Lincoln’s last photograph

We are well into February and are about to celebrate President’s Day next Monday. President’s Day was established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, it is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. While the US did celebrate this day for years, the holiday became known as President’s Day after it was moved in 1971 in part to create a three-day weekend for the nation’s workers.  While today we celebrate all past and present Presidents, four past Presidents have birthday’s in February:

February 6th—Ronald Reagan—40th President

February 9th—William Henry Harrison—9th President

February 12th-- Abraham Lincoln—16th President

February 22nd—George Washington—1st President

In honor of Kentuckian Abraham Lincoln’s 209th birthday yesterday, we shared a photograph on our social media which had more of a back story than what was expected. The front text of this carte-de-visite reads, “Photographed March 6—1865, on the balcony of the National Capitol, the last ever taken.  President Lincoln was shot and killed just over five weeks later, on April 15, 1865.

Last photograph of President Abraham Lincoln taken on March 6, 1865 by Henry F. Warren.


The neat part, is the back of the image was covered in beautiful scrolling text and as I began to read, the story came to life:

Back of carte-de-visite

“The picture on the other side was taken by Henry F. Warren of Waltham, Massachusetts. In a letter to J. C. Power [John Carroll]*, Custodian of the National Lincoln Monument, he says, - “I attended the reception of the President after his second inauguration – and during the hand shaking, said to him will it be possible for a Massachusetts man to get your likeness, “Perhaps so, at some future time” was his reply. Emboldened by these few words, I called at the White House the following day, but found it impossible to pass the guard, espying the Presidents son Tad driving by in his Pony Phaeton, I called to him and requested the favour [sic] to take a picture of himself and to me, which he readily granted. By his invitation I jumped into the Phaeton and drove on to the ground where I took his picture, which so pleased him that he readily granted my request, to say to his father that Mr. Warren was ready and waiting to give him a sitting. At this time I had reached the balcony of the White House, soon the President appeared accompanied by an officer. Thrusting his fingers through his hair and seating himself in a chair I had prepared for him he said, I am ready. Here without rest for his head or the usual paraphernalia of photography, you have the results. This is the latest picture taken of him and is pronounced by Gen. Banks and others as the only life like picture of the lamented Lincoln as he appeared about home.”

Now this intrigued me, not being a Lincoln scholar nor having heard of Henry F. Warren, I wanted to learn more. I quickly realized that the last photograph of Lincoln has been disputed over for several decades. For many years a series by photographer Alexander Gardner were considered the last images; however, according to a New York Times article, The Interminable, Everlasting Lincolns (Part 1), author Harold Holzer researched and discovered that the image Henry F. Warren produced the last image of Lincoln.

Another point of interest is the back stamp of our carte-de-visite which is for the photographic studio of J. A. W. Pittman at 511 and 513 North Side of the Square in Springfield, Illinois. Who also happened to be a photographer of the era. While I wish I had more time to learn about Pittman, this will remain a history mystery.

To learn more about Abraham Lincoln make sure to attend our upcoming lecture on Tuesday, February 20thPrairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln presented by George R. Deckle, Sr.

According to conventional wisdom, Abraham Lincoln spent most of his law career collecting debt and representing railroads, and this focus made him inept at defending homicide cases. Through careful examination of Lincoln’s homicide cases and evaluation of his legal skills, Dekle demonstrates that Lincoln was first and foremost a trial lawyer. The trial of accused criminals was an important part of his practice, and Lincoln was quite capable of defending murder cases. Providing insight into both Lincoln’s legal career and the culture in which he practiced law, Prairie Defender resolves the misconception concerning Lincoln’s competency as a criminal defense attorney.

For thirty years, George R. Dekle, Sr., worked as an assistant state attorney in the Third Judicial Circuit of Florida, where he prosecuted hundreds of homicide cases, and for the past ten years he served as the director of the prosecution clinic at the University of Florida Law School. He is the author of The Last Murder: The Investigation, Prosecution, and Execution of Ted Bundy and Abraham Lincoln’s Most Famous Case: The Almanac Trial.

Sign-up for tickets online:




*John Carroll Power (September 19, 1819–January 11, 1894) was an American historian who served as the first custodian of the tomb of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois from its opening in 1874 to his death in 1894.  He also appears to be a copyright claimant to many of J. A. W. Pittman photographs of the National Lincoln Monument.

Heather Potter

Heather Potter is the Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Filson Historical Society.

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