Author: Dr. George Brainard Todd, BJ's 2nd Great Grandfather
Date: April 14, 1865 & Addendum of April 24, 1865
Location: Washington D.C.
Addressee: Brother
Names Mentioned: Majr. Rathbone, Miss Harris (the Major's fiancee), Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln (not by name), John Wilkes Booth & Wm. Henry Seward (Lincoln's Secretary of State).
Letter Summary: Dr. Todd writes about what he witnessed in Ford's Theater the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
Letter Provided By:BJ's cousin, Sandy Goll of Baltimore, Md.

You'll note underlined words in the body of the letter. These are not questionable words, they're words that Dr. Todd underlined in his letter evidently to stress those particular words.

Below you'll see a small graphic of the page that links to the full sized scanned image. Where the writing seems illegible, you'll see a line in the word or letter's place. If there's a little doubt about a word, phrase or letter you'll see it italicized.

This item is kindly provided by Robert Alexander Goll of Baltimore County, Md. Robert is Dr. Todd's 2nd great grandson.

This letter is presented here for personal use ONLY!

"Montauk" Montauk
Navy Yard, Wash D.C.
Washington D. C. April 15th 1865.9.P.M.

Dear Bro. The few hours that have intervened since that most terrible tragedy of last night have served to give me a little clearer brain and I believe that I am now able to give you a clear account up to this hour. Yesterday, about 3P.M. the President and wife drove down to the Navy Yard and paid our ship a visit, going all over her, accompanied by us all. Both seemed very happy and so expressed themselves, glad that this war was over, or so near its end, and then drove back to the White House. In the evening nearly all of us went to Fords Theatre. I was very early and got a seat very near the President's private box, as we heard he was to be there. About half-past nine he came in, with his wife, a Miss Harris and Majr. __athburn, and was cheered by everyone. As soon as there was a silence the play went on, and I could see that the "Pres" seemed to enjoy it very much. About 10.25 P.M. a man came in and walked slowly along the side on which the "Pres" box was and I heard a man say, "There's Booth" and I turned my head to look at him. He was still walking very slow and was near the box door when he stopped took a card from his pocket, wrote something on it, and gave it to the usher who took it to the box. In a minute the door was opened and he walked in. No sooner had the door closed than I heard the report of a pistol, and on the instant, Booth jumped out of the box onto the stage, holding in his hand a large knife and shouted so as to be heard all over the house, "Sic Semper Tyrannis" ("so always with tyrants") and fled behind the scenes - I attempted to get to the box, but I could not, and in an instant, the cry was raised "The President is assassinated". Such a scene I never saw before.

[BJ's note: Here the next three sentences are indented.]
The cry spread to the street, only to be met by another, "So is Mr. Seward". Soldiers, sailors, police, all started in every direction but the assasin had gone. Some General handed me a note and bid me go to the nearest Telegraph office and arouse the nation. I ran with all my speed, and in ten minutes the sad news was all over the country.

Today all the city is in mourning nearly every house being in black and I have not seen a smile, no business, and many a strong man I have seen in tears - Some reports say Booth is a prisoner, others that he has made his escape - but from +orders received here, I believe he is taken, and during the night will be put on a Monitor for safe keeping - as a mob once raised now would know no end - I will not seal this until morning, and I may have some more news -

April 24th

I have had no time to write until now, as I have been a detective. We have now 7 that are implicated. Why dont you write. Love to all. George.

+ The transcription [linked to above] that Sandy Goll had a copy of, and provided to me, states "Some reports say Booth is a prisoner, others that he has made his escape - but from WORD received here...". It seems that the letter d is not the final letter in this word. Comparing the script in this word to others on the page and elsewhere in the letter, I believe the word is ORDERS - BJ Peters

Knowing about the use of that letter that resembled a lower case"f" in place of where we would place an "s" today, I understand how the mistake could have been made. In the transcription it stated, "Miss Harris and Miss Heathburn", when actually if you look at it while knowing that the two individuals in the Lincoln box that night were Maj (or) Rathbone & his fiancee Miss Harris, you can see where Maj was read as Miss. As to the mistaken last name, I can't explain. It may be that Dr. Todd either didn't know the last name of the Maj., although that seems unlikely, or in his still excited state he wrote it incorrectly or sloppily...shrug. See

Now we can compare Dr. Todd's statements with some of the eyewitness accounts and testimony regarding the assassination:

  • "April 14, 1865, proved to be such an opportunity for Booth. However, several eyewitnesses claim that there was a gentleman posted outside the Presidential box who allowed Booth to enter. Samuel Koontz on April 24, 1865, wrote in a letter that "Booth went through the door of the box, told the man who was Lincolns servant at the door, that Lincoln had sent for him."

  • 2 On May 15, 1865, Captain Theodore McGowan, who had been seated on the south side of the Dress Circle testified during the Conspiracy Trial that "He [Booth] took a small pack of visiting-cards from his pocket, selecting one and replacing the others, stood a second, perhaps, with it in his hand, and then showed it to the President's messenger, who was sitting just below him. Whether the messenger took the card into the box, or, after looking at it, allowed him to go in, I do not know; but in a moment or two more, I saw him go through the door of the lobby leading to the box, and close the door."

  • 3 Two years later Dr. Charles Leale, who was also seated on the south side of the Dress Circle, wrote that "I saw a man speaking with another near the door [to the Presidential box] and endeavoring to enter which he at last succeeded in doing after which the door was closed."

  • 4 "John Parker, one of the policemen assigned to the White House detail, and Charles Forbes, the Presidential messenger, are the two people who have been most often speculated to be the one outside the box #5 Unfortunately, neither one has stated anything reliable related to their activities that night. Thus, while the evidence supports the belief that a gentleman was posted outside the Presidential box, the identity of that person remains unknown."

  • Sources:

    2Timothy S. Good, We Saw Lincoln Shot: One Hundred Eyewitness Accounts, Jackson, MS: Univ. Press of Miss.,1995 p. 64-65.

    3 Conspiracy Trial Testimony, Major Theodore McGowan National Archives, Washington, D.C. M-600.

    4 Dr. Charles Leale letter, July, 1867, Library of Congress, 39th Congressional Record, 2nd Session, Washington, D.C.


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