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A Thorough Review of James L. Swanson's "Manhunt"

Updated on March 13, 2011

Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer

James L. Swanson


The prologue begins on March 4, 1865, the day of Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration. A photographer is preparing for the main event while, in the background, the dome of the capitol building is under construction. Everyone seems to be in high spirits. One man, however, refuses to be satisfied with the chain of events taking place before his eyes. This man is none other than John Wilkes Booth.

Things seemed to spiral downhill quickly for Booth, with Richmond’s fall on April 3 and the subsequent Confederate surrender April 9. One night, at a gathering to hear Lincoln speak to the public, Booth thinks to himself that his position in the crowd is just right that he could pull out a pistol and shoot the president.

Incidentally enough, the morning of April 14, Booth wrote a melancholy letter to his mother, speaking of the illuminations in Lincoln’s honor. Every word he wrote seemed to have the confession of a dreary and hopeless heart behind it. Little did he know that later that morning, he would receive news that would change his life – and history as we know it – forever.

Chapter One

Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary, were certainly an interesting pair. Lincoln was a very superstitious man and believed strongly in the power of dreams. Mary was known to hold seances in the White House, which she was criticized strongly for, along with her extravagant shopping habits. Both of them were clearly devoted to each other, however, and loved spending quality time together. On the night of April 14, they fancied they would go see a play for fun, one called Our American Cousin. They invited along a family friend, Henry Rathbone, and his fiancée, Clara Harris.

At twenty-six, John Wilkes Booth was a handsome and fairly well known actor. He was employed at Ford’s Theatre and had been in numerous plays. How pleasantly surprised he must have been to hear that the object of his anger and unhappiness with the state of the country in general would be attending that very theatre! Though Booth did not act in the play Our American Cousin, he had seen it staged often enough that he knew the script, all of the characters’ entries and exits. Also, he knew the layout of the theatre like the back of his hand.

The morning he discovered Lincoln’s fated visit to Ford’s Theatre, he began formulating his master plan. He greeted a friend, John Matthews, before returning home, then handed him a note that he requested would be published. Written on that small scrap of paper was Booth’s battle cry, the reason he gave for assassinating Lincoln. The first time Matthews read it, he had no idea what the meaning behind it could be.

Later that day, he came together with a group of men he had met over the years who were filled with just as much Southern pride as he. The conspirators who would participate in his scheme were Lewis Powell, David Herold, John Surratt Jr., Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, and George Atzerodt. Though Atzerodt was rather reluctant to agree to his assignment, he followed along anyhow. Thus, it was decided; not only did they set out to kill Lincoln, but his vice president (Andrew Johnson) and Secretary of State (William Seward) as well.

While preparing, Booth packed his weapons of choice: a .44 caliber pistol and a Rio Grande camp knife just in case. That night, when the Lincolns arrived at Ford’s Theatre, they were met with wild applause, even though they had not even announced their arrival! The audience never thought that this would be the last night they would glimpse Lincoln alive.

Chapter Two

With the Lincolns in place, it was time for Booth to carry out his plan, and he did not have a moment to lose. Slowly he ascended the steps to where the president’s box was. He was able to walk through any security clearances that could possible hinder him; after all, he was a regular and well-liked actor of the theatre, why would he not be allowed entry anywhere he desired to go?

Booth walked into the vestibule outside the presidential box carefully, not wanting to be detected. Then he took a pine bar that he had removed from a music stand earlier and wedged it in such a fashion that the door could not be opened. He continued, listening closely to the dialogue taking place onstage. There was a precise moment he was waiting for. His eager hands dug into his pockets, fingering the pistol and the knife. As the cheerful conversation continued onstage, Booth felt himself growing more anxious; it seemed as though time slowed down and the characters’ jokes were painfully long.

Finally, the scene came that he had been waiting for. Harry Hawk, a comical character, had center stage and was talking to himself. Soon he would repeat a line so hilarious that the whole theatre could not help but break into wild laughter. This way, the sound of the fatal shot would be masked from so much noise. Booth crept through the door to the box and stood behind the president expectantly. All eyes were on the stage; not one of Lincoln’s friends was paying any attention to the man who was about to take his life. Harry Hawk recited his anticipated line, and Booth took his shot.

