Though the Capitol Building seemed complete by 1850, it soon proved to be too small for the growing country. Two new enormous wings were added to the northern and southern end of the Capitol, where the House and Senate would now have their sessions. By 1855, they began working on a larger dome, made out of cast iron instead of copper for the center building. This dome would still be under construction in November of 1860 when Abraham Lincoln became President Elect.
Though, there wasn't many slaves in Baltimore, tensions had been building regarding slavery, and the 1860 presidential election. Abraham Lincoln was an unpopular candidate to the point where seven states had succeeded from the U.S. before he even got to Washington D.C.. The State of Maryland was split on whether or not to join the Confederates. Among this tension, Lincoln had to take the rail road through Baltimore to reach Washington D.C. for his inauguration and threats against his life were already floating around in the city. He decided to quietly take the trip between the rails the night before he was scheduled to, leaving the rest of his family to travel on schedule. He was offered a knife and brass knuckles in case he needed to defend himself, but Lincoln declined. When the residents found out that the President had quietly passed through the night before, they weren’t happy with their new leader.
Once Lincoln arrived, he held his inauguration on the steps of the Capitol, beneath the unfinished dome. Once he completed that, he moved into the Executive Mansion. The damages done to the Executive Mansion back in 1814 had been long repaired. The repairs even included coats of white paint to the exterior of the mansion so that it would sometimes be informally refereed to as "The White House". Despite this beautiful white mansion though, the ever growing executive staff was beginning to leave the sixty year old building felling cramped.
By April 1861, Fort Sumter had been fired upon, marking the beginning of the American Civil War. From the Executive Mansion, Lincoln called for troops and days later, a Massachusetts militia was traveling to Washington through Baltimore, but was blocked while transferring rails by an angry mob. They decided to leave the horses and march on foot to get to the rail station on the other side, the mob followed them, breaking windows and throwing bricks at them, forcing the troops to fire into the crowd, and starting a riot. Four soldiers and twelve civilians were killed in the fighting, the first blood spilled in the Civil War. The troops were able to reach the other rail road, but left much of their equipment behind in the chaos. The mob proceeded to break more windows, burn bridges and cut telegraph lines.
A few days after the riot, a pro-southern sympathizer wrote a poem called “Maryland, my Maryland”, which later became the official state song.
When Lincoln heard of what would later be called the Pratt Street riot, he sent troops to occupy Baltimore in hopes of preventing Maryland from joining the Confederacy. Union troops took over Federal Hill in the middle of the night and set up a small fort there, pointing cannons at the city's business district and Washington Monument. Baltimore was now under martial law, and Union troops began arresting confederate sympathizers.
Those arrested included Baltimore's mayor, city council, police commissioner and Francis Key Howard, grandson of Francis Scott Key, all as Confederate sympathizers. They were imprisoned at Ft. McHenry and later released. It seems these efforts were successful in keeping Maryland in the Union.
While the war was going on, John T. Ford decided to renovate the theater, so he closed it in 1862. He had it seat up to 2,500 people and reopened the theater as "Ford's Athenea". After reopening, the theater was first graced with the Lincoln's presence in May of the same year when they arrived to watch an Italian opera. Then in December, a defective gas meter caused a fire that destroyed the theater's interior. During the reconstruction, President Lincoln helped to procure materials.
By December 1863, construction on the new Capitol dome was finally completed and capped off with a seven foot bronze statue of Freedom. The completed dome towers at 287 feet, almost as big as the future Statue of Liberty. After completing the dome, construction on marble terraces in front of and back of the Capitol Building began. Except for a visitors center that would be opened over a hundred and forty five years later, not much else would happen at the Capitol construction wise.
Not only did Maryland stay in the Union, but in 1865, General Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. In Washington, a relieved Lincoln decided to take up an evening performance of "Our American Cousin" at the rebuilt Ford's Theater. Word returned to the theater and to John Wilkes Booth, who was in Washington when the war ended. Since the beginning of the war, Booth had been a staunch Confederate supporter and had previously, along with other conspirators, made two attempts to kidnap President Lincoln that failed. While the cast and crew in the theater rehearsed, Booth rented a horse and made plans.
That night, during the third act of the play, Booth snuck into Lincoln's box and shot him in the back of the head. The performance was interrupted by the gunshot and subsequent struggle on the Presidential Balcony. Before anyone could really understand what had happened, Booth had jumped off the balcony, on to the stage, where he dramatically declared that the South was avenged and made his escape. After doctors entered the box, they noticed that the President was still breathing, but that his wound was mortal.
It was decided that he would be moved. They were going to take him to the bar next door, but once outside, a man standing at the steps of the Petersen building, located across the street, held out a lantern and implored the crowd to bring him inside. There, in a bed that John Wilkes Booth had once slept on only weeks before, Lincoln spent his last hours. Troops came into Ford's Theater that night and detained anybody still inside and may have prevented the theater from being torched by angry mobs.
John Wilkes Booth wasn't the only person involved in a plot that night however. While that was happening, a co-conspirator of Booth's named Lewis Powell was guided to the home of Secretary of State William H. Seward by a man named David Herold. From there he brutally attacked an ailing Seward, who was resting after falling off of a horse, with a knife, nearly killing him. When Powell tried to escape, however, he realized that Herold had taken his horse and left him.
President Lincoln died the next morning, April 5th at 7:22 am at the Petersen Boarding House. He, along with a devastated Mrs. Lincoln were taken back to the Executive Mansion, where the President would undergo an autopsy and be prepared for his funeral. Three days later, he was laying in state in the East room of the Executive Mansion. The next day, the remains were transported down Pennsylvania Ave, to lay in state under the Capital Rotunda until April 20th, its cast iron dome just having been completed a year and a half before.
At 8am on April 21, 1865, Lincoln's remains were put on a train which would slowly head for his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, by the route he used to go to D.C. The first stop was at the merchants exchange building in Baltimore, where his body was put on display from noon to 2 pm. By 3 pm, the train was on its way to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Last time Lincoln had passed through Baltimore, he had to sneak though it in the middle of the night for his own safety. Now that he had beaten down a rebellion, and with his safety clearly not a concern anymore, his legend had begun to ferment. Yet, regardless of that, I wonder how many Baltimore residents looked upon Lincoln's corpse feeling truly remorseful verses how many secretly felt satisfied. Lincoln's body would reach Springfield where it would be buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois.
While Lincoln was laying at state in the Executive Mansion, Lewis Powell, after being left by David Herold, had wandered for the next three days. When he attacked Secretary of State William H. Seward, his partner took off, leaving Powell alone until he showed up at the home of his friend's mother, Mary Surratt. He came at a bad time however, since police were there looking for him and her son. He was taken into custody, and sent to the Naval Yard in Washington D.C. where he was tried, convicted, sentenced to death and was hung along with Mary Surratt and two other conspirators on July 7, 1865.
John Wilkes Booth had been tracked down and killed at at farm in Virginia on April 26, 1865. Afterwards, his body was taken back to Washington D.C., on the ironclad USS Montauk, where he was identified and autopsied. The body was then covered by blankets, stuck in a wooden coffin, and buried in a storage room at what was called the Old Penitentiary in Washington D.C.. His body would then be transferred to an arsenal warehouse in 1867 before being returned to the Booth family in 1869 for a very private funeral at the Booth family plot at the Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore.
The Secretary of War never wanted another show played in the theater, but John T. Ford, the owner, had bills to pay. As a settlement, the government bought the building from Ford and converted the theater where the President had been shot, into office space.
Years and years later, I visit Fords Theater and the Peterson Boarding House. Click on the video above to check it out.