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Abraham Lincoln

By

John T. Marck

 



 

Abraham Lincoln

His Life, Assassination, & Springfield Home

 By John T. Marck

 

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin near Hogenville, Hardin County (now Larue County) Kentucky. His father was Thomas Lincoln, a migratory farmer and carpenter, who was almost always poverty-stricken.  His mother, Nancy Hawks, died in 1818, shortly after the family moved to what is today Spencer County, Indiana, and little is known about her.   Thomas married Sarah Bush Johnson, who turned out to be an excellent step-mother to Abraham, and inspired him to educate himself, Abraham had very little formal education, having attended schools in Kentucky and Indiana that only amounted to about a year of classroom schooling.  He did teach himself, reading over and over the few books that he owned, and any others he could get his hands on.  In 1828, he took a flatbed voyage down river to New Orleans, but little is actually known of the trip.  Two years later, the Lincoln family moved to Macon County, Illinois.  Abraham once again visited New Orleans, before settling in New Salem, Illinois, near Springfield.  Here he worked in a store and managed a mill.  The six-foot-four Lincoln soon became very popular with the townspeople, due in part to his great physical strength and wonderful storytelling, but more importantly his strength of character.  In 1832, he was made a captain of a volunteer company during the Black Hawk War, but his unit never saw action.

 

He returned to New Salem where he became a partner in a grocery store.  The venture failed, leaving him deeply in debt.  From this point Lincoln held many jobs, including a surveyor, postmaster in a small village, and rail splitting.  Meanwhile, he continued his passion for education and studied law.

In 1834, Lincoln was elected to the state legislature where he would go on to serve four successive terms until 1848.  As a representative he acquired popularity as a Whig.  After studying on his own, he obtained his law license in 1836.  The following year he moved to Springfield and became a law partner of John T. Stuart.  As an attorney, Lincoln possessed a great ability in law, was an excellent speaker, and understood the complexities of argument.  Lincoln would also go on to be law partners with Stephen Logan and William H. Herndon.

Lincoln's love interest at this time was Mary Todd.  Although they had a worrisome courtship, they married in 1842.  Lincoln's involvement in politics continued and he was elected to Congress, serving one term from 1847-1849.  During the Mexican War, as a Whig, he attacked the motives behind the war, and thus was deemed somewhat unpatriotic, and lost some of his popularity in his home state.  During his tenure in 1848, he worked for Zachary Taylor, a Whig candidate.  However, believing he would be reciprocated with the position of Commissioner of the General Land Office, and not receiving this position, he became disenchanted, leaving politics and returning to his law practice.

In 1854, he once again entered politics upon getting caught up with the issue of slavery.  He strongly opposed the politics of Stephen A. Douglas, as well as the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  In Springfield and Peoria, Illinois, he gave a speech attacking the question of slavery and beseeched those Democratic ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence.  In 1855, he decided to run for Senate, but was defeated.  By this time his beliefs were straying from that of the Whigs, and leaning toward the new Republican Party, thus he became a Republican this same year.  As an opponent of slavery he rose to the forefront of the Republican Party whose members believed he would carry the support of both abolitionists and conservative Free-Staters at the Republican Convention of 1856.  Consequently, he was considered as a possible vice-presidential candidate.  In 1858, he was chosen to oppose Stephen A. Douglas in the Illinois senatorial race.  Lincoln accepted the nomination and challenged Douglas to several debates, of which seven were held.   Lincoln was exceptional in his speeches and supported the Democratic beliefs and opposed slavery.  Although Lincoln would not have been classified as an abolitionist, he did consider slavery an evil injustice.  Again, he lost the election for his bid for senator, but did make his mark as a likely presidential candidate.  At the Republican Convention in May 1860, Lincoln was nominated for president.  In the election, the Democratic Party was split.   Lincoln was opposed by Douglas, a Northern Democratic; John C. Breckinridge, a Southern Democratic; and John Bell, a Constitutional Unionist.  In spite of this, Lincoln was elected the sixteenth President of the United States by popular vote.

Lincoln's election to President was a signal for secession in the South.  Any and all plans for compromise had failed.  By the time Lincoln gave his inaugural address, seven states had seceded from the Union.  Lincoln condemned and denounced secession, vowing to preserve the Union at all costs, while also guaranteeing that no force would be used in doing so.  Still, within a short time, he ordered supplies be taken to Fort Sumter, and the South regarded this as an act of war.   On April 12, 1861, the South fired upon Fort Sumter and the Civil War had begun.

Although Abraham Lincoln is one of the most skilled and beloved Presidents, he did meet with some criticism during the war years.  Generally, he handled the war with considerable skill and strength by the immediate issuance of a summons to the militia (an act that caused the secession of four more Southern states); the blockade of Confederate ports, and the suspension of Habeas Corpus.  He adhered to his decision to suspend Habeas Corpus in spite of the Supreme Court ruling against him.  He also extended his executive power, but continued restraint in their regard.

