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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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President Lincoln and son "Tad" (Thomas) in a February 9, 1864 photograph by Anthony Berger of the Brady Studio.

President Lincoln and son "Tad" (Thomas) in a February 9, 1864 photograph by Anthony Berger of the Brady Studio.

April 11, 1865 became the official day of celebrating the end of the Civil War. An even larger crowd was assembled on the White House lawn than the night before. (See last post.) The band was playing triumphant music, people were waving banners and shouting, “Hoorah!” and calling out for President Lincoln to speak. It was evening, but Washington D.C., was blazing with light. The Capitol, other government buildings, the White House, and private homes were lit up from within to ring in the good news.

A great cheer went up from the crowd when the President appeared on the second-floor balcony to deliver his speech. There he stood patiently and quietly as waves of applause rolled toward him. Finally, the crowd settled down and Lincoln, holding a candle in his left hand and his notes in his right, prepared to speak. But the juggling of the candle and his manuscript instantly proved awkward for the president. So he gave the candle to his friend Noah Brooks to hold. Son Tad knelt at his feet to catch each fluttering page of his father’s notes as he dropped them.

The crowd was silent when Lincoln began:

“Reuniting our country is fraught with great difficulty…and we differ among ourselves as to the mode and manner and means of reconstruction….”

Lincoln continued in this same vein, spelling out in greater and more boring detail the plans he had for reuniting the torn nation. The crowd was somewhat taken aback by the president’s tone. This was not the speech they’d expected. They had come to hear a rousing speech, praising the Union troops for their bravery and sacrifice, but, instead their president was droning on with no merriment, skipping past the present and jumping into the future without pausing to savor victory. Not waiting for the end of the president’s speech, some members of the crowd drifted away no doubt to find a jazzier way to spend the celebration.

John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865)

John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865)

One of the people in the crowd that day was the famous young actor and Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Along with him were drugstore clerk David Herold and former Confederate soldier Lewis Powell, also known as Lewis Payne. Just weeks earlier, these three men and five others had been planning to kidnap Lincoln and exchange him for Confederate P.O.W.s. But now that the Confederacy had collapsed, Lee had surrendered, and Rebel P.O.W.s were being released, there was no incentive to kidnap the president. Still, Booth wanted to act. He hated Lincoln and considered him a tyrant along the lines of Julius Caesar. He was determined to do something heroic in defense of the South and to punish Lincoln.

Booth was startled to hear what the President said next.  Lincoln said something that no other president had ever said publicly. He told the crowd that he was in favor of granting some black men the right to vote, especially, “the very intelligent and those who served our cause as soldiers.” One hundred eighty thousand black men had served in the Union Army.

Booth went ballistic. He turned to his fellow co-conspirator Powell. “That means nigger citizenship. That is the last speech he will ever make,”  he vowed.  He begged Powell to shoot Lincoln then and there. When Powell said no, Booth proclaimed, “By God, I’ll put him through.”

Booth was true to his word. It was the last speech Lincoln ever made. Four days later, the president would be dead, killed by a bullet fired into his head by John Wilkes Booth.

 

For related posts on this blog, see left sidebar “Categories.” Select Mary and Abraham Lincoln. In particular, you might enjoy reading “The Lincoln Assassination: Mary Surratt & the 7 Hoods.”

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Uncle Sam's Menagerie

Uncle Sam's Menagerie

Issued in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, the political cartoon, “Uncle Sam’s Menagerie,” conveys the Northern hostility toward the conspirators, whom the public associated with former president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis. Uncle Sam stands before a cage in which a hyena with the bonneted head of Jefferson Davis (1808-1889), president of the Confederacy, claws at a skull. Davis’ neck is in a noose, which will begin to tighten as a man at right turns the crank of a gallows. The bonnet on Davis’  head alludes to the embarrassing circumstances of his recent capture. As the Civil War drew to a close, Davis fled Richmond with his cabinet in early April 1865 and began a trek southward with federal troops in hot pursuit. While still weighing the merits of forming a government in exile,  Davis was captured by Union soldiers near Irwinville, Georgia, in early May 1865. Whether by accident or design, Davis was wearing his wife’s dark gray short-sleeved cloak and black shawl when captured.  

Below the caricature of Davis as a cross-dressing hyena, a man grinds out the song “Yankee Doodle” on a hand organ. Above, the Lincoln conspirators are portrayed as “Gallow’s Bird’s,” with their heads in nooses. From left to right they are: Michael O’Laughlin, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Lewis Paine, Mary Elizabeth Surratt, Samuel Arnold, Edman Spangler, and Dr. Samuel Mudd. At left, Uncle Sam points his stick at a skull “Booth,” on which sits a black crow. John Wilkes Booth was killed during a government raid on his hideout on April 26, 1865.

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