The Lincoln Assassination

April 14, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.

Lincoln held a cabinet meeting on the morning of Good Friday, April 14, that included triumphant General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln described a dream he had the night before about a ship “moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore.” He said this dream had occurred just before every major Federal victory, and he included Stone’s River in his list of triumphs. Grant replied that Stone’s River was certainly no victory.[1]

Lincoln shared his hope that the remaining Confederate forces would soon surrender and that remaining Confederate leaders, including Jefferson Davis, would flee the country. He also expressed appreciation that the newly elected Congress would not assemble until December because it gave him time to start his reconstruction plan without interference. Lincoln concurred with the policy suggested by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in which each conquered state would have its own military governor.[2]

After the meeting, Lincoln invited Grant and his wife Julia to attend the theater with him and the first lady that evening. However, Mrs. Grant had been insulted by Mrs. Lincoln in March, and she urged Grant to decline anything that Lincoln proposed so they could visit their children in New Jersey. Thus, Grant declined the invitation. Lincoln himself said, “It has been advertised that we will be there, and I cannot disappoint the people. Otherwise I would not go. I do not want to go.”[3]

After over a dozen more people declined, Major Henry R. Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris (daughter of New York Senator Ira Harris) accepted the Lincolns’ invitation to attend the play. At 8:30 p.m., the Lincolns and their guests left the White House for Ford’s Theatre on 10th Street to see the popular comedy Our American Cousin.[4]

Meanwhile, famed actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth met with fellow conspirators and concocted a plan to kill Lincoln, Grant, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward. When Booth learned that Grant had left town, the plan changed: At 10:15 p.m., Lewis Paine would kill Seward, George Atzerodt would kill Johnson, and Booth would kill Lincoln. The men would then escape to Surrattsville, collect weapons, and cross the Potomac River into Virginia.[5]

The Lincoln party arrived late at the theater, prompting the play to stop as the audience cheered and the orchestra played “Hail to the Chief.” They were seated in Box 7 in the balcony over the stage. Only one man guarded the outside of the box, despite repeated death threats against Lincoln over the past four years. At 10:12 p.m., Booth presented his calling card to the guard, who allowed the famous actor access to the vestibule outside the box.[6]

Booth held a dagger in his left hand and a .44-caliber derringer pistol in his right. He waited for the play’s funniest line to be delivered, and when the theater erupted in laughter, Booth entered the box and fired the pistol into the back of Lincoln’s head. The bullet entered behind Lincoln’s left ear and, after reflexively raising his right arm, he slumped in his rocker. Mrs. Lincoln saw him sag and turned to brace him.[7]

Booth Shoots Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Booth Shoots Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Rathbone attempted to restrain Booth, but the assailant slashed the major’s arm with a dagger and leaped out of the balcony, onto the stage. Booth’s boot spur caught a decorative flag below the box, causing him to land awkwardly and break the fibula of his left leg. Nevertheless, Booth hobbled across the stage, shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” (Thus always to tyrants), shoved his way backstage to a waiting horse, and rode off.[8]

Most of the stunned spectators did not realize what had happened until Booth was gone and Mrs. Lincoln began screaming. As panic seized the theater, a doctor rushed to the balcony and managed to restore Lincoln’s respiration. Other doctors arrived, found the wound, and pronounced it mortal. They decided to move Lincoln to a bed, but because he would not survive a trip back to the White House, they instead carried him across the street to a rear bedroom in the boardinghouse of William Petersen.[9]

The men arranged Lincoln diagonally across a bed that was too small for his height. With death inevitable, doctors focused mainly on making him as comfortable as possible. People came in and out of the room throughout the night as Lincoln’s breathing steadily grew fainter.[10]

At the same time of President Lincoln’s shooting, John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirator Lewis Paine attempted to assassinate Secretary of State Seward. Going to Seward’s home on Lafayette Square, Paine posed as a messenger bringing medicine to the secretary, who was in bed recovering from a carriage accident. When the servant hesitated, Paine burst through the door and raced upstairs toward Seward’s bedroom.[11]

