- When I was a boy in the 1940s, Abraham Lincoln was regarded
with even greater reverence than he is today. His martyrdom at the hands
of a demented assassin seemed to seal his sainthood for all time.
- My grandmother had a marvelous library, which included
hundreds of volumes, particularly on history. She even had the official
Matthew Brady volume of Civil War photographs. Because I had access to
such a treasure trove of information and because I became a history buff
at a very early age, I read a much more complete version of the man who
had assassinated Lincoln than was readily available in our schoolbooks.
- I discovered that the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, had
come from a family of famous actors. His father, Junius Brutus Booth, was
a noted Shakespearean actor, as was John's brother, Edwin, who became known
as the "Prince of Players." John had also performed on the stage
throughout the country, but his wild and erratic behavior and his outspoken
political prejudices prevented him from achieving a solid career in the
theater. He was an outspoken advocate of the Confederate cause during the
Civil War, and he launched into hateful tirades against President Lincoln
at the slightest opportunity.
- In the late summer of 1864 Booth developed plans to kidnap
Lincoln to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, and hold
the President in return for southern prisoners of war. By January 1865,
he had gathered a small band of conspirators, including Samuel Arnold,
Michael O'Laughlen, John Surratt, Lewis Powell (a.k.a. Paine or Payne),
George Atzerodt, and David Herold, who began using Mary Surratt's boardinghouse
as a meeting place.
- On April 9, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered
to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, there
was no longer any point in Booth's prisoner exchange plan. The South had
- On April 11, Booth was in the crowd that heard Lincoln
speaking outside the White House and became infuriated when he heard the
president suggest that certain freed slaves should be given the right to
vote. In Booth's opinion, it was bad enough that Lincoln planned to free
the slaves; it was against God's will that blacks should be able to read
and to vote. He summoned his co-conspirators and angrily told them that
he now planned to assassinate Lincoln.
- When they learned that Lincoln and General Grant would
be attending Ford's Theater on April 14, Good Friday, they unanimously
decided that would be the night to kill both the President and his leading
- Although the conspirators learned later that day that
General Grant had changed his plans and would not be attending the play,
Booth insisted that they would follow through with the plan to assassinate
Lincoln at the theater. Atzerodt was assigned to kill Vice President Andrew
Johnson in his quarters at the Kirkwood House; Powell and Herold would
murder Secretary of State William Seward. All the murders were to take
place at 10:15 that night.
- After he had fortified himself with a drink at nearby
saloon, Booth entered the front of Ford's Theater around 10:07 and began
to make his way toward the box where the Lincolns were sitting with Clara
Harris and Henry Rathbone. Audience laughter at the comedy Our American
Cousin helped to conceal the sound of Booth's opening the door to the box.
Lincoln's bodyguard, John Parker of the Metropolitan Police Force, had
momentarily left his post, so Booth faced no resistance as he withdrew
his single-shot derringer and fired point-blank at the back of Lincoln's
head. When Rathbone rose to struggle with him, Booth stabbed him in the
arm with a hunting knife.
- Booth jumped the approximately eleven feet to the stage
and snapped the fibula in his left leg just above the ankle. Brandishing
his knife and shouting, "Sic semper tyrannis" (Thus always to
tyrants), Booth limped across the stage in front of over a thousand shocked
audience members and made his way to the horse that awaited him out the
- President Lincoln never regained consciousness and died
at 7:22 on the morning of April 15. Powell managed to stab Secretary of
State Seward, but did not kill him. Atzerodt did not follow through on
his assignment to assassinate Vice President Johnson. Booth had his broken
leg set and splinted by Dr. Samuel Mudd, then, in the company of Herold,
headed for refuge in the South.
- Early in the morning of April 26, federal authorities
caught up with the two fugitives at Garrett's farm near Port Royal, Virginia.
Herold surrendered, but Booth took cover in a barn and refused to come
out. The barn was torched, and Sergeant Boston Corbett shot the assassin
as the flames surrounded him.
- Mrs. Surratt, Powell, Atzerodt, and Herold were all hanged
on July 7, 1865. Dr. Mudd, O'Laughlen, and Arnold were given life terms.
Ned Spangler, a stagehand at Ford's was sentenced to six years for helping
Booth escape. John Surratt escaped to Canada and was finally apprehended
in Egypt. Brought back to face trial in 1867, a deadlocked jury set him
free. O'Laughlen died in prison that same year. In 1869, President Andrew
Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd, Arnold, and Spangler.
