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Find: Lincoln’s Assassination

Abraham Lincoln
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. He was shot on April 14 around 10 o’clock at night while attending a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC.

The assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, entered the Lincolns’ box and shot the president in the back of the head before jumping out of the box and escaping the theater. President Lincoln, who never regained consciousness, was taken to a boardinghouse across the street, where he died nine hours after being shot, at 7:22 in the morning.

About the same time as Lincoln’s assassination, one of Booth’s co-conspirators seriously wounded Secretary of State William Seward. Vice President Andrew Johnson was also an intended target, but his would-be assassin lost his nerve and did not attack. The final target was allegedly Ulysses S. Grant, though no successful attempt was made on his life.

Sgt. Boston Corbett, who shot John Wilkes Booth
Booth was shot and killed less than two weeks later, on the 26th, after being tracked down in Virginia by Union troops. Eight others suspected of being involved in the plot were tried before a military tribunal that began in May, and the four sentenced to death were hanged in July.

If you’re interested in learning more about Lincoln’s murder and the conspiracy surrounding it, explore Fold3’s Lincoln Assassination Papers, which are part of the Civil War Collection. Here, you’ll find documents from the investigation into the plot, as well as records from the military tribunal that tried the conspirators. These documents include:

  • Letters received by Colonel H. L. Burnett (who was specially assigned to investigate the assassination and later appointed as an assistant judge advocate to the military commission)
  • Letters and telegrams sent by Colonel Burnett’s office, as well as a register of letters received by that office, a record book (of synopses of possible evidence for the trial), and an endorsement book (of letters forwarded from Burnett’s office to other people or offices)
  • Conspirators in the death of President LincolnLetters received and statements of evidence collected by the military commission
  • Issues of the Daily National Intelligencer (a Washington DC newspaper) related to the trial
  • Proceedings of the trial
  • Exhibits used in the trial
  • Defenses of S. Arnold, E. Spangler, L. Payne, M. O’Laughlin, and D. Herold (five of the alleged conspirators)
  • Argument of J. A. Bingham (who was also appointed an assistant judge advocate to the military commission), delivered at the trial

And, of course, additional information about Lincoln can also be found elsewhere in Fold3’s Civil War Collection. So if you want to learn more about Lincoln’s assassination and the trial that followed, search or browse the collections on Fold3.


  1. Theodore P Wright Jr says:

    I’ve always wondered why Dr. Mud who treated the ankle of the assassin, unknowingly, was also tried and executed.

    • Gary Pace says:

      Dr. Samuel Mudd was not executed; by a single vote on the Military Commission, his life was spared amd he was condemned to life in prison. He was imprisoned in the Dry Tortugas and later pardoned in 1869 by outgoing President Andrew Johnson for his service in fighting an 1867 Yellow Fever epidemic there.

      It is likely that Dr. Mudd was hip deep in the murder conspiracy and likely should have been executed with the others. See

    • Jim says:

      Dr Mudd was convicted of helping Booth by setting his leg after Booth fled to Virginia. He was not executed. His sentence to a federal penitentiary in the Florida Keys was commuted after he put his own life at risk treating an epidemic at the prison. The phrase “Your name will be Mud. gets its start based on his treatment by the federal justice system.

    • Carl Withey says:

      They probably felt sorry for him because his name was Mud(d).

    • Len says:

      He was not

    • Dennis says:

      Dr. Samuel Mudd was not executed, he was sent to prison for aiding and abiding. He was later released.

    • Marlo Letterle says:

      I do not think Dr Mudd was executed. He went to prison for a short time and was pardoned and released.

  2. Ken Bengson says:

    Dr. Samuel Mudd was not executed. He was sentenced to be imprisoned at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas about 70 miles (110 km) west of Key West, Florida.

    In Feb, 1869 he was pardoned by President Johnson and released from prison in March 1869.

    He died in 1883.

  3. Historians do not support Mudd being involved in the murder conspiracy. He was involved in the kidnapping conspiracy which was different. Booth returned from Montreal with a letter of introduction to Dr. Mudd and Dr. Queen from Patrick Martin, a blockade runner. Booth was in Canada probably to discuss the kidnapping plot. Once back in southern Maryland, Dr. Mudd introduced Booth to others who became kidnapping conspirators. The first was Thomas Harbin, who helped buy a boat and hide it a Port Tobacco to transport Lincoln across the Potomac River. Two days later, Mudd introduced Booth to John Surratt Jr., the son of Mary Surratt who was one of the four co-conspirators that were hung.

