« PreviousContinue »
by this change of manner: “It was thus with you," she said, “just before our dear Willie's death.” The allusion to this event, the depressing effects of which, during more than three years, had never been effaced, cast a shadow on his heart. But in a moment he replied, speaking of the impossibility of accounting for such transitions of mood. The passing thought was quickly gone, to be recalled only by subsequent realities. Mr. Lincoln talked of the future, and of the hopes he indulged of happier hours during his second term than he had been permitted to enjoy during that which was passed-an expectation reasonably founded on the altered condition of national affairs, and on the assured confidence and love of the people, which would lighten the burdens undertaken on their behalf.
Gen. Grant had arrived in Washington in time to witness the grand illumination of the previous evening. There was a general desire to see the great commander, to whom, during the war, threc Rebel armies had successively surrendered, and whose leadership had at length brought the military power of the rebellion to utter ruin. This desire had not been gratified. On the evening of the 14th, the places of public amusement were to be specially decorated in honor of the great victories achieved, and of the raising over Fort Sumter of the identical flag pulled down on that day four years before, at the opening of the war. Mr. Lincoln, who had been wont occasionally, though seldom, to seek a brief respite from his heavy cares by attending on a play, or an opera, thought proper to engage a private box at Ford's Theater, for this evening, intending that Gen. Grant should accompany him on the occasion. A messenger was accordingly sent on Friday morning to secure the upper double box, on the right hand side of the audience, before occupied by him, and the announcement was made in the evening papers, by the business manager of the theater, that the President and Gen. Grant would be present to witness the performance of "The American Cousin." Gen. Grant, however, had felt compelled to leave the city that evening, going north with his family, and he was accordingly excused.
There were visitors at the White House that night as usual, and it was somewhat late when Mr. Lincoln was ready to leave.
Mrs. Lincoln, as if some persentiment restrained her, seemed reluctant to go, but the President was unwilling that those who had seen the announcement should be totally disappointed by seeing neither himself nor the Lieutenant-General. Speaker Colfax, who was the last person received by Mr. Lincoln, walked with him and Mrs. Lincoln from the parlor to the carriage. Mr. Ashmun, who had nearly five years before presided over the National Convention, which first nominated Mr. Lincoln for the Presidency, came up at this moment, having hoped to obtain an interview. After salutations, a card was handed to Mr. Ashmun, written by the President as he sat in his carriage, directing the usher to admit that gentleman to the Executive room on the following morning. The carriage drove away, stopping to take up two young friends on the way-Maj. Rathbone and Miss Harris. It was not yet past nine when the party reached the theater, which was densely thronged. As President Lincoln entered and passed to his box he was greeted with enthusiastic cheering.
Mr. Lincoln occupied a chair on the side of the box nearest the audience, Mrs. Lincoln sitting next him. Their guests were seated beyond, in a portion of the box usually separated by a partition, which had been removed for this occasion. Each part was ordinarily entered by its own door, opening from a narrow passage, to which, near the outer wall, a door gives access from the dress circle. The last named door and the further one inside were closed, the other, through which the whole party passed, remaining open. Any intrusion upon this privacy, in the presence of so many spectators, was hardly to be thought of as possible. Every day of his life in Washington, the President had been in positions far more inviting to murderous malice or Rebel conspiracy.
During the hour that followed Mr. Lincoln's entrance into the theater, his attention seemed to be unusually absorbed in the scenes before him. His countenance indicated an appreciation of the lively caricature in which the good-humored audience manifested a high degree of delight. Yet it may safely be affirmed that there was, in his mind, a strong undercurrent of quite other thoughts and emotions than those which had to do with this mock presentation of human life and manners. One can not doubt, knowing his mental characteristics, that while partly enjoying this light diversion, his mind was active with more substantial realities, and actually most occupied with these, when apparently most intent in observing what passed on the stage.
In the midst of a scene of the third act, when but one actor was before the curtain, the sound of a pistol-shot was heard, and a man leaped from the President's box and disappeared behind the scenes. So sudden was all this, that only the screams of Mrs. Lincoln, a moment later, revealed its meaning. The President had been shot. His assassin had escaped. One of the audience promptly sprang upon the stage, following the fugitive, but was only in time to see him mount a horse at the rear of the theater, and ride away at a flying speed. Wild excitement swayed the audience now toward the stage, many leaping over the foot-lights, and now toward the door. Attention was earnestly directed, on the next instant, to the condition of Mr. Lincoln. He was found to be insensble, having fallen slightly forward, where he sat. Presently surgeons were admitted to the box, and soon after it was discovered that he had been shot in the back of the neck, just beneath the base of the brain, in which the ball was still lodged a hopeless wound. In a few minutes more he was borne from the theater to a private house on the opposite side of the street.
