On the evening of April 14, 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Ford s Theatre, an entire audience was witness to the tragedy. From diaries, letters, depositions, affidavits, and periodicals, here is a collection of accounts from a variety of theatergoers who by chance saw one of the truly pivotal events in U.S. history. Providing minute first-hand details recorded over a span of ninety years, "We Saw Lincoln Shot" explores an event that will forever be the subject of debate and controversy.
I was present at the theater and saw it all, said Samuel Koontz. In fact, I was only about fifteen feet from the President when he was shot, although he was in a private box in the theater.
In a letter to his parent, Jason S. Knox wrote, Dear Father, it is with sad feeling that I take up my pen and address you. Last Friday night at ten o clock, I witnessed the saddest tragedy ever enacted in this country. Notwithstanding my promise to you not to visit the theater, I could not resist the temptation to see General Grant and the President, and when the curtain at Ford s rose on the play of "Our American Cousin," my roommate and I were seated on the second row of orchestra seats, just beneath the President s box.
Although there have been many studies of the Lincoln assassination, few have been devoted to the actual event. Overwhelmingly, historians have been attracted to the conspiracy that preceded Lincoln s death or to the aftermath. Too few have relied sufficiently upon eyewitness accounts, and some, without considering how the human mind fails to preserve minute details in long-term memory, have trusted recollections transcribed many years after Lincoln died. With a sharp focus upon the circumstances reported by one hundred actual witnesses, "We Saw Lincoln Shot" provides vivid documentation of a momentous evening and exposes errors that have been perpetuated as the assassination has been rendered into written histories."