    John Surratt was a dispatch courier for the Secretary of State Judah Benjamin and had been working for the Confederacy for quite a while. He was instrumental in recruiting David Harold who knew the mostly unmapped back roads in southern Maryland. In addition, Surratt helped Harbin buy and hide the boat.

    What Mudd was guilty of was harboring a fugitive. He was not anywhere near Booth the week before the assassination. In addition, he directed Booth to the home of Samuel Cox after he set his leg and misdirected Union troops in the opposite direction. His family has spent several lifetimes trying to clear his name. But Union Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued a decree that warned all citizens of the penalty of death to anyone who aided and abetted Booth and his associates.

    • Jim Roberts says:

      Sandy, what’s your take on conspirator Lewis Powell, i.e., the former (?) member of Mosby’s Rangers? Do you think he may have been a member of the Confederate secret service assigned to the kidnapping scheme along with Surratt? I know there’s no proof of that, but I’ve always suspected that it was possible.

    • Dennis says:

      Thomas Harbin was not only my relative. But the Harbin’s were also related to Abraham Lincoln’s family by marriage.

  4. Barbara Miller says:

    Very interesting reading. Thank you.

    • I wrote a blog on my other website on Judah Benjamin if you would care to read it. There is evidence and circumstances to suggest that he might have given the order to murder Lincoln.

  5. Arvilla Vickers says:

    Interesting that Benjamin’s name was Judah (Judas ?) I’m glad to see people who seem to know something about this.

  6. keith dobbie says:

    when you think of all the young misguided people who died in the civil war, the death of a few at the top adds nothing to the stupidity of it all

    • Shu says:

      I beg to differ. Slavery was THE cause of the war. What else was there? States Rights? Rights to do what? . . . Own slaves. Read the Confederate Constitution. It’s right there.

  7. c. chase says:

    Keith. There was nothing misguided. During that time there mind set was totally different from what it is today. I hope your not one of those slavery only cause of the war thinkers.

    • Susan says:

      C Chase. Thank you for bringing up that despite what our children are now being taught, the Civil War issues were more than slavery. I’m in my fifties and seem to recall in my elementary teachings, slavery was a secondary issue and more a monetary issue for both sides than a moral one. Slavery was a tragic state of being and a flaw of our nation. But what I would really like to know and understand is what in details, the Civil War was truly about and what role Lincoln played in it. Now in todays world of distorted thinking how can I find those answers? What can I read that offers hard cold facts and also explains the mindset, both North and South, of those times?

  8. Marion Kerr Snyder says:

    Sandy: Thank you for the answers that have been will thought out.
    I am the great-great granddaughter of Miranda A. Lincoln Farrington. She was the daughter of Levi Lincoln and can be traced back to a cousin of Pres. A. Lincoln. I am looking into the DNA studies, and find it very interesting. I have a photo of Miranda, made from a tin-type. She very much has the features of Abe, in a feminine way.
    I am always interested in Pres. Lincoln. Thank you for your answers regarding the topic.
    Marion Kerr Snyder

    • Dennis says:

      Ms Kerr, please contact me and I can possibly give you additional information on some of the Lincoln descendants. One cousin of mine, married a cousin of Abraham Lincoln, and after her death married the daughter of Andrew Johnson.

  9. Marion Kerr Snyder says:

    May I say first, I’m a Mrs. I am old enough to hate the MS. Will explain if you want later.
    And just how do I reach you, or you me?
    This is a little confusing.

    • Mrs. Charlene Hale says:

      Thank you for being old enough and smart enough to hate the Ms. ! Can’t someone teach the younger generation that women are either Miss or Mrs. A divorced woman even if she takes back her maiden name is still Mrs. Thank you!

  10. BSchlau says:

    I was always under the impression the assassination was planned and carried out by Southerners. But, that doesn’t seem accurate!

  11. Howard says:

    The Civil war is an interesting subject. If you want an interesting read try Tim Ballards book The Lincoln Hypothesis, It is well documented and will open your eyes to many things that you many not have been aware of. I am well past fifty and am much distressed that education today is more concerned about apologizing for our history than finding out what really happened. America is great because many people were willing to give their lives for FREEDOM. Maybe some of the younger folks need to get off of the game console and see what the world is really like and maybe even get some skin in the game. You think?

    • James Thornton says:

      I am deeply read on Lincoln’s life, and feel I know him as well as anyone who wasn’t one of his contemporaries. My interest was peaked by your comments regarding Tim Ballard’s work, as I’d not heard of him as a Lincoln biographer.

