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Asia Booth Clarke

The 19th-century American writer, Asia Booth Clarke (1835-1888), was born into a family of actors. Her famous brothers were Edwin Booth, Junius Booth, and John Wilkes Booth.

 

booth bros.

Credit…Brown University Library

On the morning of April 15, 1865, Asia was in bed in her Philadelphia mansion, sickly pregnant with twins, when she was handed the newspaper. She screamed when she read the headlines: her brother, John Wilkes Booth, was wanted for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln.

President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th president of the U.S.

Asia could not believe it—and yet it was true. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, the actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. Asia—and the nation—would never fully recover from Booth’s terrible act, his retaliation for Lincoln’s freeing of American slaves.

A copy of a hand colored 1870 lithographic print by Gibson & Co. provided by the U.S. Library of Congress shows John Wilkes Booth shooting U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as he sits in the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre

In the immediate aftermath of the crime, the nation went into shock. Disbelief gave way to tears, sobs, and solemn displays of mourning. The newspapers dubbed the moment “our National Calamity.” Easter Sunday came and went with little notice. The people were focused on the President’s funeral procession which was to take place Wednesday.

Lincoln’s body lies in state in the East Room of the White House. Harper’s Weekly, May 6, 1865.

Tens of thousands of people poured into the nation’s capital. Every hotel in Washington, D. C., sold out. Thousands of visitors slept in parks or on the streets.  Somber black crepe and bunting replaced the patriotic banners adorning buildings from just a week before when the city had been positively giddy with excitement, ablaze with candles and gaslights in every window, marching bands, dancing, singing, and the ringing of bells upon learning of the fall of Richmond, the capitol of the Rebel States, spelling a Union victory in the American Civil War.

In his diary, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted the city’s sad transformation from celebration to gloom:

Every house, almost, has some drapery, especially the homes of the poor…the little black ribbon or strip of cloth… (1)

On the morning of April 19, the funeral procession carrying the President’s body slowly made its way to the Capitol, “the beat of the march measured by muffled bass and drums swathed in crepe.”

Lincoln’s funeral on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., on April 19, 1865. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At the Capitol, the President’s coffin was received in the rotunda, where, beneath the Great Dome, thousands of mourners streamed by to view the President’s remains in the open casket.

It was a sacred day except for one detraction. Five days had passed since John Wilkes Booth had killed this most beloved of men and Booth was still a free man.

John Wilkes Booth

The manhunters were aggressively tracking the fugitive’s movements in and around the capital, following all plausible leads and, still, they could boast of NO ARREST. The newspapers abounded with tales of those who had spotted someone matching Booth’s description. Meanwhile, the authorities descended upon anyone associated with Booth, questioning many and arresting scores. Asia Booth Clarke and her husband, the comedic actor, John “Sleepy” Clarke, were not spared. The day of Lincoln’s funeral, swarms of detectives appeared at their door. John Clarke was seized, taken to Washington, and imprisoned in the Old Capitol with two of Asia’s other brothers, Joe and Junius Booth. The Clarke’s house was raided. (2)

Booth was on the run a full twelve days before he was cornered. He refused to surrender and was killed. Three weeks after his death, Asia wrote her friend Jean Anderson:

Philadelphia, May 22, 1865.

My Dear Jean:

I have received both of your letters, and although feeling the kindness of your sympathy, could not compose my thoughts to write — I can give you no idea of the desolation which has fallen upon us. The sorrow of his [Wilkes Booth’s] death is very bitter, but the disgrace is far heavier; – 

Junius and John Clarke have been two weeks to-day confined in the old Capital – prison Washington for no complicity or evidence — Junius wrote an innocent letter from Cincinnati, which by a wicked misconstruction has been the cause of his arrest. He begged him [John Wilkes Booth] to quit the oil business and attend to his profession, not knowing the “oil” signified conspiracy in Washington as it has since been proven that all employed in the plot, passed themselves off as “oil merchants”.

John Clarke was arrested for having in his house a package of papers upon which he had never laid his hands or his eyes, but after the occurrence when I produced them, thinking it was a will put here for safe keeping — John took them to the U.S. Marshall, who reported to head-quarters, hence this long imprisonment for two entirely innocent men –

I was shocked and grieved to see the names of Michael O’Laughlin and Samuel Arnold. I am still some surprised to learn that all engaged in the plot are Roman Catholics — John Wilkes was of that faith — preferably — and I was glad that he had fixed his faith on one religion for he was always of a pious mind and I wont speak of his qualities, you knew him. My health is very delicate at present but I seem completely numbed and hardened in sorrow.

The report of Blanche and Edwin are without truth, their marriage not to have been until September and I do not think it will be postponed so that it is a long way off yet. Edwin is here with me. Mother went home to N.Y. last week. She has been with me until he came.

American actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet. Edwin Booth was so beloved that he was not arrested after the Lincoln assassination, although two of his brothers were. He testified at the trial of the conspirators.

I told you I believe that Wilkes was engaged to Miss Hale, — They were most devoted lovers and she has written heart broken letters to Edwin about it — Their marriage was to have been in a year, when she promised to return from Spain for him, either with her father or without him, that was the decision only a few days before the fearful calamity — Some terrible oath hurried him to this wretched end. God help him. Remember me to all and write often.

Yours every time,

Asia (3)

“Miss Hale” refers to Lucy Lambert Hale (1841-1915), the younger daughter of Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire.

Lucy Lambert Hale, ca. 1865, courtesy of Ford’s Theatre.

Lucy met John Wilkes Booth at one of his performances in Washington, D.C., when he played the character Charles De Moor in “The Robbers” (1862 or 1863). She presented him with a bouquet. (4) By early 1865, Booth was regularly lodging at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C., where Lucy lived with her parents and sister, Lizzie. We know they were close as Lucy’s cousin stayed in Booth’s rooms during Lincoln’s Second Inauguration. Lucy also procured a pass for Booth to attend the March 4, 1865, inauguration, a pass no doubt she obtained through her father, as only about 2,000 tickets for entrance inside the Capitol were issued. (It was later learned that Booth contemplated killing Lincoln then and there but was talked out of it by an associate also present.)

Although Lucy Hale and John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) reportedly were seen in each other’s company around the city, it was not publicly known that they were engaged. This plan was kept secret, since Society considered an actor to be in a social class beneath the dignity of the daughter of a U.S. senator. Just a month before, President Lincoln appointed Senator John P. Hale to be the new ambassador to Spain. Shortly, Lucy, Lizzie, and their mom would be moving to Spain with Senator Hale.

By some accounts, Lucy, an ardent abolitionist, had broken off the engagement with Booth when she learned he had strong secession views. A newspaper article suggested that this rejection occurred ten days before the assassination, fueling Booth’s “mental excitement, occasioned by drink.” (5) However, Lucy’s letters to Edwin Booth—written after John Wilkes Booth’s death (as mentioned in Asia’s letter here)—suggest otherwise. According to those accounts, the engagement was very much active when Booth died.

A veiled reference to Lucy Hale’s grief over Booth’s death appeared on page five of the New York Tribune on April 22, 1865:

Lucy Lambert Hale, 1863, photo by Mathew Brady, courtesy of wikimedia commons.

On the afternoon or early evening of April 14, 1865, the day of the assassination, Lucy Hale, age 24, was reportedly studying Spanish with two old friends from the Boston area, where she had attended boarding school. They were President Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and the president’s assistant private secretary, John Hay. She had many suitors but her heart was set on only one. She was one of multitudes of women around the country who were captivated by the charm and beauty of the romantic star of the stage, John Wilkes Booth.

When the fugitive John Wilkes Booth was killed at age 26 by U.S. troops, he carried a diary. Tucked inside were photographs of five women, four actresses and a well-known belle of Washington society. The horrified authorities recognized the society belle as the daughter of the new American ambassador to Spain and, as only Washington gossips knew, Booth’s secret fiancée: Lucy Lambert Hale. Someone ordered the pictures to be suppressed so tongues wouldn’t wag with the tale that Lucy Hale was engaged to a murderer! That knowledge would shred her reputation and Lucy would never find a suitable husband

It would be decades before those five photos were made public. The one of Lucy in Booth’s wallet is the photo of her face in profile.

Had Booth used Lucy to get into social and political circles denied to him as a mere actor? Or, as some close to him say, was he smitten by Lucy, head-over-heels in love to such a degree that he would commit to just one woman when so many threw themselves at his feet?

