For about four and a half days between April 16 – April 21, 1865, John Wilkes Booth and his accomplice, David E. Herold, hid from federal troops in the southern Maryland woods. Near the 149th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, I undertook a project to reenact, as accurately as possible, this often forgotten part of the assassin’s escape route. My hope was to gain a better understanding of Booth’s conditions and the impact those days in the woods had on his state of mind. 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. The follow videos document my endeavor as I reenacted “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods”.
Notes: These videos were shot using a HD camera. To enjoy them in the best quality, make the video full screen while playing. You can also click the small “YouTube” icon on the corner of the video player to watch the HD videos on YouTube.com
These videos often flow from one to another with the explanation for the beginning of a video given at the end of the one before it. It is recommended to watch them in order for full effect.
In this part I give an overview of the project, describe the events of Lincoln’s assassination, and follow John Wilkes Booth’s escape route up to when his time in the woods began.
In this part I discuss my clothing, apply a splint to replicate Booth’s broken leg, and show some of the supplies I brought with me.
In this part set up my camp site and experience my first night with nothing but a blanket to cover me.
In this part I brush my teeth using Civil War era tools and begin discussing the sources we have regarding Booth’s time in the woods.
In this part I recite excerpts from those who aided Booth and I have my first meal in the woods.
In this part I discuss the fate of Booth and Herold’s horses.
In this part I practice walking with a crutch and experience my second night sleeping in the woods.
In this part I discuss Booth’s comfort and the ways he could have passed the hours of waiting.
In this part I try one of Booth’s favorite drinks and finally receive the newspapers I’ve been craving.
In this part I get some unexpected news and start walking towards the Potomac River.
In this, the final part of the series, I reflect on how Booth and Herold were sent across the Potomac after their stay in the pine thicket.
This Ole House by Stuart Hamblen
It is No Secret by Stuart Hamblen
I Get Lonesome by Stuart Hamblen
Booth Killed Lincoln / Newcastle by Ruthie Dornfeld, Joel Bernstein, and Keith Murphy
Dixie’s Land (1865) by Bob Welch
John Wilkes Booth by Tom Pacheco
John Wilkes Booth by Tony Rice
Whiskey Pickup by Mark Isham from the soundtrack, The Conspirator
John Wilkes Booth by Jason Green
Down to the River to Pray by Alison Krauss
River Jordan by BeBe Winans from the musical, The Civil War
My deepest thanks and gratitude go out to Jim Palmer and the rest of the staff of the Loyola on the Potomac Retreat House for allowing me to camp out on their property for this reenactment.
Thank you all for coming on this journey with me.