This week in history, we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first presidential assassination in United States history. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, less than a week after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox — which ended a long and bloody Civil War — Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre. Booth, part of a larger conspiracy to revive the Confederate cause, was a well-known actor. The president died early the next day.
Captain Roeliff Brinkerhoff was sitting across from the president’s box during the Performance on the night Lincoln was assassinated. He was one of the few to notice Booth approach the presidential party.
In his words:
“It was in the third act, when one of my friends called my attention to the President’s box with the remark, “There’s a reporter going to see Father Abraham.” I looked and saw a man standing at the door of the President’s box, with his hat on and looking down upon the stage …
He took off his hat and put his hand on the door knob, and went into the little hall or corridor back of the box. I then turned to the play. Presently, I can not say how soon, it may have been two, three or five minutes, I heard a pistol shot. I turned to the President’s box …
For a moment there was a stillness of death … I saw Mr. Lincoln seated in a chair with his head dropped upon his breast, but in all other respects he retained the position he had before he was shot … His face was very pale, and the stamp of death upon it, which once seen rarely deceives us.”
Source: ‘I heard a pistol shot’: a soldier who rarely went to the theater witnessed the drama of the century on April 14, 1865.” America’s Civil War Mar. 2015: 44+. U.S. History in Context. Web.
To learn more about Lincoln’s assassination, click here.