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The gun that killed Lincoln
The gun that killed Lincoln
Resource Typeimage
TitleThe gun that killed Lincoln
Coverage / YearApril 14, 1865
DescriptionOn the evening of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth fired this small derringer into the back of Abraham Lincoln's head, inflicting a mortal wound. Lincoln was attending a play at Ford's Theater. The gun is on exhibit at the Ford's Theater Museum in Washington D.C., a National Park Service site.
InterpretationLincoln was sitting in the President's Box watching Laura Keane in "Our American Cousin." With the President were Mrs. Lincoln, Major Henry Rathbone, and the major's fiancé, Clara Harris. Rathbone struggled with Booth, who stabbed him in the arm and then leapt from the balcony crying (according to some accounts), "Sic Semper Tyrannis" ("Thus Always With Tyrants"), the motto of the state of Virginia. John Wilkes Booth was one of ten children in a family that produced several actors. His father, Junius Brutus Booth, was well-known on the stage, as was his older brother, Edwin, a Shakespearean actor. A younger brother, Junius Jr., also acted. Wilkes Booth was a southern sympathizer who believed his destiny was to help the Southern cause. An earlier plot to kidnap Lincoln and hold him hostage for thousands of Confederate prisoners failed, but on April 14, 1865, Booth saw his chance to kill Lincoln and create chaos in the government. His accomplices were to simultaneously kill the Secretary of State and the Vice President. Booth had stopped by Ford's Theater earlier in the day to pick up some mail and discovered that the President was to attend the play that night. Booth drilled a small hole in the door that opened into the Presidential box. When he arrived at the theater that night, some witnesses related that he approached the President's aide and showed him a card. He was admitted into a small corridor outside the Presidential box. He blocked entry to the corridor and entered the Presidential box in a moment of laughter during the play. Few heard the shot. Booth's accomplices were not so successful. The Secretary of State was wounded slightly, but the third assassin lost his nerve. The gun was recovered in the theater. Twelve days later Booth was surrounded and killed in a barn in Virginia. The bullet and some pieces of Lincoln's skull are on exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Washington D. C.
Lesson Plans / ThemesAntebellum Society and the Civil War
Learning Standards14 Political systems; 16 History; 18 Social systems
Author or CreatorIllinois Heritage Association
SourceGun in National Park Service collection at Ford's Theater
Subject / KeywordsDerringer; Assassinations; Ford's Theater; Booth, John Wilkes, 1838-1865; Civil War; Arms & armament; Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865
Collection PublisherIllinois Heritage Association
Further InformationFor any further information related to this record, please contact the Collection Publisher. See for more information about this project.
Rights Management Statement
Resource IdentifierIHA00159
CONTENTdm file name62528221432002_IHA00159.jpg
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