When John Wilkes Booth committed his act, the uproar from the general public was swift and vicious. In D.C. angry crowds surrounded confederate prisons like the Old Capitol ready to jump any new prisoner brought in. Countless individuals who bore a resemblance to Booth were mobbed with many suffering beatings courtesy of their doppelganger. The fury extended beyond D.C. when people woke up to the news of Lincoln’s assassination on April 15th. On that morning Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., the 43 year old brother of John Wilkes, awoke to find the horrifying truth of his kin’s deed. The following is an article originally from the Louisville Courier Journal (reprinted in the August 30, 1884 edition of the Knowersville Enterprise) giving an account of how June learned of his brother’s act.
Narrow Escape of Booth’s Brother
“One of the most exciting mobs I ever saw was the one which attempted to hand Junius Brutus Booth at Cincinnati the morning after Lincoln’s assassination.”
Emile Buelier was the speaker. He made the remark in conversation with some friends last evening.
“I was then a clerk at the Burnet house,” he continued. “I had gone there with Captain Silas Miller, who had purchased it just prior to that time. Junius Booth was billed to play there, and arrived at the hotel on the evening when his brother shot Lincoln.
He came down stairs the next morning, and after breakfast was on the point of going out to take a stroll. I had just heard a few minutes before that the people were in a tumult, and had torn down his bills all over the city. He came up to the desk and, as he did so, I informed him that I thought it would be best for him not to go out in the streets. He looked at me in astonishment, and asked what I meant.
‘Haven’t you heard the news?’ said I. He replied that he had not. I didn’t like to say any more, and he walked off, looking greatly puzzled.
Going to a friend, who was standing near, he asked, in a rather excited manner what was that young man meaning by talking that way, and wanted to know if I wasn’t crazy. The man told him no, that I was a clerk.
More mystified than ever he returned and demanded my reason for the remark. I saw then that he was in ignorance of the tragedy, and reluctantly informed him that his brother had killed the President.
He was the most horrified man that I ever saw, and for the moment he was overcome with shock. I suggested to him that it would be better to go to his room, and he did so, being accompanied by one or two of his friends.
He had scarcely gone up-stairs before the room was filled with people. The mob was fully 500 in number and wanted to find Booth. They were perfectly furious, and it was the greatest difficulty that we checked them by the story that their intended victim had left the house. They would have hung him in a minute if they could have laid hands on him, so great was their rage.
They returned almost immediately, but by this time we had removed Booth from his room to that of a friend. The mob watched the house so closely that it was four or five days before he had a chance to leave. We finally smuggled him away however.
I’ve seen four or five different accounts of that circumstance, but none of them were correct. The story that he was disguised as a woman to effect his escape is all wrong. He left in ordinary clothing.”
When it was safe, Junius traveled from Cincinnati to Philadelphia to his sister Asia’s house. It was here on April 25th that Junius and Asia’s husband John Sleeper Clarke were arrested. They were transported back to D.C. and detained at the Old Capitol Prison. The authorities had found a letter written by Junius to his brother encouraging him to give up in the oil business which had cost him so much. This brotherly advice was misinterpreted by the government as a code for the assassination plot and so Junius was tracked down. Though imprisoned, he was given some preferential treatment as the Secretary of War ordered that he would not be placed in irons like many of the other prisoners. In prison he gave several statements complying with the authorities completely. He was eventually released on June 2nd.