Lucy went off to Spain with the family. It was nine long years before she would wed—a senator.

As for Asia, when her husband returned home from prison mid-May, he announced he wanted a divorce and wanted nothing further to do with the name “Booth.” John Wilkes Booth had been right about John Sleeper Clarke. Booth had warned his sister not to marry “Sleepy.” He believed that Sleepy wanted to marry Asia only in order to capitalize on the name “Booth” to further his own acting career. The marriage continued but the union was an unhappy one.

Asia went on to establish herself as a writer, writing John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, a slender volume that offers us a close look at the childhood and personal preferences of the complex arch villain John Wilkes Booth. To remove themselves from the stigma of association with the president’s killer, Asia and her family eventually decided to move away from America and settle in England, where her husband got involved with a mistress and treated her with “duke-like haughtiness and icy indifference.” (6)

Sources:

  1. Diary of Gideon Welles. Manhunt, James L. Swanson, p. 213.
  2. Manhunt, pp. 217-219.
  3. Asia Booth Clarke to Jean Anderson, 22 May 1865, BCLM Works on Paper Collection, ML 518, Box 37, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland. cited in John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, Arthur F. Loux. Note: Only 3 conspirators were Catholic. There is no corroboration that John Wilkes Booth converted to Catholicism.
  4. John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, Arthur F. Loux.
  5. Chicago Times, April 17, 1865, p. 2, bottom 3rd column.
  6. John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, Asia Booth Clarke.

Readers, for more on Abraham Lincoln, click here.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Credit:-/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Credit:-/AFP/Getty Images

On Aug. 28, 1963,  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his rousing, “I Have a Dream” speech to over 250,000 civil rights supporters gathered for the March on Washington. The speech calls for an end to racism in America. It was considered by many to be the most important speech of the Twentieth Century and helped advance President John F. Kennedy‘s important civil rights legislation then in Congress.

At the March on Washington, August 1963, peaceful African-Americans called for decent jobs with equal pay.

At the March on Washington, August 1963, peaceful African-Americans called for decent jobs with equal pay.

Dr. King timed his March on Washington to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln‘s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation which freed millions of American black slaves in 1863.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands in front of the statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. ca. 1963

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands in front of the statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. ca. 1963

His opening lines in his speech evoke the Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln:

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.” 

Dr. King asked for justice to be made a reality for all of God’s children.

We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities….

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. “(1)

He spoke of his dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’


I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.'”

***

Fast forward to August 28, 2013, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s March on Washington and his landmark speech. 

Anderson Cooper of CNN is interviewing African-American writer Maya Angelou (1928-2014). They reflect on the state of Dr. King’s dream. Maya Angelou knew Dr. King and was part of the struggle for civil rights change in this country.

Cooper: Do you believe that the arc of history is moving in the right direction? President Obama, recently, when he was talking about Trayvon Martin, he said that he looks at his daughters and that his daughters’ generation is better than his generation was. Do you believe that?

Angelou: Yes, I do. I know that there was a time when people were lynched with everybody’s agreement – not everybody – but with the “Might’s” agreement. The might was white and white was might and so people were lynched.

I grew up in a village in Arkansas where a man was lynched and the skin of his body – after being lynched and burned – the skin was taken off in skin the size of a postage stamp and given to people as mementoes.

You can’t do that in the United States today. I mean you can lynch people and murder people in many ways but you can’t do it in the city square.

Cooper: Hmm.

Angelou: You see? We are better. Not nearly enough. Not nearly enough. But we come and we have to admit that. Because, Mr. Cooper, if we don’t, young people will say, ‘You mean to tell me, with the lives and deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Rosa Parks and the Kennedys, then there’s no point in me trying, because those people were bigger than life.’ So we have to say, ‘You have come a long way.’

***

President Barack Obama spoke from the Lincoln Memorial steps to honor the half-century anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic speech, “I Have a Dream.” August 28, 2013.

Our first African-American president was on hand at the Fiftieth Anniversary of the March on Washington Celebration. Like Dr. King, President Barack Obama is a great orator. In his speech to those gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, he echoed Maya Angelou’s sentiment in regard to the civil rights movement, progress, and where America stands.

To dismiss the magnitude of this progress, to suggest as some sometimes do that little has changed, that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years.”

