Night on 10th Street

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After soldiers carried President Abraham Lincoln into the Petersens’ boarding house, a crowd gathered outside on 10th Street to await word. What would happen to their beloved leader? What would happen to the country?

As word of Lincoln’s assassination spread, people rushed to 10th Street, congregating between Ford’s Theatre and the house where Lincoln lay dying. That night, rumors flew around Washington. The crowd grew into the night; any time someone came out of the house owned by the Petersen family, people demanded to know what was happening.

Meanwhile, doctors inside the house stepped outside at regular intervals to provide updates on the president’s medical condition.

On this page, explore the only first-person representation of the scene, and see what eyewitnesses had to say.

What would it be like to be out on 10th Street that night? What rumors do you think were flying?

  • “People were saying ‘Secretary Seward and his son have had their throats cut in their own house.’ Is it so? Yes, it was true, and the murderer of our President has escaped through a back alley where a swift horse stood awaiting him. Cavalry came dashing up the street and stood with drawn swords before yon house.”


    For hours delicate women stood clinging to the arms of their protectors, and strong men throw their arms around each other’s necks and cry like children, and passing up and down enquire in low agonized voices ‘Can he live? Is there no hope?’”

    Julia Adeline Shepherd, in a letter to her father, April 16, 1865

  • “Large groups of people were gathered every few rods, all anxious and solicitous. Some one or more from each group stepped forward as I passed, to inquire into the condition of the President, and to ask if there was no hope. Intense grief was on every countenance when I replied that the President could survive but a short time. The colored people especially — and there were at this time more of them, perhaps, than of whites — were overwhelmed with grief.”

    Gideon Welles, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, in his diary, April 15, 1865

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  • “Grief and anxiety were making me weak, and as we joined the outskirts of a large crowd, I began to feel as meek and humble as a penitent child. A gray-haired old man was passing. I caught a glimpse of his face, and it seemed so full of kindness and sorrow that I gently touched his arm, and imploringly asked: ‘Will you please, sir, to tell me whether Mr. Lincoln is dead or not?’

    ‘Not dead,’ he replied, ‘but dying. God help us!’ and with a heavy step he passed on.”

    Elizabeth Keckly, dressmaker and friend to First Lady Mary Lincoln, in “Behind the Scenes”, 1868

    Full Source

  • “A rumor ran about that General Mosby and his Confederate troops had taken possession of the city. After leaving the theater, I learned that an attempt had been made on the lives of Seward, the secretary of state, and Andrew Johnson, vice president. And a hundred and one other exciting tales, both true and false, were started and died out.”

    Daniel H. Veader, account found in the Louis A. Warren Lincoln Library, 1920

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President Abraham Lincoln, December 3, 1861 Message to Congress
Photo of Abraham Lincoln Courtesy of Ford's Theatre Historic Site.