Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Lincoln Assassination

Prelude: The Civil War will soon be at an end. The Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee, surrendered at Appomattox Court House, VA on 9 April, 1865. The government of CS President Jefferson Davis had fled Richmond, VA and relocated to the small town of Danville. There is another Confederate army in the field, a scratch force of militia and the remains of the Army of Tennessee, under General Joseph Johnston. They are presently near the Raleigh-Durham, NC area, pursued by Major General William Sherman’s Western Federal Armies. Another army, under Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, is operating in the Trans-Mississippi, but can be of no help. There also are a few independent commands like Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s Virginia Partisans and Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry, but they cannot sustain any offensive power for very long.

The mood in Washington D.C. is understandably jubilant. There had been cannon salutes and bells ringing in the city, as throughout the North. Plans were being made for Grand Review of the Union armies before a large number of soldiers were to be demobilized and sent back to civilian life. Politicians in Congress were preparing to wrangle over what policies were to be used in dealing with the states of the defeated Confederacy. The Radical Republicans wanted very harsh measure taken against those states, even considering measures to downgrade them to Territorial status. Moderates and a few Democrats wanted less harsh measures taken. The prospect on a massive political fight was brewing.

US President Abraham Lincoln had plans for his newly started second term. A major clue as to his intentions was in his Second Inaugural Address. “With malice toward none, and charity toward all” he signaled his intention to greet the South as long lost family members. His was looking at putting the Civil War behind and looking forward to the future. There were two problems to tackle; the integration of nearly 4,000,000 former African-American slaves into American society, and the restoration, or what some was calling reconstruction, of the former Confederate States back into the Union. Lincoln was sure that he would be able to get those problems settled.

Someone else had other ideas.

John Wilkes Booth was an actor. Actually he was from a family of actors, sort of like the Barrymore, the Douglas, and the Bridges families of the 20th Century. His father was Junius Brutus Booth and his brother was Edwin Booth, both renowned actors in their own right and was famous for portraying characters from Shakespeare. John was great for portraying villains. John (hereafter referred to as Booth) was a Marylander who supported the Confederacy and was disheartened to see its fall. Because of this, he had a deep hatred for Lincoln. It was an irony that Lincoln was a great fan of Booth’s, having attended many plays in which he starred.

As the Confederacy was falling, Booth had devised to kidnap the President and spirit him to Richmond, intending that Lincoln be used as a bargaining chip for a prisoner exchange and a negotiated settlement that would preserve the CSA.

To assist him, he gathered a gang of what had to be a gang of misfits in order to carry out his plan.

Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Payne)
George Atzerodt
David Herold
John Surratt
Edward Spangler

At times, the group would meet at the boarding house ran by Surratt’s mother, Mary. There they planed the kidnapping. One scheme was to grab Lincoln at the theatre and spirit him off. Another was to seize him as he took his customary evening carriage ride.

4 March, 1865: At President Lincoln’s Second Inauguration, Booth and his men were in the crowd and close enough to strike, but there was security in the form of Union troops there, so that could not go off.

17 March, 1865: There was attempt to kidnap Lincoln during a carriage ride, but he changes plans, going to the National Hotel, where by coincidence Booth was staying.

After the surrender, during the wild celebrations that were going on, a crowd appeared at the White House and called for the President to make a speech. Lincoln comes out onto the balcony and reads a few prepared. Those in the crowd expected a fiery message; instead, Lincoln was conciliatory towards the surrendering Southerners. He read his speech, and let the papers fall to the floor. Towards the end of the speech, the subject changed to the status of the freed African-Americans. Lincoln was putting forth plans for eventually granting the vote to African-American males.

In the crowd was Booth, who upon hearing this muttered, “That means n****r citizenship. By God, I’ll run him through!”

Booth had just decided to kill Lincoln.

Booth and his men not only began to plan the murder, but expanded the plan to include Vice-President Andrew Johnson, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, and Secretary of State William Seward. This would effectively decapitate the government and cause a Constitutional crisis over who would succeed Lincoln.

Booth learns that Lincoln will be attending the performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre on 14 April, Good Friday. He decides that the plan will be executed that evening.

14 April, 1865: 7:00 a.m. President Lincoln wakes that morning remembering a strange dream that he had earlier that week. He floats around the White House and hears sobbing. He enters a room draped in black and containing a coffin surrounded by soldiers. He asks a soldier who was in the coffin. The answer was, “The President, he was killed by an assassin.” He told his wife, Mary, as well as several Cabinet members of this. They were frightened of this but Lincoln laughed it off. He also mentioned the dream he had that past night, of being on a ship flying toward an indefinite shore. He had this dream before, usually before a great event. Perhaps he would soon hear from Sherman about Johnston’s surrender.

11:00 a.m.: Lincoln meets with General Grant. At the same time, he sends a messenger to Ford’s Theater confirming that he would be attending that evening. Booth could have possibly heard about this while at the theatre, where he regularly played. He had his mail delivered there and would have been at the theatre office when the message arrived. Sometime afterwards, he snuck to the Presidential box, bored a peephole in the door and fixed it so the door could be jammed open.

