Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

John Wilkes Booth Character Analysis

One of America’s most famous and celebrated actors, John Wilkes Booth was a handsome, fashionable, well-mannered, and well-dressed man about town. He could win people over easily with his charm and good looks. He was also deeply invested in the Confederate cause and hated Abraham Lincoln and all he stood for. He first plotted in 1864 to kidnap the president in a plan to influence the outcome of the war. Depressed at the war’s end, Booth was thrilled when he learned that the president would be visiting Ford’s Theatre, a space he knew well. He contacted accomplices and set in motion a plot to kill the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state. Only Booth was successful, however, in killing his target. Injured in the escape from the theater, Booth hid in rural Maryland and Virginia with his trusted friend David Herold for twelve days before being discovered on the Garrett farm. He was shot dead by Sergeant Boston Corbett.

John Wilkes Booth Quotes in Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

The Chasing Lincoln’s Killer quotes below are all either spoken by John Wilkes Booth or refer to John Wilkes Booth. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scholastic Press edition of Chasing Lincoln’s Killer published in 2009.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Twenty-six years old, impossibly vain, an extremely talented actor, and a star member of a celebrated theatrical family, John Wilkes Booth was willing to throw away fame, wealth, and a promising future for the cause of the Confederacy. […] Handsome and appealing, he was instantly recognizable to thousands of fans in both the North and South. His physical beauty astonished all who saw him. A fellow actor described his eyes as being "like living jewels." Booth's passions included fine clothing, Southern honor, good manners, beautiful women, and the romance of lost causes.

Related Characters: John Wilkes Booth
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

The comic line spoken by Harry Hawk, "You sockdologizing old mantrap," was followed by an explosion of laughter from the audience. The black powder charge exploded and spit the bullet toward Lincoln’s head. The muzzle flash lighted the box for a moment like a miniature lightning bolt. Had Booth succeeded?

Related Characters: Harry Hawk (speaker), Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

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Booth scrambled to center stage, turned to the audience, and stood up straight. Though every second was precious to his escape, he knew that this was his last appearance on the American stage. This would be the performance he would be remembered for. All eyes were on him. He stood still, paused to build suspense, and thrust his bloody dagger victoriously into the air. The gas stage lights shone on the shiny blade now stained with blood. "Sic semper tyrannis!" he thundered. It was the state motto of Virginia: "Thus always to tyrants." Then Booth shouted, "The South is avenged!"

Related Characters: John Wilkes Booth (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

Traveling light had served him well in the first part of his escape, but left him unprepared for this unanticipated phase of his journey. He left Washington wearing the equivalent of a modern-day business suit, unsuitable for camping out. Without a change of clothing, his garments quickly became dirty, ruining a key element of Booth's trademark, winning style—his beautifully dressed, well-groomed appearance. He and Herold could not bathe or wash clothes and, unshaven, they looked and smelled worse each day. They looked like the fugitives they were. Their looks might even jeopardize their ability to receive a proper reception at the fine Virginia households they planned to call on across the river.

Related Characters: John Wilkes Booth, David Herold
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

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Whatever papers Booth read, they all condemned him for his heinous act. Even worse, Booth saw the beginning of a change in how Abraham Lincoln was viewed by America. Lincoln was transformed from a controversial and often unpopular war leader into a martyr and hero. Stories reported in the papers condemned Booth by name in the most unforgiving, vicious language.

Related Characters: Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Lewis Powell, Secretary of State William H. Seward
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

As Jones grabbed the stern of the boat and shoved it off, a grateful Booth thrust a fistful of Union greenbacks at Jones. Jones refused the gesture, saying that he had not helped him for money. Under protest, he agreed to accept just eighteen dollars, the price he had paid for the boat.

