John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s killer, was a Maryland native born in1838 who stayed in the North during the Civil War in spite of his Confederate sympathies. As the conflict came to its final stages, he and many associates came up with a plan to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln and take him to Richmond, the Confederate capital. On the day of the planned kidnapping – March 20, 1865 – Abraham Lincoln did not appear at the place where Booth and his conspirators lay waiting. Richmond fell to Union forces two weeks later. In April, with Confederate armies almost collapsing across the South, John Wilkes Booth emerged with a desperate plot to save the Confederacy.
Finding out that Abraham Lincoln was to attend Laura Keene’s praised performance of “Our American Cousin” in Washington D.C at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, Booth – actually a well-known actor himself at the time – masterminded the concurrent assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and William H. Seward, the Secretary of State. By killing the President and two of his potential successors, Booth and his team hoped to plunge the U.S government into disarray.
Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary arrived late for the comedy, at were seated in a private box above the stage.
Booth slipped into the booth at 10:15 and fired his gun into the back of Lincoln’s head. Rathbone, a young army officer, immediately rushed at him and Booth stabbed him in the shoulder. Booth then leapt onto the stage and shouted “Thus ever to the tyrants!” – The Virginia state motto. Initially, the crowd thought the unfolding drama was part of the production, but a scream from Mary, the first Lady, told them otherwise. Even though John Wilkes Booth broke his leg in the fall, he still succeeded in leaving the theatre and escaped from Washington on horseback.
News of the death of Abraham Lincoln spread quickly, and by the end of the day flags across the United States flew at half-mast and people who had recently celebrated the end of the Civil War were now in shock at the assassination.
On April 21, the body of Abraham Lincoln was placed on a train that took it to Springfield, Illinois, where he lived before becoming president. Numerous Americans lined the railroad route and paid their respects to Abraham Lincoln during the train’s solemn progression through the North. Abraham Lincoln and his son Willie, who died in the White House in 1862 of typhoid fever, were buried on May 4, 1865, at Oak Ridge Cemetery, near Springfield.
Union soldiers were hot on the trail of John Wilkes Booth who a lot of people in the theatre had immediately recognized. After he fled the capital, Booth and an accomplice, David Herold, headed toward southern Maryland. The two of them stopped to treat Booth’s leg at the home of Doctor Samuel Mudd. They then found refuge from a Confederate agent, Thomas A. Jones, before securing a boat to row to Virginia, across the Potomac.
Union troops surrounded the Virginia farmhouse on April 26 where Booth and Herold were hiding and set fire to it. Herold surrendered but Booth stayed inside. A sergeant then shot Booth in the neck, apparently because Booth had raised his gun as if to shoot. Taken out of the building alive, Booth was alive for three hours before looking at his hands and uttering his final words: “Useless, useless.”
Four of Booth’s co-conspirators were convicted and executed by hanging on July 7, 1865.