John Wilkes Booth
’s Escape Rou Essay, Research Paper
John Wilkes Booth’s Escape Route
After exiting Ford’s Theatre, John Wilkes Booth mounted a horse that was being held by Joseph “Peanuts” Buroughs, an innocent theater employee. Booth rode down the alley, turned left up another alley, turned onto “F” Street, and headed toward the Navy Yard Bridge. Although the bridge was guarded by Sergeant Cobb and his detail, no passes had been required for crossing since the first of April. Thus, as the guards were there as a matter of routine rather than of necessity, Booth and fellow conspirator David Herold, who arrived separately, were allowed to pass without hindrance. The two men rendezvoused later and then headed to the Surratt Tavern in Surrattsville (now Clinton, MD) where they arrived shortly after midnight. At the tavern, they picked up supplies (including two Spencer carbines, ammunition, and field glasses) before continuing south.
At 4:00 a.m. on April 15, they arrived at the house of Dr. Samuel Mudd. Booth received medical treatment for his injured leg and both men were extended hospitality by the Mudds. Early in the afternoon, April 15, Booth and Herold headed into the nearby Zekiah swamp and were guided by Oswell Swann, a free black. About midnight, Swann brought the two men to their next destination, the home of southern sympathizer, Colonel Samuel Cox, who provided them with food for the next four days. On April 20, Thomas A. Jones, Cox’s adopted son, led them to the Potomac River. Instead of crossing the river to Virginia, they headed north on the Potomac and landed on the Maryland side at the home of southern sympathizer Peregrin Davis. The next night, they successfully crossed the river to Virginia, where they stayed at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Quesenberry, a woman who was well connected to the Confederate spy network. Thomas Harbin, an acquaintance of Booth and originally part of the plan to capture President Lincoln, took them to William Bryant and then to Dr. Richard Stuart’s home. Stuart, however, did not allow the two men to remain at his home. Booth and Herold went to the cabin of William Lucas, another free black man, forcibly removing Lucas and his wife from the cabin for the night.
On the morning of April 24, Booth and Herold left the cabin of William Lucas in a wagon driven by Lucas’ son Charles. He drove the men about 10 miles to the ferry at Port Conway, in King George County, Virginia.
As Booth and Herold were crossing the Rappahannock River, they were greeted by three former Confederate soldiers. 1st Lt. Mortimer B. Ruggles, his cousin Pvt. Absalom R. Bainbridge along with Pvt. William S. Jett. Later Herold boasted to the soldiers that they had killed President Lincoln. Jett aided Booth and Herold by eventually finding shelter for the pair at the Garrett farm. Herold then left Booth at the Garrett farm with the three soldiers and headed for Bowling Green, Virginia. The men stopped at a tavern, described by some as “…house of entertainment,” and continued chatting and drinking for several hours. Herold spent the night of April 23 at a nearby family farm. The next morning two ex-Confederate soldiers brought Herold back to the Garrett farm.
Meanwhile, twenty-five members of the 16th New York Cavalry unit, under the command of Lt. Edward Doherty, were following Booth’s trail. Lt. Doherty had found out from a shad fisherman, Dick Wilson, that Pvt. Jett had been on the ferry with Booth on the morning of April 24. Doherty was also told that Jett had a girl friend in nearby Bowling Green and Jett could be found there.
Several hours after arriving at the Star Hotel, Detective Everton Conger, one of Doherty’s men, forced Jett to reveal Booth’s location. In the early morning hours of April 26, 1865, the column of soldiers entered the Garrett farm and were told by the Garrett’s about two men sleeping in the farm’s tobacco shed.
At first Booth refused to surrender, and about 4 a.m., the tobacco shed was set afire. The blaze allowed the soldiers to see Booth moving in the wooden building with a pistol and a rifle. It was at this point that Boston Corbett fired his own pistol, claiming later that it was to prevent Booth from killing more people. Several soldiers dragged Booth, still alive, from the burning structure.
Booth had been shot in the neck. As he was laid on a wooden porch, he was found to be paralyzed from the neck down and whispered his final words, “tell my mother I did it for my country…useless, useless [while looking at his hands being held up to his face].”1
1.Edward Steers, Jr., The Escape and Capture of John Wilkes Booth, 1983.