President Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and the American Civil War are nearly simultaneous events. Less than a month after Lincoln’s inauguration the war began at Ft. Sumter and lasted until just a few days before his assassination. During that period some of the most talented photographers of the time took Lincoln’s photo. That group included Alexander Gardner, thought to be Lincoln’s favorite photographer. Some of these photographs were formal studio portraits of the President and his family. Two Gardner photographs particularly capture the toll that the war extracted from Abraham Lincoln. The first photograph, taken in 1863, contrasts with the last known formal portrait of Lincoln, taken a few days before his assassination. Others were taken when Lincoln visited remote places including battlefields where he met with the troops and Generals. After the Union Victory at Antietam, Gardner accompanied Lincoln to visit the Union Army. Lincoln is captured in a series of photographs posing with (among others) General George B. McClellan, Allan Pinkerton, Gen. Henry J. Hunt, Gen. George W. Morell, Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, Gen. John A. McClernand and a young Captain George Armstrong Custer.
To honor what many consider his greatest speech we have two different versions of the Gettysburg Address. One version has a large print text of the Gettysburg Address crowned by a photo of Lincoln framed in a red-white-and blue motif. A second, more tempered print has the text complemented by a line drawing of President Lincoln. Both versions are printed on a quality parchment paper that makes for a stunning and dignified presentation.
The Abraham Lincoln Assassination Photos and Lithographs.
A few weeks after his second inauguration,and a few days after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. John Wilkes Booth, the man who actually fired the fatal shot into Lincoln’s Head was at the apex of a broad conspiracy perpetrated by a group wanting to throw the United States Government into chaos by assassinating President Lincoln and other high government officials. What followed in the aftermath of the actual assassination was a period of national anguish and grief. The Abraham Lincoln Funeral was a national event, happening at the end of four horrendous years of war that had over 600,000 casualties on both sides. The President’s body was carried from Washington, D.C. to its Springfield, Illinois final resting place in his private railroad car. Following a route very similar to his travel from Springfield to Washington in 1861 for his inauguration, many cities had processions and viewings that lasted a full day. Along the train route tens of thousands of Americans stood beside railroad tracks to honor their fallen leader as his funeral car passed. A series of photos surrounding the aftermath of the assassination include one showing Ford’s Theater just days after the assassination—bedecked in black crepe and guarded by the military. A remarkable Currier and Ives lithograph captures the funeral procession as it neared Union Square in New York City. Many more photos and lithographs will be added to this section over the next two years.
The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators’ Confinement and Execution
Most American school children were educated in rooms where photographs of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington looked down on them. However, few Americans have ever seen the photographs and wanted posters of the broader conspiracy members. John Wilkes Booth led this band of Confederate sympathizers who also planned to kill Secretary of State Seward and Vice-President Andrew Johnson. Mary Surratt, John Surratt, Lewis Powell, David E. Herold, and George Atzerodt were among those eventually charged with participation in the conspiracy. John Surratt was eventually caught, tried and acquitted. As you will see, the others did not fare so well.
After the assassination, Washington D.C. grew frustrated by the failure to capture Booth or any of the other participants. A huge financial reward was offered for the capture of John Wilkes Booth, John Surratt and David Herold. To publicize the reward, Secretary of War Edward Stanton issued a wanted poster with details of the reward. Three photographs of the conspirators were printed on the poster. We have available a new print of that poster available as part of this collection.
CAUTIONARY NOTE: the photographs of the execution of the Lincoln Conspirators discussed next, while of immense historical significance, may be offensive to some viewers. Clicking on the links below and above will take you to those photographs so proceed with caution.
Perhaps the most stunning photographic prints we have available in our collection are the series of four taken by Alexander Gardner of the execution by hanging of convicted conspirators Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David E. Herold, and George Atzerodt. Their execution took place on July 7, 1865 at Old Arsenal Prison, Washington, D.C. There is something fascinating and simultaneously sobering about these photos since they were taken in less than a half-hour of time. They show the condemned prisoners arriving on the gallows, hearing the death warrants, the adjusting of the ropes and their lifeless bodies after the execution. We also have an additional photo of General John Hartranft, commander of the execution detail, and his staff officers. In addition, we also have prints of the mug shot photographs of Powell, Herold and Atzerodt while they were confined at the Old Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.
Together these photos, and many of the dozens of others that will be added to the collection over the next several years, form a remarkable record of one of the most inspiring, and complex, Americans to have ever lived.
We hope that they will make his life and death as heroic and tragic as so many historians and citizens alike believe it was.