Popular actor John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln while Lincoln was watching the play "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater, just blocks from the White House in Washington, D.C. Attending the play with President and Mrs. Lincoln were their friends Henry Rathbone, a young military officer, and his fiancee, Clara Harris.
Illustration by Currier & Ives, courtesy Library of Congress

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  • On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, a popular actor, shot President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was attending a play (the comedy “Our American Cousin”) at Ford’s Theater, just blocks from the White House in Washington, D.C. Booth snuck into the president’s box—Lincoln’s bodyguard had gone out for a drink—and shot him in the head. Booth then jumped onto the stage, shouted “Sic semper tyrannis” (Latin for “ever thus to tyrants”), ran outside, and fled on horseback. Lincoln died the following day.
    Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Union troops less than a week before the assassination, signaling the end of the Civil War. Booth and other Southern sympathizers remained hostile and resentful of the toll the war took on the economy, culture, and independence of the South. 
    Booth suffered a major leg wound when he jumped on stage. He relied on friends and allies to escape to Maryland, and then Virginia. American soldiers eventually tracked him and a fellow conspirator to a barn on a tobacco farm near Port Royal, Virginia. Booth refused to come out, and the barn was set on fire. Booth was shot and killed on April 26.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    assassinate Verb

    to murder someone of political importance.

    Civil War Noun

    (1860-1865) American conflict between the Union (north) and Confederacy (south).

    Confederate Adjective

    having to do with the Confederate States of America (south) during the Civil War.

    conspirator Noun

    person who takes part in a secret plan to carry out an illegal or harmful act.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    economy Noun

    system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

    hostile Adjective

    confrontational or unfriendly.

    independence Noun

    state or situation of being free.

    Latin Noun

    language of ancient Rome and the Roman Empire.

    resent Verb

    to reject or dismiss due to a sense of injury or insult.

    signal Verb

    to communicate using signs.

    surrender Verb

    to give up.

    sympathize Verb

    to understand or share a feeling or emotion.

    toll Noun

    amount of loss or suffering from an event.

    troop Noun

    a soldier.

    Union Adjective

    having to do with states supporting the United States (north) during the U.S. Civil War.