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312: This Week: Lincoln, Apollo 13, The Conspirator, Titanic

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movies: Lincoln, Apollo 13, The Conspirator, and Titanic.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

April 9th, 1865. Appomattox County, Virginia.

We’re at a two-story brick building. The front porch has six columns with a wide staircase in the center. Although it’s a brick building, any wood on the porch, railings for the stairs and on the balcony above the porch all adds a white trim to the building.

On the porch, we can see a bunch of men in the Union’s dark blue uniforms. At the foot of the stairs is a single man wearing a gray Confederate uniform. He’s wearing a hat, sporting a white beard. Another Confederate soldier leads an elegant white horse and the officer gets on.

The camera cuts to the front of the building now where we can see Union General Ulysses S. Grant. He’s played by Jared Harris in the movie.

Grant stands at the top of the stairs, surrounded by six other soldiers in Union blue. He looks at the man on the horse: Christopher Boyer’s character, General Robert E. Lee.

The two foes look at each other in silence for a moment.

Then, Grant steps down from the front porch and walks over to General Lee’s horse. After a moment longer just looking at each other, General Grant takes off his hat. Back on the porch, the rest of the Union officers follow Grant’s lead. They remove their hats in a gesture that I can only assume is out of respect for General Lee.

Lee looks at the men for a moment. Then, tips his hat as his horse backs away. Turning around, two other Confederate soldiers on horseback follow Lee as they walk away from the building.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Lincoln

That portrayal comes from the 2012 movie called Lincoln and it depicts an event that happened this week in history: The surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

But in the true story, there was a battle that took place before the event we saw in the movie.

The building we see in the movie is near the Appomattox Court House and before surrendering, General Lee’s army of about 28,000 soldiers fought with General Grant’s armies. While a large number, some estimate only about 10,000 of them even had rifles. So, they weren’t well-equipped.

At the Appomattox train station, Lee was expecting a train with supplies. But, on April 8th, there was a battle at the station that saw the Union cavalry burning the supply train.

On the other side, the Union army had over 60,000 soldiers with much better supplies. They were closing in on General Lee’s soldiers.

In the early morning hours of April 9th, Lee’s chances of escaping were slim. But, he held on hope. Near the Appomattox Court House, Lee’s men battled with Union troops in what Lee hoped would be a thin line that he could get through easily. He’d hoped that once his men broke through Union lines, they could escape to North Carolina where they could resupply and continue fighting.

But, that was a lot of hoping. And they didn’t escape.

General Lee sent a note to General Grant to discuss surrender.

The actual meeting itself took place in the home of a man named Wilmer McLean.

While it’s impossible to know for sure what was on General Lee’s mind, some sources suggest he let his staff know he was wearing his finest uniform that day on the chance he might be taken prisoner. If that’s going to happen, he wanted to look his best. On the other hand, General Grant rode for miles around his armies to arrive at the meeting. His uniform was muddy compared to General Lee’s uniform.

Lee arrived at McLean’s home at about 1:00 PM. Grant arrived at about 1:30.

And at first, General Grant wasn’t really sure how to approach the topic of surrender—so they talked about the Mexican-American War for about 25 to 30 minutes or so.

That topic was brought up because it was the last time Grant and Lee met face-to-face. It was before the American Civil War, but it was a time when Lee and Grant were both in the United States Army. It was before Lee turned down President Lincoln’s offer to command the U.S. Army and instead resigned to take a commission from the Confederate Army.

Finally, General Lee suggested they change topics to the matter at hand: Surrender.

The basic terms of the surrender amounted to the Confederate soldiers being allowed to go home without being pursued or prosecuted as long as they didn’t take up arms again. Officers were allowed to keep their horses and side arms, which usually amounted to their sword. That was a move that many think was to help the surrender go over smoothly by avoiding embarrassment for the Confederate officers.

So, when Grant’s terms basically meant they could go home if they laid down their arms and stopped fighting, that was acceptable. At about 3:00 PM, the meeting was over. Grant made his way to the Appomattox Station where he sent a telegram to President Lincoln letting him know about Lee’s surrender.

While it wasn’t officially the end of the war, General Lee was the overall commander of the Confederate Army so when he surrendered it triggered more surrenders. It was, in effect, the beginning of the end of the Civil War.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out the 2012 movie simply called Lincoln and the scene with General Lee surrendering takes place at about two hours, 13 minutes and five seconds into the film.

