The American Civil War 150th Anniversary: Lincoln Assassination Timeline

Per Kauffman, Mary Lincoln wasn't aware anything had happened until later.  When Booth jumped down to the stage, she thought her husband had fallen out of the box.  (Library of Congress, source not known)

Per Kauffman, Mary Lincoln wasn’t aware anything had happened until later. When Booth jumped down to the stage, she thought her husband had fallen out of the box. (Library of Congress, source not known)

As mentioned last week, this was intended to be a newsline. However, I really got caught up in it. Has a movie been made about the details? If not, why not? It’s a fascinating tale.

This manhunt timeline is also rather long for a general-interest newsline.

Last but definitely not least, Civil War buffs here have been waiting so long and so patiently. For all these reasons, especially the last one, I’ve decided to post it here, even though we’re only just past the 149th anniversary. I hope you will enjoy it and thank you very much for your ongoing interest.

Unless otherwise noted, the information is from Michael Kauffman’s American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (2004). Numbers in parentheses are page numbers of the Random House Trade Paperback edition.

A good book

Kauffman did a very thorough job, as he explains in his introduction, and the result is detailed to the point of being almost overwhelming. I certainly do feel confident with his dates. He also seems to have had experiences similar to mine, where a careful look at something during the Civil War shows clearly that what really happened isn’t always the way it’s generally remembered today.

I do encourage you to read the book, including its introduction and its footnotes. My one criticism is that Kauffman’s attempt to interweave the various threads fails, not because of anything he does in setting it all down, but because it was all so tremendously complicated. It has taken me three go-throughs in order to build just a basic timeline of the events after the assassination. Most of the highlights, as I got them, are below.




Lewis Powell, wearing the coat and hat he wore during the attack on Seward.  (Library of Congress)

Lewis Powell, wearing the coat and hat he wore during the attack on Seward. (Library of Congress)

4/14/1865:  The crimes:  At around 10:15 p.m., John Wilkes Booth shoots Abraham Lincoln in the head at Ford’s Theater and stabs one of the president’s guests during a performance of “Our American Cousin.” At the same time, six blocks away, Lewis Powell stabs Secretary of State William Seward as the secretary lies in bed recovering from accidental injuries. The attacker also slashes Seward’s male nurse, fractures Seward’s son Frederick’s skull in at least five places, and stabs a State Department messenger who arrives during the attack.

4/14/1865:  Booth’s escape from crime scene:  At Ford’s, Booth leaps from the presidential box to the stage, 12 feet below. Holding a dagger high, he turns to the audience and shouts “Sic semper tyrannis!” He then races off the stage, turning at the far end to barrel down an unlit passage to the back door. Throwing the door open, Booth bounds into the alley, where a horse is waiting. The assassin grabs the reins, jumps into the saddle and spins the animal around. Audience member Major Joseph Stewart – the first to react to the assassination – rushes out the back door and fumbles for the reins, but Booth gets away. (226-227)

4/14/1865:  Powell’s escape from crime scene :  At Seward’s house, Powell runs through the open front door, bellowing “I’m mad! I’m mad!” He mounts a waiting horse. Despite having difficulty getting it to gallop while pursued by nearby soldiers, who are on foot, Powell gets the animal up to speed and disappears. (22-27)

Herold before the assassination.  I wonder if this was the image his sister gave his pursuers to help identify him.  (Library of Congress)

Herold before the assassination. I wonder if this was the image his sister gave pursuers to help identify him. (Library of Congress)

4/15/1865:  Booth’s flight :  At 11:40 p.m., Booth, under his own name, is allowed through the drawbridge that spans the Eastern Branch of the Potomac southeast of the Capitol. Shortly afterwards, David Herold, under the name of Smith, is passed across the same bridge. They head to southern Maryland. Around midnight, Herold wakes up John Lloyd at the tavern in Surrattsville (present-day Clinton, Maryland), telling him “Make haste and get those things.” Lloyd brings out a carbine, field glasses and a box of cartridges that Mary Surratt had left at the tavern. Herold and another man are waiting there on horses. The other mounted man tells Lloyd his leg is broken and asks if there’s a surgeon in the neighborhood. He also tells Lloyd that he and Herold have just assassinated the president and Secretary Seward. Then the two men gallop off. (227-230)

4/15/1865:  The manhunt begins:  Shortly after midnight, Washington D.C. is closed. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton uses the federal war machine to expedite communications and manage the deployment of men and supplies. He also sets up a court of inquiry in the house, near the theater, where the dying Lincoln has been taken. Stanton believes the assassins have gone toward Baltimore, where Booth is from. The Metropolitan Police concentrate on the crime scene and Booth, collecting evidence and tracking down witnesses. General Christopher Augur, head of the city garrison, sets up a command post while waiting for General Grant to arrive from New Jersey and assume control. Augur’s efforts to prevent further attacks include guarding Seward’s house, posting guards at critical sites, alerting thousands of soldiers, and sending out cavalry to patrol the city. (41-43)

4/15/1865:  Powell’s flight:  Intending to take a different route out of Washington than Booth, Powell plans to follow Benning Road, northeast of the Capitol, to a fork where he can either head to southern Maryland or go to Baltimore. However, a new gate on the road forces him back into town. He takes a wrong turn and ends up in Glenwood Cemetary, where he will hide for the next two days. (268-269)

An 1864 presidential campaign cartoon, showing Lincoln and VP candidate Andrew Johnson healing the Union.  (Library of Congress)

An 1864 presidential campaign cartoon, showing Lincoln and VP candidate Andrew Johnson healing the Union. (Library of Congress)

4/15/1865:  The manhunt:  Security is beefed up at the Kirkwood House, a few blocks west of Ford’s, where Vice President Andrew Johnson is staying. A card left by John Wilkes Booth for Johnson is found: “Don’t wish to disturb you. Are you at home?” (222) The Kirkwood House bartender tells detectives about a suspicious-looking guest named George Atzerodt. Atzerodt isn’t in, but in his room the detectives find, among other things, John Wilkes Booth’s Canadian bank account book. (31-32)

4/15/1865:  The manhunt:  John Fletcher, foreman at Thompson Nailor’s livery stable, tells Washington police that he chased a man (Herold) out of the city for failing to return a rented horse. Fletcher reports that he also could have passed the drawbridge but would have been unable to return, so he quit the chase and then heard about the assassination later. Police know that a loose horse was brought to General Augur, so they send Fletcher there. (55-56)

Dr. Samuel Mudd.  (Library of Congress, by way of Wikipedia)

Dr. Samuel Mudd. (Library of Congress, by way of Wikipedia)

4/15/1865:  Booth’s flight:  At 4 a.m., Dr. Samuel Mudd is awakened by a knock at the door of his house in Charles County, Maryland. Two men are waiting outside in the rain, one on the front porch and the other on a horse. The man on the porch says he needs a surgeon for his friend who was hurt when his horse tripped. He and the doctor help the man off the horse and into the house, where they get him on a porch sofa. Mudd, who has met Booth before, doesn’t recognize him in the dark, and Booth is careful to keep his face turned away as much as possible. Mudd finds the man has a fractured fibula. He doesn’t expect any problems from it. The doctor makes a splint and has his gardener fashion a pair of crutches. (230-231)

4/15/1865:  The manhunt:  Police get a tip that a man named John Surratt may have been associated with Booth. They head to Surratt’s Boardinghouse, a few blocks from Ford’s Theater. Boarder Louis Weichmann answers the door and tells them John isn’t in. They enter anyway and Mary Surratt admits seeing Booth in the afternoon but has no idea where her son is. Police leave. (56-58)

John Surratt.  (Library of Congress)

John Surratt. (Library of Congress)

4/15/1865:  John Surratt’s flight:  In Elmira, New York, John Surratt hears news of the assassination and flees into Canada. (277)

4/15/1865:  The manhunt:  At General Augur’s headquarters, John Fletcher recognizes a saddle and bridle as belonging to George Atzerodt (see above), of Port Tobacco, Maryland. Augur asks him to describe the horse the items came from. Fletcher’s description matches that of the horse in their custody. (58-59)

4/15/1865:  The manhunt:  The provost marshal’s men search Booth’s room at the National Hotel. In a trunk, they find pistol cartridges, two pairs of handcuffs, a gimet, and a US colonel’s dress coat. In a jacket, they find a hot lead – a letter from “Sam” that references an unspecified arrangements and asks Booth to wait until they can see what Richmond thinks of the plans. (51, 66-67)

4/15/1865:  Booth’s flight:  At Dr. Mudd’s farm, Herold asks for a carriage. The doctor takes Herold to Oak Hill, his father’s home, but the father can’t spare his only carriage. Mudd then goes to nearby Bryantown. Herold tags along until they get within sight of town and then rides back to the farm alone.

Booth, exhausted, rests all day, his face turned to the wall. He also shaves off his moustache. No one in the Mudd family recognizes him. In town, Mudd hears of the assassination and starts to get suspicious. Hurrying home, he catches his visitors leaving by a side road, confronts them, and Booth admits who he is but pleads with the doctor to let them pass. Dr. Mudd agrees to that much and insists they go at once. They head toward a big swamp, and the doctor believes they may try to cross it. (244-245)

Surrattsville, home of John Surratt, per "Harper's Weekly."  (Library of Congress)

Surrattsville, home of John Surratt, per “Harper’s Weekly.” (Library of Congress)

4/15/1865The manhunt:  Southern Maryland: Lt. David Dana and 85 men of the 13th New York Cavalry set out for Port Tobacco, the reported hometown of George Atzerodt.

On the advice of locals, Dana heads to Surrattsville for a talk with John Lloyd, who rents the tavern there from Mary Surratt. Lloyd says no one has ridden through there and promises to report anything that comes to his attention. (75, 233)
4/15/1865:  At 7:22 a.m., President Lincoln is pronounced dead. Secretary Seward and others injured in the attack there will survive their wounds.

Alfred Waud sketched Lincoln's deathbed.  Per the Library of Congress, inscribed above image, from left to right: Henrys [Horseshow] (picture); Wells; Stanton; Unknown; Dennison; Sumner; Capt [Robert] Lincoln; Halleck in uniform; Gen Meigs in uniform. Inscribed on figure in image: Hay. Inscribed Doctor Summoned; Mrs. Lincoln would take this place.

Alfred Waud sketched this image of Lincoln’s death. Per the Library of Congress, inscribed above image, from left to right: Henrys [Horseshow] (picture); Wells; Stanton; Unknown; Dennison; Sumner; Capt [Robert] Lincoln; Halleck in uniform; Gen Meigs in uniform. Inscribed on figure in image: Hay. Inscribed Doctor Summoned; Mrs. Lincoln would take this place.

4/15/1865:   The manhunt:  The foreman of Howard’s Livery Stable in Washington tells a provost marshal that John Surratt and Booth were friends and shared horses and buggies. The foreman also gives them a note from John Surratt, dated February 22, 1865, giving permission to “Mr. Azworth” (George Atzerodt) to use his horse. (K78-9)

Surratt's Boardinghouse in 1890.  (Library of Congress)

Surratt’s Boardinghouse in 1890. (Library of Congress)

4/15/1865:  The manhunt:  In Washington, Weichmann, the boarder, goes to police with suspicions about people at Surratt’s Boardinghouse and mentions a man named “Paine” (Powell) who has been seen there lately.  He stayed at Herndon House under the name of “Lewis Paine.”  Mary Surratt, Weichmann reports, told the desk clerk there that Paine was delicate and needed to take his meals in his room.  A Herndon House waiter happens to be present and says, “I should think not.  Why, if I had served a small pig to him, he would have eaten it, bones and all!”  (235)

4/15/1865:  The manhunt:  George Atzerodt is spotted near Rockville but not picked up. He spends the night at Clopper’s Mill, near Seneca Creek. (277)

4/15/1865:  Booth’s flight:  Booth and Herold return to Oak Hill and then head off. By 9 p.m., they’re lost and stop at the house of Oswald Swan, who agrees to guide them to Samuel Cox. They reach Cox’s home around 1 a.m. and accounts vary on whether they go inside for a few hours or are rebuffed. In any event, they stay on the property until just before dawn and then leave. When the weather turns cold later in the morning, Cox goes out looking for them. Finding them in a ditch, he tells them the Potomac is three miles away and his friend can help them get across. Cox tells them to hide in the woods near an old Confederate mail drop at Rich Hill until someone comes for them. He shows the fugitives the whistle signal that will be used. (248-51)

4/15/1865:  Military news:  Mosby’s rangers are seen foraging near the federal farm along the Patuxent River, some eight miles from Booth and Herold. The rangers are fired on by civilians and leave the area, unaware of the nearby fugitives.  (239)

Sam Arnold.  (Image source)

Sam Arnold. (Image source)

4/16/1865:  Arrest:  Provost marshall detectives searching Baltimore learn that Booth had been close to childhood friend Samuel Arnold. After reading about the “Sam” letter in the papers, they visit Arnold’s family farm and learn Sam has just moved to Fortress Monroe, Virginia. The detectives catch the 7 p.m. steamship to Virginia. (256)

4/16/1865:  The manhunt:  Nearly a thousand soldiers are in the countryside following leads, most of them concentrating on southern Maryland. In Washington, police obtain a photo of David Herold from his sister and make copies for distribution. (246)

4/16/1865:  Booth’s flight: Booth and Herold are camping in a pine stand 40 miles south of Washington. After many hours, they hear the whistle signal and Thomas Jones, sent by Cox, arrives. During the war, Jones has crossed the Potomac into Virginia many times and now plans to take the fugitives to Allen’s Fresh, where crossings are fairly easy. Booth’s horse almost gets loose and Jones advises they get rid of the horses. Both horses are shot and hidden in a swamp. Booth and Herold stay hidden and Jones goes to look around. (255, 287)

George A. Atzerodt, after his arrest.  An alcoholic, he joined the conspiracy for the money, per Kauffman.  (Library of Congress)

George A. Atzerodt, after his arrest. An alcoholic, he joined the conspiracy for the money, per Kauffman. (Library of Congress)

4/16/1865:  The manhunt:  Atzerodt walks a few miles from Clopper’s Mill northward to Germantown, where detectives lose his trail. (277)

4/16/1865:  The manhunt: George Cottingham, one of the detectives guarding Vice President Johnson, hears the names of David Herold and John Surratt and realizes he’s acquainted with them. He and another guard report this to their supervisor, who reassigns them to find those two men. They head out to Surrattsville. (254)

4/17/1865: The manhunt:  Cottingham and his partner set up a base in the tavern in Surrattsville, hoping the tavern keeper, John Lloyd, may turn informer. However, Lloyd has gone to Allen’s Fresh, where his wife is. As the two detectives discuss following him, a riderless horse, saddled and wearing a bridle, trots out of the woods just beyond the fence. Then they see a man on foot nearby who dashes back into the woods upon seeing the two strangers. Both man and horse get away. Cottingham sends a messenger for reinforcements from Washington. The detectives wait at the tavern to see if the man will come back. (256)

Michael O'Laughlen after his arrest.  All criminal defendants were kept on ironclads, anchored away from shore, while awaiting trial.  (Library of Congress)

Michael O’Laughlen after his arrest. All criminal defendants were kept on ironclads, anchored away from shore, while awaiting trial. (Library of Congress)

4/17/1865:  Arrest:  At 7 a.m. detectives arrest Sam Arnold in Fortress Monroe, Virginia. On his father’s advice, Arnold starts talking and implicates Michael O’Laughlen, another of Booth’s childhood friends, in Baltimore; George Atzerodt of Charles County, Maryland; and John Surratt of Washington. O’Laughlen is picked up by Baltimore city police at his house and tells an officer that he joined a plot to kidnap, not kill, the president. (260-261)

4/17/1865:  Powell’s flight:  Cold and starving, Powell steals a coat and pickaxe and leaves Glenwood Cemetery for Surratt’s Boardinghouse. (K269)

4/17/1865:  Arrest:  In Washington, at 8:45 p.m., after receiving a tip about suspicious men visiting the Surratt boardinghouse the night of the assassination, one of Stanton’s commissioners orders troops to arrest Mary Surratt and everybody in the house.

Mary Surratt.  (Image:  Wikipedia)

Mary Surratt. (Image: Wikipedia)

While the soldiers are at the boardinghouse, Lewis Powell walks in. In his pocket, they find a certificate made out to “L. Paine,” but Powell soon is identified as Seward’s assailant.

Meanwhile, at another boardinghouse a block away, national detectives arrest Ned Spangler, a Ford’s Theater stagehand. (264)

4/18/1865:  Arrest:  Southern Maryland: After reinforcements arrive, Cottinger and his partner set out from Surrattsville toward Charles County. On the way, they meet Lloyd, returning to his tavern, and arrest him. (269)

4/18/1865:  The manhunt:  After helping to bring Lloyd to a guardhouse at Robey’s post office, detectives Simon Gavacan and William Williams head back into Charles County where they meet Lt. Dana at Bryantown. Dana is interested in the news that Mosby’s Rangers have been spotted in the area, but the detectives and Lt. Alexander Lovett care more about a local doctor’s report that two strangers stopped at the house of his cousin Dr. Samuel Mudd on the 16th before dawn. One of them had a broken leg, and both left that afternoon. Lovett and the detectives interview Dr. Mudd and ask him which way they went. (269-70)

4/19/1865:  Funeral services are held in the White House for President Lincoln. Afterwards, his remains are put on display at the Capitol. (281)

Lincoln's funeral procession on Pennsylvania Avenue.  (Library of Congress)

Lincoln’s funeral procession on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Library of Congress)

4/19 – 4/20/1865:  Booth’s flight:  Allen’s Fresh is under constant surveillance, so Thomas Jones has Booth and Herold leave after dark and head for a point near his farm, where the Potomac is more difficult to cross. After paying Jones $18 for the boat, the fugitives set out across the river. It doesn’t work out for them, but they return to the Maryland bank at a spot where Herold knows some people. One of them, John Hughes, reluctantly allows them to stay in an old slave shack near the river. (287-288, 290)

4/20/1865:  Arrest: Atzerodt arrested in Germantown. (282-284)

4/20/1865:  The manhunt:  Lt. Lovett reports his suspicion that the man who stopped at Dr. Samuel Mudd’s place for treatment was John Wilkes Booth. It’s the first indication authorities have that Booth is traveling with another man and is injured. (285)

4/20/1865:  The manhunt:  John Lloyd confesses to storing guns for the conspiracy at the tavern. He tells Cottingham that Mary Surratt came out on the 15th to tell him they would be needed that night. Booth and Herold called for them around midnight. Cottingham goes back to the tavern and finds a rifle hidden in the wall. (286-287)

4/21/1865:  The Lincoln funeral train pulls out of the Baltimore & Orange Station in Washington on the first leg of an almost 1700-mile-long journey to the president’s final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. (291)

Lincoln's funeral car.  (Library of Congress)

Lincoln’s funeral car. (Library of Congress)

4/21/1865:  Arrest: Lt. Lovett and detectives go back to speak with Dr. Samuel Mudd, who gives them Booth’s boot. The doctor is arrested. (293-294)

4/21/1865: Military news: Mosby’s rangers disband.

Cleydael in October 2012.  (Image by pubdog, via Wikipedia)

Cleydael in October 2012. (Image by Pubdog, via Wikipedia)

4/22 – 4/23/1865:  Booth’s flight:  Booth and Herold set out to cross the Potomac again and this time they make it, reaching the mouth of Machodoc Creek on the Virginia bank by dawn. Herold sets out for the home of Elizabeth Rousby Quesenberry, who keeps a safe house for Confederate signal agents. He gets there at about 1 p.m. but she orders them off the property, though she sends food. The fugitives know the man who brings them the food. He drops them off at William Bryant’s farm and tells them to find Dr. Richard Stuart at his home, called Cleydael, some eight miles up the road. Bryant helps them get to Stuart around suppertime, who will only give the fugitives supper, not shelter. He sends them to William Lucas, an African American who lives in a small cabin with his family across the field from Cleydael. Booth and Herold commandeer the cabin and force Lucas and his family to sit on the step until dawn on the 24th. (295-298)

4/24/1865:  The manhunt: Lt. Edward Doherty, detectives Everton Conger (played by DeForest Kelley in the “You Are There” radio episode about Booth’s capture – haven’t heard it yet) and Luther Byron Baker, and 25 men from the 16th New York Cavalry are sent to search the “Northern Neck” of Virginia between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. They arrive at Belle Plain, Virginia, at 10 p.m. and head inland. (306, 310-11)

4/24/1865:  Booth’s flight: Lucas’s son Charley drives Booth and Herold to Port Conway. Getting into town just before noon, they hire a fisherman to take them across the Rappahannock. While Booth and Herold wait for him to finish fishing, three young men in Confederate uniforms ride up. Former members of Mosby’s rangers, they’re heading back to Richmond to get their paroles.

One of them, Willie Jett, is suspicious and asks the two strangers who they are. Herold replies, “We are the assassinators of the president.” Jett, stunned, asks them for their autographs, and the two fugitives opt for a less incriminating memento: a co-written poem (not something you or I could do on the spur of the moment like that, although Herold did crib a couple lines from Lovelace’s “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars”).

Booth writes:

He put aside the dainty bribe
The little proffered hand
Albeit he held it in his thought
The dearest in the land
Not sharply nor with sudden heart
But with regretful grace
Meanwhile the shadow of his pain
Fell white upon his face

Herold writes:

Dark daughter of the Sultry South
Thy dangerous eyes & lips
Essayed to win the prize and leave
Dear honor we Eclipse
She shyly clung upon his brow
He stayed now at the door
I could not love thee, dear, so much
Loved I not Honor more.
“Adieu, forever mind, my dear
Adieu forever more!”

The fisherman is ready to go now and takes the two fugitives and three former soldiers across the river to Port Royal. There, Jett’s girlfriend suggests that he take them out of town, perhaps to the Garrett place about two miles away. Garrett lets the strangers stay, but only Booth goes into the house. Herold decides to leave him and goes back towards town with Jett and his buddies. (302, 304-310)

4/25/1865:  The manhunt: Lt. Doherty’s company reaches Port Conway at about 4:30 in the afternoon, after searching the Northern Neck and finding nothing. Someone recognizes the photograph of David Herold and says that he and another man came through town about 24 hours earlier. The men had wanted to go to Orange Court House, but Willie Jett, one of the three Confederates who had crossed the river with them, might know. Jett, the man says, is probably in Bowling Green where his girlfriend lives at the Star Hotel. (312)

4/25/1865:  Booth’s flight:  Booth rests at Garrett’s farm and charms everyone. At dinner, one of the sons comes in with news of Lincoln’s assassination. Booth remains nonchalant and no one suspects he is the assassin. Meanwhile, Herold decides to return to Booth. Jett stays in Bowling Green at the hotel. The two other soldiers return to Garrett’s farm with Herold.

Booth is on the porch when Herold rides in at about 4:30 in the afternoon. As he welcomes Herold back, Jett’s two buddies come galloping in, shouting, “Marylanders, you had better watch out!” US cavalry is heading this way. Booth calls for his pistols and hobbles into the woods. Herold starts after him but stops and turns. Then Doherty and his men gallop by, too tired and intent on their goal to notice Herold standing there or the men fleeing into the woods. (311-313)

4/25/1865:  The manhunt:  Doherty reaches Bowling Green well after 11 p.m. After posting a few men on the roads outside of town, he goes in with the detectives and the rest of his men. Conger and Doherty rouse Willie Jett, who tells him all about Booth and informs the searchers that they went right past the farm where Booth and Herold are hiding. (313-314)

4/26/1865: The manhunt ends:  Doherty’s company brings Jett along with them back to Garrett’s farm, reaching it after midnight. (314)

Report of Lieut. Edward P. Doherty, Sixteenth New York Cavalry.


I ordered my command to surround the house, and, as a precautionary measure, sent six men in rear of the barn and outbuildings. While I was placing my men around the buildings the detectives knocked at the door, which was opened by the elder Mr. Garrett, who was much excited; he said the men who had been there went to the woods the previous evening. While engaged in conversation the son of Mr. Garrett came in, advising the father to tell where they were. I seized this man by the collar, and pulled him out of the door and down the steps, put my revolver to his head and told him to tell me at once where the two assassins were; he replied, “in the barn.” I said “show me the barn.” We started on the run for the barn, I holding him by the collar, calling on my men to follow me and surround more closely the building I should indicate. In the meantime another of the Garrett sons appeared, who was seized by one of the detectives and ordered to get a candle. He immediately procured a candle. On arriving at the barn I left the Garrett I had in charge with some of my men, and posted my men around the barn. This accomplished, I returned to the front of the barn, and found Garrett coming out of the barn; it appears that he had been sent in there during my absence to summon Booth to surrender. This I disapproved, as there were soldiers enough there to perform such duty. Booth, however, refused to surrender. The detectives were in favor of firing the barn, which I opposed, declaring my intention to wait until daylight and I would send my men through the four different doors and overpower the assassin, but after consultation the project of burning the building was abandoned for the time being. In the meantime considerable conversation took place concerning the surrender of Booth between Mr. Baker, myself, and the assassin. Sergt. Boston Corbett, Company L, Sixteenth New York Cavalry asked permission to enter the barn alone, which I refused. Booth all this time was very defiant and refused to surrender. At one time he said if we would draw up in line fifty paces off he would come out, adding that he was lame and had only one leg. This, however, I refused. Booth up to this time had denied there was anyone in the barn besides himself. Considerable conversation now took place between myself, Booth, and the detectives. We threatened to burn the barn if he did not surrender; at one time gave him ten minutes to make up his mind. Finally, Booth said, “Oh; Captain, there is a man here who wants to surrender awful bad:” I answered, and I think Mr. Baker did at the same time, “Hand out your arms.” Herold replied, “I have none.” Baker said, “We know exactly what you have got.” Booth replied, “I own all the arms, and intend to use them on you gentlemen.” After some little parley I said, “Let him out.” Some one objected. I ordered Garrett, the younger son, who had the key, to unlock the barn, which he did. I partially opened the door, and told Herold to put out his hand, which he did. I then told him to put [out] his other hand. I took hold of both his wrists and pulled him out of the barn. Almost simultaneous with my taking Herold out of the barn the hay in the rear of the barn was ignited by Mr. Conger, and the barn fired. Sergt. Boston Corbett, Company L, Sixteenth New York Cavalry, shot the assassin Booth, wounding him in the neck. I entered the barn as soon as the shot was fired, dragging Herold with me, and found that Booth had fallen on his back. Messrs. Conger and Baker, with some of my men, entered the barn and took hold of Booth. I proceeded with Herold to find a rope to secure him, there being no irons for that purpose. The assassin Booth lived about two hours. In the meantime a doctor was procured, who remained with Booth till he died. I procured a wagon, sewed up the body in a blanket myself, and placed it in the wagon. I then proceeded to Port Royal, where we arrived at 9 a.m. April 26, 1865, and crossed the river in a scow. While crossing my command Mr. Baker, without authority, moved off with the body of the assassin, taking with him the two men who had been previously detailed as a guard to the body, also one of the prisoners (Captain Jett, rebel). I was some time crossing my command, and experienced some difficulty in bringing Herold and the two Garretts along, having only one horse to mount the three; thus delay was occasioned. After proceeding some distance I procured an additional horse. Fearing some accident might happen to the body of the assassin and the prisoner Jett, whom Mr. Baker had taken with him. I dispatched an orderly to tell Mr. Baker to halt. The orderly rode over four miles at full speed, when, overtaking Mr. Baker, he told him to halt until the column came up. This Mr. Baker, however, did not do, but continued on missing me and the road. I arrived at Belle Plain at 6 p.m., and found the corpse had not yet arrived. I felt great anxiety, and was about to apply to Major Bosworth, Sixteenth New York Cavalry, who was at Belle Plain with his command, for a detachment of men to go in search of the body, when Mr. Baker arrived. I immediately asked him where the prisoner, Captain Jett, was. He replied, “he did not know; he had escaped.” After a short delay the body of the assassin Booth was placed on board the steamer John S. Ide, and we proceeded to Washington, where I delivered over the body of Booth, Herold, and the two Garretts to Col. L. C. Baker, at 3 a.m. the 27th day of April, 1865.

According to Kauffman, the shot that took down Booth partially severed his spinal cord, paralyzing him.  Booth lived for two more hours as his vital organs slowly shut down.  (Library of Congress)

According to Kauffman, the shot that took down Booth partially severed his spinal cord, paralyzing him. Booth lived for two more hours as his vital organs slowly shut down because of the injury. (Library of Congress)

The command consisted of twenty-six enlisted men of the Sixteenth New York Cavalry, and myself, the two gentlemen, Messrs. Conger and Baker, sent by Colonel Baker, making a total in all of twenty-nine men.

I would say that great credit is due to all concerned for the fortitude and eagerness they displayed in pursuing and arresting the murderers. For nearly sixty hours hardly an eye was closed or a horse dismounted until the errand was accomplished.

I would call the attention of the commanding general to the efficiency of Sergt. Boston Corbett, Company I,, Sixteenth New York Cavalry, who was untiring in his efforts to bring the murderers to justice. His soldierly qualifications have been tested before this occasion, and, in my judgment, are second to none in the service. Mr. Rollins, at Port Conway, is also worthy of notice for his willingness to impart all the information he possessed.

In conclusion I beg to state that it has afforded my command and myself inexpressible pleasure to be the humble instruments of capturing the foul assassins who caused the death of our beloved President and plunged the nation in mourning.

All of which is respectfully submitted.
First Lieut., Sixteenth New York Cavalry, Comdg. Detachment.

Source for the Doherty’s report is the Official Records supplement, via Civil War Home.

