By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2020
“History is not history unless it is the truth.” — Abraham Lincoln, 1856
“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” — Mark Twain
It’s an indisputable fact that noted Shakespearean actor John Wilkes Booth, “dressed in black from head to foot,” according to witnesses, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at 10:15 PM on Friday, April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., using a .44-caliber, single-shot, percussion-cap, Henry Deringer (only one “r” in the middle) pistol from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a two-and-a-half-inch, rifled barrel. There were literally hundreds of eyewitnesses to this infamous murder.
Booth then dropped this small weapon to the floor, and jumped more than 11 feet from the president’s viewing box to the hard, wooden, stage floor, breaking his left leg two inches above the ankle in the process. He raised a dagger over his head, shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” (“Thus always with tyrants,” in Latin, the state motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia, part of the Confederacy until just five days previously), and disappeared out the stage door into an alley, getting away on horseback. Lincoln died in the Petersen House across the street at 7:22 AM the following morning.
Booth then escaped alone from Washington over the Navy Yard Bridge across the Anacostia River into Maryland at 10:45 PM, joined there by an unspecified accomplice (probably Confederate smuggler Edwin “Ed” Henson), and they acquired two carbines, supplies, and whiskey from Confederate courier and smuggler John H. Surratt, Jr., at Lloyd’s Tavern in present-day Clinton, Maryland, at midnight. They later reached the home of Doctor Samuel A. Mudd in Waldorf, Maryland, by four o’clock in the morning on April 15th, to have Booth’s broken leg treated. Mudd set the leg and made a pair of crude crutches, then Booth paid him $25, and shaved off his jet-black moustache to change his appearance. Mudd later told investigators that the younger man, the accomplice, “gave his name as Henson,” and that they departed the same day, leaving behind a left riding boot with the name “J. Wilkes” inside.
Afterward, Booth and Henson traveled through southern Maryland, and Booth eventually crossed the Rappahannock River at Port Conway into northern Virginia on April 24, 1865, while Ed Henson remained in Maryland, and then Booth made his way to Richard Garrett’s farm three miles southwest of Port Royal. This is where the official, historical account takes some bizarre twists and turns, very strongly indicating that the notorious John Wilkes Booth may have actually escaped alive.
Richard B. Garrett was later quoted in American Heritage magazine (1966), as saying that Booth had “a pearl-handled dirk or dagger...a pair of opera glasses...(and) a Henry repeating carbine, which carried 16 shots. He also had a Navy (Colt Navy 1851) revolver, which gave Booth three pistols and the carbine.” The very modern, 1860 Henry in .44 Rimfire was a distinctive, lever-action weapon with a shiny, brass receiver, known as, “That damned, Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!”
Yet the actual recovered weapons currently displayed in Ford’s Theater Museum include two Spencer 1865 carbines in .50-caliber, one Colt Army 1860 revolver in .44-caliber, one Colt Navy 1851 revolver in .36-caliber (making two pistols, not three), a stag-handled, Manson-Sheffield (British) dagger, which Booth had never actually owned or used (it was later recovered from the Mary Surratt boarding house in Washington, D.C.), and no opera glasses or field glasses. According to author Theodore J. Nottingham in The Curse of Cain, published in 1997, Garrett’s son found Booth’s binoculars nine miles into the deep, Virginia woods after Booth’s escape, and hid them from Union troops.
Furthermore, Garrett wrote that the person staying with them was “the man we only knew as Boyd.” The guns and last name clearly do not match, and these are our first substantial clues that something about the official story is seriously amiss.
We must now introduce Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a bitter Democrat, who fervently hated his own, Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Several noted historians have written that, “Stanton was as unstable as he was arrogant and stubborn. Arrogance and duplicity...honed to virtual art forms...secretive...in marked degree...rude and overbearing...He had a yearning for vengeance...Stanton not only said cutting things of Lincoln, but indulged in contemptuous gestures...‘We’ve got to get rid of that baboon in the White House!’”
