Eye Witness Account of Lincoln’s Assassination and Funeral Preparations

From the Richmond Times dated April 21, 1865, Volume 1, Number 1.

The first edition of this newly established newspaper was published a full week after the assassination of President Lincoln. It is the predecessor of Richmond’s only remaining daily newspaper, The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Page one of the newspaper has a thorough account of the evacuation of Richmond which began on the morning of April 3, 1865.

Image of masthead from April 21, 1865 issue of The Richmond Times.

From Page 2:

THE GREAT TRAGEDY!
Paticulars of the Assassination!
The President’s Death-Bed Scene!
FUNERAL CEREMONIES!

Statement of an Eye-Witness.

Mr. James P. Ferguson, who was present at the theatre on the night of the assassination, makes the following statement:

When the second scene of the third act of the play was reached, Mr. Ferguson saw (and recognized) John Wilkes Booth making his way along the dress circle to the President’s box. Mr. Ferguson and Booth had met in the afternoon and conversed, and were well acquainted with each other, so that the former immediately recognized him. Booth stopping two steps from the door, took off his hat, and holding it in his left hand, leaned against the wall behind him. In this attitude he remained for half a minute; then he stepped down one step, put his hands on the door of the little corridor leading to the box, bent his knee against it, the door opened, Booth entered, and was for the time hidden from Mr. Ferguson’s sight.

The shot was the next Mr. F. remembers. He saw the smoke, then perceived Booth standing upright, with both hands raised, but at the moment saw no weapon or anything else in either. Booth then sprang to the front of the box, laid his left hand on the railing in front, was checked an instant evidently by his coat or pants being caught in something or held back by somebody. (It was Major Rathburn.)

A post in front obstructed the view of Mr. Ferguson, but Booth soon changed his position and again was clearly seen by Mr. F. He now had a knife in his right hand, which he also laid upon the railing, as he had already his left, and vaulted out. As his legs passed between the folds of the flag decorating the box his spur, which he wore on his right heel, caught the drapery and brought it down, tearing a strip with it. When he let go the railing he still clutched the shining knife. He crouched as he fell, falling on one knee and putting forth bends to help himself to recover an erect position, which he did with the rapidity and agility of an athlete.

Having recovered his equilibrium, Booth strode across the stage to the stage to the first entrance, passing behind the actor on the stage (Harry Hawk). When he reached the other side of the stage, just ere he became invisible by passing into the entrance, he looked up, and Mr. Ferguson said he heard him say, “I have done it,” and then he lost sight of him.

The Murderer’s Preparations.

The Washington Star gives the following particulars:

During the day Booth had evidently visited the box, as is shown by the preparations mad for the assassination. Behind the door of the passage a hole had been made in the wall, in which at night Booth inserted the end of a board as a brace against the door, thereby precluding anyone from following him from the dress circle. The screws were next removed from the lock of the farther door opening into the double box, the thread of the screw holes broken, and the lock and screws replaced, so that should the inmates of the box fasten the door by which they entered, the other door might be easily pushed open.

Judge Olin and others, on a visit to the theatre, satisfied themselves by actual experiment that the door ostensibly locked could thus be pushed in with the greatest ease. The aperture in the panel of the door, which was thought to have been a bullet hole, and thus formed a contradictory feature in the chain of evidence, it now appears was made with a knife, and was designed to enable the assassin to survey the position of the occupants of the box previous to entering himself. The large arm chair always used by the President at the theatre had been removed from its usual position, enabling the murderer to carry out his design more readily as he passed through the box. Apocket knife, the one probably with which the hole was cut in the door, was found lying on the cushion of the balustrade when Mr. Lincoln’s party entered the box.

The Assassin’s Coat Found.

Yesterday a light-colored sack coat, fully answering to the description of that worn by the attempted assassin of the Messrs. Seward, was found near Fort Saratoga, which is situated on the north of the city, not far from the Soldiers’ Home. The coat was stained with blood. In one of the pockets were found a false moustache and a small brush.

the coat and the articles found in it were delivered at the Provost Marshal’s office. It is believed that this discovery will furnish an additional clue to the route of the criminal.

The Laying in State.
[From the Washington Star.]

The preparations for laying out in state the corpse of the late President will be completed this evening, and to-morrow an opportunity will be afforded the public to view the features of the deceased for the last time. We have been requested to state that no one will be allowed to loiter about the White House through curiosity; but all will be required to pass out of the building after having viewed the corpse. This measure is requisite that a jam may be avoided and order preserved.

