The assassination of Abraham Lincoln happened on the evening of Good Friday, April 14, 1865. This occurred just five days after Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under the leadership of General Robert Lee, surrendered to the Union Army of the Potomac and Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant. The assassination was calculated and executed by a stage actor John Wilkes Booth. It was a part of a bigger scheme in a bid to rejuvenate the Confederate cause.
In the March of 1864, the Union’s Army commanding general Ulysses Grant decided to delay the exchange of the prisoners-of-war, since he realized that exchanging the prisoners was prolonging the war by returning the soldiers to the manpower-starved and outnumbered South. John Booth came up with a plan to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln and bring him to the Confederate Army. The president was to be held hostage until the North approved the resumption of exchange of prisoners. Booth hired 6 men to help him to execute his plan. They included: Samuel Arnold, John Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt and Michael O’Laughlen. Surratt’s mother, Mary Surratt, left her inn in Maryland and moved to Washington D.C., where Booth based his operations in the federal city.
On March 4, 1865, Booth attended Lincoln’s second inauguration as a guest of his secret fiancée Lucy Hale. Later on, Booth wrote in his diary that he had an excellent chance to kill the president if he wanted to, on that day. On March 15th, 1865, he informed his co-conspirators that the president was to attend a play at Campbell Military Hospital. He gathered his men in a restaurant, planning that they join him on a nearby road stretch so as to kidnap the president on his way back from the hospital. Unfortunately, Lincoln did not go to the play; rather, he attended a ceremony at the National Hotel. Ironically, this is the hotel where Booth was staying at the moment.
In the meantime, the Confederacy was collapsing. On April 9, 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to the Army of the Potomac. Despite the Confederate President and his government escaping, Booth still believed in his cause. On April 11, 1865, Booth went to the White House to attend Lincoln’s speech, where the president supported the initiative of enfranchising former slaves. Booth got provoked and hence decided on assassinating the president.
The Assassination Day
On Friday April 14, 1865, Booth went to Ford’s Theatre and learned that Lincoln was to attend the evening performance of “Our American Cousin”, alongside Gen. Grant. Later on, he held a meeting with his co-conspirators and informed them on his plan to kill the president at the theatre. Atzerodt was assigned to kill Vice-President Andrew Johnson, while Powell was to kill Secretary of State William Seward. All attacks were to happen simultaneously at around 10:45 pm.
Booth arrived at the Ford theatre at around 9:30 pm, armed with a single shot derringer and a hunting knife. He did not enter into the theatre immediately instead, he went to a nearby saloon for a drink. The President and his party arrived at Ford at around 10:15 pm and settled in the President Box together with his wife and major Henry Rathbone. Booth entered the theatre at about 10:07 pm and slowly made his way toward the state box where the president sat together with his wife, Mary. Apparently, the Box was supposed to be guarded by a policeman called John Parker who was a curious choice for a bodyguard. Parker went to a nearby tavern during the intermission together with Lincoln’s coachman and footman. It remains unclear whether he returned to the theatre after that.
Booth’s celebrity status enabled him to go all the way to the Box, as the audience thought he was going to call the President’s doctor. At around 10:20 pm, just when Act III, scene II was taking place, Booth took the advantage of the funniest line of the play and got into the President Box, and immediately shot the President behind his left ear. The president slumped over his rocking chair immediately, while his wife screamed on realizing what had happened. Rathbone heard the gunshot and jumped from his seat, while trying to prevent Booth from escaping. They struggled for a few seconds but Booth stabbed Henry and vaulted over the rail of the Box down to the stage, but he injured his leg. He the flashed his knife and yelled “Sic semper tyrannis!” which means “Thus always to tyrants!”
Despite the cries from Mrs. Lincoln to the audience to stop Booth from escaping, things were happening very fast and the crowd had no time to stop him. Booth went out of the back door immediately, climbed his horse and escaped from the city via the Navy Yard Bridge. The president did not regain consciousness and died at 7:22 am on April 15, 1865.
After the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
In the meantime, Booth met Herold at Mary Suratt’s tavern in Maryland. At around 4:00 am they arrived at Doctor Mudd’s house where Booth’s broken leg was set and sprinted by the doctor. The pair departed from Mudd’s home on the afternoon of April 15 and proceeded south. However, Federal authorities caught up with them hiding in a shed near Port Royal, Virginia in the morning of April 26. Herold capitulated, but Booth declined to come out, so the shed was set on fire. Still, he declined to come out, and was then shot dead by Sgt. Boston Corbett. Booth’s body was investigated, and a diary was found among other things. His remains were returned to Washington and a positive identification was carried out.
Meanwhile, Atzerodt did not make any attempt to kill the Vice-President, while Secretary of State was stabbed by Powell but fortunately he did not die. After some days, Booth’s co-conspirators were arrested except John Surratt. They were tried in a Military Tribunal and found guilty. Atzerodt, Powell, Herold and Mrs. Surratt were all hanged on July 7, 1865; while O’Laughlen, Arnold and Dr. Mudd were sentenced to life imprisonment. John Surratt escaped to Canada and later to Europe, where he was captured and tried in a civil court in 1867. After the trial ended with a deadlocked jury, Surratt was set free. O’Laughlen died in prison in 1867, while Arnold and Dr. Mudd were pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1869.
In conclusion, Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated. His death had an enduring impact upon the U.S., and he was mourned in the entire country. There were several attacks in many cities against people who expressed support for Booth. Lincoln was buried in Washington D.C. on April 19, 1865.