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Home > History > The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln - Historical Account

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln - Historical Account

This online article describes the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and its aftermath.

The Assassination of Lincoln

An Ominous Dream

Three days before John Wilkes Booth fatally shot the President, Lincoln relayed a dream he had to his wife in which he was wandering through the rooms of White House hearing sobs and crying as he went. When he reached the East Room, he noticed a casket. He asked a soldier who was in the casket and the soldier replied that it was the president – killed by an assassin. Lincoln woke up from that dream but failed to sleep for the rest of the night.

Murderous Plot

Little did the president know that as he dreamed of his own assassination, the actual plot was being formulated by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer. Booth’s original plan was simply to kidnap the President, but as his anger grew over Lincoln’s support for former slaves, he resolved to kill the president, Secretary of State William Seward, Union General Ulysses S. Grant, and Vice-president Andrew Johnson. To help in his nefarious plot, Booth recruited George Atzerdot to kill Johnson and David Herold and Lewis Powell to kill Seward. Herold would lead Powell to Seward’s house because Powell was unfamiliar with the layout of the city. Booth directed Mary Surratt, another Confederate sympathizer, to deliver a package of “field glasses” to her tavern where Booth could pick them up after the assassination. In addition, she was to instruct the innkeeper to give Booth whiskey and several guns she had stored for him for his escape into the South.

Booth Strikes at Ford's Theater - Sic Semper Tyrannis

On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln was to attend the performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater. It was a perfect opportunity for Booth, who knew every line in the play and every inch of the building. Lincoln’s presidential box was supposed to be manned by a police officer named John Frederick Parker. Parker, however, left his post to visit a tavern, and may or may not have returned. He might have fallen asleep on the job. Booth, with easy access to the President’s box, waited for the right moment during the play, rushed into the box, and shot the President in the back of the head. As the President fell over, Mary Todd Lincoln caught him then began screaming. Soon, chaos broke out as the audience attempted to flee the theater. Booth vaulted from the box to the stage below but caught his boot spur in a treasury flag and broke his leg. Before he escaped from the theater, a visibly limping Booth was said to have yelled “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” which means “Thus Always to Tyrants” in Latin. It is also the motto of the state of Virginia.

Seward is Brutally Attacked

Meanwhile, Booth’s co-conspirator, Lewis Powell, had gained entry into the Seward house and stabbed the Secretary of State in the face with a dagger after beating his son Frederick over the forehead with a gun. Seward, who had been bedridden since a carriage accident, was lucky to survive. George Atzerdot, who had been assigned by Booth to murder vice president Johnson, decided against the plans and drank the night away in a tavern.

Lincoln Suffers a Mortal Wound

Charles Leale, a doctor who was at Ford’s Theater at the time of the assassination, was the first to respond to the shooting. He examined the president and found the bullet hole in his head and removed the blood clot. Lincoln’s breathing reportedly improved temporarily, but Leale knew the wound was mortal. Leale and two other doctors had Lincoln moved to the boarding house of William Peterson, across the street from the theater. Soon, Lincoln’s son Robert, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles were summoned to the house. Stanton quickly took control of the scene and ordered the removal of Lincoln’s hysterical wife, Mary. From the Peterson House, Stanton ordered the search for Booth to commence. As the night wore on, however, the President’s breathing became shallower. At 7:22 A.M. on April 15, 1865, he was pronounced dead, at which point Stanton uttered his immortal words “Now, he belongs to the ages.”

What happened to Booth?

Following the fall that broke his leg, Booth made his way out of theater by slashing his knife at anyone who got in his way. Booth had meticulously planned his escape and rode to the outskirts of Washington D.C. shortly after the assassination. When he reached the Navy Yard Bridge, which led out of the city, Booth managed to convince the guard Silas T. Cobb, who was under orders not to let anyone pass, to let him cross the bridge. Booth eventually met up with John Herold and the pair retrieved their weapons from Mary Surratt’s house before visiting the house of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who would set Booth’s broken leg. Booth and Herold, aided by other Confederate sympathizers, hid out in a swamp for five days until it was determined they could safely cross the Potomac River into Virginia. The two managed to persist for twelve days until they were tracked down by Union soldiers at a farm in Virginia. Booth barricaded himself inside a barn and refused to surrender. Union soldier Boston Corbett shot Booth in the neck, paralyzing him. After being shot, soldiers dragged him to the barn steps where he died two hours later.

What Happened to Booth's Co-Conspirators?

The execution of Lincoln's conspirators

Execution of Lincoln Conspirators at Fort McNair, Washington D.C.

Lewis Powell, George Atzerdot, David Herold, and Mary Surratt were all eventually detained and sentenced to hang. Mary Surratt became the first woman in U.S. history to be hanged, though several of the jurors signed a petition requesting her pardon after it was too late. Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set the broken leg of the assassin, was sentenced to life in prison.

