Lincoln’s Assassination

On the evening of April 14, 1865, while attending a special performance of the comedy, “Our American Cousin,” President Abraham Lincoln was shot. Accompanying him at Ford’s Theater that night were his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, a twenty-eight year-old officer named Major Henry R. Rathbone, and Rathbone’s fiancee, Clara Harris. After the play was in progress, a figure with a drawn derringer pistol stepped into the presidential box, aimed, and fired. The president slumped forward.

The Time Line of President Lincoln’s Assassination

Gallery of pictures and documents relating to the assassination

New York Herald announcement of the assassination

New York Times Announcement of the President’s death

News of Abraham Lincoln’s Death
[From page 1 of The New York Times, April 16, 1865]

Death of President Lincoln.
The Songs of Victory Drowned in Sorrow.
The Great Sorrow of an Afflicted Nation.
Party Differences Forgotten in Public Grief.
Vice-President Johnson Inaugurated as Chief Executive.
John Wilkes Booth Believed to be the Assassin.
Manifestations of the People Throughout the Country.

War Department, Washington,
April 15–4:10 A.M.

To Major-Gen. Dix:
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. Maj. Seward’s wound is not dangerous.
It is now ascertained with reasonable certainty that two assassins were engaged in this horrible crime, Wilkes Booth being the one that shot the President, and the other 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 4th 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 there left 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.


War Department, Washington, April 15.

Major Gen. Dix:
Abraham Lincoln died this morning at twenty-two minutes after seven o’clock.

Edwin M. Stanton
Secretary of War.


War Department,
Washington, April 15 — 3 P.M.

Major Gen. Dix, New-York:

Official notice of the death of the late President, Abraham Lincoln, was given by the heads of departments this morning to Andrew Johnson, Vice-President, upon whom the constitution devolved the office of President. Mr. Johnson, upon receiving this notice, appeared before the Hon. Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice of the United States, and took the oath of office, as President of the United States, assumed its duties and functions. At 12 o’clock the President met the heads of departments in cabinet meeting, at the Treasury Building, and among other business the following was transacted:

First — The arrangements for the funeral of the late President were referred to the several Secretaries, as far as relates to their respective departments.

Second — William Hunter, Esq., was appointed Acting Secretary of State during the disability of Mr. Seward, and his son Frederick Seward, the Assistant Secretary.

Third — The President formally announced that he desired to retain the present Secretaries of departments of his Cabinet, and they would go on and discharge their respective duties in the same manner as before the deplorable event that had changed the head of the government.

All business in the departments was suspended during the day.
The surgeons report that the condition of Mr. Seward remains unchanged. He is doing well.

No improvement in Mr. Frederick Seward.
The murderers have not yet been apprehended.

Edwin M. Stanton
Secretary of War.




Additional Details of the Lamentable Event.

Washington, Saturday, April 15.

The assassin of President Lincoln left behind him his hat and a spur.

The hat was picked up in the President’s box and has been identified by parties to whom it has been shown as the one belonging to the suspected man, and accurately described as the one belonging to the suspected man by other parties, not allowed to see it before describing it.

The spur was dropped upon the stage, and that also has been identified as the one procured at a stable where the same man hired a horse in the evening.

Two gentlemen who went to the Secretary of War to apprize him of the attack on Mr. Lincoln met at the residence of the former a man muffled in a cloak, who, when accosted by them, hastened away.

It had been Mr. Stanton’s intention to accompany Mr. Lincoln to the theatre, and occupy the same box, but the press of business prevented.

It therefore seems evident that the aim of the plotters was to paralyze the country by at once striking down the head, the heart and the arm of the country.

As soon as the dreadful events were announced in the streets, Superintendent Richards, and his assistants, were at work to discover the assassin.

In a few moments the telegraph had aroused the whole police force of the city.

Maj. Wallach and several members of the City Government were soon on the spot and every precaution was taken to preserve order and quiet in the city.

Every street in Washington was patrolled at the request of Mr. Richards.

Gen. Augur sent horses to mount the police.

Every road leading out of Washington was strongly picketed and every possible avenue of escape was thoroughly guarded.

Steamboats about to depart down the Potomac were stopped.

