President Lincoln's Assassination: Overview -

President Lincoln's Assassination: Overview


Abraham Lincoln — the 16th President of the United States, widely considered our greatest, above even Washington.



Abraham Lincoln, today, is considered one of the most beloved of American presidents. That was not always so. During the Civil War, Southerners hated Lincoln for ending slavery and many Northerners hated Lincoln for being too soft on the South.

Although over 145 years have passed since Lincoln's murder, interest, controversy, and speculation concerning the persons involved, and the reasons for, Lincoln's death continue.

Visions of Death

What you, the internet visitor, may not realize is that President Lincoln fully expected to be murdered, during his second term in office, and had resigned himself to his fate, as much as anyone can who expects to die at the hand of another.

Poet Carl Sandburg wrote a multi-volume book series about Abraham Lincoln, published in 1939. In April of 1865, shortly before he was shot, Lincoln is quoted as saying, "About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along.


It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. 'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers. 'The President,' was his answer; 'he was killed by an assassin!' Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awoke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and though it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since."

This dream was not Lincoln's only premonition of his demise. Lincoln informed his personal friend Ward Hill Lamon that while in his chamber in Springfield in 1860, he saw a strange vision while looking in a mirror. He saw a double image of himself. One face held the glow of life and breath, the other shone ghostly pale white. Lamon, as quoted by Sandburg, stated, "It had worried him not a little... the mystery had its meaning, which was clear enough to him... the life like image betokening a safe passage through his first term as President; the ghostly one, that death would overtake him before the close of the second... With that firm conviction, which no philosophy could shake, Mr. Lincoln moved on through a maze of mighty events, calmly awaiting the inevitable hour."


As quoted by Sandburg, three things, in Lamon's estimate, sustained and upheld Lincoln under the weight of this darkly foretold doom conveyed by an illusion in a mirror: "His sense of duty to his country; his belief that 'the inevitable' is right; and his innate and irrepressible humor."

MORE > John Wilkes Booth * Lincoln's Bodyguard * The Shooting * Lincoln's Memorial * Conclusion

Selected Sources:

Abraham Lincoln, Volume 6
by Carl Sandburg, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1939

Anatomy of an Assassination: The Murder of Abraham Lincoln
by John Cottrell, Funk & Wagnalls, 1966

Lincoln - An Illustrated Biography
by Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III, and Peter W. Kunhardt, 1992


Hover your mouse over the pictures below for captions.

The boarding house owned by Mary Surratt, where the Lincoln conspirators met and plotted during the Civil War.
Visitors to the National Museum of American History can view the open barouche model carriage that bore President Lincoln and the First Lady to Ford's Theatre.
The President's famous stovepipe hat on display at the National Museum of American History.
A depiction of John Wilkes-Booth just before he pulls the trigger.
The assassin's murder weapon, a tiny .44 calibre Derringer pistol.
As depicted in this commemorative art, Booth leapt from the Presidential box in Ford's theatre after firing the fatal shot, injuring himself in the process.
The Presidential box at Ford's Theatre today.
President Lincoln was taken to this room in the Petersen House, across the street from Ford's Theatre, after the shooting, where he lay diagonally on a bed which was too small for his 6'4" frame for several hours.
Booth sought medical attention after the shooting from a doctor friend, Samuel Mudd, a Southern sympathizer. The house still stands today.
President Lincoln's death mask, made at his autopsy.
The Lincoln assassination conspirators. Clockwise from upper-left: Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, David Herold, and Mary Surratt.
Punishment for the conspirators was swift and unmerciful. Mary Surratt was the first woman executed in the United States.
Historical marker commemorating the death of John Wilkes Booth at the hands of federal troops.
The Lincoln funeral procession moves through Washington D.C.
Mourners attending the procession on its journey from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, wore badges such as these.
The Lincoln funeral procession moves past the Roosevelt Mansion down Broadway, in New York.
A copy of funerary sheet music commissioned for the occasion.
Abraham Lincoln's funeral train.
An unauthorized photograph of President Lincoln in repose.

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