Who of us knows when her or his last day will be? President Lincoln’s last day, Good Friday of 1865, started out just about as normal as any other day. He was on the way to his office by 7 a.m. A portrait of President Andrew Jackson was in its place over the office mantelpiece. In that office Mr. Lincoln spent basically an hour working at his desk. Dispatches from the front had, obviously, become less urgent than those of previous months. Soon he saw that it was time for breakfast. Today there were the four of them: Mary, himself, Tad and Robert. Two other sons, Edward and Willie, lay in their graves.
The president’s breakfast consisted of an egg and some coffee. He and Robert talked about General Lee and the surrender at Appomattox. Robert was at the moment a captain in the Union Army and had been granted leave to visit his family. The two studied a portrait of General Lee. Lincoln was very glad the war was finally over.
He returned to his office and received visitors. Many times they wanted jobs or favors such as the release from prison of some friend or relative. Washington had relaxed somewhat because the war was over and those in charge of the president’s security felt that the highest level of danger to him had now passed.
Mr. Lincoln remembered he had promised Mary he would send a messenger to Ford’s Theatre to inform the manager the Lincolns would attend the performance that night. Then there was a lengthy cabinet meeting to preside over. Lincoln reiterated his desire that there be no more persecution and killing in the nation.
Dreams and Fresh Air
After lunch the Lincolns took a long carriage drive. They talked about this second term then going back to Springfield to their new farm and Mr. Lincoln’s old law practice. When Mr. Lincoln said he had never been happier, Mrs. Lincoln pointed out that he had felt exactly the same way just before little Willie’s death three years ago. This remark made Lincoln remember he had dreamed vividly about his death a few weeks earlier. Also, he had once said: “…if it is His will that I must die by the hand of an assassin, I must be resigned…” (p 21)
The president’s night guard was one John Parker, a member of the Washington police force. Mrs. Lincoln herself had chosen him for White House service, but it is presumed she was uninformed of his background. He was considered “careless, unreliable, and dishonest.” (p 32) He had been tried by the police board 14 times for various violations.
The Killer Strikes
Between 10:15 and 10:30 p.m., as the audience roared with laughter, the shot from John Booth’s .44 caliber derringer rang out in the President’s Box. The bullet entered the president’s skull over his left ear. He slumped over in the upholstered walnut rocker, one lovingly placed in the box that day by the manager himself, and never again regained consciousness.
Hayman, Leroy. The Death of Lincoln. NY: Scholastic, Inc., 1968.