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