The Gun That Shot Lincoln

A tiny derringer, hidden in the assassin’s pocket, felled the President and sealed the South’s fate.
Anita SlomskiArtifacts
Theatre interior at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site
Wknight94 / Wikipedia Commons

The bloodstained pillow that cushioned Abraham Lincoln’s head and the .44-caliber “pocket cannon” that fired the fatal shot are what most captivate visitors to Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., as they imagine the events of April 14, 1865. At approximately 10:15 p.m., five days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, actor John Wilkes Booth entered the theater box where Lincoln and his wife were watching Our American Cousin, slipped the single-shot, 5.87-inch derringer from his pocket and fired at Lincoln’s head.

Gun that shot Lincoln

“It’s not so much the gun that fascinates people, but rather that Booth used it to change the course of history of the country,” says Gloria Swift, the museum curator at Ford’s Theatre. “Looking at the gun, you can’t help but wonder what would have been, had the tragedy not occurred. There are indications that Lincoln may have been kind to the South during a reconstruction period, but after the assassination, the North came down with a vengeance.”

One hundred and thirty-two years after Lincoln’s death, a bizarre footnote was added to the pistol’s history. In 1997, the FBI was called in to authenticate the gun after a career criminal claimed members of his gang had stolen the deringer during the late 1960s and replaced it with a fake.

The lead bullet removed from Lincoln’s head was so badly corroded that matching it with the gun was out of the question. So the FBI’s Special Photographic Unit superimposed historical photos taken of the deringer during the 1930s with the actual gun at Ford’s Theatre, matching swirl patterns in the black walnut grain of the stock, pit marks on the barrel and a crack in the forestock. The pistol is definitely Booth’s.

*The National Park Service oversees more than 100 million historic items and museum pieces. To learn more about the unique objects preserved within the national parks, click here.


very important piece of history... absolutely priceless
HOW do we know Booth did the above . Who was the witness?
Harold P
Seriously? Who was the witness? I hope you are joking or trolling because there was a theater full of witnesses.
Theatre goers were watching a play not looking into a dimly lit Presidential box above their field of view, and most thought the leap to the stage was part of the play until Mary started shrieking, but Booth wasn't the first name on peoples lips.
The firearm used was not a "Pocket Cannon" it was a Deringer.
A .44 seems a bit OTT! A .32 would've done the job.
I’m a huge history buff and have read hundreds of books on the assisination. Not to mention hundreds of documentaries. I’m also a police detective and have been in law enforcement for over 20 years. My question is very simple and really inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But my question is, why the need to “hide” the guns at the tavern? I understand they needed a place to KEEP the guns, by why the need to HIDE them? Back then, everyone had guns. If questioned, Lloyd could have simply said they were his. There would have been no suspicion in guns simply being present at the tavern. That was commonplace at the time. Why weren’t the guns simply kept there on a gun rack or leaned in a corner, etc? I’ve never understood the need to have HID the guns.
In regards as to why the guns were "hid". They were hid in case the conspiracy was discovered and someone talked. That is so easy to understand. As for everyone having guns, that simply is not true. I can show you hundreds of photos from that era of people in small towns and large cities and you see no guns.
The reason the carbines had been hidden at the Surrattsville tavern was because throughout the civil war Maryland, a Southern state, was forcibly kept in the Union due to its location (physically surrounding Washington DC) most of whose inhabitants were of a secessionist bent, especially those living in the counties south of the capital. Under the authority of martial law, it became customary for Union patrols to randomly inspect buildings in this region for weaponry, etc. as a hedge against subversive activities; and the penalty for concealing such items was imprisonment for an indeterminate length of time (due to suspension of the writ of habeas corpus).

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