Nat Geo's 'Killing Lincoln': The events leading up to April 14, 1865, and who was punished

Simultaneous assassination attempts, co-conspirators, and more

Yahoo Contributor Network

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While Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated tribute to the 16th president of the United States examines the debate over slavery, "Killing Lincoln" -- an upcoming National Geographic docudrama based on the popular book of the same name -- focuses on the day that Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot.

In preparation for this special National Geographic presentation on Feb. 17, here's a look at the events leading up to that fateful night and what happened afterward.

  • According to, John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer, plotted to kidnap President Lincoln on March 20, 1865. Lincoln did not appear where Booth and his accomplices were waiting to grab him, though.
  • Booth then learned the president would attend a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre on April 14. Booth plotted the simultaneous assassinations of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward.
  • Mary Surrat, a Washington, D.C., boarding house owner, was connected to the conspiracy. Surrat's son, John, Jr., knew Wilkes Booth and later admitted to being involved in the plot.
  • Surrat had leased out her family's tavern to former police officer John M. Lloyd. The Crime Museum site points out that Booth hid two Spencer carbine rifles at Lloyd's tavern. Mary Surrat reportedly made a trip to the tavern on the evening of April 14 and allegedly told Lloyd that those "shooting irons" would be needed that night.
  • Booth and David Herold later arrived at the tavern to collect the weapons.
  • Lewis T. Powell launched the attack on Seward's home that night, but co-conspirator George A. Atzerodt failed to kill Vice President Johnson.
  • As the Library of Congress website points out, actor John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box at 10 p.m. on April 14 and fatally shot President Lincoln in the back of the head. Booth reportedly yelled, "Sic semper tyrannis," ("Thus always to tyrants") as he jumped down to the theater stage.
  • The injured POTUS was carried to the nearby Petersen Boarding House, where he died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15.
  • Booth, injured after his dramatic leap, rode on horseback with Herold to the residence of Dr. Samuel Mudd. As the UMKC law website describes, Mudd treated the actor's fractured leg, but the doctor was later implicated in the assassination plot.
  • Sentenced to life in prison, Mudd was later pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. Though the derogatory phrase "Your name is mud" has been attributed to the doctor, historians have pointed out that the expression was already in common use before the assassination.
  • Herold, Powell, Surratt, and Atzerodt were hanged at Washington Penitentiary on July 7, 1865, for their part in the assassination of President Lincoln.
  • Mary Surrat was the first woman executed by the U.S. federal government. Her part in the plot was examined by director Robert Redford in the 2011 biopic "The Conspirator."
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