Stanton personally countermanded Lincoln’s direct order to give the Legislature of Virginia permission to reconvene after the Confederate surrender on April 9th. U.S. Provost Marshal Colonel Lafayette C. Baker, head of the National Detective Police (NDP, similar to today’s FBI), later wrote in his unpublished book that, “That’s the first time I knew Stanton was one of those responsible for the assassination plot.”
Immediately after the assassination, Secretary Stanton ordered all exit routes from Washington closed, except for the Navy Yard Bridge, where Booth actually escaped. How did he know which bridge was still open? Union Sergeant Silas T. Cobb and Sergeant Frederick A. DeMond, both on duty at the bridge that night, were truly astonished when Booth was allowed to pass, after giving his real name and the unusual password “T.B.” (the name of a small post office, named for Thomas Brooks, five miles south of Lloyd’s Tavern), with the countersign “T.B. Road.” Cobb wrote that, “We thought that strange, for it was the first time we ever had a password to use since we were on that bridge.” Who gave Booth the secret, military password?
The officer responsible for securing all bridges in Washington that night was Major James Rowan O’Beirne. His stern “punishment” for allowing the president’s assassin to freely escape was a direct promotion to brigadier general on September 26th, skipping over the ranks of lieutenant colonel and colonel completely. Does this sound even remotely suspicious?
On that very same night, Major Thomas T. Eckert was working directly for Secretary Stanton as head of the Military Telegraph Corps, responsible for maintaining all military and commercial telegraph lines in and out of Washington. Immediately after the assassination, all commercial telegraph lines out of Washington were blacked out for two hours, causing a severe communications disruption, which was strangely never investigated or explained, at an absolutely critical moment in our nation’s history.
Yet, instead of being disciplined for this staggering failure, Eckert was also promoted directly to brigadier general, and was made the Assistant Secretary of War in 1866! Unbelievable, but absolutely true! Stanton and Eckert had also stubbornly refused President Lincoln’s direct, personal, face-to-face request for Eckert, a huge bear of a man, to act as his bodyguard that same evening at Ford’s Theater. Again, does any of this sound more than slightly suspicious?
In order to track Booth down, Secretary Stanton dispatched First Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty of the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment at two o’clock PM on April 24, 1865, with 25 cavalrymen, adding intelligence officer Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger of the NDP (working for Colonel Lafayette Baker) and Sergeant Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett, a mentally-unstable, religious fanatic, at the last minute, all with specific orders to capture Booth alive and bring him back to Washington. They arrived at Garrett’s Farm in Virginia at three AM on April 26th, where they were told that there were two men inside the old, tobacco barn.
David Herold, a conspirator, surrendered almost immediately, but the other man in the barn, presumably Booth, did not, so the barn was quickly set afire. After a number of attempts to coax the unknown man inside to surrender, Corbett supposedly shot him, allegedly with a Colt 1860 revolver, against official orders, and only then did someone finally ask “Who shot Booth?” Colonel Baker later growled, “What on Earth did you shoot him for?!”
This was the very first time that Booth’s name was actually mentioned. Even Corbett himself later testified that, “His name was not mentioned in the whole affair...I had never seen Booth before.” Corbett’s “punishment” for killing this vitally important fugitive was to have all charges against him dropped, and he received $2,545 in reward money, worth about $36,000 today.
Likewise, Lieutenant Doherty’s punishment for commanding the detachment that violated the Secretary of War’s direct orders and killed a crucial fugitive was a promotion of the rank of captain the very next month, and he received $5,250 in reward money (worth about $74,000 today.) NDP Lieutenant Colonel Conger was quickly promoted to full colonel, and was given $17,500 in reward money (equal to about $250,000 today!) Colonel Lafayette Baker of the NDP was promoted to brigadier general, and also received $17,500 in cash. This is astonishing!
Now the U.S. government had a dead man on their hands, and there was a $100,000 (worth about $1.5 million in 2020 dollars) War Department (Stanton’s responsibility) reward if it was the body of John Wilkes Booth. But there were immediate problems with that account. First, Doherty testified that the man in the barn spoke “in a drawling voice,” but Booth was born and raised in northern Maryland to British parents, and definitely had no Southern drawl in his speech. Secondly, David Herold repeatedly insisted that the man in the barn wasn’t Booth, stating several times that, “He told me his name was Boyd.”
In fact, the entire Garrett family strongly maintained that the older man was introduced to them as “Captain James W. Boyd,” a Confederate officer. None of them ever said that Booth was there, or that Booth was killed. Although they had technically harbored the president’s assassin, the Garretts were strangely never investigated, never placed on trial, or never even asked if the man killed on their property was Booth. One of the Garrett boys saw “Boyd” writing in a small, black diary on April 25, 1865. The real John Wilkes Booth’s diary, however, was red, and ended on April 21, 1865.
Richard Garrett also told John A. Hopkins, a Confederate soldier, that, “The man killed in the building on his farm was not Booth, but a wounded, Confederate soldier who had been at his house (for) several days...He had seen Booth alive, and knew him well, and that he was not killed, and the man who was killed at Garrett’s barn was neither Booth nor anyone like him.” The Hopkins letter is in the E.H. Swain Collection at Georgetown University Library.
Confederate Captain James William Boyd actually existed, and was a prisoner of war, formerly the head of the Confederate Secret Service (an intelligence agency) in western Tennessee. He was 43 years old, had reddish-brown hair and a thick moustache, was badly wounded in the right leg, near the ankle (the wound never healed properly, and he used a crude crutch), and bore a remarkable resemblance to John Wilkes Booth from a distance, except that Booth was only 26 years old, had jet-black hair, and a broken left leg, also walking with a crutch. Complicating matters further, both men bore the initials “JWB” on their hands, with Booth’s on the web of his left hand, and Boyd’s on the middle three fingers of his right hand.
Incredibly enough, Captain Boyd was released from Carroll Prison in Washington, D.C., on February 15, 1865, on the specific, personal order of Secretary of War Stanton himself, just two months prior to Lincoln’s assassination, after offering to serve the Union, and signing an oath of allegiance.
Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the fabled “Gray Ghost,” partisan leader of the 43rd Battalion (“Mosby’s Raiders”), Virginia Cavalry, wrote in 1913 that, “Among the scouts in West Tennessee...among the best they had...Boyd...did a fine job of setting up the partisans in the Valley...There had developed no less than five serious plots to get rid of Lincoln...Booth...was not up to the job. He had brought people into the plan who were totally unreliable...inaction would men lost opportunities...Booth was prepared by a man of proven abilities, Captain James W. Boyd, the Tennessean.”
In fact, among Booth’s possessions recovered from his hotel room was a handwritten, Vigenère code table of exactly the same type used by the Confederate Secret Service, of which Boyd was a former member, to encrypt messages.
Now, Doherty and his soldiers had a dead body at Garrett’s Farm, with a lot of reward money up for grabs if the body was that of John Wilkes Booth. Joseph Zisgen, one of the soldiers, told his friend Wilson D. Kenzie, who later signed a sworn affidavit in 1922, that the man killed in the barn was definitely not Booth. In fact, he wore a gray, Confederate uniform (the official, Army and Navy Journal of April 27, 1865, confirmed in writing that the dead man “wore a gray suit,” while the real Booth was “dressed all in black”) and “yellow brogans” (tan, suede shoes, standard-issue to Confederate troops) on his feet. “This ain’t J. Wilkes Booth at all!” he told his sergeant. Zisgen, however, received $1,654 in reward money (valued at about $24,000 today), which bought his silence for many years.
