United States and American History: 1865 The Assassination of Lincoln

About the history of the United States in 1865, Abraham Lincoln is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in Ford's Theater.


Apr. 14 Washington, D. C., was celebrating the end of the war this Good Friday. President Lincoln's schedule for the day was full: work in the office until 8; breakfast; receive business callers; meet with the Cabinet at 11; lunch; interviews in the office; a brief drive with Mrs. Lincoln; meet with Illinois friends; visit the War Department; in evening, attend a play at Ford's Theatre.

At the end of the grueling day, Lincoln considered not going to the theater. But then, aware that Mrs. Lincoln had invited General and Mrs. Grant to be their guests--and their attendance had been announced in the press--Lincoln decided to attend after all.

In his theater box that night, Lincoln and his party sat watching a 14-year-old English play, Our Country Cousin, starring Laura Keene. A member of the audience, Julia A. Shephard, later reported the events occurring shortly before 7:30 P.M.: "The President is in yonder upper right-hand private box so handsomely decked with silken flags festooned over a picture of George Washington. The young and lovely daughter of Senator Harris is the only one of his party we see as the flags hide the rest. But we know Father Abraham is there like a Father watching what interests his children. The American cousin has just been making love to a young lady who says she'll never marry but for love but when her mother and herself find out that he has lost his property they retreat in disgust at the left hand of the stage while the American cousin goes out at the right. We are waiting for the next scene."

The next scene took place not onstage but in the presidential box itself. Unnoticed by others, a man had slipped into the hallway behind the presidential box. He peered through a peephole he had secretly drilled that morning in the rear door opening into the box. He opened the door, stepped inside, raised his brass derringer pistol 5' from Lincoln's head--and fired.

Just offstage, an actor, W. J. Ferguson, heard the shot and looked up. He saw "Mr. Lincoln lean back in his rocking chair, his head coming to rest against the wall which stood between him and the audience."

Slashing at another occupant of the box with a knife, the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, leaped to the stage (breaking a shinbone), dashed off into an alley, mounted a bay horse, and rode away.

Five seconds before 7:22 in the morning, Lincoln's heart stopped beating. Someone said, "Let us pray." Mrs. Lincoln cried out, "Oh my God, and I have given my husband to die!" Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said quietly, "Now he belongs to the ages."

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