Assassination of Lincoln On April 12, 1865, after hearing the news that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Booth told Louis J. Weichmann, a friend of John Surratt, and a boarder at Mary Surratt`s house, that he was done with the stage and that the only play he wanted to present henceforth was Venice Preserv`d. Weichmann did not understand the reference: Venice Preserv`d is about an assassination plot. With the Union Army`s capture of Richmond and Lee`s surrender, Booth`s scheme to kidnap Lincoln was no longer feasible, and he changed his goal to assassination.
The previous day, Booth was in the crowd outside the White House when Lincoln gave an impromptu speech from his window. When Lincoln stated that he was in favor of granting suffrage to the former slaves, Booth declared that it would be the last speech Lincoln would ever make.
On the morning of Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Booth went to Ford`s Theatre to get his mail; while there he was told by John Ford`s brother that President and Mrs. Lincoln accompanied by Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant would be attending the play Our American Cousin at Ford`s Theatre that evening. He immediately set about making plans for the assassination, which included making arrangements with livery stable owner James W. Pumphrey for a getaway horse, and an escape route. Booth informed Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt of his intention to kill Lincoln. He assigned Powell to assassinate Secretary of State William H. Seward and Atzerodt to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson. Herold would assist in their escape into Virginia.
By targeting Lincoln and his two immediate successors to the presidency, Booth seems to have intended to decapitate the Union government and throw it into a state of panic and confusion. The possibility of assassinating the Union Army`s commanding general as well was foiled when Grant declined the theatre invitation at his wife`s insistence. Instead, the Grants departed Washington by train that evening for a visit to relatives in New Jersey.
Booth had hoped that the assassinations would create sufficient chaos within the Union that the Confederate government could reorganize and continue the war if one Confederate army remained in the field or, that failing, to avenge the South`s defeat. In his 2005 analysis of Lincoln`s assassination, Thomas Goodrich wrote, "All the elements in Booth`s nature came together at once – his hatred of tyranny, his love of liberty, his passion for the stage, his sense of drama, and his lifelong quest to become immortal." As a famous and popular actor who had frequently performed at Ford`s Theatre, and who was well known to its owner, John T. Ford, Booth had free access to all parts of the theater, even having his mail sent there. By boring a spyhole into the door of the presidential box earlier that day, the assassin could check that his intended victim had made it to the play and observe the box`s occupants. That evening, at around 10 p.m., as the play progressed, John Wilkes Booth slipped into Lincoln`s box and shot him in the back of the head with a .44 caliber Derringer.
Booth`s escape was almost thwarted by Major Henry Rathbone, who was present in the Presidential box with Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln. Booth stabbed Rathbone when the startled officer lunged at him. Rathbone`s fiancée, Clara Harris, who was also present in the box, was unhurt.
Booth then jumped from the President`s box to the stage, where he raised his knife and shouted "Sic semper tyrannis" (Latin for "Thus always to tyrants," attributed to Brutus at Caesar`s assassination and the Virginia state motto), while others said he added, "I have done it, the South is avenged!" Various accounts state that Booth injured his leg when his spur snagged a decorative U.S. Treasury Guard flag while leaping to the stage.
Historian Michael W. Kauffman questioned this legend in his book, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, writing in 2004 that eyewitness accounts of Booth`s hurried stage exit made it unlikely that his leg was broken then. Kauffman contends that Booth was injured later that night during his flight to escape when his horse tripped and fell on him, calling Booth`s claim to the contrary an exaggeration to portray his own actions as heroic.
Booth was the only one of the assassins to succeed. Powell was able to stab Seward, who was bedridden as a result of an earlier carriage accident; although badly wounded, Seward survived. Atzerodt lost his nerve and spent the evening drinking; he never made an attempt on Johnson`s life.
Reaction and pursuit In the ensuing pandemonium inside Ford`s Theatre, Booth fled by a stage door to the alley, where his getaway horse was held for him by Joseph "Peanuts" Burroughs. The owner of the horse had warned Booth that the horse was high spirited and would break halter if left unattended. Booth left the horse with Edmund Spangler and Spangler arranged for Burroughs to hold the horse.
