On Tuesday, April 11, 1865, Lincoln related a recent dream to Mary and a few friends. In his dream, he heard a number of people weeping, and he wandered through the White House to find out what was going on. He got to the East Room and there met with a sobering surprise. Before him was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. He asked nearby soldiers who had died in the White House. “The president” was the answer. The soldier said “He was killed by an assassin!” At that point Lincoln awoke, and could not get back to sleep.
Three days later, the Mary Lincoln arranged a theater outing. Fourteen persons turned down the Lincolns’ invitation to join them on the fateful night of April 14, 1865. Excuses ranged from prior engagements to sudden illness. General Grant and his wife Julia had been invited, but Julia reportedly said she refused to sit in a theater box with “that crazy woman,” meaning Mary Lincoln. Even the president’s son Robert declined; he had just returned from Appomattox Court House, where he was present when Lee surrendered to Grant, and he wanted to sleep. The only two persons who accepted the Lincolns’ offer were Maj. Henry R. Rathbone and his fiancee, Clara Harris, the daughter of New York Sen. Ira Harris.
Shortly after 10:00 p.m. on April 14, 1865, actor John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln. After Booth shot Lincoln, Rathbone struggled with Booth and sustained serious wounds in his neck and head. (He recovered, but eventually went insane.) As Lincoln slumped forward in his seat, Booth leapt onto the stage and escaped out the back door. The paralyzed president was immediately examined by a doctor in the audience and then carried across the street to Petersen’s Boarding House where he died early the next morning.
Lincoln’s assassination was the first presidential assassination in U.S. history.