Grave Thursday: Silas T. Cobb

Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


Sgt. Silas Tower Cobb

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Burial Location: Central Burying Ground, Holliston, Massachusetts

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Good evening enthusiasts of all things historic, 

This is Kate, returning for another Grave Thursday installment. For this post, I decided to incorporate my work with Dave’s to bring you the full story of the watchman on the bridge, Silas T. Cobb. 

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Sergeant Silas Tower Cobb is most remembered to history as the man who unknowingly created the John Wilkes Booth Escape Route. On April 14, 1865, Cobb allowed John Wilkes Booth and David Herold to cross the Navy Yard Bridge out of Washington City and into Southern Maryland. Riders were not allowed to cross the bridge after 9 PM but Booth and Herold arrived at almost 11. Unaware that President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward were mortally and severely wounded, Cobb allowed Booth and Herold passage. Rules had been lax since the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and riders wishing to leave the Capitol City did not seem nearly as dangerous as riders seeking entrance. Cobb drowned two years later at the age of 29 during a boating accident in Grand Haven, Michigan.

You can read more about Cobb’s later life here. This is the story of his life leading up to April of 1865. 

Named after his father, Silas Cobb was born on October 13, 1838 in Holliston, Massachusetts to Silas and Sophia Cobb. He spent his childhood training as a boot maker, a trade which he would resume after the Civil War, and sailed to the Arctic when he was 19 as a crewman aboard a whaling ship. Cobb did not immediately enlist in the Union Army following the firing on Fort Sumter. Instead, he married Sophia Treen. The couple had one child together, a daughter named Ada, but she died in infancy about a month after the execution of the conspirators. In 1863, Cobb enlisted in the Union Army, joining the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. The regiment remained in its home state until it was called to Washington City to guard its various bridges and passageways. In 1862, General Lee had attempted a march on Maryland to put pressure on Washington and by 1863 had invaded Pennsylvania. Perhaps one reason the 3rd Massachusetts was sent south was to barricade the Capitol in the event that Lee managed to break significant Union lines. Lee’s campaign ultimately failed but it placed Cobb on the Navy Yard Bridge, keeping him from being lost to the pages of history as another name on another roster. While Lee never appeared, on April 14th Cobb received a different kind of Southern sympathizer on the bridge. The rest is history.

It is not known for certain why Cobb was in Grand Haven when he died. Some historians theorize that he was attempting to sell boots, having been honorably discharged from the Union Army and resumed his shoe making. Evidence for this theory points to a friend Cobb knew from his time in Holliston, Edgar Fletcher, who was also a boot maker. The pair were traveling through Michigan together. Both perished in the accident.

The body of Silas T. Cobb was brought back home to Holliston where it was laid to rest in the Central Burying Ground. A small military headstone marks the site today. Much like Cobb, it is a stop on the road to more recognized places (Fall River to the South, Boston and Salem to the North) but it is still a stop worth discussing due to its brush with history.  

Until next time.

-Kate 

GPS coordinates for Silas Cobb’s grave: 42.202776, -71.429104

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Grave Thursday: Silas T. Cobb

  1. Dennis D. Urban

    A correction if I may. I love the post. Keep the stories coming. Robert E. Lee never returned to Arlington after he threw his hat in with his State. On April 14, Lee had arrived at his home in Richmond where his wife and daughters had been living for some time. I believe the home was rented by the Lees rather than owned.

  2. Kate H.

    Thank you for the kind words and thank you for the correction. That sentence is now fixed. I have to brush up on my Robert E. Lee facts. A home in Richmond does make sense though considering Lee’s daughters stayed at Cleydael (Dr. Richard Stuart’s home) at the beginning of the war and Cleydael is closer to Richmond than Arlington.

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