Members of Dr. King’s family, including his then 5-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda King, were present as bells rang at 3 p.m. to mark the historical moment.

President Obama greets Yolanda King, age 5, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s granddaughter at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. August 28, 2013. Credit; Getty Images

President Obama greets Yolanda King, age 5, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s granddaughter at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. August 28, 2013. Credit; Getty Images

For more on Maya Angelou, click here.

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Freedmen’s Monument, Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.; sculptor, Thomas Ball. The sculpture was funded solely from freed slaves, primarily from African-American Union veterans, to pay homage to the American president who had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, thus liberating them from bondage in the Confederate States. The statue was dedicated on April 14, 1876, 11 years after Abraham Lincoln's assassination by the Confederate rebel John Wilkes Booth. Abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass delivered the dedication speech.

Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln

Frederick Douglass delivered a speech at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln at Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1876. This is the conclusion of what Douglass said to the crowd:

 

“Fellow-citizens, the fourteenth day of April, 1865, of which this is the eleventh anniversary, is now and will ever remain a memorable day in the annals of this Republic. It was on the evening of this day, while a fierce and sanguinary rebellion was in the last stages of its desolating power; while its armies were broken and scattered before the invincible armies of Grant and Sherman; while a great nation, torn and rent by war, was already beginning to raise to the skies loud anthems of joy at the dawn of peace, it was startled, amazed, and overwhelmed by the crowning crime of slavery–the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was a new crime, a pure act of malice. No purpose of the rebellion was to be served by it. It was the simple gratification of a hell-black spirit of revenge. But it has done good after all. It has filled the country with a deeper abhorrence of slavery and a deeper love for the great liberator.

Had Abraham Lincoln died from any of the numerous ills to which flesh is heir; had he reached that good old age of which his vigorous constitution and his temperate habits gave promise; had he been permitted to see the end of his great work; had the solemn curtain of death come down but gradually–we should still have been smitten with a heavy grief, and treasured his name lovingly. But dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate–for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him–but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.”

Abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass, daguerrotype, 1855. Douglass recruited black men to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Readers, I’ve posted many articles on Abe Lincoln. Scroll down the right sidebar to Categories/People/Abraham Lincoln for more! Enjoy.

Also on this blog: “Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.”

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Lee Harvey Oswald shot by Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas Police Department, Sunday, November 24, 1963, 2 days after the Kennedy assassination.

A handcuffed Lee Harvey Oswald is shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas Police Department, Sunday, November 24, 1963, 2 days after the Kennedy assassination.

I was sitting at the hair salon today, getting highlights and a cut, talking with my stylist about assassins and where they were buried. I know where Abraham Lincoln‘s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, is buried – Baltimore, but, I wondered aloud, “Where is John F. Kennedy‘s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald buried?”

My first thought was Dallas, but that is where Oswald was murdered, not where he’s buried. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald died at Parkland Memorial Hospital, the same Dallas hospital where President John F. Kennedy died just two days earlier on November 22, 1963, after being fatally wounded by Oswald as his presidential motorcade made its way through downtown Dallas.

After Kennedy was gunned down, Oswald was arrested and interrogated for two days. Then, on the morning of Sunday, November 24,  as he was being transferred to the Dallas County Jail,  Oswald was shot and wounded by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas Police Department. He was rushed to the hospital but died shortly afterward. Oswald’s body was given to his family and was buried in a  Fort Worth, Texas cemetery. Oswald’s original tombstone, which included his full name and dates of birth and death, was stolen. Today his obscure grave in the Fort Worth cemetery is marked by a stone that lies on the ground which reads simply: Oswald.

For those interested in tracking down Oswald’s grave, which is apparently hard to locate within the Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Park, click here for directions.

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From The New York Times, June 15, 2009:

$431,000 Paid for Envelope and Its Stamp

An envelope from an 1873 letter bearing a scarce 90-cent stamp with Abraham Lincoln fetched more than $431,000 at an auction in New York City on Saturday.

The envelope, or cover, as collectors call used envelopes, was sold by Siegel Auction Galleries.

