On the night of April 14, 1865 while watching the play Our American Cousin to try to relax as the Civil War wound down, famed actor John Wilkes Booth crept into the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC and fired his Derringer pistol into the back of Abraham Lincoln’s head. In the shock that followed Booth was allowed to escape, despite breaking his leg while escaping from the theater, and made his way out of the city by crossing over a guarded bridge before word of his deed reached the guard. The hunt was now on for our nation’s first presidential assassin.
Booth made his way south through Maryland receiving assistance along the way at Mary Surrat’s Tavern, where he picked up supplies, and from Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set his broken leg. He and one of his accomplices, David Herold (who was tasked with killing Secretary of State William Seward but had failed), hid in the woods until it was safe to cross the Potomac and arrive in what they believed to be friendly territory in Virginia. The pair waited five days to cross, arriving in Virginia on April 22 and continued south. They were not met as heroes as they expected but were given food and were told to move on. After coming across some paroled Confederate soldiers near Bowling Green they were directed to the farm of Richard Garrett, where disguised as Confederate soldiers, they were given food and told they could sleep in the tobacco barn. Garrett was unaware of the assassination.
On the pair’s heels was Federal cavalry. After interrogating the paroled soldiers they were directed to the Garrett residence and on the morning of April 26 part of the 16th New York Cavalry arrived at the farm and quickly found Booth and Herold. Herold tried to flee, proclaiming his innocence and was immediately arrested. Booth remained in the barn with a carbine while the detachment’s commander, Lieutenant Edward Doherty, tried to negotiate with him to surrender. In order to speed up negotiations Doherty ordered the barn to be lit on fire. As Booth began running toward the door a soldier named Boston Corbett fired a shot and hit Booth in the back of the head paralyzing him. Booth was dragged out of the burning barn and died as day broke on the steps of the Garrett’s porch. His last words as the former actor looked at his hands were “Useless, useless.”
Booth’s body was transported to Washington for autopsy and he is buried in an unmarked grave in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore in the family plot. Two of his other co-conspirators, Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen are buried nearby. Herold was one of eight conspirators that were tried and convicted by a military tribunal and was one of four conspirators that were hanged on July 7 at the Washington Arsenal (today’s Fort McNair). The remains of the Garrett farm were for the most part destroyed when US 301 was constructed through Caroline County and Fort A.P. Hill but the site can be visited if you know where to look though the public is not allowed to see much and if caught trespassing a $100,000 fine could be in order. If anyone is interested a YouTube video from a few years ago can take a visitor back to the site.