Diary from Apr. 30, 1865

Horatio Nelson Taft Diary, April 30, 1865

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    Horatio Nelson Taft Diary, April 30, 1865

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    Patent examiner Horatio Nelson Taft discussed the events of the previous month, calling April 1865 "the most eventful in the History of our Country."

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    April 30th 1865



    This has been a most eventful month. The most eventful in the History of our Country. We have seen during this month the complete crushing out of the “Great rebellion” by a series of masterly Military achievements. The occupation of the Rebel Capitol by our troops. The surrender of Genl Lee with his Army near Richmond, and the surrender of Genl Johnson and his Army in North Carolina, and above all in importance which has occured in the World during this month, The President of the United States has been assassinated. Abraham Lincoln, the good and kind hearted, was Shot while sitting in his Box at Fords Theatre on the night of the 14th Int at about half past ten O'clock. Mr Lincoln had been in the habit of attending the Theatre occasionaly, perhaps once in four or six weeks, as a relaxation from the arduous duties of his position and constant mental exertion. On this occasion he went rather reluctantly. But it had been published in the Bills that Himself and Genl Grant would be present, and Genl Grant having left the City in the evening train for Phila, the President said that he did not “wish the people to be disappointed” and so went with his Lady arriving about ½ past 8. Miss Harris (daughter of Hon Ira Harris) and Maj Rathbone of Albany were also in the same Box, which was a double one, two being thrown into one. This Box was in the 2nd Tier and entered from the Dress circle through a narrow corridor some three feet wide and eight or ten long. There was a door at the dress circle end and at the other end there were two doors, one for each Box but now the two Boxes being thrown into one, one of the doors was closed. The other was open, and all of them unguarded. The assassin J Wilkes Booth had made his arrangements in the most deliberate manner (probably during that day). He had fixed a bar across the door leading into the dress circle and had cut a hole through the closed door leading to the Box, which enabled him to see the exact position of the President and others in the Box without being seen himself. At about ½ past 10, he entered the corridor from the Dress circle, bared the door to prevent any one from entering, examined the position of Mr Lincoln through the hole in the closed door. Then entered the Box behind all who were there (as they were looking toward the stage) and standing within three or four feet of Mr Lincoln, Shot him in the back of the head. The ball entering about two inches from the left ear near the base of the skull and lodging in the brain about two inches back of the right eye. His head was probably inclined forward at the time. The Murderer rushed to the front of the Box with a dagger in his hand. Major Rathbone caught his coat but Booth struck him on the arm with the dagger wounding him severely, which compelled him to let go his hold. Booth vaulted over the front of the Box and as he did so exclaimed “Sic Semper Tyranis” (Thus To Tyrants). As he Jumped from the box his spur cau[gh]t in the flag and as he struck the to see the exact position of the President and others in the Box without being seen himself. At about ½ past 10, he entered the corridor from the Dress circle, bared the door to prevent any one from entering, examined the position of Mr Lincoln through the hole in the closed door. Then entered the Box behind all who were there (as they were looking toward the stage) and standing within three or four feet of Mr Lincoln, Shot him in the back of the head. The ball entering about two inches from the left ear near the base of the skull and lodging in the brain about two inches back of the right eye. His head was probably inclined forward at the time. The Murderer rushed to the front of the Box with a dagger in his hand. Major Rathbone caught his coat but Booth struck him on the arm with the dagger wounding him severely, which compelled him to let go his hold. Booth vaulted over the front of the Box and as he did so exclaimed “Sic Semper Tyranis” (Thus To Tyrants). As he Jumped from the box his spur cau[gh]t in the flag and as he struck the Stage he came to a crouching position from the effect of the concussion, his hands striking the floor but he recovered himself in a moment and flourishing his dagger he strode across the Stage some forty feet in sight of the spectators and past some of the actors, and reaching the back door which opens into a lane, he mounted a fleet horse and escaped. The lane enters F St betwen 9th & 10 Sts. The audience was paralized for some seconds, but rushed on to the Stage. A Surgeon was called for and Charles S Taft a Surgeon being present was lifted up from the Stage to the Box by those present. Before this the bar had been removed by Maj Rathbone and several men had reached the Box. When Chas reached the Box the President was lying upon the floor. Water and stimulants were used immediately but without avail in attempts to revive him. He was taken up and carried from the Theatre to the House opposite in
    about fifteen minutes after he was shot. A Dr Leale from Armory Square Hospital was the first Surgeon in the box. But Chas did not know that there was any Surgeon but himself present until the President was removed from the Theatre. Chas had charge of him until Dr Stone (the Presidents family Physician) arrived which was half an hour after he was placed on a bed at the House of Mr Peterson, opposite. When the shot was fired Mrs Lincoln was sitting near her husband with her hand on his knee. She says she saw the flash and heard the report of the pistol, thinking it was in some way connected with the the Play. She leaned forward to see what it was, and then looked to Mr Lincoln to see where he was looking. He was sitting with his head droped down and eyes shut. She was not alarmed at this, he sometimes held his head in that way when in deep thought, but she put her hand on his forehead and he not stirring she put it on the back of his head and feeling it wet she immediately withdrew it covered with blood. She then screamed and that is the last she remembered that took place in the Theatre. She says, as she put her hand on his head she recollects that something suddenly brushed past her and rubbing off her Shawl. It was Booth as he jumped from the Box. The President made no noise, nor attempted to speak, nor Stirred a limb after he was shot, nor was he conscious for one moment from that time until he died. When his skin was touched or his hand was taken, there was a slight quiver or tremor of the muscles, but that was all. Mustard paste was applied nearly all over the body and stimulants were given as long as he could swallow in hopes to revive him but entirely without avail. His pulse ceased to beat at 22 minutes past Seven. Chas had his hand on his heart, he said it fluttered or trilled for 10 seconds longer. It was the opinion of the Surgeons that the wound would have killed most men instantly, or in a very few minutes. But Mr Lincoln had so much vitality that he lived nearly nine hours. There were four Surgeons in immediate or active attendance. Dr Stone, The Surgeon Genl Dr Barnes, The Assistant Surgeon Genl Dr Crane and Charles. Some others were present whose services were not required. Most of the members of the Cabinet were there all night. Chief Justice Chase and other distinguished men. Mr Senator Sumner with Robert Lincoln leaning on his shoulder near the head of the bed. Sec'y Stanton was active in giving directions and writing dispatches all night. Genl Meigs Stood at the door to keep out all who were not wanted or to see that the room was not crowded. The room is at the end of the entrance Hall about 9 feet by 15, with two windows and three doors, one door entering from the Hall, one at the left as you enter, opening to an open porch or piazza, and the other at the farther end of the room, opening into another small room from which stairs decended to to [sic] the Basement. Some few individuals came in to the room through that door clandestinely. Mrs Lincoln occupied a room near by with some of her friends who were there. She went in frequently to see the President with Doct Gurley (The family Pastor) who had been sent for about 3 O'clock. She was not in the room when he died. Robert Lincoln was there and Dr Gurley, the two private Secretaries of the President Nicolay and Hay. Upon one occasion when Mrs L went in and saw her husband she fainted and was carried out insensible. It was thought best for her not to be there when he died. Dr Gurley prayed by the bedside of the President when he first arrived (at 3 o'clock). Then went into the room where Mrs Lincoln was and prayed with her, and remained with her most of the time, accompanying her and supporting her into the room of the dying President when she visited it. After the death Dr Gurley who was standing near Mr Stanton said shall we have any religious exercises here or elsewhere now? Yes said Mr Stanton offer Prayer ________ now and here. For the last half hour before the death, the utmost stillness had prevailed in the room, not a word, not a whisper was heard. The President of the United States dying, surrounded by his Cabinet and many of the first men in the Nation standing like statues around the bed presented a scene for an artist seldom equaled for solemn grandeur. It is to be hoped that it will yet be transfered to Canvass. After the President died Dr Gurley went to Mrs L and told her “the President is dead.” O - why did you not let me know? Why did you not tell me? “Your friends thought it was not best. You must be resigned to the will of God. You must be calm and trust in God and in your friends.” She soon after left, with Dr G for her Home. She was asked during the night if her son “Tad” (Thaddeus) (a boy about twelve years old) should be sent for. “O, my poor “Taddy” what will become of him? O do not send for him, his violent grief would disturb the House.” When they reached the Presidents house “Tad” met them on the Portico. “Where is my Pa? Where is my Pa? He kept repeating the question till they got into the room of Mrs Lincoln. He had heard that his Pa had been shot but evidently expected him when his mother came. He was very much excited and alarmed but had not thought that his Pa could be dead. “Taddy” your Pa is dead” said Dr Gurley. He was not prepared for this. He screamed in an agony of grief “O what shall I do? What shall I do? My Brother is dead. My Father is dead. O what shall I do? What will become of me? O what shall I do? O mother you will not die will you. O don't you die Ma. You wont die will you Mother? If you die I shall be all alone. O dont die Ma.” Dr Gurley said that up to that time he himself had not shed a tear, but he could not witness “Tads” grief unmoved and the Tears flowed freely. He said, when I got back to my own house at about 10 o'clock that morning, “I felt as though I had been engaged all night in a terrible Battle and had but just strength enough left to drag myself off the field.”

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    Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

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    This item is in the public domain and may be reproduced and used for any purpose, including research, teaching, private study, publication, broadcast or commercial use, with proper citation and attribution.

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    Horatio Nelson Taft. "Horatio Nelson Taft Diary, April 30, 1865". Remembering Lincoln. Web. Accessed July 28, 2017. http://rememberinglincoln.fords.org/node/691