Posts Tagged With: Museums

An Assassination Cane

An Interesting Artifact

The collection of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, Tennessee contains many fascinating artifacts relating to the 16th President. Among their collections is a cupboard made by Abraham’s father, Thomas Lincoln; a china set owned by the Lincolns in their Springfield home; a lock of Willie Lincoln’s hair taken from his head after his death; and a massive archive of art, books, manuscripts, photographs, and ephemera relating to Lincoln. One of the most famous artifacts in the museum, however, is an ebony cane topped with a sterling silver knob handle which bears the inscription “A. Lincoln”.

Compared to modern canes which are mainly used as functional tools to assist in walking and balance, this 35.5 inch long cane owned by Lincoln was solely a fashion piece. Short canes, or walking sticks, were very common accessories for men during the Victorian era. Many men carried canes as evidence of class and elaborate canes were common affectations designed only to impress or convey prestige. For example, Lincoln’s future assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was often photographed with walking sticks. Since Booth would often give out these photographs to friends and admirers, the cane helped to subtlety reinforce his self-image as a member of high society.

While Lincoln was not known to crave prestige, canes were also often presented as gifts. Visiting dignitaries often received decorative canes as tokens of esteem. There are many accounts of Lincoln being presented with canes during his career as a lawyer and politician.

The question remains then, why is the Lincoln cane at the ALLM one of the highlights of the museum’s collection? What sets it apart from any number of canes that are said to have been owned or presented to Lincoln? Well, this cane is said to have been with Abraham Lincoln when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

The Provenance

The Lincoln cane arrived in the collection of the ALLM on September 10, 1929. It was given to the museum by a former resident of Troy, New York named Joseph Mayhew. In his donation of the cane, Mr. Mayhew included two notarized letters conveying the history of the cane. One letter was written by Mr. Mayhew and the other was by his sister, Emma Cuenin nee Mayhew. The following is from Emma’s affidavit:

“In 1875 my father, Stephen Mayhew, was the proprietor of a grocery and meat market at the corner of Fifth and Ferry Streets, Troy, N.Y. After school I would often wait on the customers who came into the store. This was when I was about 11 years old.

I remember a man and his wife named Phelps trading at the store. Phelps was an actor. He would purchase groceries and meats and then charge them. When his bill amounted to about $40.00 and he was unable to pay he offered father Abraham Lincoln’s cane in lieu of the bill. Father accepted the cane as payment in full.

Phelps related how he became possessor of Abraham Lincoln’s cane, saying that he, Phelps, was an actor having a minor part in the play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on the night President Lincoln was assassinated. In the excitement that followed Lincoln’s being shot Phelps entered the President’s box and seeing the cane in the corner where Lincoln left it he picked it up and kept it as a memento.

Father often carried the cane, making no secret that it at one time belonged to President Lincoln.”

Stephen Mayhew continued to own and display Lincoln’s cane to his friends and neighbors. According to the affidavits, the display of the cane caused jealously among a certain Troy resident who sought to claim the cane as his own.

“Some litigation was started concerning the cane, as a man named Kisselberg though he would like to gain possession of it. My father’s interests in the matter were defended by a lawyer named Palmer. After spending some money and time in the courts Palmer caused the cane to be sold at Sheriff’s sale in order that a clear title could be obtained. It was bought in for my father.

During the litigation a letter was written to Lincoln’s son concerning the cane, in which it was explained how father became possessor of it. Lincoln’s son replied, stating that as long as father had obtained it through an honest debt he was entitled to it.”

Joseph Mayhew’s affidavit contains a bit more detail regarding the legal battle concerning the cane, but fails to mention the detail regarding Robert Todd Lincoln’s involvement in the case:

“At a later date, when it became generally known that my father had the cane in his possession, it was seized by the local authorities. It was kept for a time by the Sheriff of Rensselear County and also in a jeweler’s safe. This jeweler’s name was Kisselberg and his place of business was on River Street in Troy, N.Y.

My father took legal action to recover the cane. He engaged a lawyer, named Palmer. Palmer caused the cane to be sold at Sheriff’s sale and bought it in for my father so that my father would have a clear title to it. The litigation cost my father between eighteen hundred ($1800.00) and two thousand ($2000.00) dollars.”

After recovering his property, Stephen Mayhew continued to own Lincoln’s cane. In 1914, Stephen gave the cane to Joseph. The elder Mayhew died in 1917.

With these two pieces of evidence in hand and a priceless, highly fought over, silent witness in their collection, the assassination cane has been a centerpiece of the ALLM’s collection for years.

Recently, I have been looking through my files relating to my own visit to the ALLM back in 2014. Though I was only able to spend a brief period of time researching in their archives, I was amazed at the breadth of their collection. I previously did a blog post about a letter owned by conspirator Samuel Arnold that is in the museum’s collection. In revisiting my files, I decided it would be worthwhile to publish a quick post about the Lincoln cane with the intention of bringing about some more awareness to this unique artifact. After a bit of research into this cane and the provenance behind it however, I have come to an unexpected conclusion.  I do not believe this cane was at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

The Research

Near the end of Joseph Mayhew’s affidavit he mentions that when his father finally presented the cane to him, it was also accompanied by, “a copy of ‘The Trojan Observer,’ a newspaper dated Monday, January 26, 1880, and published at Troy, N.Y. This newspaper contains an account with reference to the Lincoln cane.” It turns out that the seizure and legal battle concerning the cane was a newsworthy event. The local Troy papers talked about the recovery of the cane and how it would, undoubtedly, be returned to Robert Todd Lincoln. The story of Lincoln’s cane was reprinted across the country. The newspapers, likely getting their information from Stephen Mayhew, reported that the man who recovered the cane was named A. R. Phelps, the stage name of actor Alonzo Raymond Phelps. This name concurs with the Mayhew children’s statements years later. Also helpful to the Mayhews’ statements is the fact that Alonzo Phelps, for a brief period of time in the mid 1870s, did reside in Troy, NY as evidenced by his inclusion in a Troy city directory.

From this point onward, however, the evidence against the cane’s provenance begins to add up. By consulting Thomas Bogar’s impeccably researched book, Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination, one finds that Alonzo Phelps did not perform in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre that night. He was not part of the Ford’s stock company and was not a member of Laura Keene’s visiting troupe. The idea that Phelps was acting at Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s death is not supported by the evidence.

The question then becomes, if Phelps did not perform at Ford’s Theatre that night, was it possible for him to be there in the role of an audience member instead? Unfortunately, that does not appear to be likely.

The entry for A. R. Phelps in the 1870 edition of Brown’s History of the American Stage states that, “in 1854 [Phelps] sailed for California, in company with the Denin Sisters, where he opened in ‘Love’s Sacrifice,’ on April 10 of that year. He remained on that coast, playing through California, Oregon, Nevada, etc., until 1866, when he took the overland trip to New York.” Further research demonstrates Phelps’ long residence in California where he worked as both an actor and a theater manager. In 1856, for example, A. R. Phelps and fellow actor Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. leased the Union Theatre in San Francisco. Among the actors the business partners brought in that season was June’s younger brother, Edwin Booth, who was just beginning his starring theatrical career.

