Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1865

The second inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as the president of the United States took place on March 4, 1865. A burst of sun during his oath of office was interpreted by Mr. Lincoln as a good omen. John Wilkes Booth, and some of the conspirators involved with his assassination plans were present in the crowd at the inauguration. Booth attended as the invited guest of his secret fiancée Lucy Hale,  daughter of John P. Hale, soon to become Ambassador to Spain. Booth later told a fellow actor: "What a splendid chance I had to kill the President on the 4th of March." 

On April 11, 1865, two days after Lee's army surrendered to Grant, Booth attended an evening speech at the White House.  Lincoln stood at the window over the building's main door, a place where presidents customarily gave speeches. Reporter Noah Brooks held a light so Lincoln could read his speech, while young Tad Lincoln grasped the pages as they fluttered to his feet. The speech introduced the complex topic of reconstruction. For the first time in a public setting, Lincoln expressed his support for black suffrage. Booth decided on assassination and is quoted as saying: "That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I'll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever give."

John Wilkes Booth
Booth's assassination of Lincoln took place on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.  Lincoln was shot while watching the play Our American Cousin with his wife at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.  He died early the next morning.

Ford's Theatre

Friday, April 14, 1865, began as a lovely spring day in Washington, D.C.  Hugh McCulloch, the new Secretary of the Treasury, remarked that on that morning, "I never saw Mr. Lincoln so cheerful and happy". For months, the President had looked pale and haggard. Lincoln himself told people how happy he was. 

Mary Lincoln
Lincoln ate breakfast with his family around 8 am; normally he had one egg and one cup of coffee.   Mary Lincoln, 46, sat at the opposite end of the table with their sons, Robert, 21, and Tad, 12, at the sides.  

Tad Lincoln and his father
President Lincoln listened as Captain Robert Lincoln discussed his brief tour of duty in the Union Army. Robert had been present at the McLean House in Appomattox when General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9th, just five days earlier. 

Robert Lincoln

Mary said she had tickets to Grover's Theatre, but she'd prefer to see Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre. Lincoln called for a messenger and requested that he go to Ford's Theatre and reserve the State Box for the evening's performance. He did not yet know General Grant intended to decline the invitation and leave Washington on a late afternoon train. The management of Ford's was elated when they heard the news of their special guests for Good Friday's Our American Cousin performance.

At 10 am, Mr. Lincoln greeted visitors. One of them was former New Hampshire Senator John Hale who had recently been appointed minister to Spain. (Hale's daughter, Lucy, was Booth's fiancée.)  

John Hale

Lincoln met with his cabinet at 11 am, and later had a brief meeting with Vice President Andrew Johnson, the first between the two since Johnson had shown up drunk to take the vice presidential oath on Inauguration Day, six weeks prior.

At around noon, while visiting Ford's Theatre to pick up his mail (Booth had a permanent mailbox there), Booth learned from the brother of John Ford, the owner, that the President and General Grant would be attending the theater to see Our American Cousin that night. Booth determined that this was the perfect opportunity for him to do something.  

Booth went to Mary Surratt's boarding house in Washington, D.C. and asked her to deliver a package to her tavern in Surrattsville, Maryland. He also requested Surratt to tell her tenant who resided there to have the guns and ammunition that Booth had previously stored at the tavern ready to be picked up later that evening. She complied with Booth's requests and made the trip, along with Louis Weichmann, her boarder and son's friend. This exchange, and her compliance in it, would lead directly to Surratt's execution three months later.

Mary Surratt's Boarding House
Intending to take a carriage ride, Lincoln and his wife came out on the White House porch at 5 pm.  A one-armed soldier, hoping to catch sight of Mr. Lincoln, yelled, "I would almost give my other hand if I could shake that of Abraham Lincoln." The president walked toward the soldier and grabbed his hand. Lincoln said, "You shall do that and it shall cost you nothing." The Lincolns then entered the carriage. Two cavalrymen followed the carriage as it started down the gravel White House driveway. The carriage arrived at the Navy Yard, and the president took a short stroll on the deck of the monitor Montauk. Then he got back in the carriage for the short trip back to the White House. When the carriage pulled into the White House driveway, two old friends from Illinois, Dick Oglesby and General Isham N. Haynie, greeted the president. He invited them into his office for a friendly discussion of  "old times." Word that dinner was ready reached Lincoln, and the Lincolns ate as a family. Mary told Abraham that a young couple, Clara Harris, 20, and Major Henry Rathbone, 28, had accepted their Ford's Theatre invitation.

