Letter from Apr. 16, 1865

Helen DuBarry to Ann Bratt

  • Full Title

    Helen Augusta Bratt DuBarry to Ann A. Lamoureaux Bratt

  • Description

    Helen DuBarry writes to her mother, providing a detailed account of the assassination of President Lincoln, which Helen witnessed as a member of the audience at Ford's Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865.

  • Transcription

    Washington. D. C.

    April 16th/65.

    My dear mother

    Beck has not come from the Office yet and I have not received your letter but as I have a good deal to write I will begin now. I suppose by tomorrow the mail will go out from Washington no trains left yesterday. What I have to write is with reference to the great tragedy which has caused a nation to mourn. I had the misfortune to be at Ford's Theatre on Friday evening & to hear the shot which deprived us of a President.

    It was given out during the day that Mr Lincoln had engaged a "Bop" for the President & Genl Grant and having a desire not only to see them but to see the "American Cousin" performed, we determined to go. Before we went Beck knew that the Genl would not be there as he was to leave for his home in the evening. We went a few moments before the time & waited some time for the President to arrive & as he did not come until late the performances Commenced & we thought we were to be disappointed in not seeing him. In the midst of the 2nd scene there was a great applause & cheering and our attention was directed from the stage to the Dress Circle, close to the wall, walked Miss Harris, Mrs Lincoln, Major Rathbone, a gentleman the President & another gentleman behind him. These two gentleman were watchman in citizens dress who have always accompanied the President since the War commenced We followed him with our eyes until he entered the Box little thinking we were looking for the last time at him. He sat looking on the stage his back to us and out of our sight behind the flags except occasionnally when he would lean forward. Mrs Lincoln was in front of him and we only saw her occasionally. We saw her smile & turn towards him several times. It was while every one's attention was fastened upon the stage that a pistol shot was heard causing every one to jump (as an unexpected shot will) & look up at the President's Box merely because that was the direction of the sound and supposing it to be part of the performance we all looked again on the stage, when a man suddenly vaulted over the railing of the box, turned back & then leaped to the stage, striking on his heels & falling backward but recovered himself in an instant and started across the stage to behind the scenes florishing a knife, the blade of which appeared in the reflection of the bright lights to be half as long as a man's arm, and making use of the expressions you have seen in the Papers. He had nearly disappeared before we could understand what it was or what had happened. We first thought it was a crazy man, When he jumped on to the stage we all jumped to our feet & stood spellbound, as he crossed the stage some few started toward the stage crying, our President! our President is shot! Mrs Harris was seen to lean over the railing for water & that was all that broke the stillness in that box. If those watch had called out as soon as the man jumped to give us an idea of what had happened he could have been caught as he stopped to recover himself after the fall. There was not a sould to be seen in the Box and perfect stillness there, which all added to our bewilderment. One man got up on a chair on hearing that the man was caught & said "take out the ladies & hang him here on the spot". Beck fearing a mob hurried me out, leaving the audience still standing awed & speechless. We waited outside until a young man came out & said He is dead, no doubt about it!"

    Before we got out of the door someone said "It was J. Wilkes Booth" and before I got out, the idea that our Chief was gone, almost our sole dependence, overcame me & I could not control myself & sobbed aloud we met several outside the door first coming in asking "For God's sake tell me is it true? as if they had heard already rumors of the great tragedy. The reason that we could not suddenly realize what had occurred was because we could not anticipate that an assassin could be in the Box with the President. His only danger seemed to be from a shot fired by one of the audience

    Booth entered the front door and asked some one there if Genl Grant was there that night, then went along to the door of the Box, just where we had seen the President enter, knocked at the door & to the watch who opened it, said he wished to speak to the President, that he had a Communication for him showing an Official envelope & giving him a card with the name of a Senator written on it. The watch stepped aside & the assassin entered & fired immediately while Mr Lincoln was looking on the stage

    The excitement that night was intense & a mob of about 2000 went to the Old Capitol Prison to burn it & they called upon the people to come out & see the rebels burn. The Police & troops were out & put a stop to it or it would have been done. The assassin at Sewards first stabbed the nurse through the lungs & killed him I believe, knocked in the skull of Fred Seward with a butt of a pistol & stabbed another son, all had opposed his entrance and the old man hearing the scuffle at the door & thinking it was some one after him, rolled out of bed on to the floor and the assassin had to lean over the bed to stab him so he only had two cuts, on his neck & face, which will not prove serious if he has strength after his former sickness. There is no doubt that it was Booth who killed the President. Laura Keene says she can testify that it was him

    The secessionists here have all draped their houses in crape, and acknowledge that it was the worst thing for the South that ever happened. their best friend is gone & Andy J will be more severe than Mr Lincoln was. Andy Johnson joined the Temperance Society after the Inaugaration and every one who saw him at his own Inaugaration were much pleased with his manner as he seemed impressed with the responsibility before him.

    There are rumored changes to be made in the Cabinet already there was a strange coincidence at the Theatre Friday evening. In the play the American Cousin won the prize at Archery and on recieving the medal was congratualted. He said he "had but done nothing, all it required was a steady hand a clear eye, to pull the trigger & the mark was hit" as he said it he looked right up at the President

    That was in the play & he looked there merely because he was the principal person present but afterwards it struck everyone as a strange coincidence

    On Friday Beck recieved a letter from Duane who is a prisoner at Point Lookout begging him to forget the Past & to find out for him if he would be allowed to take the oath of Allegiance to the U. S. that he was sick enough of the Confederacy and very sorry he had ever had any thing to do with it. That afternoon Beck went to the Comd Genl of prisoners but he was out, and of course after the awful tragedy Beck did not feel like interceding for a rebel I do not know what he will do now, he may go to Genl Grant if Hoffman won't do anything Don't say anything about it.

    I suppose you have read all I have told you, in the Papers but being there myself I supposed you would like to hear it over just as I saw it. The Authorities think that there is no chance for the assassins to escape but I think it is like hunting for a needle in a haystack. Your letter did not come today and when ever it does not come by Sunday it is because you have left it to tell the latest news of adile and when you wrote last she was a little troubled with her throat. I took a letter from Maggie today

    I will send this letter today before getting your's. If you send me word how much cloth it takes for adile's sacque I can buy it here & make it if I had the pattern. I have forgotten how wide the material was that Mrs Foster bought, but if I know the length of her sacque & the width of the half at the bottom I can tell how much it would take when I see Mrs Foster about the width of the material. We are well & send love, with kissess to adile.

    Your aff daughter

    Helen DuB.

  • Source

    Helen A. Bratt DuBarry Letters

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    The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum holds all rights and permissions.

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  • Cite this Item

    DuBarry, Helen Augusta Bratt, 1839-1925. "Helen Augusta Bratt DuBarry to Ann A. Lamoureaux Bratt". Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Remembering Lincoln. Web. Accessed March 31, 2023. https://rememberinglincoln.fords.org/node/702