Sections: Rise to National Prominence | The Presidency | “Now He Belongs to the Ages” | Vignettes 

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, had a tremendous impact both in the United States and abroad. People in Great Britain, which had favored the South, mourned as if Lincoln had been their leader. France, whose citizens had made no secret of their sympathy for the Union, paid tribute in verse and song. All eyes were on this struggling American democracy, so aptly personified in the person of Abraham Lincoln, and the world mourned his passing.

The pursuit of the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was one of the most extensive manhunts ever mounted by the United States government. The search lasted twelve days, by which time the body of President Lincoln, transported by rail on a thirteen-day journey to Springfield, Illinois, for burial, was half way to its resting place. Unending crowds of mourners lined the tracks between Washington and Springfield to pay their final respects to the martyred President Abraham Lincoln.

Life Mask of President Lincoln

This is the first bronze casting of the life mask made by sculptor Clark Mills in February 1865, two months prior to Lincoln's assassination. The sad and peaceful nature of his face has caused some people to initially believe this item to be a death mask. The casting was a gift from the Mills family to John Hay, Lincoln's private secretary.

Clark Mills. Life cast of Abraham Lincoln, 1865. Bequest of Clarence L. Hay. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (216) Digital ID # scsm1047/001

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Playbill for Our American Cousin

There are two versions of the original playbill for Our American Cousin, the play Lincoln attended at Fords Theatre on the evening he was assassinated. Both were printed on April 14, 1865. The program shown here is the second or revised state, and the bloodstain is real. Ford had the playbill reprinted after he received word that President Lincoln would attend the evening performance. Lincoln viewed the play from the presidential box, which is shown here in a sketch made by prolific Civil War sketch artist Alfred Waud.

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Horatio Nelson Tafts Account of the Death Scene

Early in the war, Horatio N. Taft worked as a patent examiner in the Government Patent Office. He and his wife Mary knew the Lincolns well. One of Taft's sons by his first wife, Dr. Charles Sabin Taft, was present at Fords' Theatre when the president was shot. He attended to Lincolns mortal injury and remained at his side until the president died. He later provided his father with a detailed account of the death scene, which is recorded in this diary.

Horatio Nelson Taft. Holograph diary, April 20, 1865. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (225.00.01) Digital ID # al0225p1; al0225p2, al0225p3, al0225p4, al0225p5, al0225p6

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A Report on Lincoln's Death and Autopsy

Dr. Robert King Stone (1822-1872) was the personal physician for the Lincoln family during the White House years. Called immediately after the president was shot on the evening of April 14, he tended to Lincoln until his death at 7:22 A.M. on April 15. Stone also participated in Lincoln’s autopsy, which took place later that day at the White House. Stone recounts these events in detail in this six-page draft for a lecture that was given to the Medical Society of the District of Columbia on May 3, 1865.

Robert King Stone. Notes for a lecture, 1865. Holograph manuscript. On loan from the Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation (224.00.01) Digital ID # al0224_01, al0224_02, al0224_03, al0224_04, al0224_05, al0224_06, al0224_07

Read the transcript

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John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth enjoyed a successful acting career during Lincoln's time in office. He appeared in theaters from Boston to Washington and as far west as St. Louis, Missouri, and Leavenworth, Kansas. President Lincoln saw Booth in the role of Raphael in The Marble Heart at Ford's Theatre on November 9, 1863. In this letter the actor asks a friend in Boston to send copies of pictures he had taken of himself with cane & black cravat. The same picture was later used on Booths Wanted poster. Unfortunately, many of the letters Booth wrote during his lifetime were destroyed by their owners, who feared being linked to the Lincoln assassination.

John Wilkes Booth to Orlando Tompkins, February 9, 1865. Holograph letter. On loan from a private collector (228.00.01) Digital ID # al0228_01, al0228_02

Read the transcript

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$100,000 Reward!

The suspicion that John Wilkes Booth had acted in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln as part of a conspiracy of Southern sympathizers reignited Northern rancor and helped doom Lincoln's plans for a relatively generous peace. This Wanted poster was one of the earliest to bear a fugitives photograph. Hastily assembled and issued during the few days that Booth was at large, this poster incorporated carte-de-visite photographs of the suspected conspirators, including one of Booth that had been produced as a publicity shot for the actor. He was trapped and killed by Federal troops on April 26.

$100,000 Reward! Washington, D.C.: April 20, 1865. Broadside with attached albumen silver prints. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (227) Digital ID # al0227

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Admission Card to Lincoln's Funeral

The public viewing of President Lincoln's body took place in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, April 18, 1865, between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Special groups were admitted in the off-hours, after which carpenters set to work preparing the area for the official funeral service on the following day. Tickets like the one shown here were required for admittance to the April 19 funeral service.

Card of admission to the funeral service at the Executive Mansion, April 19, 1865. Zachariah Chandler Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (229) Digital ID # al0229

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The Lincoln Funeral Car

The Lincoln funeral car was built in Alexandria, Virginia, in early 1865 as a private traveling car. One can only speculate as to whether its elaborately decorated interior would have made the economy-minded president uncomfortable, for it was never put to its intended use. The only time Lincoln traveled in the car was when his body was returned to Springfield for burial.

