Abraham Lincoln Assassination — The Conspiracy to Kidnap and Kill the 16th President of the United States

April 14–15, 1865

The Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln took place on April 14, 1865, when Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln during a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died from his wounds early the next morning. After a massive manhunt, Booth was shot and killed, and eight others were found guilty of conspiring to kill the President. On July 7, 1865, four of them were executed at Fort McNair, ending the ordeal of the first American President to be assassinated.

John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln Assassin, Portrait

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in April 1865, while he watched a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., just days after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. Booth went on the run for 12 days and when the notorious assassin was caught, a Union soldier shot and killed him. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Summary of the Lincoln Assassination

The Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln took place on the night of April 14, 1865, when Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. The incident was part of a larger plot, which also targeted Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward.

The assassination came after months of planning, including a failed attempt by Booth and his group of conspirators to kidnap the President. It happened just days after Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.

Following the surrender, Lincoln delivered a speech and gave details of his Reconstruction Plan to a crowd outside the White House. Booth was in the crowd and was incensed over the idea that Lincoln was going to give citizenship and voting rights to African Americans.

On the night of April 14th, President Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, attended a performance of a play — “Our American Cousin” — at Ford’s Theater. During the latter part of the play, around 10:20 p.m., Booth snuck into the President’s box above the stage and shot Lincoln in the back of the head at point-blank range. The President’s wife screamed and Major Henry Rathbone, a guest of Lincoln, tried to grab Booth, but Booth slashed him with a knife and then jumped out of the box onto the stage below.

Abraham Lincoln Assassination, Booth Prepares to Shoot, Illustration
This illustration depicts John Wilkes Booth leaning forward to shoot President Abraham Lincoln as he watches “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Booth landed, turned to the shocked crowd, and shouted “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” which is Latin for “Thus always to tyrants!” Then he ran across the stage and out a side door of the theater as Rathbone shouted, “Stop that man!” and chaos erupted in the theater. Booth mounted a horse and rode out of Washington, to Maryland, where he met up with David Herold, one of his accomplices. Meanwhile, Lincoln was moved across the street to a house. The wound was mortal, and he passed away on the morning of April 15 at 7:22 a.m., becoming the first American President to be assassinated. When he was pronounced dead, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, On His Deathbed, Painting, Chappel
This painting by Alonzo Chappel is called “The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln” and depicts Mary Lincoln lying over her husband’s body while he lies on his deathbed at the Peterson House. Image Source: Wikipedia.

A massive manhunt was launched to find Booth. On April 26, Union cavalry trapped Booth and Herold in a barn in Virginia. Herold surrendered, but Booth refused to leave, so the soldiers set fire to the barn. Sergeant Boston Corbett crept up the burning barn, took aim at Booth through a crack in the wall, and shot him in the neck. Booth was paralyzed and had to be carried out of the barn, where he died a few hours later. In the aftermath of that fateful night, the nation mourned the death of the President. Hundreds of thousands of people paid tribute as his body was taken by train from Washington to Springfield, Illinois. Meanwhile, Federal officials rounded up anyone they suspected of being involved in the plot and President Andrew Johnson had them prosecuted by a military tribunal. On June 30, eight people were found guilty, and four of them were sentenced to death by hanging. On July 7, the ordeal of the Lincoln Assassination came to a bitter end when they were hanged at Fort McNair. Among them was Mary Surratt, who became the first woman to be executed by the government of the United States.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Abraham Lincoln Assassination

Who Assassinated Abraham Lincoln?

John Wilkes Booth was who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Booth was an actor and supported the Confederacy. As an actor, Booth had a flair for drama, even in real life. Although he hated Lincoln, he may have also been motivated to carry out the assassination to increase his fame and be seen as a hero to the Confederacy and Lincoln’s political opponents.

When was Abraham Lincoln Assassinated?

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865. On April 14, Confederate sympathizer and actor John Wilkes Booth shot the President in the back of the head, mortally wounding him. Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., around 10:20 in the evening. Lincoln was sitting in a private box at the theater, above the stage, watching a play called “Our American Cousin.” Lincoln died the next day, April 15.

Abraham Lincoln Assassination, Lincoln's Chair, Photograph
This photograph from the National Park Service shows the interior of the private box where Lincoln, his wife, and their guests were sitting. Image Source: National Park Service.

