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The History of Lincoln’s Assassination

On April 14, 1865, just five days after the end of the Civil War, The President of the United States was attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. Abraham Lincoln had no expectations of being shot that night. John Wilkes Booth was an actor at Ford’s Theater and had a severe plan to kill the President. He blamed Lincoln for the South’s defeat against the North. Booth shot Lincoln in the head and later killing him.

In the late summer of 1864 Booth began to plan to kidnap Abraham Lincoln. The President would be seized, taken to Richmond and held in exchange for Confederate soldiers in Union Prison camps. Booth began to recruit a gang of conspirators. Within several months, he had recruited Michael O’Laughlen, Samuel Arnold, Lewis Powell (Paine), John Surratt, David Herold, and George Atzerodt.

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On March 15th Booth met with the whole group at Gautier’s Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue about three blocks from Ford’s Theater to talk about Lincoln’s abduction. Booth learned that Lincoln would be attending a play (Still Waters Run Deep) at the Campbell Hospital just outside Washington on March 17, 1865. He thought that would be the best time to kidnap Lincoln, but he soon learned that he would not be going to the show.

On April 9, 1865, General lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox. On April 11 the President gave his last speech from the White House. Booth, Herold, and Powell were in the audience. Booth was outraged by what he was speaking about giving the former slaves rights. Booth said, “Now, by God! I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.” (

Three days later, on April 14, Booth stopped at Ford’s Theater to pick up his mail. He was dressed in dark clothes and wore a tall silk hat. He also wore kid gloves of a bland colour, had a light overcoat slung over his arm. While there he learned of President Lincoln’s Plans to attend the evening performance of Our American Cousin from Henry Clay Ford.

He spent some time walking around the theatre. He knew nearly every line of the play. He figured out that the greatest laughter in the theatre would be taking place about 10:15 P.M. He also realized the actor Harry Hawk, would be alone on stage at this moment. He made up his mind. This would be the time to assassinate the President.

After leaving the theatre he showed up at a stable on C Street operated by James W. Pumphrey and rented a fast roan mare. He said he would pick up the horse at 4:00 P.M that afternoon. At 2 o’clock that afternoon he met with Lewis Paine and told him of his plans. He then instructed him to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward. Booth then went to the Surratt boardinghouse. He gave Mary Surrat a package containing field glasses and asked her to take them to her tavern in Surrattsville (Booth picked them up from John Lloyd at the tavern at around midnight).

At three o’clock he went to the Kirkwood House to talk to George Atzerodt. Booth wanted Atzerodt to kill Vice-President Andrew Johnson who lived at the Kirkwood House. Atzerodt was out. Booth instead left a note for the Vice-President with Robert Jones, the desk clerk.

Booth left there and went to pick up the horse he rented. He also wrote a letter to the editor of National Intelligencer a Washington D.C newspaper. He wrote that his plans had changed from kidnapping the President to killing him. He signed the letter with his name and his coconspirators Paine, Atzerodt, and Herold. He gave the letter to an actor friend of his staring in Our American Cousin, John Mathews. He wanted it delivered the next day.

At five o’clock he met with Atzerodt in a side street. He told him to kill Andrew Johnson as close to 10:15 as possible. Booth then went to Ford’s Theater and took several Ford’s employees including Ned Spangler, out for a drink. After he returned and practiced his route for the assassination, except the leap to the stage. He drilled a small hole in the door in the back where Lincoln would be sitting, which would give him a view of where Lincoln’s head and shoulders would be.

At seven P.M. Booth started to prepare for the assassination. He put on calf-length boots, new spurs, and black clothes. He wore a black hat and brought his diary. He also brought with him a compass, a small derringer, and a long bowie knife that he stuck inside his left pant leg. He loaded his derringer with a single shot pistol, .44-caliber.

At eight o’clock he held one last meeting with all the involved. Paine would kill Secretary Seward. Herold would guide Paine to Seward’s home and help him escape from Washington. Atzerodt would kill Vice-president Johnson. Booth would kill Lincoln. All attacks would take place simultaneously at 10:15 P.M. The entire gang would then meet at the Navy Yard Bridge. From there they would ride to Surrattsville and pick up guns and binoculars at John Lloyd’s leased tavern.

Booth arrived at Ford’s Theatre around 9:30. He called Ned Spangler to hold his horse in the alley in the back of Ford’s. Spangler was busy changing sets for the play and asked another employee (a lad named Joseph C. Burroughs) to take care of the stallion.

Booth entered Ford’s lobby at about 10:07 P.M. He went up the stairs to the dress circle. Booth could see the white door he needed to enter to get to Lincoln’s State Box. Charles Forbes, the President’s footman, was seated next to the door and Booth handed him a card. Quietly, Booth then opened the door and entered the dark area in the back of the box.

He propped the door shut with the wooden leg of a music stand, which he had placed there on one of his earlier visits during the day. He then opened the inside door behind where the President was sitting. He put his derringer behind Lincoln’s head near the left ear and pulled the trigger. Because of the laughter in the theatre, not all of the audience heard the shot.

Booth may have said, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (Latin for “Thus always to tyrants). Major Henry Rathbone, also sitting in the State Box, thought Booth shouted a word that sounded like “Freedom!” Rathbone began wrestling with the killer, and Booth pulled out his knife and stabbed Rathbone in the left arm. Booth climbed over the railing of the box and dropped about 11 feet to the stage. The spur of his right foot got caught in on the American flag draped on the banister.

This caused him to lose balance and land off-balance snapping the fibula bone in his left leg just above the ankle. Adrenalin flowing, he flashed his knife and quickly crossed the stage and out the back of the theatre. He jumped on his horse and escaped from the area. At approximately 10:45 Booth crossed the Navy Yard Bridge. Soon he would be in Maryland. David Herold used the same bridge and caught up with Booth. They rode together to Lloyd’s tavern. More than 11 miles south of Ford’s Theatre, Booth and Herold arrived at Mary Surratt’s Tavern. Booth had a drink of whiskey, and the fugitives picked up field glasses and a Spencer rifle.

At the time Booth didn’t know Paine failed to kill Seward, and Atzerodt had made no attempt to kill Johnson. Because his leg was hurting terribly, Booth needed medical attention. The whiskey provided only temporary relief. Booth and Herold rode off into the dark countryside. They eventually ended up at Dr. Samuel Mudd’s house at approximately 4:00 A.M. Dr. Mudd set, splinted, and bandaged the broken leg.

Although he had met Booth on at least three prior occasions, Dr. Mudd said he did not recognize his patient. He said the two used the names “Tyson” and “Henston.” Booth and Herold stayed at the Mudd residence until the next afternoon Mudd asked his handyman, John Best, to make a pair of crutches for Booth. Mudd was paid $25 for his services. Booth and Herold left in the direction of Zekiah Swamp.

Four people were executed for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Mary Surratt, Lewis Paine, David Herold, and George Atzerodt were all executed.

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The History of Lincoln's Assassination. (2021, Feb 12). Retrieved July 28, 2021, from