The 1873 letter bearing the scarce 90-cent Lincoln stamp

The 1873 letter bearing the scarce 90-cent Lincoln stamp

Known to collectors as the Ice House Cover, the envelope, which traveled by ship from New York to India, is the only one collectors have found still bearing the red and black stamp with Lincoln on it. Last traded publicly in 1943, then stolen and long thought to have been lost to philately, the cover was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2006 and returned, after a court battle, to the heirs of J. David Baker, its last owner.

The letter was sent from a New England ice merchant to one of his ice warehouses in Calcutta, then part of Britain’s East Indies colony. It was franked with a total of $1.12, a large sum of money in those days, which paid the two-ounce foreign letter rate.

Markings on the envelope reveal that it traveled across the Atlantic, by train through Germany and Italy, by ship to Egypt and again from Suez to Bombay, and then by train across India. Before the advent of the Universal Postal Union the next year, the sum reflected rates negotiated between the United States and Britain to encourage growing international trade. Indeed, the commercial success of sending ice from winter ponds in Massachusetts to the sweltering cities of India was part of this progress.

90-cent Lincoln stamp issued in 1869. Image used was provided by photographer Mathew Brady.

This 90-cent Lincoln stamp was issued in 1869. The image was provided by famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

Early collectors mainly sought to fill their albums with stamps that had been soaked off their envelopes, and an item like the Lincoln, issued in 1869 in a run of fewer than 50,000, would have been no exception. When, at the end of the 19th century, collectors began saving entire envelopes — on account of the fascinating tales they revealed about their trips through the world’s postal systems — it became apparent that covers with the Lincoln were no longer to be found.

In 1914, a New York collector traveling in India did come across one. He sold it to a dealer in New York for $50 or $100 — accounts vary — and by the 1960s it had been sold to Mr. Baker, a steel executive and prominent collector in Indianapolis, for $6,500.

One night in 1967, a prized group of about 250 rare covers, including the Ice House Cover, was stolen from his home. The F.B.I. found most of those covers a decade later, and Mr. Baker was able to buy them back from his insurance company. But the Ice House Cover was missing.

In early 2006, however, an elderly couple walked into a stamp shop in Chicago to ask about the value of some old envelopes they had found while cleaning the home of a deceased friend. The store owner recognized the Ice House Cover and alerted the police. After an investigation by the F.B.I. cleared the couple, the cover was returned by court order to Mr. Baker’s widow and daughter. In May, the Philatelic Foundation, a nonprofit organization in New York, examined the cover and declared it genuine.

The buyer on Saturday was Dr. Arthur K. M. Woo, who is renowned in philatelic circles for his worldwide exhibits of rare covers. He paid a total of $431,250, including buyer’s commission.

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Boston Corbett (1832-?) photographed in 1865

Boston Corbett (1832-?) photographed in 1865

The man who killed John Wilkes Booth was as mad as a hatter. His name was Boston Corbett. Actually, his name was not originally Boston Corbett, but Thomas T. Corbett. He became a reborn evangelical Christian while in Boston which he took as his new name. He began to wear his hair long like Jesus. He became a religious fanatic.  Those who knew him said he was “different.”  Boston Corbett was as mad as a hatter.

Boston Corbett was as mad as a hatter because he was a hatter – at a time when mercury was used in the felt hatmaking process. Hatmakers breathed the mercury vapors which caused mercury poisoning. Mercury damages the nervous system, producing symptoms such as drooling, twitching, paranoia, hallucinations, and agitation. It was probably mercury poisoning that caused the mental problems that dogged Corbett all his days.

"The Mad Hatter's Tea Party." ="Though he did not create the expression "mad as a hatter," author Lewis Carroll did create the eccentric character in his book, Alice in Wonderland (illustrations by Sir John Tenniel), first released in London in 1865, coincidentally, the year Lincoln was assassination. The hatter in the book is an eccentric fellow with wacky ideas and incoherent speech, attributes attributed to hatters of the day. Mercury was used in hatmaking and its poisonous vapors caused neurological damage on the hatters.

"The Mad Hatter's Tea Party." Though he did not create the expression "mad as a hatter," author Lewis Carroll did create the eccentric character of the hatter in his book, Alice in Wonderland (illustrations by Sir John Tenniel), first released in London in 1865, coincidentally, the year Lincoln was assassinated. The hatter in the book is an eccentric fellow with wacky ideas and incoherent speech, characteristics attributed to many hatters of the day, suffering from mercury poisoning. Mercury was used in hatmaking and its poisonous vapors caused debilitating neurological damage to the hatters, resulting in a complete mental breakdown.