What Happened Immediately After Lincoln’s Assassination?

Immediately after Lincoln was shot, Booth jumped out of the private box, landed on the stage, and shouted “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” to the shocked crowd. Then he ran out of the theater, climbed on a horse, and rode off. Lincoln was taken to a house across the street and a manhunt for Booth was launched.

Where did Abraham Lincoln Die?

Abraham Lincoln died at the Peterson House in Washington, D.C., at 7:22 in the morning on April 15, 1865. After he was shot, doctors had him moved to the house, which was across the street from Ford’s Theater. The Peterson House is located at 516 10th Street NW.

Why was Lincoln Assassinated?

Lincoln was assassinated because John Wilkes Booth wanted to eliminate the President to keep him from granting citizenship and voting rights to African-Americans, which Lincoln spoke about in a speech on April 11, 1865. Booth was in the crowd and said, “Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.”

Who Became President After Abraham Lincoln Was Assassinated?

Vice President Andrew Johnson became President after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Johnson was sworn in as the 17th President of the United States on April 15 by Salmon P. Chase, who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Overview and History of the Lincoln Assassination

John Wilkes Booth was a well-known actor and Confederate sympathizer from Maryland. He also had a flair for drama in real life. At the root of his conspiracy against President Lincoln was the issue of prisoner exchanges between the Union and the Confederacy.

The Dix-Hill Cartel and Prisoner Exchanges

On July 22, 1862, Union Major General John A. Dix and Confederate Major General D.H. Hill signed an agreement that defined how the system for prisoner exchanges would work during the Civil War. The agreement, known as the Dix-Hill Cartel, provided for equal exchanges for all soldiers who were captured and allowed them to return to their units to continue fighting.

When President Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, he also approved the enlistment of African-Americans in the Union Army. In December, Confederate President Jefferson Davis issued a proclamation that said the Confederacy would not exchange any captured African Americans — or their white officers.

During the First and Second Battle of Fort Wagner in July 1863, African-American troops from the Union’s 54th Massachusetts were captured. The Confederacy kept its word and did not exchange them. Lincoln responded by suspending the Dix-Hill Cartel on July 30, 1863. By August, there was a significant reduction in prisoner exchanges and the population of prison camps grew.

By the fall of 1864, there were roughly 30,000 Union troops in the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia.

The Confederate armies suffered, as their ranks were reduced — by their own government — because it refused to exchange African-American soldiers.

John Wilkes Booth, his Conspirators, and the Plot to Kidnap Lincoln

After the prisoner exchanges stopped, Booth decided to take action and planned to kidnap President Lincoln, take him to Richmond, and hold him for ransom. The price the Union would have to pay would be to exchange the Confederate prisoners. Booth also believed if he was able to pull it off that he would be seen as a hero to his country — the Confederate States of America. Over time, Booth recruited a group of men — and possibly one woman — to help carry out the plan. The men involved were:

  • Samuel Arnold
  • Michael O’Laughlen
  • John Surratt
  • George Atzerodt
  • David Herold
  • Lewis Powell, who was also known as Lewis Paine or Payne
  • Surratt’s mother, Mary, was eventually implicated in the plot. She owned a tavern in Surrattsville, Maryland, but moved to a house in Washington. Booth and some of the others were frequent visitors to her home.
Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Conspirator Lewis Powell, Portrait
Lewis Powell was one of the conspirators in the plot to kidnap — and then kill — Abraham Lincoln. This photograph was taken by Alexander Gardner while Powell was being held in custody. Image Source: Wikipedia.

March 17, 1865 — The Plot to Kidnap the President

In August 1864, Booth and Samuel Arnold — who were old friends — met at Barnum’s Hotel in Washington. They were joined by another of Booth’s friends — Michael O’Laughlen. The three of them talked about the war and found they were all Confederate sympathizers. It was there, at the hotel, that Booth suggested the idea of kidnapping Lincoln. Booth told them that Lincoln made frequent visits to the Soldiers’ Home outside of Washington and he usually went alone, on horseback. Booth wanted to kidnap Lincoln and take him through southern Maryland to Virginia and on to Richmond. The idea sounded reasonable to Arnold and O’Laughlen — especially since it would be done in a remote area — and they agreed to help. However, Booth had no concrete plan and had no idea how to move Lincoln to Richmond without being apprehended.

