Today in American History: April 15, 1865

Today in American History: April 15, 1865

Today in 1865 President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

It was 7:22 in the morning and Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, died from a gunshot wound to the head. The night before an actor, John Wilkes Booth, snuck into the president's box and shot him at close range in the back of the head. John Wilkes Booth was a Confederate sympathizer, and Lincoln died only six days after the end of the Civil War when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House to Ulysses S. Grant. 

Booth remained in the North during the war even though he was a Confederate supporter. He had planned to capture President Lincoln and take him to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. But, on March 20, 1865, which was the day of the planned kidnapping, the president didn't show at the spot where Booth and six of his fellow conspirators waited. Just two weeks later, Richmond fell to the Union. In April, with the Southern Confederacy close to collapse, Booth devised a desperate plan to save his beloved Confederacy.

He found out that Lincoln was going to attend Laura Keene’s performance in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater on April 14. Booth's plan was to simultaneously assassinate President Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward. His hope was that if he successfully took out the president and two of his possible successors, that he and his conspirators would throw the U.S. government into a spiraling disarray.

On the night of April 14, one of the conspirators, Lewis T. Powell, broke into Secretary of State Seward’s home. He seriously wounding Seward and three others. The other conspirator, George A. Atzerodt, was assigned to kill Vice President Johnson. However, he lost his nerve and ended up fleeing instead. Meanwhile, just after 10 p.m., Booth entered Lincoln’s private box at the theatre. He went unnoticed and with a single shot, struck the president in the back of his head. An Army officer tried to rush him, but was slashed. Booth jumped down from the private box onto the stage and shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!" Which means "Thus always to tyrants"–the South is avenged!” When jumping to the stage, Booth broke his left leg but, he succeeded in escaping Washington.

The president was immediately carried to a lodging house across from Ford’s Theater. There he was tended to until an hour after dawn the next morning, when President Abraham Lincoln died. He became the first president in United States history to be assassinated. His body was quickly taken to the White House where it stayed until April 18. From there he was moved to the Capitol rotunda to lay in state on a catafalque. On April 21, Lincoln’s body was taken to the railroad station and traveled to his home of Springfield, Illinois. Thousands and thousands of Americans lined the train’s route and paid their respects to their fallen President during the train’s progression through the North.

Booth was hunted down by the Army and security forces in a barn near Bowling Green, Virginia. He died from a bullet wound, and the barn he was hiding in was burned to the ground. The eight other conspirators were eventually charged, and half of them were hanged.

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