Lincoln awoke the morning of April 14 in a pleasant mood. Robert E. Lee had surrendered several days before to Ulysses Grant, and now Lincoln was awaiting word from North Carolina on the surrender of Joseph E. Johnston. The morning papers carried the announcement that the president and his wife would be attending the comedy, Our American Cousin, at Ford's Theater that evening with General Grant and his wife.
|A Life Mask" of Lincoln made
shortly after his election in 1860.
After an afternoon carriage ride and dinner, Mary complained of a headache and considered not going after all. Lincoln commented that he was feeling a bit tired himself, but he needed a laugh and was intent on going with or without her. She relented. He made a quick trip to the War Department with his body guard, William Crook, but there was no news from North Carolina. While returning to pick up Mary, Crook "almost begged" Lincoln not to go to the theater. He then asked if he could go along as an extra guard. Lincoln rejected both suggestions, shrugging off Crook's fears of assassination. Lincoln knew that a guard would be posted outside their "state box" at the theater.
Arriving after the play had started, the two couples swept up the stairs and into their seats. The box door was closed, but not locked. As the play progressed, police guard John Parker, a notorious drinker, left his post in the hallway leading to the box and went across the street for a drink. During the third act, the President and Mrs. Lincoln drew closer together, holding hands while enjoying the play. Behind them, the door opened and a man stepped into the box. Pointing a derringer at the back of Lincoln's head, he pulled the trigger. Mary reached out to her slumping husband and began shrieking. Now wielding a dagger, the man yelled, "Sic semper tyrannis!" ("Thus always to tyrants"), slashed Rathbone's arm open to the bone, and then leapt from the box. Catching his spur in a flag, he crashed to the stage, breaking his left shin in the fall. Rathbone and Harris both yelled for someone to stop him, but he escaped out the back stage door.
An unconscious Lincoln was carried across the street to the Petersen House and into the room of a War Department clerk. The bullet had entered behind the left ear and ripped a path through the left side of his brain, mortally wounding him. He died the next morning.
Gideon Welles served Lincoln as Secretary of the Navy. On the night of April 14, he was awakened with the news that Lincoln had been shot. Together with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, he rushed to Ford's Theater. They found the area packed with an excited crowd and learned that Lincoln had been taken to a house across the street. Clamoring up the stairs, Welles asked a doctor he recognized about Lincoln's condition. The physician replied that the President might live another three hours. We pick up his story as he enters the room where Lincoln lay:
"The President had been carried across the street from the theater to the house of a Mr. Peterson. We entered by ascending a flight of steps above the basement and passing through a long hall to the rear, where the President lay extended on a bed, breathing heavily. Several surgeons were present, at least six, I should think more. Among them I was glad to observe Doctor Hall, who, however, soon left. I inquired of Doctor Hall, as I entered, the true condition of the President. He replied the President was dead to all intents, although he might live three hours or perhaps longer.
The giant sufferer lay extended diagonally across the bed, which was not long enough for him. He had been stripped of his clothes. His large arms, which were occasionally exposed, were of a size which one would scarce have expected from his spare appearance. His slow, full respiration lifted the clothes with each breath that he took. His features were calm and striking. I had never seen them appear to better advantage than for the first hour, perhaps, that I was there. After that his right eye began to swell and that part of his face became discolored.