Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

Wisconsin in the Civil War

Wisconsin Governor Witnesses Lincoln's Assassination in Ford's Theater

On the night of April 14, 1865, former Wisconsin Governor Leonard Farwell was at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., when President Lincoln was assassinated. He had accepted a minor position in the Lincoln administration and knew the President and Vice President Andrew Johnson personally. In this article, Farwell recalls the fatal shooting and how he raced to save Johnson's life.

We procured seats, having the president's box in full view on our right. When the fatal shot was fired, we involuntarily turned our eyes to the box from whence the sound proceeded, and the same instant the horrible vision of J. Wilkes Booth flashed upon my eyes, brandishing a knife and jumping from the President's box, repeating the words, 'Sic Semper Tyrannis!'

I had scarcely seen or heard him before he had vanished from the stage. As the President fell and the cry rang through the house that he was assassinated, it flashed across my mind that there was a conspiracy being consummated to take the lives of the leading officers of the government, which would include that of Mr. Johnson…

While some seemed paralyzed by the boldness of the deed and others intent upon knowing how seriously the president was injured, I rushed from the theater and ran with all possible speed to the Kirkwood House to apprise Mr. Johnson of the impending danger, impelled by the fear that it would be even then too late. Passing Mr. Spencer, one of the clerks of the hotel, who was standing just outside the door, I said to him: "Place a guard at the door: President Lincoln is murdered;" and to Mr. Jones another clerk, who was at the office desk, as I hurried by, "Guard the stairway and Governor Johnson's room; Mr. Lincoln is assassinated!".

And then darting up to Mr. Johnson's room, No. 68, I knocked, but hearing no movement I knocked again, and called out with the loudest voice that I could command: "Governor Johnson, if you are in this room I must see you!" In a moment I heard him spring from his bed and exclaim: "Farwell, is that you?" "Yes, let me in." I replied. The door was opened, I passed in, locked it, and told him the terrible news, which for a time overwhelmed us both, and grasping hands, we fell upon each other as if for mutual support.

Source: Wisconsin State Journal, December 2, 1923.

View the full document

Soldiers' Orphans Home, Farwell House.
Soldiers' Orphans Home, Farwell House.

WHI 37903
President Johnson.
President Andrew Johnson
Harper's Weekly image of assassination .
Harper's Weekly image of assassination
New Site!

Moved...

These collection items are now on our new website.

Click the "View Collection" button below to view the new website in a new window or tab.

View Collection

Browse all Civil War stories by category:

View all stories

select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text