The Tamarind Street’s gunsmith Henry Deringer, Junior (1786-1868) never imagined that one day his invention of the derringer would be used by a zealot actor to murder a sitting President. Henry inherited his trade from his gunsmith father in Philadelphia who invented the Kentucky Rifle.
On Palm Sunday April 9, under a truce agreement, General Robert E. Lee, with Lieutenant Colonial Charles Marshall, arrived at the Appomattox home of Wilmer McLean. General Ulysses S. Grant and his officers arrived later.
After a private conversation with Lee, Grant asked his officers to enter the residence. Around 4 pm Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. This was the turning point where the Civil War would come to an end.
The following day in his Second Augural Address the President expressed his hopes for the future of a united country.
“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 a lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations.”
On the following night, April 11, at the White House he addressed a crowd of about 3000. He began his speech with these words:
“We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression cannot be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with others. I myself was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. “
He ended his last speech with these words:
“In the present “situation” as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act, when satisfied that action will be proper.”
Among his listeners was a twenty-seven-year-old Maryland actor, John Wilkes Booth, who made his decision that sometime in the near future he would end this man’s life. On Friday morning, Good Friday, he went to the Ford Theatre to get his mail.
This is when he was told about the President coming to the play that night. He contacted his fellow compatriots and they planned to kill the President as well as the Vice-President, Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State, William Seward. They hoped that this would toss the federal government into confusion and the South would reassemble to fight on.
As the President watched the play OUR AMERICAN COUSIN at the Ford Theater on Friday night April 14th, he and his fellow guests in the box—his wife Mary, her best friend Clara Harris, and Clara’s fiancé Major Henry Rathbone were in a jovial mood. Around 10 pm Booth entered the box during Act III, Scene 2 as the 1500 member crowd were laughing and shot the President in the back of the head with his .44 caliber derringer.
Booth stabbed Major Henry Rathbone with a Rio Grande knife used for camping. Rathbone was seriously hurt and almost died because Booth had severed an artery in his arm, but it would be hours before Rathbone would be treated since the whole focus was on the President.
When he jumped onto the stage from the box of the President, Booth held high the knife and yelled “Sic semper tyrannis”. The translation was “Thus to all tyrants.”
On the knife blade were these words “Land of the free. Home of the Brave” and “Liberty Independence”. The irony of these words would be a sad commentary in how the South would be treated during Reconstruction.
President Lincoln died at 7:22 am, April 15th at the Petersen House. In 1865 it was a boisterous boarding house.
Without Lincoln the wounds of the Civil War would continue to fester for decades to come. Truly, many of the issues of the subsequent decades in the South can be attributed to Booth and his heinous act of murder of the one man who wanted to unite the country into a place where all could dwell in peace and safety.
Booth would meet his human fate on April 26. The man who believed “Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment” would be remembered, not as a soldier of his God, but as a coward who shot the President in the back of his head, without facing his victim.
In a heart-felt eulogy, Walt Whitman (1823-1896) wrote “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”:
O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.
G. D. Williams © 2015
Photo of John Wilkes Booth’s Deringer by Wknight94
Photo of ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 10, 1865
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d
One Country One Destiny
“Over his clothing, Lincoln wore a greatcoat custom made by Brooks Brothers for his second inauguration. Reportedly made of wool finer than cashmere, the coat includes intricate stitching on the inner lining of an eagle and the words “One Country, One Destiny.” After the assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln gave the coat to the White House doorkeeper Alphonso Donn, a favorite of the Lincolns. For generations, the Donn family guarded the coat from the many interested buyers including the likes of P.T. Barnum. In 1968 it was acquired by the National Park Service. In delicate condition, the coat is on display for a limited time in the Center for Education and Leadership as part of the special exhibition Silent Witnesses. “
“Reconstruction generally refers to the period in United States history immediately following the Civil War in which the federal government set the conditions that would allow the rebellious Southern states back into the Union. (The precise starting point is debatable, with some prominent scholars arguing that Reconstruction actually began during the war.) In 1862, Abraham Lincoln had appointed provisional military governors to re-establish governments in Southern states recaptured by the Union Army.”
“The Union victory in the Civil War in 1865 may have given some 4 million slaves their freedom, but the process of rebuilding the South during the Reconstruction period (1865-1877) introduced a new set of significant challenges. Under the administration of President Andrew Johnson in 1865 and 1866, new southern state legislatures passed restrictive “black codes” to control the labor and behavior of former slaves and other African Americans. Outrage in the North over these codes eroded support for the approach known as Presidential Reconstruction and led to the triumph of the more radical wing of the Republican Party. During Radical Reconstruction, which began in 1867, newly enfranchised blacks gained a voice in government for the first time in American history, winning election to southern state legislatures and even to the U.S. Congress. In less than a decade, however, reactionary forces–including the Ku Klux Klan–would reverse the changes wrought by Radical Reconstruction in a violent backlash that restored white supremacy in the South.”
BOOTH, THE ASSASSIN, SHOT
War Department, Washington. April 27, 9:20 A.M.
Maj. General Dix, New-York:
Booth was chased out of a swamp in St. Mary’s county, Maryland,
by Col. Barker’s [i.e., Baker] force, and took refuge in a barn on Garrett’s farm, near Port Royal. The barn was fired and Booth shot and killed. His companion, Harrold [David Herold], was captured. Harrold and Booth’s body are now here.
E.M. Stanton, Secretary of War.
Major Henry Rathbone (1837-1911)
Historic photos, Gen. Lee surrenders at Appomattox, April 9, 1865
Surrender at Appomattox, 1865
General R.E. Lee,
APPOMATTOX Ct H., Va.,
General; In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly [exchanged], and each company or regimental commander to sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked, and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their paroles, and the laws in force where they may reside.
Transcript of President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865)
April 11 1865 Speech At The White House
OUR AMERICAN COUSIN