Assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln Part 1

About the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, history of the murder at Ford's theater by John Wilkes Booth.


The Victim: ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 16th president of the U. S., who led the Union to victory in the Civil War after freeing the slaves.

The Date: Apr. 14, 1865.

The Event: A tired but jubilant Lincoln and his wife, Mary, decided to join 1,675 other celebrants at Ford's Theater in the capital city for a final performance by actress Laura Keene in the rather trite drawing room comedy Our American Cousin. Washington was overflowing with triumphant relief. Five days before, Robert E. Lee had surrendered the main Confederate force to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va., and that very afternoon Union control had been ceremoniously reestablished at Fort Sumter, where America's bloodiest conflict had begun almost exactly four years before. General Sherman was still mopping up the last vestiges of Rebel resistance, so technically the war was not over, but the end was in sight and the men of the hour-Lincoln and Grant-were to appear together this night in the fashionable playhouse.

But Mrs. Grant, fearing another hysterical confrontation with Mary Lincoln, had canceled out, and the presidential couple was accompanied instead by Maj. Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, Clara Harris, daughter of the New York senator.

The Lincolns arrived an hour late, and the play was stopped so that the audience might applaud them as they entered a large, flag-adorned state box set 12 ft. above and at the right end of the stage. The bearded, 56-year-old Lincoln was wearing his usual plain black suit. He settled his long-boned, 6 ft. 4 in. frame into an upholstered, black walnut rocking chair, and the resplendently uniformed Major Rathbone occupied a small plush couch. The ladies, in their billowing, stiff-hooped skirts, preferred to sit on simple, armless wooden chairs.

Lincoln's back was to one of two doors leading into the double box, a door which had been pierced by a small peephole just that day by the man who would soon assassinate him. The entrances led into a small vestibule separated from the theater's first balcony by another door (not secured, for the lock was broken). Despite the fact that Lincoln was roundly hated by thousands of defeated Southerners (he was receiving threats on his life every day), only one guard was posted outside this vestibule door, an alcoholic policeman named John Parker, who wandered off to get a drink before the performance was half over. This left only Lincoln's easily distracted coachman, Charles Forbes, near the President's box for "security."

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