The Daily Chronicle says:
“As it is suspected that this conspiracy originated in Maryland, the telegraph flashed the mournful news to Baltimore and all the cavalry was Immediately put upon active duty. Every road was picketed and every precaution taken to prevent the escape of the assassin. A preliminary examination was made by Messrs. Richards and his assistants. Several persons were called to testify and the evidence as elicited before an informal tribunal, and not under oath, was conclusive to this point. The murderer of President Lincoln was John Wilkes Booth. His hat was found in the private box, and identified by several persons who had seen him within the last two days, and the spur which he dropped by accident, after he jumped to the stage, was identified as one of those which he had obtained from the stable where he hired his horse.

This man Booth has played more than once at Ford’s Theatre, and is, of course, acquainted with its exits and entrances, and the facility with which he escaped behind the scenes is well understood.

The person who assassinated Secretary Seward left behind him a slouched hat and an old rusty navy revolver. The chambers were broken low from the barrel, as if done by striking. The loads were drawn from the chambers, one being but a rough piece of lead, and the other being smaller than the chambers, wrapped in paper, as if to keep them from falling out.




Particulars of His Last Moments — Record of His Condition Before Death — His Death

Washington, Saturday, April 15 — 11 o’clock A.M.

The Star extra says:
“At 7:20 o’clock the President breathed his last, closing his eyes as if falling to sleep, and his countenance assuming an expression of perfect serenity. There were no indications of pain and it was not known that he was dead until the gradually decreasing respiration ceased altogether.

Rev. Dr. Gurley, of the New-York avenue Presbyterian Church, immediately on it being ascertained that life was extinct, knelt at the bedside and offered an impressive prayer, which was responded to by all present.

Dr. Gurley then proceeded to the front parlor, where Mrs. Lincoln, Capt. Robert Lincoln, Mrs. John Hay, the Private Secretary, and others, were waiting, where he again offered a prayer for the consolation of the family.

The following minutes, taken by Dr. Abbott, show the condition of the late President throughout the night.

11 o’clock — Pulse 44.
11:05 o’clock — Pulse 45, and growing weaker.
11:10 o’clock — Pulse 45.
11:15 o’clock — Pulse 42.
11:20 o’clock — Pulse 45; respiration 27 to 29.
11:26 o’clock — Pulse 42.
11:32 o’clock — Pulse 48 and full.
11:40 o’clock — Pulse 45.
11:45 o’clock — Pulse 45; respiration 22.
12 o’clock — Pulse 48; respiration 22.
12:16 o’clock — Pulse 48; respiration 21 — echmot. both eyes.
12:30 o’clock — Pulse 45.
12:32 o’clock — Pulse 60.
12:35 o’clock — Pulse 66.1.
12:40 o’clock — Pulse 69;right eye much swollen and echmoses.
12:45 o’clock — Pulse 70.
12:55 o’clock — Pulse 80; struggling motion of arms.
1 o’clock — Pulse 86; respiration 30.
1:30 o’clock — Pulse 95; appearing easier.
1:45 o’clock — Pulse 86 — very quiet, respiration irregular.
Mrs. Lincoln present.
2:10 o’clock — Mrs. Lincoln retired with Robert Lincoln to adjoining rooms.
2:30 o’clock — President very quiet — pulse 54 — respiration 28.
2:52 o’clock — Pulse 48 — respiration 30.
3 o’clock — Visited again by Mrs. Lincoln.
3:25 o’clock — Respiration 24 and regular.
3:35 o’clock — Prayer by Rev. Dr. Gurley.
4 o’clock — Respiration 26 and regular.
4:15 o’clock — Pulse 60 — respiration 25.
5:50 o’clock — Respiration 28 — regular — sleeping.
6 o’clock — Pulse failing — respiration 28.
6:30 o’clock — Still failing and labored breathing.
7 o’clock — Symptoms of immediate dissolution.
7:22 o’clock — Death.

Surrounding the death bed of the President were Secretaries Stanton, Welles, Usher, Attorney-General Speed, Postmaster-General Dennison, M.B. Field, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury; Judge Otto, Assistant Secretary of the Interior; Gen. Halleck, Gen. Meigs, Senator Sumner, R.F. Andrews, of New-York; Gen. Todd, of Dacotah; John Hay, Private Secretary; Gov. Oglesby, of Illinois; Gen Farnsworth, Mr. and Miss Kenney, Miss Harris, Capt. Robert Lincoln, son of the President, and Doctors E.W. Abbott, R.K. Stone, C.D. Gatch, Neal Hall, and Mr. Lieberman. Secretary McCulloch remained with the President until about 5 o’clock, and Chief Justice Chase, after several hours’ attendance during the night, returned early this morning.

Immediately after the President’s death a Cabinet meeting was called by Secretary Stanton, and held in the room in which the corpse lay. Secretaries Stanton, Welles and Usher, Postmaster-General Dennison, and Attorney-General Speed, were present. The results of the conference are as yet unknown.

Removal of the Remains to the Executive Mansion — Feeling in the City.

Washington, Saturday, April 15.

The President’s body was removed from the private residence opposite Ford’s Theatre to the executive mansion this morning at 9:30 o’clock. in a hearse, and wrapped in the American flag. It was escorted by a small guard of cavalry, Gen. Augur and other military officers following on foot.

A dense crowd accompanied the remains to the White House, where a military guard excluded the crowd, allowing none but persons of the household and personal friends of the deceased to enter the premises, Senator Yates and Representative Farnsworth being among the number admitted.

The body is being embalmed, with a view to its removal to Illinois.
Flags over the department and throughout the city are at half-mast. Scarcely any business is being transacted anywhere either on private or public account.
Our citizens, without any preconcert whatever, are draping their premises with festoons of mourning.

The bells are tolling mournfully. All is the deepest gloom and sadness. Strong men weep in the streets. The grief is wide-spread and deep in strange contrast to the joy so lately manifested over our recent military victories.

This is indeed a day of gloom.

Reports that Mr. Frederick W. Seward, who was kindly assisting the nursing of Secretary Seward, received a stab in the back. The shoulder blade prevented the knife or dagger from penetrating into his body. The prospects are that he will recover.
A report is circulated, repeated by almost everybody, that Booth was captured fifteen miles this side of Baltimore. If it be true, as asserted, that the War Department has received such information, it will doubtless be officially promulgated.

The government departments are closed by order, and will be draped with the usual emblems of mourning.

The roads leading to and from the city are guarded by the military, and the utmost circumspection is observed as to all attempting to enter or leave the city.


Washington, Saturday, April 15.

An autopsy was held this afternoon over the body of President Lincoln by Surgeon-General Barnes and Dr. Stone, assisted by other eminent medical men.

The coffin is of mahogany, is covered with black cloth, and lined with lead, the latter also being covered white satin.

A silver plate upon the coffin over the breast bears the following inscription:

Born July 12, 1809,
Died April 15, 1865.

The remains have been embalmed.

A few locks of hair were removed from the President’s head for the family previous to the remains being placed in the coffin.

Reward Poster for Booth, Herold, and Surratt

In Philadelphia following the assassination

The spring of 1865 — nearly a century and a half ago — was one the nation and Philadelphia, its second largest city, would not soon forget. “Richmond is ours . . .” were the joyous words that crackled over newspaper telegraphs. Six days later, even better news: Lee had surrendered. The city went wild. Steam whistles, church bells, fireworks, a salute of 200 guns “by order of the Union League.”

Exuberance vanished with Lincoln’s assassination on April 14 and his death the next day, which also happened to be Good Friday. The city — and Carpenters’ Hall — were draped in black. Minutes record an expense of $96.86 “for draping the Hall in mourning for the death of the President of the U.S.” Also, for “advertising resolutions by the Company on his death $15.37.”

On Saturday afternoon, April 22, Lincoln’s funeral train arrived at Broad St. & Washington Ave., the same railroad terminal in South Philadelphia from which troops by the thousands had departed for the war. The procession bearing his catafalque proceeded to Independence Hall where the slain president lay in state in the Assembly Room. Some 85,000 filed past the bier; thousands more were still in line when the doors closed.

