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April 15th 1865: Abraham Lincoln dies

On this day in 1865, after being shot the previous day, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln died. Lincoln had overseen the American Civil War since 1861, and had furthered the abolition of slavery by issuing his Emancipation Proclamation and encouraging the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Almost a week after the Confederacy’s surrender to the Union forces at Appomattox, Confederate sympathiser John Wilkes Booth shot the President while he was watching ‘Our American Cousin’ at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. Booth shot Lincoln in the head at point blank range, and whilst Lincoln was taken across the street to Petersen House the wound was clearly fatal and after a nine hour coma he died at 7.22am. Booth was soon tracked down and killed, and Lincoln was widely mourned in the North as a great leader, while the nation was shocked at the first presidential assassination. Lincoln’s Vice President, Andrew Johnson, was swiftly sworn in as seventeenth President of the United States.

“Now he belongs to the ages.”
- Secretary of War Edwin Stanton after Lincoln’s death

It Is Widely Believed That Lincoln Anticipated His Assassination- 

The probe used by Dr. Barnes to locate the ball and the fragments of Lincoln’s skull removed at autopsy. Part of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP)

According to Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s friend and biographer, three days before his assassination Lincoln discussed with Lamon and others a dream he had, saying:

“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, 'The President,’ was his answer; 'he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”

On the day of the assassination, Lincoln had told his bodyguard, William H. Crook, that he had been having dreams of himself being assassinated for three straight nights. Crook advised Lincoln not to go that night to Ford’s Theatre, but Lincoln said he had promised his wife they would go. As Lincoln left for the theater, he turned to Crook and said, “Goodbye, Crook.” According to Crook, this was the first time he said that. Before, Lincoln had always said, “Good night, Crook.” Crook later recalled: “It was the first time that he neglected to say 'Good Night’ to me and it was the only time that he ever said 'Good-bye’. I thought of it at that moment and, a few hours later, when the news flashed over Washington that he had been shot, his last words were so burned into my being that they can never be forgotten.”

After Lincoln was shot, Mary was quoted as saying, “His dream was prophetic.”

THERE WAS ONE UNDISPUTED ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT AGAINST ABRAHAM LINCOLN BEFORE JOHN WILKES BOOTH’S SUCCESSFUL ONE. THE ASSAILANT IS UNKNOWN BUT THEY ONLY MANAGED TO SHOOT THE HAT OFF ABRAHAM’S HEAD. 

TODAY IN THEATRE HISTORY: 150 years ago tonight, on April 14, 1865, Our American Cousin starring Laura Keene is in performance when John Wilkes Booth shoots President Abraham Lincoln at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C.

For more on what happened that night, check out
The Night Lincoln Was Shot: Minute-by-Minute Backstage With John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre

Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal, you sockdologizing old man trap…
— 

Lines spoken by the character Asa Trenchard, played by actor Harry Hawk, in act 3, scene 2 of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, 10:13 PM. April 14, 1865.

As the audience responded with laughter, John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the head.

Dr. Charles A. Leale was the first doctor to attend to Abraham Lincoln after he was shot at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. The President died on April 15, 1865, at 7:22 a.m. with Leale holding his hand.

Leale, like Lincoln, was attending the performance of “Our American Cousin.” The play, Leale later noted, “progressed very pleasantly” until half past 10, when “the report of a pistol was distinctly heard” and the whole theater erupted in confusion.

Next, a man brandishing a dagger jumped from the President’s box onto the stage, dislodged himself from the flags in which he had been entangled, and ran. As John Wilkes Booth made his escape, Lincoln slumped in his chair.

Leale fought his way up to the President’s box. He was the first doctor on the scene and examined the President while the family physician and surgeon general were called.

Leale found the President “in a state of general paralysis” and barely breathing. After movng Lincoln out of his chair and onto the floor, Leale examined the President. Since Booth had been clutching a dagger when he landed on the stage, Leale assumed that Lincoln had been stabbed and searched in earnest for a wound, only to find a bullet hole at the base of Lincoln’s skull.

As word spread, Washingtonians gathered outside the nearby Peterson house, where Lincoln had been taken. The President died the next morning.

In recognition of the sesquicentennial of the Lincoln’s assassination, Assistant Surgeon Robert A. Leale’s report on the event will be on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC, from March 6 through April 29, 2015.

Read the full report.