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A Look Back at the Lincoln Assassination and the Conspirators

Stephen Richard Kerbs Exhibit Area
July 16, 2015
August 15, 2015

The year 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. During the past four years, historians and the public have commemorated the events associated with the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. This exhibit features documents about the Lincoln assassination drawn from the extensive manuscripts holdings in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in the Georgetown University Library. Georgetown’s Special Collections houses a vast array of unique materials covering many vital aspects of the assassination. Many scholars have consulted these valuable collections throughout the years, and the Lincoln assassination remains a topic of keen historical interest. Three of the conspirators—Samuel A. Mudd, David Herold, and Samuel Arnold—attended Georgetown College (later University). Woven together, the documents on display reveal some of the controversies and mysteries surrounding the assassination and the conspirators.

Print of President Lincoln’s Entrance into Richmond, Virginia

Drawn by L. Hollis, engraved by J.C. Buttre, and published by B.B. Russell & Co., Boston, 1866. Lincoln’s triumphant entrance into Richmond, Virginia on April 4, 1865 heralded the Northern victory in the American Civil War. This print contains an error as it claimed that Lincoln entered Richmond on April 3. Only a few days later, on April 9, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. It was shocking that Lincoln’s life would be cut short in a matter of days after his visit to Richmond.

Eugene Boss collection: box 1 folder 6.

Photograph of Ford’s Theatre

Photograph by L.C. Handy Studios, Washington, D.C., the successors to Mathew Brady. Ford’s Theatre was established in Washington, D.C. in 1861. President Lincoln often attended plays there. On April 14, 1865, he attended the play “Our American Cousin.”

Eugene Boss collection: box 1 folder 10.

Carte-de-visite Depicting John Wilkes Booth

Photograph by Silsbee, Case & Co., Boston. Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, a noted American actor from a family of actors, entered President Lincoln’s private box at Ford’s Theatre while the play was in progress, shot Lincoln, and escaped from the theater. Booth had been planning to kidnap Lincoln, but he chose to shoot him, instead. Lincoln died on the morning of April 15 in the Petersen boarding house across the street from Ford’s Theatre.

E.H. Swaim papers: box 8 folder 16.

National Intelligencer Newspaper Article (transcript) from April 15, 1865

Describing the events on the day Lincoln was shot, this transcript was copied from an original newspaper clipping. Historian David Rankin Barbee (1874-1958), an expert on the Lincoln assassination, copied the original newspaper clipping by hand. Before the widespread use of photocopy machines (not to mention digital cameras or camera phones), historians often had to transcribe sources by hand.

David Rankin Barbee papers: box 3 folder 150.

Pen and Ink Drawing of Escape Route of John Wilkes Booth

This item, which depicts Booth’s escape route from the Ford’s Theatre, comes from the family papers of A. Homer Byington, a northern journalist who was an acquaintance of President Lincoln. Booth fled Washington, D.C. on horseback along with co-conspirator David Herold.

Byington Family papers: part 2, box 1 folder 28.

Photograph of John Wilkes Booth’s Boot

Photograph taken by Geo. Rainey in 1931. As Booth fled the scene into Maryland with a broken leg, he stopped at the home of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, a medical doctor who set Booth’s leg. For his actions, Samuel A. Mudd was convicted as being part of the conspiracy to murder President Lincoln. Booth left his boot behind at Mudd’s home in southern Maryland.

E.H. Swaim papers: box 8 folder 19.

Photograph of a Painting of Mary Surratt

Photograph by F.L. Bates in 1903. Mary Surratt, who ran a boarding house in Washington, D.C. which was the scene of pro-Confederate activities, was implicated in the plot to kill Lincoln. A military court sentenced her, David Herold, Lewis Powell, and George Atzerodt to be put to death.

E.H. Swaim papers: box 9 folder 27.

Broadside [April 15, 1865] Announcing a Sermon at the First Baptist Church about the Murder of Lincoln

April 16, 1865 was Easter Sunday. Sermons across the United States praised President Lincoln.

Eugene Boss collection: box 2 folder 23.

Silk Mourning Banner Honoring Lincoln

“A Nation Mourns the Departed Patriot, Statesman, and Martyr.” With black obituary trimming [1865].

Eugene Boss collection: box 2 folder 24

Photograph of Lincoln’s Funeral Procession on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Photograph by L.C. Handy Studios, Washington, D.C.

Eugene Boss collection: box 1 folder 11.

Poem: “A Nation Mourns”

Published by Chas. Magnus, 12 Frankfort Street, New York.

Eugene Boss collection: box 1 folder 13.

Photograph of Alleged Mummy of John Wilkes Booth

Lincoln assassination researcher E.H. Swaim investigated the claim that Booth had not been killed at Garrett’s Farm in Virginia but somehow escaped and later died in Oklahoma in 1903. This mummy was allegedly the remains of Booth.

E.H. Swaim papers: box 8 folder 20.

Typed Letter Signed dated July 24, 1979 from President Jimmy Carter to Richard D. Mudd

Samuel A. Mudd’s grandson, Richard D. Mudd (1901-2002), amassed a large collection of research materials and tried to vindicate his grandfather’s name. Richard earned an A.B., an M.A., a Ph.D., and an M.D. from Georgetown. President Carter sympathized with Richard, but he said that he could not overturn a decision of a military court. All he could do, he said, is pardon Samuel A. Mudd, but President Andrew Johnson had already done that in 1869. Although Samuel A. Mudd had been sentenced to life in prison at Fort Jefferson in Florida, he won a pardon, in part, for his actions treating inmates and prison personnel during a yellow fever outbreak. Samuel A. Mudd returned to Maryland, where he died in 1883. The Mudd family still contends that Samuel A. Mudd was merely doing his job as a doctor by setting Booth’s leg.

Richard D. Mudd papers: box 36 folder 2

Acknowledgments: 

Curated by Scott S. Taylor, Manuscripts Archivist.
Photographic Work by David Hagen, Library Photographer and Graphic Artist.