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Civil War Trust

President Abraham Lincoln Assassinated

April 14, 1865

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President Abraham Lincoln on his death bed. (Library of Congress)

On the night of April 14th, just five days after the formal surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox, Va., President Lincoln was assassinated while attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor and Confederate sympathizer, slipped into the presidential box while Lincoln enjoyed the satirical play Our American Cousin in the company of his wife, Mary Todd, and a young Union officer and wife. Armed with a small Derringer pistol and dagger, Booth waited patiently for the perfect moment to strike, and just as the funniest line of the play arrived, he shot Lincoln behind his left ear – the bullet lodging near his right eye. As Lincoln slumped forward in his chair, Booth leapt over the rail of the box and fell awkwardly on the stage below, breaking in ankle in the process. As Booth ran across the stage he let out the Virginia State Motto, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (thus always to tyrants), before making his way out of the theater for his horse awaiting him. Lincoln was rushed across the street to the William Petersen’s boarding house, and laid diagonally across a bed which was too small for the mortally wounded man. Lincoln lingered for hours under the solemn vigil of cabinet officials and surgeons, when, at 7:22am the following morning, he slipped away. Abraham Lincoln, the man who had led the nation through the most trying and horrific of times, in death became more than just a man. As Lincoln's life slipped away, Secretary of War Edward Stanton is said to have remarked, “He now belongs to the angels,”  although some also insist that Stanton said "ages."


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