“Spoke very Kindly of General Lee and Others”

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First Despatch from Secretary Stanton

War Department, Washington, April 15 – 1:30 a.m.
Major General Dix, News York:

Last evening at about 9:30 o’clock, at Ford’s Theatre, the President, while sitting in his private box with Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Harris and Major Rathbun, was shot by an assassin, who suddenly entered the box and approached behind the President.
The assassin then leaped upon the stage, brandishing a large dagger or knife, and made his escape in the rear of the theatre.

The pistol ball entered the back of the President’s head, and penetrated nearly through the head. The wound is mortal.

The President has been insensible ever since it was inflicted, and is now dying.

About the same hour an assassin, whether the same or not, entered Mr. Seward’s apartments, and, under pretense of having a prescription, was shown to the Secretary’s sick chamber. The assassin immediately rushed to the bed and inflicted two or three stabs on the throat and two in the face.

It is hoped the wounds may not be mortal. My apprehension is that they will prove fatal.

The nurse alarmed Mr. Frederick Steward, who was in an adjoining room, and he hastened to the door of his father’s room, when he met the assassin, who inflected upon his one or more dangerous wounds. The recovery of Frederick Seward is doubtful.

It is not probable that the President will live through the night.

General Grant and wife were advertised to be at the theatre this evening, but he started to Burlington at six o’clock this evening.

At a Cabinet meeting, at which General grant was present, the subject of the state of the country and the prospect of a speedy peace were discussed. The President was very cheerful and hopeful and spoke very kindly of General Lee and others of Confederacy, and the establishment of government in Virginia.

All the members of the Cabinet, except Mr. Seward, are nor in attendance upon the President.

I have seen Mr. Seward, but he and Frederick were both unconscious.

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War

Edwin M. Stanton to John A. Dix, April 15, 1865

On the following forenoon, Stanton, in an official letter to the American minister at London, gave a more detailed account of Lincoln’s death. Considering the circumstances under which this communication was composed, it is a masterly effort. 2    2 Ibid., pp. 784-85  

(“Why was Lincoln murdered?” https://archive.org/stream/whywaslincolnmur00eise/whywaslincolnmur00eise_djvu.txt)

War Department
Washington City, April 15, 1865 — 11:40 a.m.

Hon. Charles Francis Adams,

Minister of the United States to Her Britannic Majesty:

Sir: It has become my distressing duty to announce to you that last night His Excellency Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, was assassinated about the hour of 10:30 o’clock in his private box at Ford’s Theater in this city. The President about 8 o’clock accompanied Mrs. Lincoln to the theater. Another lady and gentleman were with them in the box. About 10:30, during a pause in the performance, the assassin entered the box, the door of which was unguarded, hastily approached the President from behind, and discharged a pistol at his head. The bullet entered the back of his head and penetrated nearly through. The assassin then leaped from the box upon the stage, brandishing a large knife or dagger and exclaiming “Sic semper tyrannis,” and escaped in the rear of the theater. Immediately upon the discharge the President fell to the floor insensible, and continued in that state until 7:20 o’clock this morning, when he breathed his last.

About the same time this murder was being committed at the theater another assassin presented himself at the door of Mr. Seward’s residence, gained admission by pretending he had a prescription from Mr. Seward’s physician, which he was directed to see administered, hurried up to the third-story chamber, where Mr. Seward was lying. He here encountered Mr. Frederick Seward, struck him over the head, inflicting several wounds, and fracturing the skull in two places, inflicting, it is feared, mortal wounds. He then rushed into the room where Mr. Seward was in bed, attended by a young daughter and a male nurse. The male attendant was stabbed through the lungs, and it is believed will die. The assassin then struck Mr. Seward with a knife or dagger twice in the throat and twice in the face, inflicting terrible wounds. By this time Major Seward, the eldest son of the Secretary, and another attendant reached the room, and rushed to the rescue of the Secretary. They were also wounded in the conflict, and the assassin escaped. No artery or important blood vessel was severed by any of the wounds inflicted upon him, but he was for a long time insensible from the loss of blood. Some hopes of his possible recovery are entertained.

Immediately upon the death of the President notice was given to Vice-President Johnson, who happened to be in the city, and upon whom the office of President now devolves. He will take the office and assume the functions of President to-day. The murderer of the President has been discovered, and evidence obtained that these horrible crimes were committed in execution of a conspiracy deliberately planned and set on foot by rebels, under pretense of avenging the South and aiding the rebel cause. It is hoped that the immediate perpetrators will be caught. The feeling occasioned by these atrocious crimes is so great, sudden, and overwhelming that I cannot at present do more than communicate them to you at the earliest moment.

Yesterday the President called a Cabinet meeting,at which General Grant was present. He was more cheerful and happy than I had ever seen, rejoiced at the near prospect of firm and durable peace at home and abroad, manifested in marked degree the kindness and humanity of his disposition, and the tender and forgiving spirit that so eminently distinguished him. Public notice had been given that he and General Grant would be present at the theater, and the opportunity of adding the lieutenant-general to the number of victims to be murdered was no doubt seized for the fitting occasion of executing plans that appear to have been in preparation for some weeks. But General Grant was compelled to be absent, and thus escaped the designs upon him.

It is needless for me to say anything in regard to the influence which this atrocious murder of the President may exercise upon the affairs of this country, but I will only add that horrible as are the atrocities that have been resorted to by the enemies of this country, they are not likely in any degree to impair that public spirit or postpone the complete and final overthrow of the rebellion.

In profound grief for the events which it has become my duty to communicate to you, I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Edwin M. Stanton 3     3 Ibid., loc. cit.

Edwin M. Stanton to Charles Francis Adams, April 15, 1865