John Wilkes Booth: Snowbound

Today, as the New England region of the United States recovers from what is being called the “Blizzard of 2015″, I am reminded of another historic winter storm. To many in the Midwest, the winter of 1863/64 became frozen in their minds as one of the worst winters ever experienced. Between December and January temperatures rarely went above freezing. On December 18th, 1863, for example, Fort Kearny, Kansas reported a temperature of 25 degrees below zero with snow four to five feet deep in places. New Year’s Day, 1864, brought along a massive blizzard for the Midwest with places like Minneapolis, Minnesota seeing a high of 25 degrees below zero that day.

It was around this time that John Wilkes Booth, a now successful and celebrated actor, was performing in Leavenworth, Kansas. He had been delayed in arriving to Leavenworth from his former engagement in Cleveland, Ohio due, appropriately, to snow. However, this minor delay of a day, would amount to nothing compared to what was in store for the actor.

John Wilkes Booth Gutman 24

Booth finished his engagement in Leavenworth on December 31st. During his time there, critics spoke of his talents:

“Mr. Booth has not only genius, but careful culture and trained power of intellect. There is no actor now on the stage who displays so much of dramatic force and insight as Mr. J. Wilkes Booth, except, perhaps, for his brother Edwin. There is no imitation on the part of the junior, either to his renowned father or his now famous brother. He has a grace and charm all his own, though resembling them in genius, skill and painstaking care, with which his characters are presented on the stage.”

John Wilkes Booth set off from Leavenworth on January 1, 1864. In the morning, he made a brief visit to Fort Leavenworth, a few miles north of the city, to see some friends. This trip occurred on one of the coldest days on record and at a time when newspapers were describing the terrible winds thusly: “Ah, this is a blessed cold snap! Patient old Job may have seen colder weather, but he never undertook to walk up Sixth street facing such a wind as we felt yesterday. Not he. His reputation for patience would have been blasted. God help the shivering poor.” Booth later wrote of having, “an ear frost bitten,” by the time he arrived at the Fort.

Accompanying Booth during this western trip was a young, black man, possibly named Leav, about which practically nothing is known other than he served as Booth’s valet and servant. Upon leaving Fort Leavenworth for the journey back to town in order to catch the ferry, Booth gave Leav some items to carry including his pocket flask. Booth wrote the sorrowing effects of this decision in a letter to the man with whom he had been boarding with in Leavenworth:

Portion of a John Wilkes Booth letter in which he recounts the loss of his flask in the snow.

Portion of a John Wilkes Booth letter in which he recounts the loss of his flask in the snow.

“After giving my boy my flask to keep for me, I started for a run and made the river (four miles) on foot. I run without a stop all the way. I then found my boy had lost that treasured flask. I had to pay five dollars for a bare-backed horse to hunt for it. I returned within sight of the Fort and judge my dismay upon arriving to see a waggon just crushing my best friend. But I kissed him in his last moments by pressing the snow to my lips over which he had spilled his noble blood.”

Some have tried to use this visual of the actor, mourning the destruction of his flask and sucking the last bit of its spilled contents from the snow, as evidence that Booth was an alcoholic. While possible, I view the scene as entirely appropriate given Booth’s dramatic flair in a moment when the outside conditions so desperately warranted the “warming” effects of alcohol. Saddened as he was, things were still only going to get worse for the actor.

When Booth returned back to the boat landing, he found that ice had prevented the ship from reaching the shore. Booth, along with others, helped to cut the ice in order to allow the boat to dock. The boat then took him across the Missouri River and he slept that night across the river from Leavenworth in the town of Weston, Missouri. His end goal was St. Louis, where he was booked at Ben DeBar’s theater starting on January 5th. On the morning of January 2nd, he boarded a train at Weston and took it north about 35 miles to St. Joseph. From there he was hoping to catch a train with the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad which would take him eastbound towards St. Louis. The weather, however, had other plans.

The blizzard of 1863/1864, known as “The Big Snow” by those who lived through it, occurred over an area of 3,000 miles hitting a large portion of Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. As one Missouri citizen later recalled, “a terrible snow storm set in and continued with unabated fury for forty-eight hours.” Near St. Joseph, the ground was covered with snow to a depth of about 27 inches, but areas east of St. Joseph had been hit even worse. Huge snow drifts occurred completely covering the railroad tracks. Not one, not two, but eight trains along the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad were trapped in the snow, some buried up to thirty feet in it. The closest trapped train was only about 19 miles east of St. Joseph. All were unlikely to be freed anytime soon.

The cover of the January 23, 1864 edition of Harper's Weekly shows the condition of railroads across the Midwest.

The cover of the January 23, 1864 edition of Harper’s Weekly shows the condition of railroads across the Midwest.

By the time Booth had arrived at St. Joseph, no train had traversed the Hannibal and St. Joseph rails for the past week. Booth, like everyone else who came to St. Joseph hoping to go east, was completely snowbound. Local newspapers printed a report, later to be proven entirely too optimistic, that the train line might be up and running again in four days. With no other options available to him, Booth found a room at the now wholly overcrowded Pacific House hotel in St. Joseph.

