Posted by: Ed Darrell | September 10, 2010

Stuff in Lincoln’s pockets, the night he was shot

The Library of Congress and the History Channel team up on a short video showing what Lincoln had in his pockets at Ford’s Theater, the night he was shot.

This video explains the stuff in the photo in the header of this blog.


  1. this sound and is interesting mr. darrell .:D


    • I wonder why he had a pocket knife.

  3. That’s a very big, and important question, Erica!

    Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor and sympathizer with the Confederacy. Booth sneaked a gun into the theater and entered the president’s box in the balcony, and shot him there. Lincoln died the next morning.

    Did you not study that event in your previous U.S. history course? Or do you not remember that particular event? (I’m asking because it would be useful to know what didn’t get covered in your previous courses.)

    Here is a very short description of the events of that night, from the Library of Congress’s American Memory section (just click on this sentence).

    According to that article:

    On the evening of April 14, 1865, while attending a special performance of the comedy, “Our American Cousin,” President Abraham Lincoln was shot. Accompanying him at Ford’s Theater that night were his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, a twenty-eight year-old officer named Major Henry R. Rathbone, and Rathbone’s fiancee, Clara Harris. After the play was in progress, a figure with a drawn derringer pistol stepped into the presidential box, aimed, and fired. The president slumped forward.

    The assassin, John Wilkes Booth, dropped the pistol and waved a dagger. Rathbone lunged at him, and though slashed in the arm, forced the killer to the railing. Booth leapt from the balcony and caught the spur of his left boot on a flag draped over the rail, and shattered a bone in his leg on landing. Though injured, he rushed out the back door, and disappeared into the night on horseback.

    A doctor in the audience immediately went upstairs to the box. The bullet had entered through Lincoln’s left ear and lodged behind his right eye. He was paralyzed and barely breathing. He was carried across Tenth Street, to a boarding-house opposite the theater, but the doctors’ best efforts failed. Nine hours later, at 7:22 AM on April 15th, Lincoln died.

    At almost the same moment Booth fired the fatal shot, his accomplice, Lewis Paine, attacked Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward. Seward lay in bed, recovering from a carriage accident. Paine entered the mansion, claiming to have a delivery of medicine from the Secretary’s doctor. Seward’s son, Frederick, was brutally beaten while trying to keep Paine from his father’s door. Paine slashed the Secretary’s throat twice, then fought his way past Seward’s son Augustus, an attending hospital corps veteran, and a State Department messenger.

    Paine escaped into the night, believing his deed complete. However, a metal surgical collar saved Seward from certain death. The Secretary lived another seven years, during which he retained his seat with the Johnson administration, and purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867.

    There were at least four conspirators in addition to Booth involved in the mayhem. Booth was shot and captured while hiding in a barn near Bowling Green, Virginia, and died later the same day, April 26, 1865. Four co-conspirators, Paine, George Atzerodt, David Herold, and Mary Surratt, were hanged at the gallows of the Old Penitentiary, on the site of present-day Fort McNair, on July 7, 1865.

    You should go read that at the Library of Congress site and see the drawings there.

    Though there had been one attempt to assassinate a U.S. president before that, this was the first time such a scheme came close to success — Lincoln was the first U.S. president to die from an assassin’s attack (he was the third to die in office, after Harrison and Taylor).

    Would you like to do a report on Lincoln’s assassination?

    Eye Witness to has a longer article on the assassination of President Lincoln. The PBS program, “American Experience,” has a good film on Lincoln’s assassination that you can watch on line (probably about an hour).

  4. While we’re on the subject of Lincoln’s death…how was John Wilkes Booth captured after the assassination, Mr. Darrell?

  5. Bryan, Booth was captured on April 26, but only after being shot. He was cornered in a barn, but he refused to come out. The soldiers who had cornered him set the barn on fire. Booth still didn’t come out. He died from the bullet exchange in a shootout there. See the comment immediately above yours.

  6. I wnoder why he had a pocket knife.

    • Most American men carried a small knife until about the middle of the 20th century — it was a very useful tool.

      Cigar smokers used their pocket knives to cut the end off the cigar. Users of chewing tobacco would use a knife to cut off a piece of tobacco to chew, if they carried the full leaf kind which was common into the 20th century.

      A pocket knife served to open letters. Men who worked in retail used their knives to open packages of goods shipped to the store, and to cut the string they used to package up goods shipped out to customers.

      In rural life, men used pocket knives for a variety of purposes; farmers especially had need of a knife to sample plant crops and for a variety of purposes dealing with the care of livestock.

      Lincoln grew up on the frontier. Any home prior to about 1880 would have a variety of candles and lamps, whose wicks would need trimming. A lawyer, as Lincoln, would need a sharp instrument to trim the wicks on his lamp each night as he studied the law books and briefs from the day’s work. Lincoln “rode the circuit” of courts in southern Illinois, and often stayed in hotels and boarding houses where he would be doing his studies at night, without the luxury of a wick trimmer his fastidious wife Mary might keep at home for such tasks.

      Through the 19th century, quills or reeds were used for writing. A person of letters would need a sharp blade to trim a quill to the proper shape to hold ink and to make letters properly. A good writing desk would be equipped with a blade to trim a quill – but a lawyer, traveling out of town, would use a pocket knife for the same task.

      And among other things, a knife could be used for “whittling,” whether a man was actually whittling some object, like a whistle form a willow stick, or just whacking at a stick to kill time on the porch of the general store.

      I’m sure I’ve missed some of the reasons a man like Lincoln would carry a pocket knife. But those are some of the main ones.

  7. From everything I’ve learned he was a great leader.

  8. While we’re on the subject of Lincoln’s death…how was John Wilkes Booth captured after the assassination, Mr. Darrell?

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