Kenzie stated that the slain man was a sandy-headed fellow, not Booth: “This fellow’s...red-headed and red-haired. There was no chance of a mistake...Lieutenant Morris...warned me to keep quiet...They had the wrong body.”
Furthermore, the dead body apparently wore two shoes, not just one boot, and a thick moustache, while Booth had just shaved his off only 11 days prior. The infamous, Andrew Potter Papers contain the sworn testimony of NDP Detectives Andrew Giles Potter and Luther Potter, two brothers assigned to chase after John Wilkes Booth. The papers state that the body at Garrett’s Farm had a “long, shaggy moustache.”
Personally observing the corpse, Andrew Potter wrote that, “He sure grew a moustache in a hurry. Red, too!...When we found that it was not Booth that had been killed at Garrett’s, it was too late to go back, and in fact, we were ordered not to do so...we were not to tamper with that story...Stanton said, ‘Booth will be forgotten if we continue to let the nation believe he’s dead. If we admit that we killed Boyd by mistake, and continue the hunt for Booth, he might be captured alive...questions were being asked which could lead to answers which the government...did not want known.”
In 1937, Helen Allan, the widow of Lieutenant William C. Allan, a U.S. Secret Service agent in 1865, told a journalist that her husband “saw the man at Garrett’s Farm who had been killed, and that the man had red hair,” adding that the government knew that the man was not Booth, but they were determined to foist this man on the nation as Booth instead.
There were five credible eyewitnesses who actually saw Booth and Boyd together at the Rappahannock River ferry at midday at Port Conway, Virginia, on April 24, 1865. Three Confederate officers, Captain William S. “Willie” Jett from the 9th Virginia Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, and First Lieutenants Absalom R. Bainbridge and Mortimer B. Ruggles (who were cousins) from Colonel Mosby’s famous 43rd Cavalry Battalion, and Walter Pittman of Mississippi, a river-crossing engineer, were all present when Booth, Boyd, and Herold arrived from Maryland.
Ruggles later said that, “We were there to come face-to-face with John Wilkes Booth...though he had shaved off his moustache, upon his lip and face was a beard of some 10 days growth.” A fourth Confederate cavalry eyewitness, Enoch Wellford Mason, age 21, of the 5th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, immediately rode south to inform Colonel Mosby that Booth had successfully escaped into Virginia.
Pittman observed that Booth was accompanied by a very stern man who “had on a gray uniform, and had all kinds of guns and revolvers and belted knives...like an arsenal on horseback. He was a grim-looking fellow, silent as a sphinx.” He was introduced as “Boyd,” and then he turned around and recrossed the river into Maryland again to retrieve some items that Booth had left behind (probably his diary and other possessions), leaving Booth and Herold in Virginia. But Boyd would soon return, empty-handed.
Corroborating this account is the official diary of Congressman George W. Julian of Indiana, who attended a meeting at the War Department on April 24, 1865, two days before the man at Garrett’s Farm was killed. Attending the meeting in addition were Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Major Thomas T. Eckert, Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan, and Senator John Conness of California. Incredibly, also present at the meeting was John Wilkes Booth’s leather-bound, red diary! The subject of discussion was the potentially disastrous effect that the publication of highly-incriminating information in the diary would have, and the need to keep that information Top Secret.
Julian wrote, “It was disgusting to see those men grovel in fear because of their immoral activities.” He then quoted Stanton as saying, “We either stick together in this thing, or we all hang together.” Stanton declared that Booth would never be tried in open court. Apparently, Booth’s diary had been located near Gambo Creek, Maryland, by a Union, NDP, Indian scout named Whippet Nalgai, who returned to Washington on April 23rd with the diary, a Colt 1851 Navy revolver, a compass, a wallet containing $2,100 in Union currency, and photographs of five pretty women, subsequently identified as actresses Alice Grey, Euphemia “Effie” Germon, and Fanny Brown, and also Lucy “Bessie” Hale (Booth’s secret fiancée), and Helen Western.