The fleeing assassin galloped into southern Maryland, accompanied by David Herold, having planned his escape route to take advantage of the sparsely settled area`s lack of telegraphs and railroads, along with its predominantly Confederate sympathies. He thought that the area`s dense forests and swampy terrain of Zekiah Swamp made it ideal for an escape route into rural Virginia. At midnight, Booth and Herold arrived at Surratt`s Tavern on the Brandywine Pike, 9 miles (14 km) from Washington, where they had stored guns and equipment earlier in the year as part of the kidnap plot.
The fugitives then continued southward, stopping before dawn on April 15 at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, St. Catharine, 25 miles (40 km) from Washington, for treatment of Booth`s injured leg. Mudd later said that Booth told him the injury occurred when his horse fell. The next day, Booth and Herold arrived at the home of Samuel Cox around 4 a.m. As the two fugitives hid in the woods nearby, Cox contacted Thomas A. Jones, his foster brother and a Confederate agent in charge of spy operations in the southern Maryland area since 1862. By order of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, the War Department advertised a $100,000 reward ($1.53 million in 2013 USD) for information leading to the arrest of Booth and his accomplices, and Federal troops were dispatched to search southern Maryland extensively, following tips reported by Federal intelligence agents to Col. Lafayette Baker.
While Federal troops combed the rural area`s woods and swamps for Booth in the days following the assassination, the nation experienced an outpouring of grief. On April 18, mourners waited seven abreast in a mile-long line outside the White House for the public viewing of the slain president, reposing in his open walnut casket in the black-draped East Room. A cross of lilies was at the head and roses covered the coffin`s lower half. Thousands of mourners arriving on special trains jammed Washington for the next day`s funeral, sleeping on hotel floors and even resorting to blankets spread outdoors on the capital`s lawn.
Prominent abolitionist leader and orator Frederick Douglass called the assassination an "unspeakable calamity" for African Americans. Great indignation was directed towards Booth as the assassin`s identity was telegraphed across the nation. Newspapers called him an "accursed devil," "monster," "madman," and a "wretched fiend." Historian Dorothy Kunhardt wrote: "Almost every family who kept a photograph album on the parlor table owned a likeness of John Wilkes Booth of the famous Booth family of actors. After the assassination Northerners slid the Booth card out of their albums: some threw it away, some burned it, some crumpled it angrily." Even in the South, sorrow was expressed in some quarters. In Savannah, Georgia, where the mayor and city council addressed a vast throng at an outdoor gathering to express their indignation, many in the crowd wept. Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston called Booth`s act "a disgrace to the age". Robert E. Lee also expressed regret at Lincoln`s death by Booth`s hand.
Not all were grief-stricken, however. In New York City, a man was attacked by an enraged crowd when he shouted, "It served Old Abe right!" after hearing the news of Lincoln`s death. Elsewhere in the South, Lincoln was hated in death as in life, and Booth was viewed as a hero as many rejoiced at news of his deed. Other Southerners feared that a vengeful North would exact a terrible retribution upon the defeated former Confederate states. "Instead of being a great Southern hero, his deed was considered the worst possible tragedy that could have befallen the South as well as the North," wrote Kunhardt.
While hiding in the Maryland woods as he waited for an opportunity to cross the Potomac River into Virginia, Booth read the accounts of national mourning reported in the newspapers brought to him by Jones each day. By April 20, he was aware that some of his co-conspirators were already arrested: Mary Surratt, Powell (or Paine), Arnold, and O`Laughlen. Booth was surprised to find little public sympathy for his action, especially from those anti-Lincoln newspapers that had previously excoriated the President in life. As news of the assassination reached the far corners of the nation, indignation was aroused against Lincoln`s critics, whom many blamed for encouraging Booth to act. The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized: "Booth has simply carried out what ... secession politicians and journalists have been for years expressing in words ... who have denounced the President as a `tyrant,` a `despot,` a `usurper,` hinted at, and virtually recommended." Booth wrote of his dismay in a journal entry on April 21, as he awaited nightfall before crossing the Potomac River into Virginia.
"For six months we had worked to capture. But our cause being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done. I struck boldly, and not as the papers say. I can never repent it, though we hated to kill." That same day, the nine-car funeral train bearing Lincoln`s body departed Washington on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, arriving at Baltimore`s Camden Station at 10 a.m., the first stop on a 13-day journey to Springfield, Illinois, its final destination. As the funeral train slowly made its way westward through seven states, stopping en route at Harrisburg; Philadelphia; Trenton; New York; Albany; Buffalo; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati; and Indianapolis during the following days, about 7 million people lined the railroad tracks along the 1,662-mile (2,675 km) route, holding aloft signs with legends such as "We mourn our loss," "He lives in the hearts of his people," and "The darkest hour in history."
