On April 14th, 1865, Sgt. Silas Tower Cobb was in charge of the Army’s guard detail over the Navy Yard bridge leading out of D.C.
During that night, he was approached by three individual riders all looking to be crossed over the bridge. As a proper guard he interrogated the men asking them where they were going, why they waited until after 9:00 pm to depart, and what their names were. The first man replied he was going to his home in Charles County, MD, “close to Beantown”. He pleaded ignorant of the rule forbidding passage over the bridge after 9:00 and stated that, “It is a dark road, and I thought if I waited a spell I would have the moon”. Sgt Cobb was hesitant to let him pass but the man who gave his name as Booth seemed proper enough and his answers had been satisfactory. While Cobb’s standing orders had been that no person was allowed to cross the bridge between 9:00 pm and sunrise, the enforcement of these orders had been more lax as the war had dwindled down. Sgt. Cobb unwittingly allowed the assassin of Lincoln to cross his line. Not long after this, another man rode up giving his name as Smith. He told Cobb he was heading home to White Plains. Again, Silas Cobb informed the man that passage over the bridge after 9:00 o’clock was forbidden. Smith replied, “I stopped to see a woman on Capitol Hill, and couldn’t get off before.” Though this man did not appear as proper as the first man, he allowed him to cross the bridge as well. Sgt. Cobb had unwittingly allowed David Herold, one of the Booth’s accomplices, to cross his line. History repeated itself as a third horseman appeared. This man asked Cobb if he had passed a man on a horse fitting the description of “Smith”. Cobb replied in the affirmative. The third man told Cobb he was a stableman, and that “Smith” had run off with one of his horses. The stableman, John Fletcher, asked for permission to cross and give chase. Cobb told him that while he would be allowed to cross out of the city, he would not be permitted to return until daybreak. Fletcher decided the idea of spending all night stranded outside of the city looking for a lost horse was an unappealing one and returned to the city to report his loss to the police.
Though Cobb was later in deep dung for allowing two conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination escape over his bridge, he never suffered court martial for his actions. He testified at the trial of the conspirators and was honorably discharged from the army in September of 1865. He assumedly returned to his hometown of Holliston, Massachusetts. Two years later, however he met his end at the age of 29 while traveling in Michigan:
It is one of those odd twists of fate that the man who permitted the river crossings of two Lincoln assassination conspirators would meet his end in his own unfortunate attempt.