- Historic Sites
End Of A Manhunt
Who was the dark-haired stranger with the limp?
June 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 4
The soldiers made fires of brush and rails at some little distance from the building and gathered about these fires to warm themselves while the officers parleyed with the men inside. This gave the men in the barn an immense advantage had they wished to defend themselves as they could plainly see the soldiers’ every movement, while they themselves could not be seen.
When the officer in charge called upon them to surrender, the man we knew only as Boyd replied, “We don’t know who you are, whether friends or foes. Perhaps you are our friends and if so there is no need for us to surrender.” The reply was, “We won’t stop to argue that, come out and see who we are.” Again the appeal was made, “Tell us whether you are Confederate or Federal soldiers.” But no satisfaction was received on this point. At last Boyd said, “Captain, there is a man in here who wants to surrender, but I never will.” “Let him hand out his arms then,” was the reply. “He has no arms, they are all mine,” said Boyd.
Herold [had] brought with him a Henry repeating carbine which carried sixteen shots. He had also a navy revolver which gave Booth three pistols and the carbine when Herold surrendered.
“Let him put his hands through the door,” said the Captain. The door was opened about six inches, a file of men stood behind it with cocked revolvers and when Herold thrust out his hands he was quickly handcuffed and dragged through the door.
The officers called my brother and commanded him to go into the barn and persuade [Booth] to surrender. My brother declined but was compelled at the point of a pistol to obey. He went but Booth refused to listen to him and repeated his determination not to be taken alive. My brother was then ordered to pile some dry brush against the side of the barn and the officers announced to Booth that they intended to burn the barn over him. He replied, “All right, I will not surrender.” Once he said, “Captain, 1 do not want to shed blood, I cotdd kill you now where you stand if I wanted to.” The Captain was then standing between the building and a fire the men had built. He moved.
At last finding their efforts to induce him to surrender vain, Col. Conger, the officer in command, went to a corner of the barn where a quantity of hay was stored, pulled a wisp of it through a crack and set it on fire. In an instant the fire blazed to the ceiling of the building. Conditions were changed. Now the men could see for the first time the man they were hunting, while they themselves were protected by the surrounding darkness. They pressed close to the building and looked through the cracks. It was a fearful picture. Framed in great waves of fire stood the crippled man leaning upon his crutches and holding his carbine in his hand. His hat had fallen off and his hair was brushed back from his white forehead. He was as beautiful as the statue of a Greek god and as calm in that awful hour.
At this moment the crack of a pistol was heard, and we who were watching saw him sink down where he stood. The fire was almost upon him. The soldiers still dared not enter the building. My brother no longer able to bear the sight threw open the door and running in dragged the dying man out of reach of the hungry flames. They carried him out and laid him on the grass but the heat was so intense that they brought him to the house and laid him on the gallery floor.
The men said he shot himself but too many were watching him at the time. It seems that strict orders had been given that he should be taken alive. Presently a sergeant, Boston Corbett, was found who said he had fired the fatal shot to save the life of his commander as Booth was just in the act of firing upon him. It was not true. He made no movement to fire upon anybody. [Corbett had a strange record: he was a religious fanatic and a self-made eunuch. Some historians believe that Booth did shoot himself: apparently neither his weapon nor Corbett’s was checked after the shooting.]
As Booth laid upon the grass near the burning barn, he said, “Captain, it is hard that this man’s property should be destroyed. He does not know who I am.” These words perhaps saved my father’s and brothers’ lives as a proclamation had been issued authorizing the hanging of anyone without trial found harboring the assassins of the President.
Booth never moved after he was shot. The bullet had passed through his neck in almost the exact spot where he had struck Lincoln. He was completely paralyzed from the neck down, but retained the power of speech. When [he was carried] to the house, a messenger was sent to Port Royal for Dr. Urquhart. My mother and sisters brought a mattress and pillows and made him as comfortable as possible. They bathed his face and dipping a sponge in brandy and water, gave it to him to suck as he was unable to swallow any nourishment in any other way. The Doctor came and as he knelt and examined the wound … [Booth] looked at the Doctor and said, “Useless! Useless!” He then called to the officer standing by him and said, “Tell my mother I died for my country, I did what I thought was best.”
From this time he sank rapidly and just as the sun was rising gave a long gasp and breathed no more.
Preparations were at once begun to take the body away. My mother brought water and carefully bathing the blood from his face and neck, she tied a handkerchief about the face. When her work was done, one of the curls on his brow had escaped from the bandage and my sister, with the consent of the officer, took a pair of scissors and clipped it off.