And if you want to learn more about the true story behind that movie, we covered that with Lincoln scholar Dr. Brian Dirck over on episode #170 of Based on a True Story.


April 13th, 1970. Houston, Texas.

The room we’re in has a row of green computer systems. Of course, they’re not the kind of computers you’d expect to see today—it’s 1970, after all. Most of the computers have operators sitting behind them. The operators all have headsets on. One of the men in the room is standing up as he gives orders to someone not in the room.

He says we’d like you to roll right to 0-6-0 and null your rates.

On the other end of the radio communication, Kevin Bacon’s version of Jack Swigert confirms the order: Roger that, rolling right to 0-6-0.

Back on Earth, another command gets issued: Oh, and go ahead and give your oxygen tanks a stir. Swigert confirms this order, too, and he reaches to the control panel for switches that say “O2 Fans.”

The camera zooms along some lines and electricity crackles. There’s an explosion and alarms start buzzing. Metal banging can be heard as Swigert and the two other men inside Apollo 13 look around. Back at the command center, the computers are flashing indicators. Some of the operators sit back with their hands raised.

“Whoa! Hey. What happened?”

They look around trying to figure out what just happened. The camera cuts to Tom Hanks’ character, Jim Lovell, who says, “Houston, we have a problem.”

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Apollo 13

That scene comes from the movie named after the spacecraft they were on: Apollo 13. The event it’s depicting is when the disaster started for the astronauts on board, which happened this week in history.

The movie’s portrayal of this event is pretty accurate, although I have to point out one thing that might spoil this scene for you: Jim Lovell’s now famous quote because of the movie wasn’t really: “Houston, we have a problem.”

The actual line was: “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Or, in context, here is the communication that took place between the ground and Apollo 13.

055:52:58 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)

13, we’ve got one more item for you, when you get a chance. We’d like you to stir up your cryo tanks. In addition, I have shaft and trunnion–


055:53:06 Command Module Pilot: John L. Swigert, Jr.



055:53:07 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)

– for looking at the Comet Bennett, if you need it.


055:53:12 Command Module Pilot: John L. Swigert, Jr.

Okay. Stand by.


055:55:19 Lunar Module Pilot: Fred W. Haise, Jr.

Okay, Houston – –


055:55:20 Commander James A. Lovell, Jr.

I believe we’ve had a problem here.


055:55:28 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)

This is Houston. Say again, please.


055:55:35 Commander James A. Lovell, Jr.

Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a MAIN B BUS UNDERVOLT.


055:55:42 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)



055:55:58 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)

Okay, stand by, 13. We’re looking at it.


055:56:10 Lunar Module Pilot: Fred W. Haise, Jr.

Okay. Right now, Houston, the voltage is – is looking good. And we had a pretty large bang associated with the CAUTION AND WARNING there. And as I recall, MAIN B was the one that had had an amp spike on it once before.


055:56:40 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)

Roger, Fred.


Part of the reason I wanted to include some of the transcript from NASA is to point out that even though the iconic “Houston, we have a problem” line wasn’t quite what was really said, the movie does a great job of depicting the event overall. We heard them ask to stir the tanks, then a problem happened soon after.

While they couldn’t have known it at the time, after they managed to make it safely home, a review board found fault with the testing of Teflon added to the oxygen tank. In a nutshell, the switches for the tank weren’t rated for enough volts and it seems the oxygen tank that blew up had undergone tests that could’ve detected the issue.

In tests, the Teflon insulation being used was damaged. So, when they stirred the tanks there was an electrical discharge through some cabling that set the tank on fire. One of the panels blew off the tank, damaging another of the oxygen tanks.

What came after that gripped the nation in a way that led to over 40 million Americans watching when Apollo 13 splashed down.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, though, it starts at about 50 minutes and 30 seconds into the 1995 Apollo 13 movie. And we covered it in more depth on episode #15 of Based on a True Story.


April 14th, 1865. Washington, D.C.

It’s nighttime. Some men are looking at a nice house from behind some bushes. One of the men sneaks inside the home. There are a lot of people in there, but we can tell from how the man inside is sneaking around that he’s not supposed to be there.

Back outside, another of the men still with the horses looks around to make sure no one is noticing them. No one seems to.

One of the men knocks on a door. From inside, we can see a man lying on a bed. A woman sits next to the bed with a man in uniform standing nearby. The man on the bed clearly isn’t feeling well.

Downstairs, someone answers the man knocking at the door. He says he has a package for Secretary Seward.

