John Wilkes Booth, a popular 26-year-old actor who was also a Confederate sympathizer and white supremacist, had been plotting for months to abduct Lincoln and give the Confederacy another chance. But three days earlier, hearing the president talk of his plans to bring the nation together—in particular, Lincoln’s plans to grant some African-American men the right to vote—Booth’s plans turned murderous.
U.S. flags were hanging throughout Washington in celebration of the end of war. At Ford’s Theatre, the President’s Box was decorated with both an American flag and a U.S. Treasury Flag. After the assassination, this symbol reminded American citizens of the leader they had lost.
Soldiers carried the president out onto Tenth Street, hoping to return him home to die in peace with loved ones surrounding him, as was the Victorian ideal. The above image shows the theatre draped in mourning and protected by armed guards after the assassination.
Panicked and shocked citizens poured out of the theatre, unsure if the president’s assassination was a sign of an impending Confederate attack on Washington. That confusion spread across the country, as this proclamation shows.
A bumpy ride from the theatre to the White House could mean immediate death for the president. Doctors agreed they should take Lincoln to a nearby location instead. The above image shows the dirt road outside of Ford’s Theatre.
Like Carl Bersch, some eyewitnesses peered down from their balconies or windows at the chaos playing out on Tenth Street. This image shows the Petersen House and other nearby homes.
Henry Safford, who lived in the Petersen boardinghouse across the street, encouraged the group carrying Lincoln to bring the President into an empty room there.
A torchlight parade celebrating Lee’s surrender passed by the theatre as the Lincolns were inside. This parade prompted Carl Bersch to sketch what soon became a scene of tragedy on Tenth Street.