      I did a little checking, and was disappointed to find Mr. Ballard an apologist for the LDS with a reputation outside his church of playing fast and loose with history in favor of his faith. He used Mr. Lincoln’s interest in the Book of Mormon, as justification for speculating Lincoln’s actions during the war were profoundly influenced by the Book of Mormon, which is a reach at best. The book shouldn’t be considered a serious treatise on Lincoln’s maturation as an American statesman.

      Lincoln was self-educated, as most know, and was widely read in the classics, as well as in contemporary political theory. That he would read the Book of Mormon is not surprising. He was a profoundly curious man, and incorporated much of what he read into his perceptions as to the logical path for the advancement of society. While it is possible the Book of Mormon had influence in his evolution of thought on the progress of our Union, Smith was not the only writer of that time that espoused those social constructs.

  12. Bill Sexton says:

    This is a question, not an argument. If slavery was not the primary issue in the war, why did the southern states erect the Jim Crow system in effect restoring subjugation of blacks?

    • James Thornton says:

      I am a fourth generation Texan, descendent of men who served in the Confederacy as enlisted soldiers and calvary. Descendants of slaves are in my family tree, due to some of my ancestors’ “assertions of right of ownership”. It is part of my family’s history; one which I am sorry to say was glorified by members of my family for generations following the Civil War.

      I’ve heard all the arguments from my family justifying the South’s rebellion as a states’ rights issue, primarily in support of the South’s economy of that time, which was agricultural-based and heavily dependent on slave labor. The view, while marginally true, is self-serving justification for the crime of enslaving fellow human beings, and for causing the horror that was the Civil War. The Texas “Declaration of Causes”, my state’s declaration of secession from the Union was very clear as to the reason for secession, which was the furtherance of slavery as an institution. The common view in the South at the time that the African was placed here on this earth to serve the white race. To say that the attempted perpetuation of slavery was not a primary cause of the Civil War is disingenuous at best, and is white-washing of a shameful time in our country’s history.

      The fact that there is a small but vocal minority in my state promoting secession today speaks volumes as to our specie’s inability to learn from the hard lessons of history. The South is only now beginning to emerge from the damage caused by that war, fought 150 years ago. People forget at their peril.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Bill. If I were more educated on the Civil War and it’s aftermath I might have an answer for you. Now I can only speculate. Getting educated is what I want to do. Of course that will take some time and lots of reading. I really don’t wish to waste my time reading a lot of slanted material. Just the facts, sir! I do realize that was a different time with a different way of thinking so am also interested in writings from the period. (That’s how I got lead here!) It’s so easy to look back in time and misinterprete the why of past behavior. Emotions don’t always seem to come through the history books.

      I can suspect if one came to my home and forced me to change my ways, especially ways that I had practiced within the law, I would possibly do all I could to defy them. And I’m sure I would be angry about it! Probably try to make things back the way they were. If that defiance looks like Jim Crow philosophy I bet there’s some of that in all of us.

      Another thought: Imagine having millions of refugees, uneducated and many probably with limited skills, become part of your community all of a sudden. A war torn community with most trying to scratch a living out of the land. I wonder, was the South able at that time to support itself? I doubt it. Many had lost everything And now they had to develop a new way of life for millions more. Imagine the resentment. One can take all those facts,emotions and their resulting behaviors, add a dose of unempathic, or unsympathetic blame and label it Jim Crow if they like. But what I personally am trying to do is understand. I’m sure by now enough blame has been laid.

      Hello All. I’m enjoying this site. One of the things that seems odd to me is this… Slave holders in the south were in the minority, right! So why was it so many were eager to fight for an immoral cause that didn’t benefit them in any way? Or did it? I find it hard to believe they would fight and die to keep their neighbors slaves. So why would those poor southern boys rebel I wonder!

  13. Jim Marshall says:

    While slavery was a major issue of the Civil War, President Lincoln would let the South keep slavery if they did not leave the Union. The war did not abolish slavery nor did the Proclamation end slavery other than the 10 Southery states in rebellion. Below is taken from Wikipedia

    Lincoln understood that the Federal government’s power to end slavery in peacetime was limited by the Constitution which before 1865, committed the issue to individual states.[14] Against the background of the American Civil War, however, Lincoln issued the Proclamation under his authority as “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy” under Article II, section 2 of the United States Constitution.[15] As such, he claimed to have the martial power to free persons held as slaves in those states that were in rebellion “as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion”.[16] He did not have Commander-in-Chief authority over the four slave-holding states that were not in rebellion: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, and so those states were not named in the Proclamation.[18] The fifth border jurisdiction, West Virginia, where slavery remained legal but was in the process of being abolished, was, in January 1863, still part of the legally recognized “reorganized” state of Virginia, based in Alexandria, which was in the Union (as opposed to the Confederate state of Virginia, based in Richmond).