Samuel Montague Fassett. President Abraham Lincolns railroad funeral car, 1865. Photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (231) Digital ID # ppmsca-19404

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Order of Lincoln Funeral Procession in Chicago

Lincoln's funeral procession in Chicago on May 1, 1865, was perhaps the most emotional ceremony of the thirteen-day journey. The people of Chicago felt they had a special claim on Lincoln because their city hosted the political convention of 1860 that nominated him for the Republican ticket. They lined up in such numbers at the Cook County Courthouse, where the body was put on display, that the viewing lasted all night and throughout the following day.

Reception of the Remains of President Lincoln. Order of Procession, May 1, 1865. Silk banner. On loan from the Union Pacific Railroad Historical Collection, Council Bluffs, Iowa (233) Digital ID # al0233

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Queen Victoria Consoles Mary Todd Lincoln

This moving letter of condolence to Mary Todd Lincoln, suffering from the shock of her husbands assassination, was written by Queen Victoria of Great Britain from her residence on the Isle of Wight, the place to which she frequently withdrew under the weight of melancholy over the loss of her own husband, Prince Albert. The prince was, she told Mrs. Lincoln, the light of my Life my stay my all. His death in 1861 had left her utterly broken-hearted.

Queen Victoria to Mary Todd Lincoln, April 29, 1865. Holograph letter and envelope. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (230.00.00) Digital ID # al0230; al0230_01, al0230_02

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William Waud Sketch of Lincolns Coffin in Chicago

Civil War artist William Waud, brother of Harpers Weekly artist Alfred Waud, followed the Lincoln funeral train as it traveled from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois. His drawings of ceremonies in cities along the route were used to create wood engravings for Harpers Weekly. This drawing provides a rare glimpse of the actual viewing of Lincoln's coffin inside Chicago's City Hall. An inscription on the back of the drawing reads:

Catafalque in the City Hall, Chicago. The ceiling is draped black & white. The walls draped in folds all black with flag trophies at certain distances. The Catafalque is covered with black cloth & velvet all black with silver fringe & stars. Inside of d[itt]o & the pillars white with the exception of the ceiling inside the canopy which is black with white stars cut out through which the light is admitted to fall on the coffin.

William Waud. Lincoln's Coffin in the City Hall, Chicago, April 1865. Pencil, Chinese white, and black ink wash drawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (235) Digital ID # cph-3g08107

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Artifacts of the Assassination

When Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865, he was carrying two pairs of spectacles and a lens polisher, a pocketknife, a watch fob, a linen handkerchief, and a brown leather wallet containing a five-dollar Confederate note, and eight newspaper clippings, including several favorable to the president and his policies. Given to his son Robert Todd Lincoln upon Lincoln's death, these everyday items, which through association with tragedy had become like relics, remained with the Lincoln family for more than seventy years.

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News of Lincolns Assassination

he New York Herald of Saturday, April 15, 1865, carried an account of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Although it was reported in the New York Herald that Lincoln was shot at 9:30 p.m., the bullet was actually fired just after 10:00 p.m. on Friday, April 14, 1865. News of the attack reached the Herald by telegraph in time to make the first edition the next morning. Later editions issued during the day, reported on Lincoln's death and the swearing in of Vice President Andrew Johnson as president. Shown here is the 2:00 a.m. edition.

Important. Assassination of President Lincoln. New York Herald, April 15, 1865. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress (226) Digital ID # al0226

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One of the Last Pictures of Lincoln

The photograph for this carte-de-visite of President Lincoln was made by Alexander Gardner at his Washington studio. Clearly, the long protracted war had taken a physical toll on Lincoln. The president is holding his spectacles, and he seems understandably weary. Early authorities mistakenly connected the photograph to Lincolns last studio photo session, which reportedly took place on April 10, 1865; however, more recent research places the date of the photograph as Sunday, February 5, 1865.

Alexander Gardner. Abraham Lincoln, seated holding spectacles, February 5, 1865. Carte-de-visite photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (219) Digital ID # ppmsca-19217

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O Captain! My Captain!

Walt Whitman wrote this dirge for the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Published in the New York City Saturday Press to immediate acclaim, O Captain! My Captain! was widely anthologized during Whitman's lifetime. Restlessly creative, Whitman was still revising O Captain! My Captain! decades after its creation. Pictured here is a corrected proof sheet of the poem, which was readied for publication in 1888.

Walt Whitman. O Captain! My Captain! Proof sheet with corrections in ink, 1888. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (234) Digital ID # ww0032a

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The Nation Mourns its Loss

The sorrow of the nation is palpable in this newspapers report on the funeral of President Lincoln: Oh! how the bosom swells with grief unutterable! How the tears are choked in their channel, and how unforgiving is the indignation, the wrath that steeps in every beast and burns in every eye! Also included in this article are detailed descriptions of the presidents coffin, the funeral car that transported the coffin in Washington D.C., and the catafalque that was constructed in 1865 to hold the casket while on view in the Capitol rotunda.

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  • The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20, 1865. Government and Serial Publications Division, Library of Congress (236) Digital ID# al0236

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20, 1865. Government and Serial Publications Division, Library of Congress (236) Digital ID# al0236

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20, 1865. Government and Serial Publications Division, Library of Congress (236) Digital ID# al0236

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20, 1865. Government and Serial Publications Division, Library of Congress (236) Digital ID# al0236

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Sections: Rise to National Prominence | The Presidency | “Now He Belongs to the Ages” | Vignettes