Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, shepherded the Union through the Civil War and brought about the abolition of slavery with his Emancipation Proclamation. Born Feb. 12, 1809, in a Kentucky log cabin, Lincoln was largely self-educated and practiced law before he began his political career with a seat in the Illinois State Legislature. He was elected president in 1860, prompting several Southern states to secede because of his opposition to slavery. The Civil War began a month after his inauguration in March 1861 and took the lives of more than 750,000 Americans before it ended in 1865, shortly before Lincoln’s April 14 death at the hands of actor and Confederate supporter John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln, the first president to be assassinated, was succeeded by his vice president, Andrew Johnson.
John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Born May 10, 1838, to a noted family of thespians, Booth began his own acting career at 17 with a role in Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” He became a hugely successful touring actor and garnered widespread praise for his natural talents and energetic stage persona. An impassioned supporter of both the South and slavery, Booth worked as a secret agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War. In 1864, he masterminded a failed kidnapping attempt of Lincoln. In the days following Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s surrender, Booth and a party of co-conspirators finalized a plot to assassinate the president, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Only Booth was successful. Twelve days after Lincoln’s murder, he himself was caught and killed on a farm.
Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Ann Todd and Abraham Lincoln were wed Nov. 4, 1842. The pair had four sons — Robert, Edward, William and Thomas — only one of whom, Robert, survived into adulthood. Todd was born Dec. 13, 1818, into a wealthy family in Lexington, Kentucky. She moved to Springfield, Illinois, in 1839, where she met and married lawyer and rising politician Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln’s assassination, of which she was a witness, Todd suffered from severe depression and was briefly committed by her son Robert. She died in 1882.
Edwin Stanton was a lawyer and politician who served as secretary of war in the Lincoln administration during most of the Civil War. Stanton’s effective management helped organize the massive military resources of the North and guide the Union to victory. At the beginning of the war, however, he was a sharp and abusive critic, calling Mr. Lincoln “the original gorilla.” Only later would he become a strong supporter of the president. Because of his fragile health, Stanton tried to resign shortly after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox in April 1865, but President Lincoln rejected his resignation. After Lincoln's assassination, Stanton remained as the secretary of war under the new president, Andrew Johnson, during the first years of Reconstruction.
Private John Nichols
Private John W. Nichols of Company K, 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers, was on guard duty when he heard a rifle shot and witnessed President Lincoln riding quickly on horseback toward his cottage. Nichols discovered the president's signature silk plug hat with a bullet hole through the crown. The next day Nichols claimed that he returned the hat to the president, who assured him that the whole episode was the product of “some foolish gunner” and that he wanted the matter “kept quiet.”
David Herold was a conspirator in John Wilkes Booth’s assassination plot and fled to Virginia with Booth after he killed President Abraham Lincoln. Just prior to the pair’s getaway, Herold led accomplice Lewis Powell to the home of Secretary of State William H. Seward, whom Powell planned to murder as part of Booth’s scheme. Herold was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging for his participation in the assassination.
Lewis Powell attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate Secretary of State William H. Seward as part of John Wilkes Booth’s assassination plot. He was one of four people hanged for the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. Powell gained entrance to the home of Seward, who was convalescing from a carriage accident, by pretending to deliver medicine for Seward. He stabbed Seward repeatedly and also injured two of Seward’s sons, a military nurse and a messenger. All of the victims survived.
George Atzerodt was a conspirator with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Assigned to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, he lost his nerve and did not make an attempt. Atzerodt was arrested on April 20 at the house of his cousin, Hartman Richter. He was hanged along with three other conspirators.
A boarding house owner, Mary Surratt was convicted of taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, charged with abetting, aiding, concealing, counselling and harbouring her co-defendants. Sentenced to death, she was hanged and became the first woman executed by the U.S. government. She was the mother of John H. Surratt, Jr., who was later tried but was not convicted in the assassination.
William H. Seward
William H. Seward served as secretary of state under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson from 1861 to 1869. During his tenure he negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia. Seward survived Lewis Powell’s assassination attempt thanks in large part to the metal brace he was wearing as a result of being thrown from a carriage and breaking his jaw.