Page images

held during the day. In public and social duties the day passed away; and in the evening Mr. Colfax came again. George Ashmun of Massachusetts also came in, and to him Mr. Lincoln gave the following little note in pencil-the last words he ever wrote:

"Allow Mr. Ashmun and friend* to come in at 9 A. M. to-morrow. "A LINCOLN."

Mr. Lincoln and General Grant were the lions of the day; and the manager of Ford's theater, with a keen eye to business, had not only invited them to witness that night the representation of "Our American Cousin," but announced them both as positively to be present. The Washington papers of the fourteenth contained the following "personal notice:"

"Lieutenant-general Grant, President and Mrs. Lincoln, and ladies, will occupy the state box at Ford's theater to-night, to witness Miss Laura Keene's company in Tom Taylor's 'American Cousin."

General Grant did not desire to attend, and so left the city. The President was equally disinclined to the entertainment; but, as his presence and that of General Grant also had been pledged to the people, he saw that there would be great disappointment if he should fail them; and, when Mrs. Lincoln entered the President's room to inquire what decision he had arrived at, he said that he had concluded to go. He invited both Mr. Ashmun and Mr. Colfax to accompany him, but both declined, pleading other engagements; and Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, attended to the carriage by Mr. Ashmun, left without other company, and drove directly to the house of Senator Harris, where they took in Miss Harris, a daughter of the Senator, and Major Rathbone, a son of the Senator's wife, who happened to be in at the time. The party reached the theater at twenty minutes before nine o'clock, to find the house filled in every part; and, as they passed to their seats in the private box reserved for them, the whole assembly rose and cheered them, with the most cordial enthusiasm. This

*Judge C. P. Daly of New York.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

demonstration was intended as an expression of good-will, and as a popular congratulation on the victories that had brought the rebellion to a close. The President bowed to the audience, took his seat, and was soon afterwards absorbed in the scenes of mimic life upon the stage. Here let us leave him, to trace the movements of another person.

At half-past eleven o'clock, on the morning of the fourteenth, John Wilkes Booth, a young actor who had been openly disloyal throughout the war, visited Ford's theater, where he was informed that a box had been taken for the President and General Grant. Then he went to a stable, and engaged a high-strung mare for a saddle-ride, which he proposed to take in the middle of the afternoon. From the stable he proceeded to the Kirkwood Hotel, where he sent up to Vice-president Johnson a card, bearing the words: "I don't wish to disturb you; are you at home?" To this, his signature was appended; and it drew from Mr. Johnson only the response that he was very busily engaged. At four o'clock, he called for the mare, and rode away, leaving her at last at a point convenient for his further purposes. In the evening, he took her from her hiding-place, and rode to the theater. Summoning one Spangler, a scene-shifter, he left the animal in his charge, to be held until he should return. Then he ascended to the dress-circle, looked in upon the stage and the audience, and gradually worked his way through the crowd packed in the rear of the dress-circle, toward the box occupied by the Presidential party. This box was at the end of the dress-circle, next the stage; and was reached by passing in the rear of the dress-circle, to a door opening first into a dark, narrow passage, and then by two doors opening from the passage. This passage was contrived so that the box might be made a double one, when occasion required, by securing facilities for a double entrance, an inside sliding partition completing the arrangement. To the entrance of this passage, Booth forced himself; and, after showing a card to the President's servant, and saying that Mr. Lincoln had sent for him, he passed into the passage, and fastened the door behind

him. Presenting himself at the door of the box, he took a quick survey of the interior. He found everything favorable to his purpose; and, taking a small Derringer pistol in one hand, and a double-edged dagger in the other, he thrust his arm into the entrance, where the President, sitting in an arm-chair, presented to his full view the back and side of his head. A flash, a sharp report, a puff of smoke, and the fatal bullet had entered the President's brain. Mr. Lincoln did not stir. People thought that the report of the pistol had some connection with the play; but the awful truth was soon apparent. There was no escape for the murderer by the way through which he had reached the box; for the crowd was too great. Major Rathbone, the instant he comprehended what was done, sprang upon Booth, who, throwing him off, dropped his 'pistol, and struck him with his dagger, inflicting a flesh wound upon the officer's arm. Then the murderer rushed to the front of the box, parted the folds of the flag with which it was draped for the occasion, and leaped to the stage, half falling as he descended, his spurs having caught in the drapery. Then springing to his feet, he uttered with theatrical emphasis the words of the state motto of Virginia: "Sie semper tyrannis!" and added: "The South is avenged." Quickly turning, he rushed from the stage, striking from his path all whom he met, and, escaping at the rear of the theater, was in his saddle and away before the party around the President and the audience fully comprehended what had been done. Only a single man in the audience took in at once the meaning of the scene; and, although he undertook to follow Booth, the assassin had disappeared before he reached the door.

