December 19, 2014 13:42 UTC

The Making of a Nation

American History Series: After Lincoln's Murder

Eight prisoners faced trial. The government tried to prove that President Abraham Lincoln's assassination was a Confederate plot. <em>Transcript of radio broadcast:</em>

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story

<!-- IMAGE -->

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

President Abraham Lincoln led the Union of northern states in four years of civil war against the southern Confederacy. But he did not live to see the end of the war. He did not live to see the nation re-united. He was assassinated in April of eighteen sixty-five.

This week in our series, Shep O'Neal and Maurice Joyce tell what happened after Lincoln died.

VOICE ONE:

<!-- IMAGE -->

Almost immediately, officials began planning details of the president's funeral. They asked Missus Lincoln where she wanted her husband buried. At first, she said Chicago. That was where the Lincolns were going to live after they left the White House.

Then she said the Capitol building in Washington. A tomb had been built there for America's first President, George Washington. But it had never been used.

Finally, she remembered a country cemetery they had visited. At the time, her husband had said: "When I am gone, lay my remains in some quiet place like this." So Missus Lincoln decided that the president's final resting place would be in the quiet, beautiful Oak Ridge Cemetery outside their home town of Springfield, Illinois.

VOICE TWO:

<!-- IMAGE -->

For several days after Lincoln's assassination, his body lay in the East Room of the White House. The room was open to the public all day. Next, the body was taken to the Capitol building. Again, the public could come to say goodbye. Then the body was put on a special train for the trip back to Illinois.

Four years earlier, President-elect Lincoln had traveled by train from Illinois to Washington. He stopped to make speeches in cities along the way. Now, on this sad return trip, the train stopped at those same cities:  Baltimore. Philadelphia. New York. Cleveland. Indianapolis. Chicago.

VOICE ONE:

In every town, people lined the railroad. They stood silently, with tears in their eyes, as the train moved slowly past. Farmers working in the fields saw the train and dropped to their knees in prayer. For the wise man who had led the Union through four years of bloody civil war -- Father Abraham -- was dead.

Churches throughout the country held memorial services. Ministers told their people that God had taken Lincoln because the president had completed the job God had given him. He had brought peace to the Union, and freedom to all men.

VOICE TWO:

The final service was at the cemetery outside Springfield. It ended with the words from Lincoln's second inaugural speech.

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right -- as God gives us to see the right -- let us strive on to finish the work we are in. Let us heal the nation's wounds. Let us do all possible to get and keep a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

VOICE ONE:

<!-- IMAGE -->

While the nation mourned Lincoln's death, federal officials investigated his assassination. The man who had shot Lincoln in Ford's Theater was an actor, John Wilkes Booth. He had fled the theater after the murder. The government offered a reward of one hundred thousand dollars to anyone who captured Booth and his helpers.

The investigation produced the names of several people who were friends of Booth. One was John Surratt. Like Booth, he supported the southern Confederacy during the Civil War. Another was David Herold, a young man who worked in a store in Washington. Others were George Atzerodt, Lewis Paine, Sam Arnold, and Michael O'Laughlin.

Most of these men had stayed at a house owned by John Surratt's mother, Mary.

VOICE TWO:

<!-- IMAGE -->

One by one, in the days following Lincoln's death, these people were arrested. Anyone else who might have had a part in the plot was seized. Soon, hundreds of suspects were being held in jails in and around Washington.

At the end of a week, only two of the plotters were still free: David Herold and John Wilkes Booth.

Booth broke his leg when he jumped from the presidential box to the stage at Ford's Theater. A few hours later, he and Herold stopped at the home of a Doctor Samuel Mudd. They reportedly gave the doctor false names. They asked him to fix Booth's broken leg.

Doctor Mudd agreed. And he let the two men sleep at his home. Federal troops chasing the assassins arrested the doctor. They accused him of being part of the plot.

VOICE ONE:

John Wilkes Booth and David Herold ran and hid for six days. They crossed the Potomac River from Maryland into Virginia. Finally, twelve days after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, soldiers found the two men. They were hiding in a tobacco barn near the town of Port Royal.

Herold agreed to surrender. He came out of the barn with his hands in the air. He shouted again and again that he was innocent.

Booth refused to come out. The soldiers set fire to the barn.

VOICE TWO:

The fire forced Booth to move close to the door. The soldiers could see him now. He was aiming a gun at them. The soldiers had been ordered to capture Booth alive. But one of them raised his gun and shot Booth in the neck.

The actor fell. Some of the soldiers ran to the burning barn and pulled him out. They carried him to a nearby house. He died two hours later.

VOICE ONE:

John Wilkes Booth carried a notebook. He wrote in it every day. On the day Lincoln was killed, he wrote: "For six months we had worked to kidnap Lincoln. But with the Confederacy being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done. I struck boldly."

Booth described how and why he had shot the president. "Our country," Booth wrote, "owed all her troubles to him. And God simply made me the instrument of his punishment."

Booth's body was returned to Washington. Men who knew him confirmed that it was the body of John Wilkes Booth. The body was buried under the stone floor of the Washington prison. A few years later, his family received permission to move the body to a cemetery in the city of Baltimore.

VOICE TWO:

Evidence showed that only a few people were actually involved in the plot against the president. Most had agreed to work with Booth because they believed he planned to kidnap Lincoln, not kill him.

