Old Glory 1863

John Wilkes Booth

On April 14, 1865, five days after the Civil War ended, two interruptions occured during the performance “Our American Cousin” at Ford's Theatre. A late arrival of President Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln was met with roaring applause from the audience followed by the orchestra playing “Hail to the Chief.”1

The second interruption would result in shock and mourning. A deranged actor and Confederate sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth entered the lobby of Ford's Theatre shortly after 10:00 P.M., armed with a Bowie knife and a derringer, or pocket pistol.2 In cold blood, he fatally shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Booth then jumped from the President's box, onto the stage, breaking his leg in the process and held up his knife. It was during the hysteria he was believed to have shouted “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” which means “Thus always to tyrants” in Latin. Booth then escaped from the theatre and rode off on his horse.

Union soldiers of the 16th New York Cavalry tracked down and cornered John Wilkes Booth on April 26 in a Virginia tobacco farm.3 The barn was set on fire to draw Booth out, but he refused to surrender. Sgt. Thomas “Boston” Corbett shot and paralyzed the assassin using a Colt revolver. Within three hours, John Wilkes Booth looked at his hands, said his last words “useless, useless,” and died from his injuries.4

Lithograph of the Assassination of President Lincoln
Currier & Ives, 1865