Then the camera cuts to a playhouse. On stage, two actors are putting on a performance in front of a full audience. Another cut and we can see a young couple chatting, then kissing.

Back at the theater, a man sneaks into a doorway. He ties something to the door after entering it, then looking through a little round hole we can see a couple in the foreground and in the background are the actors on stage down below.

In another cut, we’re now with a man who is drinking. He nervously looks over his shoulder and notices a man in uniform there. He takes another shot, then rushes out of the building.

Meanwhile, back at the house, the man runs up a staircase. He takes aim at the guard sitting next to a door, but the pistol only clicks when he tries to shoot. He rushes the man, knocking him out before turning to a door the man was guarding.

Inside the door, we see the man in what looks like a neck brace sitting in bed with the woman next to him. The man bursts through, immediately being met by another guard who was inside the room. He stabs the guard before pushing the woman away and jumping on the man on the bed, stabbing him numerous times.

The woman runs to the window and starts yelling for help.

Next we’re back at the playhouse. The lines being said by the man and woman on stage doesn’t even really matter to us, the viewing audience at home, but the audience in the movie seems to like them as laughter ripples through the crowd.

The camera cuts to above the stage. A man sneaks into a private booth. While everyone is focusing on the play on stage, we can see a gun extending forward.

A gunshot.

People in the audience scream and a struggle ensues in the box above the stage.

All of a sudden, a man jumps down on stage as the audience tries to understand what’s happening.

The man on stage raises one hand and yells, “Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!”

Then, he hobbles off the stage. In the alley, a horse is waiting. He hops on the horse and runs into the darkness of the night.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Conspirator

That depiction comes from the 2010 movie called The Conspirator and it’s showing an event that really did happen this week in history: The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

And just like the movie shows, President Lincoln wasn’t the only one attacked that night.

They believed President Lincoln was a greater tyrant than Julius Caesar and thought they’d be honored after killing Lincoln. But, killing Lincoln alone wasn’t enough to throw the government into turmoil.

The plan that night was to assassinate three people: President Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Henry Seward.

All three were supposed to be killed at 10:15 PM on April 14th.

The man we see in the movie who is in his bed is Secretary of State William Henry Seward. And it is true that he was bedridden in his home when the assassination attempt took place. The woman by the bed was Seward’s daughter, Fanny, who was staying with him so he wouldn’t be alone. At 11 PM, his son would take a turn by their dad’s bed.

There were a couple soldiers there, too.

Just like we see in the movie, the man arrived at the door saying he was carrying a package. The movie doesn’t get too specific with it, but we know from history it was medicine. He said he was told to deliver it to Seward himself since no one else knew how to administer the medicine. But, one of Seward’s sons stopped him and said his dad was asleep and he’d take the medicine so as to not disturb him.

That’s when the intruder stopped trying to get into the room peacefully. He drew a revolver and shot at the son. The gun misfired, a lot like we see happen in the movie, and so the attacker used it as a club instead. He burst inside the room, knocking down the soldier inside the room first.

Then, he attacked Seward in bed, stabbing him with his large knife multiple times.

While they couldn’t know it that night, but Secretary of State Seward would end up surviving the attack. His neck and face bore the scars of his attack for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, another attack on Vice President Andrew Johnson was underway. In the movie, that’s the guy we see drinking at the bar. And in the movie, we see him end up getting scared off and abandoning the assassination plan.

That is true.

The man who was supposed to assassinate Johnson ended up getting drunk instead.

Of course, we know the third assassination did go according to plan.

John Wilkes Booth was an actor who was known by people at the theater. After all, Booth himself had performed there. So, he was able to gain entrance to the president’s box rather easily since his presence wasn’t anything abnormal.

John Wilkes Booth snuck into the box at about 10:12 PM, raised his pistol to the back of Lincoln’s head and fired.

Hearing the shot, the other man in the box, Henry Rathbone, grabbed at Booth. But Booth sliced at Rathbone with his knife and jumped to the stage. That was about 15 feet, or 4.5 meters below the box where Booth jumped from. As he did, though, one of the spurs on his boots got caught up in the flag draped over the front of the president’s box.

So, he hit the stage hard, breaking one of his legs. Still, he got up and yelled the line we see in the movie: Sic semper tyrannis!

That’s Latin for “Thus always to tyrants,” something Booth believed Lincoln to be. Although he wasn’t killed immediately, President Lincoln was taken across the street to a boarding house that was away from the theater. That’s where he died in the morning hours of April 15th.

