Abraham Lincoln Assassinated on Good Friday. Again.

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated this past Friday, April 14th. Good Friday. That is, 152 years ago he was shot by John Wilkes Booth while Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were in Ford’s Theatre watching the comedic play, Our American Cousin. The anniversary is commemorated every year but this year took on special significance because April 14th once again coincided with Good Friday, a rare occurrence. By Sunday the martyrdom of Abraham Lincoln had begun, with Lincoln’s memory taking center stage during Easter services. An annual Easter service at the Lincoln Memorial continues to this day.

Back in 1865 the still living but limp body of the fallen president was carried across the street to the Petersen House where he died the next morning, April 15, at 7:22 am. “Now he belongs to the ages,” spoke Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, before spearheading a 12-day chase that ended in the death of the assassin.

All of this is the stuff of history, well known to most everyone. Less well known are some of the fascinating details. For example, as the crowd at the theater slowly came to realize what had happened a cry rang out “Is there a surgeon in the house?” There was, Dr. Charles A. Leale, a recent graduate of Bellevue Hospital Medical College and commissioned as assistant surgeon only six days previously. As luck would have it, Leale was seated in the dress circle of Ford’s Theater that night, mere steps from Lincoln’s box. His quick action likely prolonged Lincoln’s life by several hours, though he couldn’t save him from his ultimate fate. Leale’s clinical report gives us a detailed record of the event.

John Wilkes Booth derringerThe gun used by Booth was a Philadelphia deringer, a small large-bore pistol fired by loading a percussion cap, some black gunpowder, and a lead ball. Since it can only fire a single shot without reloading, Booth dropped the gun on the floor of the box, slashed Major Henry Rathbone with a large knife, then leaped to the stage. The gun now is on display in the museum of Ford’s Theatre.

Into trivia? Here’s something with which you impress your friends. Deringers were made with “rifling,” that is, grooves in the barrel to spin the ball. Unlike most deringers where the rifling creates a clockwise twist, the one used by Booth had rifling that turned counterclockwise. No matter what the twist, the rifling is designed to improve accuracy by creating a more predictable flight of the ball or bullet. Needless to say the direction of rifling was a moot point since Booth shot Lincoln at very close range.

Ah, but what happened to the lead ball? Well, it now sits in a glass case at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland. Along with it are several skull fragments, just in case you’re into “morbid oddities.”

Soon after Lincoln’s demise, long-time admirer Walt Whitman wrote an extended metaphor poem, “O Captain! My Captain!” Whitman lived in Washington during the Civil War and often watched President Lincoln ride by on horseback, later by carriage, to and from his summer living quarters in the Soldier’s Home. It begins:

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Such a sad, yet exalting, eulogy for the fallen President. It has now been 152 years since that fateful day and battles still remain in our desire to form “a more perfect union.” As Lincoln noted in his Gettysburg Address: “It is for us the living…to be dedicated here to the unfinished work…” that Lincoln “so nobly advanced.”

[The above is adapted from two articles published on the Smithsonian Civil War Studies website. My new book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is in Barnes and Noble stores late summer 2017]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Extra!! President Abraham Lincoln is Dead

Our Dear President is Dead

Assassinated by Cowardly Actor

Watching a Play at Ford’s Theatre

Secretary Seward Attacked – Injuries Feared Fatal

Washington in Mourning

Washington City, April 15, 1865: President Abraham Lincoln is dead. He was shot last night while watching a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre and died this morning at 7:22 A.M. May he rest in the peace he struggled to achieve over the course of this long, hateful war.

Ford's Theatre decorated for President Lincoln's attendance April 14, 1865

Ford’s Theatre decorated for President Lincoln’s attendance April 14, 1865

Witnesses in the theatre immediately identified the assassin as the actor John Wilkes Booth. Booth sneaked into the Presidential box, cowardly shot the President in the back of the head, slashed Major Rathbone, who was attending the play as the President’s guest, and leaped to the stage. Several shocked theatre-goers claimed that Booth screamed Sic semper tyrannis as he landed, before seeming to limp off to stage-right to his escape. A manhunt is being directed by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Simultaneous to Booth’s shooting of the President was a vicious attack on Secretary of State William Seward. The Secretary, who has been laid up in bed since his recent serious carriage accident, was gravely wounded by the assailant. We fear the wounds may be fatal. Also severely wounded was Frederick Seward, the Secretary’s son, and other members of the family. The extent of their injuries are unknown.

