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.