Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln!
When Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, it seemed the nation’s long nightmare was at last coming to an end. It was clear to everyone that the Civil War would be over soon, and the time for healing could begin. The country was not alone in needing recovery; U.S. President Abraham Lincoln did, too. Photographs taken of the chief executive at the beginning of the war and near its end show how much he had aged in four years, as the great strain of trying to make the Union whole again took its toll.
Lee’s surrender greatly relieved the president. At a Cabinet meeting held on Good Friday, April 14, just five days after the surrender, Lincoln was cheerful, almost buoyant. That night, he went with his wife and two companions to spend an evening relaxing at the local theater, enjoying a light comedy called “Our American Cousin.”
Then, during the third act, disaster struck. John Wilkes Booth, a 26-year-old actor and fervent Southern sympathizer, crept into the president’s private box and blasted a single bullet directly into the back of Lincoln’s head. The president slumped forward, never again to regain consciousness, and died nine hours later the morning of April 15, 1865.
There had never before been an assassination of a U.S. president, and both the Union and the Confederacy were stunned. Many, especially in the Northern states, were distraught and grieved deeply. The Union did indeed become whole again, but Abraham Lincoln did not live to see it.
This report of Lincoln’s assassination was published by the Daily Constitutional Union (Washington, D.C.) on the front page of its April 15, 1865, issue:
Assassination of President Lincoln!
Attempt to Murder the Secretary of State!
Mr. Lincoln Shot in a Private Box at Ford’s Theatre!
Mr. Seward and His Two Sons Dangerously Injured!
Escape of the Assassin!
$10,000 Reward Offered for His Apprehension!
Dispatches from Secretary Stanton.
War Department, Washington, April 15—1:30 a.m.
Major General John A. Dix, New York:
Last evening, at 10:30 p.m., at Ford’s Theatre, the President, while sitting in his private box with Mrs. Lincoln, Miss Harris, and Major Rathbone, was shot by an assassin who suddenly entered the box. He approached behind the President. The assassin then leaped upon the stage, brandishing a large dagger or knife, and made his escape by the rear of the theatre. The pistol-ball entered the back of the President’s head. The wound is mortal. The President has been insensible ever since it was inflicted, and is now dying.
About the same hour an assassin, either the same or another, entered Mr. Seward’s house, and, under pretence of having a prescription, was shown to the Secretary’s sick chamber. The Secretary was in bed, a nurse and Miss Seward with him. The assassin immediately rushed to the bed, inflicted two or three stabs on the throat, and two on the face. It is hoped the wounds may not be mortal. My apprehension is that they will prove fatal. The nurse alarmed Mr. Frederick Seward [correction: Secretary Seward’s son Frederick had already been attacked by the assassin, Lewis Powell. The son who was awakened, and then also attacked, was Augustus—ed.] who was in an adjoining room, and hastened to the door of his father’s room, where he met the assassin, who inflicted upon him one or more dangerous wounds. The recovery of Frederick Seward is doubtful.
It is not probable that the President will live through the night.
General Grant and wife were advertised to be at the theatre this evening, but the latter started to Burlington at six o’clock last evening.
At a Cabinet meeting at which General Grant was present today, the subject of the state of the country, and the prospects of speedy peace, was discussed. The President was very cheerful and hopeful, spoke very kindly of General Lee and others of the Confederacy, and the establishment of Government in Virginia. All the members of the Cabinet, except Mr. Seward, are now in attendance upon the President. I have seen Mr. Seward, but he and Frederick were both unconscious.
Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.
War Department, Washington, D.C., 3 a.m., April 15.
Major General Dix, New York:
The President still breathes, but is quite insensible, as he has been ever since he was shot. He evidently did not see the person who shot him, but was looking on the stage, as he was approached behind.
Mr. Seward has rallied, and it is hoped he may live. Frederick Seward’s condition is very critical. The attendant who was present was stabbed through the lungs, and is not expected to live. The wounds of Major Seward are not serious.
Investigation strongly indicates J. Wilkes Booth as the assassin of the President. Whether it was the same, or a different person that attempted to murder Mr. Seward, remains in doubt.
Chief Justice Carter is engaged in taking the evidence. Every exertion has been made to prevent the escape of the murderer. His horse has been found on the road near Washington.
Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.
War Department, Washington, April 15, 4:10 a.m.
Major General Dix, New York:
The President continues insensible, and is sinking. Secretary Seward remains without change. Frederick Seward’s skull is fractured in two places, besides a severe cut upon the head. The attendant is still alive, but hopeless.
Major Seward’s wounds are not dangerous. It is now ascertained with reasonable certainty, that two assassins were engaged in the horrible crime—Wilkes Booth being the one that shot the President; the other, a companion of his, whose name is not known, but whose description is so clear that he can hardly escape.
It appears, from a letter found in Booth’s trunk, that the murder was planned before the fourth of March, but fell through then because the accomplice backed out until Richmond could be heard from. Booth and his accomplice were at the livery stable at six o’clock, last evening, and left there with their horses about ten o’clock, or shortly before that hour.
It would seem that they had for several days been seeking their chance, but for some unknown reason, it was not carried into effect until last night. One of them has evidently made his way to Baltimore, the other has not yet been traced.
Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.
Hdqs. Dept. of Washington, April 15, 1865.
A reward of ten thousand dollars will be paid to the party or parties arresting the murderer of the President, Mr. Lincoln, and the assassin of the Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, and his son.
C. C. Augur, Major General, com’d’g Dept.
Associated Press Account.
President Lincoln and wife, together with other friends, last evening visited Ford’s Theatre for the purpose of witnessing the performance of the [i.e., Our] American Cousin. It was announced in the newspapers that General Grant would also be present, but that gentleman, instead, took the late train of cars for New Jersey. The theatre was densely crowded, and everybody seemed delighted with the scene before them.
