The Assassination of President Lincoln

Author:   J.B. Stonehouse


At noon on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Major General Robert Anderson raised the U.S. flag over Fort Sumter. It was the same flag that he had surrendered four years before.

That evening, a few minutes after 10 o’clock, John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865), a young actor and Confederate sympathizer (who had spied for Richmond and been part of a plot to kidnap Lincoln), entered the presidential box at Ford’s Theater in Washington and shot the President in the back of the head. Booth then leaped to the stage, but he caught a spur in a flag draped in front of the box. He fell and broke his leg. As he fled the theater he is said to have cried out: “Sic semper tyrannis”–thus always to tyrants, the motto of the State of Virginia.

Simultaneously, a Booth accomplice, Lewis Paine, brutally attacked Secretary of State William Seward (1801-1872) at his home with a knife. Seward survived because Paine’s knife was deflected by a metal collar he wore from a severe accident. Seward slowly recovered from his wounds and contined to serve as Secretary of State under Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson.

Lincoln was carried unconscious to a neighboring house. He was pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m., April 15. A few minutes later, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (1814-1869) stepped outside and announced to the assembled crowd, “he belongs to the ages.”


Since I have been here this time the most exciting times that this country ever saw have taken place.

Thursday evening Washington was crazy with joy over the surrender of Lee, every one of the Public Buildings was illuminated, and every private house was blazing with candles from top to bottom. the people were wild with excitement. Men women & children were all out of doors.

The next evening a grand performance was advertised to be given at Fords Theatre and it was announced that the President & ladies and Genl Grant and wife were to be present.

Just as I was going to bed a man ran in breathless and pale enquiring which of the Theatres the President was attending–he said he must find him at once as Mr. Seward had been murdered in his bed. We followed him to the door and there met people rushing from the Theatre saying “the President is shot.” “The President is murdered.” Such a time I never before beheld and never want to again.

At first no one seemed to believe it but it soon became certain that it was all true.

Just as I got to Fords Theatre they were carrying the President to a house across the street. He did not move or speak after he was shot.

You have seen in the papers a full account of it I have no doubt.

I was at Secretary Sewards house several times yesterday. I saw the knife the assassin stabbed Mr. Steward with and the Pistol with which he broke Mr. Frederick Sewards skull. There is blood and hair sticking to it still Neither of the men have as yet been caught.


Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: J.B. Stonehouse to Johnny (Dated Washington)