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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Abraham Lincoln at City Point

On March 20, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln telegraphed Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, who had invited Lincoln to visit him for a “day or two” at City Point, Virginia. Lincoln told Grant that he “had already thought of going immediately after the next rain.” I discuss this visit in a section of my forthcoming book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.

City Point - The Peacemakers - George Healy

Lincoln at City Point and Richmond

Hearing from Washington that Lincoln looked even more worn out than usual, in March General Grant invited Lincoln to City Point (near Petersburg). Lincoln immediately accepted. He was not alone; Mary insisted on joining him, so a party including Tad Lincoln, a maid, a bodyguard, and a military aide boarded the River Queen on March 23 for the trip. Son Robert, now an adjunct to Grant’s army, met them on their arrival the next evening. Lincoln took time to visit the troops and confer with Generals Grant and Sherman and Admiral David Porter. Overall it was a restful but productive visit. That changed when Mary Lincoln flew into a jealous rage at seeing General Ord’s wife riding “too close” to her husband, after which Lincoln sent Mary back to Washington. Soon after her departure, however, the Union captured Richmond, which the Confederate leadership had abandoned. She insisted on returning, this time bringing a large entourage that included her ex-slave dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, who had been born in nearby Petersburg.

During Mary’s absence, Lincoln took Tad into Richmond. After landing at the docks, Lincoln and Tad walked the mile or so to the Confederate White House that had served until a few days earlier as Jefferson Davis’s office. Surrounding him along the way were hundreds of ex-slaves who wanted to see the “Great Emancipator,” while anxious white southerners stared suspiciously from their windows.

On April 8, Lincoln visited the Depot Field Hospital at City Point. Over the course of a full day he shook the hands of more than 6,000 patients, including a few sick and wounded Confederate soldiers. Feeling the pressure of business, Lincoln left City Point to return to Washington that evening. The next day, Lee surrendered his army to General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the war.

The mood in Washington was euphoric. After four long years the war was essentially over.

That mood would dramatically change only a few days later as Lincoln was struck down by an assassin’s bullet. The making of Lincoln’s legacy, both myth and reality, would begin immediately.

[The above is adapted from Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due in Barnes and Noble stores in 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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Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity Now Available in Spanish!

My book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity, is now available in Spanish!

Tesla Wizard Spanish edition

The book has been a fantastic success in the United States and worldwide. Dutch and German editions (below) have been available since 2015, and now as of January 1, 2017, you can pick up a Spanish edition.

Translations into other languages, including Turkish, are currently in negotiations.

After you read Tesla, check out my Edison book, where Tesla finally gets the recognition he deserves in an Edison biography. Also, don’t forget to check out my two Tesla e-books below.

And watch for Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due in Barnes and Noble stores July 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.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

Prologue – Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America

Lincoln first inaugurationToday I head up to Gettysburg for the annual Lincoln Forum conference featuring such eminent historians as Frank Williams, Harold Holzer, Sidney Blumenthal, Richard Brookhiser, Edna Greene Medford, and many others.

At the same time I am finishing up the text for my next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Save America, due out in 2017. The following is a snippet from the prologue.

Abraham Lincoln stood beneath the unfinished dome of the United States Capitol, gazing over the crowd gathered below him with melancholy and trepidation. Begun six years earlier to replace the old copper-clad wooden dome, the new cast iron dome augured the duties ahead of him, that of rebuilding the nation. Lincoln was apprehensive, unsure he could accomplish all that awaited him.

The wooden platform constructed on the East side of the building for his inauguration was wet from the morning’s rain, and some people had umbrellas to protect them from the continuing drizzle. The gloomy mood was appropriate, as already between the November elections and March 4, 1861 seven states in the deep South had seceded from the Union. They would be joined by four more shortly after.

Lincoln would give his inaugural address, then be given the oath of the office of the president by Chief Justice Roger Taney, whose Dred Scott decision a few years earlier had further divided the nation and enlarged the growing rift between free states and slave states. Lincoln wondered if he would be able to keep the Union together.

“We must not be enemies. We must be friends.”

Speaking to the South, Lincoln tried to reassure them that “the government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without yourself being the aggressors.” He pleaded with them not to destroy the goals of the founders, which by establishing the Constitution, was “to form a more perfect union.”

But he was also firm:

“You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ it.” 

After being sworn into office, Lincoln road alone in his carriage up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. It would be up to Lincoln over the next four years to find a way to save America.

I’ll have more on the book, and plenty of photos, after my return from the Lincoln Forum.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (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 is on Abraham Lincoln, due out in 2017.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

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