The Coffin
In which the President is to be buried is a magnificent affair indeed, costing above one thousand dollars. It is of mahogany, lined with lead, and covered with the finest black cloth.

The outside of the coffin is festooned with massive silver tacks, representing drapery, in each fold of which is a silver star. There are eight massive handles to the coffin, four being placed on each side. The outer edges of the coffin are tastefully scalloped with silver braid to which are attached five tassels of five inches in length.

A row of silver tacks encircles the entire top of the coffin, being placed two inches from the outer edge, while a silver plate, encircled by a shield formed of tacks of the same material, occupies a central position on the top lid with stars at the head and foot of the coffin on the outside.

The inside of the face lid is raised with white satin, the centre piece being trimmed with black and white silk braid, fastened down with sixteen silver stars, four to each corner. The face lid and the top of the coffin is fastened together with five silver stars.

The inside of the coffin is superbly lined with box-plaited satin, the bottom and pillow being of the finest white silk, while rich three inch cheniel satin fringe encircles the entire inside.

Preparations for the Funeral.

Washington, April 17. –At the meeting of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, convened at the Capitol on Monday April 17, 1865, at noon, Hon. Lafayette S. Foster, of Connecticut, President pro tem. of the Senate, was called to the chair, and Schuyler Colfax, of Indiana, was chosen as Secretary.

Senator Foot, of Vermont, stated the object of the meeting to be to make arrangements relative to the funeral of the deceased President of the United States.

On motion of Senator Sumner, of Massachusetts, a committee of five members from each House was ordered to report at 4 P.M. to-day what action it is fitting for this meeting to take.

The Chairman appointed Senators Sumner of Massachusetts, Harris of New York, Johnson of Maryland, Ramsay of Minnesota, and Conness of California, and Representatives Washburn of Illinois, Smith of Kentucky, Schenck of Ohio, Pike of Maine, and Coffroth of Pennsylvania.

At 4 P.M. the meeting convened pursuant to adjournment. Mr. Sumner, from the committee heretofore appointed, reported that they had settled to appoint as pall bearers on the part of the Senate Mr. Foster, of Connecticut, Mr. Morgan, of New York, Mr. Johnson of Maryland, Mr. Yates , of Illinois, Mr. Wade, of Ohio, and Mr. Conness, of California. On the port of the House: Mr. Dawes, of Massachusetts, Mr. Coffroth, of Pennsylvania, Mr. Smith, of Kentucky, Mr. Colfax, of Indiana, Mr. Washington, of Nevada, Mr. Washburn, of Illinois.

They also recommend the appointment of one Member of Congress from each State and Territory to act as a Congressional Committee to accompany the remains of the late president of Illinois, and present the following names as such committee.

Maine, Mr. Pike; New Hampshire, Mr. E. H. Rollins; Vermont, Mr. Foot; Massachusetts, Mr. Sumner; Rhode Island, Mr. Anthony; Connecticut, Mr. Dixon; New York, Mr. Harris; New Jersey, not appointed; Pennsylvania, Mr. Cowan; Delaware, not appointed; Maryland, not appointed; Ohio, Mr. Schenck; Kentucky, Mr. Smith; Indiana, Mr. Julian; Illinois, not appointed. The delegation for Missouri is not yet appointed. Michigan, Mr. Chandler; Iowa, not yet appointed; Wisconsin, not appointed; California, Mr. Shannon; Minnesota, Mr. Ramsey; Oregon, Mr. Williams; Kansas, Mr. S. Clarke; Western Virginia, Mr. Whaley; Nevada, Mr. Nye; New Mexico, not yet appointed; Utah, not appointed; Washington Territory, not appointed; Nebraska, Mr. Hitchcock; Colorado, Mr. Bradford; Dakotah, Mr. Nadd; Arizona, not appointed; Idaho, Mr. Wallace; Montana, not appointed.

They also recommend the adoption of the following resolution:

Resolved, The the Sergeants-at-Arms of the Senate and House of Representatives, with their necessary assistants, be requested to attend the committee accompanying the remains of the late President, and to make all the necessary arrangements.

All of which was concurred in unanimously.

