A copy of a hand-colored 1870 lithographic print by Gibson & Co., provided by the U.S. Library of Congress, shows John Wilkes Booth shooting U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as he sits in the presidential box at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865. Photo: Reuters
President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated 150 years ago Tuesday. John Wilkes Booth, an actor and supporter of the Confederacy, fatally shot Lincoln in the head at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., during an evening performance of "Our American Cousin." The president died at 7:22 a.m. the next day.
Booth and a group of Confederate sympathizers had originally planned to kidnap Lincoln for ransom, but the plan failed, the History Channel says. After Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered April 9, 1865, the group was motivated to take more decisive action. They set out to simultaneously kill Union Army Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Secretary of State William Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson, hoping to cause chaos in the government.
On the night of April 14, Lincoln, his wife, army officer Henry Rathbone and his fiancée were sitting in a private box when Booth entered. He used a .44-caliber single-shot Derringer to fire at the back of Lincoln's head, timing his shot so audience laughter would muffle the noise. Booth stabbed Rathbone and jumped down onto the stage, breaking his leg and escaping. He is said to have shouted "Sic semper tyrannis!" (the state motto of Virginia, meaning "Thus be to tyrants") before fleeing.
The Union immediately started a manhunt for Booth. About 10, 000 soldiers tracked him to a farm in Virginia, where he was hiding in a barn. The troops set the barn on fire and shot Booth, who died about three hours later on April 26. His last words were, "Tell my mother I died for my country. I did what I thought was best, " the New York Times reported.