In the fall of 1864, Lincoln was re-elected President, which only made Booth want to carry out the plan more. He started working on the details of his plot. Throughout the fall and early part of the winter, he scouted roads and even bought supplies that were needed to kidnap Lincoln and transport him to Richmond.

Along the way, he met Dr. Samuel Mudd, John Surratt, and Louis Weichmann. On Christmas Day, he met with Sam Chester, an old friend, in New York. It was there that Booth introduced a new idea — kidnapping Lincoln at Ford’s Theater — and told Chester he wanted him to hold the back door of the theater open. Chester declined to participate. Booth was upset, and after a brief discussion, the two went their separate ways. However, Booth did continue to try to convince Chester to join the conspirators.

In mid-January, George A. Atzerodt was brought into Booth’s group of conspirators by John Surratt. Around the same time, Booth had dinner with Arnold and O’Laughlen, during which Booth introduced the idea to them of kidnapping Lincoln from Ford’s. They were shocked. Up to that point, all the preparations had been made based on the original plan. Booth even took them to the theater to show them around and tried to convince them how they could pull it off. Ultimately, it showed that Booth was thinking about making the kidnapping of the President much more dramatic than he had led them to believe.

Later in January, Booth met Lewis Powell, and the group of conspirators expanded. By February, some of them were making visits to Mary Surratt’s boarding house to meet with John. Despite his idea of kidnapping Lincoln at the theater, Booth continued to make preparations to kidnap him along the road to the Soldiers’ Home.

On Saturday, March 4, Lincoln was sworn in and gave his acceptance speech from the Capitol. Booth was in the crowd and heard Lincoln say, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Less than two weeks later, on Wednesday, March 15, Booth rented a private room at Gautier’s Restaurant and brought the group of conspirators together for the first time. Powell and Atzerodt were the first men to arrive. Soon after, they were joined by Herold, Arnold, and O’Laughlen. Arnold and O’Laughlen were apparently surprised and had no idea anyone other than the two of them and Booth were involved.

Around 1:30 in the morning of the 16th, Booth told the entire group he wanted to kidnap Lincoln at Ford’s Theater and he laid out the details of the entire scheme. Arnold disagreed with the idea, and told Booth, “You can be the leader of the party, but not my executioner.” Eventually,  Booth agreed to return to the original plan, but Arnold threatened to bail out unless they took action by the end of the week.

At 2:00 on the 17th, Booth called the group together and told them Lincoln was headed to Campbell Hospital, which was on the same road as the Soldiers’ Home. The conspirators met at Mary Surratt’s boarding house. From there, they moved to their assigned places. Booth, Arnold, and O’Laughlen rode about a mile down the road to the hospital with Booth but decided to turn back. Booth went on alone. When the group met up later at a restaurant, Booth told them the President never showed up at the hospital.

It is within reason to suspect that Booth orchestrated the entire event in an effort to implicate the others in the plot and to keep them from dropping out or even going to the authorities. Over the next two weeks, all of them went their separate ways and most left Washington. However, they still communicated, and the possibility remained for them to kidnap the President.

The Plot Revived

On Monday, March 27, an article in the Evening Star said the Lincolns would be attending some opera performances at Ford’s Theater. When Booth found out, he quickly sent word to the others.

April 9–10, 1865 — Surrender at Appomattox Court House

On Sunday, April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. Booth returned to Washington from a trip that night, and the news of Lee’s surrender appeared in the papers the next day. It was clear the war would officially be over soon. Booth responded to the news by going to a shooting gallery. Soon after, Booth gave up on any idea to kidnap the President and became determined to assassinate Lincoln.

Appomattox Court House, Illustration, Lee Surrenders
This illustration depicts Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Image Source: Library of Congress.

April 11, 1865 — Lincoln Delivers His Last Speech at the White House

Two days later, on Tuesday, April 11, President Lincoln gave a speech at the White House that provided details of his plan — called Reconstruction — to restore peace and reunite the North and South. A crowd had gathered outside to hear him speak, which included Booth and Herold. Lincoln spoke about granting rights to African-Americans — including the right to vote to those who had fought for the Union.  When Booth heard that, he knew it meant African Americans would be able to become citizens. He turned to Herold and supposedly said “Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.”