During this time, Lincoln extended an invitation to Grant and his wife, Julia to accompany the Lincoln’s to the theatre. Grant politely refuses, stating that he and Julia had tickets on the evening train to New Jersey, where the Grant’s rented a house.

Lincoln and Grant discussed the ongoing situation in North Carolina, as well as other plans to gat the remainder of the Confederate Armed Forces to lay down their arms. Another plan discussed was the reintroduction of civil government to the Southern States as soon as possible, knowing well that there would be a period of military administration but hoping that could be short.

As far as that administration was concerned, after the meeting, Grant and Lincoln met with the Cabinet in a three-hour session. It was decided that the various departments would resume operations in the South as soon as possible. It was also decided to divide the former Confederacy into districts and appoint military governors to oversee them for now. After Grant briefed the Cabinet on ongoing operations, the meeting adjourned.

3:00 p.m.: Lincoln decides to take a carriage ride with Mary. They discuss what to du when his time as President comes to an end. Of course, he wants to return to his old law practice in Springfield, IL. However, he would like to see Europe, Jerusalem, and California before settling home for good.

3:00 p.m.: At the Kirkwood house, where Vice-President Johnson receives a note that reads, “Don’t wish to disturb you. Are you at home? J. Wilkes Booth.”

Later on, Mary asks Clara Harris, the daughter of a New York Senator, and her fiancée, Major Henry Rathbone to accompany the Presidential party.

As the Lincoln’s were preparing to go to the theatre, his bodyguard, William Crook asked if he should accompany them, Lincoln refused, saying, ”You’ve had a long, hard day’s work and must go home.” As the Lincoln’s board the carriage, the President said, “Good-by,” which Crook thought unusual.

6:30 p.m.: Booth has supper at the National Hotel.

8:15 p.m.: The Presidential carriage departs the White House. The performance had just started.

8:30 p.m.: As the Presidential arrived at Ford’s Theatre, the conspirators were meeting at Herndon House, on the opposite side of the block from Ford’s. There, Booth would give out final instructions. At the same time he loads his weapon, a single-shot derringer. He also carries a knife.

After sending his accomplices to do their work, Booth goes to a stable, where he had rented a horse. From there, he rode to the alley behind the theatre, where he gives a stage hand a few coins and asks him to hold the horse.

As the Presidential party arrived in the box, the orchestra stopped their playing of the play’s music and launched into several courses of “Hail to the Chief.” The audience stood and cheered the President for a few minutes before settling down and the play resuming. The audience was having a good time watching the play. It was about an American frontiersman who visits his British cousins, one of which was played by the popular British actress Laure Keene.

9:30 p.m. Booth enters the theatre, checks how the play was progressing, then ducks out to the bar next door and has a drink. He does this several times. During one of those times, he is spotted by the ticket seller, John Buckingham, who is also having a drink, but it does not strike him as unusual.

10:00 p.m.: Booth reenters the theatre and heads to the Presidential Box. He notices that the policeman assigned to guard the door was not there, having gone downstairs to see the play. He looks through the peephole and waits for a line in the play that would generate the most laughter:

Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal---you sockdologizing old man-trap…

The audience roars with laughter, Booth quickly steps in the box, pulls out his derringer, points it inches from the back of Lincoln’s head, and pulls the trigger. The ball crashes through Lincoln’s head and lodged behind his right eye.

The shot is heard in the theatre, but is believed to be part of the play. Then they see a man jump from the Presidential Box to the stage. The man stumbles, then shouts, “sic simper tyrannis.” It means “thus always to tyrants” and coincidentally the motto of the State of Virginia. The man stumbles away. Then they hear a woman scream, “The President is shot1”
After shooting the President, Booth then grappled with Rathbone, slashing him with his knife. His jump to the stage resulted in a broken ankle. He stumbled through the stage door, into the alley, mounts his horse, and rides off into the night.

10:15: p.m.: Powell arrives at the Seward house. The Secretary of State is in bed recovering from a broken jaw suffered in a carriage accident. His head is encased in a steel brace that keeps him immobile. Powell forces his way into the house, pushes aside a secretary and runs upstairs, where he is confronted by Seward’s son, Frederick. After an exchange of words, Powell pulls out a knife and slashes Frederick. Then he pushes into Seward’s room and proceeds to attack him. Seward is stabbed in the cheek and neck several times, but the brace prevents fatal injury. Powell then runs out of the house, after slashing several others, and shouting, “I’m mad! I’m mad!” All of those injured would recover.

At the same time, Atzerodt was at the bar of the Kirkwood House having a few drinks in order to steel his nerve. His assignment was to knock on the door of Vice-President Johnson’s room and stab him in the chest when the door opened. Atzerodt gets cold feet and leaves the hotel, instead going to a tavern and getting drunk.

At ford’s theatre, two doctors, Army Surgeon Charles Leale and civilian doctor Charles Taft, quickly run to the President’s side and began checking out the wound. All of his experience treating bullet wounds served him well but told him one thing, the wound was mortal. It was decided to get Lincoln to a bed and make him comfortable. There was a boarding house, Peterson House, where a room was made available. Sever men assisted in carrying the President across the street and to the available room. The bed was too short for Lincoln’s very tall frame, so he had to be laid diagonally. Soon the Lincoln’s doctor, Robert Stone, and the US Surgeon General, Joseph Barnes arrived to attend him. Mary came in a few times and was very hysterical, and had to be restrained.