Mrs. Lincoln screamed, and Miss Harris called for water. The scene among the audience defies all description. Women shrieked and fainted. Men called for vengeance. The most terrible uproar prevailed. Laura Keene, the actress, begged the audience to be calm, and entered the box from the stage, bearing water and cordials. The President was entirely unconscious; and, as soon as the surgeons, who had gathered quickly to him, had ascertained the position and nature of the

wound, the helpless form was borne across Tenth street to the house of a Mr. Peterson. Surgeon-general Barnes, after examination, pronounced the wound a mortal one. The words fell upon the ears of Secretary Stanton, who, bursting into tears, responded: "Oh, no! General, no, no!" Attorney-general Speed, Secretary Welles, Postmaster-general Dennison, General Meigs, Mr. McCulloch, the new Secretary of the Treasury, and Senator Sumner were gathered around the bed, the last holding one of the President's hands, and sobbing like a child. In an adjoining room, supported by her son Robert and Mrs. Senator Dixon, sat Mrs. Lincoln, bewildered and crushed by her great grief. Around the unconscious form of the President the great men of the nation bowed, and wept, watching the heaving of his breast, until, at twenty-two minutes past seven in the morning, he breathed his last.

In another part of the city, at the moment of the murder and alarm at the theater, another scene of terrible violence was enacted, which showed that one of the many conspiracies that had been organized to destroy the heads of the government was in process of execution.

A few days previously, Mr. Seward had been thrown from his carriage, and severely injured. He was still very low, and under the most careful medical and surgical treatment. A little after ten, on this fatal evening, the door-bell of his residence was rung by a man who said he came with medicine from Dr. Verdi, Mr. Seward's physician, which it was necessary for him to deliver in person. The servant who admitted him protested that no one was permitted to see Mr. Seward. The man pushed him aside, and mounted the stairs. When he was about to enter the Secretary's room, Mr. Frederick Seward, the Secretary's son, appeared, and inquired his business. He gave the same reply that he had given to the servant, when the gentleman told him that he could not enter. In return for this refusal, Mr. Frederick Seward received a stunning blow upon his forehead, with the butt of a pistol; and the man pushed on to the bedside of the Secretary, mounted the bed, and, aiming at Mr. Seward's throat, stabbed him three

[ocr errors]

times. He would undoubtedly have killed him, had he not been seized around the body by the nurse of Mr. Seward, a soldier named Robinson. While the assassin was struggling with Robinson, Mr. Seward summoned sufficient strength to roll himself off the bed. The murderer, inflicting severe wounds upon Robinson, burst away from him, rushed to the door, forced his way down stairs, stabbing Major Augustus Seward and one of his father's attendants on the way, and escaped into the street. He had stabbed no less than five persons. This conspirator, known afterwards to the public by the name of Payne, was Lewis Payne Powell.

The effect of these two tragedies upon the popular feeling in the city of Washington may possibly be imagined, but it cannot be described. Some cried for retaliation upon the leaders of a rebellion that could inspire such deeds, and for revenge even upon the helpless prisoners in our hands. Others were possessed by a sense of horror; others by emotions of terror; others by an overwhelming grief; and all by a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. How wide was the conspiracy? How comprehensive was the plot? Who were the designated victims? What would be the next development? There was no sleep in Washington that night. A terrible solemnity took possession of the noisy capital. Only the military were busy. All the drinking shops of the city were closed, the outlets of the city were guarded, and every necessary step was taken for the protection of the persons of the other members of the government.

The effect of these terrible events upon the popular heart throughout the country was touching in the extreme. From the sunniest hills of joy, the people went down weeping into the darkest valleys of affliction. The long, sad morning of the President's death was full of the sound of tolling bells. It was everywhere the same. By a common impulse the bells from every tower in the land gave voice to the popular grief; and from every dwelling and store and shop, from every church and public building, the insignia of sorrow were displayed. The markets were literally cleared of every fabric that could

« PreviousContinue »