Back at Ford’s Theatre, one audience member gave chase. Joseph Stewart, who was six foot five, jumped across the orchestra pit and chased Booth into the wings and out into the alley, where Booth found his waiting horse. Booth mounted his horse, and although Stewart reached for the reins, Booth was able to steer the horse to run away and escape.
For most of the audience members, the situation was confusing and terrifying. Only a single audience member was both clearheaded and brave enough to recognize that the president had really been attacked, that it was not a part of the play, and that he should try to stop the attacker.
Booth rode quickly through the streets of Washington, avoiding Pennsylvania Avenue where the crowds celebrated. He hoped to outrun the news of his deed on his horse and escape across the river to Maryland.
Since telegram use did not allow for the immediate spread of news, Booth was correct to think that his horse could outrun the news of his deed, so long as a messenger on another horse did not pursue and overtake him.
At the river, Sergeant Silas T. Cobb told Booth that no one was supposed to cross the river after a 9 PM curfew, and he interrogated him about where he was going. Booth used his skills as an actor to convince the men to let him cross. Had Booth been forced to return to Washington, he surely would have been taken prisoner. If he had tried to force his way across the river, the guards would have shot and killed him. He was lucky to escape across the river.
Although Booth had not planned on having to argue his way across the river, this was exactly the kind of obstacle that his skills as an actor prepared him for. Despite the enormous stress he was under, Booth was able to persuasively lie about his reasons for needing to cross the river late at night.
Back in Washington, Fanny Seward and Sergeant Robinson used cloths and water to stop Seward’s bleeding. Doctors soon arrived, confirmed that Seward would survive despite his ghastly wounds, and treated the other four whom Powell had attacked: Sergeant Robinson, Fanny, Augustus, and Frederick. Terrified that Powell might return or that other assassins were hiding in the house, Fanny prowled the rooms of her house, drenched in blood. Despite his weakness, her father tried to reassure her.
Once again, despite his own injuries, Sergeant Robinson continued to put the health and recovery of Secretary Seward above his own. At the same time, despite her father’s attempts to calm her, Fanny Seward was troubled and terrified by the sudden appearance of the terrible violence of the battlefield in her own home.
Back in Ford’s Theatre, there was a chaotic scene as the fifteen hundred people in the audience tried to make sense of what had just happened. Confusion reigned as Booth made his escape.
For the entire audience, the aftermath of the shooting was a time of panic and confusion. As it became clear that the shooting was not part of the play, it also became less certain what would happen next, either in the theater that night or in the course of the war at large.
Dr. Charles Leale rushed to the president’s box, and quickly determined that Major Rathbone was in no immediate danger from his stab wounds. He reassured Mrs. Lincoln that he would do all he could and began to examine the president. The president was unconscious and looked dead. Having seen Rathbone’s wounds, Leale at first assumed the president had also been stabbed. He cut open Lincoln’s clothes in search of a stab wound. When he found none, he lifted Lincoln’s eyelids and understood from the president’s pupils that there was a brain injury. He found the blood clot plugging the hole in Lincoln’s skull and pulled it out to relieve pressure on the president’s brain. Leale opened an airway and massaged the president’s heart, getting his heart to beat and his lungs to begin to suck in air. He had stabilized the president’s condition, but pronounced that there was no way Lincoln could recover.
As a doctor, Leale rushed to the president’s box to see if he could be of help. Both his profession and his support for the Union cause led him to try to save the president. Perhaps his dedication to the Union cause also led him to optimistically assume that Lincoln was unconscious because of stab wounds, despite the sound of the gunshot that had been fired. Once he discovered the bullet hole in Lincoln’s skull, however, his professional understanding took over. He knew that there was nothing he could do for Lincoln except to keep him alive for a few more hours and ensure him a dignified death.
At the Kirkwood House, George Atzerodt drank in the hotel lobby, unable to work up the courage to follow through on the plan to murder Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was staying in a room a floor below Atzerodt’s. He left the bar and rode away on his horse, unsure of what to do next.
Riding away from the scene of the Seward attack, David Herold regretted abandoning Powell, but was relieved to be safe and outside of suspicion for any crime. He followed Booth’s path, convincing Sergeant Cobb and his guards to allow him to cross the river to Maryland.