Mr. Sumner, from the same committee, also reported the following, which was unanimously agreed to:

“The members of Senate and House of Representatives now assembled in Washington, humbly confessing their dependence upon Almighty God, who rules all that is done for human good, make haste, at this informal meeting, to express the emotions with which they have been filled by the appalling tragedy which has deprived the nation of its head and covered the land with mourning, and in further declaration of their sentiments unanimously.

1. Resolve, That in testimony of veneration and affection, for the illustrious dead, who has been permitted, under Providence, to do so much for his country and for liberty, they will unite in the funeral services, and by appropriate committee, will accompany his remains to their place of burial in the State from which he was taken for the national service.

2. That in the life of Abraham Lincoln, who, by the benignant favor of republican institutions, rose from humble beginnings to the height of power and fame, they recognize an example of purity, simplicity and virtue which should be a lesson to mankind, while in his death they recognize a martyr whose memory will become more precious as men learn to prize those principles of constitutional order and those rights, civil, political and human, for which was made a sacrifice.

3. That they invite the President of the United States , by solemn proclamation, to recommend to the people of the United States to assemble on a day to be appointed by him, publicly to testify their grief and to dwell on the good which has been done on earth by him whom we now mourn.

From Page 3:

4. That a copy of these resolutions be communicated to the President of the United States, and also that a copy be communicated to the afflicted widow of the late President, as an expression of sympathy in her great bereavement.

The meeting then adjourned.

L.F.S. Foster, Chairman.
Schuyler Colfax, Secretary

= = = = = = = = = =

The Remains to be Taken to Illinois.

It is probable that the remains, after lying at the Capitol during Wednesday night, will be removed on Thursday morning in charge of the committee to Illinois by the way of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland and Toledo. The time at which the corpse will reach these different cities has not yet been arranged. The subject is now under advisement. At least a week will be occupied in reaching Illinois, as there will be stoppages on the way.

Many Philadelphians at present in Washington are anxious that the committee from Sprinfield, Illinois, should pass through Philadelphia on their way West with the remains. –Washington Chronicle.

Mrs. Lincoln.

Mrs. Lincoln bears up under her terrible bereavement with becoming fortitude. The families of the members of the Cavinet have paid her every attention, and many of our citizens have tendered her their sincerest sympathies and striven to alleviate the fearful agonies of mind which she has endured for three days past. Mrs. Welles, wife of the Secretary of the Navy, has been with her most of the time since the terrible tragedy occurred.

= = = = = = = = = =

Intense Excitement in the North.

New York, April 17.–Three parties were today sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in the penitentiary for uttering treasonable sentiments.

Last evening a squad of young men visited the house of Mrs. John Tyler, the widow of the Ex-President, on Staten Island, and demanded and obtained a rebel flag, which has long been hanging prominently in her parlor. The parlor of Mrs. Tyler is where Secessionist have often gone during the war, and was the headquarters of a rebel sewing society. The flag was sent to General Dix.

Several Secessionists are reported to have been beaten by infuriated Unionists, on hearing their comments made on the assassination.

A man was thrown from the Brooklyn ferry boat into the river to-day for using disloyal language. His life was saved by a passing boat.

Baltimore, April 17.–Westminster, Md., was the scene of quite an excitement on Saturday when the news of the murder of the President became known. A public meeting was held, when resolutions were adopted declaring that no person who had ever left Carroll county to take up arms in the interest of the rebellion should be permitted to return to it, no matter whether he be paroled or not. The office of the Democrat, a paper notorious for its abuse of Mr. Lincoln, was visited by the citizens, its proprietor ordered to leave, and contents of the establishment destroyed.

Washington, April 17.–This morning several prisoner from the Prince George’s county were brought in. As they were being taken to the Old Capitol prison a large crowd followed, increasing in numbers at every corner, although, as a precautionary measure, the route taken was down the back streets.

The crowd was a motley one, all ages and colors being represented, and the report that the parties were Booth and Surratt gaining credit, as they reached the vicinity of the Baltimore depot the cry was raised, “Hang them!” “kill them!” and at the same the prisoners were attacked with stones; they were struck several times, as were also the guard.

After the guard had been struck a number of times, reaching a street, faced about and made ready to defend themselves with their muskets. The prisoners were delivered to the superintendent of the prison, each of them having been somewhat bruised by the flying missiles. Among other arrests to-day were, it is said, several men in female apparel.

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