Greetings, this week’s episode is about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Southern sympathizer and actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on April 15, 1865. It was just six days after General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.
John Wilkes Booth (May 10, 1838 – April 26, 1865)
The son of Junius Brutus Booth and his mistress Mary Ann Holmes, John was native to a farm near farm near Bel Air, Maryland. Junius, a well known Shakespearean actor, was married to Adelaide Delannoy. Adelaide received a divorce from Junius in 1851, after which Booth married Holmes on May 10, 1851. Wilkes and Holmes had 10 children, John being the ninth.
The athletic boy excelled at fencing and horsemanship. He attended the Bel Air Academy and later the Milton Boarding School for Boys in Sparks, Maryland. He later attended a military academy in Catonsville, Maryland. After his father’ death in 1852 Booth abandoned his formal education. Booth aspired to follow his actor father’s footsteps and his two brothers, Edwin and Junius Brutus, Jr.
Booth began his career on August 14, 1855 when he performed at Baltimore’s Charles Street Theatre. His first performance in the play was not promising, as he forgot some of his lines, leading to jeers from the audience. Undaunted, he continued his acting career, becoming known for his energetic performances. His skills improved until he became a favorite among many of his fans. As his fame increased he embarked on national tours, performing in Albany, New York, St. Louis, Chicago and New Orleans.
Booth was adamantly pro-slavery. At 16 he had joined the Know Nothing Party. He hated abolitionists and while on tour in Virginia in 1859 he joined a local militia so he could witness the execution of John Brown first hand. After Abraham Lincoln won the Presidency, Booth praised and supported the southern states as they began to secede. Booth made statements denouncing Lincoln and his policies publicly during the Civil War.
During the Civil War, Booth continued his performances. In 1863 he played the leading role in The Marble Heart in a performance in Ford’s Theater in November 1864. President Abraham Lincoln and his wife attended one of the plays. During the play, Booth appeared to point his finger at Lincoln as he delivered one of his lines. Booth also worked as an intelligence agent for the Confederacy during the war.
Booth and six Confederate conspirators hatched a plot to kidnap President Lincoln, transport him to Richmond, Virginia. Once in Virginia, they would demand that the North release all Confederate prisoners held in northern prisoner of war camps. The hope was that the action would strengthen opposition to the war in the north and force the Union to recognize the Confederacy. They planned to kidnap Lincoln while he visited his cottage, which is now the Old Soldiers Home near Washington, DC. The plot failed when Lincoln did not visit the property, as expected. It also proved unworkable after Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865. The Union victory led to its occupation of Richmond. The plot to kidnap transitioned into a plot to assassinate the President.
Booth entered Ford’s Theatre for his final, awful, performance on April 14, 1865 while Lincoln and his wife were enjoying a play. Because of his previous performances at the theater, his presence, though unexpected, was not alarming to anyone. Booth knew the theater well. He managed to slip into the President’s booth and shot him in the back of the head. After shooting the President, he stabbed his bodyguard and leapt to the floor, breaking his leg in the process. He cried out, the line from one of the plays he had performed in, Brutus. The line, “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” means “thus always to tyrants.” Booth ran from the theater and managed to find a hideout in Virginia. The 16th New York Cavalry pursued him and caught up with him as he hid in a barn. The troops set the barn on fire. Booth, attempting to flee the barn was shot by Boston Corbett. The shot broke Booth’s spine, paralyzing him. He died a few hours later and was interred in an unmarked grave.
After Lincoln’s funeral on April 19, 18 an honor guard transported the casket holding the body to the Rotunda at the United States Capitol for a ceremonial service. The body lay in state on April 20. At 7:00 AM, an honor guard escorted the President to a waiting funeral train that would transport the President to Springfield, Illinois for burial. The funeral procession for President Lincoln began at 8:00 AM with around 10,000 people observing. The route the train would take would mirror the route he took on his journey to Washington DC from Springfield, Illinois on his inauguration journey in 1861.
This story is exerpted from my book, A History of United States Presidential Elections Book 2. Listeners can find the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other online retailers in both ebook and softbound formats. You can also purchase the book direct from me on my website, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can contact me at email@example.com.
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