Booth spent his first full day in St. Joseph on Sunday, January 3rd. Even after only a day, Booth likely empathized with the local newspaper which wrote, “We are ‘in the wilderness,’ and can’t see any way to get out.”

On Monday, January 4th, Booth’s reputation had caught up to him. After becoming aware that the famous tragedian was effectively stuck in their city, citizens of St. Joseph wrote a letter to Booth asking him to perform for them in some capacity. They wrote:

“J. Wilkes Booth, Esq., Pacific House:
The Undersigned, citizens and travelers detained here, having learned that you were making a short visit to this city and entertaining a high appreciation of your ability as a tragedian, would most respectfully but earnestly request that you would favor us with a public reading from any of your favorite authors, at any time and place most convenient for you. When and where we pledge you an appreciative audience”

The request was then signed by 70 citizens and guests of St. Joseph including the mayor. Booth, later wrote to a friend that he was down to his last cent in St. Joseph, and so he heartily agreed to the public’s demand of him. He wrote the following response to the invitation:

Your flattering request has just been recieved and I endeavor to show my appreciation of it, by the promptness of my compliance. I have gained some little reputation as an actor, but a dramatic reading I have never attempted. I know there is a wide distinction as in the latter case, it is impossible to identify ones-self with any single character. But as I live to please my ones, I will do all in my power to please the kind friends I have met in St. Joseph.
I will therefore designate Tuesday evening, Jan. 5th, at Corby’s Hall. I am
Very Respectfully,
J. Wilkes Booth”

Despite his assertions to the contrary, Booth had, in fact, performed public recitations before.  When he ran off with the Richmond Grays to attend the execution of John Brown, he had entertained his fellow soldiers with readings.  That was, however, over four years ago when he was still but a novice actor.

The next day’s newspaper advertised the performance as their lead article, with the newspaper’s ironic political sentiments being the only thing preceding it in the issue.

John Wilkes Booth will perfom with Lincoln ad 1-5-1864 St Joseph Morning Herald

In addition to reciting pieces contained in the article above, John Wilkes also took this chance to recite one of his favorite, and entirely appropriate, poems, “Beautiful Snow“.  The newspapers hailed the performance the next day stating:

“The dramatic reading of this celebrated actor last evening was well attended and gave universal satisfaction.  The Hall was well filled, but it was so very cold that everybody found it almost impossible to be comfortable. The selections of the reader were all rendered in a captial style, but we were particularly pleased with ‘Once I was Pure [Beautiful Snow]‘ and the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade.’ Our citizens would greet Mr. Booth with a crowded house could he be persuaded to repeat the entertainment.”

Booth did not perform again in St. Joseph despite the the newspaper’s suggestion.  It might have had something to do with the condition of the audience, which the newspaper scolded for their behavior during his recitations:

“It is inexplicable why full grown men will go about in a hall on such an occasion as that of last night, stamping like elephants, and moving chairs as though they were anvils.  A trifle of good breeding is a capital thing to be used in keeping a hall quiet.  Stupid dolts who go thundering about the world, to the disgust of every sensible person, should be debarred from the privileges of Corby’s Hall during dramatic readings.”

Booth received $150 from the performance, which was greatly needed. Days were still passing with little sign that the trains would start running again. On Thursday, January 7th, the temperature in St. Joseph at 9:00 am was twenty one degrees below zero. Some days were better than others, however, with the newspaper celebrating the reappearance of the sun despite the “crisp, cold day”.

By Friday, January 8th, however, it was clear that everyone was suffering from the prolonged freeze. The newspaper lamented, “Well, this is a big storm. In the memory of man, no such cold weather and no such fall of snow has been known as we are now suffering in. Hundreds of travelers are here, weatherbound.” An earlier report stated, “Our people are in a terrible fix. The snow has effectually shut us out from ‘all the world and the rest of mankind,’ and there is no prospect of relief.” John Wilkes Booth was now three days overdue for his engagement in St. Louis, 300 miles away. A man arrived in St. Joseph and related that he had taken the train west from Macon, the transfer point to St. Louis. The train made it west until Breckenridge, where the stopped trains and snow prevented it from going further. Booth, realizing that if he could make it to Breckenridge, 60 miles to the east, he could catch the working trains to Macon and then St. Louis, decided to put an end to his snowy vacation in St. Joseph. With $100 of the money he had received from his public reading, Booth hired a four horse sleigh to take him the 60 miles to Breckenridge. He departed on January 8th, after spending about five and half days in St. Joseph, Missouri.

The exact details of Booth’s journey by sleigh are not known for sure. He later wrote to his friend John Ellsler of the journey:

“[The performance at St. Joseph] gave me $150. with which I hired a sleigh and came 100 miles over the plains. Four days and nights in the largest snow drifts I ever saw Its a long story which I want to tell you when I see you, but I will say this that I never knew what hardship was till then.”