The terrible news quickly spread through the city, and the streets near the theater were thronged with distressed and indignant thousands, anxious for a word as to the President's condition, that would give encouragement to hope-eager to know who was the author of this monstrous crime. Almost simultaneously came the intelligence that Secretary Seward, who had been lying seriously ill for many days past, had been brutally stabbed in his bed by a ruffian, who had wounded several others in making his escape from the house. It soon became known, also, that Frederick W. Seward, Assistant Secretary of State, had been so wounded, by the same hand, that his recovery was very doubtful.
In the room to which Mr. Lincoln had been removed, he remained, still breathing, but unconscious, surrounded by his
distracted family-who sometimes retired together to an adjoining room-by his Cabinet, by surgeons, and by a few others, until twenty-three minutes past seven o'clock, on the morning of April 15th, when his great heart ceased to beat.
Never before was rejoicing turned into such sudden and overwhelming sorrow. A demon studying how most deeply to wound the greatest number of hearts, could have devised no act for his purpose like that which sent ABRAHAM LINCOLN to his grave. No man's loss could have been so universally felt as that of a father, brother, friend. Many a fireside was made doubly lonely by this bereavement.
“Sadness to despondency has seized on all ”-says a private letter from a resident of one of our largest cities, written on the fatal day. " Men have ceased business, and workmen are turning home with their dinner buckets unopened. The merchants are leaving their counting-rooms for the privacy of their dwellings. A gloom, intensified by the transition from the pomp and rejoicing of yesterday, settles impenetrably on every mind." And this was but a picture of the grief everywhere felt. Bells sadly tolled in all parts of the land. Mourning drapery was quickly seen from house to house on every square of the national capital; and all the chief places of the country witnessed, by spontaneous demonstrations, their participation in the general sorrow. In every loyal pulpit, and at every true altar throughout the nation, the great public grief was the theme of carnest prayer and discourse, on the day following. One needs not to dwell on what-no pen can describe, and on what no adult living on that day can cver forget.
During the night of Friday, diligent efforts were made to discover the assassin, and to secure his arrest. It was early ascertained that J. W. Booth, an actor, was the perpetrator of the crime, and that he had probably escaped across the East Branch, into a portion of Maryland in warm sympathy with the rebellion. The circumstances attending the deed were eagerly inquired into, and testimony taken, from which it was learned that the assassination of Mr. Lincoln and the attempted murder of Mr. Seward, had their source in a conspiracy, of which Vice-President Johnson was also an intended victim
The statements of Major Rathbone, who was in the President's box, and of the actor (Mr. Hawk) who was alone on the stage, at the time of the murder, have a special value in relation to the circumstances attending its consummation. Maj. Rathbone, in an affidavit made on the 17th of April, said:
The distance between the President, as he sat, and the door was about four or five feet. The door, according to the recol lection of this deponent, was not closed during the evening. When the second scene of the third act was being performed, and while this deponent was intently observing the proceedings upon the stage, with his back toward the door, he heard the discharge of a pistol behind him, and looking around, saw, through the smoke, a man between the door and the President. At the same moment deponent heard him shout some word which deponent thinks was " freedom !" This deponent instantly sprang toward him and seized him ; he wrested himself from the grasp and made a violent thrust at the breast of deponent with a large knife. Deponent parried the blow by striking it up, and received a wound several inches deep in his left arm, between the elbow and the shoulder. The orifice of the wound is about an inch and a half in length, and extends upward toward the shoulder several inches. The man rushed to the front of the box, and deponent endeavored to seize him again, but only caught his clothes as he was leaping over the railing of the box. The clothes, as deponent believes, were torn in this attempt to seize him. As he went over upon the stage, deponent cried out with a loud voice, “Stop that man !" Deponent then turned to the President; his position was not changed; his head was slightly bent forward, and his eyes were closed. Deponent saw that he was unconscious, and supposing him mortally wounded, rushed to the door for the purpose of calling medical aid. On reaching the outer door of the passage way as above described, deponent found it barred by a heavy piece of plank, one end of which was secured in the wall, and the other resting against the door. It had been so securely fastened that it required considerable force to remove it. This wedge or bar was about four feet from the floor. Persons upon the outside were beating against the door for the purpose of entering. Deponent removed the bar, and the door was opened.
The actor who was at the moment on the stage, gave the following particulars in a letter to his father, written on the 16th of April: