It was half-past ten o’clock, and the audience was absorbed in the progress of the play, when suddenly a pistol shot, loud and sharp, rang through the theatre. All eyes were instantly directed toward the President’s box, whence the report proceeded. A moment later, the figure of a man, holding a smoking pistol in one hand and a dagger in the other, appeared at the front of the President’s box, and sprang to the stage, some eight or ten feet below, shouting as he did so, “Sic semper tyrannis!” He fell as he struck the stage; but quickly recovering himself, sprang through the side-wings and escaped from the theatre by a rear door.
At the moment of the assassination a single actor, Mr. Hawk, was on the stage. In his account of the tragical event he says: “When I heard the shot fired, I turned, looked up at the President’s box, heard the man exclaim, ’Sic semper tyrannis!’ saw him jump from the box, seize the flag on the staff, and drop to the stage. He slipped when he struck the stage, but got upon his feet in a moment, brandished a large knife, crying, ‘The South shall be free,’ turned his face in the direction where I stood, and I recognized him as John Wilkes Booth. He ran towards me, and I, seeing the knife, thought I was the one he was after, and ran off the stage and up a flight of stairs. He made his escape out of a door directly in the rear of the theatre, mounted a horse, and rode off. The above all occurred in the space of a quarter of a minute, and at the time I did not know the President was shot.”
It appears that Booth, the assassin, had long been plotting the murder of the President, and was awaiting a favorable moment for its execution. He had visited the theatre at half-past eleven on the morning of the 14th, and learned that a box had been taken for the President that evening. He engaged a fleet horse for a saddle-ride in the afternoon, and left it at a convenient place. In the evening he rode to the theatre, and, leaving the animal in charge of an accomplice, entered the house. Making his way to the door of the President’s box, 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 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.
As soon as the surgeons who had been summoned completed their hasty examination, the unconscious form of the President was borne from the theatre to a house across the street, and laid upon his death-bed. Around him were gathered Surgeon-General Barnes, Vice-President Johnson, Senator Sumner, Secretaries Stanton and Welles, Generals Halleck and Meigs, Attorney-General Speed, Postmaster-General Dennison, Mr. McCulloch, Speaker Colfax, and other intimate friends who had been hastily summoned. Mrs. Lincoln sat in an adjoining room, prostrate and overwhelmed, with her son Robert. The examination of the surgeons had left no room for hope. The watchers remained through the night by the bedside of the stricken man, who showed no signs of consciousness; and a little after seven o’clock in the morning—Saturday the 15th of April—he breathed his last.
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Browne, Francis F. *The Everyday Life of Abraham Lincoln. Chicago: Browne & Howell Company, 1913.
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