There are two individuals who, many years later, gave accounts regarding Booth’s time in the snow. One of them was was William D. Bassett, then a 16 year-old railroad telegraph operator stationed in Cameron, Missouri. Around the turn of the century, various newspaper articles were published featuring Bassett’s recollections of The Big Snow. Bassett stated that he shared his comfortable room at the Cameron depot with Booth after Booth arrived, along with this theatrical troupe, in Cameron by train. The way Bassett portrays it, Booth was never trapped at St. Joseph, but, instead, with him at Cameron. All of this is suspect and is contrary to the facts of this article. However, it is possible that Bassett has a bit of truth in his accounts. Perhaps, Booth, while on his four day sleigh journey to Breckenridge, stopped in Cameron to rest for a day or two and found hospitality with young Bassett in the depot. Cameron was just about halfway between St. Joseph and Breckenridge, making it an extremely appropriate spot to rest before moving on. In Bassett’s recollections of their time together, he states that Booth was fond of literature and that the pair spent some time reading Victor Hugo’s, Les Miserables together. Booth was also apparently quite entertained when, upon visiting the local bar one morning, he found a captive audience of customers waiting patiently as the bartender attempting to thaw out bottles of whiskey that had frozen solid.

Probably the most entertaining of Bassett’s recollections, involves Booth’s interactions with the children of Cameron. From other accounts, we know that John Wilkes Booth was very fond of children and was fairly gifted at conversing with them. According to Bassett:

“Several little children played around the depot everyday while Booth was there, and with these innocent creatures he soon became a prime favorite. He would teach them games and engage in snowball battles with them. Sometimes they would all join against him and give him much the worst of it, but he took it all in perfect good nature, and was as rollicking and boisterous as the best of them. For many weeks after his departure the little girls and boys would ask me when ‘Mr. Boots’ was coming back.”

A newspaper article containing Bassett’s memories, published in 1901, contains this wonderful drawing of the event.

Snowbound John Wilkes Booth The Republic 8-4-1901

Even if Bassett’s accounts are untrue, I have no problem believing that, at some point in his life whether it be during the many days he spent at St. Joseph or a previous snowy winter, John Wilkes Booth engaged some local children in a snow ball fight. His affinity for children makes this a very likely scenario in my mind.

One of the other individuals who later spoke of Booth’s time in the snow was an actress named Mrs. McKee Rankin. According to an article by her published in 1909, she heard Booth recount some of the struggles he faced during his sleigh ride to Breckenridge. It is very difficult to put any reliability in her account, however. Not only was it published 45 years after the event, but Mrs. Rankin also admits that she is remembering the story told by Booth to a friend while she was listening through a transom in a different room. The account is filled with factual errors regarding the events and, in truth, is barely worth the paper it is written on. However, it is still an extremely entertaining read. Surprisingly, the one thing Mrs. Rankin does get right is the inclusion of Booth’s otherwise forgotten servant. She recalls an exciting tale in which Booth and Leav hire a horse named “The Girl” to lead their sleigh. At one point it is so dark that the men went right over a snow drift sending them flying from the sleigh. As Mrs. Rankin writes it, after the accident poor Leav was like a cartoon character with his head and body buried while his legs and feet stuck out of the snow. Booth pulled him out and together they righted the sleigh. Leav was freezing cold and buried himself under robes and blankets on the sleigh. While Booth recovered himself, he bent down to get a drink of whiskey from a jug they had brought along only to find that it had broken. After lighting a half broken cigar, Booth heard footsteps approaching. He tried to rouse Leav, but at that point Leav was unconscious, wrapped in the sleigh. As the footsteps got closer Booth drew long on his cigar hoping to see something in the darkness. Then he felt the panting of an aninmal before him and saw two balls of fire reflecting in the eyes of an animal before him. It was a wolf! In that instant, our heroic Booth grabbed the broken piece of whiskey jug and brought it down right onto the head of the beast. Before getting a chance to see how many wolves were out there, “The Girl” let out a yelp and with a bound was pulling the sleigh away at top speed. According to Mrs. Rankin the horse, at a dead run, didn’t stop until they reached their destination.

While it’s safe to say that probably none of Mrs. Rankin’s account is true, it is at least possible Booth said some of these falsehoods to make a good story. In fact, another actor by the name of Edwin Adams, recalled another likely case of Booth adding flourish to a story:

“I heard [Booth] boasting over a long and tedious journey from Leavenworth across the prairies in a sleigh to St. Louis and after of having threatened a conductor’s life, who had stopped his train on account of the great depth of snow, and that by placing a pistol to his head, made him continue his journey.”

The truth of Booth’s journey, however is far less flashy. On Monday, January 11th, John Wilkes Booth, his servant and his sleigh team had made the cold trek of sixty miles from St. Joseph to Breckenridge. The tracks on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad were clear from that point eastward. Booth caught the first train he could eastward. At Macon, he transferred off of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad to the Northern Missouri Line. This line took him southeast, all the way to his destination of St. Louis.

He opened at the St. Louis Theatre on Tuesday, January 12th exhausted but not wanting to lose any more days from his engagement. The Big Snow had caused him to lose seven days of performances – and pay. The toils of his journey had taken much out of him. One of the stock actors in the company later wrote, “[Booth] told me of his hardships in coming down from [St. Joseph] to fill his date in St. Louis, and that he had made the greater part of the journey in sleds…He looked worn out, dejected and as melancholy as the dull, gray sky above us…After ordering beer, he sat gloomily and silent for a time, and upon my asking him the cause, he smilingly answered that no doubt it was the rough experience he had passed through lately.” Booth would only perform five times in St. Louis, before he had to move on to his next engagement in Louisville, Kentucky.