April 13 — Booth Expands the Plot

On the morning of Thursday, April 13, Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, arrived in Washington. Grant went to meet with Secretary Stanton and recommended an immediate reduction in the war effort and restoration of trade with Richmond.

In the afternoon, Booth visited Ford’s Theater, where he learned the manager planned to invite the President to the performance on the 14th.

That night, Washington was filled with people celebrating the “Grand Illumination,” celebrating the end of the war. The Evening Star described it as “The very heavens seemed to have come down, and the stars twinkled in a sort of faded way, as if the solar system was out of order, and each had become the great luminary.”

Booth, Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt met in Room 6 at the Herdon House. It was there, as the celebration carried on in the streets outside, that Booth laid out his plan to assassinate not only Lincoln but also Secretary of State Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson.

April 14, 1865 — The Lincolns Plan to see Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater

Lincoln made plans with his wife, Mary, to attend the British play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater on Friday, April 14. The comedy starred actress Laura Keene and the show on the night of the 14th was the last in its two-week run.

Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, were invited to join the Lincolns, but the Grants decided to make a trip to New Jersey to visit their son. There has also been speculation that the Grants declined to attend because Julia Grant and Mary Lincoln did not get along. Instead of the Grants, Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris, joined the Lincolns.

Booth and the Conspirators Plan the Attack

After breakfast, Booth went to Ford’s Theater to pick up his mail. While he was there, he found out the Lincolns and Grants would be attending the evening’s performance.

Later that evening, Booth met with Mary Surratt at her home, and then Booth, Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt moved into their positions to carry out the plan.

Booth would shoot Lincoln. Because of his familiarity with the staff and the theater, it was reasonable to think he was the only one who would be able to get close enough to Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. Booth planned to shoot the President with his single-shot, .44-caliber Deringer Pistol and then stab Grant with a dagger.

Powell would assassinate Secretary of State William H. Seward at his home. Herold was told to show Powell the way to Seward’s house since Powell was not familiar with the city. Herold was supposed to wait outside while Powell killed Seward and hold his horse for him.

William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Portrait, Brady
Secretary of State William H. Seward was the target of Lewis Powell. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Atzerodt was assigned to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was staying at the Kirkwood Hotel. Atzerodt was uncomfortable with the plan and tried to back out. He had been comfortable with kidnapping the men, but killing them took it to a new level. However, Booth pressured him to continue

After they had carried out their tasks, they were to meet up in Maryland.

Lincoln Arrives at Ford’s Theater

The Lincoln’s arrived late at Ford’s Theater, and the play had already started. However, when the crowd of around 1,700 hundred people saw the President, they rose in applause. The play stopped and the orchestra played “Hail to the Chief.” Lincoln took his seat in a rocking chair, which had been selected especially for him.

John Wilkes Booth Shoots Abraham Lincoln

It was around 10:20 when Booth arrived at the private box where Lincoln was. He found the room was relatively unguarded. The room had two doorways. The first door opened from the hallway to the room where the private box was. The second door opened from the room to the private box.

Booth slipped through the first door, into the room, and then barricaded the door behind him. Then he entered the box through the second door. He carried the pistol in his right hand and the dagger in his left hand.

He raised his pistol and shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head — at point-blank range. At the same time, he slashed at Rathbone with his dagger and cut him on the shoulder. Lincoln slumped forward in his chair.

Rathbone jumped out of his seat and lunged at Booth. Booth dropped his pistol, slashed at Rathbone with the dagger again, and cut him on the left forearm. It did not stop Rathbone, who forced Booth to the railing at the front of the box.

Booth jumped out through the front of the box — 12 feet above the stage — but caught his spur on the flag that was draped over the rail. He landed awkwardly and may have broken his left leg when he landed.

At first, the crowd was confused. Then they heard the screams of Mary Lincoln and Clara Harris from the box and heard Major Rathbone yell, “Stop that man!”

Booth Shouts to the Crowd — Sic Semper Tyrannis!

Booth stood up and yelled something to the crowd. Eyewitness accounts conflict with each other, but it is generally agreed that he yelled “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” It is the state motto of Virginia, which was adopted in 1776. It is a Latin phrase that translates to “Thus always to tyrants” and was meant to symbolize the American fight against the tyranny of Britain in the American Revolutionary War.

Booth Escapes from the Theater

Booth stabbed William Withers, Jr., the leader of the orchestra, and then ran out of the theater through a side door. In the audience, Major Joseph B. Stewart heard Rathbone. He climbed over the orchestra pit and footlights and chased after Booth. Outside, Booth found his horse waiting for him. He shoved Joseph Burroughs out of his way and jumped on the horse. He jumped on his horse and rode off in the night.

Dr. Charles Leale Tends to Lincoln

As Booth escaped, Dr. Charles Leale, who was in the audience, made his way up to the President’s box. He found Lincoln slumped in his chair, struggling to breathe, and paralyzed. Leale was joined by other doctors and they saw the bullet had entered Lincoln’s head, just behind his left ear. It had gone through his brain and was lodged behind his right eye. It was clear to them the wound was mortal.

The Attack on Seward Fails

At almost the same moment Booth shot Lincoln, Lewis Powell attacked Secretary of State  William H. Seward at Seward’s mansion on Lafayette Square. Seward was in bed, recovering from wounds he had sustained in a carriage accident. Powell entered the mansion by claiming to be delivering medicine from the secretary’s doctor. When he raised suspicions, he attacked Seward’s son, Frederick, and beat him with a gun. Then he forced his way into the room where Seward was resting and slashed at him multiple times with a Bowie knife. Private George F. Robinson and Seward’s other son, Augustus, tried to stop Powell, but he stabbed both of them, fought them off, and ran out through the front door of the house. Down in the street, Herold heard screams coming from the house and ran off, leaving Powell on his own. As Powell slipped away through the streets of Washington, D.C., Robinson and Fanny were able to stop Seward’s bleeding and save his life.

The Attack on Johnson Fails

Atzerodt rented a room at Kirkwood House, where Johnson was staying. Although he was armed, Atzerodt spent too much time at the house bar, became drunk, and wandered out into the streets.

Andrew Johnson, 17th President, Portrait
Vice President Andrew Johnson was the target of George Atzerodt. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Lincoln Taken to Peterson House

Union soldiers carried Lincoln across the street to the home of William Peterson. They took him into a room on the first floor and laid him on a bed. Leale remained at Lincoln’s side as other doctors arrived, including Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes and Robert K. Stone, Lincoln’s family doctor. The doctors all agreed there was nothing that could be done to save the President, and his death was imminent.

Over the course of the next few hours, family members and government officials arrived, including Robert Todd Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. They could hear Mary Lincoln crying as she remained by her husband’s side. Eventually, Stanton took control of the situation. He had her removed from the room and then went about the business of running the government, including launching the chase for Booth and the people who were responsible for shooting the President.

Abraham Lincoln Pronounced Dead

At 7:00 in the morning of Saturday, April 15, Stanton let Mary back into the room. She left soon after and was not there when Lincoln was pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Funeral and Burial of Abraham Lincoln

In the afternoon of the 15th, Lincoln’s body was carried by an honor guard to the White House, where he lay in state in the East Room. On Tuesday, April 18th, the White House was opened to the public and a funeral service was held on the 19th. Afterward, the coffin was taken down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Rotunda where it lay in state until the 20th. On the 21st, a prayer service was held for the members of the cabinet. At 7:00 in the morning, Lincoln’s body was taken to the train station, where it was loaded onto the funeral train. The train left the station at 8:00. It was taken to several cities throughout the nation, so people could view the body and pay their respects. On May 3, after three weeks, the journey ended in Springfield, Illinois. The casket was eventually buried in the Lincoln Tomb at the Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Abraham Lincoln Funeral Train, Steam Engine Nashville
This photograph is of the “Nashville,” one of several steam engines that were used to transport Lincoln’s body from Washington to Springfield, Illinois. Image Source: Library of Congress.

The Manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and the Conspirators

Booth went to Maryland, where he had his broken leg treated by Dr. Samuel Mudd. Word spread quickly that Booth was the one responsible. Stanton launched a massive manhunt and offered a $100,000 reward for Booth.

Booth and Herold hid near the Zekiah Swamp in Maryland while Union troops and others chased after them for 12 days. During that time, Booth kept a diary where he made it clear that he expected to be seen as a hero for what he had done.

Death of John Wilkes Booth

By April 26, Booth and Herold had made their way to a farm near Port Royal, Virginia, near the Rappahannock River. Around 2:00 in the morning, troops from the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment and two detectives — Luther Baker and Everton Conger — surrounded the barn.

Baker gave them five minutes to come out of the barn. If they failed to comply, he said they would set it on fire. Meanwhile, Conger prepared to start the fire.

Booth tried to negotiate and said, “I am a cripple. I have got but one leg. If you will withdraw your men in line 100 yards from the door, I will come out and fight you.” Herold disagreed with Booth’s tactic and after a brief argument. Herold left the barn and surrendered. When Booth refused to come out, Conger lit the barn on fire. The fire spread quickly.

One of the soldiers, Sergeant Boston Corbett, moved in close to the barn and was able to see Booth inside through a crack in the wall. Supposedly, Booth raised his gun to fire and Corbett shot him in the neck. Baker and Conger went into the barn, picked Booth up, and carried him out. He was unable to walk because he was paralyzed. According to Conger, while Booth lay on the ground, he whispered, “Tell mother, I die for my country.” The soldiers moved Booth to the porch of the nearby house where he died around 7:00 a.m.

Trial of the Conspirators

Andrew Johnson was sworn in as the 17th President of the United States on April 15 by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. Johnson retaliated against the South and the conspirators with a heavy hand. He put a price of $100,000 on the head of Jefferson Davis and decided the plot to assassinate Lincoln was an act of war, which Stanton agreed with. He ordered the conspirators to stand trial before a military tribunal. The members of the tribunal were:

Over the months that Booth and the conspirators made their plans, they had spoken to, been seen by, and implicated hundreds of people. The proceedings were extensive and included the testimony of more than 360 witnesses.

The prosecution was led by U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt. He was assisted by John A. Bingham, a member of the House of Representatives, and Major Henry Lawrence Burnett.

Thomas Ewing, Jr. led the defense for Mudd, Arnold, and Spangler. The most notable portion of the defense was that of Mary Surratt. Her defense was led by Frederick Aiken and serves as the basis for the 2010 movie “The Conspirator.”

The trial lasted for seven weeks and eight defendants were found guilty of the charges against them on June 30.

  • Samuel Arnold
  • George Atzerodt
  • David Herold
  • Samuel Mudd
  • Michale O’Laughlen
  • Lewis Powell
  • Edmund Spangler
  • Mary Surratt

Spangler was sentenced to six years in prison.

Mudd, Arnold, and O’Laughlen were sentenced to life in prison

Mary Surratt, Powell, Herold, and George Atzerodt were sentenced to death by hanging. On July 7, 1865, they were hanged at Fort McNair.

Interesting Facts About the Lincoln Assassination

  • Abraham Lincoln was the first President of the United States to be assassinated.
  • At that time, the Secret Service did not exist, so Lincoln’s protection came from local policemen.
  • Mary Surratt was the first woman to be executed by the United States.
  • There were multiple plots devised by Confederate sympathizers to kidnap Lincoln.
  • William Quantrill, the leader of Quantrill’s Raiders, also considered assassinating Lincoln in 1864.
  • The rocking chair Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Facts About the Conspirators

Samuel Arnold

Samuel Arnold was a childhood friend of John Wilkes Booth. In the 1850s, they went to school together at  St. Timothy’s School in Catonsville, Maryland. Arnold was a veteran of the Confederate Army and was initially recruited by Booth in 1864 to participate in the plot to kidnap Lincoln. When Booth suggested kidnapping Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, Arnold disagreed and they argued. They parted ways on March 15, 1865. Arnold was not in Washington at the time of the assassination and may not have known Booth had changed the plan and intended to murder the President. On April 17, Arnold was arrested at Fortress Monroe Virginia and investigators tied him to Booth and the kidnap plot. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, which was off the Gulf Coast of Florida. In 1689, he was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. He published a memoir he hoped would vindicate his name. He died in 1906 and was buried in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, the same place as Booth and another conspirator, Michael O’Laughlen.

