Last Days of Abraham Lincoln
|On the evening of
April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was
shot while watching the play Our American
Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.
The incident occurred at 10:15 p.m., during a
moment when the audience was laughing as actor
Harry Hawk performed on stage. Actor John Wilkes
Booth entered the rear of the Presidential Box
(shown in the photo to the right) and shot
Lincoln from behind before leaping out of the box
and down to the stage. In all the confusion,
Booth was able to flee from the theatre without
being accosted or arrested.
When the theatre-goers realized what had happened
to the President, doctors from the audience
immediately rushed to his aid. Lincoln was taken
across the street to the
home of William Petersen (known today as the
Petersen House, shown to the left). Here he
remained for the rest of the solemn night, until
his death on the morning of April 15 at 7:22 a.m.
Though the assassin had momentarily escaped and
was on the run, he was found and killed in less
than two weeks after the murderous act was
committed. The surviving conspirators who had
plotted with Booth to murder the President were
arrested, and a trial was held from May 10
through June 29. During the trial, a testimony by
William T. Kent on May 16, 1865 stated the
following about the murder weapon:
About three minutes
after the President was shot, I went into his
box. There were two other persons there then, and
a surgeon, apparently, asked me for a knife to
cut open the President's clothes. I handed him
mine, and with it he cut the President's clothes
open. I then went out of the theatre and went
down to call my roommate. I missed my night key,
and thinking that I had dropped my night key in
pulling out my knife, I hurried back to the
theatre. When I went into the box and was
searching around for it on the floor, I knocked
my foot against the pistol, and stooping down, I
picked it up. I held it up, and cried out,
"I have found the pistol!"
Photos of Ford's Theatre building
and Ford's Theatre Museum by CNO, photos of the
Presidential Box and the Petersen House by DLO.
Pictured immediately above: Ford's Theatre museum, with a
display of artifacts from the scene of the assassination:
a .44-caliber single-shot percussion pistol manufactured
by Henry Deringer of Philadelphia; the door which served
as a stretcher to bear the body of the President from the
theatre to William Petersen's house across the street;
and the coat Lincoln wore on that fateful evening.
||Even in death, Abraham
Lincoln would live on as a noble leader and hero
to thousands of American citizens, and was the
subject of poems by notable poets of the age such
as Walt Whitman who mourned him in passing as he
proclaimed: "This dust was once the man, /
Gentle, plain, just and resolute...". His
most famous poems about Lincoln's death include
"When lilacs last in the dooryard
bloom'd" and "O Captain! my
Captain!" which reveal the shock and dismay
he felt upon learning of the assassination.
In the following poem, Whitman contemplates the
meaning of victory for the soldiers who had
fought to preserve the Union, and the irony of
the President's death after attaining this glory.
of Lincoln care of
Leib Image Archives.
HUSH'D BE THE CAMPS TODAY
(May 4, 1865)
be the camps today,
And soldiers let us drape our war-worn weapons,
And each with musing soul retire to celebrate,
Our dear commander's death.
No more for him life's stormy conflicts,
Nor victory, nor defeatno more time's dark
Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky.
But sing poet in our name,
Sing of the love we bore him-because youdweller
in camps, know it truly.
As they invault the coffin there,
Singas they close the doors of earth upon
For the heavy hearts of soldiers.
- Walt Whitman
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