However, just as Booth’s finger tugged at the trigger, Lincoln chuckled heartily at the comment and tilted his head to the side with his reaction. Booth held his breath and watched as his perfect plan began to unravel. Though the bullet did meet Lincoln’s head, it did not kill him instantly but lodged itself in his brain. Because of this, Lincoln was unaware that anything had even happened. He immediately dropped into a state of unconsciousness.

After this moment, the entire theatre came alive with some form of awareness of what had just taken place. Lincoln’s wife and friend Clara were completely distraught and beside themselves. Rathbone, on the other hand, was enraged and sought revenge against the president’s attacker. He and Booth tangled for a while, but Booth deemed him a waste of time and energy, so he gave him a few quick stabs with his Rio Grande knife and then escaped him by jumping from the president’s box. Though he got caught in the decorative flag hanging at the box, he worked himself free and landed on the stage below.

This was his shining moment – the one time that he could steal the spotlight before he had to be constantly on the run. To the stunned audience, he pronounced the Latin phrase, “Sic semper tyrannis!” which means “Thus always to tyrants!” He also shouted, “The South is avenged!” and then began his escape. The actor who played Harry Hawk barely had time to connect what had just taken place. He nervously tried to block Booth’s way, but the man pushed through and exited the theatre.

While all of this took place, Lewis Powell and David Herold rode up to Seward’s household on horseback. They had concocted a story about being messengers from his doctor with medicine in hand – for he had been in a terrible carriage accident prior to that night and was homebound. Powell was ready and anxious, but Herold was unsure and did not want to go through with it. He decided that, while Powell was working his magic on the occupants within, he would wait outside.

Powell managed to not only get inside, but he also argued his way up the stairs toward Seward’s bedroom. The servant who ushered him inside was now very apprehensive about this unwarranted visit. Still Powell insisted that he must be able to enter into Seward’s room and explain the prescription himself. Just then, Seward’s son ventured into the hallway to see what all of the commotion was about. After more persuasion and disbelief, Powell could not take waiting any longer. He took out his pistol, but instead of shooting the young Seward, he beat him over the head multiple times. Sergeant Robinson, a man protecting Seward, was asked by Seward’s daughter Fanny to check outside and see what all the commotion was about.

In one moment, the door was thrown open, Fanny saw her brother wounded and bloody as he stumbled to unconsciousness, and Powell slipped inside. He gave Robinson a stab with his knife, then moved to Seward’s bed. Twice he aimed at the man and attempted a powerful blow, but twice the knife missed and struck the mattress and sheets. Irritated, Powell determined that he would not miss a third time, and tried for the man’s throat. The bed was covered in blood and Seward’s cheek was broken open.

Robinson told himself that he would rather fight this dreadful man to the death than stand back and let Seward succumb to murder. While the two dueled, Fanny started screaming in angst and confusion. She threw open the window and yelled into the streets, announcing that there was a murderer in her house. That was the only excuse that the cowardly Herold needed. He stirred his horse into action and abandoned his partner to fend for himself.

Chaos ensued in the Seward house, until Augustus (another of Seward’s sons) and Robinson drove him out of the room and back down the stairs. “I’m mad. I’m mad!” he shouted at them wildly. As he left, he stabbed the servant who had let him inside in the back. Then he took off on his horse down the dark streets and did not look back.

Chapter Three

Earlier that night, Booth brought a borrowed horse to the theatre and found a willing theatre hand named Ned Spangler to hold her during the show. Now, as Booth rushed outside, he hurriedly thanked the man and stole the reins, preparing for a quick getaway. However, he had not imagined that Joseph B. Stewart, an army major at the theatre, would pursue him and attempt to steal the reins. Booth was too agile for him and dodged every try until he was able to send the horse at a gallop down the street and away from the madness.

The night slowly blurred into a mass of calamity. Booth made his escape, though a bit haphazardly, over the bridge into Maryland. Charles Leale, a doctor who also attended the play, somehow fought his way through the crowd to tend to Lincoln. Though he could not change the fatal nature of Lincoln’s wound, he could prevent his sudden death, and for that Mary Lincoln was very thankful.