Seward’s son Frederick tried stopping Paine at the top of the stairs, but Paine brandished a revolver and, when it failed to fire, broke Frederick’s skull with the weapon and charged into the bedroom. Paine cut the nurse with a dagger, then jumped on the bed and slashed at Seward’s neck and face. A soldier on duty and Seward’s other son Augustus pulled Paine off, and the assailant raced out of the house. Seward was badly wounded, but he and the others survived. Paine was quickly apprehended by authorities.[12]

Meanwhile, George Atzerodt drank at the Kirkwood Hotel bar and contemplated carrying out his part of the plan by assassinating Vice President Johnson, who resided in the hotel. Atzerodt finally lost his nerve and left. Authorities arrived soon afterward to notify Johnson of the assassination attempts on Lincoln and Seward, and to guard him from a similar attack.[13]

The news of attacks on Lincoln and Seward prompted hysterical rumors of a Confederate citywide killing spree. Grant hurried back to Washington upon learning of the news. Secretary of War Stanton arrived at the Petersen house and became de facto president by stopping traffic on the Potomac River bridges, authorizing Grant to take command of capital defenses, and alerting border authorities to watch for suspicious crossings. After hearing witness testimony, Stanton directed Federal troops to pursue Booth and his accomplices. When Mrs. Lincoln began screaming at her husband’s bedside, Stanton ordered her barred from the room.[14]

Doctors finally pronounced Abraham Lincoln dead at 7:22:10 a.m. Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the angels.” Lincoln became the first president to ever be assassinated, dying exactly four years after calling for the Federal invasion of the South. Stanton halted southbound passenger trains from Washington, prohibited boats from crossing the Potomac to Virginia, posted guards outside the homes of cabinet members, mobilized the fire brigade, and closed Ford’s Theatre.[15]

Lincoln’s death tempered celebrations of an imminent Confederate defeat and threw the North into mourning. Stanton issued a declaration that Jefferson Davis and other high-ranking Confederate officials had sanctioned Lincoln’s assassination. This unsubstantiated claim was later revealed as false, but it helped turn the northern mood from sadness to rage and vindictiveness against the South.[16]

—–

[1] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 65; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Kindle Locations 58777-58780

[2] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 65; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 731-37; White, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed, Kindle Locations 58777-58780

[3] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 65; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 20480-20490; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 675-77

[4] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 76; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77

[5] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 68-74; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77

[6] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 79, 82; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77

[7] Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 217-19; Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 83-85; Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, p. 731-37; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 384-86

[8] Angle, A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years, p. 217-19; Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 85-86; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77; Ward, Burns, Burns, The Civil War, p. 384-86

[9] Angle, A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years, p. 217-19; Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 86; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77; Ward, Burns, Burns, The Civil War, p. 384-86

[10] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 92; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77

[11] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 97-98; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 196; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77

[12] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 97-98; Linedecker (ed.), The Civil War A to Z, p. 196; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77

[13] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 97-98; Linedecker (ed.), The Civil War A to Z, p. 196; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77

[14] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 102-04; Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 20690-20700; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 675-77

[15] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 102-04; Linedecker (ed.), The Civil War A to Z, p. 165; Ward, Burns, Burns, The Civil War, p. 384-86; White, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed, Kindle Locations 58777-58780

[16] Clark, The Assassination: The Death of the President, p. 118-19; Linedecker, (ed.), The Civil War A to Z, p. 165

Advertisements

Tagged: , , , ,

6 thoughts on “The Lincoln Assassination

  1. […] received a wire from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in Washington dated April 15: “President Lincoln was murdered about 10 o’clock last night in his private box at Ford’s Theatre in this city, by an assassin […]

    Like

  2. […] Lincoln was shot in the head by prominent actor John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in […]

    Like

  3. […] Lincoln was shot in the head by prominent actor John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in […]

    Like

  4. […] would be rejected. He sent a bundle of northern newspapers to Johnston that seethed with rage over Abraham Lincoln’s murder, and wrote to Johnston: “I fear much the assassination of the President will give such a bias to […]

    Like

  5. […] for Charlotte, arriving there on the 19th. Davis received a wire from Breckinridge: “President Lincoln was assassinated in the theatre in Washington on the night of April 14. Seward’s house was entered on the same […]

    Like

  6. […] shooting Lincoln on the evening of April 14, Booth fled Ford’s Theatre through a stage door to the alley, where he rode off on a waiting […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: