Tuesday, April 14, 2015


[Excerpted from The Assassination of Lincoln by E.W. Coggeshall, published by W.M. Hill, Chicago, 1920]

It was a little before ten o'clock when Booth
led his horse to the back door of the theater
and gave it to "Peanuts," a boy who worked
about the theater, to hold ; then he went to a
saloon on Tenth Street, next door to the the-
ater, and took a drink.

A man now passed along the aisle to the
president's box and appeared to hand a card
to the messenger who sat on the steps. He
immediately entered the box and when he re-
appeared the man returned to the front of
the theater.

In a few moments Booth passed rapidly
through the crowd in the rear of the dress
circle, noticed only by those whom he incom-
moded, and without interference entered the
passage way to the president's box.

Without attracting the attention of any of
its occupants, between whom and himself
there was now only the door through which
he had bored the hole, he fastened the outer
door by wedging the wooden bar between it
and the wall behind.

It was the second scene of the third act
the dairy scene and Harry Hauk as Asa
Trenchard alone occupied the stage  the
situation being doubtless selected by Booth as
most favorable to his escape. "Not one, not
even the comedian on the stage, could ever
remember the last words of the piece that
were uttered that night the last Abraham
Lincoln ever heard on earth. The whole
performance remains in the memory of those
who heard it a vague phantasmagoria, the
actor the thinnest of spectres. The awful
tragedy in the box makes everything else
seem pale and unreal. Here were five hu-
man beings in a narrow space  the greatest
man of his time, in the glory of the most stu-
pendous success in our history, the idolized
chief of a nation already mighty, with illimit-
able vistas of grandeur to come, his beloved
wife, proud and happy; a pair of betrothed
lovers, with all the promise of felicity that
youth, social position, and wealth could give
them; and this young actor, handsome as
Endymion upon Latmos, the pet of his little

"The glitter of fame, happiness, and ease
was upon the entire group, but in an instant
everything was to be changed with the blind-
ing swiftness of enchantment. Quick death
was to come on the central figure of that com-
pany the central figure we believe of the
great and good men of the century.

"Over all the rest the blackest fates hov-
ered menacingly fates from which a
mother might pray that kindly death would
save her children in their infancy. One was
to wander with the stain of murder on his
soul, with the curses of a world upon his
name, with a price set upon his head, in
frightful physical pain, till he died a dog's
death in a burning barn; the stricken wife to
pass the rest of her days in melancholy and
madness; of these two young lovers, one was
to slay the other and then end his life a rav-
ing maniac."

With a pistol in one hand and a knife in
the other Booth entered the box, put the
pistol to the back of the president's head, and
fired, crying as he did so, "Revenge," or
"Revenge for the South."

Major Rathbone sprang forward to seize
him, but dropping his pistol on the floor
Booth turned upon him and inflicted a deep
wound with his knife, in the left arm between
the elbow and shoulder.

He had reached the front of the box when
Major Rathbone caught him by his clothes,
crying, "Stop that man," but placing his left
hand on the railing Booth vaulted lightly to
the stage. A trained athlete and accustomed
to making sensational leaps in his plays, this
one of fourteen feet would probably have
been accomplished in safety, but his spur
caught in the folds of the flag in front of the
box and he fell heavily to the stage with his
back to the audience, splintering horizontally
the fibula of his right leg.

From that moment his doom was sealed,
for though there was to be an interval of
hope, it was to be accompanied by torture
greater than the utmost cruelty could have
devised for him, and escape was as impos-
sible as though he were already in the hands
of the government he had outraged.

He rose quickly to his feet, turned to his
last audience, brandishing his knife and
shouting, Sic semper tyrrannis, he moved rap-
idly diagonally across the stage.

William Withers, the leader of the orches-
tra, had had some business on the stage and
was returning to the orchestra when Booth
came towards him and stabbed at him, cut-
ting great gashes in his coat. This was the
only interruption to his escape from the

In all that assembly, at first stunned and
then wild with excitement, there was but one
man with presence of mind enough to spring
upon the stage and attempt to capture the
assassin. This was Joseph B. Stewart, a
lawyer of Washington.

Reaching the alley and knocking down the
boy who was holding his horse, Booth
mounted, while Stewart who had followed
close behind twice attempted to seize the
bridle. The quick wheeling of the horse
thwarted his attempt and at a rapid pace
Booth galloped through the alley to F Street,
passed for two miles through the heart of
the city, and giving his real name to the
picket at the Navy Yard bridge, with the
statement that he lived near "Beantown in
Charles County and had been detained in the
city" was allowed to cross.

Walt Whitman graphically described the
scene in the theater :
"A moment's hush a scream the cry
of murder Mrs. Lincoln leaning out of
the box, with ashy cheeks and lips, with in-
voluntary cry, pointing to the retreating fig-
ure, '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 some-
where back, of a horse's hoofs clattering with
speed), the people burst through chairs and
railings and break them up there is in-
extricable confusion and terror women
faint quiet feeble persons fall and are
trampled on many cries of agony are
heard the broad stage suddenly fills to suf-
focation 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 all there
in their play costumes and painted faces, with
mortal fright showing through the rouge
the screams and calls, confused talk re-
doubled, trebled two or three manage to
pass up water from the stage to the presi-
dent's box” others try to clamber up.

"In the midst of all this, the soldiers of the
President's Guard, with others, suddenly
drawn to the scene, burst in (some two hun-
dred 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 the wild scene or a suggestion of it
rather, inside the play house that night.

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

The president's head had dropped for-
ward and his eyes were closed. Without
thought of his own condition, Major Rath-
bone rushed to the door to call for aid. He
found it barred from within while people on
the outside were clamoring for admission.
One of the first to enter, when with some dif-
ficulty the door had been opened, was Dr.
Charles A. Leale, assistant surgeon of
United States Volunteers who at that time
was in charge of the United States General

Hospital in Washington. Dr. Leale found
Mr. Lincoln pulseless at the wrist and ap-
parently dead. Stretching him out upon the
floor, the heart failure was relieved and
pulsation resumed. He then made a careful
examination, discovering that the wound was
positively fatal and that recovery even to
consciousness was impossible. A large der-
ringer bullet had entered the back of the
head on the left side, passed through the
brain and lodged just behind the left eye.

Dr. Leale immediately resorted to forced
respiration and it was through his prompt
efforts that Mr. Lincoln's life was prolonged
until morning.

Under the doctor's directions the presi-
dent was removed to the nearest available
house, that of a Mr. Peterson, 516 Tenth
Street diagonally opposite the theater.
He was carried into a small room at the rear
of the hall on the first floor, then occupied by
a Mr. William S. Clark and before him by
the actor, Matthews, the friend to whom
Booth had confided the manuscript intended
to justify his act. Mrs. Lincoln, half dis-
tracted, followed, attended by Miss Harris,
while Major Rathbone having fainted from
loss of blood was taken to his home.

With this great tragedy Ford's Theater
closed never to be re-opened.

It was taken by the government, and after
alteration used as a medical museum until on
June 8th, 1893, it fell by a singular co-
incidence, on the day of the death of Edwin

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