At seven o'clock that evening, John Wilkes Booth met with all his fellow conspirators. Booth assigned Lewis Powell to kill Secretary of State William Seward at his home, George Atzerodt    to kill  Vice President Andrew Johnson at his residence, the Kirkwood Hotel, and David Herold to guide Powell to the Seward house and then out of Washington to rendezvous with Booth in Maryland. Booth planned to shoot Lincoln with his single-shot derringer and then stab Grant with a knife. 

Derringer that Booth used to shoot Lincoln
They were all to strike simultaneously shortly after ten o'clock that night.

Contrary to the information Booth had overheard, General and Mrs. Grant had declined the invitation to see the play with the Lincolns.  Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris (daughter of New York Senator Ira Harris accepted.  

At 7:50 pm, former Congressman George Ashmun arrived at the White House without an appointment. Lincoln decided to see Ashmun; at 8:05 Lincoln's business with Ashmun was still unfinished, and he requested a return visit in the morning. Lincoln wrote out the last message of his life: "Allow Mr. Ashmun & friend to come in at 9:00 A.M. tomorrow." The note was signed "A. Lincoln, April 14, 1865."

George Ashmun
The Lincoln party arrived late. about 8:30 pm, and settled into the Presidential Box. The play was stopped briefly and the orchestra played  "Hail to the Chief" as the audience gave the president a rousing standing ovation. Ford's Theater was full with 1,700 in attendance.  

Presidential Box at Ford's Theatre

Lincoln's chair was a black walnut rocking chair with red upholstery. It had been brought down from the Ford family's personal quarters located on the 3rd floor above Taltavul's Star Saloon.

The Rocking Chair Lincoln was sitting in 
Mrs. Lincoln whispered to her husband, who was holding her hand, "What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you so?" The president replied, "She won't think anything about it".  Those were the last words ever spoken by Abraham Lincoln. It was now about 10:15 pm.

The box was supposed to be guarded by a policeman named John Frederick Parker.  During the intermission, Parker went to a nearby tavern with Lincoln's footman and coachman. It is unclear whether he ever returned to the theater, but he was not at his post when Booth entered the box. 

It was now Act III, Scene II. Booth knew the play by heart, and waited for the moment when actor Harry Hawk would be onstage alone to speak what was considered the funniest line of the play. Booth hoped to employ the enthusiastic response of the audience to muffle the sound of his gunshot. "Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal; you sockdologizing old man-trap!" With hysterical laughter permeating the theater, Booth opened the door, crept forward and shot the President in the back of the head at point-blank range. Lincoln immediately slumped over in his rocking chair, mortally wounded. Mary reached out, caught him, and then screamed when she realized what happened.

Upon hearing the gunshot, Rathbone quickly jumped from his seat and tried to prevent Booth from escaping. Booth dropped the pistol and drew a knife, stabbing the major violently in the left forearm reaching the bone. Rathbone quickly recovered and again tried to grab Booth as he was preparing to jump from the sill of the box. Booth again swung at Rathbone in the chest and then vaulted over the rail of the box down to the stage below (about a twelve-foot drop). In the process, his riding spur became entangled on the flag decorating the box, and he landed awkwardly on his left foot, fracturing his left leg just above the ankle.He raised himself up despite the injury and began crossing the stage. Booth held his bloody knife over his head, and yelled either "Sic semper tyrannis!"the Virginia state motto, (meaning "Thus always to tyrants" in Latin) or "The South is avenged!"

Mary Lincoln's and Clara Harris' screams and Rathbone's cries of "Stop that man!" caused the audience to realize that Booth's actions were not part of the show, and pandemonium immediately broke out. Booth ran out the side door to the horse he had waiting outside.

Charles Leale, a young Army surgeon attending the play, made his way through the crowd to the door at the rear of the Presidential box.  Leale entered the box to find Rathbone bleeding profusely from a deep gash in his chest that ran the length of his upper left arm as well as a long slash in his arm.  Lincoln was slumped in his chair, held up by Mary, who was sobbing. Leale discovered that Lincoln paralyzed was barely breathing. He lowered the President to the floor, believing that Lincoln had been stabbed in the shoulder by the knife. 

