Today, April 14, marks the 151st anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States of America.
Lincoln famously died from his wounds the following day at the Peterson Boarding House, where he was carried after John Wilkes Booth shot him in the head during a Washington, D.C., performance of "Our American Cousin."
I have recently finished a fascinating book published in 2011 by Dr. Carl Boyd, a Savannah-based professor of surgery who has a keen interest in presidential assassinations, and who was designated as the surgeon to care for the president and vice president should the need arise when they traveled to southern Georgia.
This short book, called "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln: The True Story Your Teacher Did Not Tell You," is certainly eye-opening. Most of us know that Lincoln was shot by Booth at Ford’s Theater in 1865, just after the end of the Civil War. However, I was not aware that this assassination was a true conspiracy.
There was an earlier plot to kill Lincoln on his way to his inauguration in March 1861, but he was warned and changed his train route and arrival time. The president was mocked in the press for this "cowardly" action, and he vowed to never again change his plans because of security concerns.
The murderous actor, Booth, was the ninth of 10 illegitimate children of his famous actor father — Junius Brutus Booth. The younger Booth began acting at age 17 and was a very handsome and well-known celebrity. He has been called the Brad Pitt of his day by a number of modern commentators. In late 1864, Booth gave up acting to devote himself as a full-time Confederate spy.
The initial plan of the 26-year-old and his co-conspirators was to kidnap Lincoln, but the plan changed to the simultaneous murder of the president, vice president and secretary of state. Secretary of State William Seward was stabbed in the neck but recovered, and the vice president was never attacked.
Booth was shot in Virginia on April 26 during the manhunt as he was trying to escape the Union Army. Eight others were later tried by the U.S. government, found guilty and four of them subsequently executed. George Azeroldt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and Mary Sarratt were all found guilty in the conspiracy to assassinate the president and sentenced to be hanged on July 7, 1865.
Sarratt was the first woman to be executed in the United States, and many called for leniency. However, as the owner of a Washington boarding house, where the conspirators met, President Andrew Johnson refused to alter her sentence, saying, "She owned the nest where the egg was hatched."
The president’s widow, Mary Lincoln — a disagreeable character by all accounts — refused to allow her husband to be buried in Washington and insisted that his body be transported back to their home in Springfield, Illinois.
After lying in state at the Capitol rotunda, President Lincoln’s body, along with the disinterred body of his young son, William Lincoln, who had died of typhoid fever three years earlier, was transported by train 1,665 miles to Springfield.
In the decades following Lincoln’s death, there were a number of attempts to rob his burial vault. In 1901, his body was exhumed to be entombed in concrete and securely reburied.
The incredible Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capital was completed and dedicated in 1930. Like so many others who have visited this Doric Greek temple memorial, I was moved by the inscription, "In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."
I will leave you with a quote from the great man himself, "In the end it is not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years."
God Bless America!