Lincoln's theater seat, April 14, 1865.  (Library of Congress)

Lincoln’s theater seat, April 14, 1865. (Library of Congress)



  • Private Jett was found and arrested at the beginning of May but testified for the prosecution and was released at the end of May 1865. He died of a stroke in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1884, age 37.
  • Per Kauffman (334), trial rules of the day meant that John Lloyd wouldn’t be tried as a defendant, because he was the only one who could link the guns in the Surrattsville tavern to Mary Surratt. Though Louis Weichmann had been in on it to some extent, he wasn’t made a defendant, either, because he could tie Booth, Powell, Atzerodt and Herold to the Surratt’s.
  • The military commission met on May 8 and the full panel assembled on May 9. Testimony began in secret on May 12th. After Generals Grant and Comstock complained about the secrecy, the commission was opened to the public on May 15th and some of the earlier testimony was provided. Its deliberations ended on June 29, and a verdict of guilty was returned for each defendant. Arnold, Mudd and O’Laughlen were sentenced to life in prison. Ned Spangler was acquitted of conspiracy but convicted of aiding and abetting Booth’s escape and got a six-year sentence. Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell David Herold and George Atzerodt were condemned to death and executed on July 7, 1865. (337-374)
  • John Surratt fled overseas, enlisted in the Papal Zouaves, but eventually was recognized and apprehended in Alexandria on November 23, 1866. Back in Washington, Surratt was charged with the murder of Abraham Lincoln and tried in a civilian court, starting in 1867. The first trial ended in a deadlocked jury and a mistrial. Surratt went back to prison. Various indictments were tried and failed and he was released in November 1868.
  • In July 1865, Mudd, Spangler, Arnold and O’Laughlen were sent to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas to serve their life sentences.  A yellow fever epidemic broke out there in 1867. Mudd volunteered despite having the disease and saved many troop lives, though not O’Laughlen’s, who died of yellow fever.  Subsequently President Johnson pardoned Mudd in February 1869 and Arnold and Spangler in March of the same year.
  • Booth’s last victim, it could be argued, was Henry Rathbone, the soldier who, with Clara Harris, had been in the theater box when the president was shot. He went insane and eventually murdered Clara, whom he had married.


The sort of people who need to read a book like Kaufmann’s “American Brutus” probably wouldn’t want to. Thinking is difficult. It’s much easier to build conspiracy theories, lionize a murderer, cherry-pick facts to suit one’s purposes, and so forth.

I’ve been thinking.

William Storke Jett, date unknown.  For more on this interesting young man, see the afterword, below.  (Image source:  Janet Greentree via Find A Grave)

William Storke Jett, date unknown. (Image source: Janet Greentree via Find A Grave)

In doing this timeline, I was most moved by 18-year-old Willie Jett’s story. During my stays in the South, I saw many young men who resemble him – capable of sincere patriotism, dashing (Jett did join Mosby’s Rangers, not the regular army), and yet so very down-to-earth and practical.

I can imagine any of those young men, like Jett and his companions, riding back to Richmond one sad April day soon after Appomattox to lay down their arms, receive their parole, and start getting on with their lives. Their country was stillborn. They had been wounded and fought in vain, but they were young, had proven themselves in battle, and still had the future open to them.

Then 26-year-old John Wilkes Booth appeared and things changed forever.

Had it happened just two weeks later, after Joe Johnston had surrendered to Sherman and Jeff Davis had been captured, Willie Jett and his friends might have been far enough along in their inner adjustments to withstand Booth’s appeal and ability to fan the embers of their martial spirit into one last flame.

However, the times were topsy-turvy. They were confused. Jett helped Booth and Herold, earning the wrath of the US government. Then he helped the soldiers catch Booth, an act which made him a target for some. Even today, he can still be called a Judas.

The man Jett is long gone, as are all the other characters in this real-life crime story. As a Buddhist, I like to think that Willie has had some helpful rebirths since passing on. After all, he did help strangers in need, one of them injured. Then he helped authorities catch the president’s murderer – it wasn’t Jett’s fault that stranger and murderer were the same man. Unlike Booth and others, Jett didn’t act out of hatred.

That’s very important.

Occasions of hatred are certainly never settled by hatred. They are settled by freedom from hatred. This is the eternal law.


John Wilkes Booth had an idea that murder was a good thing. He suffered much after he acted upon that idea. William Storke Jett acted differently, his ideas based on a moral code, and still he suffered imprisonment and stress (men athletic enough to ride with the Gray Ghost usually don’t die in their 30s of stroke).

So do we just write if off by saying life is unfair? Booth deserved what he got and Jett didn’t? I prefer a more positive view of it all, one that Gotama Buddha described sublimely.

The world is impersonal and full of suffering. We all inevitably build dark karma or bright karma with our actions as we travel this unending road, whether or not we’re Buddhist. I believe that one of those two beings who met on April 25, 1865, as described above, eased his future burden of karma by doing the right thing as best he could.

And it sure wasn’t Booth.

Categories: American Civil War

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