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1865 April 22: President Lincoln Assassinated—A Nation Mourns

April 22, 2015

The following comes from the April 22, 1865, issue of The Polk County Press, the first issue published after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the stabbing of Secretary of State William H. Seward, Sr.

PolkCoPress, 1865-04-22

Washington, April 15, 1:30 A.M. }

To Major Gen. Dix [John A. Dix] :

This evening about 9:30 P. M., at Ford’s Theatre, the President, while sitting in his private box with Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Logers and Major Rathburn [sic],¹ was shot by an assasin [sic], who suddenly entered the box and approached behind the President.

The assassin then leaped upon the stage brandishing a large dagger or knife, and made his escape in the rear of the theater.  The pistol balls entered the back of the President’s head, and penetrated nearly through the head.

The wound is mortal.  The President has been insensible ever since it was inflicted, and is now about dying.

About the same hour an assassin, not known whether the same or not, entered Mr. Seward’s apartments, and under pretense of having a prescription, was shown to the Secretary’s sick chamber.  The assassin immediately rushed to the bed and inflicted two or three stabs in the throat and two in the face.

It is hoped the wounds may not be mortal.  My apprehensions are that they will prove fatal.  The nurse alarmed Mr. Fred. Seward who was in an adjoining room, and he hastened to the door of his father’s room, where he met an assassin who inflicted upon him one or more dangerous wounds.  The recovery of Fred. Seward is doubtful.  It is not not probable that the President will live through the night.

Gen. Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] and wife were advertised to be at the theatre this evening but he started to Burlington at 6 o’clock this evening.  At a cabinet meeting at which Gen. Grant was present, the subject of the state of the country and prospect of a speedy peace was discussed.  The President was very cheerful, and hopeful, and spoke very kindly of Gen. Lee [Robert E. Lee] and others of the Confederacy.

.          .Sec. of War.


Washington, April 15, 1865. }

To Major General Dix :

Abraham Lincoln died this morning at 22 minutes past 7 o’clock.

.      .Secretary of War.

WASHINGTON, April 15—11 A. M.

The Star extra says:  At 7:20 o’clock the President breathed his last.  He closed his eyes as if gently falling asleep.

CHICAGO, April 15.

Dispatches just received from Washington say that Secretary Seward died at 9:30 this morning.


WASHINGTON, April 15, 1865. }

Official notice of the death of the late President, Abraham Lincoln, was given by the head of this department this morning to Andrew Johnson, Vice President, upon whom the Constitution devolved the office of President.  Mr. Johnson, upon receiving this notice appeared before Chief Justice Chase [Salmon P. Chase] and took the oath of President of the United States and assumed its duties and functions at 12 o’clock.

The President [Andrew Johnson] met of the heads of departments in cabinet meeting at the Treasury building, and among other business the following was transacted :

1st.  The arrangements for the funeral of the late President were referred to the several respective departments.

2d.  T. W. Hunter, Esq. [William Hunter], was appointed acting Secretary of State during the disability of Mr. Seward and his son, Fred. Seward, the Assistant Secretary.

3d.  The President formally announced that he desired to retain the present Secretaries of Departments and his Cabinet, they would go on and discharge their respective duties in the same manner as before the deplorable event that had changed the head of the Government.  All business in the Departments was suspended during the day.  surgeons report that the condition of Mr. Seward remains unchanged.  He is doing well.  There is no improvement in Mr. Fred. Seward.  The murderers have not yet been apprehended.

.   .Secretary of War.


To Maj. Gen. Dix:

The President continues insensible and is sinking.  Secretary Seward remains without change.  Frederick Seward’s skull is fractured in two places, besides a severe cut on the head.  The attendant is till alive but hopeless.  Major Seward’s wounds are not dangerous.

It is now ascertained with reasonable certainty, that two assassins were engaged in the horrible crime—J. Wilkes Booth being the one that shot the President, and the other a companion of his, whose name is not known, but whose description is so clear that he can hardly escape.

It appears from a letter found in Booth’s trunk that the murder was planned before the 4th of March, but fell through then because the accomplice backed out until Richmond could be heard from.  Booth and his accomplice were at the livery stable at six o’clock last evening, and left their horses about ten o’clock, or shortly before that hour.

It would seem that they had been seeking their chance, but for some unknown reason, it was not carried into effect until last night.  One of them has evidently made his way to Baltimore; the other had not yet been traced.


from the Library of Congress

“The Assassination of President Lincoln,” from the Library of Congress²


President Lincoln and wife, with other friends, visited Ford’s Theatre, for the purpose of witnessing the performance of “Our American Cousin.”