George Atzerodt

George Atzerodt was a German-born painter and boatman who ferried Confederate spies and supplies across the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. He was brought into the group because of his knowledge of the local waterways and his ability to handle a boat — skills that would be useful in the process of transporting Lincoln out of Washington after he was kidnapped. After Booth’s plans changed from kidnapping to murder, he assigned Atzerodt to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was staying at the Kirkwood Hotel a few blocks from Ford’s Theatre. On the night of April 14, Atzerodt instead ordered a drink at the Kirkwood bar, became nervous, and left. He spent most of the rest of the night wandering the streets of Washington before he fled the city. On April 20, he was captured in Germantown, Maryland, at the home of his cousin, Hartman Richter. Atzerodt was accused of conspiracy to commit murder. He was tried, convicted, and hanged on July 7, 1865. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

David E. Herold

David Herold met Booth for the first time in 1863 after a performance at Ford’s Theatre. Herold was friends with George Atzerodt and John Surratt and Atzerodt had introduced him to Michael O’Laughlen. Herold’s role in the assassination plot was to guide Lewis Powell through the streets of Washington to Secretary of State Seward’s home and then help Powell escape from the city. When Herold heard the screams coming from the Seward home during Powell’s attack, he panicked and fled the scene. He met up with Booth in Maryland and stayed with him until they were surrounded at the Garrett Farm. Afterward, Herold was taken to Washington for trial. During the trial, he was portrayed as slow, dull-witted, and simple-minded in an attempt to convince the court that he had been tricked by Booth. The argument was he could not be held responsible for his role in the plot. The reality was that Herold was intelligent and had studied pharmacy at Georgetown and also worked as a druggist’s assistant. When he was interrogated, he answered quickly and with clarity. Herold was convicted and then hanged on July 7, 1865. He was buried in Congressional Cemetery, in Washington.

Dr. Samuel Mudd

Samuel Mudd was a graduate of St. John’s College and Georgetown College. He received his medical degree from the Baltimore Medical College in 1856. He met Booth on several occasions and his house may have been planned as a safe stop for the kidnap plot. Booth and Herold arrived at Dr. Mudd’s farm around 4:00 in the morning on April 15. Booth was suffering from his broken leg and needed Mudd’s help. Mudd treated the leg and made a splint for him. Then he let them stay upstairs in his house the rest of the night. Booth and Herold left the next afternoon and headed into the Zekiah Swamp. Later on, Mudd insisted that he did not recognize Booth and that he did not know that Lincoln had been assassinated. However, he was evasive and nervous when he was questioned. He was tried and convicted of conspiring to kill the president, and given a life sentence of hard labor. He was sent to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Florida. In 1869, he was pardoned and released by President Johnson. He returned to his farm and spent the rest of his life there. He died on January 10. 1883 at the age of 49 and was buried in the cemetery at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Bryantown, Maryland.

Michael O’Laughlen

Michael O’Laughlen was a childhood friend of John Wilkes Booth and lived across the street from him in Baltimore. O’Laughlen was a former Confederate soldier and one of Booth’s earliest recruits. In the fall of 1864, O’Laughlen agreed to assist in the plot to kidnap President Lincoln. At the trial, he admitted to participating in the failed abduction of Lincoln on March 17, 1865, but withdrew from other abduction attempts when it seemed that Booth’s plans were not realistic. He is unlikely to have had any role in the assassination plot. O’Laughlen turned himself in on Monday, April 17, two days after the assassination. He was tried as a conspirator and sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to Fort Jefferson in the Florida Keys and died there of yellow fever in 1867. He is buried in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD, in the same cemetery as John Wilkes Booth and Samuel Arnold.

Lewis Powell, alias “Lewis Paine”

Lewis Powell was a former Confederate soldier with the 2nd Florida Infantry. He fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was wounded and captured. After he recovered from his wounds, he escaped and joined Mosby’s Rangers in Virginia. In January 1685, John Surratt introduced him to Booth. Powell was tall and strong, and essentially served as the group’s “muscle.” During the months the conspirators planned to kidnap Lincoln, he used aliases, including Lewis Paine and Lewis Payne. After the plan changed from kidnapping to assassination, Booth assigned Powell to kill Secretary of State William Seward at Seward’s home. On the night of April 14, Powell entered the Seward’s home in Lafayette Square and severely injured Seward and others before he escaped. Ultimately, Powell failed, because Seward lived. Powell was tried, convicted, and executed by hanging on July 7, 1865. His remains were moved from place to place, and the only thing to survive — his skull — was eventually interred in the family plot at Geneva Cemetery in Geneva, Florida.