Just as the residents of Boston will long remember the Blizzard of 2015, so did John Wilkes Booth retain a memory of his run in with The Big Snow of 1863/64. He spent just under a week snowbound in St. Joseph, Missouri and, when he could take it no longer, he braved the harsh weather by sleigh for four days. In less than a year and a half, John Wilkes Booth would again be braving the elements for a chance at freedom as he ran for twelve days, attempting to flee one of the largest manhunts in American history.

John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux
“Right or Wrong, God Judge Me”: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper
January 1, 1864 – January 9, 1864 editions of the St. Joseph Morning Herald
Snowbound with John Wilkes Booth at Cameron, MO by William F. Bassett in The St. Louis Republic Magazine, August 4, 1901
The News of Lincoln’s Death by Mrs. McKee Rankin
The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence edited by William Edwards
Recollections of an Old Actor by Charles A. Krone
Harper’s Weekly
The Art Loux Archive

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Assassination Maps Update

DC, MD, VA Assassination map thumb

I just wanted to publish a quick post highlighting a big update to the Maps section of BoothieBarn.  First, I have added about 30 more sites to the D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia map, bringing the total up to over 120 sites on this map alone.  Maps for other regions of the U.S. are planned, but, since most of the action occurred in the Maryland area, I have been focusing on adding to and improving that map first.  To that end, I have gone through and added a new aspect to the map which should make it even easier to locate and visit these sites, especially “on the go”.

We know, from studying an event that occurred 150 years ago, that landscapes have changed.  In many instances, places that were once isolated farms and open land are now housing developments or busy highways.  Old roads are lost to new roads and bypasses.  Due to this, it is important to mark historic sites with something more long term than a street address, which could change (or disappear) in a few short years.  Recording latitude and longitude coordinates based on the Global Positioning System (GPS) is, therefore, the best way to mark sites on an ever changing landscape.  Regardless of what transformation occurs on the site itself, the GPS coordinates will always mark what was once there.

With this in mind, I have gone through and added the GPS coordinates for every site marked on my map.  This is not only for posterity’s sake, but also serves to improve the functionality of the map itself.  Practically every “smart” cell phone built today has the capability of providing driving directions.  Now, with the GPS coordinates included in the description for every Lincoln assassination site, all you have to do is click the place you want to visit on my map, copy the GPS coordinates, and direct your phone or GPS device to give you directions there.

Assassination maps GPS coordinates example

For places like cemeteries, the GPS coordinates are even more helpful, as they direct you almost exactly to the grave you are looking for.  No more wandering around a huge cemetery hopelessly looking for that one grave.  My coordinates will put you right at it.  As I visit more graves in more cemeteries (using a wonderful book by Jim Garrett and Rich Smyth as my guide), I’ll be updating the map with even more grave GPSes.

Grave coordinates example

Me Surratt Grave Jan 2015

So, if you’re planning a trip to the area or, better yet, planning to drive John Wilkes Booth’s escape route on your own, be sure to check out my D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia Lincoln assassination map for all the GPS coordinates you’ll need.

Click here to view the updated Maps section of BoothieBarn, now with GPS coordinates!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Retracing the Steps of the 16th New York

When John Wilkes Booth looked out between the slats of Mr. Garrett’s tobacco barn in the early morning hours of April 26, 1865, the faces he saw staring back at him belonged to the troopers of the 16th New York Cavalry.  Through perseverance and a good bit of luck, the troop of twenty-six men commanded by Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty, detectives Luther Baker and Everton Conger, managed to locate and surround the assassin of President Lincoln.  On the last day of the 2014, my girlfriend Kate and I retraced some of the steps the troopers took which concluded in them successfully locating the most wanted man in America.

Luther Baker, Lafayette Baker, and Everton Conger posed as if planing the capture of John Wilkes Booth. Image animated by Chubachus (

Following the crime of April 14th, numerous troop detachments were sent out to scour the countryside in search of the assassin.  However, with the assistance of others, Booth and Herold always managed to stay one or two steps ahead of the soldiers.  When the pair crossed over into Virginia, they had a huge lead over their pursuers.  While the manhunt succeeded in identifying and arresting some of the major players in the escape (John M. Lloyd, Dr. Samuel Mudd, even Thomas Jones), up until the moment he was killed, the widespread belief among those searching for him held that Booth was still hiding out in Maryland.  The reason the 16th New York had even made its way into Virginia to search for the assassin was due to a serendipitous case of mistaken identity.

On April 16th, two Confederate agents named Thomas Harbin and Joseph Baden, Jr. crossed the Potomac river from a point on the Maryland shore called Banks O’Dee.  Harbin had been introduced to John Wilkes Booth by Dr. Mudd and had apparently agreed to help the actor in his initial abduction plot against Lincoln.  The increased troop detail in Southern Maryland and his acquaintance with the assassin probably motivated Harbin to cross to safer shores in Virginia.  On the 19th of April, while detectives from James O’Beirne’s Washington D.C. provost marshal’s office were in Southern Maryland looking for information and acting as spies, a farmer in Banks O’Dee named Richard Claggett mentioned having seen two men cross the river on the 16th.  As days passed with no other signs of the fugitives, two of O’Beirne’s men followed up on this lead and traveled into the Northern Neck of Virginia where few troops had been deployed.  The detectives found a boat but nothing more.  On the morning of the 24th O’Beirne, himself in the field at Port Tobacco, had a telegraph sent to the War Department about the theory that the fugitives may have already crossed into Virginia.  Lafayette Baker, head of the National Detective Police, decided O’Beirne’s theory warranted further investigation and received permission from  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to send a cavalry troop.  An order went out for a “reliable and discreet commissioned officer” to command the mission.  Lt. Edward Doherty of the 16th New York Cavalry answered the order.

Edward P. Doherty of the 16th New York Cavalry

Edward P. Doherty of the 16th New York Cavalry

A call then went out for twenty five privates from the 16th New York to join him, and Doherty took the first twenty-five who responded, regardless of their rank.  Lafayette Baker also sent two detectives with the 16th New York.  One was his cousin, Luther Byron Baker, and the other was a former Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger.  Both had served with Lafayette Baker in the District of Columbia Cavalry.  Technically, Luther Baker and Everton Conger were civilians at the time which would have left Doherty as the de facto leader of the group.  However, once Booth was cornered and killed and the applications for reward money came in, battle lines were drawn with Conger and Baker both refuting Doherty’s ownership of the operation, making it difficult to ascertain who Lafayette Baker truly put in charge (if anyone).

Regardless, after receiving their orders to investigate the Northern Necks of Virginia, the detectives and the soldiers of the 16th NY made their way to the Sixth Street wharf in Washington D.C. and boarded the propeller-driven steamer, John S. Ide.  The Ide steamed them down the Potomac, depositing them at Belle Plain, Virginia which is right at the border of King George and Stafford counties.  It had taken Booth and Herold nine days to reach King George County. The troops made it there from D.C. in four hours.

Belle Plain map 1

Here are some pictures Belle Plain today showing the location where the John S. Ide docked and unloaded the soldiers:

Belle Plain 2

Belle Plain 1

Belle Plain Pano

The detachment unloaded here at around 10 pm on April 24th.  Knowing that Booth was suffering from a broken leg, they immediately set about looking for doctors in the area.  Luther Baker recalled the long night of April 24/25th thusly:

“The direction we took I could not tell positively.  We went under the bluffs, and waked up the inhabitants of a house, to ascertain if any physicians resided in that locality.  We learned the names of three of them, found them, and questioned them closely as to whether or not they had attended anyone with a fractured limb, or had heard of anyone with a fractured limb in the vicinity.  We also questioned a negro and a few white persons upon the subject.  All had heard of no such case.”

Around daybreak on the 25th, the 16th New York arrived at the home of Dr. Horace Ashton, the last doctor on their list.  Like the other doctors in the area, Dr. Ashton had neither seen or heard anything in regard to a man with a broken leg in the area.  The doctor was a fairly wealthy man with a large plantation which he called, Bleak Hill.

Bleak Hill map

The doctor fed the troopers’ horses and provided the soldiers with a well deserved breakfast.  Bleak Hill still stands today though the large building on the property apparently dates to 1870.

Bleak Hill 1

Bleak Hill 2

When the troops departed Bleak Hill, they split into two groups, each tracing a different route down to Port Conway on the Rappahannock River.  Lt. Doherty and the majority of his men took the main road to Port Conway passing through Office Hall.  Unbeknownst to the men, they were now on the trail of Booth and Herold as the pair had also passed through Office Hall on their way between Cleydael and Port Conway 24 hours before.  Baker, Conger and four troopers took a less traveled route and eventually met up with the posse in Port Conway around lunch time.

The horses were again in need of feed and were lucky enough to find hospitality at the home of a wealthy planter named Carolinus Turner.  His large and beautiful home was called Belle Grove and had the distinction of being the site of President James Madison’s birth.  About half of the troopers were served lunch at Belle Grove with the rest being fed elsewhere.  After lunch, Col. Conger, exhausted and suffering the long term effects of previous battle wounds, fell asleep from exhaustion in the hall of Belle Grove.

Belle Grove map

Today, Belle Grove is operated as a beautiful bed and breakfast. As refreshing as Col. Conger’s rest in the hallway must have been, I can say from personal experience that is nothing compared to a night or two in their luxurious Madison Suite.

Belle Grove 1

Belle Grove Front

Belle Grove Hallway

Belle Grove Hallway with Conger

As Conger slept, Lt. Doherty and some of his men made their way the half mile down the road to Port Conway, where they interviewed the inhabitants. It was here, in tiny little Port Conway on the Rappahannock River that the 16th New York finally got their first real lead on Booth’s whereabouts. Local fisherman William Rollins, had seen Booth and Herold as they were waiting to cross the Rappahannock the day before. Even more helpful, Rollins’ wife not only recognized the Confederate soldiers who ended up crossing the ferry with the pair, but knew that one of them, Willie Jett, was courting Izora Gouldman who lived in nearby Bowling Green. With this information in hand, Doherty sent one of his men to wake up Conger and the whole posse began the task of crossing the Rappahannock river. It took a while as the small ferry could only carry a few horses at a time. When the entire group made it across the river, they set about galloping at full speed to Bowling Green. Unknowingly, they rode right past the Garrett farm where Booth and Herold were hiding out.