If you want to see the event that happened this week in history, though, check out the 2010 movie called The Conspirator. The planned assassinations start at about five minutes into the movie.

And if you want to learn more about the true story, we covered that movie with Lincoln scholar Dr. Brian Dirck over on episode #175.


April 14th, 1912. North Atlantic Ocean.

We’ve already done our three events this week, but there’s another major one that I have to include.

The camera is focused on a man wearing a cap. He’s blowing on his hands and rubbing them together to keep warm. Down below, he notices a man and a woman. They’re holding each other’s hand as they run and laugh together.

Meanwhile, two sailors smile as they see the couple down below. They turn around, continuing to chuckle as they look at the ocean before them. One of the men starts to look more closely at something in the distance. The camera zooms in on his face as the smile disappears and a concerned look replaces it.

All of a sudden, he reaches for the bell and starts ringing it. Below, the sound of the bell alerts other sailors. One of the lookouts calls down below. When the man on the other end picks up, he asks what they see.

The lookout yells, “Iceberg, right ahead!”

Down below, the sailor runs to the bridge and relays the news. In a flurry of activity, they try to turn the big ship while reversing the engines in an attempt to avoid a collision. Men all over the ship are doing their part to try and get the ship to respond to their commands as fast as possible.

From above, the lookouts can see the iceberg. It’s still straight ahead, nothing seems to be changing their course. After a few more moments, the flurry of activity finally starts to take its toll on the ship’s direction. Slowly, it starts turning.

For a moment, it looks like it might work.

But, they’re not turning fast enough. The ship scrapes by the iceberg, causing a rumble and horrible-sounding metallic scraping. We can see the inside of the hull being ripped open, allowing water to start flowing inside. In the engine room, water starts pouring in, causing massive amounts of steam from the fires lit to power the engines. It’s a race against time as the rooms are being shut off to prevent water from spreading. The men try to make it out before the rooms close. Some do, some don’t.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Titanic

I’m sure you already know what movie that comes from: 1997’s blockbuster named after the ship that sank 108 years ago this week in history: Titanic.

The movie did a pretty good job of showing the event, although the young couple—Jack and Rose—were fictional characters of course, so they weren’t there.

At 11:40 PM on April 14th, a lookout by the name of Frederick Fleet spotted the iceberg. And just like we see in the movie, after alerting the crew about the iceberg, they tried to turn hard to starboard—or, a lefthand turn.

But, there just wasn’t enough time. 37 seconds passed between the time the lookout saw the iceberg to the moment it scraped the right side of RMS Titanic.

Within ten minutes, there was about 14 feet of water and rising inside the front of the ship where it was hit. At 12:00 AM on April 15th, the captain of the ship, Captain Edward Smith, got an assessment of the damage. That’s when they realized Titanic can only stay afloat for another two hours and Captain Smith ordered the women and children into the lifeboats first.

At 12:45, the first lifeboat was lowered into the water. There has been a lot of controversy around the lifeboats on Titanic because, for one, there weren’t enough of them for all the passengers. Secondly, the lifeboats that were there were being lowered into the water before they were even full.

There are reports of lifeboats being lowered with only 28 people when it could fit 65 people.

A little after 2:00 AM, the last lifeboat was lowered into the water. There were over 1,500 people still on the boat.

At 2:18 AM, the last radio message from Titanic was sent out just before she snapped in half, sinking at 2:20 AM. The first boat to arrive on location was almost a couple hours later at 4:10 AM when Carpathia arrived to look for survivors. After they were all picked up, at about 8:50 AM they made their way to New York.

Two days later, another ship arrived at the location where Titanic sank and started searching for bodies in the water. Then, on April 18th, Carpathia arrived in New York with 705 survivors of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board Titanic when it sank.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out the James Cameron classic film Titanic. The iceberg sequence starts at about an hour and 37 minutes into the movie, and even though it carried over into the early morning hours of the 15th—so just barely into next week—but there were multiple things that happened this week in history: For example, Titanic left Ireland this week in history as well.

We see that at about 26 minutes into the movie, that’s when Jack got onto the ship. Of course, that didn’t happen the way we see it in the movie since Jack wasn’t a real person, but the event we see happening took place on April 10th. So, if there’s a good week to watch that whole movie, this is it!

And if you want to learn more about the true story, we covered that movie way back on episode #35 of Based on a True Story.



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