Best Lincoln Stories Tersely Told
by J. E. Gallaher
Pub. in 1898


A Chicagoan Who Saw Lincoln Shot.

Mr. George C. Read, of Chicago, at the time of President Lincoln’s assassination, was a foot orderly under Generals Griffin and Ayers. He was in Washington on the fateful April 14, 1865, and was an eyewitness to the tragedy. He tells of it as follows:

"Some time in the latter part of March, 1865, I was sent to Washington on account of the loss of my voice. I remained there most of the time in barracks on east Capitol Hill. On the afternoon, of the fated April 14, 1865, I happened in the saloon next door to Ford’s Theater to see the barkeeper, one Jim Peck. While standing near a stove about the center of the room three men came into the place laughing and talking loudly. They all went to the end of the bar nearest the door and ordered a drink. One was a tall, handsome fellow, dressed in the latest fashionable clothes, if I remember rightly, and the others appeared like workmen of some kind. Both were carelessly dressed, and I think one was in his shirt sleeves. They had their drink, and then the fine looking man turned toward where I was standing and said, ‘Come up, soldier, and have a drink.’ I declined, for the reason I had not at that time become addicted to the habit of social drinking. He then approached me and took me by the arm and said, "Have something; take a cigar.’ This I did not refuse, and he put his hand in his vest pocket and, pulling out a cigar, handed it to me without any further remarks. He then returned to his companions at the bar. They remained, if I remember correctly, about five minutes after, and then, all laughing at something that Peck said, left the place. As soon as they were gone I asked Peck who the big man was, and he said that he was an actor—one of the Booth family—John Wilkes Booth. I had heard of him before, but paid no further attention to it except to remark that he seemed to be in a happy frame of mind, when Peck stated that he was on a ‘drunk,’ and associated with the stage mechanics in the theater all the time.

"As I was about to depart, little thinking what history would develop in a few short hours, Peck asked me to accept a couple of tickets to the theater for that night. I was glad to get them, having no money to purchase the same, and knowing that the President would be at the play. Later I found a young man, like myself, broke, and invited him to accompany me to the play. We were on hand early, and, having good reserved seats about the center of the house, were elated over our good luck.

"Suffice it to say that the curtain went up and ‘Our American Cousin’ was introduced. I was intently interested and cannot remember positively what act it was that was on, except what is told in history, when I heard a shot, and immediately a man appeared at the front of the President’s box and, without waiting, jumped to the stage beneath. I, as well as all others in the theater, was astonished. He ran to about the center of the stage and raised his left hand and said something I did not catch, and then disappeared behind the wings. As soon as I saw him I recognized the handsome man I had seen in the saloon that afternoon, and turned to my comrade and said: ‘That’s Wilkes Booth, the actor, and I think he is on a drunk.’ Before I had finished even this a cry went up that the President had been shot, ‘Stop that man!’ and many other exclamations I have forgotten. It was all done so quickly that one had hardly time to think. Immediately the audience rose as one person and cries were heard all over the house, ‘Stop that man!’ ‘The President has been assassinated!’ and many others. The people began to crush each other and try to get out of the theater, but they were quieted to a certain extent and the provost guard on duty there fought to make them keep their places. Soon there was a movement on the side aisle running from the President’s box, and from where I was standing on my seat I could see what appeared to be a party of men carrying some one. Later the rest of the party were conducted out of the theater, and when I managed to get outside I saw a crowd looking up at a house opposite. On asking what it meant, I was told that the President had been carried there and was dying. I lost my comrade in the crowd and have never met him since.

"It is unnecessary to go into any more details of what occurred that night. I was excited, as well as every one else in the city, and got little rest. But that is my experience, told as briefly as possible, without any stretch of imagination. If I had to do with the same again I think it would have been better if I had told the officials what I saw that afternoon, but, as it was, all came out right, and the really guilty ones suffered the penalty of their crime. I met Peck the next year in New York City, but have never heard of or seen him since."

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