Tuesday, April 14, 2015



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) 150 years ago tonight, April 14, 1865, the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was shot as he was enjoying watching a play performed at Ford's Theater on Tenth Street here in the Nation's Capital.

At 10:15, a single pistol shot was fired inside the presidential box as Mr. Lincoln was sitting in a rocking chair along side his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.  One bullet, fired from a Deringer pistol at close range, entered the back of the President's head.

The attempt on Lincoln's life came just days after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House and the end of the Civil War.

The assassin, later identified as the well-known actor and Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, grappled with one of Lincoln's theater guest, Major Henry Rathbone, then leaped to the stage below.  Booth then fled out the back of the theater and escaped on horseback.

Booth had blocked the entrance to the presidential box but after some delay assistance was rendered to the President.  Dr. Charles A. Leale first thought Lincoln had sustained a knife wound as Major Rathbone had been slashed in the arm in his struggle with the assassin.

One of the eyewitnesses in the theater at the time of the shooting described it as follows...

"...a pistol was fired and...Lincoln (was) shot...a second (later) a man vaulted over the ballister of the box saying Sic Semper Tyrannis and adding revenge for the South, ran across the stage with a knife in his right hand.  (Actress Laura) Keene...came forward endeavoring to quiet the audience."

Meanwhile in the box, Dr. Leale located the wound in the back of Lincoln's head.  He immediately determined this wound to be mortal.  Fearing the President would die before he could be returned to the White House, Dr. Leale directed soldiers to carry Lincoln to the nearest bed.

Mr. William Petersen, who owned a boardinghouse opposite Ford's on 10th Street, offered use of one of his rooms on the 1st floor.  Mrs. Mary Lincoln, in a frantic state, followed her husband into the boarding house.

The President was laid diagonally across the single bed in the room because it was too short for his 6'4" frame.   Dr. Leale was assisted by Dr. Charles Sabin Taft and Dr. Albert F. King who both were in the theater at the time of the shooting.

Abraham Lincoln lingered throughout the night, but died at 7:22 on the morning of April 15, 1865.  He was the first President of the United States to die as the result of assassination.  


"The Assassination: Death of the President," by Champ Clark, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, VA, 1987.

"We Saw Lincoln Shot:  One Hundred Eyewitness Accounts," edited by Timothy S. Good, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS, 1995.

Ford's Theater
10th Street, Washington, D.C.
Photo by John White (2007)

The House Where Lincoln Died
10th Street, Washington, D.C.
Photo by John White (2007)