Phelps stayed in California during the course of the Civil War and the evidence indicates that Phelps was likely still in California when Lincoln’s assassination occurred. In addition to the entry in Brown’s History of the American Stage which states that Phelps did not return east until 1866, we also find A. R. Phelps’ name in the 1864 and 1865 city directories for San Francisco. Newspaper advertisements also indicate that he was performing at the Metropolitan Theatre in San Francisco as late as March of 1865. With the journey between San Francisco and New York lasting about a month in those days, it is extremely unlikely Phelps was on the correct coast when Lincoln was assassinated. The bulk of the evidence points to him still being in California when Lincoln was killed.

With it having been established that Phelps was not performing at, or likely even near, Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the provenance of the “assassination” cane is dealt a significant blow. What is interesting, however, is that this is not the first time the authenticity of the cane has been questioned. In fact, the true history of the cane may have very well been established back in 1880 when the initial reports went out about its recovery from Stephen Mayhew. An article, originally published by the Troy Evening Standard and reprinted by other newspapers across the country, gives a different history of where this cane came from:

“Many years ago, when President Lincoln was a poor lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he carried about with him a plain ebony cane, with a silver ferrule, marked ‘A. Lincoln.’ The cane may have cost $5.

When Lincoln found himself in Washington he still carried the old ebony, being loath to part with his old friend. One day a delegation of friends waited upon and presented him with an elegant modern cane with an elaborately engraved gold handle. He accepted the gift more to accommodate his friends than to please himself. The old cane was given to a trusty valet who often frequented a prominent restaurant in Washington, where nightly assembled many professional men, actors, lawyers and musicians. Among the number was A. R. Phelps, the first manager of the Grand Central Theatre. Hard pushed for money, the valet pawned the cane with the proprietor of the restaurant, and from the latter it passed into the hands of Phelps. In his vocation as a theatrical manager and actor Phelps struck Troy some three or four years ago, and assumed the management of the Grand Central Theatre for Thomas Miller, the proprietor. Finally adversity overtook him. Misfortune fell heavily upon him, and he with his wife and six children was left in the direst distress, and he pawned the cane to a down-town citizen for $25. He then left town and has not since been seen here…”

If accurate, this article paints a very different story as to the circumstances surrounding Alonzo Phelps’ attainment of Lincoln’s cane. Rather than having retrieved the cane from the President’s box at Ford’s Theatre, Phelps is said to have received the cane as a gift from a restaurant proprietor in Washington on an undetermined date. In addition, the article claims that the cane was one purchased by Lincoln himself while living in Springfield and given away by the living Lincoln when he received a different one in Washington. While the article does not provide any sources for the history behind Lincoln’s cane, it is clear that at least some research was undertaken in its reporting. The article gives the circumstances of Phelps’ residence in Troy in the mid-1870s stating that he was the theatrical manager of the Grand Central Theatre. This appears to be backed up by a January 20, 1877 article in the New York Clipper which announced that Phelps was to receive a complimentary benefit at the Grand Central Theatre.

However, there are some small discrepancies in the article as well, such as the amount Phelps owed to Mayhew ($25 vs $40) and the number of children Phelps had at the time (6 vs 5). In addition, the article goes on to recount the involvement of Robert Todd Lincoln in attempting to recover the cane:

“Robert T. Lincoln, son of the dead President, learning that the cane was in this city, corresponded with Chief Markham with a view of obtaining possession of it. Yesterday morning Markham received track of its whereabouts and served a search warrant upon the proprietor of a meat market at the corner of Federal and North Fourth streets. There the cane was recovered. In the police court yesterday afternoon, before Justice Donohue, the matter of the disposition of the cane was taken up, and postponed for two weeks. It is supposed Phelps gave the cane as security for the meat consumed by his family.”

According to this article, Robert Todd Lincoln was taking an active role in the recovery of his father’s cane. This is in contrast to the Mayhews’ statements which claim the seizure of the cane was brought upon by a jealous and covetous neighbor and that it was a letter by Robert Lincoln which allowed them to retrieve the artifact. After some further digging, however, it appears that neither set of these circumstances are true.

Between 1903 and 1926, Robert Todd Lincoln maintained a correspondence with a former journalist named Isaac Markens of New York. Markens was studying Abraham Lincoln and wrote many letters to Robert asking him questions about his father. Markens published a few pamphlets on Abraham Lincoln and was said to have been working on a full biography of the President that was never completed. In the 1960s, the 82 letters written by Robert Lincoln in answer to Isaac Markens’ questions were donated to the Chicago Historical Society. In 1968, the CHS published the bulk of the letters as a book titled, A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln in the Letters by his Oldest Son. While the book does not contain the original letters Markens sent to Robert, it seems clear that at one point Markens came across one of the 1880 newspaper stories regarding the assassination cane and decided to ask Robert about it. The following is part of a letter Robert Lincoln sent to Markens on January 25, 1918 in which he discusses the cane:

“The story about the cane is queer. I think I should have remembered any such events as are described in it if they had occurred, and I do not. I do not think there is a word of truth in the story. I do not own any cane ever possessed by my father, and I never took any interest in any such cane. He never used a cane himself at all. At various times in his life there were presented to him canes. I remember such things, but he never cared anything about them, and gave them no attention. I think it is true that after his death my mother gave away to servants some canes which had come to him in Washington, for which none of us had any regard whatever. Such canes may be in existence, but they possess no real interest in connection with my father.

Very sincerely yours,

Robert T. Lincoln”

In this letter, Robert Lincoln makes it clear that he never had any involvement regarding a cane belonging to his father. This is in contrast to both the newspaper articles and the affidavits from the Mayhews. Nevertheless, Robert Todd Lincoln is a more reliable source on these matters than the other two and his statement must carry the most weight.

Conclusions

We are left with an “assassination” cane whose provenance is full of holes and half-truths. Each piece of the story can be broken down into categories of likely and unlikely.

It seems likely that Alonzo Phelps gave Stephen Mayhew a cane in exchange for a debt the actor owed the grocer. This piece of the story is consistent across all sources and there is evidence that places Phelps in Troy during the applicable time period.

It seems highly unlikely that Alonzo Phelps retrieved the cane from the President’s box at Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. Evidence proves that Phelps was not performing at Ford’s Theatre in direct contradiction to the claims of the Mayhew family. Given Phelps’ established residence in California up until March of 1865, it seems incredibly unlikely that he was even in Washington, D.C. that fateful night.

It is unlikely that this cane was even carried by Abraham Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre on April 14th. For this point we have two pieces of evidence. The first, and admittedly weaker, piece of evidence is Robert Lincoln’s assertion that his father did not regularly carry a cane. Since Robert was not a witness to his father’s assassination, this piece alone does not prove much. However, there was an eyewitness to Lincoln’s assassination who publicly disputed the idea that Lincoln carried a cane with him that night. After the story of Lincoln’s cane was published across the country in 1880, a brief retort was published in Washington, D.C.’s the Evening Star. The article stated, “The story telegraphed from Troy about the recovery of a cane stolen from Mr. Lincoln’s box in the theater on the night of his assassination, is pronounced by Mr. Charles Forbes, who was an usher at the White House at the time, to be false, as Mr. Lincoln had no cane with him.” Though the brief article failed to mention it, Charles Forbes was far more than just a White House usher. Forbes had accompanied the Lincoln party to Ford’s Theatre that night and he was the one sitting outside of the President’s box when John Wilkes Booth approached. Booth presented Forbes with a calling card of some sort and Forbes allowed Booth entry into the box. Forbes is a very reliable witness in this matter and his claim that Lincoln had no cane with him that night is further evidence against the cane’s reported history.

