The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln did not occur as a spur of the moment event. In fact, it was planned before the President of the United States took his seat at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865.
The assassination was not the first attempt on the life of President Abraham Lincoln. Discover the details leading up to Lincoln’s assassination, along with the aftermath.
A Plot Hatched For Lincoln’s Assassination
The information most people likely know about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln is that John Wilkes Booth slipped into Ford’s Theater and shot the 16th President of the United States and then made a quick getaway. However, what some individuals do not know is that there was actually a plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln before the night of April 14, 1865. Another twist is that John Wilkes Booth was not the only person involved in the plot. Several Confederates or Confederate sympathizers played a pivotal role.
PBS gives descriptions of co-conspirators and the role they played. For example, President Lincoln was not the only target. George Azterodt was supposed to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson. However, Azterodt did not follow through.
Booth, a Confederate who also believed in white supremacy, recruited Lewis Powell to kidnap President Lincoln, a plan that failed. Booth then instructed Powell to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward. That plan also failed, although Powell did injure the Secretary of State, his son, and a bodyguard.
These and the other co-conspirators needed a safe place to meet Mary Surratt who provided them with a safe haven. She owned a Washington boarding house, the perfect location for everyone to meet and work out details of the planned kidnapping and multiple assassinations, including shooting President Abraham Lincoln. Both of the planned kidnappings failed. However, that did not deter Booth.
The Shooting Of The President
Two days after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech detailing his plans for peace and reconstruction. The Independence Hall Association indicates that John Wilkes Booth became infuriated as he stood in the crowd listening to the speech. Booth reportedly made the statement, “Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.” The date was April 11, 1865.
On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln and his wife Mary, along with Henry Rathbone an army officer and Rathbone’s fiancée, Clara Harris, a senator’s daughter were attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. Ulysses S. Grant and his wife were also supposed to attend the play with President Lincoln that night but canceled to visit their son.
Another of Booth’s co-conspirators, Edmund Spangler, a stagehand at Ford’s Theater, helped Booth gain access into the theater as Lincoln happily sat watching the comedy, Our American Cousin. John Wilkes Booth made his way to the private box where Lincoln and the rest of his party sat.
Death Of The 16th President
Booth fired a single shot into Lincoln’s head, which entered just behind his left ear. The bullet ripped into Lincoln’s brain. In addition to firing the Deringer pistol at President Lincoln, he used his dagger to slash Rathbone’s arm. He then leaped onto the stage in front of horrified playgoers, breaking his leg in the process. He made his getaway as efforts to save President Lincoln began. Charles Leale, a doctor in attendance, administered first aid to President Lincoln inside the theater. Abraham Lincoln’s wound was fatal. He clung to life briefly, succumbing to the mortal wound on the morning of April 15.
Booth and accomplice David Herald escaped to a Virginia farmhouse. Union soldiers tried to burn them out of the barn. Herald surrendered; however, a soldier shot Booth, whose last words were “useless, useless.”
As the nation mourned, most of the co-conspirators were hanged while others received lengthy prison sentences. In 2004, the FBI reported that it conducted tests on a recovered Derringer, verifying it is the one used to shoot President Lincoln.