Sunday, June 27, 2021

Erroneous Abraham Lincoln Assassination Reports

While the account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the Sixteenth President, and the conspiracy to eliminate certain officials of the Lincoln administration may have been one of the most sensational news stories ever printed, it was also one of the most garbled. The suddenness of the events caught most newspaper editors flatfooted and the wire service out of Washington was terribly jammed with startling reports which were hurriedly compiled and inaccurately prepared. Then, too, harassed editors often read into local events a certain cloak-and-dagger significance, which for a time would share the national spotlight, only to fade into insignificance later on. 
Abraham Lincoln was shot on  April 14, 1865; Died on April 15th.

One newspaper even enjoyed the dubious distinction of making no mention, whatever, of Lincoln's assassination or death, which undoubtedly indicates that the April 15, 1865 issue of the New York Times was printed in advance of the tragic events. 
Of approximately fifty newspapers featuring the assassination reveals considerable misinformation. Some newspapers were quick to condemn the Confederacy, and even a Spanish firm and a French desperado were accused of being implicated in a deep-laid plot. Some reports erroneously stated that an attempt was made on the life of Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, and a great many newspapers stated emphatically that Secretary of State, Seward, was dead. Booth was reported captured alive in about a dozen different places, and John Surratt was generally accused of being Seward's assassin.
NOTE: Searching through newspaper archives immediately following the assassination date of Abraham Lincoln revealed many little-known topics of fact and fiction. Many minor details which were inaccurately reported, by accident or on purpose, were accepted as fact. Later editions of newspapers often tried to correct earlier editions, but many times with incorrect details again. Some readers likely never got an accurate newspaper account of the tragedy. Undoubtedly some of these short articles were used as filler stories. Only occasionally did they yield information of any importance. Nevertheless they reflect the hysteria that followed the great calamity of 1865. 
Contemporary Newspaper Accounts Following the Death of Lincoln
"The Funeral of the President: It is expected, though nothing has been decided upon, that the funeral of the late President Lincoln will take place on or about Thursday next. It is supposed that his remains will be temporarily deposited in the Congressional cemetery."
Springfield (Ill.) Daily Republican Extra
April 15, 1865

To the Editors of the Evening Post:
"On Wednesday night preceding the president's assassination, a little deaf and dumb girl in our institution got up in her sleep, went to a classmate, and after rousing her, spelled, with the manual alphabet, 'Lincoln is shot.' In the morning the somnambulist (sleepwalker) knew nothing of the circumstance till informed of it by her friend in the presence of others."

"The incident would probably never have been recalled but for the sad emphasis which after, events gave it. It now seems one of those cases of prescience which so often arises to puzzle mental philosophers. (Institution for Deaf and Dumb, April 18, 1865.)"
The Evening Post, New York, N. Y.
April 21, 1865

"One of the most remarkable circumstances connected with the assassination is that all the private boxes in the theatre had been engaged by unknown parties on the morning of Friday. They were unoccupied during the night so that when Booth jumped on the stage after the commission of the act he did not fear arrest from any parties who might have occupied them. This is but another, and one of the strongest evidences going to show the premeditation of the murder. The question now arises, who rented the boxes, and did it not naturally arouse suspicion on the part of somebody connected with the theatre to know that all the boxes were rented and yet not occupied? Events will soon determine these mysteries." 
New York Daily Tribune
April 24, 1865

"The reported seizure of the photographs taken by Gurney & Son, the photographers on Broadway, during the lying in state of the remains of President Lincoln at the City Hall, is entirely, without foundation, a rumor being based on the fact that the Secretary of War, on hearing that Gurney had taken a series of pictures of the catafalque and the lineaments of Mr. Lincoln, as he lay in state, together with other accessories of the funeral, telegraphed to Gurney, at the request of Mrs. Lincoln, to destroy the presentiment of Mr. Lincoln's face, the features being in a distorted condition, which request was immediately complied with by Gurney & Son on receipt of the telegram from the Secretary of War." 
The World, New York, N. Y. 
April 29, 1865

How shall the people of the United States testify their admiration, sorrow, and honest feelings? A good President who serves out his term with honor and retires is certain of the esteem and gratitude of his fellow citizens during life and of their respect to his family after death. But the sudden taking off of Abraham Lincoln requires a different testimonial. We, therefore, suggest that subscriptions be taken up in every city and town by the Mayor or chief officer, for a national monument to Abraham Lincoln, and a nation's gift to his family. This would be a noble tribute, shall it not be commenced at once?
The Philadelphia Inquirer
April 17, 1865

Some of the More Glaring Newspaper Errors:
Hour Lincoln Died
"One dispatch announces that the president died at 12½ p.m. Another hour later, states that he is still living, but dying slowly. We go to press without knowing the exact truth.
New York Tribune
April 15, 1865

"Who the assassins were nobody knows, though everybody supposes them to have been rebels."
Boston Evening Transcript
April 15, 1865

More Evidence That The Act Was A Conspiracy
"During a conversation yesterday among the members of a Spanish firm in this city (New York) it was stated that today the greatest news would be received that had yet been made known to the public."
Boston Sunday Herald
April 16, 1865

Rumored Attempt On The Life Of Mr. Stanton
"Reports have prevailed that an attempt was also made on the life of Mr. Stanton."
The New York Times
April 15, 1865

The President Dead
"The President Dead: Probable Attempt to Assassinate Secretary Stanton."
Bangor Daily Whig and Courier
April 17, 1865

9:30 This Morning
"Dispatches just received from Washington say that Secretary Seward died at 9:30 this morning."
The Saint Paul Press
April 16, 1865

