Cleveland’s Connection to the Lincoln Assassination

On this President’s Day, I’d like to share the story of one-time Cleveland / Vienna resident, William Edward Widrick.  In addition to being a Civil War veteran, he was present during the assassination of President Lincoln and facilitated in the capture Lincoln’s assign, John W. Booth, and Booth’s accomplices.

William E. Widrick, Enlistment Photo, [2]
William E. Widrick, Enlistment Photo, [3]
Born in Frankfort, New York, William was eager to volunteer for the Civil War:

“A husky young fellow, Mr. Widrick wanted to go to war with his father when the Civil War began.  His father protested, however, and insisted on his son staying at home to care for the farm.  But the boy ran away and enlisted in the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery.” [1]

The drive to serve follows right along the Widrick family tree as his father, Garrett, also an area resident, served in the War of 1812 and his grandfather served in the Revolution. [2]

William was enlisted and mustered out of Floyd, New York into Company I, 2nd Regiment, New York Heavy Artillery.  He served in active combat and was wounded in Petersburg, Virginia on June 16th, 1864. [3]

“Mr. Widrick often displayed his left hand proudly to show that the index finger was missing.  It was shot off in the battle of Peach Orchard.  He was wounded in the thigh also at that time. [1]

Less than a year later, William Widrick, in the company of Frank England, were of a select few to attend the Ford Theater on April 14,1865, and to have witnessed the assassination of President Lincoln.  Upon his death in July of 1932, the Syracuse Herald printed Mr. Widrick’s story.  In his own words, follows his remarks:

“The house in Ford’s Theater that night made itself heard in a mumbled chatter.  Then a hush settled over the rows of seats as the stage was lighted to signify the rise of the curtain.

President Lincoln in a familiar posture, was seated in a box across the theater from where I was sitting.  The President’s angular profile was clearly visible as he leaned to whisper to someone in the box.  Lincoln’s haggard countenance showed a faint smile.

Suddenly a pistol shot took the attention of the house from the play. 

Pandemonium reigned as one of America’s greatest dramas took place on the wrong side of the stage.

With the pistol report came a flash, a burst of smoke and screams in the audience.  The President’s hand swept to the back of his skull in anguish.

John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, leaped to the stage from the box directly behind that occupied by the mortally wounded President.

’Sic semper tyrannis.’ Booth cried dramatically, and fled through the wings of the stage.” [1]


Mr. Widrick sharing his story, circa. 1932 [5]
Mr. Widrick sharing his story, circa. 1932 [5]
Mr. Widrick, detailed to watching the trains after the President was murdered, was proud of telling the story about his efforts in witnessing the people responsible for this act to justice.  He tells the story of the capture like this:

William E. Widrick, (circa. 1932) [1]
William E. Widrick, (circa. 1932) [1]
“When you toss something to a woman, she will spread her legs to form a lap.  When you toss something to a man he will close his legs.

A man in civilian clothes got on the train the fourth day after Lincoln was shot and told me not let anyone off, but to let everyone on.  He then started down the aisle of the car with a basket of peaches.

Standing in the isle, he tossed peaches to the passengers.  He came to two women dressed in black and heavily veiled.  When he tossed a peach toward them they closed their legs.

Handcuffs were snapped on the pair and they were led away.  They were later hanged with Dr. Mudd, who aided Booth’s escape by setting a leg Booth fractured in his leap to the stage.” [1]

On January 15th, 1886, he was transferred to Company I, Veterans Reserve Corps., 18th Infantry.  Eventually mustering out as a corporal.   His quench to serve must not have been fully fulfilled as the Herald article goes on to say:

“When the Spanish-American War broke out, he wrote to Gov. Frank S. Black, asking that the Governor make special arrangements so that he could join the army.

At the time of his death he still treasured the letter that Governor Black wrote in return, advising him that if he fought in the Civil War, he had better let younger fellows do the fighting.” [1]


[1] Syracuse Herald, “W.E. Widrick, of G.A.R., Is Dead; Saw Lincoln Shot And Helped Capture Booth,” Syracuse Herald, p. 3, 27 July 1932.
[2] L. Cottet, “Story of William Widrick, Union Soldier in the Civil War and Resident of Cleveland,” Poems, Facts and Tales: Musings of a former Village of Cleveland Historian, p. 41, 2013.
[3] NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs, “Pvt. William E. Weidrick,” New York State Military Museum, p., 14 March 2006.
[4] Village of Cleveland, “East Road,” 1899 Cleveland Village Directory, p., 1899.
[5] Syracuse Herald, “Syracussan Recalls Lincoln Assassination as America Marks 123d Anniversary,” Syracuse Herald, p. 4, 12 February 1932.
[6] Unknown Author, “Durhamville Veteran Saw Lincoln Shot”.Unknown Newspaper Clipping.




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