Abraham Lincoln Articles

Abraham Lincoln Reading Comprehension (Grades 5 and up). These Include Between 7-10 Critical-Thought, Multiple Choice Qustions. Online Versions Give Immediate Feedback and Score Reports

Abraham Lincoln Activities

  • Important Places in the Life of Abraham Lincoln Interactive Map - This interactive map allows students to explore the important places in Abraham Lincoln's life such as New Salem, Springfield, New York City, and many others.
  • Mr. Polk's War - This captivating printable requires students to understand the concept of manifest destiny and to conduct a mock interview in which they answer tough questions in the role of Abraham Lincoln (against the Mexican-American War) and in the role of President James K. Polk (in support of the war).
  • Futility Versus Immortality - This activity requires students to analyze the qualities of poor leaders such as Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan and contrast them with a leader such as Abraham Lincoln.
  • I'll Always Remember Where I Was - This historical prompts requires students to imagine the earth-shaking effect the news of the Emancipation Proclamation had on Americans in 1862. In the spirit of the Emancipation Proclamation, students must write about the biggest news event of their lives and describe its impact.
  • The Power of Dreams - This printout describes Abraham Lincoln's famous dream about his own assassination and then requires students to describe and draw a scene from a powerful dream they've had.
  • Oh Captain! My Captain! - This printout describes Walt Whitman's famous Oh Captain! My Captain! elegy to President Lincoln and then asks students to think of their own hero and to write a similar poem.
  • Primary Source Analysis - Lincoln's Letter to Fanny McCollough This printable activity requires students to analyze a famous condolence letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a teenage girl after her father was killed in the Civil War.
  • With Malice for None, With Charity for All Decoding Puzzle - This activity requires students to decode and interpret the famous presidential quote uttered by Abraham Lincoln.
  • Dr. Samuel Mudd - Critical Thought Questions The printable narrative that describes the role Dr. Mudd played after Lincoln's assassination. It includes three short-answer questions regarding the main ideas of the article content, critical thought about the content, and vocabulary from the passage.
  • Ms. Laura Keene - Critical Thought Questions This printable narrative that describes the role Ms. Laura Keene played after Lincoln's assassination. It includes three short-answer questions regarding the main ideas of the article content, critical thought about the content, and vocabulary from the passage.
  • The Execution of Mary Surratt - Critical Thought Questions - This printable narrative describes the circumstances in the Mary Surratt execution . It includes four short-answer questions regarding the main ideas of the article content, critical thought about the content, and vocabulary from the passage.
  • Abraham Lincoln Paragraph Paramedics - Find and correct the spelling, punctuation, and usage errors in the paragraph. Click on the error and then type in the correction. Immediate feedback is given.
  • Presidential Quotes - This activity first requires students to match the famous quote with the president. Next, students must choose their favorite quote and attempt to explain it in detail.
  • Presidential Heights - Did you know James Madison was the shortest president? Did you know Abraham Lincoln was the tallest president? This fun math activity requires students to answer questions about the heights of presidents by viewing the bar graph and making conversions from feet to inches and inches to feet.
  • Printable Presidents Word Search
  • - All 45 are in there!
  • Illinois State Quarter (Featuring Lincoln) Coloring
  • Lincoln Memorial Coloring
  • Lincoln Home National Historic Site Video

Online Games Involving Lincoln

  • Presidential Mismatch - Students must rearrange the presidential chart so that the presidents are in the correct order in which they served. The number of presidents used in the game is customizable. The timer allows for friendly competitions. Students who enjoy history will love this game!
  • Currency Mismatch - This is a wildly fun game that requires students to drag and drop the correct presidential faces to their correct dollar bills. The game is timed and makes for awesome friendly competitions within a classroom.
  • Glamour Legends - This fun game allows students to dress up George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Tubman, or Christopher Columbus in more modern, or more primitive clothes.
  • Presidents Word Search - This is an online word search with the 45 presidents. Choose with or without a timer.

United States Presidents

 1. George Washington  16. Abraham Lincoln  32. Franklin D. Roosevelt
 2. John Adams  17. Andrew Johnson  33. Harry S. Truman
 3. Thomas Jefferson  18. Ulysses S. Grant  34. Dwight D. Eisenhower 
 4. James Madison  19. Rutherford B. Hayes  35. John F. Kennedy
 5. James Monroe  20. James A. Garfield  36. Lyndon B. Johnson
 6. John Quincy Adams  21. Chester A. Arthur  37. Richard Nixon
 7. Andrew Jackson  22/24. Grover Cleveland  38. Gerald R. Ford
 8. Martin Van Buren  23. Benjamin Harrison  39. Jimmy Carter
 9. William Henry Harrison  25. William McKinley  40. Ronald Reagan
10. John Tyler  26. Theodore Roosevelt  41. George H.W. Bush
11. James K. Polk  27. William Howard Taft  42. Bill Clinton
12. Zachary Taylor  28. Woodrow Wilson  43. George W. Bush
13. Millard Fillmore  29. Warren G. Harding  44. Barack Obama
14. Franklin Pierce  30. Calvin Coolidge  45. Donald J. Trump
15. James Buchanan  31. Herbert Hoover  

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