Friday, April 14, 1865, the sixteenth President of the United States was struck down by an assassin’s bullet while attending a performance at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.John Wilkes Booth, the popular actor, was identified as the assassin within minutes of firing the shot. Booth miraculously escaped from the theater by horseback and headed south through lower Maryland towards Virginia. The largest manhunt ever assembled trailed Booth, finally corralling him in a tobacco barn a few miles south of Port Royal, Virginia, after a hard pursuit for 12 days.This tragedy is rife with conspiracies, Confederate operatives, clandestine activities, all while the Civil War was nearing an end. The plot was initially to kidnap the President and hold him for ransom to secure the release of captured Confederate soldiers. The war soon ended, and the attempt to kidnap turned to murder.Booth was a southern sympathizer and has been described as a lunatic, even fanatical. He was neither. Booth was cunning and self absorbed. He even appears to have set his cohorts up so that there was no way out unless they implicated themselves. He relied on self preservation as his saving grace for what he wanted to accomplish – to bring down the tyrant, President Abraham Lincoln.Many other people were implicated in this plot: Mary Surratt, the first woman executed by the government; Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who splinted Booth’s ankle, injured in his escape; Lewis Powell, who bungled an attempt on the life of the Secretary of State; and George Atzerodt, who lost his courage to take out Vice President Andrew Johnson.What makes the assassination of Lincoln so fascinating is that a common thread is woven through the story. The thread is John Wilkes Booth; the whole cloth becomes the conspiracy. Who knew what? When did they know it?New discoveries. New theories. The story seems to morph over the years. In fact, recent revelations, stemming from the hard work of modern authors/historians, shed a new light on the assassination. Gone (but not completely wiped out) are myths surrounding Lincoln’s demise. Did Booth escape the burning barn? Was War Secretary Edwin Stanton behind the plot? Did Jefferson Davis give his blessings for the assassination? More facts and more myths are bound to come. There is no simple explanation, no “lone gunman” theory such as the JFK assassination. This is far more complex – and far more intriguing.       -Randal [L-A.Com Curator].

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