By July 4th, Philadelphia was ready for a celebration. Gas jets illuminated the façade of the Hall; candles ($4) highlighted the windows.

But a painful legacy of the war remained — soldiers and sailors by the thousands crippled or maimed. For two weeks in November, 1865, the Hall was offered the “Committee to Benefit the Soldiers and Sailors Home” as a place to “dispose of the goods remaining from their late fair at the Academy of Music.” Walter Allison (elected 1853; deceased 1889) was authorized to place a “contribution box for benefit of the Soldiers and Sailors Home.”

Company support for the Union was unequivocal even before the firing on Fort Sumter in April, 1861. A motion by David H. Flickwir (elected 1824; deceased 1881) declared “whereas it is right and proper that all good citizens should rally to the support of the government in this trying period and in consideration of our venerable Hall being identified with the government from its earliest time, therefore be it resolved that the Managing Committee have a suitable flagstaff and Union flag placed over the front pediment of the Hall.” On April 15, three days after the first shots were fired, the Company held a special meeting “for the purpose of unfurling to the breeze the glorious old flag of our country upon our time-honored Hall.” A chorus “of young ladies sang ‘The Star Spangled Banner’.” There was also a call to help fill Lincoln’s request for 75,000 volunteer militia. In June, 1863, as Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania threatened the city, it was voted that the Hall’s “first story be tendered to all carpenters who may see fit to form a company for home defense.”

If any members disagreed with the Company’s support of the Union — and many Philadelphians openly sympathized with the South — they apparently kept quiet. Three significant contributions are recorded:

$125 to the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon. Soldiers on troop trains from New York and New England crossed the Delaware by ferry, arriving at the foot of Washington Ave. On nearby Swanson St. a huge hall was erected where the men could bathe, then be fed in a room accommodating 500. Later they marched west to Broad St. and the depot of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. Organizer of this privately supported enterprise, which fed uncounted thousands of soldiers, was James McGlathery a prosperous insurance and real estate entrepreneur whose father and grandfather were both members of the Company. Matthew McGlathery, whose portrait hangs in the Hall, built gun carriages for Washington’s army.

$250 to the Citizens Volunteer Hospital Association. On South Broad St. adjacent to the train station was the first hospital established for wounded returning home. Planned to accommodate 400 patients, the hospital operated at nearly double capacity.

$125 to the U.S. Sanitary Commission. In June, 1864, the Philadelphia division of the Commission — the soldiers’ relief organization — staged a fund-raising fair in what was then called Logan Square. There were sales booths and commercial exhibits of all sorts, a horticultural show, a restaurant, a “smoking divan,” and the greatest attraction of all, a visit by President Lincoln.

Ref. Carl G. Karsch :

Union League image
Union League, built by John Crump, a Company member, opened May 11, 1865. One month later, on the day Philadelphia’s troops returned to the city, the League honored General U.S. Grant with a gala reception. General Robert E. Lee planned to use the building as his headquarters, had he captured Philadelphia. Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
Soldiers enroute image
Soldiers enroute south were fed — 500 at a seating — in vast “refreshment saloon” near ferry landing on the Delaware river. Company members contributed to its support, and probably helped erect building. Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia
Wounded Veterans image
Wounded veterans received care at hospital near the railroad terminal (above) from which they had departed for the battlefront. Donations by Company helped support soldiers’ treatment. Courtesy: The Free Library of Philadelphia

Frederick Douglass on the Assassination

When news of Lincoln’s assassination reached Rochester on April 15,1865, Douglass had just returned from a lecture tour on which he witnessed great joy at the war’s ending. He shared the shock of fellow Northerners as a springtime of relief turned overnight into horror and mourning. A throng of Rochester citizens gathered at City Hall, as Douglass remembered, “not knowing what to do in the agony of the hour.” Called upon to speak, Douglass described himself as “stunned and overwhelmed.” “I had… made many speeches there [Rochester] which had… touched the hearts of my hearers,” he recalled, “but never to this day was I brought into such close accord with them. We shared in common a terrible calamity, and this touch of nature made us more than countrymen, it made us Kin.”

