Saturday, November 03, 2012
The assassination of Lincoln had been talked about and written about more than almost any event in history. I am not a doctor and will not speculate that perhaps he could have lived through his wounds, in fact I will not get in to his medical care much at all as at the time for head wounds there really was nothing much anyone could do. It was a forgone conclusion from the onset that Lincoln's wounds were mortal.
How the President could have been unguarded at a public event is frightening in itself. How Everyone else was so complacent including Lincoln on his safety. How that a audience that included many military figures was not even thinking of checking on the Presidents security detail. To state right now for the few people who may not know this. There was none! The guard who was to protect access to the President was out. There was no security for the head of a nation that was still at war. I cannot fathom this?
Lincoln had not wanted to see the play that night, he had seen it before. But his ever nagging wife wanted too. Lincoln had long since learned that it was much easier to do what his wife wanted than try to change her mind.
However, as the day of April 14 progressed Mary Lincoln was feeling a bit tired and suggested that maybe they forgo the play that night. But at this point Lincoln pushed to go. I guess it was two fold in his mind as it had been advertised, and he wanted to relax a little as it would be the first night out to the theater since Lee surrendered. It seems that the fates were saying do not go. Lincoln asked countless people to go and all had other plans or just did want to go. I would guess in many cases it was not wanting to deal with Mary Lincoln. Who was known by Lincoln's secretaries as the "Hell Cat".
It is very hard to go by what Mrs Lincoln would recall about the afternoon carriage ride with her husband. She was always delusional and sometimes would come up with something right out of the air. But he announced to her that he had never been so happy. She told him not to say that, as that was what he had said before the death of their son Edward.
The war was ending and he was thinking about the end of his term and what they would do. Well he had four more years to go, so I am not too sure he was making much in the way of plans yet. But Mary Lincoln said he want to see the Holy Land, California, and as time went on several other places.
After their long springtime drive they had dinner, of which Lincoln as usual did not really notice, but ate a little to sustain life. That evening they finally got Major Rathbone and his fiance to join them for the play at Ford's Theater. Our American Cousin was playing. The play had been around for a while and had played all over with Joseph Jefferson and this was a bit of a rehashing of its previous success. However this time without Jefferson who was in Europe.
The Presidential party arrived a bit late and worked their way to the box amid a large demonstration of approval for the President. This I am sure was what he needed, to just feel the approval of those who in many cases said he should be removed from office just one year earlier. Remember Lincoln was not at all popular during the war and by 1864 there was little doubt that he would be defeated for re-election. So his political success and re-election was a surprise and now he was reaping his harvest of it.
The play had been interrupted by his arrival and it soon continued
During the play Lincoln had been observing people he knew and had dealings with. He was seen looking to and fro at people like General Burnside who was hard to miss with his massive whiskers on the sides of his face. In fact his name was reversed and we have sideburns in his honor. I am sure Lincoln was checking them all out and seeing who among the audience was friend or foe.
I will forgo all the info on John Wilkes Booth as we all know he shot Lincoln. But how easy his access was is remarkable. Even though he was an actor and well known to everyone there including Lincoln who had seen him perform. He had earlier in the day set up the stage for his final performance before the public. Booth had figured it all out. The fact that Lincoln had no security detail made it ever so more easy.
Lincoln was tired and was enjoying the play and the audiences affections for him. He was pretty close to Mary that evening as they were holding hands. I can only imagine his thoughts that night. I doubt he was thinking much about the play, I am sure he was thinking of how to end the war, deal with the slavery issue specially in the border states, how to control the radical republicans, and what to do with all of the heads of state of the Confederate States of America and move as many slaves as possible out of the country. I think his looking around the theater that night may have been part of his thinking of this and that. But we will never know.
During breaks in the play he felt cold and put on his coat. It also gave him a chance to stretch his legs he would wave at a few people here and there. In those days there really was such thing as central heating and the theater, which had been converted from a church could get drafty at times.