- The account of the assassination of Lincoln summarized
above is the way most of us have heard the story. We know who the assassin
was; we know his co-conspirators; we know everything there is to know about
who killed President Lincoln.
- When I was in high school, I talked my father into subscribing
to True, a popular men's magazine, that always contained fascinating articles
on everything from UFOs, true crime, and little known aspects of historical
events. When I saw the blurb on the cover of the February 1953 issue for
"America's Greatest Unsolved Murder," I was astonished to see
that Joseph Millard's article was about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
I was puzzled. There was nothing "unsolved" about Lincoln's assassination.
- Or was there? By the time that I had finished the article,
I was hooked for life on conspiracies in general and fascinated enough
by Millard's article to continue my own quest into the "unsolved murder"
of Abraham Lincoln.
- Early on, I uncovered some fascinating footnotes to the
enigma of the Lincoln Assassination:
- Although the remains taken from the ashes of the barn
at Garrett's farm were identified as those of John Wilkes Booth, a number
of historians insist that the body was never positively identified as that
of the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln,
- Mary Todd Lincoln suffered extreme mental deterioration
after that terrible Good Friday night in Ford's Theatre. Although she was
confined in asylum for some time and eventually released, she never fully
recovered from the shock.
- Major Rathbone, wounded by Booth's knife as he attempted
to halt the assassin, married Clara Harris, the other occupant of the fatal
theatre box. A few years later, he went insane, attempted to kill Clara
and their children, and spent the rest of his life restrained as a violent
- Boston Corbett, who received praise as the man who shoot
John Wilkes Booth, went mad and was confined to an asylum.
- Later, my wife Sherry and I began a much deeper exploration
into the many theories about who really assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Among
the most popular conspiracies are the following:
- Vice-President Andrew Johnson arranged for the assassination
- Several members of Congress and Mary Todd Lincoln herself
were certain that Vice-President Johnson knew of the conspiracy and did
nothing to stop it. It is known that seven hours before he assassinated
the President, John Wilkes Booth stopped by the Kirkwood House to see Johnson.
When he was informed that neither Johnson nor his private secretary were
presently in the hotel, Booth left a note that read, "Don't wish to
disturb you. Are you at home?"
- Some might conclude that Booth did not trust George Atzerodt
to kill Johnson, so he decided to do it himself. But what about the conspirators'
agreed upon plan to carry out the murders of Johnson, Seward, and Lincoln
at approximately 10:15 that evening? If Booth had killed the Vice-President
at 3:00 that afternoon, the security around the President would have been
tripled--and Lincoln would most assuredly not attended the play that night.
- In Right or Wrong, God Judge Me: The Writings of John
Wilkes Booth, edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper it is revealed
that Booth met Johnson in Nashville in February, 1864, when the actor was
appearing at the recently opened Wood's Theatre. Even more damning, in
Civil War Echoes (1907) Hamilton Howard claims that in 1862, while Johnson
was the military governor of Tennessee, he and Booth had kept two sisters
as their shared mistresses and were frequently seen in one another's company.
- Johnson, born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808, had
been elected governor of Tennessee in 1853, the U.S. Senate in 1856, was
the only Southern senator who had refused to join the Confederacy. However,
Johnson made it clear that he was supporting the Union and not the abolition
of slavery. No one who had heard one of Johnson's rants questioned his
belief that slaves should be kept in subordination. When Lincoln issued
his Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, Johnson managed to
wring a promise from the President that while the proclamation would apply
to all the slaves held by those states in rebellion, Tennessee would be
- Lincoln's first choice for his running mate in the 1864
election had been radical Republican Hannibal Hamlin, then he asked war
hero General Benjamin Butler to join him on the slate. However, the consensus
in the Republican Party held that Johnson would demonstrate that the Southern
states were still part of the Union.
- Lincoln had had little to do with his Vice-President
after Johnson disgraced himself on Inauguration Day by being drunk when
he made his speech to Congress. Slurring his words and making numerous
inappropriate comments, Johnson had been helped to his seat by Hannibal
Hamlin. With the memory of this embarrassment clearly in mind, Mary Todd
Lincoln felt certain that the "miserable inebriate Johnson" had
something to do with her husband's death.
