John Wilkes Booth has shot President Lincoln and rides hard towards the 11th Street bridge leading into Maryland. A soldier blocks his way, asking why he is trying to cross. The soldier tells booth that the bridge closed at 9:00p.m. ?It is now close to 11:00 p.m. Booth feigns ignorance of the rule and insists that he must go to Beantowne. While Booth remains calm, the soldier can see that his horse is behaving with great anxiety. Inexplicably, the soldier allows the assassin to pass.
[Note- Some documentaries mistakenly show Booth and Harold crossing the river on a boat but this is incorrect. They do use a boat to cross, later into VA]
Secretary of State William Seward is bedridden and weak, recovering from a carriage accident which nearly killed him on April 5th, 1865. Thus, he is considered an easy Target by Booth and his cohorts.
Assigned with the assassination of Mr Seward is Lewis Powell, or Payne, as he is sometimes called. Powell and young David Harold approach the residence of Secretary Seward on 15th Street, with a simple plan. Harold remains outside with the horses as Powell goes to the house. Using a small box wrapped in paper and twine, as to resemble a package of medicine from a doctor, Powell pretends to be a messenger with a prescription from Seward’s chief caretaker, Dr. Verdi.
Upon gaining entry, Powell forces his way up the stairs and into the Secretary’s bed chamber. Attempting to thwart his progress is a servant named Bell, Seward’s son Frederick , Fannie Seward, the Secretary’s twenty year old daughter, and an Army Sergeant.
In a desperate struggle, Powell, a very strong former confederate soldier, is almost no match for these civilians unfamiliar with hand to hand combat. However, the Sergeant was strong enough to engage him.
Still, Powell manages to inflict a nasty wound on the defenseless secretary before escaping. During the struggle, Bell comes out of the house and into the street screaming “Murder!, Murder!”
But in fact, the wound is not mortal.
In a panic, David Harold, ignorant of whether Powell’s success or failure, takes off down the street with the horses. Powell enters the street with no horse and his clothes covered with Seward’s blood. He does not know his way around the city. and in an ironic twist of fate, Booth is relying on him to get through Maryland. Now that will never be.
At Ford’s Theater. Dr. Charles Leale, a recent graduate of Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York, enters the box and after calming down the wounded Major Rathbone, gives his attention to the President. whose condition is much worse.
After re-establishing a pulse and getting Lincoln to breath on his own, Dr. Leale looks under Lincoln’s eyelids and realizes how grave the situation really is. Feeling the back of the President’s head, he finds the entrance wound right behind the left ear. A brain injury, irreversible and most likely, mortal. But the President cannot die on the floor of a theater, if he must die, it will be with dignity, in a bed.
Dr. Leale proposes that they move the President, but not to the White House , as the movement of the carriage would worsen his already delicate condition and surely kill him. Instead, they take him across 10th Street to the Peterson house. Once there the doctors and surgeons are the only ones allowed in the room as they examine Lincoln.
David Harold spurs his mount on towards the 11th Street bridge and like Booth, he is stopped and questioned by the same soldier who allowed Booth to pass. This time, the soldier is not as charitable. Like Booth, Harold feigns ignorance of the rule regarding the closing time of 9:00 p.m. Unlike Booth, Harold’s excuse for not coming out earlier, is that he claims he was having relations with a prostitute, using a vulgar pun which humors the soldier, who allows Harold to pass.
Further up the road, Harold reunites with Booth, who asks why Powell wasn’t with him and if they had succeeded. Harold told him what happened and says that he assumed that Powell succeeded. Booth tells Harold of his deed and , being who he is , an actor, lays the dramatic flair on really thick. The two men ride to Surrattsville MD to the Surratt Tavern and pick up some weapons and other supplies that had been previously arranged for them. Booth’s broken leg needs to be attended to. Booth knows where there there is doctor. He met this man the year before.
April 15th 1865
In Washington, Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton , Vice President Johnson and other officials and doctors await the inevitable. Mrs Lincoln grows hysterical and is removed from the room temporarily, but soon returns. The President’s breathing is faint. Dr Leale holds the Lincoln’s hand as other doctors feel for the President’s pulse until if finally stops at 7:22 a.m.
Mrs Lincoln looks at her lifeless husband.
“I have given my husband to die!”
Stanton, breaks down after Mrs Lincoln leaves the room . After a moment, he collects himself and dries his tears from his face and utters,
“Now he belongs to the ages.”
Two coins are placed over the eyes of the dead President.