Bowling Green map

Once in Bowling Green (a place Kate and I did not visit on New Year’s but you can see other pictures relating to it in the Bowling Green Picture Gallery), the company found Jett sleeping in the Star Hotel. Surrounded by troopers, he “offered” to take the men to the Garrett place where he had dropped off Booth two days before. The troops, with Jett in tow, headed back to the Garrett Farm.

Garrett's farm map

The rest, as they say, is history. Booth and Herold had been exiled to the tobacco barn that night due to their strange behavior when the troops were originally galloping past on the way to Bowling Green. With the barn surrounded, Herold surrendered while an obstinate Booth asked for 50 paces so that he could come out shooting. Eventually Conger tired of the ongoing parley and set fire to the barn. Sergeant Boston Corbett aimed his pistol through the slats of the barn and shot Booth, striking him in the neck, and paralyzing him. He was pulled to the porch of the farmhouse and died there right after sunrise.

Today the site of the Garrett house is in the wooded median of Route 301, surrounded on all sides by Fort A. P. Hill. The only marker at the site, aside from a warning that digging for artifacts in illegal, is a metal pipe sticking out of the ground which marks the center line of the western most chimney of the Garrett house.

Garrett site 1-1-2015 Pano

Garrett Site 1-1-2015

A visit to the Garrett site on New Year’s day (a tradition of mine ever since I moved to Maryland) ended our retracing of the route of the 16th New York Cavalry. After getting a breakfast and food for their horses at Garrett’s, the troopers returned to Belle Plain. With Booth’s body in tow and Herold taken prisoner, the victorious men reboarded the John S. Ide and steamed back up to D.C. They were Lincoln’s Avengers and no doubt spent that steamship ride dreaming of the fame and reward money that awaited them.

American Brutus by Michael W. Kauffman
The Lincoln Assassination: The Reward Files by William Edwards
Belle Grove Plantation

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 15 Comments

New Gallery – Asia Booth Clarke

Asia Booth Clarke 1

Asia Frigga Booth was the youngest daughter of Junius Brutus Booth and Mary Ann Holmes.  She was born on the Booth family farm in Harford County, MD, on November 20, 1835.  While growing up in the secluded wilderness of their Tudor Hall home, Asia grew very close to her younger brother, John Wilkes.  The two would often play, with Asia acting as Wilkes’ first acting teacher by helping him run lines and practice his elocution.  Asia was described by those who knew her as, “beautiful”, “educated and mathematical”, and “strong-minded”.  She was courted for years by a family friend named John Sleeper.  He, like the Booth sons, wanted a career in the theater.  In order to avoid the connotation that a performance by him would put an audience to sleep, he changed his named to John Sleeper Clarke.  The two married in 1859.  At first, life for the two was good.  Clarke and Asia’s rising acting brother, Edwin, were close business partners and friends.  Asia and Clarke had three children by 1865, all of whom were all named after various members of the Booth family.  The eldest, Asia Dorothy, named for her mother, was nicknamed “Dollie”.  Their next child, Edwin Booth Clarke, was named for his uncle and went by the nickname “Teddy”.  Another daughter Adrienne, received her name from Asia’s youngest brother, Joseph Adrian.

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln by the hands of her favorite brother, John Wilkes, was a massive blow to Asia and her family.  John Sleeper Clarke was imprisoned for a time and pregnant Asia was put under house arrest.  Hoping to do something to redeem the family name, Asia set her sights on a long forgotten project she had once started: writing a biography about her father.  She plunged back into her work, attempting to forget the tragedy that had befallen her.  In August of 1865, she gave birth to twins, Creston and Lillian.  By December she had finished her biography of Junius Sr. and it was published under the title, Booth memorials : Passages, incidents, and anecdotes in the life of Junius Brutus Booth (the Elder) by His Daughter.

In 1867, another son, Wilfred, was born.  Despite the passage of time, Asia still felt the stigma of her brother’s crime and Clarke discovered he had strong star power on the London stage.  Asia agreed to move the family there, despite their strained relationship.  She hoped that England would give her the fresh air and foreign setting she needed to start over.  Asia and her children depart America in 1868.  Asia wrote that she expected to be gone for two or three years.  In fact, she would never see her homeland again.

Life in England lost its appeal fairly quickly to Asia and her relationship with Clarke continued to sour.  The pair had three more children in England, all of which died, furthering Asia’s grief and separating her even more from her husband.  In 1874, she began writing a biography of her misguided brother, John Wilkes.  It contained her memories of his younger days and painted a far more human picture of the man who assassinated Lincoln.  She knew, however, that this sympathetic view of her brother would never be tolerated during her lifetime and so put the biography aside to be published after her death.

In the 1880’s Asia finished a book entitled, The Elder and Younger Booth, which detailed the careers of her father, Junius, and her brother, Edwin.  By this point Clarke was making regular trips back to the States to perform with Asia being left behind in England.  She referred to Clarke as “a bachelor in all but name” and described his hatred for her and the Booth name.