Herold believed that because he had not attacked or killed anyone, he was exempt from punishment. He did not realize that by failing to report to the authorities and by going to join Booth in Maryland, he committed crimes.
Lewis Powell, meanwhile, did not know Washington, D.C. well. Lost in a strange city and drenched in blood, he somehow managed to also lose his horse. For the next two nights, he slept in a tree. Eventually he recalled a boardinghouse that Booth had mentioned. He thought he would be safe there if he could find it.
Likely in shock after the terrible crimes he had just committed, Powell was unable to adjust to his abandonment by Herold and he come up with a new plan to save himself. He lacked the knowledge of his surroundings that had been so essential to Booth’s own escape.
In Ford’s Theatre, Dr. Leale was considering how to move the president. It would be undignified for Lincoln to die in a theater, a place of amusement, and all the more so on Good Friday. At the same time, the actress Laura Keene navigated the theater. She left the stage and moved towards the new center of drama in the president’s box. She asked Dr. Leale to allow her to cradle the president’s head in her lap, and despite the inappropriateness of this request, Leale allowed it. Keane’s dress was soaked in Lincoln’s blood and brain matter, and in the days afterwards people would beg to see this memento from the historic night. Meanwhile, Leale prepared to move the president, although he did not know where to take him.
Having realized that the president would not survive, Leale shifted his concern. He wanted to make sure that the president would die in an environment suitable to the dignity of the office and with a dignity befitting the principles he’d lived for. Strangely, given this concern for the president’s dignity, he allowed the actress Laura Keene to hold the president’s head in her lap, creating a morbid memento of her ruined dress and indulging her sense that this historic moment was like a play come to life.
Booth was now across the river in Maryland, a state which had not seceded but was filled with Southern sympathizers. Indeed, if Maryland had seceded, the war might have gone differently. This was safe ground for Booth, but he had none of the skills he needed to live in the wilderness and his leg injury was causing him pain. He planned to depend on Herold for aid. In the darkness, he struggled to find Soper’s Hill, the place he and Herold had chosen to meet. Finally, the sounds of hoofbeats reached Booth. He wondered if it was a cavalry pursuing him, and was relieved when Herold rode up.
Herold’s decision to join Booth and his ability to reach him by crossing the river were both uncertain. It was a stroke of luck for the two men that they managed to find one another in the dark of the night. Had Booth failed to find Herold quickly, his injured leg and lack of skills for surviving outside might have led to his being captured much more quickly.
Booth and Herold exchanged information. Herold knew nothing about Atzerodt’s mission, but he reported on how Powell’s trick with the package of medicine had worked to gain him entry and how the house’s inhabitants had begun to scream for help. Booth felt that this was evidence that Powell had succeeded in killing Seward. Booth may have been angry with Herold for abandoning Powell, who was a loyal follower of Booth’s and an excellent fighter, and who would be utterly lost now that he was left alone in the capital. However, Booth would have proudly regaled Herold with the story of his successful attack on Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre.
Neither Booth nor Herold knew at this point if any of their targets had been successfully killed. Cut off from any new information, they could only speculate about the fates of the other two conspirators and their targets. They also had no idea how quickly news of the two attacks would spread. If Powell were captured, it was possible that their plans would be revealed quickly. The two men were likely relieved to have each other as they faced the uncertain results of their actions.
Back at Ford’s, Leale and others carried the unconscious Lincoln out onto the street. Leale demanded that a soldier find a place to bring the president, and the soldiers banged on doors across the street, but got no answer. Stranded in the middle of the street, in front of a mob of witnesses, Leale pulled another blood clot from the hole in Lincoln’s head. Suddenly, a door opened across the street. Someone at William Petersen’s boardinghouse had stepped outside to investigate the hullaballoo. Lincoln was carried into the boardinghouse.
In this chaotic moment, mobs of ordinary Americans learned that the president was gravely injured. Many saw his condition with their own eyes. They would rush off to tell all their near and dear about the president’s condition as they had seen it outside Ford’s theater. Just as the president had led the nation through years of bloodshed, his own bloody end was seen by many of his fellow citizens that night.