Lincoln Shot at Ford’s Theater

Shortly after 10:00 p.m. on April 14, 1865, actor John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln. As Lincoln slumped forward in his seat, Booth leapt onto the stage and escaped out the back door. The paralyzed president was immediately examined by a doctor in the audience and then carried across the street to the Petersen House where he died early the next morning.

[D]ying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate…but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.

Oration by Frederick Douglass, delivered on the occasion of the unveiling of the freedmen’s monument in memory of Abraham Lincoln, in Lincoln Park, Washington, D. C., April 14th, 1876. With an appendix. Washington, D. C.: Gibson brothers, printers, 1876. African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907. Rare Book and Special Collections Division

The assassination of President Lincoln: at Ford’s Theatre, Washington, D.C., April 14th, 1865. New York: Currier & Ives, 1865. Popular Graphic Arts. Prints & Photographs Division

Lincoln’s assassination was the first presidential assassination in U.S. history. Booth carried out the attack five days after General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. He thought that his action would aid the South. The suspicion that Booth had acted as part of a conspiracy of Southern sympathizers increased Northern rancor. Whether Lincoln would have been able to temper the Reconstruction policies enacted by the Radical Republicans in Congress is left to historical speculation because of his untimely death as the United States transitioned from civil war to reunification and peace.

War department, Washington. April 20, 1865. $100,000 reward! The murder of our late beloved president, Abraham Lincoln, is still at large. New York, 1865. An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera. Rare Book and Special Collections Division

Within days of the assassination, the War Department issued wanted posters for the arrest of Booth and his accomplices John Surratt and David Herold. Booth and Herold eluded capture until April 26, when federal troops discovered them hiding in a tobacco barn near Bowling Green, Virginia. Herold surrendered, but Booth stayed under cover and was shot as the barn burned to the ground. He died later that day.

Booth’s co-conspirators Lewis Powell (alias Payne)—who had attempted to murder Secretary of State William H. Seward—George Atzerodt, David Herold, and Mary Surratt, all were executed for their part in the assassination conspiracy. Several other conspirators were sentenced to imprisonment.

The death of President Lincoln resulted in an outpouring of grief nationwide. After a funeral at the White House and lying in state at the U.S. Capitol, Lincoln’s body was transported to the railway station where it began a 1,700-mile journey back to the president’s native Springfield, Illinois. On May 4, Lincoln was finally laid to rest in a tomb at the Oak RidgeCemetery.

Many monuments were built to honor Abraham Lincoln over the years, across the nation and around the world. On April 14, 1876, Frederick Douglass delivered an oration at the unveiling of a monument to Lincoln located in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Park. Better known to the nation is another memorial to Lincoln, also located in Washington, D.C. Featuring a monumental sculpture by Daniel Chester French, the Lincoln Memorial stands at the foot of the nation’s Mall and was dedicated on May 30, 1922.

Lincoln realia, 1865. New York Times, vol. XIV, no. 4236. April 15, 1865. American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Rare Book and Special Collections Division

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R.M.S. Titanic

Also on this day, at about 11:40 PM, April 14, 1912, the R.M.S. Titanic struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and sank to the bottom of the sea at about 2:20 a.m. the next morning, taking the lives of more than 1,500 people.

The Titanic was on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York when the tragedy occurred. A later investigation showed that the ship had failed to follow all safety procedures. Besides traveling through dangerous waters at high speed (after receiving repeated warnings concerning the presence of icebergs), the Titanic also had aboard an insufficient number of lifeboats for the passengers and crew.

The Band Played ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ as the Ship Went Down External,” Harold Jones, composer, 1912. Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920 External

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