- Secretary of War Edwin Stanton also came under suspicion
as a member of the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, and some believe
that he immediately began a movement to impeach Andrew Johnson, now the
President, because of his own suspected role in the assassination. Johnson
informed Stanton that his resignation s Secretary of War was accepted and
had him removed from office by force of arms. Not long after he left office,
Stanton was found dead, according to rumors, by his own hand.
- Johnson was cleared of any involvement in Lincoln's death
by a special Congressional Assassination Committee had been formed specifically
to investigate him. Regardless of the Committees' declaration of Johnson's
innocence, many Americans regarded him with suspicion for decades to come.
- Lincoln was assassinated as the result of a Confederate
- In the winter of 1864, Union Army Brigadier General Hugh
Judson Kilpatrick conceived a plan to raid Richmond, Virginia, the capital
of the Confederacy, and free more than 1,500 Union officers and 10,000
enlisted men. Abraham Lincoln personally endorsed the raid because the
pressure he received daily from people protesting the Confederate treatment
of the Union soldiers in the swampy prison camp.
- On February 28, 1864, Kilpatrick led 3,600 Cavalry troopers
across the Rapidan River, riding south Richmond. The following day, 21-
year-old Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, who had lost his right leg at Gettysburg,
took 460 men to the west to cross the James River, heading south to Richmond's
lightly defended southern portals. Kilpatrick would engage the main force
of Confederates while Dahlgren freed the prisoners.
- Unfortunately for the Union prisoners, the James River
was too high to cross at the appointed place, so Dahlgren continued toward
Richmond on the wrong side of the river and was confronted by Southern
militiamen. When Kilpatrick, a leader so devoid of skill that his men had
nicknamed him "Kill-Cavalry," met resistance at Richmond's outer
defenses, he ordered a hasty retreat. Left to flounder on their own without
the main body of cavalry, Dahlgren's men headed back toward Union lines
in a freezing rain. On March 2, Colonel Ulric Dahlgren was killed in a
- The story of the ill-fated campaign wouldn't rate more
than a footnote in the annals of the Civil War if what has come to be known
as the Dahlgren Papers had not been retrieved from the young colonel's
inside coat pocket. Captain Edward Halbach skimmed over the orders outlining
the details of the failed raid--then he became appalled and could hardly
believe his senses when he read that the actual objective of the raid was
to burn Richmond to the ground and to kill President Jeff Davis and his
- Halbach immediately brought the incendiary papers to
General Robert E. Lee, who had them photocopied and sent to Major General
George Meade, the Union commander. Although the Civil War was bloody and
ghastly in its scope, there had always been some gallantry and honor employed.
To plan a raid to murder the President of the Confederacy and every member
of his cabinet was beyond outrageous.
- Kilpatrick told Meade that he had read Dahlgren's address
to his men and the photocopy was accurate up to the point where the orders
were issued to burn Richmond and assassinate Davis and his cabinet. Although
the Union commanders protested that the Confederacy had doctored the documents
and Dahlgren's father, Rear Admiral John Dahlgren, a personal friend of
Lincoln's, pronounced them "a bare-faced atrocious forgery,"
it didn't take long for Confederate intelligence operatives to learn that
President Lincoln himself had endorsed the raid and had approved Colonel
Dahlgren as one of its leaders.
- In this conspiracy theory of Lincoln's assassination,
Booth becomes a rebel agent working under orders of Judah Benjamin, the
Confederate Secretary of State, in plots first to bomb the White House
[which failed when Thomas F. Harney, explosive expert, was captured on
April 10th], then to assassinate Lincoln, which succeeded on April 14,
- The Confederate Plot hypothesis has been given more credence
in recent years. A grand Confederate conspiracy is detailed in William
A. Tidwell, James O. Hall, and David Winfred Gaddy in their book Come Retribution:
The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln (1988).
Tidwell expands the evidence in his 1995 work, April '65: Confederate Covert
Action in the American Civil War.
- The Rothschilds and International Bankers arranged Lincoln's
- In this conspiracy scenario, John Wilkes Booth was the
"hit man," the "hired gun" for the powerful British
bankers, the Rothschilds. According to this assassination theory, the Rothschilds
had offered loans to the Lincoln administration at very high interest,
assuming that the Union had no choice other than to accept their outrageous
terms. The frugal and resourceful frontiersman spirit in Lincoln caused
him to refuse the Rothschilds' offer and to acquire the necessary funds
elsewhere. Although his refusal only stung their sense of pride and greed,
the true reason for their planning his assassination was their knowledge
that after the war Lincoln's policies indicated a mild Reconstruction of
the South that would encourage a resumption of agriculture rather than
industry. Additional post-war policies destroyed the Rothschilds' commodity
speculations. With Lincoln out of the way, the Rothschilds planned to exploit
the weaknesses of the United States and take over its economy.