During the third act, and while there was a temporary pause for one of the actors to enter, a sharp report of a pistol was heard, which merely attracted attention, but suggesting nothing serious, until a man rushed to the front of the President’s box, waving a long dagger in his right hand, and exclaiming, “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” and immediately leaped from the box, which was of the second tier, to the stage beneath, and ran across to the opposite side, thus making his escape, amid the bewilderment of the audience, from the rear of the theatre, and, mounting a horse, fled.
The screams of Mrs. Lincoln first disclosed the fact to the audience that the President had been shot, when all present rose to their feet, rushing toward the stage, exclaiming, “Hang him! Hang him!”
The excitement was of the wildest possible character; and, of course, there was an abrupt termination of the theatrical performance.
There was a rush towards the President’s box, when cries were heard, “Stand back!” “Give him air!” “Has anyone stimulants!”
On a hasty examination it was found that the President had been shot through the head, above and back of the temporal bone, and that some of the brain was oozing out. He was removed to the private residence of Mr. Peterson, opposite to the theatre, and the Surgeon General of the Army and other surgeons sent for to attend to his condition.
On examination of the private box blood was discovered on the back of the cushioned rocking chair in which the President had been sitting, also on the partition and on the floor.
A common single barreled pocket pistol was found on the carpet.
A military guard was placed in front of the private residence to which the President had been conveyed.
An immense crowd was in front of it, all deeply anxious to learn the condition of the President. It had been previously announced that the wound was mortal, but all hoped otherwise.
The shock to the community was terrible.
At midnight the Cabinet, with Messrs. Sumner, Colfax, and Farnsworth, Judge Carter, Governor Oglesby, General Meigs, Major Hay, and a few personal friends, with Surgeon General Barnes and his medical associates, were around his bedside. The President was in a state of syncope, totally insensible, and breathing slowly, the blood oozing from the wound at the back of his head. The surgeons were exhausting every possible effort of medical skill, but all hope was gone. The parting of his family with the dying President is too sad for description.
The President and Mrs. Lincoln did not start to the theatre till fifteen minutes past eight o’clock. Speaker Colfax was at the White House at the time, and the President stated to him that he was going, although Mrs. Lincoln had not been well, because the papers had advertised that General Grant and themselves were to be present, and, as General Grant had gone North, he did not wish the audience to be disappointed. He went with apparent reluctance, and urged Mr. Colfax to go with him; but that gentleman had made other engagements, and, with Mr. Ashmun, of Massachusetts, bade him good-bye.
When the excitement at the theatre was at its wildest height, reports were circulated that Secretary Seward had also been assassinated.
On reaching this gentleman’s residence a crowd and a military guard were found at the door, and, on entering, it was ascertained that the reports were based upon truth.
Everybody was so much excited that scarcely an intelligent account could be gathered. But the facts are substantially as follows: About ten o’clock, a man rang the bell, and the call having been answered by a colored servant, he said he had come from Dr. Verdi, Secretary Seward’s family physician, with a prescription, at the same time holding in his hand a small piece of folded paper, and saying, in answer to a refusal, that he must see the Secretary, as he was entrusted with particular directions concerning the medicine. He still insisted on going up, although repeatedly informed that no one could enter the chamber.
The man pushed the servant aside and walked heavily toward the Secretary’s room, and was there met by Mr. Frederick W. Seward, of whom he demanded to see the Secretary, making the same representation which he did to the servant. What farther passed in the way of colloquy is not known, but the man struck him on the head with a billy, severely injuring the skull, and felling him almost senseless.
The assassin then rushed into the chamber and attacked Major Seward (paymaster United States army) and Mr. Hansell, a messenger of the State Department, and two male nurses, disabling them all. He then rushed upon the Secretary, who was lying in bed in the same room, and inflicted three stabs in his neck, but severing, it is thought and hoped, no arteries, though he bled profusely.
The assassin then rushed downstairs, mounted his horse at the door, and rode off before an alarm could be given; and in the same manner of the assassin of the President.
It is believed the injuries of the Secretary are not mortal, nor those of either of the others, although both the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary are very seriously injured.
Secretaries Stanton and Welles, and other prominent officers of the Government, called at Secretary Seward’s house to inquire into his condition, and hearing there of the assassination of the President, proceeded to the house where he was lying, exhibiting, of course, intense anxiety and solicitude.
An immense crowd was gathered in front of the President’s house, and a strong guard was also stationed there, many persons evidently supposing that he would be brought to his home.
The entire city last night presented a scene of wild excitement, accompanied by violent expressions of indignation, and the profoundest sorrow. Many persons shed tears.
The military authorities have dispatched mounted patrols in every direction, in order, if possible, to arrest the assassins, while the Metropolitan police are alike vigilant for the same purpose. The attacks, both at the theatre and at Secretary Seward’s, took place at about the same hour—ten o’clock—thus showing a preconcerted plan to assassinate these gentlemen.
Some evidence of the guilt of the party who attacked the President is in possession of the police.
Vice President Johnson is in this city, and his hotel quarters guarded by troops.
2 ½ A.M.—The President is still alive, but is growing weaker. The ball is lodged in his brain, three inches from where it entered the skull. He remains insensible, and his condition is utterly hopeless.
The Vice President has been to see him, but all company except the Cabinet, his family, and a few friends, are rigidly excluded.
Important Police Order.
The following order was issued by Superintendent Richards, at three o’clock this morning:
In view of the melancholy events of last evening, I am directed to close all places where liquor is sold, to be closed during this day and night. The sergeants of the several precincts will see that this order is enforced.
A. C. Richards, Superintendent.
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