Interestingly enough, Stanton sent the photos to Doctor Edward Curtis of the Army Medical Museum to have glass negatives made. Four of these negatives still exist at Indiana State University, and the original photos now belong to the National Park Service at Ford’s Theater. Three of the glass plates contain the initials “N.D.P.” (for National Detective Police) in addition to Curtis’ initials, “E.C.,” and the date that he actually created the plates, “4-24-65,” two days before Booth was supposedly killed at Garrett’s Farm, with the official, government story always being that the diary and photos were recovered from Booth’s dead body. This is direct, physical evidence that proves that Stanton and the NDP had the diary and photos well before the shooting at Garrett’s Farm, totally contradicting the official story that we’ve all been told in the history books!
In fact, Boyd was known to have recently acquired at least one Spencer carbine (possibly two), three revolvers, and a large, hunting knife. The rugged, Bowie-style knife actually recovered at Garrett’s Farm was a “Rio Grand (not Grande) Camp Knife” by William Jackson of Sheffield, England, very clearly not matching the fancier, Manson-Sheffield “Booth dagger” now on display in Ford’s Theater.
After the man in the barn was killed at Garrett’s Farm, Lieutenant Bainbridge was in the local area, and saw the body early that morning, noting that, “His long, dark moustache swept over his mouth in a straggling, unkempt manner...the telltale initials ‘JWB’ done in India ink on his right hand.” This was clearly Boyd, not Booth.
Lieutenant Ruggles, who had been to the Garrett Farm both before and after the shooting incident, further added that, “Sergeant Boston Corbett...could not have seen ‘Booth’ where he stood, and certainly could not have been able to shoot him in the back of the head...No one saw Corbett fire.”
There were, in fact, many problems with the Corbett story. The official autopsy on the body, performed by Surgeon General Doctor Joseph K. Barnes himself, stated that, “The cause of death was a gunshot wound in the neck...severing the spinal cord...killed April 26, 1865, by a conoidal (conical) pistol ball...from a cavalry revolver...Death, from asphyxia, took place about two hours (actually, four hours) after...the injury.” Yet The New York Times, on April 18, 1886, very clearly stated that the body “was taken from the Garrett barn with Boston Corbett’s carbine bullet in his neck.” A 2006 book by R.T. Smith quotes Corbett as saying, “I used my carbine.”
Many historians agree that Sergeant Corbett was issued only a carbine, and not a revolver, since revolvers were used primarily by officers, not enlisted men, and artwork of the fiery incident at the barn by professional illustrator Roy Knipe also depicts Corbett firing a carbine at night. Even an illustration in Smithsonian Magazine, April 8, 2015, appears to show Corbett preparing to fire into the tobacco barn with a carbine. Also, The New York Times on December 2, 1887, mentioned “the identical, Enfield rifle with which Corbett shot the slayer of Lincoln.” Model 1858 and Model 1860 Enfield rifles in .577-caliber were, in fact, widely issued to the Union Army during the Civil War.
In addition, eyewitness Richard B. Garrett stated that, “Boston Corbett...said he had fired the fatal shot to save the life of his commander as Booth was just in the act of firing upon him. It was not true. He made no movement to fire upon anybody.”
So, once again, we have a case of the guns and ammunition in the official, government story not matching the actual facts. These are the kinds of critical details that can make or break a serious, murder investigation.
Next, the dead man’s body was transported to Washington, D.C., and placed aboard the USS Montauk gunboat, ostensibly for “identification,” although none of Booth’s relatives, friends, fellow actors, or acquaintances were actually permitted to view the body, and were not even allowed aboard the ship. On the orders of Secretary Stanton himself, only 13 people were allowed aboard to see the body, 10 of whom were War Department employees, “to go aboard and see the body of John Wilkes Booth.” Thus, Stanton’s specific order pre-identified the unknown body as Booth’s before anyone had even seen it!