As I was saying, Corbett’s job – daily breathing in the noxious mercury fumes while he made felt hats – was making him go insane. By July 16, 1858, Corbett had become so insane that he picked up a pair of scissors, took off his pants, and castrated himself. After doing the strange deed, he nonchalantly dressed again and went out to a prayer meeting, where he ate heartily and then took a walk. Corbett did, however, end up seeing a doctor to receive treatment for his self-mutilation. (1)

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Corbett enlisted in the Union army. He reenlisted three times and was made sergeant. In the days following President Lincoln’s assassination, he was selected as one of the 26 soldiers in the 16th New York Cavalry commissioned to pursue and capture the fugitive assassin John Wilkes Booth. On April 26, 1865, Corbett and the others cornered Booth and his coconspirator David Herold in a tobacco barn on Richard Garrett’s Virginia farm. Herold  gave himself up.

Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth

Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth

Booth refused to surrender, so the soldiers set the barn on fire, hoping to smoke him out. Corbett watched Booth through a large crack in the barn wall. As Booth moved about inside the burning barn, Corbett stuck his Colt revolver through the crack and aimed at the unsuspecting Booth, a full 12 feet away. Corbett’s bullet struck Lincoln’s killer in the neck, puncturing his spinal cord. Booth did not die at once.

When Corbett was questioned about his unilateral decision to kill rather than to capture Booth alive, he replied:

“God Almighty directed me.”

 
Back in Washington, Corbett was placed under technical arrest, but Secretary of War Edwin Stanton refused to prosecute the man many considered a hero. Stanton said, “The rebel is dead. The patriot lives.” Corbett collected $1653.85 in reward money.

Famous now, Corbett returned to the hat trade, first in Boston then in Connecticut and New Jersey. Further exposure to mercury caused his already volatile and erratic behavior to escalate. He got into frequent arguments which involved flashing his revolver in men’s faces.

He grew paranoid.

Then, in 1878, he made a radical life change. He moved to Kansas to live in a dugout; his home was nothing more than a hole in a hill with a stone front and a patchwork roof. He lived simply, sleeping on a homemade bed. He bought a flock of sheep. He began to give religious lectures that invariably turned into incoherent rants. He kept a number of firearms.

Improbably, in 1887, Corbett was appointed assistant doorkeeper to the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. Shortly after his appointment, he got crosswise with some men, pulled out a gun, threatened them, and got arrested. He was declared insane and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane.

But he didn’t stay there. A little over a year later, he stole a horse that had been left at the asylum entrance and escaped. Little is known about where he went after that. Some say Mexico. He may have become a traveling salesman for a medicine company in Oklahoma Territory and Texas. No one knows what became of the man who killed John Wilkes Booth. That may forever remain a mystery.

(1) The actual hospital record can be read on page 59 of Lincoln and Kennedy: Medical & Ballistic Comparisons of their Assassinations by Dr. John K. Lattimer.

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John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865. The Confederacy had fallen five days earlier.

John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865. The Confederacy had fallen five days earlier.

John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln, 1838-1865. Born into a famous acting family, his father named him after an English rebel and encouraged in him an anti-establishment nature.

John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln, 1838-1865. Born into a famous acting family, his father named him after an English rebel and encouraged in him an anti-establishment nature.

For 12 days, Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was a fugitive, successfully eluding Union manhunters who were combing the countryside south of Washington, D.C.,  in search of him. With a painful broken left leg, Booth rode and walked through Maryland, rowed across the Potomac River, and landed in Virginia. He hid in underbrush, Confederate safe houses, and pine thickets. But time was running out on him when he reached Virginia’s shores. Booth had committed the most foul crime, the murder of our president. Abraham Lincoln had been dead for 11 days then. The country was plunged into deep mourning. The people -from both the North and South – agitated for justice. The Union manhunters hot on Booth’s trail were not turning back, not until they’d brought in their prey – dead or alive.

They finally caught up with Booth and his assassination coconspirator Davey Herold at 2 a.m. on April 26, 1865. Union cavalry surrounded a tobacco barn at Richard Garrett’s farm outside Port Royal, Virginia, where Booth and Herold were inside sleeping. They were 60 miles south of Ford’s Theater in Washington.

Booth's escape route

Booth's escape route

Herold quickly surrendered, marching out of the barn and submitting to being tied to a tree. But Booth refused to come out of the barn. Gathering straw and brush, the soldiers set the barn on fire. Still Booth would not surrender. Through knotholes and cracks in the barn’s walls, the soldiers watched him moving around inside the barn, hobbling around on a crutch, holding a carbine. By sunrise, though, Booth was dead, killed by a shot fired through his neck by soldier Boston Corbett aiming through the barn walls and acting on his own accord. Booth did not die instantly but lingered near death lying on the grass near a locust tree. He was later moved to the porch of the Garrett farmhouse, where he died.

Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was pronounced dead at 7:15 A.M. April 26, 1865. He was not killed instantly. He lingered near death on the grass then later on the porch of the Garrett farmhouse in Virginia (illustrated here). After his death, a search of his body turned up a pair of revolvers, a belt and holster, a knife, some cartridges, a file, a war map of the southern states, a spur, a pipe, a Canadian bill of exchange, a compass with a leather case, a signal whistle, an almost burned-up candle, photos of five women - four actresses (Alice Grey, Helen Western, Effie Germon, and Fanny Brown) and his fiancée, Lucy Hale (the daughter of ex-Senator John P. Hale from New Hampshire), and an 1864 date book kept as a diary.

Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was pronounced dead at 7:15 A.M. April 26, 1865. After his death, a search of his body turned up a pair of revolvers, a belt and holster, a knife, some cartridges, a file, a war map of the Southern states, a spur, a pipe, a Canadian bill of exchange, a compass with a leather case, a signal whistle, an almost burned-up candle, photos of five women - four actresses (Alice Grey, Helen Western, Effie Germon, and Fanny Brown) and his fiancée, Lucy Hale (the daughter of ex-Senator John P. Hale from New Hampshire), and an 1864 date book kept as a diary.

By 8:30 a.m., Booth’s limp body was sewn into a horse blanket, placed on a plank serving as a stretcher, and loaded onto a wagon that was then driven to Belle Plain. From there, it was loaded onto a steamship then a tugboat and transported up the Potomac to the Washington Navy Yard. There  it was transferred to the anchored ship, the Montauk. Booth’s remains were laid on a bench. The horse blanket was removed, and a tarp was placed over the corpse. Many witnesses were gathered to identify the body:
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One of these people was Dr. John Frederick May. Some time prior to the assassination, Dr. May had removed a large fibroid tumor from Booth’s neck. Dr. May found a scar from his operation on the corpse’s neck exactly where it should have been. Booth’s dentist, Dr. William Merrill, who had filled two teeth for Booth shortly before the assassination, pried open the corpse’s mouth and positively identified his fillings.

Charles Dawson, the clerk at the National Hotel where Booth was staying, examined the remains, saying “I distinctly recognize it as the body of J. Wilkes Booth – first, from the general appearance, next, from the India-ink letters, ‘J.W.B.,’ on his wrist, which I had very frequently noticed, and then by a scar on the neck. I also recognize the vest as that of J. Wilkes Booth.” …Seaton Munroe, a prominent Washington attorney who knew Booth, viewed the body and said that he “was very familiar with his (Booth’s) face and distinctly recognize it.” Alexander Gardner, a well-known Washington photographer, and his assistant, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, were also among those called to the Montauk to identify Booth’s corpse. (1)

As for the tattoo, it was on John Wilkes Booth’s left hand. His sister, Asia Booth Clarke, wrote about it in her published memoirs, The Unlocked Book, John Wilkes Booth, a Sister’s Memoir. Asia felt her brother possessed both great charm and physical beauty, including his hands:

“He had perfectly shaped hands, and across the back of one he had clumsily marked, when a little boy, his initials in India ink.” (2)

Though innocent of any crime, Asia’s husband was one of a hundred people rounded up and imprisoned after the Lincoln assassination, implicated by association with John Wilkes Booth. After her husband’s release from jail and exoneration from criminal activity, Asia, her husband, and their children (8 total, 2 of whom became actors) emigrated to England, away from the unwanted notoriety brought about by her brother’s heinous crime.

(1) Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination
(2) Steers, Edward, Jr. Blood on the Moon. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.

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