to return to his post of duty.

The following day Captain Bedee was with his regiment. That evening an officer brought an order for the Captain's arrest. Apparent misunderstanding of the connections between Bedee, Lincoln's papers, and the assassination had made him a suspect within the War Department. Captain Bedee was so distraught that he telegraphed the department explaining the situation.

For two days Captain Bedee was kept under arrest. Finally, his release came, with an explanation of the confusion. Immediately the Captain wrote Secretary Stanton a personal letter stating that his honorable record during the war years would now have a very serious blemish if the details were not clarified. The Secretary wrote back explaining the error caused by the lower echelon in his department and gave proper acknowledgment to Captain Bedee for the commendable acts performed by him in the handling of Lincoln's papers. Thus the good captain was completely exonerated from any suspicious association with the murder of President Lincoln.

How did Captain Bedee happen upon this sorrowful moment of American history?
Edwin Bedee was born in Sandwich, New Hampshire, and grew up in the area. he was a printer by trade prior to the war. At 24 he enlisted and spent three months in a New York regiment but hastily returned to Meredith upon his release to join the 12th Volunteers, wanting to be with fellow New Hampshire men.

Mustered in as a sergeant major of the regiment, Bedee was soon promoted to the rank of first lieutenant. At the battle of Chancellorsville, he was wounded and yet assumed command of his regiment when those higher in command were either killed or unable to lead.

At Chancellorsville, Bedee's ability to make decisions under the pressure of battle was recognized, and he was promoted to captain. A year later, at Cold Harbor, Virginia, Captain Bedee was severely wounded. Recovering from his wounds, Bedee went back to action. This time he was captured at Bermuda Front, Virginia. He was paroled in February of 1865. Shortly thereafter, Captain Bedee was selected to serve on the staff of General Potter and went to Washinton on special duty. On Friday evening, April 14, 1865, be decided to attend Ford's Theatre.

The play was "Our American Cousin." It was being performed for the last time. Captain Bedee was fortunate to obtain a seat for the house was sold out. In fact, his seat gave him a full view of the President's box and its occupants. Because the audience was laughing at the antics on stage at the time, few heard the shot that felled the President.

A month after this tragic and involved affair, Captain Bedee was promoted to the rank of Major. Soon he was mustered out of the army along with his regiment.

When the war was over, Major Bedee caught the speculating craze and was lured to the South African diamond fields. But within a few years, he sold out, returning to Boston, and established himself as a successful diamond trader.

During his later years, Major Bedee, now a man of moderate wealth gave generously to the churches and other institutions in the town of Meredith. He purchased a statue in honor of the 12th Regimental Volunteers and had it placed on the lawn of the Meredith Public Library.

Major Bedee died at the famous Pemigewassett House in Plymouth, New Hampshire, on January 13, 1908, just five days after his 71st birthday. He never married. His body lies in the Meredith cemetery beneath a simple monument.

Little, if any, recognition has even been given Major Bedee in many accounts written on Lincoln's death because his role was that of a dutiful officer acting in a crisis. Had the circumstances surrounding Lincoln's personal and official papers not been so minor in the wake of such a tragic event, Major Bedee might have become nationally exposed as a suspect in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln. His innocence brought oblivion.
A typical style of many Civil War statues. Major Edwin E. Bedee's monument to the 12th New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment has a colorful history. The regiment participated in many of the fiercest battles of the Civil War, including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor. Local soldiers reportedly sustained the highest percentage of casualties of any unit in the Union Army. Major Bedee himself was injured twice and later spent several months in a Rebel prison camp. Bedee paid for the statue because he wished "to keep alive the memory of our fallen brave."

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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