Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories

"The day (April 14, 1865) seems to have been a pleasant one
throughout the whole land--the moral atmosphere pleasant, too--
the long storm, so dark, so fratricidal, full of blood and doubt
and gloom, over and ended at last by the sunrise of such an
absolute national victory, and utter breaking down of
secessionism--we almost doubted our senses! Lee had capitulated,
beneath the apple tree at Appomattox. The other armies, the
flanges of the revolt, swiftly followed.

"And could it really be, then? Out of all the affairs of this
world of woe and passion, of failure and disorder and dismay, was
there really come the confirmed, unerring sign of peace, like a
shaft of pure light--of rightful rule--of God?

"But I must not dwell on accessories. The deed hastens. The
popular afternoon paper, the little Evening Star, had scattered
all over its third page, divided among the advertisements in a
sensational manner in a hundred different places:

"'The President and his lady will be at the theatre this

"Lincoln was fond of the theatre. I have myself seen him there
several times. I remember thinking how funny it was that he, the
leading actor in the greatest and stormiest drama known to real
history's stage, through centuries, should sit there and be so
completely interested in those human jackstraws, moving about
with their silly little gestures, foreign spirit, and flatulent

"So the day, as I say, was propitious. Early herbage, early
flowers, were out. I remember where I was stopping at the time,
the season being advanced, there were many lilacs in full bloom.

"By one of those caprices that enter and give tinge to events
without being a part of them, I find myself always reminded of
the great tragedy of this day by the sight and odor of these
blossoms. It never fails.

"On this occasion the theatre was crowded, many ladies in rich
and gay costumes, officers in their uniforms, many well-known
citizens, young folks, the usual cluster of gas lights, the usual
magnetism of so many people, cheerful with perfumes, music of
violins and flutes--and over all, that saturating, that vast,
vague wonder, Victory, the nation's victory, the triumph of the
Union, filling the air, the thought, the sense, with exhilaration
more than all the perfumes.

"The President came betimes, and, with his wife, witnessed the
play from the large stage boxes of the second tier, two thrown
into one, and profusely draped with the national flag. The acts
and scenes of the piece--one of those singularly witless
compositions which have at the least the merit of giving entire
relief to an audience engaged in mental action or business
excitements and cares during the day, as it makes not the
slightest call on either the moral, emotional, esthetic or
spiritual nature--a piece in which among other characters, so
called, a Yankee--certainly such a one as was never seen, or at
least like it ever seen in North America, is introduced in
England, with a varied fol-de-rol of talk, plot, scenery, and
such phantasmagoria as goes to make up a modern popular
drama--had progressed perhaps through a couple of its acts, when,
in the midst of this comedy, or tragedy, or non-such, or whatever
it is to be called, and to offset it, or finish it out, as if in
Nature's and the Great Muse's mockery of these poor mimics, comes
interpolated that scene, not really or exactly to be described at
all (for on the many hundreds who were there it seems to this
hour to have left little but a passing blur, a dream, a
blotch)--and yet partially described as I now proceed to give it:

"There is a scene in the play, representing the modern parlor, in
which two unprecedented ladies are informed by the unprecedented
and impossible Yankee that he is not a man of fortune, and
therefore undesirable for marriage-catching purposes; after
which, the comments being finished, the dramatic trio make exit,
leaving the stage clear for a moment.

"There was a pause, a hush, as it were. At this period came the
death of Abraham Lincoln.

"Great as that was, with all its manifold train circling around
it, and stretching into the future for many a century, in the
politics, history, art, etc., of the New World, in point of fact,
the main thing, the actual murder, transpired with the quiet and
simplicity of any commonest occurrence--the bursting of a bud or
pod in the growth of vegetation, for instance.

"Through the general hum following the stage pause, with the
change of positions, etc., came the muffled sound of a pistol
shot, which not one-hundredth part of the audience heard at the
time--and yet a moment's hush--somehow, surely a vague, startled
thrill--and then, through the ornamented, draperied, starred and
striped space-way of the President's box, a sudden figure, a man,
raises himself with hands and feet, stands a moment on the
railing, leaps below to the stage, falls out of position,
catching his bootheel in the copious drapery (the American flag),
falls on one knee, quickly recovers himself, rises as if nothing
had happened (he really sprains his ankle, unfelt then)--and the
figure, Booth, the murderer, dressed in plain black broadcloth,
bareheaded, with a full head of glossy, raven hair, and his eyes,
like some mad animal's, flashing with light and resolution, yet
with a certain strange calmness holds aloft in one hand a large
knife--walks along not much back of the footlights--turns fully
towards the audience, his face of statuesque beauty, lit by those
basilisk eyes, flashing with desperation, perhaps
insanity--launches out in a firm and steady voice the words, 'Sic
semper tyrannis'--and then walks with neither slow nor very rapid
pace diagonally across to the back of the stage, and disappears.

"(Had not all this terrible scene--making the mimic ones
preposterous--had it not all been rehearsed, in blank, by Booth,

"A moment's hush, incredulous--a scream--a cry of murder--Mrs.
Lincoln leaning out of the box, with ashy cheeks and lips, with
involuntary cry, pointing to the retreating figure, 'He has
killed the President!'

"And still a moment's strange, incredulous suspense--and then the
deluge!--then that mixture of horror, noises, uncertainty--the
sound, somewhere back, of a horse's hoofs clattering with speed--
the people burst through chairs and railings, and break them
up--that noise adds to the queerness of the scene--there is
inextricable confusion and terror--women faint--quite feeble
persons fall, and are trampled on--many cries of agony are heard
--the broad stage suddenly fills to suffocation with a dense and
motley crowd, like some horrible carnival--the audience rush
generally upon it--at least the strong men do--the actors and
actresses are there in their play costumes and painted faces,
with mortal fright showing through the rouge--some trembling,
some in tears--the screams and calls, confused talk--redoubled,
trebled--two or three manage to pass up water from the stage to
the President's box, others try to clamber up, etc., etc.

"In the midst of all this the soldiers of the President's Guard,
with others, suddenly drawn to the scene, burst in--some two
hundred altogether--they storm the house, through all the tiers,
especially the upper ones--inflamed with fury, literally charging
the audience with fixed bayonets, muskets and pistols, shouting,
'Clear out! clear out!'

"Such a wild scene, or a suggestion of it, rather, inside the
playhouse that night!

"Outside, too, in the atmosphere of shock and craze, crowds of
people filled with frenzy, ready to seize any outlet for it, came
near committing murder several times on innocent individuals.

"One such case was particularly exciting. The infuriated crowd,
through some chance, got started against one man, either for
words he uttered, or perhaps without any cause at all, and were
proceeding to hang him at once to a neighboring lamp-post, when
he was rescued by a few heroic policemen, who placed him in their
midst and fought their way slowly and amid great peril toward the

"It was a fitting episode of the whole affair. The crowd rushing
and eddying to and fro, the night, the yells, the pale faces,
many frightened people trying in vain to extricate themselves,
the attacked man, not yet freed from the jaws of death, looking
like a corpse; the silent, resolute half-dozen policemen, with no
weapons but their little clubs, yet stern and steady through all
those eddying swarms, made, indeed, a fitting side scene to the
grand tragedy of the murder. They gained the station-house with
the protected man, whom they placed in security for the night,
and discharged in the morning.

"And in the midst of that night pandemonium of senseless hate,
infuriated soldiers, the audience and the crowd--the stage, and
all its actors and actresses, its paint pots, spangles,
gas-light--the life-blood from those veins, the best and sweetest
of the land, drips slowly down, and death's ooze already begins
its little bubbles on the lips.

"Such, hurriedly sketched, were the accompaniments of the death
of President Lincoln. So suddenly, and in murder and horror
unsurpassed, he was taken from us. But his death was painless."

The assassin's bullet did not produce instant death, but the
President never again became conscious. He was carried to a house
opposite the theatre, where he died the next morning. In the
meantime the authorities had become aware of the wide-reaching
conspiracy, and the capital was in a state of terror.

On the night of the President's assassination, Mr. Seward,
Secretary of State, was attacked while in bed with a broken arm,
by Booth's fellow-conspirators, and badly wounded.

The conspirators had also planned to take the lives of
Vice-President Johnson and Secretary Stanton. Booth had called on
Vice-President Johnson the day before, and, not finding him in,
left a card.

Secretary Stanton acted with his usual promptness and courage.
During the period of excitement he acted as President, and
directed the plans for the capture of Booth.

Among other things, he issued the following reward:

War Department, Washington, April 20, 1865.
Major-General John A. Dix, New York:

The murderer of our late beloved President, Abraham Lincoln, is
still at large. Fifty thousand dollars reward will be paid by
this Department for his apprehension, in addition to any reward
offered by municipal authorities or State Executives.