Edman “Ned” Spangler

Ned Spangler was a stagehand and carpenter at Ford’s Theatre who had met John Wilkes Booth years earlier while doing carpentry work on the Booth family home “Tudor Hall” in Bel Air, Maryland. When they crossed paths again at the theater, they became friends. On the night of the 14th, Booth asked him to hold his horse in the back alley behind the theater. Spangler turned the task over to “Peanut John” Burrows. It is unlikely that Spangler knew anything about Booth’s plan. Regardless, he was found guilty of helping Booth escape and was sentenced to six years of hard labor at Fort Jefferson Prison in the Dry Tortugas, Florida. He met Dr. Mudd in prison and they became friends. In 1689, they were both pardoned by President Johnson. Spangler moved to Maryland and spent time doing odd jobs on Mudd’s farm. He died in 1875 and was buried In St. Peter’s Cemetery in Waldorf, Maryland.

John Surratt, Jr.

John Surratt was one of the most important people in Booth’s group of conspirators. He had a college education and worked as a spy for the Confederacy. He traveled across Union lines and worked with Confederate Secret Service agents in Canada. Surratt was responsible for bringing Herold, Atzerodt, and Powell into the group. Surratt was involved in the failed kidnapping attempt in March 1865 but went to New York after it failed, He was in Elmira, New York on April 14. When he heard the news of the President’s assassination, he fled to Canada, then England. He lived as a fugitive in Europe for several years and served with the Papal Guards at the Vatican until someone recognized him. In 1866, he was caught in Egypt, extradited back to the United States, and tried in a civilian court in 1867. The case resulted in a hung jury and Surratt was set free. When he died in 1916, he was the last surviving Lincoln conspirator. He was buried in New Cathedral Cemetery, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mary Surratt

Mary Surratt was a southern sympathizer who owned a boarding house in Washington. where the conspirators met, planned the kidnapping, and eventually the assassination of President Lincoln. President Johnson called her boarding house “the nest that hatched the egg.” Both Powell and Atzerodt also boarded there briefly. Following the assassination, John Wilkes Booth and David Herold stopped for supplies at the Surratt Tavern in Surrattsville Maryland – present-day Clinton MD — which Mary owned and had leased out to tenant John M. Lloyd. Earlier on the day of the assassination, she rode down to the tavern and gave Lloyd a package that Booth had given her earlier that morning. According to Lloyd, she asked him to “have the shooting irons ready.” Due mainly to Lloyd’s testimony, she received the death sentence for conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Despite five of the judges at the trial asking that she be granted clemency by President Johnson because of her age and sex, she was put to death by hanging on July 7, 1865. She was the first woman executed by the federal government in the United States. Her role in the plot to kill the President — and her death sentence — has been debated by historians for decades, and serves as the plot for the film, “The Conspirator.” She is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Washington, D.C. The Surratt boarding house still stands today at 604 H St N.W. Washington D.C.

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Hanging of the Conspirators, Gardner
This photograph was taken by Alexander Gardner on July 7, 1865. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Significance of the Lincoln Assassination

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was important to the history of the United States for many reasons. To begin with, it was the first time a President had been assassinated. It also slowed down the pace of Reconstruction and increased the intense hatred of some Northerners toward the Southern states.

Abraham Lincoln Assassination Videos

Abraham Lincoln Rocker at the Henry Ford Museum

This video discusses the history of the chair that Lincoln was sitting in on the night he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

Last Living Witness to the Lincoln Assassination

Samuel J. Seymour was the last living person who witnessed the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Seymour appeared on the television show “I’ve Got A Secret” on February 8, 1956.

The Abraham Lincoln Assassination Devastates the Nation

This short clip from History discusses how Lincoln’s assassination affected the nation.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Abraham Lincoln Assassination — The Conspiracy to Kidnap and Kill the 16th President of the United States
  • Date April 14–15, 1865
  • Author
  • Keywords Lincoln Assassination, Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Ford's Theater
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 12, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 15, 2024