The Items Found In Abraham Lincoln’s Pockets On the Night of His Death

Photo Credit: 1. Lawrence Thornton / Getty Images 2.  Carol M. Highsmith / Buyenlarge / Getty Images
Photo Credit: 1. Lawrence Thornton / Getty Images 2. Carol M. Highsmith / Buyenlarge / Getty Images

US President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, a moment that has immortalized the country’s 16th president. His death occurred just days after the American Civil War came to an end, a time that wreaked havoc across the nation. When Abraham Lincoln was killed, what did he have in his pockets? As it turns out, some rather strange items.

The assassination that shook the United States

Drawing of Abraham Lincoln sitting by a balcony at the Ford Theatre
Photo Credit: Kean Collection / Getty Images

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is one of America’s most significant historical moments. At the time, he had just finished guiding the nation through the Civil War, the country’s most turbulent period, and was extremely popular. He was particularly loved by the African-American community, as he’d made enormous contributions to the abolishment of slavery.

Lincoln attended Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC to watch a play with his wife, Mary. While he was enjoying the show, his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, made his way into the president’s box. At the time, Booth was relatively popular, having achieved a successful stage career.

He walked up behind Lincoln, who was unaware of Booth’s presence, and shot him once in the back of the head with a .44-caliber derringer pistol. He then made his dramatic escape, fighting his way out of the theater and racing away on horseback. Lincoln was declared dead the next morning. One of America’s most highly-respected presidents was deceased at the age of 56.

While Lincoln’s death was an enormous moment in US history, one of the more mundane, yet interesting, aspects about it was what the president was carrying in his pockets at the time.

The contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets

Contents of Abraham Lincoln's pockets on the night he was assassinated
Photo Credit: MPI / Getty Images

When he was shot, Abraham Lincoln was carrying a small pocket knife, two pairs of spectacles and a pocket watch fob in his pockets. He was also carrying a leather wallet and linen handkerchief with “A. Lincoln” inscribed in red letters. Notably, one of the pairs of glasses had evidence of a small repair made by the president himself.

However, the president had more than just everyday items on him. He carried a small collection of newspaper clippings, which featured words of praise about himself. Perhaps the most interesting item on Lincoln that night was a $5.00 Confederate bill in his wallet.

Why was the president carrying a currency used by the enemy? The exact answer is unknown, but researchers at the Library of Congress have one idea. “We don’t know with one hundred percent certainty but just a few days earlier, Richmond had fallen, and Lincoln did actually travel to Richmond and this was likely passed onto him as a souvenir,” said Clark Evans, head of Reference Services in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress.

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The fact the possessions carried by Abraham Lincoln on the night he was assassinated still survive is simply incredible. After his death, they were given to his eldest son, Robert. His family kept hold of the possessions for the next 70 years. Today, they can be seen at the Library of Congress; they are its most prized items.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE