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1865 May 6: John Wilkes Booth—“Tell my mother that I died for my country”

May 6, 2015

The big news of the week preceding May 6, 1865, was the killing of John Wilkes Booth“the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln—and the capture of co-conspirator David E. Herold.  This article appeared in the May 6th issue of The Prescott Journal.

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May 6, 1865

Yesterday morning a squadron of the 6th N. Y. Cavalry traced Booth and Harold [sic] to a barn between Bowing Green and Front Royal, near Fredericksburg, Va.

The barn was surrounded and a demand made for their surrender, which Harold [sic] was in favor of doing, but upon Booth calling him a coward he refused to do so.

The barn was then set on fire, and, on its getting too hot, Harold [sic] again presented himself, and put his hands through the door to be handcuffed.  While this was going on, Booth fired upon the soldiers, upon which a sergeant fired at him.  The ball of the sergeant took effect in the head of Booth, killing him.

Harold [sic] was taken alive.  He and Booth’s body were brought to the Washington Navy Yard last night.

Booth was discovered in the barn by the cavalry.  He declared his intention never to surrender, and said he would fight the whole squad, consisting of 28 men, if they would permit him to place himself twenty yards distant.

The scouting party was under the command of Lieut. Edward Dougherty [sic].¹  Booth was on a crutch, and was lame.  He lived two hours after he was shot, whispering blasphemies against the Government and sending a farewell message to his mother.

At the time he was shot it is said he was leaning on his crutch and preparing to fire again upon his captors.

The Star has the following particulars of the capture of Booth :

To Col. L. C. Baker [Lafayette C. Baker], special detective of the War Department, and his admirably trained detective force, and to the 16th N. Y. cavalry, active participants in the seizure of the assassins, the country owe a debt of gratitude for this timely service.

It seems that a detachment of the 16 N. Y. cavalry numbering about 25 men, was despatched from this city on Monday, under the direction of Col. Baker, in command of Lieut. Dougherty [sic], accompanied by some of Col. Baker’s officers, who captured and killed Booth and captured Harold [sic], one of his accomplices, alive.

The cavalry, after leaving here, landed at Belle Plain in the night, and at once started out in pursuit of Booth and Harold [sic], having previously ascertained from a colored man that they had crossed the river into Virginia at Swan Point in a small canoe hired by Booth for $300.

Proceeding on toward Bowling Green, some three miles from Port Royal, Lt. Dougherty [sic], who was in command of the cavalry, discovered that Booth and Harold [sic] were secreted in a large barn owned by a man named Garrett,² and were well armed.

The cavalry then surrounded the barn and summoned Booth and Harold [sic] to surrender.

WASHINGTON, April 27.

Harold [sic] was inclined at first to give himself up, but Booth accused him of cowardice.  Then Booth peremptorily refused to surrendered and made preparations to defend themselves.  In order to take the conspirators alive, the barn was fired, and the flames getting to hot for Harold [sic], he approached the door of the barn and signified his willingness to be taken prisoner.  The door was then opened sufficiently to allow Harold [sic] to put his arms through that he might be handcuffed.  As an officer was about putting the irons upon Harold’s [sic] wrists, Booth fired upon the party from the barn, which was returned by the sergeant of the 16th N. Y., the ball striking Booth in his neck, from the effects of which he died in about 4 hours.  Before breathing his last he was asked if he had anything to say, when he replied :  “Tell my mother that I died for my country.”

Harold [sic] and the body of Booth were brought into Belle Plain at eight o’clock last night and reached the navy yard here at one o’clock this morning.

The statement heretofore published that Booth had injured one of his legs by falling off his horse, has proved to be correct.—After he was shot it was discovered that one of his legs was badly injured and that he was compelled to wear an old shoe and use crutches which he had with him in the barn.  Booth was shot about four o’clock in the morning and died at about seven o’clock.

Booth had upon his person some bills of exchange, but only $175 in Treasury Notes.  It appears that Booth and Harold [sic] left Washington together on the night of the murder of President Lincoln, and passed through Leonardstown, Md., concealed themselves in the vicinity until an opportunity was afforded them to cross the river at Swan Point, which they did as above stated.  The man who hired Booth and his accomplice the boat in which he crossed the river was captured, we understand, but afterward made his escape.  Harold [sic] has been lodged in a secure place.

The Star in a later edition, has the following of Booth :

Booth and Harold [sic] reached Garrett’s some days ago, Booth walking on crutches.  A party of four or five accompanied them, who spoke of Booth as a wounded Marylander on his way home, and that they wished to leave him there a short time, and would take him away by the 26th, yesterday.  Booth limped somewhat, and walked on crutches about the place, complaining of his ankle.  He and Harold [sic] regularly took their meals at the house, and both kept up appearances well.

One day, at the dinner table, the conversation turned on the assassination of the President, when Booth denounced the assassination in the severest terms, saying that there was no punishment severe enough for the perpetrator.  At another time, some one said in Booth’s presence, that rewards amounting to two hundred thousand dollars had been offered for Booth, and that he would like to catch him, when Booth replied :  “Yes, it would be a good haul, but the amount will, doubtless, soon be increased to five hundred thousand dollars.”

The two Garretts’ [sic] who lived on the place, allege that they had no idea that these parties, Booth and Harold [sic], were any other than what their friends represented them, paroled Confederate soldiers, on their way home.  They also say that when the cavalry appeared in that neighborhood, and they heard that they were looking for the assassins that they sent word to them that these two men were on the place.  In other words, they assert that they are entirely innocent of giving the assassins any aid and comfort, knowing them to be such.

The Ida, tug boat, reached here about 2 o’clock last night, with Harold [sic] and the two men above referred to, as well as the body of Booth.  Harold [sic] was immediately put in a safe place.  It is stated that thus far he has manifested no disposition to speak of the affair, but as he was known as a very talkative young man, he may soon resume the use of his tongue.  Booth and Harold [sic] were dressed in Confederate gray—new uniform.  Harold [sic] was otherwise not disguised much.  Booth’s moustache had been cut off, apparently with a scissors, and his beard allowed to grow, which changed his appearance wonderfully.  His hair had been cut somewhat shorter than he usually wore it.

Booth’s body which we have above described, was at once laid out on a bench, and a guard placed over it.  The lips of the corpse are tightly compressed and the blood has settled in the lower part of the face and neck.  Otherwise the face is pale, and wears a wild, haggard look, indicating exposure to the elements and a rough experience in his skulking flight.  His hair is disarranged and dirty, and apparently had not been combed since he took his flight.  The head and breast are alone exposed to view.  The lower portion of the body, including the hands and feet, being covered with a tarpaulin.  The shot which terminated his accursed life entered on the left side at the back of the neck, a point curiously enough not far distant from that in which his victim, our lamented President, was shot.  No orders have yet been given as to what disposition will be made of the body.

Large numbers of persons have been seeking admission to the navy yard to day to get a sight of the body of Booth and to hear the particulars, but none excepting the workmen, the officers connected with the yard and those holding orders from the Department are allowed to enter.  A Spencer carbine, which Booth had with him in the barn at the time he was shot by Sergt. Corbett,³ and a large knife with blood on it, supposed to be the one with which Booth cut Major Rathbone [Henry R. Rathbone], in the theatre box, on the night of the murder of President Lincoln, and which was found on Booth’s body, have been brought to the city.  The carbine and knife are now in the possession of Col. Baker, at his office.  The bills of exchange, which were for a considerable amount, found on Booth’s person, were drawn on banks in Canada, in October last.

WASHINGTON, April 28.

It appears by Harold’s [sic] account that Col. Baker sent Lt. Col. Conger4 and Lieut Baker5 with Lieut Dougherty [sic], and on reaching Garrett’s farm they were told by a son of Garrett that there were two men in the barn.  This was at 2 A. M., Wednesday.  Proceeding to the barn, Lieut Baker was sent forward and called upon Booth to come out, and give up his arms and surrender, and that young Garrett would go into the barn to receive the arms.  Upon his entering the barn Booth exclaimed, “Get out of here.  You have betrayed me.”

A colloquy then ensued, of which the following is the substance :

Lieut Baker.—“You must give up your arms and surrender.  We have come to take you prisoners and will treat you as prisoners.  We will give you five minutes to surrender or we will burn the barn”

Booth.—“Who are you and what do yon want?”

(Instructions had been given to Lieut Baker not to disclose the character of those who were in pursuit.)

Lieut Baker.—“We want you. We intend to take you prisoner.”

Booth—“This is a hard case.  It may be that I am to be taken by friends.”

After some few colloquies of this sort, Booth, seemingly convinced that he was in the toils6 of federal soldiers, said:  “Give me a chance for my life.  I am a cripple, with one leg ;  well, draw your men 100 yards from the barn and I will come out and fight you.”

Lt. Baker.—“We did not come here to fight but to take you prisoner.  You must give up your arms and surrender.”

Booth.—“Let me have time to consider.”

A conversation in the barn, between Booth and Harold [sic], then took place, which was not overheard by the party outside.

In 15 or 20 minutes Booth called out: “Who are you? I could have picked off half a dozen of your men while we were talking.  I could have shot two or three times, but I don’t want to kill any body.”

Lt. Baker.—“Then give up your arms and surrender.  We have come here to take you.”

Booth.—“I will never be taken alive.”

Lt. Baker.—“If you don’t do so immediately we will set fire to the barn.”

Booth.—“Well my brave boys prepare a stretcher for me.”

After this a conversation took place between Booth and Harold [sic] during which Booth was heard to say “You  damned cowards will you leave me now ?  But go !  go !  I don’t want you to stay with me.”

Booth then addressed the party outside and said :  “There is a man here who wants to come out.”

Lieut Baker then let him hand out his arms and come out.

Another talk here occurred between Booth and Harold [sic], in which it appeared that the latter was begging to be allowed to take out some arms with him, and Booth was heard to say :  “Go away from me ;  I don’t want anything more to do with you.”

Harold [sic] then came to the door and asked to be let out.

Lieut. Baker said, “No, hand out your arms.”

Harold [sic] replied, “I have none.”

Lieut. Baker.—“Yes, you have.  You carried a carbine when you came here ;  hand it out.”

Booth.—“He has no arms ;  they are all mine.  Upon my word, as a gentleman, he has no arms.  All that are here belong to me.”

Lieut Baker then approached the door.  Harold [sic] thrust out his hands and was pulled from the door, tied and placed in charge of a guard.

Col. Conger was then satisfied that further parley with Booth was in vain, and proceeding to the other side of the barn, he pulled out a wisp of hay and lighted it.  Within a few minutes the blazing hay lighted up the inside of the barn.  Booth was discovered leaning on a crutch, which he threw aside, and with a carbine in his hands, came toward the side where the fire had been kindled, paused, looked at the fire a moment, and started towards the door.  When at about the middle of the barn he was shot.  Col. Conger and Lt. Baker at once entered the barn and brought Booth out.

After identification, by order of the War Department, the body was privately interred in the clothing which was upon it.

The Herald’s correspondent says the parley with Booth lasted a long while, that Booth told Lieut. Dougherty [sic] he had a bead drawn on him and could shoot him if he chose, Booth could see those outside plainly, while they could not see him inside.  That when the fire was lighted Booth could be seen, and then Lieut. Dougherty [sic] ordered Sergt. Corbett to fire, which be did, through one of the crevices.  Booth was armed with two six-barrell and one seven barreled revolvers.

When the party started to return with the body Harold [sic] refused to walk, when a rope was adjusted to his neck and the other end of it to the saddle of one of the cavalrymen.—As soon as a horse could be procured be was mounted.

The World’s correspondent says it is learned that Harold [sic] joined Booth just after the assassination, and, it is believed, brought the horse into the alley.

Staged photograph, ca. 1865, of Lt. Baker, Col. Baker, and Lt. Col. Conger

Staged photograph, ca. 1865, of Lt. Baker, Col. Baker, and Lt. Col. Conger 7

STATEMENT OF SERGT. CORBETT.

NEW YORK, April 28.

The following is a statement of Sergt. Barton [sic] Corbett :

On Tuesday P. M., my superior officer, Lieut Edward P. Dougherty [sic], received information that two persons answering to the description of Booth and his accomplice, Harold [sic], were concealed in a barn on the farm of Henry Garrett, about 3 miles from Port Royal, in the direction of Bowling Green.  There we captured a man named Jett,8 who ferried Booth and his companion across the Potomac.  At first he denied knowing anything about the matter, but when threatened with death if he did not reveal the spot where the assassins were secreted, he told us where they could be found and piloted us to the place.

Booth and Harold [sic] reached he barn about dusk on Tuesday evening.  The barn was at once surrounded by our cavalry.  Some of our party engaged in conversation with Booth from the outside.  He was commanded to surrender several times, but made no reply to the demand, save that “if you want me, you must take me.”  When first asked to surrender, he asked,  “Who do you take me for?”  A short time after, in response to a question whether there was anybody else with him in the barn, he stated that he was the only one in the building, that his companion Harold [sic] had taken another direction and was beyond the reach of capture.  At three o’clock, or a little after, the barn was fired.  Before the flames we kindled, Booth had the advantage of us in respect to light, he could see us, but we could not see him, but after that the tables were turned, we could see him plainly but could not be seen by him.

“The flames appeared to confuse him, and he made a spring towards the door, as if to make an attempt to force his way out.  As he passed by one of the crevices in the barn I fired at him.  I aimed at his body.  I did not want to kill him.  I took deliberate aim at his shoulder, but my aim was too high.  The ball struck him in the head, just below the right ear, and passing through came out about an inch above the left ear.  I think he stooped to pick up something, just as I fired.  That may probably account for his receiving the ball in the head.  I was not over 8 or 10 yards from him when I fired.  I was afraid that if I did not wound him he would kill some of our men.  After he was wounded I went into the barn.  Booth was lying in a reclining position on the floor.  I asked him, ‘Where are you wounded ?’  He replied, in a feeble way, ‘In the head ;  you have finished me.’  He was then carried out of the burning building into the open air, where be died about two and a half afterwards.

About an hour before be breathed his last, he prayed for us to shoot him through the heart, and thus end his misery.  His sufferings appeared to be intense.  Although he could have killed several of our party, Booth seemed to be afraid to fire.  Mine was the only shot fired on either side.  When he fell, he had in his hand a six-barrelled revolver, and at his feet was laying a seven-shooter, which he had dropped after he was wounded.—Two other revolvers were also near him.  He declared that the arms belonged to him, and that Harold [sic] had nothing to do with the murder.

We gave Booth brandy, and four men went in search of a Doctor, whom we found about four miles from the scene of the occurrence, but when the Doctor arrived Booth was dying.  He did not talk much after receiving his wound.  When asked if he had anything to say, he replied :  “I died for my country,” and asked those standing by to tell his mother so.  He did not deny his crime.

