Ellis Paul

Booth's Great Escape

Crozet, VA
Midnight March 4th, 2006

This week I devoured another Civil War book, this one focused on John Wilkes Booth's escape into Virginia after the assassination of Lincoln. I have quite a collection of civil war books now, and enjoy reading them when I haven't got a novel going.

If you're bored already, please escape my verbosity on this-- because it's one of my hobby loves, and Lord knows I can go on about the Civil War. I am sure I can set some of your eyes to half mast within a couple of seconds with this stuff, but let me continue for those who have an inkling of interest, or a lack of eye lids.

The book is called "Manhunt, the twelve day chase for Lincoln's killer" by James L. Swanson. It's an okay read-- I really like that somebody tackled the subject of Booth's escape, and some of the details of the conspiracy to kill Lincoln and his cabinet. The prose is fairly good, but the real art is in the research and details that Mr Swanson seemed to pull from the archives.

Most folks don't know that Booth was working with a group of people he had assembled from within Washington and the bordering towns in Maryland. He had secretly plotted to kidnap Lincoln earlier and sneak him through Maryland into Richmond, the confederate capitol, and hold him there for ransom... He probably had around twelve or so co-conspirators. Many were hung after the murder. Booth and his gang couldn't pull off the kidnapping on the day planned, cause Lincoln changed his plans and didn't show up where they had expected him to be.

The war was nearing it's end and Lincoln was soon re-elected. Booth was fuming when he attended the inaugeration speech. He even appears in one of the photos in the crowd in a fancy white hat. He had a gun in his pocket, but didn't use it.

On the morning of April 14th, 1865, He found out through a friend that Lincoln and his wife and General Grant and his wife, would be appearing at Ford's Theater in DC to attend a showing of "Our American Cousin".

It was a comedy, on most nights...

Booth was a famous actor, twenty five years of age. From a family of famous actors. (Imagine the Baldwin Brothers of today.) Booth was setting up his greatest performance, and he had to do it quickly, Lincoln would arrive in only a matter of hours... His boys were told to assassinate the vice president, the secretary of state, and he would do Grant and Lincoln at Ford's Theater. The Secretary of State, William Seward, was bed-ridden after a serious carriage accident. Booht's conspirator, John Powell, over came numerous obstacles and people to force himself into Seward's room with a ten inch knife. He attacked Seward, who was wearing a metal neck brace, but couldn't kill him because the brace protected Seward's jugular vein. He did a heck of job disfiguring Seward, who chose to be mostly photographed thereafter in profile to hide the scars of the wounds he received that evening. He had a tough night. Though not as bad an evening as the president was experiencing across town.

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The Grant's had begged out of the play, Mrs. Grant wasn't fond of the first lady's eccentricities, and the Lincoln's had to find someone else to attend the theater with them.

They chose Clara Harris, a senator's daughter, and her fiance Major Henry Rathbone. Booth came through the alley to the back of the theater. Had someone hold his horse there, then passed inside, underneath the stage the side with Lincoln's box. He eventually worked his way quietly into the box, barred the door shut behind him, and held a derringer, one shooter to Lincoln's skull. He nearly missed. Lincoln leaned forward just as Booth pulled the trigger and the bullet caught Lincoln just below the left ear. Lincoln immediately slumped forward. Mary Todd Lincoln screamed. Rathbone rose to defend the President and Booth raised a blade and stabbed him deeply, just above the elbow. Then he jumped from the President's box seat-- his spur catching a draped flag, caused him to lose his sense of balance. He landed awkwardly on the stage 12 feet below, and broke his left fibula above the ankle. He screamed "Sic Semper Tyrranus" (Death to al Tyrants!) and held his knife high. (This was the state motto of Virginia, fortunately he didn't shout "Virginia is for Lovers!" which is the contemporary motto, which would have really confused the crowd...)

In a side note, Rathbone himself ended up killing his wife many years later, and ended up living in an insane asylum in Germany until his death.

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John Wilkes Booth

Booth ran to the alley, jumped on his horse and was off-- being an actor, he convincingly lied his way past check points, and he eventually found one of his accomplices on the road in Maryland. They traveled together to Doctor Samuel Mudd's place to have Booth's leg looked at, and to get some food and rest. Mudd was going to be one of the safe house in the kidnapping plot, but he didn't seem to want to be associated with assassination. He ended up concocting a see-through lie to authorities to cover his tracks, but Mudd was in a messy situation. He got four years in prison, and from that day the phrase "Your name is Mudd" was used to describe people who were liars...

A few days later, the feds caught up with Booth and his buddy John Herold. they had been locked in a barn by a family who thought they were horse theives. The feds set the barn on fire when the pair refused to give up. Herold walked out, but Booth got ready for a shootout. A soldier named Boston Corbett took aim, and shot him in the neck through a slot in the barn, and paralyzed Booth. he died a few hours later.

If any of you have any good Civil war tidbits to share, let 'em rip.

I hear George W Bush has been comparing himself to Lincoln lately. To keep the comparisons at a distance, I suggest he stay away from hunting parties with Vice President Cheney. and stay away from the theater...

see ya'll soon!

updated: 11 years ago