Lieutenant Doherty, who’d led the detachment that killed the man in the barn, was ordered to, “Go to your barracks and keep your mouth shut!” shortly before being promoted to captain. Conspirator David Herold, who was aboard the ship, was also not allowed to view the body, and kept insisting that his dead companion was Boyd, not Booth. Herold, alongside three more low-level conspirators, was illegally hanged at 1:30 PM on July 7, 1865, at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary (now Fort Lesley J. McNair) by a harsh, vengeful, military tribunal that was officially ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court only nine months later, in order to ensure his permanent silence.
Most witnesses noted that the dead man had a long, bushy, red mustache, whereas Booth’s jet-black moustache was shaved off only 11 days previously, and was slowly growing back only as dark stubble. Provost Marshal General James L. McPhail wrote that, “On his right hand are the initials of his name.” Booth’s initials were definitely on his left hand, but Boyd’s were on his right hand.
Doctor John Frederick May was called as a 14th witness to view the body, having once removed a fibroid tumor from Booth’s neck just two years before. His initial reaction aboard the ship, to Surgeon General Barnes, was, “There is no resemblance to Booth, nor can I believe it to be him.” Then, after being strongly pressured (threatened, coerced, or bribed, most likely) by the Military Commission, he reported that, “I am enabled, imperfectly, to recognize the features of Booth...although it is very much altered since I saw Booth. It seems much older and in appearance, much more freckled than he was. I do not recollect that he was at all freckled.”
John Wilkes Booth, at only 26, was famous for his perfect, blemish-free complexion, with no freckles, but James William Boyd, age 43, of hardy, Irish ancestry, had reddish-brown hair, a ruddy complexion (Booth had apparently even nicknamed him “Ruddy,” according to later documents), a tendency to freckle, and a broken and festering right leg. Dr. May was then dismissed and returned home, where he immediately wrote that, “The right limb was greatly contused, and perfectly black from a fracture of one of the long bones of the leg.” Booth broke his left leg, not his right leg.
World-famous photographer Alexander Gardner, who had previously photographed both Lincoln and Booth when they were alive, was brought aboard ship to photograph the body, which he gave no indication of recognizing, and was told to take just “one picture.” Then, he was escorted to a darkroom by NDP Detective James A. Wardell, who had strict orders not to leave his side. Wardell then took possession of both the negative and the only print, and gave them to NDP chief Colonel Lafayette Baker, who worked directly for Stanton. The government later denied that any photo had been taken, and it ended up in Stanton’s personal possession, but not before Detective Wardell examined it, noting that, “The moustache was shaggy and dirty.” Booth had no moustache.
After April 26, 1865, Captain James William Boyd completely vanished from the face of the Earth without a trace. He failed to show up in Brownsville, Texas, to meet his oldest son, James, for a “well-funded” trip to Mexico. There is no death certificate for him (nor for John Wilkes Booth, for that matter), no date or cause of death, no identified, physical remains, and no tombstone or grave marker anywhere. He has often been confused with former, Union scout James Waters Boyd, who died in Tennessee on January 1, 1866, because they were both “James W. Boyd” from Jackson, Tennessee, but there was a very distinct difference. The body from Garrett’s Farm was secretly and unceremoniously buried, on Edwin Stanton’s specific orders, inside a large, gun box under a stone slab in the floor of the Old Arsenal Penitentiary in Washington, D.C.
The decomposing body was then exhumed in 1869, and given to the Booth family for burial in Baltimore, Maryland. It had reddish-tinted hair, and just one dental filling. Booth had jet-black hair, and two very recent, gold, dental fillings, per his own dentist, Dr. William Merrill. Blanche Chapman, an actress, cousin, and friend of Booth’s, was present when the body was exhumed in 1869. She reported that, “Mr. (Charles B.) Bishop carefully drew off one of the long riding boots (plural), which were still on the feet and limbs of the body.” Booth’s left boot, recovered from Doctor Mudd’s home, was still in government possession, so who was the dead man wearing two boots?