In the cities where the train stopped, 1.5 million people viewed Lincoln in his coffin. Aboard the train was Clarence Depew, president of the New York Central Railroad, who said, "As we sped over the rails at night, the scene was the most pathetic ever witnessed. At every crossroads the glare of innumerable torches illuminated the whole population, kneeling on the ground." Dorothy Kunhardt called the funeral train`s journey "the mightiest outpouring of national grief the world had yet seen."
Meanwhile, as mourners were viewing Lincoln`s remains when the funeral train steamed into Harrisburg at 8:20 p.m., Booth and Herold were provided with a boat and compass by Jones, to cross the Potomac at night on April 21. Instead of reaching Virginia, however, they mistakenly navigated upriver to a bend in the broad Potomac River, coming ashore again in Maryland on April 22. The 23-year-old Herold knew the area well, having frequently hunted there, and recognized a nearby farm as belonging to a Confederate sympathizer. The farmer led them to his son-in-law, Col. John J. Hughes, who provided the fugitives with food and a hideout until nightfall, for a second attempt to row across the river to Virginia. Booth wrote in his diary, "With every man`s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for ... And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat." The pair finally reached the Virginia shore near Machodoc Creek before dawn on April 23. There, they made contact with Thomas Harbin, whom Booth had previously brought into his erstwhile kidnapping plot. Harbin took Booth and Herold to another Confederate agent in the area, William Bryant, who supplied them with horses.
While Lincoln`s funeral train was in New York City on April 24, Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty was dispatched from Washington at 2 p.m. with a detachment of 26 Union soldiers from the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment to capture Booth in Virginia. Accompanied by Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger, an intelligence officer assigned by Lafayette Baker, the detachment steamed 70 miles (113 km) down the Potomac River on a boat, the John S. Ide, landing at Belle Plain, Virginia, at 10 p.m. The pursuers crossed the Rappahannock River and tracked Booth and Herold to Richard H. Garrett`s farm, just south of Port Royal, Caroline County, Virginia. Booth and Herold had been led to the farm on April 24 by William S. Jett, a former private in the 9th Virginia Cavalry whom they had met before crossing the Rappahannock. The Garretts were unaware of Lincoln`s assassination; Booth was introduced to them as "James W. Boyd", a Confederate soldier who, they were told, had been wounded in the battle of Petersburg and was returning home.
Garrett`s 11-year-old son, Richard, was an eyewitness. In later years, he became a Baptist minister and widely lectured on the events of Booth`s demise at his family`s farm. In 1921, Garrett`s lecture was published in the Confederate Veteran as the "True Story of the Capture of John Wilkes Booth." According to his account, Booth and Herold arrived at the Garretts` farm, located on the road to Bowling Green, around 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon. Because Confederate mail delivery had ceased with the collapse of the Confederate government, he explained, the Garretts were unaware of Lincoln`s assassination. After having dinner with the Garretts that evening, Booth learned of the surrender of Johnston`s army. The last Confederate armed force of any size, its capitulation meant that the Civil War was unquestionably over and Booth`s attempt to save the Confederacy by Lincoln`s assassination had failed. The Garretts also finally learned of Lincoln`s death and the substantial reward for Booth`s capture. Booth, said Garrett, displayed no reaction, other than to ask if the family would turn in the fugitive should they have the opportunity. Still not aware of their guest`s true identity, one of the older Garrett sons averred that they might, if only because they needed the money. The next day, Booth told the Garretts he intended to reach Mexico, drawing a route on a map of theirs. However, biographer Theodore Roscoe said of Garrett`s account, "Almost nothing written or testified in respect to the doings of the fugitives at Garrett`s farm can be taken at face value. Nobody knows exactly what Booth said to the Garretts, or they to him."
