I found this free interactive mapping program online today and decided to see if I could construct a nice little map of John Wilkes Booth’s escape route. Unfortunately, this particular map will not embed straight into my site, but you can click the image below to view it.
Posts Tagged With: Manhunt
The Escape of John Wilkes Booth
Julia Wilbur and the Saga of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators
This is the second of two posts utilizing content gleaned from the diaries of Julia Ann Wilbur, a relief worker who lived in Alexandria, Virginia and Washington, D.C. during the Civil War. For biographical information on Julia Wilbur, as well as information regarding her diaries please read the first post titled, Julia Wilbur and the Mourning of Lincoln.
Witness to History: Julia Wilbur and the Saga of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators
When Abraham Lincoln’s assassination occurred on April 14, 1865, Julia Wilbur understood the impact it would have on the history of our country. When not working to provide relief to the thousand of newly freed African Americans residing in Alexandria and Washington, D.C., Julia Wilbur was a student of history. She traveled far and wide to visit places of historical importance, relished exploring the old burial grounds of a city, and found instances to mingle with those who were shaping her times. Therefore, she not only took the time to be a part of the mourning events for Abraham Lincoln, but she also went out of her way to document and even involve herself in the saga of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. The following are excerpts from Julia Wilbur’s diaries detailing her interactions with the assassination’s aftermath.
Reporting the News
Like many citizens around the country, Ms. Wilbur took to her diary to report the latest news about the hunt for Booth and his assassins. Sometimes the news was good. Other times, Ms. Wilbur reported on the gossip that was on the lips of everyone in Washington.
April 15, 1865:
“President Lincoln is dead! Assassinated last night at the theater shot in the head by a person on the stage. The president lingered till 7 this A.M. so all hope is over. And Secretary Seward had his throat cut in bed in his own house, but he was alive at the last despatch. It is said an attempt was made on Sec. Stanton but he escaped. Many rumors are afloat, but the above is certain.
…Evening. Sec. Seward is comfortable, & may recover, his son Frederick is in a very critical condition, his son Clarence has only flesh wounds & is able to be about the house. There is a report that Boothe has been taken; that his horse threw him on 7th st. & he was taken into a house.— There is no doubt that it was intended to murder the President, the Vice Pres. all the members of the cabinet and Gen. Grant. & that the managers of the theater knew of it.”
April 16, 1865:
“Two Miss Ford’s were at the Theater at the time of the murder.”
[Note: These Miss Ford’s appear to be friends of Ms. Wilbur’s and unaffiliated with the Fords who owned Ford’s Theatre]
April 17, 1865:
“About noon we saw people going towards G. on the run. & we were told that two men had been found in a cellar dressed in women’s clothes. & it was thought they were the murderers, Miss H. & I walked up that way. They are probably deserters. We met them under guard; they were guilty looking fellows.
…We passed Seward’s House. A guard is placed all around it. & on the walk we were not allowed to go between the guard & the house. He was not told of the President’s death until yesterday. He seems to be improving. No news in particular. No trace of the murderers.”
“Mr. Seward is no worse & Mr. F. Seward is improving.”
April 19, 1865:
“When Frances got ready about 12 M. we went out. (all about are posted notices, “$20,000 reward for the apprehension of the Murderer of the President.”)”
April 20, 1865:
“Numbers of persons have been arrested. but Booth has not been taken yet. Ford & others of the Theater have been arrested. The Theater is guarded or it would be torn down. If Booth is found & taken I think he will be torn to pieces. The feeling of vengeance is deep & settled.”
April 21, 1865:
“I went around by Ford’s Theater today. It is guarded by soldiers, or it wd. be torn down. There is great feeling against all concerned in it.— Mr. Peterson’s House opposite where the President died is an inferior 2 storybrick,—but the room in which he died will be kept sacred by the family. A number of persons have been arrested & there are many rumors; but Booth has not been taken yet.— Mr. Seward & son remain about the same.”
April 26, 1865:
“Report that Booth is taken.”
Learning of Booth’s Death from an Eyewitness
One of the more remarkable things in Ms. Wilbur’s diary is how she recounts the details of Booth’s capture and death. On April 27th she is able to give specifics of Booth’s death when such details did appear in papers until the next day. The reason for this is because Ms. Wilbur was able to hear the story firsthand from one of the soldiers of the 16th New York Cavalry, Emory Parady.
