Abraham Lincoln Attends a Play at Ford’s Theatre – The Lincoln Assassination

On April 14, 1865 President Abraham Lincoln spent his day visiting with callers and attending a Cabinet meeting. Among those at the Cabinet meeting was General Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln explained to Grant that he was having a recurring dream about a ship “moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore.” Now that the Civil War was over, topics of discussion at the meeting included the problems of reconstruction, and the treatment of former Confederate leaders.

That evening, the Lincolns were planning a visit to Ford’s Theatre to see the play Our American Cousin. Lincoln asked General Grant to be his guest that night, but Grant declined the president’s invitation. Instead, Lincoln and his wife Mary would attend the performance of Our American Cousin accompanied by two other guests, Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, Miss Clara Harris.

Previously, President Lincoln had found some brief refuge from the Civil War when he attended a play at Ford’s Theatre on November 9, 1863. Lincoln then saw a play named The Marble Heart, cast in this play was a young and well-regarded actor named John Wilkes Booth. Booth would not be acting in Our American Cousin on the evening of April 14, but he too, planned to be at Ford’s Theatre during the play’s performance.

That evening, the Lincolns, Major Henry Rathbone, and Miss Clara Harris, were all enjoying the play. Two of haytheatre.com the play’s characters exchange the following lines during the third act:

Mrs. Montchessington:

“I am aware, Mr. Trenchard, that you are not used to the manners of good society.”

Asa Trenchard:

“Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal – you sockdologizing old mantrap!”

After the above lines in the performance of the play, the audience would always burst out loudly in laughter. John Wilkes Booth knew that in this scene of the play, the audience’s loud laughter would happen as if on cue. At this moment, Booth used a.44 caliber derringer to shoot President Lincoln in the back of his head at nearly point blank range.

Booth slashed Major Rathbone with a knife, and then leapt onto the stage as he shouted;

“Sic semper tyrannis.”

Which is Latin for; “Thus always to tyrants.” Booth broke his leg as he landed on the stage, but he escaped out of Ford’s Theatre to a back alley, and a waiting horse. All this occurred at about 10:15 P.M. It was Good Friday.

President Lincoln was unconscious, but still alive. He was moved across the street from Ford’s Theatre to the Peterson house. Taken into a back bedroom, the six-foot-four inches tall Lincoln was placed diagonally upon a bed that was too short for him.

President Lincoln’s head wound was very, very severe. There was nothing much that could be done for the president now, except to watch and wait. President Abraham Lincoln died on April 15, 1865 at approximately 7:22 in the morning.

Upon Abraham Lincoln’s death, it was reported Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said;

“Now he belongs to the ages.”

Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was a tragedy. The nation was in mourning.

Some in the defeated South were joyous over the news of Lincoln’s death… it had been a long, hard, bitter, and bloody war. Others in the South realized they had lost a friend on their path to reconstruction and healing after the war. Lincoln’s death was not good news for the people of the South. Some leaders coming to power after Lincoln’s death would not have Lincoln’s conciliatory ideas for the South.

Almost immediately after his assassination, discussion begins for a memorial of some type for President Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. was dedicated in 1922. The Lincoln Memorial has 36 columns to signify the number of states that were in the Union during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Carved into the marble of the south wall of the memorial is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The Lincoln Memorial faces toward Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s former home of Arlington House, located across the Potomac River.

There is something about the Civil War that captures and holds our interest and imagination, it’s truly an amazing story. I’m Jonathan R. Allen and I have been blogging about American Civil War history and stories since 2005. Learn more at my Learn Civil War History blog.