Fears of a Confederate conspiracy to decapitate the Union are evident. The coordinated attacks, and the possibility that other attacks were attempted or are imminent, suggest this was a plot by the failed Confederacy to continue the war they so recently lost. The fact that Booth yelled Sic semper tyrannis, the state motto of Virginia, reinforces the likelihood that these attacks were ordered directly from Richmond. It is understood that rebel leader Jefferson Davis is on the run and presumed headed for Texas to continue guerilla warfare. The Army has been put on guard for the remaining Cabinet members and other key federal officials, by order of Secretary of War Stanton.

The scene in Ford’s Theatre was pandemonium. Witnesses claim that when they first heard the shot they assumed it was somehow part of the play. They then could see a struggle going on the Presidential box between the murderer and Major Rathbone, who had been seated nearby with his fiance, Clara Harris, and the President’s wife, Mary Lincoln. According to sources, Major Rathbone sustained a serious knife slash to his arm as he rose to protect the President. The assassin, Booth, the jumped to the stage, uttered his dastardly phrase, then escaped. Several witnesses say that Booth may have injured his leg as he landed on the stage.

Dr. Charles Leale, a young military surgeon, who was in the audience last night, rushed to our beloved President’s box to attend to his injuries. Inside sources inform this reporter that Dr. Leale immediately knew that the wound would be fatal and, desiring that the President not die in a theatre, especially on Good Friday, ordered his transport across the street in into a boarding house owned by one William Petersen, a local tailor. Leale, Cabinet members, and other doctors stood vigil over the dying President through the night until he finally breathed his last breath early this morning, just five days after Army of Virginia General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Grant, who had been announced as the President’s guest at the theatre last night, instead traveled to New Jersey on family business and thus was not present to save the President.

Mrs. Lincoln has been escorted back to the Executive Mansion in a severely distraught condition. The Lincoln’s oldest son Robert is looking after her and his only remaining brother, Tad, who was watching a performance of Aladdin at the nearby Grover’s Theatre when the news of his father’s assassination was reported.

The search for the killer is being directed by Secretary Stanton and the City is on high alert to ensure further actions of this dastardly Confederate plot are thwarted. Funeral arrangements will be announced as soon as they are made. The City is in mourning.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and the Assassination of President William McKinley

Fate can be a cynical maiden. Such is the case with the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. His death involved not only Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison but the son of another assassinated president, Abraham Lincoln.

William McKinley Assassination

President McKinley’s assassination happened six months into the second term of his presidency while he was attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, yet another World’s Fair to highlight rapidly changing technology and cultural exchange. McKinley had a busy schedule but managed to slip in a visit to the nearby Niagara Falls. After seeing the gorge with its beautiful falling waters (being careful to remain on the American side to avoid the inevitable political chatter), the President toured Goat Island where a statue of Nikola Tesla would be erected many years later.

One of the main goals of the Niagara Falls trip was to visit the hydroelectric plant. This, of course, included the alternating current generators and motors designed by Nikola Tesla. It was the alternating current from Tesla’s Niagara Falls system that lit up the entire exposition, including the centerpiece “Electric Tower” and the Temple of Music. There were also electric trains, ambulances, and other vehicles moving people to and fro between different parts of the fair and the Falls.

After marveling at the ingenuity of Tesla’s designs at Niagara, McKinley returned to Buffalo for a reception at the very same Temple of Music being lit by the power of those falls. While shaking hands with well-wishers, McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. It was September 6, 1901.

In an ironic twist of fate, Tesla’s rival Thomas Edison could have saved McKinley’s life. Doctors were unable to locate the bullet in McKinley’s abdomen, and an early X-ray machine designed by Edison was on display at the Fair. McKinley’s doctors, however, deemed the apparatus too primitive to be of use. Edison quickly sent his most modern X-ray machine from New Jersey up to Buffalo, but aides to the President refused to use it for fear of radiation poisoning. While McKinley at first appeared to be recovering, gangrene set into the wound and he died on September 14th, Edison’s machine sitting nearby unused.

And the Lincoln connection? Robert Lincoln was in attendance at the fair at the invitation of President McKinley. Robert, of course, had been nearby when his father, Abraham Lincoln, became the first President assassinated, as well as with President Garfield when he was gunned down. McKinley became the third President close to Robert that was assassinated. Not surprisingly, Robert no longer accepted invitations by Presidents, nor I suspect, were many invitations forthcoming.

[The above is excerpted from my e-book, Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla – Connected by Fate.]

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Abraham Lincoln Dies – April 15, 1865

Abraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln died today. Well, 148 150 years ago today. He was shot by John Wilkes Booth while Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were in Ford’s Theatre watching the comedic play, Our American Cousin. It was April 14th, 1865. Good Friday. He was carried across the street to the Petersen House where he died the next morning, April 15, at 7:22 am. “Now he belongs to the ages,” spoke Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, before engaging in a 12-day chase that ended with the death of the assassin.