April 27, 1865:
“Booth was taken yesterday morning at 3 o clock, 3 miles from Port Royal on the Rappac., in a barn, by 25 of 16th. N.Y. Cav. & a few detectives. He was armed with 2 revolvers & 2 bowie knives & a carbine 7 shooter, all loaded. Harrold, an accomplice was with him. Neither wd. surrender until the barn was fired. Then Harrold gave himself up. & when Booth was about to fire at some of the party, he was shot in the head by Sargt. B. Corbett, & lived 2 ½ hrs. afterwards. He was sewed up in a blanket & brought up from Belle Plain to Navy Yd. in a boat this A.M. One of the capturers, Paredy, was here this P.M. & told us all about it.”
Julia Wilbur was fond of acquiring relics and would occasionally display her collection to visiting friends. The events of April 14th, motivated Ms. Wilbur to acquire some relics of the tragic event.
April 20, 1865:
“I purchased several pictures of the President, also Seward’s.
…Miss Josephine Slade gave me a piece of a white rosette worn by one of the pallbearers. Then Mrs. C. & I went to Harvey’s where the coffin was made. & obtained a piece of the black cloth with wh. the coffin was covered & pieces of the trimming. The gentleman who was at work upon the case for the coffin was very obliging & kind. This case is of black walnut, lined with black cloth, & a row of fringe around the top inside, I have also a piece of this box.”
April 21, 1865:
“Called on Mrs. Coleman. Then we went to Mr. Alexander’s & got some pieces of the cloth which covered the funeral Car. Then we saw an artist taking a Photograph of the car. which stood near the Coach Factory where it was made. We went there & Mrs. C. took of pieces of the cloth & alpaca. & a young man told us the Car would be broken up to day & he would save us a piece.
“…Then I went out again & obtained a board from the Funeral Car, which a workman was taking to pieces. & also some of the velvet of the covering. I intend to have this board made into a handsome box. & will make a pin cushion of the velvet.”
April 22, 1865:
“Went to see Mrs. Coleman. she gave me some of the hair of President Lincoln.”
May 2, 1865 (in Philadelphia):
“In all the shops are pictures of the President, & there are some of Booth.”
October 12, 1865:
“Called at Ford’s Theater. got relic.”
October 18, 1865:
“Then Mrs. B. went with me to Ford’s Theater & we each obtained from Mr. Kinney who has charge of the building, a piece of the Presidents Box. The wood work where his knees rested when he was shot.”
A Visit to Richmond
Ms. Wilbur temporarily departed Washington in mid May of 1865. During that time she traveled to Richmond, with side trips to Petersburg and Appomattox, to provide relief work for the newly freed African Americans. Diary entries during her time in Richmond lament the poor living conditions of the black citizens and also discuss her own experiences in the city. One of my favorite anecdotes from that period is Ms. Wilbur’s recounting having tea with a family of free African Americans.
May 19, 1865:
“Took tea by invitation at Mr. Forrester’s. Quite a company. We drank from Jeff. Davis’s tea cups, eat with his knives & forks & eat strawberries & ice cream from his china saucers— I sat in the porch & looked at Jeff’s house not many rods distant, & tried to realize that I was in Richmond— The morning of the evacuation people fled & left their houses open. goods were scattered about the street, & Jeff’s servants gave this china to Mr. Forrester’s boys. That morning must have been one long to be remembered by those who were there. All night long there was commotion in the streets. Jeff. & his crew were getting away with their plunder.”
“Thought I might as well see some thing of this important trial”
Ms. Wilbur returned to Washington, D.C. in mid-June. Once back home, she quickly resumed her habit of engrossing herself in the historical proceedings happening around her. In June of 1865, such historical proceedings could only be the trial of the Lincoln conspirators. Before attending the trial however, Ms. Wilbur first visited the conspirators’ former site of incarceration.
June 17, 1865:
“In P.M. went to Navy Yard. Went on to the Saugus & the Montauk.
…The Saugus weighs 10 hundred & 30 tons, draws 13 ft. water & its huge revolving turret contains 2 guns wh. carry balls of 470 lbs. It is 150 ft. in length, pointed fore & aft & its 83 deck & sides plated with iron. The turret, pilot house— smokestack & hatchways are all that appear on deck & in an engagement not a man is visible. It has been struck with heavy balls & deep indentations have been made on the sides of the turret. Once a heavy Dahlgren gunboat during an engagement, The Saugus did service at Fort Fisher.— There are 13 engines in this vessel.
We went below & saw the wonders of the interior. Booth’s associates were confined on this vessel for a time. Booth’s body was placed on the Montauk before it was mysteriously disposed of.”
Then, on June 19th, Julia Wilbur attended the trial of the conspirators:
“At 8 went for Mrs. Colman & got note of introduction to Judge Holt from Judge Day & proceeded to the Penitentiary.
Thought I might as well see some thing of this important trial.
Mr. Clampitt read argument against Jurisdiction of Court by Reverdy Johnson.
It was very hot there. Mrs. Suratt was sick & was allowed to leave the room & then they adjourned till 2, & we left. Mrs. S. wore a veil over her face & also held a fan before it all the while.
Harold’s sisters (4) were in the room. The prisoners excepting Mrs. S. & O’Laughlin appeared quite unconcerned. They are all evidently of a low type of humanity. Great contrast to the fine, noble looking men that compose the court.”
Ms. Wilbur’s diary entry concerning the courtroom is valuable not only due to the descriptions she gives of Mrs. Surratt and Michael O’Laughlen, but also because she took the time to sketch the layout of the court when she got home:
“This was the position of the court.
It was an interesting scene, & I am glad I went, although it is so far, & so hot.”
These diagrams are fascinating and help us solidify the placement of the conspirators and members of the military commission in the court room.
Reporting on the Execution
It is likely that the excessive heat in the courtroom convinced Ms. Wilbur that she did not need to attend the trial again. However, she did keep up with the proceedings and reported on the sentencing and execution of the conspirators (which she did not attend).
July 6, 1865:
“The conspirators have been sentenced. Payne, Harold, Atzerott & Mrs. Surratt are to be hung to morrow. O’Laughlin, Mudd, & Arnold to be imprisoned for life at hard labor, & Spangler to State prison for 6 yrs.”
July 7, 1865:
“Hottest morning yet. Martha ironed, & the whole house has been like an oven. It was too much for me. I could not work.— The days pass & nothing is accomplished— This eve. F & I took a walk.
— About 1 P.M. The executions took place in the Penitentiary Yard. A large number of people witnessed them. They were buried within a few feet of the gallows. It is all dreadful, but I think people breathe more freely now. They are convinced that Government means to punish those who deserve it. Jeff. Davis friends may feel a little uneasy hereafter.”
Unfortunately, it does not appear that Ms. Wilbur had any reaction to the death of Mary Surratt, a middle aged woman like herself. In fact the very next day Ms. Wilbur mentions walking past Mrs. Surratt’s house without any commentary.
July 8, 1865:
“Then passed Mrs. Surratt’s house on the way to Mr. Lake’s, where we had a pleasant call.”
It’s likely that Ms. Wilbur agreed with Mrs. Surratt’s fate as Ms. Wilbur was very against those who held “secesh” sympathies.
Attending Henry Wirz’ Trial
Julia Wilbur continued her habit of attending historic trials in the city, by attending the trial of Andersonville prison commandant, Henry Wirz. After Henry Wirz’ execution she once again invoked the Lincoln conspirators:
November 11, 1865:
“Called at Mr. B’s office & saw Mr. & Mrs. Belden. Heard particulars of the Execution yesterday. Mr. B. gave me an Autograph Note of Henry Wirz, a lock of hair & a piece of the Gallows. I came only for the autograph. His body was mutilated after death, Kidneys were divided among 4 surgeons. Another person had a little finger, obtained under pretense of Post Mortem examination. Remainder of body buried in Yard of the Penetentiary near Atzerot. All this, & we claim to be civilized & human! If his body had been given up to his friends, it would be torn to pieces by the infuriated people.”
As we know Henry Wirz mingled with the bodies of the conspirators until 1869, when Andrew Johnson allowed the bodies of all those executed to be claimed by family. Wirz was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, the same resting place of Mary Surratt.
In the Interim
By 1866, John Wilkes Booth and four of his conspirators were dead. The other four tried at the trial of the conspirators were serving sentences at Fort Jefferson off the coast of Florida. As such there was a lull for a time during which Julia Wilbur reported next to nothing revolving around the events of April 14, 1865. Only a few brief mentions exist in her diary of 1866 and early 1867.
April 14, 1866:
“Anniversary of a sad day.
Departments have been closed, & flags are at half mast. No other observance. A year ago today I was in Alex. & could not get away. It was a sad time.”
April 28, 1866:
“Went to the Army Medical Museum. Many interesting in this Museum. Called on Mrs. Smith. She is ill. Went into Ford’s Theater. Not finished yet. It is intended for archives relating to the War of the Rebellion. The sad associations connected with it will make it an object of interest for generations to come.”
April 15, 1867:
“Anniversary of Death of Abraham Lincoln! Two years have passed rapidly away.”
On visiting the National Cemetery in Alexandria on May 12, 1867:
“There is also a monument to the memory of the 4 soldiers who lost their lives in pursuit of Booth the Assassin. They were drowned.”
Upon seeing Secretary War Edwin Stanton on May 27, 1867:
“Saw Sec. Stanton today, but how unlike the Sec. of War that I saw in his office in Oct. ’62. He was then in the vigor & prime of manhood. Hair & beard dark & abundant. But 5 years of War have made him 20 years older. He is thin, sallow, careworn. His locks are thin & gray. I never saw a greater change in any man in so few years.”
June 21, 1867:
“On return went into Ford’s Theater to see the Medical Museum.”
The Escaped Conspirator
In late 1866, John H. Surratt, Jr. was finally captured after more than a year and a half on the run. Surratt had been an active member of John Wilkes Booth’s plot to abduct President Lincoln and take him south. His arrest in Alexandria, Egypt and extradition to the U.S., set in the motion the last judicial proceedings relating to Abraham Lincoln’s death. Once again, Ms. Wilbur would be sure to take part in this event, attending John Surratt’s trial twice and providing some wonderful detail of the courtroom scene.
February 18, 1867:
“(Surratt arrived in Washington today, is in jail)”
June 19, 1867:
“Miss Evans & I went to Mr. B’s & he went with us to City Hall & got tickets of admittance for us to the Court Room. 6 ladies present besides ourselves. Surratt was brought in at 10, & the court was opened. Judge Fisher presiding. Witnesses examined were Carroll Hobart. Vt.; Char. H. Blinn, Vt.; Scipano Grillo, Saloon keeper at Ford’s Theater; John T. Tibbett mail carrier, & Sergt. Robt. H. Cooper. Examined by Edwards Pierpoint of N.Y, Atty, Carrington.
Surratt sat with his counsel, Bradly, he, a pale slender, young man, seemed to take an interest in all that was said. His mother’s name was mentioned often, & Tibbett said he had heard her say “she wd. give $1000 to any body who would kill Lincoln.” I could not feel much sympathy for him. They must have been a bad family.
But I think Surratt will never be punished. The Government will hardly dare do it after releasing Jeff Davis.
The room outside the bar was crowded, & this is the first day ladies have been seated inside the bar.
Miss Evans was never in a Court before, & we were both much interested.”
June 21, 1867:
“Frances & Miss Evans went to Surratt’s trial”
June 27, 1867:
“Rose early. Worked till 9 A.M. Then went to Surratt’s trial at City Hall. Courtroom crowded. Judge Fisher presiding. Witnesses, 2 brothers Sowles, & Louis Weichman. He last boarded with Mrs. Surratt, was intimate with J.H. Surratt. His testimony was minute but of absorbing interest. Examined by Edwards Pierpoint. Bradly & Merrick, counsel for prisoner, are evil looking men.
Surratt looked less confident today than when I saw him a week ago yesterday.
When they were removing the handcuffs he breathed hard. Took his seat looking a little disturbed. His brother Isaac soon came & took a seat by him & they talked & laughed a few minutes.
Isaac looks like a hard case & quite unconcerned. It is very evident that J.H. Surratt was a conspirator & that the family were bad.
I would like to be here at the close of the trial, and hear the summing up.”
Unfortunately, Ms. Wilbur did not get her wish to witness the close of John Surratt’s trial. She was visiting back home near Avon, New York when the trial ended.
August 10, 1867:
“Papers from Washington.
Argument in Surratt case finished. Jury do not agree.”
August 12, 1867:
“Finished reading for Father Mr. Pierpointt’s argument in Surratt case to father. Very able argument.”
August 16, 1867:
“Jury discharged, could not agree, ([illegible]). Surratt remanded to jail.
Bradley has challenged Judge Fisher. Much excitement in W[ashington].”
While the period of assassination events effectively ended with the trial of John Surratt, Ms. Wilbur maintained diaries for the rest of her life. There could be more passages in her diaries commenting on or recalling those tragic days. As stated in the prior post about Julia Wilbur and the Mourning of Lincoln, Julia Wilbur’s diaries have only been transcribed for the period of March 1860 until July of 1866. All entries in this post dated beyond July 1866, were discovered by meticulously reading through the digitized pages of Ms. Wilbur’s diaries located here. There are still many discoveries to be made in Julia Wilbur’s diaries and I encourage you all to follow Paula Whitacre’s blog to read more about the work being done on Julia Wilbur.
Paula Whitacre’s Blog on Julia Wilbur
Transcriptions of Julia Wilbur’s Diaries from Alexandria Archaeology
Digitized pages of Julia Wilbur’s Diaries from Haverford College
Lloyd-ering around Banks O’Dee
In Charles County, Maryland, located on the peninsula that is created by the merging of the Potomac and Wicomoco Rivers is a small rural area called Banks O’Dee:
The name Banks O’Dee or “The Banks of the Dee” was given its name by Welsh and Irish settlers to the region who named the area after the River Dee which forms part of the border between England and Wales. It is now, as it was then, a very small rural community with only a local road bearing the name Banks O’Dee Road to betray its existence. Yet, as we have often seen, even the most isolated and small communities can have connections to Lincoln’s assassination. Banks O’Dee, exemplifies this fact by having not one, but two associations to the great crime of April 14, 1865.
After Lincoln’s assassination, the government mobilized troops and detectives to scour the entire region around Washington. Many men were sent into Southern Maryland which was a hotbed for Confederate sympathizers. Washington Provost Marshal, James R. O’Beirne, ordered several of his detectives into the region around Banks O’Dee in the search for John Wilkes Booth and David Herold in the hope that they had not yet crossed the Potomac River into Virginia. Three of O’Beirne’s detectives, Henry Bevans, Michael O’Callaghan, and Edward McHenry, were steamed in on April 19th to investigate the locals. Two the the detectives, McHenry and O’Callaghan, impersonated refugees and found themselves dining with a Banks O’Dee farmer by the named of Richard Claggett. During dinner, Claggett’s son revealed that at around 7:00 am on April 16th, he had seen two men in boat crossing over to a place on the Virginia shore called White Point (now Colonial Beach). The detectives passed this information along to O’Beirne and even crossed over the Potomac themselves in search for the two men in a boat, to no avail.
By April 24th days had gone by with no new credible sightings of Booth and Herold in Southern Maryland. O’Beirne, in the field himself at Port Tobacco, decided to once again bring the report of his detectives in Banks O’Dee to the attention of Lafayette Baker, head of the National Detective Police. Baker decided the report was now worth investigating further and approved the dispatch of men from the 16th New York Calvary to travel into the Northern Necks of Virginia in search of Booth and Herold. Two days later, this gamble paid off as the 16th New York cornered and killed John Wilkes Booth at the Garrett Farm in Caroline County, VA.
However, this report from Banks O’Dee of two men crossing over the Potomac in a boat on April 16th was a case of mistaken identity. From April 16 – 20, John Wilkes Booth and David Herold were hiding out in a pine thicket near Samuel Cox’s Rich Hill farm. The two men who did cross from Banks O’Dee on April 16th were actually Joseph Baden and Thomas Harbin. Harbin had been an early recruit into John Wilkes Booth’s abduction plot and, when the assassin did manage to cross the river, Harbin briefly assisted Booth onward to Dr. Stuart’s. Still, had Harbin and Baden not been seen by a farmer in Banks O’Dee who then blabbed the sighting to undercover government detectives, John Wilkes Booth may have been able to escape further south.
Lloyd-ering around Banks O’Dee
Banks O’Dee’s connection to the Lincoln assassination story stretches even further back than 1865. In 1835, two large properties in the area were purchased by a man named Minchin Lloyd, Jr. Mr. Lloyd’s father was an Irish immigrant who had set up his residence, and family, in Virginia and then in Port Tobacco, the county seat of Charles County.
Minchin Lloyd, Jr. was an enterprising businessman in Charles County, serving his county as a Deputy Sheriff and Deputy Tax Collector. The second of six brothers, Minchin, Jr. had been entrusted by his siblings with many things of importance. When his youngest brother Francis died, the financially successful Minchin inherited his entire estate. He also inherited a large piece of his brother William’s estate when William died in 1833. William, who had been a businessman in Port Tobacco running a general store, also left two other things to his brother Minchin upon his death. This two things were his two young sons. Minchin became the guardian of William’s two children, Charles William and John Minchin Lloyd.
The latter name should sound familiar. In 1865, John Minchin Lloyd would play a pivotal role in the assassination saga when, while renting Mary Surratt’s country tavern, John Wilkes Booth and David Herold arrived at the tavern, demanded the weapons that had been hidden there previously, and rode off after telling Lloyd they had assassinated President Lincoln. John M. Lloyd would prove to be one of the government’s key witnesses against Mary Surratt at the trial of the conspirators and his testimony would help seal her fate.
When William died in 1833, John was 8 years old. He and his younger brother went to live with his Uncle Minchin. In 1835, Minchin bought a large (500+ acre) property near Banks O’Dee. Minchin moved his whole family into a beautiful home which stood, “on an eminent hill in the center of the farm”. The house was called Milton Hill and was constructed around 1792. As a young boy of 11 years old, John is sure to have spent many days at Milton Hill with his uncle/adopted father. John M. Lloyd grew up in the Banks O’Dee area and watched as the family acquired more land in the area. Today a road, creek, and point in the region bear the Lloyd name and there are still descendants of the Lloyd family living in the area. By about 1850, John M. Lloyd had left Banks O’Dee and had settled in Washington, D.C. Lloyd became a brick layer, Washington Police Officer, and, later, unlucky tavern keeper.
Amazingly, the house in which a young John M. Lloyd lived still stands today in Banks O’Dee. Milton Hill, which is private property, dates to about 1792.
In addition to visiting Banks O’Dee and locating Milton Hall today, I tried to determine the final resting place of John M. Lloyd’s father, William. It seemed that the Lloyds often worshiped at St. Mary’s Church at Newport, the same church where Confederate agent Thomas Jones is buried. I traveled to St. Mary’s in hopes there might be a few Lloyds there. In the end I found this stone which seems very promising:
If this is the stone for “our” William Lloyd than it seems the phrase “like father, like son” is applicable even in death. John M. Lloyd also has a small stone with only his name on it that has been knocked flat over the passage of time:
The Lincoln Assassination Reward Files by William Edwards
The Lloyds of Southern Maryland by Daniel Lloyd
“President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” at the Newseum
Located on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th Street in northwest D.C., the Newseum is an impressive institution devoted to the evolution of news reporting and the importance of free press in a society. The seven floor museum contains impressive permanent exhibits relating to some of the most news worthy events in American and world history. There are also many galleries in the museum which house an array of different temporary exhibits. When I visited Washington, D.C. for the first time in 2009, I made sure to tour the Newseum due to the fact that they were displaying a temporary exhibition based around James Swanson’s book, Manhunt. One of my very first posts on this site recounted that wonderful exhibit.
Since that time (and my subsequent move to Maryland), I have made many visits to the Newseum. Their exhibits are fascinating and it is a wonderful place to bring guests from out of town. As you might expect, there are several permanent items on display at the Newseum related to Lincoln’s assassination that I see each time I am there. One permanent, 80 foot long display on the top terrace overlooks Pennsylvania Avenue and recounts the history of Washington’s most famous street.
The display also points out that the site currently occupied by the Newseum was once the home to the National Hotel, the preferred hotel of John Wilkes Booth when he was in Washington.