During this time, three of the conspirators – Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt – were all wandering through the city. Atzerodt, however, was the only one of the three that was drunk and out-of-sorts. His assignment was supposedly the easiest of them all. Andrew Johnson, the vice president, was staying at the same hotel as Atzerodt, just one floor below. All Atzerodt had to do was knock on the door, then when it was answered, either shoot or stab Johnson to death. In his drunken state, the plan did not seem so sound to him any longer, so he chose to abandon it. As for the other two conspirators, David Herold managed to get through to Maryland all right, but after him, Lewis Powell’s chances were slim. The guard at the bridge was already skeptical enough, and with yet another man wanting to cross so late at night, he did not want to take any more chances.

Back at the theatre, people were crowding around in an irritatingly curious way to see the president. One woman found a way to push through all the rest; her name was Laura Keene, and she had been the star of Our American Cousin. Keene was not easily cast from the spotlight, so she decided to presumptuously inquire if she could sit with Lincoln and rest his head on her lap. Doctor Leale found the request odd and unnecessary, but he allowed her that one shining moment.

Somehow, through all the tangled bodies and voices, Doctor Leale and others assisting Lincoln executed their plan of moving the dying president to a different, more comfortable and suitable location for him to spend his remaining hours. Even though they finally found refuge in a boarding house across the street, the Sunday papers would still condemn Lincoln for visiting a theatre, of all places, on the night of Good Friday!

Chapter Four

While the president lay on his deathbed in the boarding house of William Petersen, the country was in an uproar. Many rumors spread that Seward had been assassinated as well. The Secretary of War (Edwin Stanton) and of the Navy (Gideon Wells) were thought to be targets as well. No government figure was safe as long as murderers were running lose nearby.

In the front room, Stanton deemed himself in charge and took care of any frantic telegrams that happened to come his way. Meanwhile, a crowd of doctors tended to Lincoln in a back bedroom. First they stripped him of his clothing to determine if he had any more notable injuries that might be damaging his health, but the only one found was the one already known – in the back of his head. Next they took steps to insure that he was kept warm. They covered him with mustard plaster first, slathering it over his entire body, then they layered blankets over him, with a coverlet coming up to his chin. In this way, they did their job properly. However, they also did things that they thought would be beneficial but probably served to worsen Lincoln’s situation. They used their bare, unsanitary pinkies to probe Lincoln’s bullet wound, then later they tried to see if he could drink liquids and nearly made him choke to death!

Booth and Herold met up in Maryland and rode through the night, on to the next phase of the plan. Booth knew of a man called Samuel Mudd, whom he had become acquainted with some time ago and who would be willing to house them in their time of need. At that time, Booth discovered that he did not merely need a place to hide – he was also in need of medical assistance. Apparently, when he had jumped from the presidential box to the stage, upon his landing he had fractured bones in one of his legs, near his ankle. This made it increasingly difficult for him to ride on horseback. When they reached Mudd’s house, at first he did not recognize them, but then he remembered and let them in so he could tend to Booth’s leg. He cut off Booth’s boot and made him a makeshift splint to keep his leg straight. Then the two conspirators were allowed beds for the night and drifted off to calm, guiltless slumber.

Chapter Five

On the bleak morning of April 15, 1865, at 7:22 AM Lincoln breathed his last breath. All in the room stopped, silent. Was it really over? Edwin Stanton seemed to confirm this with the words, “Now he belongs to the angels.” All were mournful and solemn, each giving Lincoln their one last look. Then the men slowly, tenderly lifted Lincoln’s body from the bed and carried him back outside, toward a carriage that was waiting. As Mary Lincoln followed the procession, she saw Ford’s Theatre out of the corner of her eye. “That dreadful house,” she muttered under her breath as she passed by.

Lincoln’s body was taken from Petersen’s boarding house to where it rightfully belonged, the White House. Shortly after, a group of doctors performed the necessary autopsy. They dislodged the bullet from Lincoln’s brain, then decided to drain all blood from his body. The blood was stored in glass jars to be preserved.

Meanwhile, throughout the country, many people did not even want to dare to keep anything that connected them to Booth. Letters were burned all through the night of April 14, and even more as the word spread of the assassination the next day. John Matthews undoubtedly destroyed the letter Booth had handed to him the morning of the assassination; he would never publish those cruel words, nor would he even admit that he had received them in the first place.

One woman, Ella Turner, tried to commit suicide, by pressing a rag soaked with chloroform to her face. She was found sprawled across her bed, with a picture of Booth beneath her pillow; she was unconscious but alive. In contrast, another lover of his named Isabel Sumner cherished his memory and every love note or precious token he had ever bestowed upon her. When she heard of his crime, she hoarded these things and never spoke his name again.

At the Mudd house, none of them – including Samuel – knew that Booth had killed the president of the United States only a few hours before. He had to keep up his veiled innocence, so he made up excuses. His broken leg resulted from his horse slipping as they rode through the night and throwing him off, also causing him back pains. He did not consider the fact that papers and people on streets would be shouting about his crime all over the country. When Samuel Mudd went to town, he could not help but hear about the violent act of the man staying at his very home! He was astounded and inwardly enraged – how could Booth have neglected to tell him something like this? If he had wanted to, he could have ended the manhunt that day by alerting the authorities without Booth’s knowledge. But, for some reason, he chose to keep this information to himself.

He let Booth have what he deserved, however, when he returned home from his errands. Mudd commanded Booth to leave his house at once and find somewhere else to stay.

Booth and Herold were all right with that; they had another plan. They paid a man named Oswell Swann to direct them to the house of a Captain Samuel Cox. What he and Booth discussed still remains a mystery today, but we do know that he directed him to a man he knew – someone he called a person of special skills – who could get them across the Potomac River and towards safety.

They met this man, Thomas Jones, shortly afterwards. Though he agreed that leaving Maryland for Virginia was their best option, he did not think that they should leave immediately, but rather hide out in a nearby pine thicket until he was completely sure they could ford the Potomac without being noticed.

Edwin Stanton was becoming frantic, and it had only been two days since the assassination. He was even tempted to send out the Confederate army and their legendary leader, John Singleton Mosby, to track down Booth and his followers. Needless to say, tensions were high, but Booth was not far at all, camping out beneath a shelter of pines.

Chapter Six

With circumstances as they were, Booth and Herold had to wait several days in a pine thicket until Jones determined it was completely safe for them to cross the Potomac. During this time, Booth and Herold suffered greatly. The cold weather chilled them to the bone, especially at night when they attempted to sleep. They were not able to wash themselves or their clothes, so they had a perpetual rough and worn look. Booth’s broken leg and injured back were constantly giving him grief. They had to eventually shoot their horses because they were making too much noise – the conspirators and their horses were not able to acquire much food. However, Booth was constantly begging for Jones to bring him back recent newspapers. Booth scanned every one with a critical eye, but never was able to find his statement before the assassination given to John Matthews.

During these long, tedious days, Booth kept a diary in his checkbook about his doubts and reactions to the stories in the papers. He had much time to think in that week he spent beneath the shelter of pines. He also had plenty of time to talk with David Herold. This was precious time to the young, ambitious follower. He had always admired Booth, and now he had a chance to have the man all to himself, to speak with as he wished.

While Booth and Herold wasted away their days in the same location, Stanton was doing all he could to round up anyone even loosely connected with Booth. Mary Surratt was questioned in connection with Lewis Powell and arrested. John Surratt Jr., her son, was suspected to be the conspirator assigned to assassinate Seward, but he was found innocent of this offense. Over one hundred people were arrested as suspects in the plot of Lincoln’s murder. Anyone who even wrote or spoke against Lincoln was arrested! Stanton went so far as to confiscate Ford’s Theatre, claiming it was merely a lair that Lincoln had been lured into and that all the employees were conspiring against him.

Stanton was under quite a bit of stress because he had to take care of all the work Andrew Johnson was not yet ready to handle in the role of commander-in-chief. First, he had to deal with the conspirators against Lincoln. He had to decide what to do with the conspirators he had already caught, organize a military tribunal to try them, determine the nature and extent of the conspiracy, and send pursuers after the true assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Besides this, he had to organize Lincoln’s funeral and send Lincoln’s body on a national tour on the way to Springfield, help to plan the Reconstruction of the South, manage the entire Union army, and conduct the business of the War Department! He definitely had an excuse for the extreme precautions he took in arresting so many people during the manhunt.