1.  Edward Paul Doherty (1840-1897) was Canadian born and had only come to the U.S. in 1860. He enlisted April 20, 1861, in the 71st New York Infantry (a 90-day regiment) and was captured at the First Battle of Bull Run. Doherty escaped and became a captain in the Corcoran Legion. He served for 2 years and was appoined a 1st lieutenant in the 16th New York Cavalry. On April 24, 1865, Doherty received orders to assemble a detachment of 25 men of the 16th N. Y. Infantry to accompany two detectives of the intelligence service to track down Booth and Herold.
2.  Richard Henry Garrett (1806-1878), and his son, John “Jack” Muscoe Garrett (1840-1899), although some accounts say it was a younger son, Robert Clarence Garrett (1858-1937). Read Garrett’s description of the Booth affair on his Find A Grave entry.
3.  Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett (1832-1894?) enlisted as a private in Company I of the 12th  New York Militia when the Civil War started. Due to his eccentric behavior and refusal to take orders, Corbett was court-martialed; his initial death sentence was reduced and he was discharged in August 1863. A month later he enlisted again in Company L of the 16th New York Cavalry. In 1864, Corbett was captured by John S. Mosby’s men and held prisoner at Andersonville prison for five months. He was released in an exchange and on his return to his company he was promoted to sergeant. Corbett later testified for the prosecution in the trial of Captain Henry Wirz, the commandant of Andersonville.
Regarding the killing of Booth, in an interview in 1878, Corbett claimed that he saw Booth through the crack in the barn wall aim his gun and that prompted him to shoot Booth, despite Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s orders that Booth should be captured alive. When asked why he had violated orders, Corbett replied, “Providence directed me.” He was arrested and taken to the War Department to be court martialed. When questioned by Stanton, Corbett admitted to disobeying orders not to shoot, believing that Booth had intended to shoot his way out of the barn and that he, Corbett, acted in self-defense. Although many eyewitnesses contradicted Corbett’s version of events, the public considered him a hero.
Corbett disappeared after 1888, but circumstantial evidence suggests that he died in the Great Hinckley Fire in Minnesota in 1894.
4.  Everton Judson Conger (1834-1918) enlisted in the 8th Ohio Infantry (3 months) when the Civil War began. He later became a captain in the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel of the 1st District of Columbia Cavalry. He suffered three severe wounds during the War and was assigned to detached duty in Washington, D.C., where he joined Colonel Lafayette Baker’s intelligence service as a detective. Conger was ordered to accompany Lieutenant Doherty’s detachment from the 16th New York Cavalry to pursue Booth. Conger tracked down Willie Jett and interrogated him, learning of Booth’s location at the Garrett farm, and led the soldiers there. Conger was the one who set fire to the barn and removed Booth’s personal effects, including his diary. After the War, Conger moved to Illinois where he practiced law. Later he was appointed a U.S. District Court judge in Montana Territory. Finally he moved to Hawaii to live with his daughter, dying there in 1918.
5.  Luther Byron Baker (1830-1896) served in the United States Secret Service with his brother, Major Joseph Stannard Baker. Their cousin, Colonel Lafayette C. Baker, was then the head of the United States Secret Service. In 1862, Lafayette C. Baker organized what was known as the First District of Columbia cavalry and in this command Luther B. Baker was given the rank of lieutenant. He ably served with that command until the close of hostilities in 1865, and then returned to the secret service and made himself famous by the capture of John Wilkes Booth. He was the only one who conversed with Booth before the barn was fired and was the first to reach him as he fell, mortally wounded by a bullet fired from Corbett’s rifle as he attempted to make his escape. He gave Booth a drink of water from his canteen and received his dying message to his mother. He and his cousin made the final disposition of Booth’s body. After the War, he farmed for a short time and then spent 25 years in the state auditor general’s office.
6.  A situation regarded as a trap.
7.  Photograph taken by Alexander Gardner, who staged the three men planning the capture of John Wilkes Booth. It can be found several places on the Internet, including here [accessed May 2015].
8.  William “Willie” Storke Jett (1846-1884), was from Westmoreland County, Virginia, and served in Company C of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, joining in June 1864 at the age of 17. Thirteen days later, Willie received a severe wound when shot in the abdomen during the First Battle of Reams Station, and the wound was so incapacitating that he never returned to active duty with his regiment. After the surrender of Lee, while on his way home to Westmoreland County, Willie and two other former Confederates, while waiting for the ferry along the Rappahannock River, met John Wilkes Booth and David E. Herold. As they waited together, they fell into conversation, and Herold divulged that they were Lincoln’s killers. Once across the river, Herold asked Willie to help find a place for Booth and himself to stay. After several tries, Willie took them to the Garrett Farm, introduced Booth as a returning Confederate soldier, and Garrett agreed to take in Booth. The next day, the men from the 16th N.Y. Cavalry found Jett and he gave up the whereabouts of Booth, guiding the cavalry to the Garrett farm. Read more about Willie Jett, by Eric J. Mink, on the Mysteries and Conundrums website [accessed May 2015].

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