Charles Forbes, the man who sat outside of Lincoln’s box and allowed John Wilkes Booth to enter. He denied Lincoln carried a cane that night.

After looking at all of the evidence, I do not believe the “assassination” cane held by the ALLM was ever with Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. The most likely history of this cane, in my mind, was largely laid out by Robert Lincoln. We know that Abraham Lincoln was presented with many canes during his lifetime. The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection contains an entire file folder of clippings relating to Lincoln canes. In addition to ones gifted to him, Lincoln himself was known to present canes as gifts. In 1864, for example, 19 silver headed ebony canes were purchased by the government and presented to the 19 governors of the Pueblo tribes in New Mexico. Each of these canes were engraved with the name of the governor and also the name of the President “A. Lincoln”. In his letter, Robert Lincoln mentions how, after his father’s death, Mary Lincoln gave away canes that had been presented to her husband. I believe a situation similar to this likely occurred with the cane at the ALLM. Somehow, perhaps from a restaurant owner in D.C. as the newspaper account stated, Alonzo Phelps acquired a cane that had, at one time, been owned or presented to Abraham Lincoln. Phelps cherished the cane until he was forced to part with it in Troy in the 1870s to Stephen Mayhew. Over time, either through outright lies or faulty memories, the story of the cane morphed, giving it a far more dramatic backstory. Lincoln Memorial University was more than happy to acquire this unique piece for their growing Lincoln collection and the two notarized statements from the Mayhew children were provenance enough in the 1920s. However, with the help of modern tools and resources, we can more deeply investigate the provenance behind artifacts like the Lincoln cane. While such investigations may lead to disappointing conclusions, like the debunking of a cherished Lincoln artifact, the process is an important part of evaluating and reevaluating what we think we know about the past.

References:
Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum (ALLM)
Provenance records for President Lincoln’s cane at the ALLM (80.0379)
Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination by Thomas Bogar
San Francisco Theatre Research: Theatre Buildings Vol. XV Part 1 edited by Lawrence Estevan
History of the American Stage (1870) by T. Allston Brown
San Francisco City Directory, Oct 1864 and Dec 1865 accessed via Ancestry.com
“Lincoln’s Cane” Troy Evening Standard article reprinted in the San Francisco Bulletin, February 2, 1880
A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln in Letters by his Oldest Son edited by Paul M. Angle with assistance of Richard G. Case
Charles Forbes Statement in the January, 23, 1880 edition of the Evening Star
Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection: Canes Owned by Lincoln file, Cane – Assassination file
“At the Griswold Opera-House, Troy, N.Y. …The veteran actor and manager A. R. Phelps, and wife, who recently resigned from the Griswold Opera-house, are to be the recipients of a complimentary benefit at the Grand Central.” – The New York Clipper January 20, 1877

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Replica Booth Diaries for Sale Again!

Looking for that special gift for the Lincoln assassination aficionado in your life? How about a replica of the diary John Wilkes Booth used during his 12 day escape?

A few years ago, I assisted a prop maker named Pasquale Marsella to create near perfect replicas of John Wilkes Booth’s diary. Using photographs of the diary that were taken during the 1970s, Mr. Marsella was able to reproduce the interior of the diary with amazing detail. The interior of these replicas contained Booth’s own handwriting and duplicated the number of missing and torn pages exactly. Mr. Marsella created only a limited number of diaries and quickly sold out of them. I was fortunate enough to purchase one of the diaries, as did the Surratt House Museum, which keeps the replica on display in their visitor center.

Replica Booth diary on display at the Surratt House Museum

In the years since Mr. Marsella’s first run of diaries, demand for the replicas has been high. In 2015, I was contacted by producers at the Smithsonian Channel who were hoping to get their own replica diary for use in a documentary. I had to inform them that Mr. Marsella had no more left. Instead, I agreed to lend them my replica diary for use in their documentary, Lincoln’s Last Day:

Over the last few years I’ve had several other folks contact me hoping they could purchase diaries, and I sadly also had to inform them that Mr. Marsella had no more left and wasn’t making them anymore. However, Mr. Marsella has recently decided to do another run of his diaries which are available for purchase!

In this second run of diaries, Mr. Marsella has made some improvements from his earlier design. The new replicas utilize a higher quality leather which is softer and gives the diary an older look and feel than previous models. Further, Mr. Marsella is including a more accurate piece of brass on the outer part of the diary. During the last few years, Mr. Marsella has improved his technique for aging paper, giving these new diaries a more authentic “old” look to them. Lastly, the interior pockets marked “Postage” and ” Tickets” are no longer just sewn on displays, but fully functioning pockets like on the real diary.

One of Pasquale Marsella’s new, second run of John Wilkes Booth diaries

This second run of replica John Wilkes Booth diaries consists of only 30 diaries, several of which have already been sold. The limited amount is due to the time consuming process of detailing and tooling the leather, which Mr. Marsella does himself.

Mr. Marsella is selling his limited number of John Wilkes Booth diary replicas for $375 each plus $30 shipping. Payment is accepted through PayPal. Due to the nature of his work, Mr. Marsella will need 25 days from receipt of payment to complete each diary. If you are interested in purchasing a replica diary, please email Mr. Marsella directly at pasqualemarsella@yahoo.it and he will give you instructions on how to pay through PayPal.

If you have any questions about the diaries feel free to leave a comment below or email Mr. Marsella directly. As an owner of one of Mr. Marsella’s replica diaries, I can say that his workmanship is impeccable. I have used this diary as a prop during my own reenactments as John Wilkes Booth, I’ve brought it along with me to speeches, and I always carry it when I give the John Wilkes Booth escape route bus tour. You should see the interest in people’s faces when I pass around my handmade, Italian crafted (Mr. Marsella lives in Italy) replica John Wilkes Booth diary. Everyone on the bus enjoys leafing through the pages and seeing John Wilkes Booth’s handwriting duplicated exactly. They have no idea that the piece is so exactly duplicated that even the missing and torn pages in the replica match the real McCoy in the Ford’s Theatre museum. My diary has passed through many hands in the 4 years that I have had it and it’s holding up great.

Yours truly showing off his own replica Booth diary while presenting at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois

I truly enjoy giving Mr. Marsella some free advertising and assisting him in selling his diaries because he provides such a unique and well-crafted piece that you can’t get anywhere else. Get yours today before they’re gone once more.

