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1865

Lincoln is pronounced dead

On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln succumbs to a gunshot wound inflicted by an assassin the night before; he is pronounced dead at 7:22 am.

An angry Confederate actor, John Wilkes Booth, shot Lincoln in the back of the head while the president, first lady Mary Todd Lincoln and another couple were attending a performance at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Booth managed to escape during the ensuing pandemonium. A 23-year-old doctor named Charles Leale was in the audience and rushed up to the presidential box immediately upon hearing the shot and Mrs. Lincoln’s scream. He found the president slumped in his chair, paralyzed and struggling to breathe. Several soldiers carried Lincoln to a house across the street and placed him on a bed. When the surgeon general arrived at the house, he concluded that Lincoln could not be saved and would die during the night.

Vice President Andrew Johnson, members of Lincoln’s cabinet and several of the president’s closest friends stood vigil by Lincoln’s bedside until he was officially pronounced dead at 7:22 am. The first lady lay on a bed in an adjoining room with her eldest son Robert at her side, overwhelmed with shock and grief.

The president’s body was placed in a temporary coffin, draped with a flag and escorted by armed cavalry to the White House, where surgeons conducted a thorough autopsy. Edward Curtis, an Army surgeon in attendance, later wrote that, during the autopsy, while he removed Lincoln’s brain, a bullet dropped out through my fingers into a basin with a clatter. The doctors stopped to stare at the offending bullet, the cause of such mighty changes in the world’s history as we may perhaps never realize. During the autopsy, Mary Lincoln sent the surgeons a note requesting they cut a lock of Lincoln’s hair for her.

News of the president’s death traveled quickly and, by the end of the day, flags across the country flew at half-staff, businesses were closed and people who had recently rejoiced at the end of the Civil War mourned Lincoln’s shocking assassination.

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