The theatre was densely crowded, and everybody seemed delighted with the scene before them.  During the third act and while there was a temporary pause for one of the actors to enter, a sharp report of a pistol was heard which attracted attention but suggested nothing serious until a man rushed to the front of the President’s box waving a long dagger in his right hand and exclaiming :

“Sic semper tyrannis.”³

He immediately leaped from the box which was the rear tier of the stage beneath, and ran accross [sic] to the opposite side of the stage, making his escape amid the bewilderment of the audience from the theatre and mounting a horse fled.

The screams of Mrs. Lincoln first disclosed the fact to the audience that the President had been shot ;  when all present rose to their feet and and [sic] rushed toward the stage immediately, exclaiming “hang him !”

The excitement was of the wildest possible description, and of course there was an abrupt intermission in the theatrical performances.

There was a rush toward the President’s box, when cries were heard :  “Stand back and give him air.”  “Has anyone stimulants ?”

On a hasty examination it was found that the President had been shot through the head, and back of the temporal bone, and that some of the brains were oozing out.

He was removed to a private house opposite the theatre and the Surgeon General of the army and other surgeons were sent for to attend to his condition.

On examination of the President’s box blood was discovered on the back of the cushioned rocking chair in which the President had been sitting, also on the partition and on the floor.

NEW YORK, April 17.

Maj. Gen. Auger [Christopher C. Augur] has offered a reward of $10,000 for the murderer of the President, and the assassin of the Secretary of State.  Booth’s mistress has attempted to commit suicide.

The day before yesterday Booth called upon Mr. Hess, treasurer of Grover’s theatre, and urged him to announce some new and exciting play for Friday evening, and invite the President and other officers, and get up a sensation.

The best data that can be obtained shows that there was not more than five or ten minutes difference between the time of the assault on the President and Mr. Seward, showing that it was not done by the same person.

Various arrests have been made of parties supposed to be implicated.—Some have proven their innocence, but others are held.  Evidence sufficient has accumulated to implicate some six different persons is the diabolical plot, all of them from this section and Maryland.

Two pairs of handcuffs, and a gag were found in Booth’s trunk.  He hired a horse from a livery stable in the afternoon, took it to the alley, hired a servant to watch the horse while he perpetrated the deed.

WASHINGTON, April 15—11 A. M.

The Star says:  “At 7 1-4 [7¼ or 7:15] o’clock the President breathed his last, closing his eyes as if falling asleep, and his countenance assuming an expression of perfect serenity.  There were no indication of pain.  The Rev. Dr. Gurley, of the New York Presbyterian Church, immediately on its being ascertained that life was extinct knelt at the bedside and offered an impressive prayer, which was responded to by all present.

Dr. Gurley then proceeded to the front parlor where Mrs. Lincoln, Captain Robert Lincoln, Mr. John Hay, the private secretary, and others, were waiting where he again offered a prayer for the consolation of the family.

NEW YORK, April 17.

The N. Y. Time’s Washington special says, Secretary Seward will recover.  Frederick Seward is still unconscious, he breathes calmly and has an easy pulse.  His head is dreadfully contused.

An invalid soldier nurse, saved Mr. Seward’s life.


Sec. Seward still lives, and strong hopes are entertained for his recovery.


An autopsy was held this morning over the body of President Lincoln, by Surgeon General Barnes and Dr. Stone, assisted by other eminent medical men.  The coffin is of mahogany, is covered with black cloth, and lined with beads, the latter being covered with white satin.  A silver plate upon the coffin over the breast bears the following inscription “Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the Untied States, born July 12th, 1809, died April 15th, 1865.”

The remains have been embalmed.  A few locks of hair were removed from the President’s head for the family, previous to the remains being placed in the coffin.

The person who attacked Secretary Seward left behind him a slouched hat and an old rusty navy revolver.  The chambers were broken loose from the barrel as if done by striking.

The loads were drawn from the chambers one being but a rough piece of lead.  The balls were smaller than the chambers and were wrapped in paper as if to keep them from falling out.

WASHINGTON, April 15—1:30 A. M.

I have just visited the dying couch of Abraham Lincoln.  He is now in the agonies of death, and his physicians say he cannot live more than an hour.

Lincoln's Death Bed.

President Lincoln on His Death Bed, from “Harper’s Weekly” 4

He is surrounded by the members of his Cabinet, all of whom are bathed in tears.  Senator Sumner is seated on the right of the couch on which he is lying, the tears streaming down his cheeks, and sobbing like a child.  All around him are his physicians.  Surgeon General Barnes is directing affairs.  The President is unconscious, and the only sign of life he exhibits is by the movement of his right hand, which he raises feebly.