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Great Boothie Road Trip 2017 ©

Tomorrow, June 21, 2017, Kate and I are taking to the road on what we’re calling the Great Boothie Road Trip 2017 ©. It will be quiet here on the blog for next couple of weeks as we drive out to see family, friends, and of course, Boothie sites from our Lincoln assassination maps! A week from now we’ll be in Springfield, Illinois where I will be presenting at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. As a follow up to my speech on John Wilkes Booth last summer, this year I will be speaking on the four conspirators who were executed for their involvement in Lincoln’s death . For those of you who live in the area and might be interested in attending this speech, the ALPLM has free tickets available to those who register. See this site to reserve your tickets: https://alplmfoundation.tix.com/Event.aspx?EventCode=978923 For those of you not in the area, the speech is scheduled to be recorded and I will let you all know when it is put online.

As excited as I am to be speaking at the Lincoln library once again, that speech will only be a small part of our multi-state road trip with many fascinating detours and stops. While we’re hoping to put up a full post about our adventures when we get back, I encourage you all to follow our exploits as we go via Twitter. You don’t have to be signed up for Twitter to see what Kate and I are tweeting. You can either visit my Twitter page, which is accessible by clicking here, or by watching the Twitter bar on this website. For desktop users, the Twitter bar should be somewhere on the right hand side and for mobile users, it should be near the bottom of the page. For those of you who do have Twitter, we are planning on using the hashtag #BoothieRoadTrip if you want to follow along.

Well, you’ll have to excuse me now because Kate and I have a scheduled departure time of 4:00 am tomorrow. It’s time for us to get some rest. We hope you’ll follow us as we experience the Great Boothie Road Trip 2017 ©!

Categories: Levity, News | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

Come See Us: Spring 2017

Spring is the busy season for Lincoln assassination events. Kate and I will be attending and participating in several of the offerings that will occur in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia area. As much fun as it is to research and write here on BoothieBarn, there’s something special about being out in public and sharing aspects of the Lincoln assassination with others, face to face. For those of you who live in the region, here are some of the upcoming Lincoln assassination talks that Kate and I (or some of our learned friends) will be giving that you might be interested in attending.


Date: Saturday, April 1, 2017
Location: Colony South Hotel and Conference Center (7401 Surratts Rd, Clinton, MD 20735)
Time: Full conference runs from 8:50 am – 8:30 pm

Speech: Assassination “Extras”: Their Hidden Histories
Speaker: Dave Taylor
Description: The Lincoln assassination story is filled with characters who play the part of background extras. They are men and women who very briefly enter the scene, play their small part, and then are forgotten. All of them are connected by their minor involvement with the events of April, 1865, yet many have fascinating personal stories all their own. In his speech, Dave will highlight some of these extra characters and talk about their hidden histories.

Speech: “Beware the People Whistling”
Speaker: Kate Ramirez
Description: As the evening’s entertainment for the Surratt Society’s annual Lincoln assassination conference, Kate will perform her one woman show depicting Mary Surratt as she reflects on her life and choices in the hours leading up to her execution.

Cost: Dave and Kate’s speeches are two of the seven that will be presented at the annual Surratt Society Lincoln Assassination Conference on the weekend of March 31st – April 2nd. The day of speakers is on Saturday, April 1st. The cost of the full conference is $200. The event is always worth the cost and filled with fascinating discussions about so many aspects of the Lincoln assassination story. Other speakers this year include, Dr. Blaine Houmes, Karen Needles, Burrus Carnahan, Scott Schroeder, and William “Wild Bill” Richter. Please visit: http://www.surrattmuseum.org/annual-conference for full details and registration information.


Date: Friday, April 7, 2017
Location: Port Tobacco Courthouse (8430 Commerce St., Port Tobacco, MD 20735)
Time: 6:00 pm
Speech: A Conversation with George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt
Speaker: Kate Ramirez Description: Join Kate Ramirez and Mike Callahan as they portray conspirators Mary Surratt and George Atzerodt and discuss their involvement in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Cost: Free. Donations to the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco appreciated.


Date: Saturday, April 8, 2017
Location: Surratt House Museum (9118 Brandywine Road, Clinton, MD 20735)
Time: 7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Speech: John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Bus Tour
Speaker: Dave Taylor Description: Dave is one of the narrators for the Surratt Society’s John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Tour. The 12 hour bus tour documents the escape of the assassin through Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. While Dave will only be narrating the April 8th tour, there are other tours set for April 15th and 22nd. Please call the Surratt House Museum to see if there is any availability left on these tours. If they are booked up, Dave and the other guides will also be conducting tours in the fall.
Cost: $85. Information can be found at: http://www.surrattmuseum.org/booth-escape-tour


Date: Saturday, April 22, 2017
Location: Port Royal, Virginia
Times: 11:00 am – 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Speech: John Wilkes Booth in Port Royal Walking Tour
Speaker: Dave Taylor and Kate Ramirez Description: Dave and Kate will conduct walking tours of Port Royal, giving the history of some of the landmarks connected with the escape of the assassin. Interested participants should park and meet at the Port Royal Museum of Medicine (419 Kings St., Port Royal, VA 22535). The entire tour is about one mile of walking. At the end, participants will be instructed to drive across 301 to the Port Royal Museum of American History (506 Main St., Port Royal, VA 22535) where they can view artifacts relating to John Wilkes Booth and enjoy some light refreshments.
Cost: The suggested donation for the tour is $10 per person and all proceeds benefit Historic Port Royal’s museums.


Date: Sunday, April 23, 2017
Location: Rich Hill Farm (Rich Hill Farm Rd, Bel Alton, MD 20611)
Time: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Speech: An Open House at Samuel Cox’s Rich Hill
Speaker: Dave Taylor and Kate Ramirez Description: Come out and see the progress that has been done on the restoration of Rich Hill, one of the stops on John Wilkes Booth’s escape. Dave and Kate will both be there in costume to give talks and answer questions about the house and its history.
Cost: Free, but donations encouraged in order to facilitate the restoration of the home.

Also on Sunday, April 23, 2017

Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: John Wilkes Booth and Tudor Hall
Speaker: Jim Garrett Description: Lincoln assassination author and speaker, Jim Garrett, will be presenting about John Wilkes Booth at the Booth family home of Tudor Hall. Since Kate and Dave will be at Rich Hill all day, they’d really appreciate if someone could go and heckle Jim on their behalf.
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Saturday, May 6, 2017
Location: Grant Hall (Fort Lesley J. McNair, 1601 2nd St. SW, Washington, DC 20024)
Time: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Speech: Grant Hall Open House
Speaker: Kate Ramirez and Betty Ownsbey Description: Once a quarter, Fort Lesley J. McNair opens up the third floor of Grant Hall, the site of the trial of the Lincoln conspirators, to the public. Visitors can see the restored courtroom, the site of the conspirators execution, and different artifacts relating to the assassination and the 2010 movie, The Conspirator. Historian Betty Ownsbey is usually present to tell the history of the assassination and trial while Kate will be there in the persona of Mary Surratt to share her story with visitors.
Cost: Free, but registration is required for entry into the military base. When registration opens a link will be supplied.