Twenty-five thousand dollars reward will be paid for the
apprehension of G. W. Atzerodt, sometimes called "Port Tobacco,"
one of Booth's accomplices. Twenty-five thousand dollars reward
will be paid for the apprehension of David C. Herold, another of
Booth's accomplices.

A liberal reward will be paid for any information that shall
conduce to the arrest of either the above-named criminals or
their accomplices.

All persons harboring or secreting the said persons, or either of
them, or aiding or assisting their concealment or escape, will be
treated as accomplices in the murder of the President and the
attempted assassination of the Secretary of State, and shall be
subject to trial before a military commission, and the punishment
of death.

Let the stain of innocent blood be removed from the land by the
arrest and punishment of the murderers.

All good citizens are exhorted to aid public justice on this
occasion. Every man should consider his own conscience charged
with this solemn duty, and rest neither night nor day until it be

EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War.

Booth, accompanied by David C. Herold, a fellow-conspirator,
finally made his way into Maryland, where eleven days after the
assassination the two were discovered in a barn on Garrett's farm
near Port Royal on the Rappahannock. The barn was surrounded by a
squad of cavalrymen, who called upon the assassins to surrender.
Herold gave himself up and was roundly cursed and abused by
Booth, who declared that he would never be taken alive.

The cavalrymen then set fire to the barn and as the flames leaped
up the figure of the assassin could be plainly seen, although the
wall of fire prevented him from seeing the soldiers. Colonel
Conger saw him standing upright upon a crutch with a carbine in
his hands.

When the fire first blazed up Booth crept on his hands and knees
to the spot, evidently for the purpose of shooting the man who
had applied the torch, but the blaze prevented him from seeing
anyone. Then it seemed as if he were preparing to extinguish the
flames, but seeing the impossibility of this he started toward
the door with his carbine held ready for action.

His eyes shone with the light of fever, but he was pale as death
and his general appearance was haggard and unkempt. He had shaved
off his mustache and his hair was closely cropped. Both he and
Herold wore the uniforms of Confederate soldiers.

The last orders given to the squad pursuing Booth were: "Don't
shoot Booth, but take him alive." Just as Booth started to the
door of the barn this order was disobeyed by a sergeant named
Boston Corbett, who fired through a crevice and shot Booth in the
neck. The wounded man was carried out of the barn and died four
hours afterward on the grass where they had laid him. Before he
died he whispered to Lieutenant Baker, "Tell mother I died for my
country; I thought I did for the best." What became of Booth's
body has always been and probably always will be a mystery. Many
different stories have been told concerning his final resting
place, but all that is known positively is that the body was
first taken to Washington and a post-mortem examination of it
held on the Monitor Montauk. On the night of April 27th it was
turned over to two men who took it in a rowboat and disposed of
it secretly. How they disposed of it none but themselves know and
they have never told.

The conspiracy to assassinate the President involved altogether
twenty-five people. Among the number captured and tried were
David C. Herold, G. W. Atzerodt, Louis Payne, Edward Spangler,
Michael O'Loughlin, Samuel Arnold, Mrs. Surratt and Dr. Samuel
Mudd, a physician, who set Booth's leg, which was sprained by his
fall from the stage box. Of these Herold, Atzerodt, Payne and
Mrs. Surratt were hanged. Dr. Mudd was deported to the Dry
Tortugas. While there an epidemic of yellow fever broke out and
he rendered such good service that he was granted a pardon and
died a number of years ago in Maryland.

John Surratt, the son of the woman who was hanged, made his
escape to Italy, where he became one of the Papal guards in the
Vatican at Rome. His presence there was discovered by Archbishop
Hughes, and, although there were no extradition laws to cover his
case, the Italian Government gave him up to the United States

He had two trials. At the first the jury disagreed; the long
delay before his second trial allowed him to escape by pleading
the statute of limitation. Spangler and O'Loughlin were sent to
the Dry Tortugas and served their time.

Ford, the owner of the theatre in which the President was
assassinated, was a Southern sympathizer, and when he attempted
to re-open his theatre after the great national tragedy,
Secretary Stanton refused to allow it. The Government afterward
bought the theatre and turned it into a National museum.

President Lincoln was buried at Springfield, and on the day of
his funeral there was universal grief.

No final words of that great life can be more fitly spoken than
the eulogy pronounced by Henry Ward Beecher:

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