By mid-April 1865, the American Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history, was nearly over. Richmond, the Confederate capital had fallen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, the bane of the Union Army for nearly four years, had surrendered the week before. President Abraham Lincoln had already visited the former Confederate capital. Although Confederates continued to resist in certain places, the Confederacy was finished. 

Actor John Wilkes Booth was one of the ringleaders of a scheme to assassinate or kidnap the President and several other members of his cabinet. And on the night of April 14, 1865, Booth snuck into the presidential box at Ford’s Theater and shot the president in the back of the head as he watched a play. Lincoln would linger for a few hours but die early the next morning. Booth’s conspiracy soon fell apart and his co-conspirators arrested. 

Booth thought that by removing Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward, he could breathe life into a dead cause. Booth was a famous actor from a family of famous actors. However, although his brother was a staunch supporter of the Union, he was a Confederate sympathizer. And with the family being from Maryland, it wasn’t rare to have family members on opposite sides of the conflict.

Lincoln had seen Booth act at Ford’s Theater in 1863 and greatly admired his talent. He had frequently invited him to the White House. All invitations were ignored, however. Yet Booth did attend Lincoln’s second inauguration, for which he remarked afterward that if he had a mind to it he had been afforded a great opportunity to kill the president. 

He first planned to kidnap the president in order to restart the prisoner exchanges, but he decided on a more drastic course of action after hearing Lincoln’s speech on April 11. In it, Lincoln promoted giving voting rights to blacks. This, to Booth, was the catalyst that put in motion the terrible event that was to follow. 

Lincoln had previously told members of his cabinet that he had a premonition of being assassinated. On the morning of the 14th, he told his wife Mary that he was very happy, to which she replied that it was bad luck to act so. 

Booth went to Ford’s Theater that morning and learned that both Lincoln and General Grant would be attending the play “Our American Cousin” that night. Both the play and the theater were well-known to Booth so he was able to plot well. 

Booth and his co-conspirators met one final time at Mary Surratt’s boarding house at 7 p.m. Booth tasked Lewis Powell with killing Secretary of State William H. Seward at his home. George Atzerodt was to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel. David E. Herold was to guide Powell, who was unfamiliar with Washington, to the Seward house and then link up with Booth in Maryland. The plan was for all parties to strike at 10:00 p.m. Booth planned to use his fame to talk his way past Lincoln’s guards then shoot the president point-blank with his Derringer and stab Grant.