Date: Sunday, May 7, 2017
Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: Junius Brutus Booth, Jr.: The Eldest Brother of John Wilkes Booth
Speaker: Dave Taylor Description: While born almost a generation apart, June Booth was very close to his younger brother, John Wilkes. June paved the path that most of the Booth brothers would walk when he became an actor in defiance of his father’s wishes. In his speech, Dave will discuss the life of Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., pointing out the ways in which he replicated his father and how he reacted to the news that his brother had killed Abraham Lincoln. More information can be found at: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2016/11/make-plans-to-visit-tudor-hall-in-2017_7.html
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Saturday, May 13, 2017
Location: The Historical Society of Harford County (143 N. Main Street, Bel Air, MD 21014)
Time: 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm (doors open at noon)
Speech: Lincoln’s Final Hours and the Hunt for John Wilkes Booth
Speakers: Kathy Canavan & John Howard Description: The Junius B. Booth Society (JBBS) and the Historical Society of Harford County (HSHC) are holding an intriguing, one-of-a kind fundraising event titled Lincoln’s Final Hours and the Hunt for John Wilkes Booth featuring author/historian Kathryn Canavan and Lincoln assassination historian John Howard. Kathy will speak about her book, Lincoln’s Final Hours.  John, as one of the narrators for the John Wilkes Booth escape route tours, will give an overview of Booth’s escape. All proceeds from this fundraiser will be split between JBBS and HSHC. All proceeds to JBBS will be used for the Tudor Hall museum (childhood home of the Booth family including Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth). Seating is limited to 100 people, so reserve your seats now. Drinks and snacks will be provided. Following the closing remarks, the first floor of Tudor Hall, the childhood home of John Wilkes Booth will be open to attendees till 5:30 PM. For more information, including biographies of the speakers, visit: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2017/02/lincolns-final-hours-hunt-for-john.html
Cost: $25.00 per person. Tickets can be purchased from: http://www.harfordhistory.org/events.php


Date: Sunday, June 4, 2017
Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: “A Long Look Backward”: From the Pen of Asia Booth
Speaker: Kate Ramirez Description: Asia Booth was the chronicler of the Booth family’s greatest triumphs and their most heart breaking failures. In her speech, Kate will look more into Asia Booth and her myriad of writings. More information can be found at: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2016/11/make-plans-to-visit-tudor-hall-in-2017_7.html
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Sunday, June 25, 2017
Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: Junius Brutus Booth and Tudor Hall
Speaker: Jim Garrett Description: Jim Garrett returns to Tudor Hall with his presentation about the patriach of the Booth family, Junius Brutus Booth. More information can be found at: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2016/11/make-plans-to-visit-tudor-hall-in-2017_7.html
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Location: The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (112 N 6th St, Springfield, IL 62701)
Time: 5:30 pm
Speech: “You know best, Captain”: The Executed Conspirators in Lincoln’s Assassination
Speaker: Dave Taylor
Description: On April 26, 1865, the manhunt for the murderer of President Abraham Lincoln came to fiery end when John Wilkes Booth, trapped in a burning tobacco barn in Virginia, was shot and killed after refusing to surrender. With the assassin dead, attention turned to his group of co-conspirators. Nine individuals would eventually be put on trial for their involvement in Lincoln’s assassination, with four paying the ultimate price. In this speech, Dave will delve into the lives and actions of the four conspirators who helped plot the death of Abraham Lincoln and then followed him to the grave.
Cost: This speech is a private event for the museum’s volunteers but, if you are interested in attending, please email Dave.


You also might see us out and about in costume. Kate is a docent for the Dr. Samuel Mudd House Museum and can be found giving tours there on a regular basis. In addition to the scheduled bus tours, I can sometimes be seen giving escape route tours for private groups. If you have a private group or organization that is interested in booking your own escape route tour, you can contact the Surratt House Museum to make arrangements and can request me as your tour guide.

A condensed version of our upcoming speaking engagements can always be found on the sidebar menu for desktop users and near the bottom of the page for mobile users. Kate and I hope to see you out in the real world and we thank you all for your support.

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grave Thursday: General Lew Wallace

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.


General Lewis Wallace

Gen Lew Wallace NARA

Burial Location: Oak Hill Cemetery, Crawfordsville, Indiana

Lew Wallace Grave 1

Lew Wallace Grave 2

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On February 15, 1905, Major General Lew Wallace died at his home in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The late general had been many things during his lifetime: soldier, lawyer, governor, diplomat, inventor, and artist. Today, however, he is most likely known for his work as an author and especially for his acclaimed novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ. There have been several books written about Lew Wallace and his study in Crawfordsville is a wonderful museum about his life and legacy.

I previously visited the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in 2014 and posted about this fascinating place. As I noted then, Wallace’s name is most known to assassination researchers due to his being assigned as one of the nine military commissioners that presided over the trial of the conspirators. During the lengthy trial proceedings, Wallace took the time to sketch the accused conspirators and later used these drawings to compose a painting of Booth and his accomplices which is now on display in his Crawfordsville study:

The Conspirators in the Lew Wallace Study Labeled

During the conspiracy trial proceedings Wallace kept fairly quiet, but he did pipe up from time to time. He was one of the first to defend Senator Reverdy Johnson, a defense lawyer for Mrs. Surratt who was accused by another of the commission members as being ill suited to appear before the court because he represented a secretly treasonous state during the war, Maryland. Wallace asked that Johnson be allowed to explain himself and wanted him to be able to do so in open session. The complaint against Johnson was dropped and he would be approved by the court. After a few days of service however, Johnson would relieve himself from the proceedings, leaving Mrs. Surratt’s defense to Frederick Aiken and John Clampitt.

Lew Wallace was also responsible for the first instance of “dress up” for conspirator Lewis Powell. During the testimony of George Robinson, the army nurse who had grappled with Powell during the latter’s attack on Secretary of State William Seward, Wallace asked for the prisoner to rise. Wallace then had the guard who had been sitting next to Powell place the hat that had been found at the Secretary’s home on the head of the prisoner to see if it fit. According to the newspapers, “Payne here stood up in the dock and the hat was placed on his head for purpose of identification. As this was done Payne smiled with a sort of grimace at the sort of figure he was making.” Wallace then asked the guard, “Does it fit pretty loose, or pretty tight?” The orderly replied that the hat was, “Pretty tight”. Later on during that day’s testimony, Lewis Powell would exhibit more of the clothes he had worn when he attacked Seward.

In June of 1865, during the final days of the conspiracy trial, Wallace wrote to his wife about his growing impatience and predictions about the outcome:

“The trial is not yet over: but I say to myself, certainly it can’t endure beyond this week, and do all I can to be patient. Judge Bingham, on the side of the government, speaks tomorrow, and then the Com. votes ‘guilty or not guilty.’ I have passed a few words with my associate members, and think we can agree in a couple of hours at farthest. Three, if not four, of the eight will be acquitted that is, they would be, if we voted today. What effect Bingham will have remains to be see.”

Wallace’s assumption that “three, if not four, of the eight” conspirators would be acquitted is an interesting one. The case against Edman Spangler was the prosecution’s weakest which would account for at least one acquittal in Wallace’s mind. The other questionable cases to Wallace were likely those of Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, and Dr. Mudd. General Wallace was one of four commission members who did not sign the clemency plea on behalf of Mary Surratt, likely demonstrating his belief that Mrs. Surratt was guilty. In the end, however, Wallace’s belief of three or four acquittal’s did not prove to be accurate since all eight of the conspirators were found guilty.