Related Characters: John Wilkes Booth, Thomas Jones
Related Symbols: Money
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

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While Booth and Herold tarried, the government pursued them with new energy. The evidence gathered at Mudd’s farm, plus alleged sightings of the fugitives southwest of his farm, suggested that the assassins were making for Virginia. They knew Booth was lame, on crutches. They knew he had shaven off his mustache. Horse-mounted couriers and telegraph wires were alive all day with instructions to troops to enlist the help of fishermen and others on the river to capture the fugitives.

Related Characters: John Wilkes Booth, David Herold
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

Young John Garrett, back from an errand at a neighboring farm, reported that the U.S. government was offering a $140,000 reward for Abraham Lincoln’s assassin. The family discussed the assassination with Booth, speculating on why the murderer did it. The actor, still masquerading as a Confederate soldier commented on his own crime and analyzed for the Garretts the motives of Lincoln’s killer!

Related Characters: Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, John Garrett
Related Symbols: Money
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

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He had already committed the most daring public murder in American history. Indeed, he had performed it, fully staged before an audience at Ford's Theatre. Tonight he would script his own end with a performance that equaled his triumph at Ford's.

Related Characters: John Wilkes Booth
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

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Booth decided it was better to die than be taken back to Washington to face justice. He did not wish to bear the spectacle of a trial that would put him on public display for the amusement of the press and curiosity seekers. Nor did he wish to endure the rituals of a hanging: being bound and blindfolded, parading past his own coffin and open grave, climbing the steps of the scaffold. The shameful death of a common criminal was not for him. It was far better to perish here.

Related Characters: John Wilkes Booth
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 13 Quotes

Another hunt, the one for reward money, began before Booth's corpse had even cooled. With Booth dead, and his chief accomplices under arrest, awaiting trial, it was time to cash in. Hundreds of manhunters rushed to claim a portion of the $100,000 reward offered by the War Department. Tipsters with the slightest connection to the twelve-day search for Lincoln's killer tried to get their piece of the reward.

Related Characters: Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth
Related Symbols: Money
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

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John Wilkes Booth Character Timeline in Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