Asia Booth Clarke died on May 16, 1888 at the age of 52.  Before her death she made Clarke promise to return her body to America so that she could be buried in the family plot in Baltimore.  This was done and Asia Booth now lies with her parents and siblings in Green Mount Cemetery. Clarke would later die in England and is buried there.

Two of Asia and Clarke’s children followed the family tradition and became actors.  Creston and Wilfred Clarke both had decent careers upon the American stage and vaudeville.

Asia’s secret biography of her brother was given to a family friend upon her death due to her fears that Clarke would destroy it.  It was not published until 1938, sixty years after Asia’s death.  Though more a collection of Asia’s pleasant memories of her brother than a true biography, the book provides a unique and much needed view of John Wilkes’ early life and interactions with his family.

While Asia Booth never found fame (or infamy) like her other siblings, she remains a valuable chronicler of their achievements.

The newest Picture Gallery here on BoothieBarn has to do with Asia Booth Clarke and her family.  To visit the gallery, click HERE or on Asia’s picture in the image below:

John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir by Asia Booth Clarke edited by Terry Alford

Click for Junius Brutus Booth Click for Mary Ann Holmes Booth Click for Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. Click for Rosalie Ann Booth Click for the Booth children Click for Edwin Thomas Booth Click for John Wilkes Booth Click for Joseph Adrian Booth
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

A Victorian Christmas at the Dr. Mudd House Museum

For one weekend every December, the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum in Waldorf, MD reopens out of season in order to present, “A Victorian Christmas”.  A devoted team of volunteers work hard to elegantly festoon the house and grounds with Christmas decor. During the event, costumed docents fill each room of the house eager to discuss not only Dr. Mudd and his involvement with John Wilkes Booth, but also the Christmas customs and traditions of years past. The event is highlighted with Civil War reenactors, music, and a visit from Santa Claus.

Mudd Victorian Xmas 1

Though I have been living in Maryland for three Christmases now, this year marked the first time I was able to attend this special event. The following are some of the pictures I took of my visit today.

Mudd Victorian Xmas 4

Mudd Victorian Xmas 9

Mudd Victorian Xmas 8

Mudd Victorian Xmas 7

Mudd Victorian Xmas 3

Mudd Victorian Xmas 2

Mudd Victorian Xmas 5

Mudd Victorian Xmas 6

Sadly, St. Nick was not present during my time at the house otherwise I would have been sure to photograph him. I did, however, use the festive opportunity to purchase a much needed item from the museum’s gift shop: a Dr. Mudd House ornament.

Mudd Victorian Xmas 10 As you can see, the ornament looks great on my Christmas tree hanging right next to my ornaments of John Wilkes Booth and the Surratt House Museum.

For those of you who live in the area, “A Victorian Christmas” will also take place at the Dr. Mudd House Museum tomorrow, December 7, 2014 from 11 am to 8 pm.  Admission is $8.  If you can’t make it this year, be sure to keep an eye out for this annual event next December.

Since the Mudd house has effectively put me in the holiday mood, it seems fitting to close this post with another one of my Boothie Christmas carols.  This revised rendition is entitled “Little Doctor Mudd” and it is sung to the tune of “Little Drummer Boy”.  Enjoy!


Little Doctor Mudd
As sung to, “Little Drummer Boy”

“Come”, Dave told me,
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
“An injured John to see.”
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
“My horse, it fell on me,”
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
“As I was trying to flee.”
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd, Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd, Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd.
On my couch went he,
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
Down with a thud.

“We must make do.”
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
“This splint will see you through.”
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
“The troops will soon pursue.”
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
“I dare not harbor you.”
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd, Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd, Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
“We are joined, we two, Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd”
“In cold blood.”

When they left here,
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
Our story we made clear.
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
Our lies and truths cohere.
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
I knew we’d persevere.
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd, Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd, Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd

But, I had one fear.
Mudd Mudd-Mudd-Mudd Mudd
“Here’s a boot.”

(You can read some of my previous Boothie carols by clicking here, here, here, and here.)

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

“Honor to Our Soldiers”: Civil War Veteran William Withers, Jr. and the Song that was Never Sung


After you read this wonderful post from the Ford’s Theatre Blog, click here to listen to the “song that was never sung”:

Originally posted on FORD'S THEATRE | BLOG:

Editor’s Note: As we honor our nation’s soldiers in observance of Veterans Day in November, we remember the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union 150 years ago. This month’s Museum Feature highlights a patriotic musical tribute to soldiers from the Ford’s Theatre collection, as well as the Civil War veteran who made this music possible.

On April 14, 1865, the city of Washington was in a particularly patriotic mood as it continued to celebrate the anticipated end of the Civil War. At Ford’s Theatre, the audience cheered on President Lincoln as he arrived for the 1,000th performance of Our American Cousin. When the distinguished guest appeared, the performance stopped and the conductor William Withers, Jr. led the orchestra in a rendition of “Hail to the Chief,” welcoming the president to the theatre.

