150 Years Ago Today: Booth Murders Lincoln

150 years ago this evening, actor John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head with this beautifully-crafted pistol.

Booths Deringer

In 1865, a single-shot percussion pistol, like this Henry Deringer model that named a class of pistols, was already obsolete, although still in common use. Rimfire and centerfire cartridges were simply too convenient for storage and reloading, compared to bulk powder and percussion caps. The cartridge also enabled a new class of repeating firearms, and benefited even the design of common revolvers.

But for what the Deringer was designed for — a single shot at contact range — it was very effective.

Massively brain-damaged, Lincoln never recovered consciousness, and died the next day. Booth and his co-conspirators were hunted down and killed (some got a brief trial before a military commission, first). His dream of rekindling rebellion in the exhausted, beaten South failed utterly.

Conventional wisdom is that Reconstruction was harsher for the murder of Lincoln, given VP Andrew Johnson’s sympathies with the Radical Republicans in Congress. Had Lincoln actually had conciliation and magnanimity in mind, Booth’s bullet put an end to it.

5 thoughts on “150 Years Ago Today: Booth Murders Lincoln

  1. Tennessee Budd

    I’ve never made any secret of my hatred for Lincoln, but Reconstruction probably would have been easier under him. Regardless of what he did earlier, once Lee surrendered (not the end of hostilities, but the end of the fighting for the major Southern remaining force), he seemed to believe that the matter had been settled by arms & it was time to reconcile. Johnson, a traitor by Southern lights, hated secessionists, and we got what we got at his hands (and the hands of the many rabidly anti-South Senators & reps).

  2. John Smith

    This is a well trod path: I wonder if Lincoln’s legacy would have been so sterling had he not been killed so soon after major hostilities had ended. The political complexities that followed were near equal to the war years and may have proven a real challenge for him.

    Booth certainly was a part in deciding his towering place in history nonetheless.

    1. Hognose Post author

      It’s funny. Presidents are often ennobled in memory by assassination — you could ask the same question, as credibly, about Kennedy — but others are not. No one seems to mourn the unfulfilled promise of William McKinley. But maybe that’s what happens when your VP is TR and not Johnson (either one).

  3. bulldog76

    booth and enemy of the north and south because after the war it seemed lincoln was the south’s only true friend in northern government

  4. obsidian

    The end of most war criminals is usually the same.
    Seen from the distance in space and time of 150 years ago we today cannot say if his death was deserved or not, a boon or a bust.
    In Indiana perhaps he was a hero but in Georgia the wish was that his pals Sherman and Grant would have followed with the same.
    I a child of this future after the fact find myself most amused that the inheriting democrat Confederacy of the democratic party today now wish to claim Lincoln as their own despite the fact he was a war mongering republican to them then.
    Reconstruction did not end until the Yankee Government in Washington found itself in need of southern boys to fight the Axis powers or die in 1940.

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