Essay, Research Paper: Abe Lincoln

Literature: Civil War

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Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was a malevolent ending to an already bitter
and spiteful event in American history, the Civil War. John Wilkes Booth and his
group of co-conspirators developed plans in the late summer of 1864 to only
kidnap the President and take him the Confederate capital of Richmond and hold
him in return for Confederate prisoners of war. Booth’s group of conspirators:
Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, John Surratt, Lewis Paine, George Atzerodt,
David Herold, and Mary Surratt (John’s wife), made plans on March 17, 1865, to
capture Lincoln, who was scheduled to see a play at a hospital in the outskirts
of Washington. However, Lincoln changed plans and remained in the capital
("Booth" 98) On April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered to General
Grant at Appomattox. Two days later Lincoln delivered a speech in front of the
White House to a group that had gathered outside. Booth, being present in this
group, heard Lincoln suggest that certain voting rights should be granted to the
blacks. Infuriated, being a racist, Booth’s plans now turned from the
kidnapping of Lincoln to his assassination (Lewis, Neely 115) Three days before
his assassination Lincoln told of a dream he had to his wife and one of his
friends, Ward Hill Lamon. According to Lamon, the President said: "About
ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been waiting up for some important
dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a
slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like
stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were
weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was
broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from
room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of
distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object
was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their
hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all
this? Determined to find the cause of the state of things so mysterious and
shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I
met a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse
wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting
as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse,
whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White
House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his
answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from
the crows, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although
it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever
since."((Online)…) Was it possible that President
Lincoln knew of his assassination before it actually happened? On the morning of
Friday, April 14, Booth stopped by Ford’s Theatre and found out that President
Lincoln and General Grant were planning on attending the evening performance of
Our American Cousin. Booth then held one final meeting with the conspirators and
said he would kill Lincoln at the theater, he had found out that Grant had left
town. Atzerodt was to kill the Vice-President Andrew Johnson at Kirkwood House
where he resided. Powell and Herold were assigned to kill the Secretary of State
William Seward. Both attacks were scheduled to take place simultaneously at
approximately 10:15 p.m. that night. Booth hoped that the resulting chaos and
weakness in the government could lead to a comeback for the South (:Lewis, Neely
187) At about 7:00 p.m. William H. Crook, Lincoln’s bodyguard, was relieved
three hours late by John Parker. Parker was told to be on hand at Ford’s
Theatre when the Presidential party got there. Crook said, "Good night, Mr.
Lincoln." The President replied, "Good-bye, Crook." According to
Crook this was a first. Lincoln ALWAYS previously said, "Good night,
Crook."(Reck 148) Around 8:00 p.m. the Lincolns left the White House in a
stage coach and proceeded to pick up Clara Harris and Major Rathbone. Parker led
the way into the theater, with the play already in progress. When Lincoln
entered the acting stopped and they played "Hail to the Chief." The
audience rose to their feet and applauded the President. Once he was seated in
the state box the play continued. Booth arrived at Ford’s Theatre at 9:30 p.m.
armed with a single shot derringer and a hunting knife. Joseph Burroughs, a boy
who worked at the theater held his horse in the rear alley while Booth went to
get a drink at a nearby saloon. He reentered the theater at 10:07 p.m. and
slowly made his way towards the state box. John Parker had just left his post.
At about 10:15 p.m., Booth opened the door and shot Lincoln in the back of the
head at near point-blank range, and struggled with Rathbone. Booth stabbed
Rathbone in the arm and jumped about eleven feet to the stage. When he crashed
to the floor he snapped the fibula bone in his left leg. Many in the theater
thought they heard him yell "Sic Semper Tyrannis," latin for "as
always to tyrants." Booth flashed his knife to the crowd and made his way
across the stage in front of more than 1,000 people. It happened so quick no one
had time to stop him. Booth escaped out the back door and left the city (Lewis,
Neely 261-263). The other half of the plan to kill Vice-President Johnson and
Secretary of State Seward was basically a failure. Atzerodt made no attempt to
kill Johnson, and Powell stabbed Seward but it failed to kill him. Herold
escaped from the capital using the same bridge, the Navy Yard Bridge, as Booth
The two met in Maryland and stopped briefly around midnight in Mary Surratt’s
tavern, where they had supplies ready to flee to the South. At around 4:00 a.m.
they arrived at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd who set and splinted Booth’s
broken leg. Back in Washington, the bullet had entered Lincoln’s head about
three inches behind his left ear and traveled about seven and a half inches into
the brain. The first doctor to attend to the President was Charles Leale. He
knew right then that the wound was mortal and the President wouldn’t be able
to recover. Lincoln’s body was carried across the street to the Peterson
House. Armed soldiers guarded the house while a night long death watch began.
Doctor’s said an average man with this type of wound would have died in two
hours, Lincoln lasted nine. At 7:22 and 10 seconds a.m. on April 15, 1865
President Abraham Lincoln was dead. Upon hearing of the news Secretary of War
Edwin M. Stanton said, "Now he belongs to the ages." Federal
authorities caught up with Booth and Herold at Garrett’s farm near Port Royal,
Virginia on the morning of April 26. Hiding in a barn, Herold gave up, but Booth
would not so he has fatally shot. Within days of their capture the
co-conspirators were arrested by the government. All were found guilty by a
military tribunal. Mrs. Surratt, Powell, Atzerdot, and Herold were all hanged on
July 7, 1865. Dr. Mudd, O’Laughlin, and Arnold were given life terms in
prison. John Surratt fled to Canada and then escaped to Europe, where he was
captured and was tried in 1867 in a civil court. The jury was deadlocked and
Surratt went free. Dr. Mudd and Arnold were all pardoned by President Andrew
Johnson early in 1869.

"Booth, John Wilkes." Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. 1979
ed. Lewis, Llloyd, and Mark E. Neely. The Assassination of Lincoln: History and
Myth. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1994. (Online),
10, January 1999. Reck, Emerson W. A. Lincoln: His Last 24 Hours. Omaha, N.B.:
University of Nebraska Press, 1994.
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