The timeline below shows where the character John Wilkes Booth appears in Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Front Matter
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
...Swanson, the author, then adds a biographical note, explaining that his interest in John Wilkes Booth sprang from a gift his grandmother gave him for his tenth birthday: a picture of... (full context)
Prologue
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
...captured both the president and honored government leaders, but also the crowd, where John Wilkes Booth stood among many other citizens listening to the president’s address. At the moment Abraham Lincoln... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
On April 7, 1865, John Wilkes Booth drank in a saloon in New York City and complained to a friend that he... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
Booth returned to Washington on April 8, and learned that Robert E. Lee had surrendered with... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
Survival vs Principles Theme Icon
...was outlined in the darkness, and how easily he could have been shot. John Wilkes Booth was in the crowd. He threatened to kill Lincoln to his companion David Herold and... (full context)
Chapter 1
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Chapter 1 begins on Good Friday morning, April 14, 1865. Booth awoke and assumed the day would be another in a series of days that each... (full context)
Survival vs Principles Theme Icon
Booth came from a theatrical family, and had a bright and profitable future as a handsome... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
On April 14, after eating breakfast at the National Hotel where he was staying, Booth went to Ford’s Theatre to collect his mail. He found a letter waiting for him... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
Booth knew everything about the layout of Ford’s Theatre and how Lincoln would move through it... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
...and the theater borrowed flags to decorate the president’s box from the nearby treasury department. Booth saw one of the theater’s owners returning with the flags, confirming to him that the... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
Booth went to the Kirkwood House, the hotel where the new Vice President Andrew Johnson was... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
Booth made his final preparations. He selected a Deringer pistol that could be easily concealed as... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
Survival vs Principles Theme Icon
Back in Washington, Booth gathered the conspirators he had recruited to strike against the president. The year before, these... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
Booth himself had organized a plan to kidnap Lincoln in late 1864. He paid for things... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
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Now, on April 14, 1865, Booth called on George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell to help him murder Lincoln, Vice President Andrew... (full context)
Chapter 2
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
Booth likely watched from nearby as the Lincolns and their guests entered Ford’s Theatre. He went... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
Booth entered the vestibule that led to the box and got into position. He found a... (full context)
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
Survival vs Principles Theme Icon
No one heard Booth enter the box; the Lincolns and their guests watched the play. Booth squeezed the trigger,... (full context)
Survival vs Principles Theme Icon
...a man with a pale face, dressed in black, who sprang at him. Rathbone grabbed Booth’s coat, but Booth broke free, yelling “freedom!” and raising the knife in the air to... (full context)
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
Survival vs Principles Theme Icon
Booth swung his leg out of the box, but Rathbone grabbed him by the coattail. Tangled... (full context)
Chapter 4
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
...chase. Joseph Stewart, who was six foot five, jumped across the orchestra pit and chased Booth into the wings and out into the alley, where Booth found his waiting horse. Booth... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
Booth rode quickly through the streets of Washington, avoiding Pennsylvania Avenue where the crowds celebrated. He... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
At the river, Sergeant Silas T. Cobb told Booth that no one was supposed to cross the river after a 9 PM curfew, and... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
...in the audience tried to make sense of what had just happened. Confusion reigned as Booth made his escape. (full context)
Survival vs Principles Theme Icon
...but was relieved to be safe and outside of suspicion for any crime. He followed Booth’s path, convincing Sergeant Cobb and his guards to allow him to cross the river to... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
...the next two nights, he slept in a tree. Eventually he recalled a boardinghouse that Booth had mentioned. He thought he would be safe there if he could find it. (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
Booth was now across the river in Maryland, a state which had not seceded but was... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
Booth and Herold exchanged information. Herold knew nothing about Atzerodt’s mission, but he reported on how... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Booth and Herold rode through open country towards their safe house at Mary Surratt’s inn. They... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
Thirteen miles away, Booth and Herold arrived at the Surratts’ tavern. In 1864, after her husband’s loyalty to the... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
...witnesses from the Ford Theatre; they all testified to that the shooter was John Wilkes Booth. Stanton then sent telegrams throughout Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Bridges were to be guarded and... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
...manhunt began while Lincoln was still alive. The murder weapon was retrieved from Ford’s, and Booth’s belongings were searched. Detectives found a letter to Booth from someone named “Sam,” which described... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
Detectives who had heard about the connection between Booth and Mary Surratt went to her Washington boardinghouse in search of Booth and her son,... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
Booth and Herold reached an isolated farmhouse where Dr. Samuel Mudd lived. It was distant enough... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
Dr. Mudd now recognized Booth and set about to treat him. Booth’s leg had swelled, and his thigh-high boot could... (full context)
