Today in History: Assassin John Wilkes Booth is Killed (1865)

NPR

On April 14, 1865, just a few days after the official end to the American Civil War, Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth entered Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. and assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

As it turned out, Booth was but just one piece in a grand conspiracy that, had all gone to plan, would have left the nation without a President, a Vice President, or a Secretary of State (the order of succession in those days, as the 25th amendment had not yet been passed). Booth was the only member of his little group to actually succeed in his dastardly plot.

Booth
Barn where Booth was shot. The Civil War Mag

Booth escaped Washington D.C. after shooting Lincoln, even with a broken leg. He stopped for several days at the home of Samuel Mudd. Mudd, a physician, set the leg that Booth had broken when he jumped from the view box to the stage after shooting Lincoln in the back of the head.

After leaving Mudd’s home, Booth stayed for several days with a Confederate agent by the name of Thomas A. Jones. He was then able to acquire a boat in order to row across the Potomac River to Virginia.

By this time, soldiers and law enforcement officials were swarming the countryside looking for Booth. A $20,000 reward was offered for his capture. According to historical reports, the search was fairly disorganized because the soldiers weren’t sharing information, each hoping to take home the money if they could capture Booth.

After several days moving between homes of Confederate agents and sympathizers, soldiers finally caught up with Booth. On April 26, 1865, the assassin was staying at the home of Richard Garrett. Union troops actually bypassed the farm after questioning Garrett, but then returned a few hours later, where they found Booth and one of his accomplices in Garrett’s barn.

Booth was shot while still hiding in that barn. The soldiers set fire to the barn in hopes that the smoke would drive him out, but it failed. One of the soldiers was able to shoot Booth through a window, supposedly, and the rest is history. Booth died three hours later, muttering the words “useless, useless.”

Booth
White House

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln remains one of America’s great tragedies. Only four Presidents in the history of the US have been assassinated. The security around the President was much tighter from then on, as you might expect. The ramifications of the assassination were felt for years, as the government and the country tried to heal from years of bloody battle and political strife.

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