Sunday, December 20, 2009

'Now He Belongs To The Ages'

Last of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
As soon as it was clear that instant death would not occur, the President was moved from the crowded [Ford's] theater. Some wanted to take him to the White House, but Dr. Leale warned that he would die if jostled on the rough streets of Washington. They decided to carry him across Tenth Street to a house owned by William Petersen, a merchant-tailor. There he was taken to a small, narrow room at the rear of the first floor. Because Lincoln was so tall, his body could not fit on the bed unless his knees were elevated. Finding that the foot of the bedstead could not be removed or broken off, the doctors placed him diagonally across the mattress, resting his head and shoulders on extra pillows. Though he was covered by an army blanket and a colored wool coverlet, his extremities grew very cold, and the physicians ordered hot-water bottles.

Here Lincoln lay for the next nine hours. . . . Mary was with her husband through the long night. Frantic with grief, she sat at his bedside, calling on him to say one word to her, to take her with him. When Robert came in with Senator Sumner, he saw what desperate shape his mother was in and sent for Elizabeth Dixon -- wife of Connecticut Senator James Dixon -- who was perhaps Mary's closest friend in the capital. Mrs. Dixon persuaded her to retire to the front room of the Petersen house, where she rested as well as she could, returning every hour to her husband's side. Once when Lincoln's breathing became very stertorous, Mary, who was approaching exhaustion, became frightened, leapt up with a piercing cry, and fell fainting on the floor. Coming in from the adjoining room, Stanton called out loudly, "Take that woman out and do not let her in again."

. . . Stanton immediately started an investigation of the assassination, taking testimony from witnesses, ordering all bridges and roads out of the capital closed, and directing the military to search for the murderers. By dawn he had a massive manhunt under way.

As the night of April 14-15 wore on, Lincoln's pulse became irregular and feeble, and his respiration was accompanied by a guttural sound. Several times it seemed that he had ceased breathing. Mary was allowed to return to her husband's side, and, as Mrs. Dixon reported, "she again seated herself by the President, kissing him and calling him every endearing name." As his breath grew fainter and fainter, she was led back into the front room. At twenty-two minutes past seven, on the morning of April 15, the struggled ended, and the physicians came in to inform her: "It is all over! The President is no more!"

In the small, crowded back room there was silence until Stanton asked Dr. Gurley to offer a prayer. Robert gave way to overpowering grief, leaning on Sumner for comfort. Standing at the foot of the bed, his face covered with tears, Stanton paid tribute to his fallen chief: With a slow and measured movement, his right arm fully extended as if in a salute, he raised his hat and placed it for an instant on his head and then in the same deliberate manner removed it. "Now," he said, "he belong to the ages."

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