Chapter 6
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
Stanton was gathering clues. Based on the letter found in Booth’s hotel room, he believed that Booth had at least two co-conspirators named Sam and Mike... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
...intact and no rebel army had stormed the capital. Now Stanton’s focus was on capturing Booth and his co-conspirators before they made it into the Deep South, where they would find... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
...the Mudds over breakfast. He gave no hint that he was afraid or in danger. Booth ate breakfast in bed. (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
...the nearby town of Bryantown, where Herold hoped to find a buggy or carriage for Booth to ride in as they made their way South. Suddenly, Herold spotted Yankee cavalry. He... (full context)
Survival vs Principles Theme Icon
...But then someone blurted out the news: the president had been assassinated by John Wilkes Booth the preceding night! Mudd kept mum, not telling the detectives and soldiers milling about everywhere... (full context)
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Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
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Back at the farm, Booth and Herold decided to trust that Mudd would not betray them. They waited for his... (full context)
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Booth and Herold rode off, but despite Mudd’s directions they got lost. They ran into Oswell... (full context)
Chapter 7
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The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
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Booth and Herold arrived at Cox’s home in the wee hours of the morning. Although it... (full context)
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...what to do. The war, after all, was over. Jones decided he wanted to see Booth and Herold before he decided whether to risk his life again for the South. (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
...there. Jones told Herold that Cox had sent him, and Herold led Jones to where Booth was concealed deep in the undergrowth. Booth, his face twisted by the pain in his... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Samuel Mudd was worried. He did not want to turn Booth in, but he knew that other people had seen Booth at his farm and that... (full context)
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In Washington, the manhunters were frustrated that they had no leads on Booth, only information on his accomplices. They had evidence that Booth was the killer and that... (full context)
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
On Monday, April 17, Thomas Jones brought food and newspapers to where Booth and Herold hid in the thicket. He also carried corn with him; if he was... (full context)
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Booth, despite the worsening condition of his leg, was happy to finally read about himself in... (full context)
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...time to escape. They were outnumbered, Herold had never been in a battle before, and Booth was injured, so there was no way they could have fought if discovered. Lucky for... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
...two strangers. But George did not make that report until the next afternoon. Lucky for Booth and Mudd, Lieutenant Dana considered this lead old and irrelevant. He continued following other false... (full context)
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
In the thicket, Thomas Jones told Booth and Herold that it was too dangerous for him to carry horse feed when he... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Photographs of Confederate generals, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and John Wilkes Booth found in her boardinghouse proved that Mary Surratt was a Confederate sympathizer. But under questioning,... (full context)
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Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
...authorities arrested Michael O’Laughlen and Sam Arnold, who were mentioned in the letter found in Booth’s room and who had been involved in the earlier failed kidnapping plot. They also arrested... (full context)
Chapter 9
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
The Theatrical and The Real Theme Icon
In the woods, Booth and Herold looked like the dirty, hunted fugitives that they were. They had planned to... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
Survival vs Principles Theme Icon
Booth was also shocked and disappointed by the coverage of the assassination in the newspapers that... (full context)
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Booth found no sign of the letter he had entrusted to a friend to be delivered... (full context)
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...realized that his room at the Kirkwood would have been searched and his connection to Booth uncovered. Instead he had spent time at his cousin’s house in Maryland, unaware that he... (full context)
News, Information, and Misinformation Theme Icon
...central conspirators in captivity, Stanton issued a proclamation. He would pay $100,000 for Lincoln’s killers: Booth, Herold, and John Surratt. Posters with the men’s photographs and the amount of reward money... (full context)
Chapter 10
Planning, Conspiracy, and the Unexpected Theme Icon
...that the assassins were spotted in a different county. Jones brought the news directly to Booth and Herold, telling them it was now time to attempt the river crossing. Jones led... (full context)
Survival vs Principles Theme Icon
As Jones pushed the boat off, Booth tried to give him a handful of Union bills. Jones refused the money, saying he... (full context)
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Jones returned to his farm, reassured to think that Booth and Herold would soon be in Virginia. He would never see the two men again.... (full context)
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...stranger had worn a false beard. Mudd also revealed that he had met John Wilkes Booth before, the preceding fall. This admission made Mudd’s story sound less convincing to the investigators:... (full context)
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...when Thomas Jones told his story to a journalist, that the part he played in Booth’s escape would become known. (full context)
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Herold relished being on the move again as he rowed on the Potomac River. Booth checked the compass and saw that they were rowing the wrong direction. They had rowed... (full context)
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What Herold and Booth learned was not comforting. There were manhunters swarming the area. The reward offered by the... (full context)