Latest Afternoon Dispatches
"The attempted assassin of Mr. Seward named John Surritt."
Buffalo Morning Express
April 17, 1865

Heart-Rending Intelligence
"Another patriot has fallen a victim, Secretary Seward, like the President, lies a corpse."
The Pittsburgh Evening Chronicle
April 15, 1865

"Secretary Seward has just expired."
Daily Milwaukee News
April 16, 1865

Special Dispatch
"The president died at 7½ o'clock this morning. Secretary Seward is just reported dead.
His son Frederick is dead."
The Boston Herald (3rd Evening Edition)
April 15, 1865

Death of Seward
"He (Seward) died at 9:45 o'clock this morning."
Cleveland Morning Leader
April 15, 1865

Messenger of State Department Died
"Mr. Hansell, messenger in State Department, who was with Mr. Seward at the time of the assassination has died."
Newburyport Herald Extra
April 15, 1865

Seward's Assassin Named Thompson
"New York:—The Commercial's special says: "The name of the assassin who entered Mr. Seward's house is Thompson."
Pittsburgh Daily Dispatch
April 18, 1865

The Supposed Assassin and the French Lady
"It was stated in a former dispatch that the person arrested this morning as the party who attempted to take the life of the Secretary of State was supposed to be Surrat. But there is reason to believe that the desperado is no other than Thomas, the so-called French lady, who, it will be remembered, captured the steamer St. Nicholas in 1861, and was subsequently apprehended, tried, convicted, and sentenced to the penitentiary, from which by some means he was released. Nothing positive, however, is known on the subject." 
The New York Times
April 19, 1865

Pennsylvania Offers a Reward
"Gov. Curtin has issued a proclamation offering a reward of $10,000 for the arrest of Booth, who is reported to have been seen in this state if arrested in Pennsylvania."
New York-Tribune
April 21, 1865

Taken Near Fort Hastings
"It is reported by a private dispatch, believed to be authentic, that Booth, the assassin of the president, was taken, Saturday afternoon, near Fort Hastings."
Springfield Daily Republican
April 15, 1865

The Assassin Arrested
"Booth is in custody. The other assassin not yet arrested. The detectives are on his track."
Dayton Daily Journal
April 15, 1865

Booth Captured
"It is reported that Booth was captured this morning. The story is that his horse threw him and injured him so severely that he was obliged to seek relief in a house on the Seventh Street (Washington)."
The Indiana State Sentinel
April 17, 1865

The Herald's Special
"Booth has been captured near Baltimore, and will be placed onboard a monitor anchored in the Potomac, at the Washington Navy Yard."
The Indianapolis Daily Journal
April 17, 1865

Booth, The Assassin Arrested
"The Merchants' Exchange has a dispatch that Booth, the assassin of the President, is arrested, and is safe in prison in Washington. The dispatch is dated 12 M."
Boston Daily Journal
April 15, 1865

Arrest of J. Wilkes Booth
"Tribune special from Washington says J. Wilkes Booth was arrested at 9 o'clock A.M. on the Bladensburg road. He boldly approached our pickets, and was arrested, and has just been brought to this city." 
Boston Daily Evening Transcript
April 15, 1865

Boothe Captured
"A man who answers the exact description given of Boothe, the assassin, was arrested this morning on the accommodation train between Altoona and Greenburg."
The Pittsburgh Gazette
April 18, 1865

Booth Caught
"Booth, the murderer, was caught this morning, near Fort Washington."
The Pittsburgh Commercial
April 15, 1865.

About Thirty In Number
"A gentleman who was at Point Lookout yesterday A.M. was informed by an officer of one of our gunboats, that Booth and the other conspirators, about 30 in number, were in St. Mary's County, heavily armed, and endeavoring to make their way across the Potomac."
Galena (III.) Weekly Gazette
April 25, 1865

John Surratt's Brother
"Today, it was confidently stated that John Surratt, the supposed assassin of Mr. Seward, was captured. It is now reported to be his brother."
New York Tribune
April 18, 1865

A Prediction
"Sometime during last March, the New York Journal of Commerce stated upon what authority we know not, that the Confederates were about to do something that would astonish the nation. Little was thought of it at the time, but since the assassination of President Lincoln more than one has had his mind turned towards this prediction and wondered if it did not refer to the murder of our president."
LaPorte (lnd.) Herald
April 22, 1865

Oddities In The News Concerning Lincoln's Death and Funeral
Further Details
"For hours after the removal of the President's body from the house opposite Ford's, the building was regarded by thousands with the greatest curiosity. "Later in the day a little boy was discovered rubbing bits of white paper on the steps, and afterward carefully placing them in his pocket.

"On being asked to explain the reason for this singular proceeding, he said, with childish simplicity, 'Don't you see those dark stains on the board? It is the blood of the President,' and I want to save it.' In years to come how priceless will be those scraps of paper, darkened by the heart's blood of the great emancipator."
New York Tribune
April 17, 1865

The Dog Mourner
"Under the car (hearse) there is walking a dog, though invisible from the outside. It is 'Bruno' the great Saint Bernard dog belonging to Edward H. Morton, Esq. He was standing with his master at the corner of Broadway and Chambers-street, as the car passed by,
when suddenly, without warning, and in spite of his master's call to him to return, he sprang into the street, passed beneath the car, followed its motions, and is still there. By what instinct was this? For 'Bruno' was a friend and acquaintance of Mr. Lincoln's and had passed some time with him only a few days before his death."
The New York Times
April 26, 1865

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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