Death Conger tracked down Jett and interrogated him, learning of Booth`s location at the Garrett farm. Before dawn on April 26, the soldiers caught up with the fugitives, who were hiding in Garrett`s tobacco barn. David Herold surrendered, but Booth refused Conger`s demand to surrender, saying "I prefer to come out and fight"; the soldiers then set the barn on fire. As Booth moved about inside the blazing barn, Sergeant Boston Corbett shot him. According to Corbett`s later account, he fired at Booth because the fugitive "raised his pistol to shoot" at them. Conger`s report to Stanton, however, stated that Corbett shot Booth "without order, pretext or excuse," and recommended that Corbett be punished for disobeying orders to take Booth alive. Booth, fatally wounded in the neck, was dragged from the barn to the porch of Garrett`s farmhouse, where he died three hours later, aged 26. The bullet had pierced three vertebrae and partially severed his spinal cord, paralyzing him. In his dying moments, he reportedly whispered, "Tell my mother I died for my country." Asking that his hands be raised to his face so he could see them, Booth uttered his last words, "Useless, useless," and died as dawn was breaking. In Booth`s pockets were found a compass, a candle, pictures of five women (actresses Alice Grey, Helen Western, Effie Germon, Fannie Brown, and Booth`s fiancée Lucy Hale), and his diary, where he had written of Lincoln`s death, "Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment."
Shortly after Booth`s death, his brother Edwin wrote to his sister Asia, "Think no more of him as your brother; he is dead to us now, as he soon must be to all the world, but imagine the boy you loved to be in that better part of his spirit, in another world." Asia also had in her possession a sealed letter Booth had given her in January 1865 for safekeeping, only to be opened upon his death. In the letter, Booth had written: "I know how foolish I shall be deemed for undertaking such a step as this, where, on one side, I have many friends and everything to make me happy ... to give up all ... seems insane; but God is my judge. I love justice more than I do a country that disowns it, more than fame or wealth."
Booth`s letter, seized along with other family papers at Asia`s house by Federal troops and published by The New York Times while the manhunt was underway, explained his reasons for plotting against Lincoln. In it he said, "I have ever held the South was right. The very nomination of Abraham Lincoln, four years ago, spoke plainly war upon Southern rights and institutions." The institution of "African slavery," he had written, "is one of the greatest blessings that God has ever bestowed upon a favored nation" and Lincoln`s policy was one of "total annihilation."
Aftermath Booth`s body was shrouded in a blanket and tied to the side of an old farm wagon for the trip back to Belle Plain. There, his corpse was taken aboard the ironclad USS Montauk and brought to the Washington Navy Yard for identification and an autopsy. The body was identified there as Booth`s by more than ten people who knew him. Among the identifying features used to make sure that the man that was killed was Booth was a tattoo on his left hand with his initials J.W.B., and a distinct scar on the back of his neck. The third, fourth, and fifth vertebrae were removed during the autopsy to allow access to the bullet. These bones are still on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. The body was then buried in a storage room at the Old Penitentiary, later moved to a warehouse at the Washington Arsenal on October 1, 1867. In 1869, the remains were once again identified before being released to the Booth family, where they were buried in the family plot at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, after a burial ceremony conducted by Fleming James, minister of Christ Episcopal Church, in the presence of more than 40 people. By then, wrote scholar Russell Conwell after visiting homes in the vanquished former Confederate states, hatred of Lincoln still smoldered and "Photographs of Wilkes Booth, with the last words of great martyrs printed upon its borders ... adorn their drawing rooms".
Eight others implicated in Lincoln`s assassination were tried by a military tribunal in Washington, D.C., and found guilty on June 30, 1865. Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt were hanged in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary on July 7, 1865. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O`Laughlen were sentenced to life imprisonment at Fort Jefferson in Florida`s Dry Tortugas; Edmund Spangler was given a six-year term in prison. O`Laughlen died in a yellow fever epidemic there in 1867. The others were eventually pardoned in February 1869 by President Andrew Johnson.
Forty years later, when the centenary of Lincoln`s birth was celebrated in 1909, a border state official reflected on Booth`s assassination of Lincoln, "Confederate veterans held public services and gave public expression to the sentiment, that `had Lincoln lived` the days of reconstruction might have been softened and the era of good feeling ushered in earlier". A century later, Goodrich concluded in 2005, "For millions of people, particularly in the South, it would be decades before the impact of the Lincoln assassination began to release its terrible hold on their lives". The majority of Northerners viewed Booth as a madman or monster who murdered the savior of the Union, while in the South, many cursed Booth for bringing upon them the harsh revenge of an incensed North instead of the reconciliation promised by Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln The Assassination (Full Documentary)