The news of the President’s shooting was quickly relayed by telegraph, so people in New York and Chicago woke up the next morning to that news. The same telegraph got news to Grant, who was having dinner with Julia in Philadelphia while waiting for the overnight train to Burlington, NJ. He completed the journey, then ordered an express train to get him back to Washington.

Panic swept the city as rumors ranging from Confederate holdout raiders to the entire government getting massacred. It actually would be up the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, to attempt to restore order.

15 April, 1865: Meanwhile, Booth and Harold join up and head to the house of Dr Samuel Mudd, a Confederate sympathizer who sets the broken ankle.

Throughout the night, Lincoln was attended by doctors, members of the Cabinet and other government officials as he struggled to stay alive. Several times Mary would enter the room, but would be taken out due to her constant hysterics. On one visit she cried, “Oh my God, and I have given my husband to die.”

6:00 a.m.: A doctor writes in his notebook: Pulse failing.

6: 25 a. m.: Another note: Chocking and grunting.

7:00 a.m.: Another note: Symptoms of Dissolution.

The family was brought in for the last time. Mary sobbed while the oldest son, Robert, also grieved.

7:22 a.m.: The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, died. Stanton at that point said, “Now, he belongs to the angels.” This was later amended to “Now, he belongs to the ages.”

When the news of the president’s death was released, it fires brought grief, then anger to the North. The rumors began flying, people believed that this was done on the orders of Jeff Davis and that Confederate agents were swarming the city. Washington sat on the brink of anarchy. This could destroy the nation.

One bright spot came when it was made known that Vice-President Johnson was found to be safe. A military guard was quickly sent to Kirkwood House to protect him.

11:00 a.m.: Chief Justice Salmon Chase administers the Oath of Office to Andrew Johnson, who becomes the 17th President of the United States.

Meanwhile, Booth and Harold continue fleeing as they and the other conspirators are identified. As the manhunt begins, there is a $100,000 reward for booth’s capture.

19 April, 1865: The state funeral of Abraham Lincoln takes place. The city is draped in black bunting as the body lies on state at the White House. Later, it is moved to the Capitol rotunda for public display.

21 April, 1865: Lincoln’s body is placed on a special train for transport back to Springfield. The train will travel across the country, with funerals and public viewings in cities like Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, and Chicago before arriving in Springfield on 3 May. After one last funeral, Lincoln is buried in 4 May, 1865.

Through all of this, Booth and Harold flee into Virginia, crossing the Potomac River on 22 April.

24 April, 1865: Booth and Harold arrive at the farm owned by a man named Richard Garrett. Using the alias James W. Boyd, Booth arranges the stay in the barn. That night, Federal cavalry came past, looking for Booth and Harold. Garrett manages to hold then off, but want Booth and Harold to leave. Booth talks him into one more night.

26 April, 1865: At 2:00 a.m., Federal cavalry once again approach the Garrett farm. The commander asks where Booth is, one of Garrett’s sons points to the barn. The troopers surround the barn and called for Booth to come out. Booth shouts, “Well, my brave boys, then you can prepare a stretcher for me.” Some hay was lighted and thrown at the barn, which began to burn.

Harold surrendered, but Booth was still holding out. Cavalry Sergeant Boston Corbett went to the back side of the barn. He saw Booth highlighted by the flames and, in violation of orders, shot him. Other troopers dragged Booth out of the barn, but it was obvious that he was dying. Corbett’s bullet had severed Booth’s spine.

As the day dawned, Booth asked to see his hands. He utters the words “Useless, useless.” then he died. It was his 27th birthday.

The conspirators were quickly rounded up, with some being placed in the Old Capital Prison while others were held on board an ironclad warship. Spangler was the first arrested, next was Arnold, then Paine and Mary Surratt were arrested. Next came Atzerodt, then Mudd (when Booth’s sliced boot was discovered), and finally another, Michael McLaughlin, all joining Harold in prison.

9 May, 1865: The trials of the conspirators began. This was conducted by the military, with Major General David Hunter as the presiding officer. Plenty of evidence was presented, but with the public uproar over the assassination, the court actually tried to prove that they were acting on orders from Jefferson Davis, who had just been captured near Irwinville, GA. In all, it was proven that they were just a bunch of misfits who were controlled by Booth. In the end, they were found guilty.

Paine, Atzerodt, Harold, and Mary Surratt (whose only crime was that she kept the boarding house where the meetings took place) were sentenced to death. The rest were sentenced to life imprisonment at Dry Tortugas Island, off Key West, FL. Mc Laughlin died in prison, Mudd is pardoned in 1868, and Spangler and Arnold are pardoned in 1869.

7 July, 1865: The four condemned prisoners are hanged at Old Capital Prison.

This put an end to what had to be the most horrific event that marred the end the Union victory in the American Civil War.

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