The Ironic Death of Silas Cobb

On April 14th, 1865, Sgt. Silas Tower Cobb was in charge of the Army’s guard detail over the Navy Yard bridge leading out of D.C. 

The Navy Yard Bridge in 1862

During that night, he was approached by three individual riders all looking to be crossed over the bridge.  As a proper guard he interrogated the men asking them where they were going, why they waited until after 9:00 pm to depart, and what their names were.  The first man replied he was going to his home in Charles County, MD, “close to Beantown”.  He pleaded ignorant of the rule forbidding passage over the bridge after 9:00 and stated that, “It is a dark road, and I thought if I waited a spell I would have the moon”.  Sgt Cobb was hesitant to let him pass but the man who gave his name as Booth seemed proper enough and his answers had been satisfactory.  While Cobb’s standing orders had been that no person was allowed to cross the bridge between 9:00 pm and sunrise, the enforcement of these orders had been more lax as the war had dwindled down.  Sgt. Cobb unwittingly allowed the assassin of Lincoln to cross his line.  Not long after this, another man rode up giving his name as Smith.  He told Cobb he was heading home to White Plains.  Again, Silas Cobb informed the man that passage over the bridge after 9:00 o’clock was forbidden.  Smith replied, “I stopped to see a woman on Capitol Hill, and couldn’t get off before.”  Though this man did not appear as proper as the first man, he allowed him to cross the bridge as well.  Sgt. Cobb had unwittingly allowed David Herold, one of the Booth’s accomplices, to cross his line.  History repeated itself as a third horseman appeared.  This man asked Cobb if he had passed a man on a horse fitting the description of “Smith”.  Cobb replied in the affirmative.  The third man told Cobb he was a stableman, and that “Smith” had run off with one of his horses.  The stableman, John Fletcher, asked for permission to cross and give chase.  Cobb told him that while he would be allowed to cross out of the city, he would not be permitted to return until daybreak.  Fletcher decided the idea of spending all night stranded outside of the city looking for a lost horse was an unappealing one and returned to the city to report his loss to the police.

Though Cobb was later in deep dung for allowing two conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination escape over his bridge, he never suffered court martial for his actions.  He testified at the trial of the conspirators and was honorably discharged from the army in September of 1865.  He assumedly returned to his hometown of Holliston, Massachusetts.  Two years later, however he met his end at the age of 29 while traveling in Michigan:

Silas Cobb’s death as reported in the Lowell Daily Citizen on November 11, 1867

Silas Cobb’s death as reported in the Jackson Citizen on November 19th, 1867

It is one of those odd twists of fate that the man who permitted the river crossings of two Lincoln assassination conspirators would meet his end in his own unfortunate attempt.

Silas Cobb’s FindaGrave page
The Evidence by Williams and Steers

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

Post navigation

14 thoughts on “The Ironic Death of Silas Cobb

  1. Rich Smyth

    I am always interested in the actors after their 15 minutes of fame. I followed the Find-a-grave link; although I have visited his final resting place, I was unaware that his middle initial “T” was for Tower.

  2. Fantastic, Dave! And very ironic – somewhat spooky as well as tragic. Fletcher – very, very ironic. Seems that the assassination had a lot of odd twists and turns!

  3. Herb Swingle

    Fantastic-Reaearch-I have been to Grand Haven,Mich.It is right on Lake Michigan,beautiful place to live and visit! None of the rivers in that area of Michigan are turbulent enough to capsize a boat without human help! Western Michigan Ubniversty-1966

  4. richard Petersen

    Question. What was the protocol for Booth and Herold in crossing the bridge. Could they ride across or did they have to dismount and walk .?

  5. Pingback: Crossing the Bridge « BoothieBarn

  6. JMadonna

    The protocol was to walk the horses across the bridge, which if it was followed, meant Booth broke his leg after crossing the bridge. See Kaufmann’s American Brutus

  7. JMadonna

    The problem I have with the death of Silas T. Cobb is this: If his body was recovered how did it get from Grand Haven Michigan to Hollister Massachusetts, where his gravestone is? Secondly, Why is there no death certificate for Cobb in the State of Michigan archives? Believe me, I looked for one. I’m pretty sure that even back then you’d need one to transfer a body across state lines.

    Any help would be appreciated.

  8. Kris King

    I live near Grand Haven. We have drownings in our lakes and rivers weekly. Lake Michigan is a hugely powerful lake which causes very turbulent rivers. And if they were disembarking from a ferry in a small boat, it is more than possible to drown and capsize without the cause being human error. I’ve stood on our pier while a 17 year old drown and there was nothing that could be done to help him. Thousands watched it happen. Lake Michigan waves can be stronger than even ocean waves, simply by the structure of the lake.

  9. Richard

    I agree with Kris King as I vacation in Grand Haven. There is a pier that leads to the lighthouse ( I have a replica on my desk, along with a print) At the pier it lists a number of tragic deaths. The great lakes can one day be like a bathtub and the next high waves with an undertow. A famous tragedy was the Edmund Fitzgerald , 11/1075. When it left Lake Superior it was calm and later the ship was sunk by high waves. Ask Gordon Lightfoot.

  10. Steven Antcliff

    I was raised in Musegon, Michigan and it is true that Lake Michigan has a very strong undertow that at
    times is stronger than any Ocean I have been in. Small boats do and will tip and eject you at a drop of a hat.

  11. Pingback: Grave Thursday: Silas T. Cobb | BoothieBarn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: