Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed on April 14, 1865 while attending “My American Cousin” at the Ford Theater. John George Nicolay and John Hay, who were Lincoln’s personal secretary and assistants were present at Lincoln’s deathbed and wrote about that fateful night. These excerpts are their words written down after the assassination.
|wax figures from Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL|
“From the beginning of his Presidency, Mr. Lincoln had been constantly subject to the threats of his enemies and the warnings of his friends. The threats came in every form; his mail was infested with brutal and vulgar menace, mostly anonymous, the proper expression of vile and cowardly minds.”
“A little band of malignant secessionists, consisting of John Wilkes Booth, an actor, of a famous family of players; Lewis Powel, alias Payne, a disbanded rebel soldier from Florida; George Atzerodt, formerly a coachmaker, but more recently a spy and blockade runner of the Potomac; David E. Herold, a young druggist’s clerk; Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlin, Maryland secessionists and Confederate soldiers, and John H. Surratt, had their ordinary rendezvous at the house of Mrs. Mary E. Surratt, the widowed mother of the last named, formerly a woman of some property in Maryland, but reduced to reverses to keeping a small boarding-house in Washington.”
|The Peterson House, where Lincoln died|
President Lincoln had a recurring dream. Three times this dream visited him. The last time was three days before he was assassinated. He dreamed he heard sobbing all around him. As he wandered, he saw people gathered around a corpse – soldiers and mourners. When he asked one of the soldiers who had died, they told him, “The President, killed by an assassin”. He tells some friends who were there that he then awoke and has been troubled by the dream ever since.
|Ford's Theater as it looked in 1865|
These men and woman conspired together to kill the president. Once Booth learned Lincoln and Grant were to be at the theater, he sent word through Mary Surratt for everyone to meet later that night. He met with his co-conspirators and assigned them their jobs – Payne would kill Seward, and Atzerodt would kill Johnson. Herold would wait for Payne and then meet them in Maryland. Unfortunately, Herold heard the screams and ran away, leaving Payne alone. O’Laughlin followed the Grants and did attempt to kill them on the train, but could not get inside their private train car. Atzerodt did not want to kill anyone, but Booth told him he was in too far to chicken out now.
|The Presidential Box overlooking the stage|
When he arrived at the theater, he used all his charms to find his way inside and then lock the door to Lincoln’s booth before shooting him in the back of the head. Lincoln was not the only one on the list of assassinations that evening. His entire cabinet was to be murdered. Secretary William Seward and his son were stabbed several times by an unnamed man who pretended to be delivering a prescription. Secretary Seward recovered from his wounds. General Grant and his wife had left earlier, but were supposed to be at the theater that same evening. Vice President Johnson was placed under guard as soon as the attacks occurred, the government worried the assassins would be coming for him as well.
Herold and Booth went to Dr. Mudd’s office where the doctor made crutches for the Booth’s broken leg. Mudd took them to another home where they spent the night. They hid at the Garrett farm, claiming to be a wounded Confederate soldier. On April 26, the farm was surrounded and Booth was captured. A soldier named Boston Corbett snuck up behind Booth and shot him in the neck.
The rest were rounded up, except for John Surratt, who escaped to Quebec then Liverpool, England. He was finally captured in Egypt in 1866. He was put on trial, but the jury could not come to a conclusion to his guilt, so he went free and died in 1916.
Out of the many rounded up, eight were put on trial – Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlin, Lewis Powell (Payne), Edmund Spangler (who held Booth’s horse for him), and Mary Surratt. A military tribunal was ordered by President Johnson. The trial lasted six weeks with 366 witnesses testifying. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlin were given life sentences. Edmund Spangler was given six years in prison. Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt were sentenced to hang. Many asked for clemency for Mary Surratt, but Johnson said he never received the request. They were hanged on July 7, 1865.
|John Surratt - escaped to Europe, never convicted|
|Michael O'Laughlin - life in prison|
|Dr. Samuel Mudd - life imprisonment|
|Samuel Arnold - life imprisonment|
|Edmund Spangler - given 6 years in prison|
|George Atzerodt - hanged|
|John Wilkes Booth - killed by Boston Corbett|
|Mary Surratt - hanged|
|Lewis Powell, aka Payne - hanged|
|David Herold - hanged|
Ford’s Theater was closed not long after the assassination. People were outraged by what happened there. The government purchased the theater, tore out the insides, and used it as an office building. It was later used as a warehouse. In 1968, the theater was reopened as a museum and working playhouse. The Presidential box is never occupied during theater showings. The house across the street where Lincoln died – the Peterson House – was purchased in 1898 and held as a memorial for the slain president.