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Government forces were closing in on the fugitives. The knowledge that Booth and Herold had left from Mudd’s farm helped the manhunters narrow their search. It was... (full context)
Chapter 11
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On the night of April 22, Booth and Herold finally made the river crossing and stepped foot on Virginia soil. Herold left... (full context)
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Booth and Herold rode to the house of Dr. Richard Stuart. Even though Mudd had sent... (full context)
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Expelled from Dr. Stuart’s, Booth and Herold sought help and a place to stay at a nearby house owned by... (full context)
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At that moment, Booth and Herold saw three soldiers. They got ready for a fight, but were soon reassured... (full context)
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In Virginia, Willie Jett brought Booth and Herold to the farm owned by Richard Garrett. He presented Booth as a wounded... (full context)
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...Doherty to report to Luther Byron Baker. Baker showed Doherty a freshly printed photograph of Booth and two other men. Colonel Baker would stay behind in Washington, but Edward Doherty, Luther... (full context)
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At the Garrett farm, Booth enjoyed a pleasant evening with the Garretts and slept in a proper bed. Herold rode... (full context)
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...quickly, with Everton Conger leading one column and Edward Doherty the other. It had taken Booth ten days to reach Port Conway from Washington. The cavalry, relying on fresh information transmitted... (full context)
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At Garrett’s farm, Booth spent a leisurely day with the Garrett family, who did not know his true identity.... (full context)
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On the Garretts’ porch, Booth spotted men on horses riding past the gate and panicked. This reaction alarmed Richard Garrett.... (full context)
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Booth told Herold he wanted to spend another night at the Garretts’. Herold thought this was... (full context)
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...PM on April 25, Ruggles and Bainbridge rode to Garrett’s farm with a warning for Booth: the Union cavalry had crossed the Rappahannock and would likely be there soon. Having delivered... (full context)
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...even more. He ordered them to leave, saying he would help them find transportation, but Booth and Herold said they would not leave until the next morning. That night’s dinner was... (full context)
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...harshly, trying to frighten him. Jett gave in: he agreed to show the soldiers where Booth and Herold were. (full context)
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...farm, the barking of dogs and the clanking metal sounds of the horse riders woke Booth. He and Herold tried to escape the barn and were stunned to find themselves locked... (full context)
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...head, demanding that he give up the assassin’s location. Reluctantly, Garrett told the manhunters that Booth and Herold were in the tobacco barn. Baker then ordered John Garrett to enter the... (full context)
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Baker unlocked the barn door and pushed John Garrett inside. Garrett told Booth that he was caught and should give himself up. Booth damned Garrett for betraying him... (full context)
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Booth spoke to the manhunters, buying time and refusing to leave the barn. Herold, on the... (full context)
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Booth knew that this moment would go down in history. He was keen to script the... (full context)
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Baker and Conger argued over what to do next. If they waited until morning, Booth would be able to see the manhunters and pick them off one by one with... (full context)
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...the Garrett sons to pile straw on the side of the barn. Hearing the noise, Booth threatened to shoot the Garretts. They retreated. Then Booth challenged the twenty-nine manhunters to fight... (full context)
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Booth could either burn to death, shoot himself, or come out and try to fight the... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Boston Corbett walked to the side of the barn and spotted Booth through one of the gaps in the barn walls. As he saw Booth preparing to... (full context)
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Baker and Conger rushed into the barn to retrieve Booth. Booth was paralyzed and unable to speak as they brought him out of the barn... (full context)
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Booth begged to be put out of his misery, but Conger told him they wanted him... (full context)
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Conger angrily demanded to know who had shot Booth. Boston Corbett stepped forward, saying he had shot Booth to protect his comrades. Since Conger,... (full context)
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A doctor arrived and determined that Booth was dying. “My hands,” Booth whispered as he died. Baker raised Booth’s hands so that... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Lieutenant Doherty sewed Booth’s corpse into a blanket and put it into a wagon for transfer back to Washington.... (full context)
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...about the climactic moments at Garrett’s farm. Reporters also sought to cover the story of Booth’s burial, but Luther Baker prevented this. He staged a fake “burial at sea,” then buried... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...received death warrants on July 6, 1865. They would be hung the next day. Since Booth was already dead, his co-conspirators were now the focus of the attention. They were paraded... (full context)
Epilogue
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President Andrew Johnson released John Wilkes Booth’s body to his family in 1869. He was buried in a family plot in Baltimore,... (full context)
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Today at Ford’s Theatre, a museum preserves the mementos collected after the assassination: including Booth’s keys, his photos of his girlfriends, his Deringer pistol and his compass. The museum serves... (full context)