The Newseum collection also contains different newspapers, both physical and digital, that cover the assassination of Abraham Lincoln:
However for this year, the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the Newseum has created a very special exhibition:
“President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” is a detailed look at how one of the most widely read newspapers in the country covered the events of April 14, 1865. Over a period of 18 hours following the shot at Ford’s Theatre, the New York Herald would publish an unprecedented seven special editions, each with new information regarding the President and Secretary of State’s conditions and the subsequent search for their assassins. The Newseum may very well be the only institution in the world that contains copies of each of the seven editions of the New York Herald from that tumultuous time.
The current exhibit at the Newseum contains an original of each of these editions paired with large wall displays that highlight the differences and additions between them.
2:00 AM edition:
3:00 AM edition:
8:45 AM edition:
10:00 AM edition:
10:00 AM “Reward” edition:
2:00 PM edition:
3:30 PM edition:
Floor to Ceiling Coverage
While the “President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” exhibit is only contained in one small room of the Newseum, there is no wasted space. Even the floor and ceiling contain displays. On the floor is a map of Civil War Washington with labelled sites relating to the assassination:
Meanwhile the ceiling is festooned with wonderful banners (several of which I wish I could own myself) relating to the assassination:
The Stories Behind the Story
The displays not only provide commentary on the evolving story of how the country came to learn the details of Lincoln’s assassination, but they also introduce us to the people involved in reporting the news. One of my favorite stories is that of Associated Press reporter, Lawrence Gobright who was responsible for the very first telegraphic dispatch covering Lincoln’s assassination:
In 1869, Gobright would recollect his actions that night:
“On the night of the 14th of April, I was sitting in my office alone, everything quiet : and having filed, as I thought, my last despatch, I picked up an afternoon paper, to see what especial news it contained. While looking over its columns, a hasty step was heard at the entrance of the door, and a gentleman addressed me, in a hurried and excited manner, informing me that the President had been assassinated, and telling me to come with him! I at first could scarcely believe the intelligence. But I obeyed the summons. He had been to the theatre with a lady, and directly after the tragedy at that place, had brought out the lady, placed her at his side in his carriage, and driven directly to me. I then first went to the telegraph office, sent a short ” special,” and promised soon to give the particulars. Taking a seat in the hack, we drove back to the theatre and alighted; the gentleman giving directions to the driver to convey the lady to her home.
The gentleman and myself procured an entrance to the theatre, where we found everybody in great excitement. The wounded President had been removed to the house of Mr. Peterson [sic], who lived nearly opposite to the theatre. When we reached the box, we saw the chair in which the President sat at the time of the assassination; and, although the gas had for the greater part been turned off, we discovered blood upon it…
My friend having been present during the performance, and being a valuable source of news, I held him firmly by the arm, for fear that I might lose him in the crowd. After gathering all the points we could, we came out of the theatre, when we heard that Secretary Seward had also been assassinated. I recollect replying that this rumor probably was an echo from the theatre; but wishing to be satisfied as to its truth or falsity, I called a hack, and my companion and myself drove to the Secretary’s residence. We found a guard at the door, but had little trouble in entering the house. Some of the neighbors were there, but they were so much excited that they could not tell an intelligent story, and the colored boy, by whom Paine was met when he insisted on going up to the Secretary’s room, was scarcely able to talk. We did all we could to get at the truth of the story, and when we left the premises, had confused ideas of the events of the night. Next we went to the President’s house. A military guard was at the door. It was then, for the first time, we learned that the President had not been brought home. Vague rumors were in circulation that attempts had been made on the lives of Vice-President Johnson and others, but they could not be traced to a reliable source. We returned to Mr. Peterson’s house, but were not permitted to make our way through the military guard to inquire into the condition of the President. Nor at that time was it certainly known who was the assassin of President Lincoln. Some few persons said he resembled Booth, while others appeared to be confident as to the identity.
Returning to the office, I commenced writing a full account of that night’s dread occurrences. While thus engaged, several gentlemen who had been at the theatre came in, and, by questioning them, I obtained additional particulars. Among my visitors was Speaker Colfax, and as he was going to see Mr. Lincoln, I asked him to give me a paragraph on that interesting branch of the subject. At a subsequent hour, he did so. Meanwhile I carefully wrote my despatch, though with trembling and nervous fingers, and, under all the exciting circumstances, I was afterward surprised that I had succeeded in approximating so closely to all the facts in those dark transactions…”
In addition to his quick reporting and continual dispatches throughout the night, Gobright also holds a place in history due to his brief custodianship over the derringer that was used to kill Abraham Lincoln.
After shooting Lincoln with the single shot pistol, John Wilkes Booth immediately dropped the gun onto the floor of the theater box. Somehow it went unnoticed during the chaos that ensued in the small box as physicians entered to care for the mortally wounded president. One of the men who had entered the box along with the physicians was a man named William Kent. Kent would later claim it was his penknife that was used to cut the collar from around Lincoln’s neck. After departing the theater that night, Kent discovered he had lost his keys and so returned to the theater and gained entry into the now empty box. He was searching for his keys when his foot struck something. Lawrence Gobright had also just arrived in the box to report on the scene of the crime:
“A man [Kent] standing by picked up Booth’s pistol from the floor, when I exclaimed to the crowd below that the weapon had been found and placed in my possession. An officer of the navy — whose name I do not now remember — demanded that I should give it to him ; but this I refused to do, preferring to make Major Richards, the head of the police, the custodian of the weapon, which I did soon after my announcement.”
As stated, Gobright did turn the derringer over to the Metropolitan Police and William Kent identified it on April 15th:
Don’t Believe Everything you Read in the Newspapers
The New York Herald exhibit at the Newseum also demonstrates how the newspapers covering Lincoln’s assassination made the same mistake as some modern journalists by printing unreliable or unsubstantiated claims in hopes of being the first to provide their audience with an exclusive.
Rumors and speculation would fill every mouth, diary, and newspaper for the next twelve days as the entire country searched for John Wilkes Booth.
In addition to misinformation that was printed in a rush, the New York Herald exhibit at the Newseum also brings attention to later instances that have caused unintended deception. The New York Herald’s coverage of Lincoln’s assassination was so wide spread that even many years later, the paper was still very well connected to the event in the minds of the public. Many advertisers attempted to benefit from this connection by creating their own, custom reprints of editions of the New York Herald. On the face of it, the reprints appeared genuine though some, like the one below, included engravings that were never in the originals. No matter how real they looked however, hidden either in the text of the front page or within the interior pages were advertisements for the latest miracle tonic, liniment, or some other product.
This type of “historical advertising” was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. People were more likely to hold on to the advertisement if it had something compelling on it. Another example of this type of advertising is this reproduction CDV of John Wilkes Booth’s escape on a bag for dysentery syrup:
While the newspapers were well known to be advertisements in their day, as time has passed reproductions like the one above have fooled many unknowing treasure seekers into thinking they have a genuine (and pricey) piece of American history. Most of the time, however, a careful read through (especially of the interior pages which are usually just full page ads for the product) will reveal it is a reproduction. You can see a small sampling of some of the many advertising reproductions of the assassination editions of the New York Herald here.
Plan Your Visit
I highly recommend a visit to the “President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” exhibit at the Newseum. It is located on the 4th floor of the museum which is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Tickets to the Newseum cost $23 for adults and allow you to return the next day for free. While this price may seem a bit expensive compared to the federally funded museums in D.C. that offer free admission, the Newseum has many wonderful galleries and exhibits that make the price more than worth it. This special New York Herald exhibit only runs until January 10, 2016 so be sure to visit the Newseum before it is gone.
President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination at the Newseum
Library of Congress
Manhunt: The Exhibit
In 2001, James Swanson and Daniel Weinberg released their book, Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution. This coffee table sized book by Swanson, a D.C. attorney, and Weinberg, owner of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago, contains both men’s impressive collection of artifacts, documents, and images involving Lincoln’s assassination. In addition, the pair found other noteworthy items in other private collection and museums to include in this visual tour of the assassination. It is a truly wonderful picture book that should be in every assassination library. In 2006, James Swanson once again entered the spotlight when he released his assassination book, Manhunt: The Twelve Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. The book became a New York Times bestseller due to its appealing, fiction-like writing style. The book’s popularity led to a temporary exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. In this exhibit, many of Swanson’s artifacts were on display. The exhibit has since closed, but I was able to visit it in May of 2009. For those of you who were not able to see it, here are some of the highlights:
Click the images to enlarge them
While a little small for my liking (we could always use more assassination artifacts, after all), the exhibit did a great job showcasing Swanson’s book and collection.