During the war, Lincoln steadfastly continued his course, in spite of the fact that his cabinet was riddled with jealousy and hatred, causing him to act alone many times, while maintaining his outstanding wisdom and tolerance.

Early on in the war, Lincoln made some bad military decisions.  His decision to order Union troops directly into Virginia resulted in their defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, as well as his frequent replacement of commanders before appointing General Ulysses S. Grant commander-in-chief.  Furthermore, he rescinded David Hunter's orders to free the slaves in their own military, but after Antietam, issued his own orders, in the form of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Abraham Lincoln's greatest speech, and one of the greatest of all time, was his Gettysburg Address in 1863.  As the election drew near, Lincoln had lost support from some of the Republican leaders. But, his appointment of Grant as commander-in-chief, along with General William T. Sherman's taking of Atlanta and subsequent successful "March to the Sea," clinched his reelection to a second term by an overwhelming victory defeating his opponent, George B. McClellan.

 

In President Lincoln's second inaugural address, he spoke of forgiveness, and a plea for a new country, saying, "With malice toward none, with charity for all."  Lincoln did live to see the end of the war, with General Lee surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. 

But, tragically, Lincoln did not live to see peace.   On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln, while enjoying the play "Our American Cousin," was shot at point-blank range by John Wilkes Booth.

Artist rendition of President Lincoln in his death bed.

President Lincoln's body had been lying in state in the White House for three days, from April 17 to 19, 1865.  On April 19, a funeral service was held in the East Room of the White House.  Following the service, a long and solemn funeral procession escorted the casket to the Capitol rotunda, where the public was able to view it for three days.  On April 21, the casket bearing the body of Abraham Lincoln was taken from the Capital and put on board a special train bound for Springfield, Illinois.  On May 3, 1985, President Lincoln's body arrived at Springfield.

The actual hat President Lincoln wore to Ford's Theatre the night he was killed.

The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators are Tried

Andrew Johnson, now the seventeenth President of the United States, ordered on May 10, 1865, the formation of a military commission to try the accused persons arrested in connection with the assassination of President Lincoln.

The trial began on May 10, on the third floor of the Old Arsenal Penitentiary that today is located on the grounds of Fort Lesley J. McNair.  The trial lasted until June 30, 1865.  The presiding officer was the Honorable Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt.  Although the defendants were permitted to be represented by counsel, and could call witnesses, they were not permitted to testify themselves.

The Military Commission consisted of the following members: Lieutenant Colonel David R. Clendenin, Brevet Colonel Charles Tompkins, Brigadier General Thomas M. Harris, Brigadier General Albion P. Howe, Brevet Brigadier General James A. Ekin, Major General Lew Wallace, Major General David Hunter, Brigadier General Robert S. Foster, Brevet Major General August V. Kautz, the Honorable John Bingham (Congressman -Special Judge Advocate), Colonel Henry L. Burnett (Special Judge Advocate), and Brigadier General Joseph Holt (Judge Advocate and Recorder). 

During the two month trial, Major General Lew Wallace made several pencil sketches of the defendants, except Mrs. Surratt, who wore a heavy veil throughout the trial.

LEWIS PAINE:

Charged with conspiracy and the attempted assassination of Secretary of State William Seward.  Paine was found guilty, sentenced to death, and hanged on July 7, 1865.

DAVID HEROLD:

Charged with conspiracy for his part in guiding Paine to Seward's house, and for assisting Booth during the twelve days they fled from Federal authorities. Herold was found guilty, sentenced to death, and hanged on July 7, 1865.

GEORGE ATZERODT:

Charged with conspiracy in that he conspired with Booth.  Although he made no attempt to kill Vice-President Andrew Johnson, he nonetheless asked suspicious questions of the Kirkwood House bartender.  He was found guilty, sentenced to death, and hanged on July 7, 1865.

Dr. SAMUEL MUDD:

Charged with conspiring with Booth, as well as aiding him during his escape by providing shelter and rendering medical aid by setting his broken leg.  He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, he received a pardon from President Johnson in February 1869.  He returned to his home near Waldorf, Charles County, Maryland, where he lived until his death from pneumonia on January 10, 1883.

SAMUEL ARNOLD:

Charged with being a part of Booth's earlier plot to kidnap President Lincoln.  He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, but was pardoned in 1869 with Dr. Mudd. He died in 1906.

MICHAEL O'LAUGHLEN:

As with Arnold, O'Laughlen was charged with the conspiracy to kidnap the President.  He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, but died in Fort Jefferson Prison of yellow fever on September 23, 1867.

EDMAN "NED" SPANGLER:

Charged with assisting Booth in his escape from Ford's Theatre.  He was found guilty and sentenced to six years imprisonment.  He was pardoned along with the others in 1869.  After his release, he worked in Baltimore for John Ford until 1873.  He then traveled to Dr. Mudd's house where he lived on some land given him by the doctor.  He died February 7, 1875.

MARY SURRATT:

Charged with conspiring with Booth, in that she provided supplies, ran errands, and facilitated Booth's escape.  It was further alleged that Booth and his coconspirators used her boardinghouse to hold meetings.  She was found guilty, sentenced to death, and hanged on July 7, 1865.  She was the first woman to be executed in the United States.

The Objects of Lincoln and Booth

The objects that were saved the night of Lincoln's assassination were done so for their historical value.  Among those were the President's clothes, gloves, boots, cane and contents of his pockets.

The objects found in his pockets are: a pocketknife, linen handkerchief, sleeve button, watch fob, two pairs of spectacles, a tiny pencil, a leather wallet that contained a Confederate five-dollar bill, and nine newspaper clippings, that dealt with praising the President, and others that dealt with the issues of the day that were on Lincoln's mind.  Also preserved were Lincoln's white shirt and tie, and black suit that included a vest and a long-skirted frock coat; his size 14 black leather boots, that were banded at the top with maroon goatskin, and white gloves. The gloves were found stuffed in his coat pockets. Lincoln did not like to wear them, and considered them a nuisance, but carried them to please his wife, who felt that a gentleman should cover his hands. Other items preserved were Lincoln's beaver hat and silver-headed ebony cane.

President Lincoln's black walnut chair in which he was sitting when assassinated was owned by John T. Ford.  It was Lincoln's favorite, and Ford brought it from his home whenever Lincoln attended performances at Ford's Theatre.  Close inspection of the chair shows that there is a dark stain on the back in the red upholstery, which was thought to be blood at the time.  However, the stain is actually from the soiling left from the hair ointment that was fashionable for men during this time.  The chair is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.  This is the "Ford" of automobile fame, and no relation to Ford's Theatre.

The State Box where Lincoln sat at Ford's Theatre was decorated with five flags, four of which were U.S., and the fifth being a Treasury Department Regimental flag.  The engraving in the center is that of George Washington.  Today, visitors to Ford's Theatre can see two original items that were present on the day of the assassination.  They are the Washington engraving, and the sofa in which Major Rathbone and his fiancée sat that fateful night.

The derringer, and lead ball, used by John Wilkes Booth have been preserved and can be seen today.  The derringer is six inches in length, with a two and one-half-inch barrel, and was manufactured by Henry Derringer of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  It is commonly referred to as the "Philadelphia Derringer."  The trigger and mountings were made of German silver, and the butt of the weapon contained a small box that held an extra percussion cap.

On the night of the assassination, it was found on the floor of the State Box at Ford's by William T. Kent.  Today it is in the museum in the basement of Ford's Theatre.  When an autopsy was performed on President Lincoln, the lead ball that had lodged in his brain was removed.  It remained in the possession of the War Department until 1940, when it was turned over to the Department of the Interior.  In 1956, the War Department requested it back from the Department of the Interior, and they complied.  In 1956, it was placed on display and remains so today at the Walter Reed Army Medical Museum in Washington, D.C.  Also on display are fragments of Lincoln's skull, and the vertebrae of John Wilkes Booth.  The museum is located at Elder and Georgia Avenue.

This is a photograph of an actual US Flag that was hand made by my great grandmother, Mrs. John Daniel Webster Thayer, originally intended to be flown at the end of the Civil War in 1865.  The black mourning stripe was added and flown for the funerals of Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Warren Harding, and William McKinley.  In 1941, she gave this flag to my father, William John Marck, Jr., who passed it down to me in 2008. Sadly my father passed away on July 25, 2008. This flag has been in my family since 1865. As it was first flown for the funeral of Abraham Lincoln, I thought it appropriate to include it here.

Quick Biological Facts

Abraham Lincoln

16th President

Term- March 4, 1861 to April 15, 1865

Republican Party

  Birth: Sinking Spring Farm, Hardin County, Kentucky, February 12, 1809.

Ancestry: English

Marriage: Springfield, Illinois, November 4, 1842 to Mary Todd, who was born in Lexington, Kentucky, December 13, 1818. Mary died in Springfield, Illinois, July 16, 1882, and is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois.

Children: Robert Todd (1843-1926); Edward Baker (1846-1850); William Wallace (1850-1862); Thomas ("Tad")(1852-1871).

Home: Eighth & Jackson Streets, Springfield, Illinois.

Education: Tutors, self-educated.