Mrs. Lincoln and her two sons are in an adjoining room, into which Secretary Stanton has just gone to inform them that the President’s physicians have pronounced his case hopeless.

As I pass through the passage to the front door I hear shreaks [sic] and cries proceeding from the room is which the grief stricken wife and children are seated.

We obtain from Quartermaster Gen. Meigs [Montgomery C. Meigs] the following account of the assassination:  About half past ten o’clock, a man dressed in dark suit and hat, entered the private box in which Mr. Lincoln and his party, consisting of Mrs. Lincoln, Miss Harris, a daughter of Senator Harris, and Captain Rathbone, of Albany, were seated.  Immediately upon opening the door he advanced toward Mr. Lincoln, with a six-barreled revolver in his right hand and a bowie knife in his left.

The President, who was intent upon on the play, did not notice the interruption, and the gentleman who was seated beside him rose to inquire the the [sic] reason of his entry.  Before he had time to ask the assassin what he wanted, he had fired one charge from his revolver, which took effect in the back the President’s head.  The ball passed through and came out at the right temple.  Capt. Rathbone, who was in the box with Mr. Lincoln, attempted to arrest the murderer, and on doing so received a shot in his arm.  The assassin then leaped from the box on to the stage.

Before he disappeared behind the the [sic] curtain, he turned, with a tragic flourish and tone, waved his handkercheif [sic] and shouted, “Sic Semper Tyrannis.”³  So sudden was the affair that, for some moments after its occurrence, the audience supposed it to be a part of the play, and were only undeceived by the manager announcement from the stage that the President of the United States had been shot.  The shock fell upon the audience like a thunderbolt, and loud cries were immediately made to kill or capture the assassin.  The murderous emissary of the slave power escaped from the theatre easily and rapidly, and mounted a horse and rode off.  The mass of evidence to-night is that J. Wilkes Booth committed the crime.  Whoever it is there are reasons for thinking that the same bold and bloody hand attempted the life of Mr. Seward.


When the fatal shot was fired, Mrs. Lincoln who was beside her husband exclaimed, “Oh! why didn’t they shoot me! why didn’t they shoot me!”

There is evidence that Secretary Stanton was marked for assassination.  On the receipt of the intelligence at the War Department of the attack on the President two employees of the department were sent to summon the Secretary.  Just as they approached the house a man jumped out from behind a tree box in front of the house and ran away.  It is well known to be the custom of the Secretary to go from the Department to his house between 9 and 12 o’clock P. M., and usually unattended.

It is supposed that the assassin intended to shoot him as he entered the house, but failed from the fact that Mr. Stanton remained at home during the evening.

The horse of the man who made the attack on Secretary Seward has been found near Lincoln Hospital, bathed in sweat, and with blood upon the saddle-clothes.

The same special states that Secretary Seward has given a detailed description of the assassin.  It was evident that he was a different person from the President’s murderer.

Frederick Seward is in a most critical condition, and surgeons are removing the broken fragments of his skull.

A private dispatch to Mr. Seward’s nephew in this city from a member of the family says, “I have just left Mr. Seward’s house.  His wounds are not mortal.  He has lost much blood but no arteries are cut.  Fred’s skull was fractured badly in two places.”

1.  Henry Reed Rathbone (1837-1911) was sitting with his fiancée, Clara Harris (daughter of Senator Ira Harris), next to the President and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, when John Wilkes Booth entered the president’s box at Ford’s Theatre and fatally shot Lincoln. When Rathbone attempted to prevent Booth from fleeing the scene, Booth stabbed and seriously wounded him. Clara Harris and Major Rathbone married and had three children. In 1883, Major Rathbone shot his wife, leaving three young children to be raised by their mother’s sister. Rathbone was committed to an asylum for the insane near Hanover, Germany. He remained in the institution for the rest of his life until his death in 1911. Their son, Henry Riggs Rathbone entered politics and represented Illinois in the 68th Congress.
2.   “The Assassination of President Lincoln, at Ford’s Theatre, Washington, D.C., April 14th, 1865,” by Currier & Ives. This digital image is available at the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
3.  “Sic semper tyrannis,” orThus always to tyrants,” is believed to have been said by Marcus Brutus during the assassination of Julius Caesar.  It is also the state motto of Virginia.
4.  From the May 6, 1865, issue of Harper’s Weekly. The University of Wisconsin-River Falls’ Chalmer Davee Library has microfilm copies of Harper’s Weekly for 1858-1865 (UWRF online catalog).

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