150 years on, US remembers Lincoln's assassination

WASHINGTON - With the laying of a wreath and a lone trumpeter playing "Taps," Americans on Wednesday marked the 150th anniversary of the death of Civil War president Abraham Lincoln from an assassin's bullet.

Several hundred people, some in period costume, gathered outside the downtown Washington row house where Lincoln passed away the morning after he was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater across the street.

The 56-year-old Lincoln had barely 24 hours earlier told a White House visitor how pleased he was that the Civil War - in which up to 850,000 people had perished - was over.

"At 7:21 and 55 seconds, Abraham Lincoln drew his last breath," historian Mark Swanson told Wednesday's early-morning crowd outside the red-brick Petersen House, a boarding house in 1865 that is today a national historic site.

"At 7:22 and 10 seconds his heart stopped beating. It was over. 'He's gone, he's dead,' one of the doctors said." The trumpeter, in a blue Union army uniform, played "Taps" mournfully. A US Park Ranger laid a wreath by the front door of Petersen House.

Church bells tolled across Washington, as they did a century and a half earlier.

On federal buildings across the United States, flags flew at half-staff after President Barack Obama declared Wednesday "a day of remembrance."

Unbreakable bond

"President Abraham Lincoln believed that we are, at heart, one nation and one people," Obama said in a proclamation.

"At a time when America was torn apart and our very future was in doubt, he knew our country was more than a collection of states, and that we shared a bond that would not break." Lincoln oversaw the Union's successful war against the breakaway southern Confederacy and, in 1863, signed the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery.

Many today regard him as the greatest of the 43 men - all them white, bar Obama - who have served as president, at a time when public trust in American politics is running low.

Dozens of events have been organised in Washington and around the United States to mark Lincoln's assassination, from an all-night vigil at Ford's Theater to a restaging of "Our American Cousin," the English farce he was watching when he was shot, in his home state of Illinois.

Booth, a well-known actor with Confederate sympathies, was 26 when he shot Lincoln to avenge the defeat of the southern states. He fled on horseback, but was killed several days later when Union soldiers cornered him in a Virginia tobacco barn.