[LINCOLN -- ASSASSINATION]. BROWN, Spencer H. Autograph letter signed to his sister, Judiciary Hospital, Washington, D.C., 16 April . 4pp., 8o. WITH ORIGINAL ENVELOPE, BEARING A WASHINGTON POSTMARK OF 17 APRIL AND MANUSCRIPT DATE "16 APRIL."
"PRESIDENT LINCOLN HAS BEEN STRUCK DOWN...BY A DEMON IN HUMAN FORM... REJOICING...HAS BEEN TURNED INTO MOURNING": AN EYEWITNESS'S VIVID ACCOUNT OF LINCOLN'S ASSASSINATION
Brown, a Union soldier recovering from wounds in a Washington hospital, relates that he had attended the performance at Ford's Theatre on 14 April, and vividly describes the momentous events which transpired: "The rejoicing over our victories has been turned into mourning. President Lincoln has been struck down...by a demon in human form....an act that has no parallel since the days when...Caesar was struck down...by an idle mob...I was present & saw this scene enacted..." Spencer describes the setting: "About 8 1/2 o clock Mr. Lincoln & lady accompanied by a single couple entered the house...The play went on & all went smoothly...when suddenly a pistol shot is heard. No one is alarmed for it is thought to be a part of the play....A dark form is seen to fall from a private box his spurs catching in the flagg as he descends...& rising in a tragical attitude he draws a dagger & with his white face towards the crowd he repeated in latin 'thus be it ever to tyrants' & ...making his exit by a brick door mounted a horse rapid rode away...loud cries resounded from all parts of the house...I will send you a...full account of the affair & also a portrait of the murderer who I am shure [sic] is J. Wilkes Booth...The City is mad with excitement at the act: three men has [sic] been shot dead by soldiers for saying they were glad the President was dead". [With:] An earlier letter from Brown to the same sister and three other letters to him.
Contemporary accounts by persons close to the events of April l4 assassination are extremely rare on the market. While several persons recorded their recollections of that night years after the event, there are few letters like Brown's, provably close to the event. An account by Lincoln's physician, Dr. Stone, of his examination and post-mortem, from the collection of Phillip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, 26 April l978, lot 198) was undated, and may have been written in connection with the conspirators' trial, in May l865. No other accounts dated so close to the assassination by a witness are recorded in American Book Prices Current as far back as 1940, other than a letter of Charles Daggett, who was also present at the play. His letter, dated 15 April, was sold at Christie's, 5 December 1991, lot 81, $33,000.