Lincoln

Documenting Tragedy

During the Civil War, Lincoln ran for re-election in 1864, beating the Democratic candidate, General George B. McClellan, in the fall of that year. The photograph Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., April 10, 1865, was taken by Alexander Gardner one day after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, which ended the war.

<em>Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., April 10, 1865</em>

Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., April 10, 1865

Only four days later, on April 15, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor of the day and a devoted Confederate who believed killing the man who had defeated the South was an honorable deed. Lincoln was the first president to be assassinated, and the country was stunned when it happened. He was immediately celebrated as a hero.

An explosion of images of Lincoln appeared soon after, from inexpensive prints to elaborate large-scale sculptures made for city plazas. People craved images of his tragic death, and depictions of it were made quickly to meet the demand, such as the print The Assassination of President Lincoln by Currier & Ives. People also wanted pictures of the murderer, John Wilkes Booth. For a time, photographs of Booth cost more than those of Lincoln! Often, illustrators embellished pictures of the assassination, adding details that made it more melodramatic or made Booth appear decidedly evil.

<em>The Assassination of President Lincoln</em>

The Assassination of President Lincoln

Lincoln’s funeral was an enormous event in the North, and many prints and photographs were made to document and memorialize it or to help citizens mourn. For example, the funeral ribbon A Nation’s Loss would have been worn by mourners as a sign of sorrow and respect. 

<em>A Nation's Loss</em>

A Nation’s Loss

As the train carrying Lincoln’s body traveled from town to town on the way to his home in Springfield, Illinois, crowds dressed in black lined up to view his casket. Artists along the route captured the event, as seen in the Philadelphia broadside Funeral Car, and in a photograph taken in Chicago, Funeral procession outside Cook County Court House, May 1, 1865.

<em>Funeral Car</em>

Funeral Car

<em>Funeral procession outside Cook County Court House, May 1, 1865</em>

Funeral procession outside Cook County Court House, May 1, 1865