Douglass would later write brilliantly and honestly about the necessity and the struggle of African Americans to sustain their sense of kinship with white Americans and with Abraham Lincoln. But history, with Douglass and Lincoln indispensably bound, had forged the possibility of such a national kinship – itself a brave American dream.

-David W. Blight

In a letter to Mrs. Lincoln, Frederick Douglass wrote:

Rochester. N. Y. August 17, 1865

Mrs Abraham Lincoln:

Dear Madam: Allow me to thank you, as I certainly do thank you most sincerely for your thoughtful kindness in making me the owner of a cane which was formerly the property and the favorite walking staff of your late lamented husband the honored and venerated President of the United States.

I assure you, that this inestimable memento of his Excellency will be retained in my possession while I live – an object of sacred interest – a token not merely of the kind consideration in which I have reason to know that the President was pleased to hold me personally, but as an indication of his humane interest [in the] welfare of my whole race.

With every proper sentiment of Respect and Esteem

I am, Dear Madam, your Obed[ien]t Serv[an]t.

Frederick Douglass

The Search for Lincoln’s Assassins

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer
Author: James L. Swanson
Publication Date: February 7, 2006

The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history – the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin led Union cavalry troops on a wild, twelve-day chase from the streets of Washington, D.C. across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia.

At the very center of this story is John Wilkes Booth, America’s notorious villain. A confederate sympathizer and member of a celebrated acting family, Booth three away his fame, wealth, and promise for a chance to avenge the South’s defeat. For almost two weeks, he confounded the manhunters, slipping away from their every move and denying the justice they sought.

Manhunt is a fully documented work, but it is also a fascinating tale of murder, intrigue, and betrayal. A gripping hour-by-hour account told through the eyes of the hunted and the hunters, this is history as you’ve never read it before.

Publisher’s Weekly

In the early days of April 1865, with the bloody way to preserve the union finished, Swanson tells us, Abraham Lincoln was “jubilant.” Elsewher in Washington, the other player in the coming drama of the president’s assassination was miserable. Hearing Lincoln’s April 10 victory speech, famed actor and Confederate die-hard John Wilkes Booth turned to a friend and remarked with seething hatred, “That means nigger citizenship. Now by God, I’ll put him through.” On April 14, Booth did just that. With great power, passion and at a thrilling breakneck pace, Swanson (Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution) conjures up a an exhausted yet jubilant nation ruptured by grief, stunned by tragedy and hell-bent on revenge. For 12 days, assisted by family and some women smitten by his legendary physical beauty, Booth relied on smarts, stealth and luck to elude the best detectives, military officers and local police the federal government could muster. Taking the reader into the action, the story is shot through with breathless, vivid, even gory detail. With a deft probing style and no small amount of swagger, Swanson, a member of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (, has crafted pure narrative pleasure, sure to satisfy the casusal reader and Cilvil War aficionado alike.

Library Journal
,,, Ably researched and seamlessly written, this engrossing book is recommended for all Civil War and Lincoln collectors-and all libraries.
John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libraries

The Trial of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

Andrew Johnson – 17th President of the United States
Inaugural Address

Andrew JohnsonVice President Andrew Johnson took the oath of office on April 15, 1865 after the assassination of President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. Chief Justice Salmon Chase gave the oath in Johnson’s rooms at the Kirkwood house. Andrew Johnson was one of five Presidents to never be inaugurated.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)  and Mary Todd (1818-1882)  (married 1842)

The Second Generation

Robert T. Lincoln (1843-1926) (married Mary Harlan 1868)

Edward “Eddie” Lincoln (1846-1850)

William “Willie” Lincoln (1850-1862)

Thomas “Tad” Lincoln (1853-1871)

The Third Generation

Mary “Mamie” Lincoln (1869-1938) (married Charles Isham 1891

Abraham “Jack” Lincoln (1873-1890)

Jessie Harlan Lincoln (1875-1948)  (married Warren Beckwith 1897)

The Fourth Generation

Lincoln Isham (1892-1971)

Mary “Peggy” Lincoln Beckwith (1898-1975)

Robert “Todd” Lincoln Beckwith (1904-1985)

Ref.: Mark E Neely, Jr., and Harold Holzer  American History Illustrated, 1990

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