The Assassination of President Lincoln
The worst manpower drain of all came on April 14, 1865, just five days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. It was Good Friday, and President Lincoln had decided to go to Ford’s Theatre in Washington to see the comedy Our American Cousin.
At about 10:30 p.m., during the second act, an actor and Southern sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth snuck into the presidential box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Lincoln was taken to a lodging house across the street from the theater, where he lingered until the next morning and then died, surrounded by several members of his cabinet.
“Now he belongs to the ages,” said Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
Booth was from a prominent American acting family. He was born in Maryland and was a white supremacist who had plotted to kidnap Lincoln and use him as a bargaining chip to end the war on better terms for the South. But Lee’s surrender changed his plot to assassination.
Booth made his escape from the theater after stabbing a Union officer who was in Lincoln’s box and jumping to the stage, breaking his leg in the attempt. He was cornered in a Virginia barn a week later and was shot to death or killed himself — it was never clear which.
Four of Booth’s fellow conspirators were hanged. Four others were convicted of helping the conspirators after the fact and were sentenced to prison.
America’s Civil War lasted four awful years. Healing from its wounds would take far longer.