- Lincoln was assassinated by the Jesuits
- In 1856 in Urbana, Illinois, Lincoln defended Charles
Chiniquy, a rebellious priest, against charges of slander brought by the
friends of Bishop O'Regan of Chicago, with whom Chiniquy had a strong disagreement.
Lincoln brought about a compromise settlement that the priest interpreted
as a major victory over the Roman Catholic Church.
- As time passed, Chiniquy feared that the Jesuits, the
soldiers of Jesus, resented Lincoln for this triumph over the church and
might one day attempt to even the score. In 1886, Chiniquy wrote Fifty
Years in the Church of Rome in which he revealed that Jefferson Davis had
offered a million dollars to anyone who would kill Lincoln.
- According to Chiniquy, he visited Lincoln in the White
House on numerous occasions and tried to warn of the Catholic Church's
antagonism toward him. Later, Chiniquy learned that the Jesuits trained
John Wilkes Booth to become their tool of assassination. In 1906, Chiniquy
swore that President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated by the Jesuits
- In 1897, Thomas M. Harris, a member of the 1865 military
commission, wrote Rome's Responsibility for the Assassination of Abraham
- The accusations against the Catholic Church for the murder
of our most beloved President have not dissipated with time. In 1963, Emmett
McLoughlin's An Inquiry into the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln claims
that Pope Pious IX may have been the instigator of the plot to kill Lincoln.
McLoughlin writes, "On one side were dictatorship, slavery, secession,
monarchy, European imperialism, Jesuit chicanery, and a Church-dominated
assault on the Monroe Doctrine, all of which found spiritual leadership
in the one person: Pope Pius IX. On the other side were freedom, emancipation,
Freemasonry, democracy, Latin American struggle against foreign domination,
all embodied in the one person: Abraham Lincoln."
- In 1953, in his article in True magazine, Millard predicted
that scholars and historians would still be debating the truth behind the
assassination of Abraham Lincoln one hundred years in the future. Since
fifty-five years have already passed, it would seem that his prediction
will be accurate. It would appear that the mystery of the Lincoln assassination,
like that of the murder of John F. Kennedy, will never be satisfactorily
- [Some of the material for this article has been adapted
from Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier by Brad and
Sherry Steiger, Visible Ink Press, 2006.]
- Des Moines Register Notes Brad's Lincoln Article
- A blog about famous Iowans
- Comment: (optional)
- Happy Presidents Day
- Posted 2/16/2008 on Des Moines Register
- A few thoughts on the Presidents Day holiday, which I
think confuses everyone. I mean, how many people think of Herbert Hoover
on Presidents Day? Or remember that Iowa played a very important role in
Ronald Reagan's life?
- Many of us think of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington
on Presidents Day, and remember when they were honored more significantly
on their own February birthdays.
- Now we know that Abe is a true Illinoisan, but he had
such strong ties to Iowa and Iowans that he becomes even more special to
us for that reason. (I'm hoping to get to the State Historical Building
to check out those two special Lincoln letters, written to Iowans, that
are on display right now for a short time.)
- Two noted Iowans who, like me, can't get enough of Lincoln
are retired movie and stage producer Paul Gregory, who grew up in Des Moines
and now lives in California, and prolific writer Brad Steiger, who still
lives in our fair state with his wife, Sherry, turning out book after book.
- Paul Gregory, you might recall, produced the 1956 television
special "The Day Lincoln Was Shot," with Raymond Massey as Lincoln,
Lillian Gish as Mary Todd Lincoln and Jack Lemmon as John Wilkes Booth.
(Ah, for the good old Golden Years of TV!!! I would love to get a copy
of this program if anyone knows where to find one.)
- I recently ran across an old news item that said Lemmon
had sprained his ankle just before the special was to be presented on live
TV - but Paul Gregory assured me that it never happened. It was just a
publicist's way to gain attention for the drama. (And it worked! It was
- Meanwhile, Brad Steiger e-mails me about an article he
wrote that questions all we knew about Lincoln's assassination. Just who
was plotting what? Here is a Web link, if you are interested.