Lew Wallace near the end of his life

Lew Wallace, in his study, near the end of his life

To learn more about General Lew Wallace, a man who led an illustrious life outside of his brief connections to the Lincoln assassination story, I highly suggest a visit to the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The museum has a great website and is also very active on social media like Twitter and Facebook. Wallace’s final resting place in Oak Hill Cemetery is only a short drive from the museum. His obelisk, seemingly the tallest in the cemetery, is capped with the carved shape of a draped American flag, a fitting tribute to a lifetime of service to his country.

Lew Wallace Grave 3

GPS coordinates for Lew Wallace’s grave: 40.056945, -86.914723

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

A John Wilkes Booth Poem

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and the many poems being shared today, here is a poem written by John Wilkes Booth in February of 1860.

john-wilkes-booths-poem-to-mary-white-2-18-1860-alplm

This poem by Booth is an acrostic poem and as such the beginning letter in each line spells out the names of the poem’s recipient and author. Here is a transcript of the poem including Booth’s incorrect spelling of the words distressed and despair.

Miss White

May all good angels guard & bless thee.
And from thy heart remove all care.
Remember you should ne’re distrest be.
Youth & hope, can crush dispare.
+
Joy can be found, by all, who seek it.
Only be, right, the path, we move upon
Heaven has marked it; Find & keep it
Ne’re forget the wish of – John.

Richmond Feb 18th 1860

He who will ever be your friend

J. Wilkes Booth

Booth wrote this poem as he was learning the acting trade in Richmond’s Marshall Theatre. The date of this poem places it just a couple of months after Booth had returned from his soldiering. For two weeks in late November and early December Booth had stood guard at the imprisonment and execution of abolitionist John Brown. When he returned to his theatrical company only the pleas of his friends allowed him to rejoin the troupe after his impromptu departure. At this point he was still being billed, when his minor part warranted any sort of billing that is, as Mr. J. B. Wilkes.

j-b-wilkes-in-romeo-juliet-1860

The recipient of this poem was a woman by the name of Mary C. White. Little is known about her. Booth’s poem is located in a “Forget Me Not” autograph album that is inscribed with Ms. White’s name and the words “Richmond, Va. December 10 1859”. In addition to the poem by Booth, there are also other farewell like notes from W. H Caskie (a Richmond native who would later join the Confederacy), George Wren (a fellow actor in Booth’s troupe), two poems signed under the aliases of Fido and Junius (not Booth’s brother), and Samuel Knapp Chester (another troupe member and a man Booth would try to recruit into his abduction plot against Lincoln in the future).

In their book, “Right or Wrong, God Judge Me”: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, editors John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper suggest that Mary C. White might be a fellow actress. They cite an entry in T. Allston Brown’s History of the American Stage, which is essentially an early encyclopedia of actors and actresses, for a Mary Ann White “attached to the Richmond, Va. Theatre for some time” who “died 1860, in that city, June 20”. Rhodehamel and Taper point out that there are no other poems or farewells in the album past June of 1860, which might coincide with the owner’s death. I have been unable to find a record of a Ms. White in the theater troupe, but, if she was young, as many of the poems about her allude to, she may have played only minor roles in which she would receive no mention in the papers. I’m not 100% convinced Ms. White was an actress, but without more information, it’s as good a guess as any.

The album containing Booth’s signature is in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Kate and I were fortunate enough to see it in person after my talk to the ALPLM’s volunteers last summer. The ALPLM has digitized this poem and many other Booth related items they acquired from the collection of Louise Taper. You can see more of their digitized items here.

References:
The Taper Collection at the ALPLM
“Right or Wrong, God Judge Me”: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Honor, God, and Reward Money: A New Boston Corbett Letter

You’d be amazed what you can turn up nowadays with a just Google search and a friendly inquiry. A few weeks ago I was working on the Maps page of BoothieBarn looking for more sites around the country that have a connection to the Lincoln assassination. While most of the time I’m looking for the graves of certain individuals involved in the story, for some reason I decided to change my method and focus on an certain city and see what I could turn up by Googling. For no reason in particular, I chose Omaha, Nebraska as a place to search for folks connected to the assassination. I happily discovered that Omaha is the final resting place of Pvt. Augutus Lockner, a Union soldier who was saved by conspirator Lewis Powell in December of 1864. If you want to read more about that fascinating story, pick up the second edition of Betty Ownsbey’s book, Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy.

KENT SIEVERS/THE WORLD-HERALDI also stumbled across an article from the Omaha World-Herald in which the newspaper went behind the scenes of The Durham Museum to see some of the objects in the museum’s large and varied Byron Reed collection. One of the items mentioned in the article was a playbill from Edwin Booth’s namesake theater (pictured).

After tweeting out the image of the playbill, both myself and Carolyn Mitchell from Tudor Hall, the home of the Booth family, sent a message asking The Durham Museum if they had any other artifacts connected to the Booths or the assassination. The collection’s manager graciously searched their archives and found four other playbills for Booth’s Theatre and two 1865 newspapers announcing the news of Lincoln’s death.

The collections manager also informed us that the Byron Reed collection contained a letter written by the avenger of Lincoln himself, Sergeant Boston Corbett. She kindly photographed the letter and sent the images to us. I then contacted Steve Miller, a fellow assassination researcher and the foremost expert on Boston Corbett. I was happily surprised to find that this letter was a new discovery for him and that he had not yet come across it during his years of research. Working together, Steve and I were able to produce a transcript of the letter which had been somewhat damaged with age.

Corbett wrote the letter to his former commanding officer, the then Lieutenant of the 16th New York Cavalry that tracked down John Wilkes Booth and David Herold, Edward P. Doherty. Writing on December 1, 1866, Corbett is responding to Doherty’s request for an affidavit relating to his role in the capture of Booth. Before sharing the letter, however, some historical context is needed.


On July 26, 1866, Representative Giles Hotchkiss of New York presented to the House of Representatives the findings of the Committee of Claims in reference to the reward money. Prior to this, the War Department had presented Congress with their recommendations of how to divide up the money. Mr. Hotchkiss’ committee took the War Department’s advice when it came to the division of monies for the capture of Jefferson Davis and only made a few changes to the War Department’s allotment for reward money for the arrests of George Atzerodt, Lewis Powell, and Mary Surratt. However when it came to the reward money for capture of Booth and Herold, there was much debate. Rep. Hotchkiss’ committee put forth a bill recommending that Gen. Lafayette Baker, the head of the National Detective Police who sent detectives Everton Conger and Luther Baker with Doherty and the 16th New York into Virginia, receive $17,500 in reward money. Detective Conger was also to receive $17,500. Luther Baker would get $5,000, Lieutenant Doherty would receive $2,500, and Corbett and the rest of the 16th NY would each get $1,000. This allotment did not sit well will some of the other members of the House. Several felt it unfair for Gen. Baker to receive such a lion’s share of the reward money when he was not even present at Booth’s capture. Rep. Hotchkiss replied that Gen. Baker had been the mastermind of the entire manhunt and therefore desired the highest amount, with Conger receiving the same amount since he was in charge of the group that captured Booth. This point about Conger being in charge was disputed by Lieut. Doherty who had produced papers to counter the claim. However, within the House of Representatives there was great sympathy for Everton Conger since he was a veteran who had been wounded earlier in the war.

