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80th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Arizona Resident's Great-Grandfather Saw Lincoln's Assassination

     The month of Presidents always brings to mind my great-grandfather’s account of President Lincoln’s assassination at Ford Theater. Fate provided him a ringside seat as an eyewitness to Lincoln’s assassination and he was the first man to pursue the fleeing assassin.

Col. Pren Metham     Pren Metham was 30 years old, married and father of three children at the outbreak of the civil war. He raised a company, which became Company F, 80th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Starting out as captain, he was later commissioned a colonel of the same regiment. He fought under General Sherman in the crucial battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, TN and later under General Grant in the siege of Vicksburg, MS. His last campaign was with Sherman on the march through Georgia to the sea and he was present at the surrender of the Confederate Army at Richmond. With his discharge from the Union Army in his pocket and on his way back home to Ohio via Washington, Colonel Metham decided to see the play at Ford Theater on April 14, 1865.

     He was later quoted as giving this account: “The Theater was packed but we had good seats, just one row of chairs between us and the stage. Over to the right of us, in the upper box, sat President Lincoln. A large column ran up right by Lincoln, and it shielded him from a great portion of the audience who could only see his face when he moved forward. The thought struck me, ‘I wonder if he is sitting by that column so no one back in the audience can get a fair shot at him.’ The curtain had come down for a change of scene. I glanced up at the box, then turned away for a moment when a pistol shot rang out. I turned and saw a man rush between Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, put one leg over the rail, then leap to the stage about 12 feet below. Booth evidently planned it all out to be as theatrical as possible, intending to alight facing the audience. He gave himself a twist, but fell. He struck the stage sidewise, one hand touching the floor.

     He had gotten to his feet [Col. Metham later learned that Booth had broken his ankle] and was in the center of the stage before I really got it through my head what had happened. He turned to the audience, his eyes shining. In the gaslight, a dagger glistened in his hand. He struck a theatrical pose, the dagger aloft, and shouted, ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis!’ (“Thus Always to Tyrants” - State of Virginia’s motto). Automatically I reached for my gun. It was gone! Great goodness, how I regretted I had given away my weapon. If I had had it Booth never would have finished his Latin phrase. Then I turned to wrest loose my chair. I could have hurled it at him and knocked him down. But a strip held all the chairs together. Panic reigned in the theater and some fool yelled ‘fire’. I made the stage in one bound just as Booth went behind the curtain. I pulled the curtain aside and plunged after him.”

     Col. Metham was no match for Booth in the “hide and seek game” in the corridors back of the stage. The actor was as familiar with the layout of the Ford Theater as he was with that of his own home. After a frustrating search, which ended in a dressing room occupied by several actors in costumes, he went back to the scene of the shooting. “I saw Lincoln when he lay on the cot. They had removed him from the box and doctors rushed up and they laid him on a cot or something in a [nearby] aisle. I watched by his side for 10 minutes. He was breathing heavily. Very little was said.”

     Booth escaped the city on horseback, was hunted down and killed by a bullet in a burning barn in Caroline County, VA on April 26, 1865. Col. Metham went on to his home in Coshocton, County, Ohio, where he operated a 200-acre farm in Jefferson Township and at the same time helped in bringing rail and coal mining to that area. He fathered two more children, including my grandfather, after his return from the war and died at the age of 86.

The Democrat and Standard newspaper, Coshocton County, February 2, 1904
The History of Coshocton County, It’s Past and Present – 1740-1881
The Coshocton Tribune, February 16, 1917,
The Everglades Observer, Pahokee, FL, February 28, 1974
Crime Library. John Wilkes Booth – A Brutus of His Age by Joseph Geringer

Frank Kaylor
28626 North 124th Drive
Peona, AZ 85383

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80th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
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