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This Day In History: President Abraham Lincoln Was Shot

April 14, 2017

This day in history, April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. by actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. The assassination came just five days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, bringing about an end to the American Civil War.

Booth, a Maryland native born in 1838, remained in the North during the war despite his Confederate sympathies. He initially plotted to abduct President Lincoln and take him to Richmond, the Confederate capital. However, on March 20, 1865, the day of the planned kidnapping, the president failed to appear at the spot where Booth and his six fellow conspirators waited. Two weeks later, Richmond fell to Union forces.

The conspirators decided to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward on the same evening.

On the evening of April 14, conspirator Lewis T. Powell burst into Secretary of State Seward’s home, seriously wounding him and three others, while George A. Atzerodt, assigned to Vice President Johnson, lost his nerve and fled.

At about 10 p.m. Booth walked into the theater and up to the president’s box. Lincoln’s guard, John Parker, was not there because he had gotten bored with the play, Our American Cousin, and left his post to get a beer. Booth went unnoticed and shot a single bullet into the back of the head of Lincoln.

The president’s friend, Major Rathbone, attempted to grab Booth but was slashed by Booth’s knife. Booth leapt to the stage and shouted “Sic semper tyrannis! [Thus always to tyrants]–the South is avenged!” He broke his leg in the process but managed to escape on horseback.

The president was carried to a lodging house opposite Ford’s Theater but at 7:22 a.m. the next morning was pronounced dead.

Booth rode to Virginia with David Herold and stopped at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who placed splints on Booth’s legs. They hid in a barn on Richard Garrett’s farm as thousands of Union troops combed the area looking for them. When the troops finally caught up with Booth and Herold on April 26, they gave them the option of surrendering before the barn was burned down. Herold decided to surrender, but Booth remained in the barn as it went up in flames. Corporal Boston Corbett shot and killed Booth.

The other conspirators were captured, except for John Surratt, who fled to Canada. In the end, four conspirators were hanged and four were jailed.