Abraham Lincoln's Assassination
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THE SHOT THROUGH ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S HAT


The Lincoln Cottage at the Soldiers' Home (about three miles from the White House) - where the Lincolns often stayed to avoid Washington's summer heat.

In August 1864 a sniper apparently tried to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. One day at the White House Lincoln told the following story to this good friend, Ward Hill Lamon:
"Last night about eleven o'clock, I went to the Soldiers' Home alone, riding Old Abe, as you call him (a horse he delighted in riding), and when I arrived at the foot of the hill on the road leading to the entrance to the Home grounds, I was jogging along at a slow gait, immersed in deep thought, contemplating what was next to happen in the unsettled state of affairs, when suddenly I was aroused–I may say the arousement lifted me out of my saddle as well as out of my wits–by the report of a rifle, and seemingly the gunner was not fifty yards from where my contemplations ended and my accelerated transit began. My erratic namesake, with little warning, gave proof of decided dissatisfaction at the racket, and with one reckless bound he unceremoniously separated me from my eight-dollar plug hat, with which I parted company without any assent, express or implied, upon my part. At a break-neck speed we soon arrived in a haven of safety. Meanwhile I was left in doubt whether death was more desirable from being thrown from a runaway federal horse, or as the tragic result of a rifle-ball fired by a disloyal bushwhacker in the middle of the night."
This was all told in the spirit of levity; he seemed unwilling, even in appearance, to attach that importance to the event which I was disposed to give it. He seemed to want to believe it a joke. "Now," said he, "in the face of this testimony in favor of your theory of danger to me, personally, I can't bring myself to believe that any one has shot or will deliberately shoot at me with the purpose of killing me; although I must acknowledge that I heard this fellow's bullet whistle at an uncomfortably short distance from these headquarters of mine. I have about concluded that the shot was the result of accident. It may be that some one on his return from a day's hunt, regardless of the course of his discharge, fired off his gun as a precautionary measure of safety to his family after reaching his house." This was said with much seriousness.
He then playfully proceeded: "I tell you there is no time on record equal to that made by the two Old Abes on that occasion. The historic ride of John Gilpin, and Henry Wilson's memorable display of bareback equestrianship on the stray army mule from the scenes of the battle of Bull Run, a year ago, are nothing in comparison to mine, either in point of time made or in ludicrous pageantry." My only advantage over these worthies was in having no observers. I can truthfully say that one of the Abes was frightened on this occasion, but modesty forbids my mentioning which of us is entitled to that distinguished honor. This whole thing seems farcical. No good can result at this time from giving it publicity. It does seem to me that I am in more danger from the augmentation of an imaginary peril than from a judicious silence, be the danger ever so great; and, moreover, I do not want it understood that I share your apprehensions. I never have."

Independent confirmation of Lamon's story came from Private John W. Nichols (pictured left and below) of Company K, 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Quoting from Matthew Pinsker's Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home:

"About eleven o'clock one night, Private John W. Nichols of Company K was on guard duty at the large gate on the edge of the institution's grounds when he heard a rifle shot and then witnessed the "bareheaded" president riding quickly on horseback toward his cottage. Private Nichols asked the president about his missing hat and was told that "somebody had fired a gun off at the foot of the hill" which frightened Lincoln's horse and then led to a struggle to regain control that had "jerked his hat off." Concerned, Nichols recalled years later that he and another member of the company went down the twisting driveway toward the main road where they discovered the president's signature silk plug hat with a bullet hole through the crown. The next day Nichols claimed that he returned the item to the president, who assured him "rather unconcernedly" that the whole episode was the product of "some foolish gunner" and that he wanted the matter "kept quiet."

Whoever fired the shot remains a mystery to this day.

Lincoln expert, Harold Holzer, noted on page 50 of The President Is Shot! The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, "...from that day on, Lincoln rode to and from the Soldiers' Home in a carriage, surrounded by soldiers."

Sources consulted: p. 267-269 of Recollections of Abraham Lincoln by Ward Hill Lamon (Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1994), pp. 163-164 of Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home by Matthew Pinsker (New York, Oxford University Press, 2003), and p. 50 of The President Is Shot! The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by Harold Holzer (Honesdale, Pennsylvania, Boyds Mills Press, 2004). The photograph of Lamon came from p. xvii of Recollections of Abraham Lincoln. The photograph of Nichols is the property of the Illinois State Historical Library in Springfield and came from p. 164 of Pinsker's book. Nichols' account was originally published in the Wheeling Register (West Virginia), and reprinted in the April 6, 1887, edition of the New York Times.

For more information on Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home, please see Lincoln's Other White House: The Untold Story of the Man and His Presidency by Elizabeth Smith Brownstein (Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005).

NOTE: President Bill Clinton designated the Lincoln Cottage a national monument in 2000. In February 2008, after an eight-year $15 million renovation, the cottage opened to the public as a National Trust historic site. The preservation effort was a joint project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Although the building has been updated to comply with fire and electrical codes, the restored cottage is now essentially the same as it was in Lincoln's time. The trust will run the government-owned property.

The drawing of Lincoln and his hat is the work of James Warner. James Warner lives in Cadillac, Michigan and enjoys illustrating, woodcarving and antique collecting. To contact Mr. Warner for artwork please call (231) 577-4207 or send e-mails to: jameltrib@yahoo.com. Please type "Lincoln" in the subject line of your e-mail. Mr. Warner always enjoys hearing from people. However, all mail without the name "Lincoln" in the subject line will NOT be answered. Sorry for the inconvenience. ARTWORK NOT TO BE REPRODUCED FOR USE ON ANY OTHER SITE WITHOUT PERMISSION!



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