Chapter Seven

Modern historians marvel at the “lost week” of Booth and Herold, which they spent in the pine thicket, somehow completely undetected, until they could make their escape. Finally, on April 20, the day came. Jones whistled to them and the two tired men wandered from the thicket to meet him. He told them of the perfect conditions, then led them to his boat at the Potomac. Jones had given them everything they needed: food for the past few days, transportation, encouragement, and he had not told a soul about their presence. However, the two made a critical error: instead of going south on the river to Virginia, as was planned, they accidentally went northwest, back towards a different area of Maryland. They realized their mistake very quickly, but they did nothing that night to venture towards Virginia. No one knows the exact reason why they chose to wait yet another day; some possibilities are that they feared there were gunboats in the vicinity, Herold was too tired to row them any further, they were formulating a new plan, or they were simply dejected.

Meanwhile, those connected with Booth were still being questioned thoroughly. A few United States cavalry soldiers were subtly tipped by Mudd of the presence of “two strangers” at his house the night of the assassination, and after they had spoken with him, they had no doubt that he had aided Booth. This was because Mudd turned out to be the worst witness for himself. He was constantly contradicting himself, first describing Booth’s appearance in great detail, then suddenly editing his statement and claiming that he could not get a good look at the man because his face was covered mostly by a shawl. He said he had never met a man called John Wilkes Booth before, then later he confessed that they had met at church. After the questioning, Mudd actually believed he had done well and had not raised suspicion against himself at all, but the cavalry members felt differently.

Thomas Jones was also eventually taken into prison and questioned constantly. However, he would not give up any details at all about Booth or those related to him. Those questioning him tried many methods to gather information, including waiting outside his window to see if he spoke about Booth and trying to get him drunk and make him unknowingly confess. But Jones held his own, and he was released without being put on trial.

Chapter Eight

After Booth and Herold are finally able to take the ferry across the Potomac to Virginia and go to the house of Doctor Stuart – who had been recommended to them – they are not greeted with the hospitality they had expected. Dr. Stuart, when answering his door, did not care who stood outside – he simply refused to allow anyone to stay the night. He even refused to tend to Booth’s valid wounds! Then, after plenty of persuasion, he begrudgingly allows them one meal with his family but no more. When he turns them out, he gives them a name – William Lucas – and tells them to stay with him instead.

At first, Booth is grateful for another recommendation, until he discovers that the mentioned William Lucas is black. What an insult to a man full of Southern pride such as Booth – to first be turned away by a doctor, then to be redirected to the house of a black man! During their brief stay, Booth wrote Stuart a very sarcastic note, condemning him for his lack of hospitality – the ultimate sin in Virginian society – and had it mailed, along with a measly check as if to pay for the meal he had unwillingly provided for them, a fitting final insult. The next morning, Booth was conversing with Lucas and the man joked about Richmond’s fall gleefully. This crossed the line for Booth – he’d had great faith in Richmond, his Confederate capital, and to hear it insulted was more than he could take. Glaring at the man, Booth reached in his pocket for his knife. Lucas warily stepped back and cleared his throat nervously, speaking on this no longer.

As Booth and Herold left Lucas’ residence, they met three young Confederate soldiers. Finding them more worthy of being associated with, Booth and Herold introduced themselves. However, they claimed to be former Confederate soldiers; the name Herold gave Booth was James William Boyd. This would have been a fairly clever cover-up, if Booth did not have his telltale “JWB” tattoo on his hand. This was one of the features written on fliers for common people to watch out for. Apparently, the young men must not have seen it, at least not right away.

Chapter Nine

Through the three Confederate boys, Booth and Herold met the Garrett family. Ironically enough, none of the Garretts had any idea in the slightest of the true identities of their guests. They simply allowed them to remain, share a meal with the entire family, and sleep in their house, with slim to no questions asked. If there were, Herold covered them smoothly. By now, he and Booth had grown accustomed to the story that they indeed were Confederate soldiers previously. Herold even went so far as to embellish the story with details about battle triumphs and the like. Over the valid day the pair spent with the friendly family, they began to form friendships with Mr. and Mrs. Garrett and their adorable children.

The next day their sense of security was completely shattered in one afternoon. Booth was resting on the front porch of the family’s home when he saw a group of Union cavalry members on horseback ride past. Booth yelled at one of the boys to get his gun holster from upstairs, which upset the child greatly and hinted that something must not be right. Because of this, John Garrett became so bold as to command Booth and Herold to leave and not allow them another night to stay at their house. That night, dinner was eaten in silence, punctuated only by awkward small talk. Afterwards, the boy again tried to throw Booth and Herold out, but they would not hear it.

After plenty of arguing, Booth said plainly that he and Herold would stay in the family’s barn overnight and then be on their way elsewhere. As soon as Booth and Herold had made themselves comfortable in the barn and drifted off to uneasy sleep, two of the Garrett sons locked them in the barn. They had no idea as to the extent of their crimes, but the two men acted suspicious enough for them to take sufficient action.

Meanwhile, the Union cavalry felt like they were on a wild goose chase. The information they had acquired made it seem like the conspirators should be at Bowling Green, but there was no sign of them. Then they met Willie Jett, one of the three Confederate boys. He revealed the exact location of Booth and Herold, and he even went so far as to lead the group there himself! On April 26, at 12:30 in the morning, the men arrived at the Garrett household.

The rest of the night provided to be very tedious for them. They tried many tactics to lure Booth and Herold from their shelter inside the barn. First they sent John Garrett to try to coax them out, but he had betrayed them and Booth did not want to reason with him. Then one commander shouted to them that they had fifteen minutes, then after that he would set the barn on fire. This was the last straw for Herold; he had been there all along the way, basking in the glory of traveling with the famous John Wilkes Booth, but now he was tired of running and simply wanted to go home. Booth relented tiredly and gave him permission to leave. Before Herold was allowed to leave the barn, the cavalrymen wanted him to relinquish his weapons. He argued that he did not have any, which was technically true – he had handed his weaponry to Booth. Finally, after tedious argument, they let him leave. Now there was only Booth left to contend with.

Booth had three points of advantage over the group of twenty-eight men. His position was fortified, so they were forced to either come in to get him or drag him out. Because of the enclosure around him, he could see their every movement, but they could not see him. Also, they wanted to pry him out alive – because Stanton wanted to subject him to intense questioning due to his belief in a Confederate conspiracy – but Booth did not care much if he died.

One man offered to force his way into the barn and fight Booth to the death as a decoy, but the leader of the group refused. Booth waited as they deliberated, wondering which option to choose himself: burn alive in the barn, kill himself with his pistol, or hobble out to fight. A man called Thomas Corbett, nicknamed Boston, was standing close to the barn in an attempt to keep an eye on Booth’s activity within. At one point, Corbett felt sufficiently threatened, so he lifted his gun and shot through, hitting Booth in the throat. When asked later, he gave the reasons that he wanted to disable Booth, and that the Lord himself had tugged at his trigger finger and made him shoot. Whatever the reason, Booth was laid across the Garrett’s front porch and, though he was tended to extensively, he breathed his last early that morning.

Chapter Ten

The whole country seemed to breathe a sigh of relief upon knowledge of Booth’s death. After all, the posters said “Wanted: Dead or alive!” Booth’s body was taken to Washington by way of a ferry called the Montauk. During the ride, doctors performed the necessary autopsy. Once this was through, the next problem was where the body should reside. No authority figure wanted there to be a grave where anyone would possibly want to mourn. Thus, they created the rumor that Booth’s body was tossed overboard at sea, when really it resided in an unmarked grave in Washington D.C. Eventually, Booth’s body was given to his family and buried in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

As expected, trials of the conspirators followed. Eight people were put on trial as direct accomplices of Booth’s crime: Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Sam Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, Edman “Ned” Spangler, and Samuel Mudd. Out of these, Powell, Surratt, Herold, and Atzerodt were hung on July 7, 1865. Tickets were sold to witness the execution. The others were all sent to prison. Spangler received six years, as did O’Laughlen, and Mudd and Arnold were both sentenced to life. Andrew Johnson graciously pardoned them in 1869, but O’Laughlen had already died in prison.

All those who had aided in Booth’s successful capture were given a sum of money. At first, sums had been wrongly figured and quite a few people argued that they had been left out of their fair share. Thus, the rewards were returned and split again. Most of those who received this compensation came away with less than they had originally been deemed. Even Boston Corbett, Lincoln’s Avenger himself, earned the same as a majority of the others: $1,653.84.


After Booth’s death, the lives of those related to him carried on, but nothing would ever be the same.

Asia Booth Clarke, John’s sister, wrote memoirs about all the events surrounding her. In them, she promoted the idea that Booth and Lincoln’s deaths mingled together to somehow reunite the North and the South. However, she feared that her husband would burn them and the community would shun her. Thus, they were never published until 1938 – fifty years after her death and seventy-four years after Lincoln’s assassination.

Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone did eventually get married, but Clara probably would have been better off if Booth had accidentally killed him in the knife fight. A few years into their marriage, Henry became enraged with his wife, then consequently shot and stabbed her to death. For this act, he was sentenced to live the rest of his life in an insane asylum.

Thomas “Boston” Corbett, the man who shot Booth, enjoyed his fame while it lasted. The height of his recognition was on May 17, 1865, when he appeared on the front page of Frank Leslie’s, then afterwards the spotlight focused on him began to fade. He lived out his life as usual, until one day he threatened a legislature at gunpoint. As Rathbone, he was sent to an asylum, but he escaped in 1888 and vanished into history.

As for Samuel Mudd, the lie that many Americans tend to believe is that he genuinely did not know that it was Booth and Herold that had stopped for assistance at his house. Though he tried to testify with that same story, those who witnessed his version of the truth know that the popular belief is far from fact. Ironically enough, Ned Spangler (another accomplice of Booth’s) lived with Mudd for quite some time after the manhunt.

Secretary of State Seward’s life actually continued to go downhill. He outlived his wife, Frances, who died in 1865, and his beloved daughter Fanny, who died a year later. Seward probably died of a broken heart when he breathed his last in 1872.

The impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson was partially due to Edwin Stanton. The legislative branch had set up the Tenure of Office Act, basically making it so that Johnson could not remove any of his cabinet members without prior approval. Johnson had never been fond of Stanton, so he tried to get rid of him anyway. The whole thing fizzled out in the end; Johnson was never officially impeached and Stanton was never fired. In fact, President Grant appointed Stanton to the position of associate justice in the United States Supreme Court in 1869. Stanton could not enjoy this privilege, however, because he died later that month.

Ford’s Theatre changed much over the years. In April of 1865, they found it unfit that anyone should go there to watch plays any longer! So the building was converted into an average government office building, but it was this way only temporarily. In November 1865, someone had the idea of transforming it into an army medical museum. It functioned this way for almost one hundred years! Some thought it would not last that long due to the tragedy of 1893 – all the floors of the building had collapsed onto each other, probably from the weight of too many papers filed, and twenty-two were killed – but somehow it survived. Then in 1960, it was changed again, back into a replica of the theatre it once was. Now Ford’s Theatre is not only a museum but also a working playhouse again. If one ever visits, they could reasonably find many relics from Lincoln’s assassination and possessions that had been in Booth’s pockets during the twelve-day manhunt.

Though Booth was considered a fiend in his day, our society has practically forgiven him for his crimes. His image has morphed into that of a tragic assassin and fascinating antihero. Of course, there was the essence of wrongdoing and cruel intentions, but this picture is tinged with sympathy and intrigue. Despite what Booth has become, he did not accomplish much at all in the way of changing history. Booth’s list of failed ambitions outnumbers whatever he believed he had done right. He did not prolong the Civil War or inspire the South to keep fighting, nor did he overturn the overall verdict that the battlefield produced. He did not put an end to free elections, resuscitate slavery, save the civilization of the “Old South”, or overthrow the federal government in the slightest. Most of all, he did not even survive the manhunt or become the American hero he had hoped to be.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      great summary!


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