Lincoln’s Death, New Nation: April 1865 to 1877

Lincoln’s Assassination

How did Booth get out of the presidential box, and, for that matter, out of the theatre?

He shouted, Sic semper tyrannis! (“Thus always to tyrants”) and leapt from the box to the floor of the stage, breaking part of his tibia bone in the fall. Booth then held his dagger—with which he had stabbed Major Rathbone—aloft, and shouted, “The South shall be free!” Seconds later, he was out the back door, running or hobbling as the case may be, to his own freedom.

There were dozens of military men in Ford’s Theatre, many of whom had faced much more dangerous and difficult situations over the previous four years, but virtually all of them were too stunned to respond. Major Rathbone was in agony from the wound to his arm, and virtually all the other men who might have sprung to attention were either lulled to complacency by the idea that the gunshot was part of the play or simply too stunned to act. As a result, Booth got out that door and to his horse.


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