Representative Giles Hotchkiss of New York circa 1865

Representative Giles Hotchkiss of New York circa 1865

As the debate over amounts continued, Hotchkiss seemed to become angry with his fellow lawmakers. One of the other congressmen tactlessly pressed Hotchkiss to provide more money for one of his constituents who aided in the manhunt, noting how he had presented this claim to Hotchkiss personally and was disappointed to see how little had been allotted. This exasperated Hotchkiss, leading him to express that this whole matter had been trouble from the start. Hotchkiss said he had consulted the mountains of reward claims that had been submitted to the War Department in an effort to divvy up the money as best as he could, noting that there was no protocol for him to follow. He did not like the insinuation that he was playing favorites, noting that neither Gen. Baker or the other claimants were friends of his and that he was merely doing, “the duty I was called upon to perform”.

In attempting to show his impartiality, an angry Hotchkiss decided to make a point using Lieut. Doherty:

“During this session a telegram has been shown me from Lieutenant Doherty, saying that there was a great fraud being perpetrated here, and he wanted the American Congress to stop the wheels of legislation and wait until he could be here. Lieutenant Doherty has been here pretty much all winter, and has been before me time and time again in regard to this matter. I have had rolls of documents from him, and I wish to avoid saying anything about him. But now, since he has had the impudence to come here and charge a man who has been engaged in the honest discharge of his duty, without fear or favor, one who is a stranger to all these men, who does not care personally whether they get a cent, and since gentlemen have shown the want of confidence in the committee to make the remarks they have, I feel constrained to say that I believe Lieutenant Doherty was a downright coward in this expedition.

From all the evidence, I believe that while these five men where guarding that tobacco-house where these prisoners were secreted, and while Lieutenant Colonel Conger was endeavoring to get a guard around the building, Doherty stayed under a shed, and no power could drive him out of it. And now he comes in and claims that he did the whole. Such is the evidence in the case, as it has been presented. If there is anything to contradict it, let it be brought in.”

Hotchkiss then points out that despite his strong belief that Lt. Doherty was an coward who deserved no portion of the reward money, the committee still allotted him some funds “in deference in part to popular clamour”.

Hotchkiss also spoke harshly of Boston Corbett. He said the evidence he saw supported the idea that Corbett defied orders by leaving his assigned post, made his way close to the barn where he was not supposed to be, and then shot Booth who was attempting to surrender himself. He described Corbett as, “an insane man” at the shooting of Booth. “I am told that Corbett has since died in a lunatic asylum, and he was then evidently an insane man. Yet he is given the same sum as the other soldiers receive. For a two days’ ride I think that is an ample compensation.”

While Hotchkiss provided a defense of the committee’s reasoning for their proposed reward allotments, he didn’t feel it worth a prolonged fight. After an hour of debate, Hotchkiss was tired of the insinuations from his colleagues and just wanted the whole mess to be over. Another representative had put forth an amendment to his bill, changing the amounts provided for Booth and Herold’s capture and, in the end, Hotchkiss did not fight it and the amended bill was approved. “When you cannot do as you would, you must do as you must,” Hotchkiss stated.

The amended bill still gave Everton Conger the largest share of reward money at $15,000, a decrease from Hotchkiss’ $17,500. General Lafayette Baker dropped way down from $17,500 to $3,750. Luther Baker fell from $5,000 to $3,000. Ironically, it was Lt. Doherty, Boston Corbett, and the rest of the soldiers who benefited the most from this amended bill. Doherty’s reward money went from $2,500 in Hotchkiss’ bill to $5,250 in the amended version. Corbett and all the other soldiers also got pay increases from $1,000 to $1,653.84 each. In the end, it would be these amounts that would be passed in the Senate and given out.

Lieutenant Doherty's reward money

Lieutenant Doherty’s reward money

While Doherty ended up receiving a good deal of money, when he learned of what Giles Hotchkiss had said about him on the floor of the House of Representatives, remarks that were carried in newspapers around the country, he became very offended at the attack on his honor. On August 1st, while stationed in South Carolina, Doherty sent off a letter to the New York Herald promising a rebuttal to Hotchkiss’ lies.

“I cannot remain quiet under such charges affecting my character as a soldier, and my conduct as an officer, coming from such a quarter. In the course of a short time I shall place before the people of the United States such evidence as will convince them that the charges made by the honorable member are untrue. The language used by the member from New York, did not come to my notice until after the adjournment of Congress, and when I no longer had an opportunity of vindicating myself before that body.

Chance has connected my name with a great historical event; and I simply desire that the army with whom I served, and the people for whom I fought, should know that in the performance of my duty I was not a laggard and a coward.

Edward P. Doherty
Second Lieutenant Fifth Cavalry, U. S. Army”

Doherty quickly sent off a letter to Boston Corbett, a man he knew would support him and could help tell the real story of what happened at the Garrett farm. Corbett was still a bit of a hero for slaying Booth and Doherty was hoping he could depend on Corbett to publicly refute Hotchkiss since he, too, had been a victim of the Congressman’s lies. The very much alive and not (quite) insane former sergeant responded just as Doherty had hoped. He wrote a letter back to Doherty in South Carolina on August 6, 1866. Doherty then had the text of the letter was published in the New York Citizen on August 25th:

“God bless you, my dear sir; the slander and lie that was told by Mr. Hotchkiss, in Congress, about you, makes me love you more than ever. And I do not believe that such a wicked lie and such a malicious slander will be allowed to go altogether unpunished, or to have the effect on the public mind that was intended. I do not doubt, though, that it did have the effect desired in Congress; and I do truly believe that it was told and used there for the express purpose of getting the largest share of the reward for the Detectives, and getting the military into disgrace, and consequently the small apportionment that was made to us.

I do without hesitation pronounce the assertion that you was under a shed, and that the Detective could not force you out, to be a wicked lie. For I well know that you not only commanded the party, but commanded it well; and at the time that the house and barn of Mr. Garrett was surrounded, it was done by your orders; and that you took the leading part in all that was done there, as also in the whole expedition.

I am aware, also, that you placed me next in command to yourself before leaving Washington, giving me charge as acting orderly sergeant, and had you been killed I should myself have been in command of the party, and not the Detective. I am also aware of the fact that when you got track of the assassins, you had to send men after the Detective (Conger), who was off in another direction at the time.

Boston Corbett and Edward Doherty

Boston Corbett and Edward Doherty

The injury that has been done us by giving us a small share, instead of the principal share of the rewards, cannot now be remedied, since it has passed Congress in that way. But be assured, dear sir, that I stand ready to give a certificate at any time, properly attested if needs be, that I have ever known you to be a brave and efficient officer, and never in my life saw any act on your part that indicated cowardice in the least degree.