Religion: No specific denomination.

Occupation before Presidency: Store Clerk; store owner; ferry pilot; surveyor; postmaster; lawyer.

Military Service: Served in volunteer company for three months during Black Hawk War (1832).

Pre-Presidential Offices: Member of Illinois General Assembly; Member of U.S. House of Representatives.

Age at Inauguration: 52

First Administration: Vice President: Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, Inauguration March 4, 1861, The Capital, Washington, D.C.

Second Administration: Vice President: Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, Inauguration March 4, 1865, The Capital, Washington, D.C.

Death: Washington, D.C., April 15, 1865. 

Cause of Death: Assassination at age 56. Shot by John Wilkes Booth, April 14, 1865, at Ford's Theatre, Washington, D.C.

Place of Burial: Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois.

Interesting Facts:

*Lincoln was a passionate reader, and would walk as far as twenty miles to get books. Being self-educated he taught himself law and became a successful lawyer.

*His speeches and writings are legend, including his Gettysburg Address and his Emancipation Proclamation, which directed that all slaves be freed.

*President Lincoln once signed a check that was merely endorsed to a one-legged colored man.

*Tragically, there are three similarities in the assassinations of President Lincoln and President Kennedy. They were both shot on a Friday, in the back of the head, while sitting next to their wives.  

 

Lincoln's Springfield Home

The Lincoln Home Visitor Center, located at 426 South Seventh Street in Springfield is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5p.m. daily except January 1st, Thanksgiving, and December 25th.

When you walk into Lincoln's Springfield home you are immediately taken back to the 1800s,  a feeling that Lincoln himself still lived there.  As you look down the hallway, you'll notice a coat rack, where is placed Lincoln's stovepipe hat, and scarf.  You almost say to yourself, "Oh, I see Mr. Lincoln is home."

As the Lincoln Home National Historic Site reports, A The Visitor Center and first floor of the Lincoln Home are accessible as are the exhibits "What a Pleasant Home Abe Lincoln Has" and "If These Walls Could Talk." Wheelchairs are available for use within the Site. Accessible parking is available in the Site's parking lot. Personal amplified listening devices are available for loan. Touchable plaster casts of Mr. Lincoln's face and hands are also available. The orientation film, "At Home with Mr. Lincoln" is captioned.

"My friends. No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything." An emotional Abraham Lincoln opened his farewell remarks to the citizens of Springfield, Illinois with these words on February 11, 1861. Lincoln was leaving his friends and neighbors of twenty-four years, and the home that he and his family had lived in for seventeen years, to serve as president of a nation on the verge of Civil War.

The Lincoln home, the centerpiece of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, has been restored to its 1860s appearance, revealing Lincoln as husband, father, politician, and President-elect. It stands in the midst of a four block historic neighborhood which the National Park Service is restoring so that the neighborhood, like the house, will appear much as Lincoln would have remembered it.

There are a variety of visitor activities available at Lincoln Home National Historic Site. The only access to the Lincoln Home is with a free ticket for a specific tour time. Free tickets and Site orientation are provided at the Visitor Center Information Desk. School groups, charter tours, or other large groups must reserve Lincoln Home tours in advance by contacting the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Visitor Center: Here the free Lincoln Home tour tickets are distributed at the Visitor Center Information Desk. The Visitor Center also offers an orientation film, temporary exhibits, a Museum Shop, Springfield area information, and restrooms.

Exhibits are located within the historic Lincoln neighborhood, including "What a Pleasant Home Abe Lincoln Has" in the Dean House which focuses on the Lincoln family's life in Springfield and "If These Walls Could Talk@ in the Arnold house which focuses on historic preservation.

Also, you may stroll through the four block historic area to see some of the houses of the Lincoln neighborhood. One should plan on 12 to 2 hours for a comprehensive visit. After one visits Monticello and Mount Vernon, you next stop should definitely be Lincoln's home in Springfield.

The Lincoln Tomb

Copyright © John T. Marck. Information for this article came from a variety of excellent sources. These include: Tudor Hall, Bel Air, Maryland, the home of John Wilkes Booth, and the Fox Family; The Surratt House Museum, Clinton, Maryland; My father, William John Marck, Jr., a historian and teacher; Springfield, Illinois and the National Park Service at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site; Blood On The Moon, by Edward Steers, Jr., The University Press of Kentucky, 2001; A True History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and of the Conspiracy of 1865 by Louis L. Weichmann, Alfred A. Knoff Publisher, New York 1979; Lincoln by David Herbert Donald, Simon and Schuster, 1995; The Death of Lincoln by Clara E. Laughlin; and the section, "The Objects of Lincoln and Booth," from Time-Life. Photographs of the Lincoln Springfield Home and the US Flag, Copyright (c) John T. Marck.

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