    The Emancipation Proclamation was never challenged in court.

    To ensure the abolition of slavery in all of the U.S., Lincoln pushed for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Congress passed it by the necessary two-thirds vote on January 31, 1865, and it was ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.[1

  14. karl burkhalter says:

    Findings of a Commison Court, “convened to convict,” hid as much. Azerot was suppose to be Booths horse holder, not kill Johnson, There were two, two man teams, two assasins and two horse holding guides, after two targets. Herrod knew the land, Azerot the Potomac. The plan was to put the Southern Democrat Johson in the White House, not kill him. It is so obvious. But Northern Bias historians stick to the verdict like it was justice, or possibly true.

  15. Gene Youtz says:

    By mid April of 1865, the Civil War had ended at Appomattox,VA, but worrisome still was the fact that one third of the Union currency in circulation at the time was presumed to be counterfeit, and so President Lincoln had established a special agency under the Treasury Department to deal with the problem. The night of the 14th—Good Friday–the legislation was on his desk, and later he and his wife Mary went to Ford’s Theater, where mid-way through the play, “Our American Cousin,” he was shot by John Wilkes Booth, and died of his wound the following morning. The new “Department” that he had created to deal with the nation’s monetary crisis was called, The “Secret Service.”

    At the time the only group that had any involvement in presidential protection was Allan Pinkerton of the Union Intelligence Agency, which four years earlier had allegely prevented an assassination attempt on Lincoln’s life as his train passed through Baltimore on its way to the inauguration in Washington. From then on throughout the war, Pinkerton National Detective Agency became a “secret service” for collecting military information about Confederate movements and plans, and also at times Pinkerton himself, operating under the cover name of Maj. E.J. Allen, acted as Abraham Lincoln’s personal bodyguard. Unfortunately he was not with the President the night of the assassination.

    Pinkerton’s had been foremost in the protection of the Wells Fargo Company’s stage coach operations in the west prior to the Civil War, (both companies have prospered since and today are major players in their respective markets worldwide) and throughout the ante bellum period and into the 20th century, Pinkerton operated as a government contractor providing guards, intelligence, detective operations, and a military presence where needed, and at one time had more men in their service than the US Army.

    Meanwhile, the Secret Service was charged with investigation of counterfeiting, and fraud. However as time went on, they became accountable for intelligence and counter intelligence—duties that were eventually taken over by FBI, ATF, IRS. Unfortunately, by the late 19th century they had yet to be given responsibility for presidential security, and Pinkertons’ were not assigned as body guards to the chief executive; the result was that both James Garfield in 1881 and William McKinley in 1901 were killed by assassins with no guard detail in place. In fact, no US president except for Lincoln had ever had personal protection. But Congress finally woke up and determined that the Secret Service should have full-time responsibility for presidential security which they began in 1902. Talk about closing the barn door after the horse was gone.

  16. Marion Kerr Snyder says:

    Mrs. Charlene Hale: Thanks for your understanding and response. You must also know the reasons for disliking the term MS. The political correct is going way off the track.
    Mrs. Marion Kerr Snyder is my name, I did not divorce my parents, so I am still a Kerr, and by marriage I added my husbands sir name Snyder and became a MRS and not a MISS any longer.
    Mrs. Marion Kerr Snyder or Mrs. Ronald Snyder.

    • Ancient Briton says:

      Well said – MS can only mean Mistress – “Are you being served” would have lotsa fun with that! On this matter I met a lady scientist yesterday who spoke of getting her “masters” degree and shocked her by suggesting that “M” would soon have to be changed to MS and that females would qualify for “Mistresses” degrees!

  17. I just published a blog on the Wild Geese website detailing the part Lt. colonel James Rowan O’Beirne played in hunting down Booth

  18. Ancient Briton says:

    I am led to believe that Cherie Booth, wife of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is descended from the same Booth family as the assassin Wilkes Booth! Wonder it Tony, and some others, sleep soundly at night?

    • Janet says:

      Dear Ancient Briton – We can’t go back in time and change who we are descended from.