I always liked to go on a scout with you, because I knew you to go forward in the work, and a true officer and soldier, having the welfare of your command always in view, and losing no opportunity of doing good service for your country.

With kindest regards and earnest prayers for your welfare, and that you may outlive all such wicked slanders, I remain, as ever

Boston Corbett”

As grateful as Doherty must have been for Corbett to come to his aid, Hotchkiss’ slanderous remarks apparently continued to gnaw at the lieutenant. Over three months later, on November 26th, Doherty wrote another letter to Corbett seemingly asking the late sergeant to write out a more thorough or perhaps notarized affidavit regarding Doherty’s services in apprehending Booth. It is Boston Corbett’s letter to Doherty’s second communique, months after the Hotchkiss affair, that is housed in The Durham Museum in Omaha.


Even though Corbett had written in August of 1866 that he stood ready, “to give a certificate at any time, properly attested if needs be,” regarding Doherty’s actions and character, in this response to his former commander in December of 1866, it appears that Corbett is trying to get Doherty to put the whole incident aside.

boston-corbett-1866-letter-to-doherty-durham-1

91 Attorney St
New York
Dec 1st 1866

Lieut E. P. Doherty

Dear Sir

Your letter of Nov 26th reached me yesterday. And as I was not sure by the heading of it wether [sic] it meant South Carolina, or Lower Canada; I concluded to write to you for the Address in full; And also to suggest that it might be best to drop the whole matter; And let it end as it is.

For my own part as a Christian I freely forgive Mr. Hotchkiss for the injury that he has done; And so would rather let end thus. But if you still insist upon the Affidavit being made to clear your character, I feel that I owe it to you to do it. And so would not further refuse.

But while I sincerely desire to see your Character Vindicated: how much rather would I see your soul saved, And you brought to love and serve God with all your heart. I expect you think it very strange that I appear so indifferent to that which is a point of honor; but the secret of it all is this the Christian knows that the time will soon come when the secrets of all hearts will be made bare in the judgement And he feels that he can well afford to be hid about here.  So that he stands justified there. This with me is the only cause of reluctance to make the Affidavit, which I believe I can do with a clear conscience if you think best after reading this.

If you have written me lately before; the letter never reached me, for the only letter that I have got from you before this since you have been in the Service again; was dated Sumter, S.C. August 1st. Which I promptly answered

Will you please inform me if you have taken any steps to get the Local Rewards collected. When I was in Washington to get the Amount that Congress Awarded me, I went to Johnson, Brown & Co, at the Intelligencer Building and put my interest in their [sic] hands to collect for me. They advised me to consult with you, which I fully intended doing before, but rather expected to hear from you. They have written to the Pennsylvania Govt. and received Answer by Official Document which I have. That this Reward was on condition that Booth be taken in the State.

With kindest regards Boston Corbett

boston-corbett-1866-letter-to-doherty-durham-signature

Please direct to 91 Attorney St. Mr. Peck is out of Business now and no longer holds the store where I was working.

Boston Corbett was a deeply devoted Christian almost to the point of being a zealot (the man castrated himself in order to avoid the temptations of the flesh, after all). While his preaching helped to bring hope to his fellow prisoners at the Andersonville prisoner of war camp during the war, I highly doubt Lieut. Doherty was pleased to find that Corbett had responded to his request for help with a lesson on Christian forgiveness.

After side-stepping the issue of Hotchkiss with his talk of saving Doherty’s soul, Corbett then went into a topic he knew would be of mutual interest to them both: more reward money. While both of them had received their share of the reward money offered by the federal government, Corbett mentioned his attempt to procure some of the smaller rewards that certain states and cities were offering after the assassination of Lincoln. He apparently made application in Pennsylvania for a reward they had offered, only to learn that the reward was contingent on the fact that Booth was actually found in Pennsylvania.

Coincidentally, Doherty was pursuing the same type of course with a reward that had been offered in D.C.. It’s possible that Doherty’s renewed desire to get an affidavit from Corbett was not just to seek vindication against Hotchkiss, but was designed to strengthen his bid for this local reward.  Doherty certainly did not want to be maligned again as he sought a portion of the $20,000 the city of Washington had offered. This is especially true since most of the major players from the federal rewards case sought out their own share of the D.C. rewards as well.

For the D.C. money, Doherty was once again up against General Baker, Everton Conger, and Luther Baker. But the other claimants quickly grew as the case went through the courts. Washington was not as willing to pay out their reward and so the legal process lasted years. Lieutenant Doherty had submitted his claim in November of 1866, and by September of 1870, the case was still unresolved. By that time the number of claimants had swelled to 39, and rather than fighting with each other over who should get what amount, they were all working together to force D.C. to pay out the money they had promised. In the end, however, their case was dismissed when the judge determined that the city of Washington, funded by Congress, never had the authority to offer the $20,000 reward in the first place. The only legitimate reward the claimants could have hoped for in the city of Washington was the federal one which had been paid out in 1866.


This letter by Boston Corbett provides a new look into the unique mind of the man who avenged Abraham Lincoln. It is also a great artifact for teaching about the drama and intrigue that was involved in the avengers’ quest for reward money. I’m thankful to The Durham Museum for sharing it with us. It never hurts to ask a museum what they might have hiding in their collections. As shown from this letter, the results can be pretty interesting.

boston-corbett-cdv-boothiebarn

References:
The Byron Reed collection at The Durham Museum
Steven G. Miller
The Congressional Globe: Containing the Debates and Proceedings of First Session of the 39th Congress
The Lincoln Archives Digital Project
Genealogybank.com
The Omaha World-Herald

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Murderer: John Wilkes Booth and the Plot Against Lincoln” at the ALPLM

Almost a year ago, I was contacted by representatives from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Though I was right in the middle of setting up my classroom for a new school year (at a brand new school, and grade, actually), I dropped everything to take the call from employees of such an esteemed institution. As part of their volunteer educational programming, the ALPLM asked me if I would be willing to come to Springfield in the upcoming year and give a talk about the assassin of President Lincoln. I suppose it is not difficult to ascertain what my response was. After a few victory laps around my minefield of classroom, I settled in for the long wait until summer.

Dave Taylor at the ALPLM 6-29-2016

Less than a month ago, on June 29, I was humbled to present my speech, “The Murderer: John Wilkes Booth and the Plot Against Lincoln” for the wonderful folks at the ALPLM. The museum was kind enough to record my presentation and put it on YouTube, and so I have embedded the video below. It misses some of the fancy animations I included in my PowerPoint but is of far better quality than I could have ever done. The video below includes the lively question and answer session that followed the speech where we cover several other Lincoln assassination topics beyond John Wilkes Booth.

In addition to the speech, Kate and I spent our time in Springfield visiting the Lincoln sites and viewing several of the ALPLM’s assassination related letters and artifacts. Altogether, the speech and visit to the ALPLM are among the highlights of my “career” as a “historian.” I would like to thank Jeremy Carrell, Barbara McKean, Samuel Wheeler, Dr. James Cornelius, David Grimm, and Chuck Hand for setting everything up and for their hospitality in, and around, the ALPLM.

It was truly an honor to speak at the ALPLM and, if you have the time, I hope you enjoy the speech below.

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