Charles Leale
A second doctor in the audience, Charles Sabin Taft, was lifted bodily from the stage over the railing and into the box. Taft and Leale cut away Lincoln's blood-stained collar and opened his shirt, and Leale, feeling around by hand, discovered the bullet hole in the back of his head right next to his left ear. Leale attempted to remove the bullet, but the bullet was too deep in his head; instead, Leale dislodged a clot of blood in the wound. Consequently, Lincoln's breathing improved. 

Leale, Taft, and another doctor from the audience, Albert King, quickly consulted and decided that while the President must be moved, a bumpy carriage ride across town to the White House was out of the question. After briefly considering the saloon next door, they chose to carry Lincoln across the street and find a house. The three doctors and some soldiers who had been in the audience carried the President out the front entrance of Ford's Theatre. Across the street, a man was holding a lantern and calling "Bring him in here! Bring him in here!" The man was Henry Safford, a boarder at William Petersen's boarding house opposite Ford's Theater.  

William Petersen's Boarding House
The men carried Lincoln into the boarding house and into the first-floor bedroom, where they laid him diagonally on the bed because his tall frame would not fit normally on the smaller bed.

During the previous month, John Wilkes Booth had rested on the exact same bed. In March,  actor Charles Warwick had rented the room. One day Booth visited Warwick and fell asleep on the same bed President Lincoln later died in.

A vigil began at the Petersen House. The three physicians were joined by Surgeon General of the Army Joseph K. Barnes, Dr. Charles Henry Crane, Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbot Abbott (a black surgeon in the Army who was acquainted with Lincoln), and Robert K. Stone, Lincoln's personal physician.

Illustration of the Room Where Lincoln Died
Robert Lincoln, home at the White House that evening, arrived at the Petersen House after being told of the shooting at about midnight.  His younger brother Tad, who was 12 years old,  was not allowed to go to the house. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton came and took charge of the scene.  While Mary Lincoln sobbed in the front parlor, Stanton set up shop in the rear parlor, effectively running the federal government for several hours, sending and receiving telegrams, taking reports from witnesses, and issuing orders for the pursuit of Booth.

A large crowd gathered outside in front of the Petersen House.
"A double guard was stationed at the door and on the sidewalk to repress the crowd, which was of course highly excited and anxious. The room was small and overcrowded. The surgeons and members of the cabinet were as many as should have been in the room, but there were many more, and the hall and other rooms in the front or main house were full. One of these rooms was occupied by Mrs. Lincoln and her attendants, with Miss Harris. Mrs. Dixon and Mrs. Kinney came to her about twelve o'clock. About once an hour Mrs. Lincoln would repair to the bedside of her dying husband and with lamentation and tears remain until overcome by emotion.
A door which opened upon a porch or gallery, and also the windows, were kept open for fresh air. The night was dark, cloudy, and damp, and about six it began to rain. I remained in the room until then without sitting or leaving it, when, there being a vacant chair which some one left at the foot of the bed, I occupied it for nearly two hours, listening to the heavy groans and witnessing the wasting life of the good and great man who was expiring before me.
About 6 A.M. I experienced a feeling of faintness, and for the first time after entering the room a little past eleven I left it and the house and took a short walk in the open air. It was a dark and gloomy morning, and rain set in before I returned to the house some fifteen minutes later. Large groups of people were gathered every few rods, all anxious and solicitous. Some one or more from each group stepped forward as I passed to inquire into the condition of the President and to ask if there was no hope. Intense grief was on every countenance when I replied that the President could survive but a short time.
The colored people especially-and there were at this time more of them, perhaps, than of whites - were overwhelmed with grief.  A little before seven I went into the room where the dying President was rapidly drawing near the closing moments. His wife soon after made her last visit to him. The death struggle had begun. Robert, his son, stood with several others at the head of the bed. He, bore himself well but on two occasions gave way to overpowering grief and sobbed aloud, turning his head and leaning on the shoulder of Senator Sumner. The respiration of the President became suspended at intervals and at last entirely ceased at twenty-two minutes past seven."
 ~ Gideon Welles

Lincoln died from the bullet wound to his brain at 7:22 am on April 15, 1865.  He was 56 years old. 

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