A noted violinist, professor and conductor, William Withers, Jr., grew up in a musical household. His…

View original 767 more words

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

John Wilkes Booth in the Woods Finale

John Wilkes Booth in the Woods

On April 12th of this year, I underwent a journey into history.  For 3 days and 2 nights, I completely immersed myself in the conditions John Wilkes Booth faced while hiding out in a pine thicket after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln.  The project took months of preparation and the assistance of countless individuals who alerted me to new research, informed me of the intricacies of 19th century attire, and provided much needed moral support for such an endeavor. I strove to ensure that this experience was as genuine as possible and committed to feeling the same discomfort Booth felt.

Even from the beginning I knew I wanted to document the experience in order to share it with others.  While the 19th century method of documentation would have been limited to the written word, modern technology allows us to go further.  Therefore, with camera gear as my only anachronism, I walked into the woods with the same meager supplies that were afforded to Booth hoping to shed some light on this forgotten part of his escape.

Today, I publish the final installment of the series, bringing the project to its completion.  I am extremely grateful to not only those listed in this final video but also the many others who helped my along the way and prayed for my safety.  I hope that you have enjoyed this series as I hope to produce more like it in the future.

To watch the final video, you can either click on the image above and scroll down, click HERE to watch the video on YouTube, or play the embedded video below.

Remember that all of the videos in the series can be found in one place by clicking the “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” image at the top of this post.

Thank you all for coming on this journey with me.

~ Dave Taylor

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Mapping the Assassination

I came out to Washington, D.C. for the very first time in 2009.  It was the summer between my junior and senior year of college and the trip was an early graduation gift from my parents.  My father and I had a great time exploring the many wonderful sites before returning back home to Illinois.

Two Illinois natives visiting an old friend.

Two Illinois natives visiting an old friend.

It was a whirlwind visit as we tried to do all the touristy things D.C. has to offer.  We visited the Lincoln Memorial, Ford’s Theatre, the Air and Space Museum, the American History Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Library of Congress, the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial and the Newseum.  We paid our respects at the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam Memorials, as well as visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Marine Corps War Memorial.  We also went up into the Washington Monument, and viewed both the House of Representatives and the Senate in session.  It was a blast.

Admittedly though, my favorite part of the trip was the one day in which my father and I rented a car from Union Station and drove the escape route of John Wilkes Booth.  I had been learning about the assassination for years and I couldn’t wait to visit some of the places I had read so much about.  My father always appreciated Lincoln, so much so that he volunteered not once, but four times to chaperone groups of rowdy eighth graders on their annual class trip to Springfield, IL.  Though Dad doesn’t have the same interest in Lincoln’s assassination as I do, he definitely appreciates the importance of it.

In planning for our day trip, I spent hours tracking down the various locations we wanted to go and printing off directions on how to get there.  It was a difficult process.  I often had to consult many different websites just to figure out where exactly a certain place was.  It took awhile, but in the end, I managed to work up an itinerary.

Our condensed tour was great, except for one hitch.  On our way to the Mudd house I had planned for us to stop and visit the grave of Edman Spangler.  Dad and I pulled up at St. Peter’s Cemetery and spent about an hour looking at every single grave in the place to no avail.  We were almost late for the last tour of the day at the Mudd house due to our searching.  When we told the people at the Mudd house of our difficulty they informed us of our mistake.  “Spangler,” they said, “is buried in the Old St. Peter’s Cemetery.” Dad and I had spent an hour trampling through the wrong cemetery.

This completely understandable mistake has always stuck with me.  It makes me laugh to think of the time Dad and I wasted reading every grave in the new St. Peter’s Cemetery (which, by the way, is down the road from the old cemetery).  It shows how helpful and important it can be to have a guide.

Since moving to Maryland I have been lucky to have the guidance of many knowledgeable individuals.  As time has gone on, I’ve slowly become a guide myself and I am able to point out places relating to the assassination of Lincoln around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.  Some time ago I started a project of recording the locations of various assassination places using a mapping app called Rego.  At first it was just for my own reference as I pinpointed places I had visited or places that I wanted to visit.  This summer I drove a circuitous route to Illinois and back so I could visit a few of those places on my list.

In August, I decided to make my map widely available.  I converted my Rego map into a custom Google map complete with a color coded key.  Without fanfare or announcement, the new page on BoothieBarn appeared called Lincoln Assassination Maps.

Maps Header Menu Maps Pages Menu

About a month after I created the page, I received a wonderful email from a man who took his grandson along the escape route and used my map to help them plot their course.  I emailed him back expressing how ecstatic I was that someone had not only found the map but used it as I had hoped.  Since then I’ve been slowly adding more places to the map expanding far beyond the escape route.  Using aerial views and my own knowledge, I’ve tried to pinpoint places as specifically as I can, even putting markers directly on top of where graves are in a cemetery in some cases.  Currently, the only map on the Lincoln Assassination Maps page is one that covers D.C., Maryland, and the Northern Neck of Virginia.  Though it already contains about 100 sites, it, by no means, is complete.  Future maps will highlight places in other regions such as the Midwest, the South, the Northeast, and even an International map.

With a subject as vast as the assassination of Lincoln, a guide is much needed commodity.  I hope that these maps will serve as beneficial guides for those of you who want to explore the plethora of assassination related sites.

Click HERE to check out the BoothieBarn Lincoln Assassination Maps page!

DC, MD, VA Assassination map thumb

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

Blog at The Adventure Journal Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 334 other followers