Abraham Lincoln's box Ford's Theatre

All of this is the stuff of history, well known to most everyone. Less well known are some of the fascinating details. For example, as the crowd at the theater slowly came to realize what had happened a cry rang out “Is there a surgeon in the house?” There was, Dr. Charles A. Leale, a recent graduate of Bellevue Hospital Medical College and commissioned as assistant surgeon only six days previously. As luck would have it, Leale was seated in the dress circle of Ford’s Theater that night, mere steps from Lincoln’s box. His quick action likely prolonged Lincoln’s life by several hours, though he couldn’t save him from his ultimate fate. Leale’s clinical report gives us a detailed record of the event.

The gun used by Booth was a Philadelphia deringer, a small large-bore pistol fired by loading a percussion cap, some black gunpowder, and a lead ball. Since it can only fire a single shot without reloading, Booth dropped the gun on the floor of the box, slashed Major Henry Rathbone with a large knife, then leaped to the stage. The gun now is on display in the museum of Ford’s Theatre.

John Wilkes Booth derringer

Into trivia? Here’s something with which you impress your friends. Deringers were made with “rifling,” that is, grooves in the barrel to spin the ball. Unlike most derringers where the rifling creates a clockwise twist, the one used by Booth had rifling that turned counterclockwise. No matter what the twist, the rifling is designed to improve accuracy by creating a more predictable flight of the ball or bullet. Needless to say the direction of rifling was a moot point since Booth shot Lincoln at very close range.

Ah, but what happened to the lead ball? Well, it now sits in a glass case at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland. Along with it are several skull fragments, just in case you’re into “morbid oddities.”

There is much more to come on the science of Abraham Lincoln. Stay tuned!

More about Abraham Lincoln.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.

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Martin Luther King Assassination Anniversary

Martin Luther KingToday is the anniversary of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the famed civil rights leader. He was shot April 4th while standing on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King’s contributions and impact on American society are well known, and yet immeasurable. The following short YouTube clip explains the assassination well:

In 2011 a memorial was erected to Martin Luther King along the tidal basin in Washington DC. You can see some of my photos in this piece from last year.

More information on Martin Luther King can be found here.

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Abraham Lincoln’s Air Force – Balloons in the Civil War

Who knew Abraham Lincoln had an air force during the Civil War?  Well, James L. Green knew.  And James L. Green is the authority on Abraham Lincoln’s balloon air force.  Jim’s fascination with Lincoln’s balloon corps goes back 30 years, and perhaps not surprisingly, Jim is the Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters in Washington DC.  During this time he has conducted research into Civil War balloons and has spoken at a number of events.  Which is how I first met Jim – he presented Mr. Lincoln’s Air Force at the February 12th, 2012 meeting of the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia.

The most well known Civil War balloonist was Thaddeus S. Lowe, who took over the title of “Chief Aeronaut” when John Wise quit the job after First Bull Run. According to Jim, Lowe was a skillful manager and lobbyist who was able to drum up government support to “build seven balloons, 12 field gas generators, and a flat-topped balloon barge.”  The latter served as an “aircraft carrier” for launching his balloons into the skies over battlefields and along the Potomac River to keep an eye on Confederate troop movements. Jim’s account of “Civil War Ballooning During the Seven Days Campaign” is a fascinating read.

Under Lowe’s direction Lincoln’s Air Force gave a unique and fundamental advantage to the North.  Unfortunately, it only lasted for a short time.  In a dispute with the government, who was trying to reign in Lowe’s sometimes self-serving management style, Lowe quit. Without a champion the balloons ended up in a warehouse in DC and were never again employed in the War effort. A lapse that may have extended the length of the war.

I had the pleasure of joining Jim for lunch not long after his Lincoln Group presentation.  While I believe I have a large collection of books on Abraham Lincoln (650 titles and nearly 1000 volumes), I was humbled to learn that Jim has 1200 books about the Civil War.  Given my own interest in Lincoln’s fascination with science and technology (the book I’m currently working on) I asked Jim how much Lincoln was involved in the balloon corps.  Not surprisingly, Lincoln definitely favored this use of “modern” technology in the war effort.  How much and in what ways is something that Jim may address in the book he is preparing about Mr. Lincoln’s Air Force.

In the end Jim and I traded recommendations for books of interest from our collections and agreed to keep in touch.  Jim has been invited to speak at an event near Richmond in May and is working with the Civil War Trust to help identify locations of the balloon stations during the Peninsula Campaign.

To view Jim’s February 12, 2012 presentation to the Lincoln Group of DC, check out the YouTube video below.

More on my Abraham Lincoln activities.

David J. Kent is the author of the forthcoming book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

[Daily Post]