Of the hundreds of persons arrested, only eight were brought to trial. The secretary of war decided that they would be tried by a military court. He argued that Lincoln had been commander-in-chief of all military forces and had been murdered during wartime.

VOICE ONE:

<!-- IMAGE -->

The trial began almost two months after the assassination. The prisoners seemed in poor condition. All wore heavy chains on their arms and legs. And the men had been forced to wear thick cloths over their heads. Officials said the cloths were necessary to prevent them from talking to each other.

The secretary of war announced that the prisoners could not meet privately with their defense lawyers. They could meet only in the courtroom. Guards could hear everything they said.

One of the defense lawyers recognized that the job was hopeless. He said the trial was a contest between the defense lawyers and the whole United States. There was no question, he said, what the military court's decision would be.

VOICE TWO:

The government tried to prove that Lincoln's assassination was a Confederate plot. Witnesses told how Confederate supporters reportedly planned to cause trouble in the North. But none could prove that Confederate President Jefferson Davis -- or any other southern leader -- played a part in Booth's plot to kill Lincoln.

Four hundred witnesses appeared. Many of the important ones had been arrested as suspects. They agreed to give evidence if the government dropped the charges against them.

For six weeks, the court heard evidence against the eight prisoners. The prisoners themselves could say nothing. They could only listen.

VOICE ONE:

<!-- IMAGE -->

In late June, eighteen sixty-five, the trial of Abraham Lincoln's assassins ended. The military officers serving as judges met secretly for two days. Then they announced their decision.

All eight prisoners were found guilty. One received a prison sentence of six years. Three were sentenced to life in prison. Four were sentenced to die.

Defense lawyers appealed for mercy. The appeal was rejected. On July seventh, David Herold, Lewis Paine, George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt were hanged for the murder of Abraham Lincoln.

(MUSIC)

ANNOUNCER:

Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Shep O'Neal and Maurice Joyce. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, along with historical images, at voaspecialenglish.com. And you can follow us on Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.

___

This is program #118 of THE MAKING OF A NATION

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Mideast Islamic State US

    Audio Top Islamic State Leaders Killed in Airstrikes

    Three top Islamic State leaders were killed in a series of targeted airstrikes in Iraq. U.S. not ruling out White House visit by Cuban President Raul Castro. Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnap over 100 women, children. Putin says Russia’s economy will improve in two years. More

  • the interview

    Video Sony Criticized for Cancelling 'The Interview'

    The company acted after a group of computer hackers attacked the company and threatened to attack movie theaters that show the film. Most people have criticized Sony’s decision to cancel the release. The US says North Korea was behind the cyber attack. North Korea denies the accusation. More

  • The MOM Incubator could save more babies in refugee camps who die due to complications of premature birth.

    Audio Low-Cost Incubator May Save More Babies

    Premature birth is the biggest killer of children worldwide. About one million babies around the world die of problems because they are born too early. Many of these babies could have been saved if they had been placed in an incubator. A young British researcher says he has found a solution. More

  • A screenshot from Cuban television shows President Raul Castro addressing the country, in Havana, Dec. 17, 2014.

    Audio US, Cuba Normalize Relations

    After the release of Alan Gross from prison, U.S. and Cuba announce policy changes that end more than 50 years of diplomatic isolation that began in the Cold War. Also in the news, India joins Pakistan in mourning after Tuesday's Taliban attack. And Sony Pictures cancels release of "The Interview." More

  • Audio How Much of You Does Facebook Own?

    If you use Facebook, your friends may have posted an update recently saying Facebook is not permitted to violate their privacy. But how much of your data -- things you post -- does Facebook legally own? Experts say Facebook's terms of service agreement clearly says they own most of what you post. More

Featured Stories

  • Video Music Shows in Private Homes Gain Popularity

    Attending a live musical performance, be it in a huge arena or a small cafe, is an exciting experience. But here in the U.S., a very different kind of performance is gaining popularity: house concerts. “There's just a totally unique experience as opposed to playing like a coffee shop or a bar." More

  • Lee Surrenders to Grant at Appomatox

    Audio Southern General Robert E. Lee Surrenders at Appomattox

    General Robert E. Lee’s military skill and intelligence helped extend the war between the states. But even his skill could not save the South from the industrial power of the North and its mighty armies -- armies that were better-fed and better-equipped. On Sunday, August 9, Lee surrendered. More

  • Uganda Playground for Disabled Children

    Audio Helping Uganda’s Disabled Children Play

    You may think that all children have freedom to play. But for children who look differently from others or have physical disabilities, the idea of play can seem far away. An organization in Uganda is seeking to change that. Read on to learn words needed to talk about this sometimes difficult topic. More

  • A microneedle used to inject glaucoma medications into the eye is shown next to a liquid drop from a conventional eye dropper. (Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek

    Audio Tiny Needles Treat Eye Disease

    Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness around the world. In the United States, more than two million people suffer from the disease. Now, researchers are developing very small needles that may offer a more effective and painless treatment for glaucoma and other eye diseases. More

  • The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement in Las Vegas

    Audio Mob Museum Tells About the Mafia in America

    The U.S. government has long used public money to fight organized crime. Now, public money is also paying for a museum in Las Vegas to tell about "The Mob,” and not everyone is happy about that. But some say it helps the local economy by bringing people to a part of Las Vegas that few visit. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs