President and Mrs. Lincoln employed a memorable staff at the White House. Most of the employees performed routine assignments but others were involved in high drama. One such employee was the messenger Charles Forbes.
Forbes was on the presidential carriage the night of April 14, 1865. He acted as a messenger and checked on the presidential party during the evening. He and White House guard John F. Parker went to a nearby bar to have a drink during the intermission at Ford’s Theatre.
Charles Forbes allowed John Wilkes Booth into Lincoln’s box, and consequently Mrs. Lincoln held Forbes responsible for the president’s assassination. To deflect the blame, Forbes filed a formal complaint against Parker, charging him with leaving his post outside the president’s box to have a drink. Patrolman Parker was later tried and acquitted.
Historians may argue about the circumstances surrounding the absence of Charles Forbes and John Parker at such a pivotal time, just prior to the assassination of President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. The attendance of Lincoln’s sons at the Grover Theater at the time of the assassination adds more unanswered questions for historians to research.
Lincoln’s sons were both at the Grover Theater watching Aladdin at the time of the assassination. Alphonso Dunn and Thomas Pendal accompanied them. An argument could be made that if the sons had attended the show at Ford’s Theatre, it might have required more people to accompany the presidential entourage thereby making it more difficult to gain access to the president.
In addition, President and Mrs. Lincoln would have had to divide their attention between tending to their children and watching the show. This heightened state of alertness may have resulted in thwarting the assassination attempt.
President Abraham Lincoln had no bodyguards in the modern sense. Lax security was a problem, in retrospect, because the South had been routed and people such as John Wilkes Booth did not accept the outcome of the Civil War.
Forbes was just one of the Lincoln White House staff’s interesting characters. It also included the butler/waiter Peter Brown, a cook named Cornelia Mitchell, an usher named Edward, and others. Many of the employees were Irish-Americans, like Thomas Burns, the doorkeeper at the White House front door.
President and Mrs. Lincoln employed a staff that continues to fascinate historians due to the diverse backgrounds of the employees and the complex personal relationships which emerged at a pivotal point in American History.