Basil Moxley, a former doorman at Ford’s Opera House in Baltimore and pallbearer at the 1869 re-interment of the body, stated in 1903 that, “Certainly the body buried in Green Mount (Cemetery) was not that of Booth...I had known Booth all my life...The hair on the dead body was of a reddish-brown color (and longer than Booth had ever grown his hair), while Booth’s was black as a raven’s wig...we all knew at the time that the body was not that of John Wilkes Booth...I do not believe that John Wilkes Booth was ever killed in that barn...What we got...is...a red-haired man...I will never believe that Booth was killed, and am confident that he escaped.”
General/Judge James Rowan O’Beirne, the very same man who allowed Booth to escape from Washington, D.C., and who was later awarded the Medal of Honor in 1891 for the 1862 Battle of Fair Oaks, told Izola Forrester, John Wilkes Booth’s granddaughter, in October 1908, that, “I can tell you something...you will never find on any report...There were three men in that barn, and one of them escaped...We were all pledged to secrecy in those days. It was not safe to tell anything. Everyone was after a share of the reward. I received $2,000 myself (worth about $28,500 today.)”
The official, Congressional Record for July 28, 1866, quotes Senator Garrett Davis of Kentucky stating openly on the Senate floor that, “I should like some senator to give the Senate some assurance that Abraham Lincoln’s murderer was, in fact, killed...I want it proved that Booth was in the barn...Why was he not taken alive?...Why so much secrecy about it?...There is a mystery and a most-inexcusable mystery...I want to be assured of the facts...to have implicated all who are guilty and to have exculpated all who are innocent.” So, even the U.S. Senate was conspicuously kept in the dark regarding the confusing and secretive shooting at Garrett’s Farm.
The historical details presented here, within the very limited scope of this article, barely scratch the surface of the overwhelming mountain of evidence in the Lincoln-assassination conspiracy case. This author has complied an exceptionally-detailed, well-illustrated, 151-slide, PowerPoint presentation lasting nearly three hours, and entitled “Did Booth Escape?”
In 2013, I joined a team of researchers, historians, lawyers, and one leading, DNA forensic anthropologist (Doctor Krista E. Latham, Ph.D.), as well as two members of the Booth family, urging two U.S. senators and two congressmen (from both political parties) to petition the U.S. Army to permit DNA testing of the three cervical vertebrae removed from the man killed at Garrett’s Farm, and now at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Despite these four high-level, congressional requests, two months later, the Army adamantly refused to allow any (even minimally-invasive) DNA testing of the vertebrae. There is only one conceivable reason for this refusal: They already know the answer, and it’s not Booth’s DNA in the bones.
Noted historian Troy Cowan, the author of Lincoln, Davis, and Booth: Family Secrets, published in 2017, expertly summarized this entire, sordid scenario, filling in some of the mysterious gaps. Cowan wrote: “Edwin Stanton, planned Lincoln’s assassination...(Captain) James William Boyd was Stanton’s (chosen) assassin...Boyd went to work for (Colonel Lafayette) Baker...to map the best escape routes out of Washington...where a Confederate soldier would find people willing to assist in their escape. On April 14, Boyd had been a free man for (two) months, and saw no benefit to himself to kill Lincoln; he left Washington...Because Boyd had too much detrimental information on Stanton, Stanton needed Boyd silenced forever.
“Booth...gave the password he got from Vice President (Andrew) Johnson and crossed into Maryland...Samuel Cox...helped escaped, Confederate prisoners return to the South...Boyd was at Mr. Cox’s house when...Booth arrived...Boyd informed Booth that Mosby’s Raiders were at the Rappahannock River crossing, and for $300, he could meet with Mosby and arrange for his assistance. Booth agreed.
