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Booth reward posterIt was April 24, 1865 – ten days since President Lincoln was assassinated – and his killer still remained at large. On the night of April 14, John Wilkes Booth had shot the president in the head, jumped on a horse, and slipped across the Potomac River undetected. He had disappeared into Maryland, a state that had stayed in the Union in the Civil War (which had ended just days earlier), but was sprinkled with Confederate spies. Speculation was that Booth would cross Maryland into Virginia with the help of fellow Confederate sympathizers.

The 16th New York Cavalry was on Booth’s trail but no leads had resulted in his capture, despite a whopping $100,000 reward promised by the War Department. So on April 24, Major W.S. Hancock issued a new proclamation appealing to the black population of Washington, Maryland, and Virginia, for their help in the manhunt. Hancock calculated that Booth could not escape without encountering blacks. The following proclamation was printed on letter size handbills and distributed:

THE MURDER OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN.

APPEAL TO THE COLORED PEOPLE!

HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION

Washington, D.C., April 24, 1865

To the colored people of the District of Columbia and of Maryland, of Alexandria and the border counties of Virginia;

Your President had been murdered! He has fallen by the assassin and without a moment’s warning, simply and solely because he was your friend and the friend of our country. Had he been unfaithful to you and to the great cause of human freedom he might have lived. The pistol from which he met his death, though held by Booth, was fired by the hands of treason and slavery. Think of this and remember how long and how anxiously this good man labored to break your chains and to make you happy. I now appeal to you, by every consideration which can move loyal and grateful hearts, to aid in discovering and arresting his murderer. Concealed by traitors, he is believed to be lurking somewhere within the limits of the District of Columbia, of the State of Maryland, or Virginia. Go forth, then, and watch, and listen, and inquire, and search, and pray, by day and night, until you shall have succeeded in dragging this monstrous and bloody criminal from his hiding place….

Large rewards have been offered…and they will be paid for the apprehension of this murderer….But I feel that you need no such stimulus as this. You will hunt down this cowardly assassin of your best friend, as you would the murderer of your own father….

All information which may lead to the arrest of Booth, or Surratt, or Harold, should be communicated to these headquarters….

W.S. Hancock

Major General U.S. Volunteers

Commanding Middle Military Division

 

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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:
140px-John_Wilkes_Booth_wanted_poster_new

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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