The box that the party had that night at Fords was a slight distance from the stage. Everyone in it needed to look to the right a little to see everything. Mary Lincoln was to his right. So save for when he was checking out the audience he was pretty much looking to the right. When Booth entered the box with gun in hand he moved slowly up to his victim, but Lincoln I think sensed something and started to turn his head to the left. This is when Booth fired. The bullet entered about an inch and a half behind the left ear. The bullet worked itself to right behind the right eye socket. So what did Lincoln see in that last instance of life as he had known it? We will never know once again. But it is a chilling thought.
Lincoln was for all intents dead instantly and would have been dead instantly if he had not been touched. Perhaps that would have saved everyone from a very long painful night in a death watch. But once again as in all of this, who knew?
The first in the box were two young doctors who after checking Lincoln out found he had no pulse or respiration. After finding no wound they felt in the back of the head and found the entry opening from the bullet. Reaching into the small hole they broke through a blood clot and Lincoln gave a moan or grunt and started to breath and his pulse returned. They knew very well as it was known in those days, nearly every head wound was mortal. The wound began to bleed. Not that blood was needed anywhere the box. The box was full of it. We often forget that after Booth shot Lincoln Major Rathbone tried to grab Booth who then stabbed Rathbone in the arm so deep it reached a bone and blood was coming out all over. This is why the tests of DNA of Lincoln are always suspect. As they could be a mix of Rathbone's or Lincoln's blood. Rathbone was so badly hurt he would pass out from lack of blood later. Lincoln was bleeding, but not at the rate Rathbone was.
Lincoln was given a little brandy of which was swallowed. But this was all done as a reaction, not as a voluntary action on his part. To put it into 21st century terminology. Lincoln's brain was starting to shut down like a computer. each program was closed and shut down. In 3 hours the brain would do a core dump and shut down and it would take the body another 6 to die off.
Lincoln was deemed too weak to be taken to the White House so he was carried across the street. It must have been a most dreadful procession. Screaming people, Moaning Rathbone near unconscious, all the while being dragged around by the hysterical first lady Mary. Mary Lincoln was never on solid ground emotionally and this brought her teetering over the edge.
He was brought into the Peterson house and brought into the back room and laid onto the bed. He was too big for the bed but there was no desire to move him again. The doctors kept watch and watched the right side of Lincoln's face start to swell and discolor from the bullet wound. Mustard Plasters were applied to his extremities and the warmth slowly left his body. The would would bleed heavily at times and at others hardly at all. in fact it stopped bleeding altogether around 5:30 in the morning.
Sheets were changed, pillows changed after they were too soaked with blood. Every time Mary Lincoln would come in she would go hysterical, understandably of course. But this was too much for the Secretary of War Edmond Stanton. Who said loudly say get that woman out of here! It was Stanton who took the reigns of control of the United States and kept some order to a very disorderly evening. he was a no nonsense person who had a cold austere personality and was perfect for the job that night. He did this for several reasons, there was effectively no President, Seward the Secretary of State had been critically wounded and perhaps for he knew someone was trying to kill the at the moment Vice President Johnson.
It is often remarked by those there that they had no idea of the physical shape of Lincoln's body, He was just 56 years old, we often think of him being older. But he was a very well muscled middle aged man who had a body of a much younger man than supposed. His face showed all the years and more, but the face seemed to take it all and not the body at all.
By 1:00 am Lincoln started twitching his hands and body some. Also groans and moans and loud snorts would come from him various times. After the twitching Lincoln's brain had shut down. there was no response in the pupils and it was just a flat dead stare,
Now all that was waited for was the entire body to follow suit. The last hours were filled with an awfully loud snore and snorting sounds as he would give heaving breaths and gasps. It was by those who heard it terribly awful to bear. It was the sounds of a body not ready to die. Soon a death rattle joined the other sounds (and there were many) coming from Lincoln's body. Everyone waited for him to die. Finally, as the sun rose to a cloudy rainy day, this finally happened at 7:22 AM.
Lincoln was dead.