“Baker realized that they were following Boyd’s (escape-route) map...Baker concluded that Boyd must be working with Booth...Stanton then selected two of his trusted men, Lieutenant Doherty and (Lieutenant) Colonel Conger, to find Boyd and kill him. Because Boyd knew of Stanton and Baker’s involvement in a plan to assassinate Lincoln...Booth knew nothing of Stanton’s plan, and there was no need to kill him.
“On April 25, the day before Doherty and his men arrived at the Garrett Farm, Booth left the Garrett home for the Shenandoah Valley. That night, Herold and Boyd were sleeping in the Garrett barn...Colonel Conger pushed burning straw through the barn’s open slats and set the barn on fire. In the bright light of the fire, Boyd was visible to Colonel Conger...(who) knew this was his chance to kill him.
“Colonel Conger shot Boyd (with his 1860 Colt .44 revolver), hitting him in the neck...Stanton and Baker were very relieved that Boyd was dead, and they began to falsify evidence to show that Booth was the man that died...Conger found a dupe to take the blame for killing the man identified as Booth...All (Sergeant Boston) Corbett had to do is never change his story that he killed John Wilkes Booth.”
This detailed and entirely-credible account certainly explains why the man in the barn was officially killed by a pistol ball, but Corbett apparently carried only a carbine, and was subsequently issued a revolver after the fact by Stanton, specifically to account for this glaring discrepancy. Since then, Corbett’s carbine and revolver have both disappeared.
It also explains why Baker and Conger together received a whopping 35 percent of the reward money, worth a half-million dollars today! Colonel Baker later admitted his own involvement in the assassination plot with Stanton in a series of secret ciphers located in 1960 by Doctor Ray A. Neff of Indiana State University, stating of Stanton that, “I realized his mental disunity and his insane and fanatical hatred for the president...There were at least 11 members of Congress involved in the plot...I am constantly being followed. They are professionals.”
Baker also left a decoded, rhyming confession in Colburn’s United Service Magazine of England, dated February 5, 1868, stating that, “Lest one is left to wonder what happened to the spy, I can safely tell you this, it was I.” He was fired from the NDP in 1866 for spying on President Johnson, and died on July 3, 1868, supposedly from “meningitis,” after being slowly poisoned with arsenic (proven by chemical analysis of a lock of his hair) in his beer by his wife’s brother, Wally Pollack, a War Department employee. Secretary Stanton was fired by President Johnson for opposing his policies in 1868, and died of an asthma attack on Christmas Eve 1869, at age 55.
Later, President Ulysses S. Grant commissioned a secret, four-year investigation into the very suspicious deaths of an “oddly high” number of people associated with the War Department, and believed to have deep knowledge of the Lincoln assassination. This commission was led by Major General Lewis “Lew” Wallace, later the author of Ben Hur (1880), with NDP Detectives Andrew and Luther Potter conducting most of the investigations.
The really interesting aspect of this story is how the small details of Booth’s and Corbett’s actual guns not matching the official story led to other, very serious mismatches, including the hair color not matching Booth’s, the moustaches not matching, and the initials and broken leg being on the opposite sides from Booth’s initials and injured leg. There is much, much more to this historical case that cannot be adequately described in the limited space available here, including the full depth and extent of the vast conspiracy to kill President Lincoln, who else was involved, and what happened to the 86 missing pages (according to the FBI in 1948) from Booth’s red diary.
According to the vast preponderance of very detailed and credible evidence from many noted historians and authors, John Wilkes Booth escaped (with Confederate assistance), probably traveled to Canada, England, India, and China for a few years (as “John B. Wilkes”), and then returned to the United States in approximately 1871, was briefly married (as “John W. Boothe,” according to the actual, marriage certificate) to Louisa J. Paine in Tennessee in 1872, and had children and grandchildren. Afterward, his life was considerably less happy, and he remained constantly on the run for some years. Did he die peacefully in his bed at a very old age? No, but that’s another, truly fascinating story altogether!
Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.
Photo Credit: Ford’s Theater Museum