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[Detail] The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865

Lincoln's Assassination

On the evening of April 14, 1865, the Lincolns attended a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater. John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box and shot Lincoln, mortally wounding him. Within a short time after the President was shot, Taft recorded the following:

April 14th 1/2 past 10 o'clock P.M. O, fatal day. O, noble Victim. Treason has done its worst. The President has been Assassinated. It has just been announced at my door that he was shot a half hour ago at Fords Theatre. Is it possible? I have just come from near the scene, it is too True. 11 o'clock P.M.

From "The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865. Volume 3, April 14, 1865"

The Read the detailed account of the assassination in Taft's next entry, recorded on April 30, little more than two weeks later. Here Taft gave a description of the event based on eyewitness accounts from his son, Dr. Charles Taft, a surgeon who was in the audience that evening.

  • Think about what you knew about Lincoln's assassination prior to looking at these sources. Where did you get most of your information?
  • How does the drawing of the Ford Theater change your understanding of how the attack on Lincoln occurred?
  • What new information can you gather from the account from Taft's son, Dr. Charles Taft?
  • What does Horatio Taft's personal response add to your understanding of the event?
  • Write a brief statement about the importance of primary sources based on your experience of using these sources to broaden your knowledge of President Lincoln's assassination.

On May 20, Taft remarked on the trial of "…eight persons who are accused of being actors in the Murder, and attack on Mr Seward, or of complicity with the assassins" and mentioned the search for Jefferson Davis, whom Taft believed was implicated in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln.

The last entry in the diaries dated May 30, 1865, recounted the military achievements of the last months of the war. It concludes

…But during this period of Six or Seven months, the realy most important events have not been yet mentioned. In the midst of a desolating War, in the smoke and heat of Battle as it were, There has been a quiet Presidential Election and Inauguration, with all its usual attendant excitements. A Draft of three hundred thousand men has been ordered, and the men raised. The Government Credit has been increased at home and abroad a hundred fold and Gold has fallen a hundred percent. Our great and Good President has been assassinated. The assassin Killed. Jefferson Davis has been captured and impeached for Treason. The grand Review & the Trial of the conspirators. Tearfully - and Joyfully have we witnessed these Events.

From "The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865. Volume 3, May 30, 1865"