FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth


iSpeech

In comparing the statements of St. Helen, or Booth, with that of Gen. Dana, made twenty or twen­ty-five years after the occurrences, we find that Gen. Dana's statement published in the city of Boston in 1897, is almost a verbatim copy of that made by St. Helen to me in the State of Texas, though more than two thousand miles of territory divided them and a difference in time of some years intervened. These statements could not have been preconcerted, and be­cause of these conditions, each corroborating the other, the accounts of the affair bear the stamp of physical truth.

The reader will not fail to note with anxious con­cern, and demand explanation of the statement of Gen. Dana, when he says:

"The life of the President (Lincoln) was then (on the 14th day of April, 1865) known to be in immin­ent and impending danger, and so well was this known to him and others, that he asked and obtained an extra force of mounted men to better guard the life of the President (Lincoln), and the lines of protection had been tightened around Washington City in every precautionary way, looking to the safe­ty of the life of the President, then threatened. Be­ing thus forewarned, forearmed and fully prepared to guard against a danger known to him, why was it that without a change in these conditions, the life of the President still threatened, without increase of hope for his safety, or promised immunity, rumored or otherwise, danger to which the commanding of­ficer, Major Gen. C. C. Augur, and himself, Gen. Dana, were admittedly advised of, John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, a known Southern sympathizer who constitute one of the class of men from whom the officers expected the attempted assault on the President with the purpose of taking his life, of which they had been forewarned, permitted to enter the city less than eight hours before the assassina­tion under his own name of John Wilkes Booth f And Herold, Booth's accomplice, was also permitted to enter with him. They entered the city in such a manner as to cause suspicion of their conduct and purpose, were arrested and detained for a number of hours at the East Potomac bridge. Yet they were permitted to leave the city, returning over the very bridge where they had been held prisoners only eight hours before. They approached the bridge under circumstances that should have excited sus­picion, the same suspicious characters who had been detained but a few hours before, and yet were permitted to pass the guards without arrest by simply giving the pass word "T. B." or "T. B. Road," which was meaningless, unless understood by the guard on duty.

It will be remembered that Gen. Dana says that the strictest orders had been given to the guards to permit no one to pass at night, except on account of sickness or death, and that all suspicious characters were to be arrested and sent to headquarters to be examined by the commanding officer, Gen. C. C. Augur. If these orders were to be carried out by the guards they were violated because it was night and the reason given by Booth to pass out was neither sickness or death. It can not be denied that the approach of Booth and Herold to this bridge, from the city about ten thirty o'clock at night, their horses under full spur, at a high rate of speed, necessarily created suspicion in the minds of the guards, under circumstances to be remembered. Booth, a suspicious character, first approached, giv­ing the words "T. B.," or "T. B. Road," and was passed, while Herold, also a suspicious character it seems, passed the guards by simply inquiring if a man had passed, and describing Booth. A few min­utes later, coming in hot pursuit, the livery man and owner of the horse ridden by Herold reached the bridge, chasing Herold and just behind him, was stopped and made to tell his purpose, which was:

That he wanted to overtake Herold, who was rid­ing away with his horse; that the President had been shot and that Booth and Herold were guilty and were escaping. It seems that this excuse was not sufficient for the guard on duty, and the owner of the horse, the leader of the chase after the escaping criminals, was turned back. (This was the commotion of which Mr. Demond speaks when they learned of the shooting of President Lincoln and the incident mentioned by Secretary John Hay in his public utterance when referring to the passing of Booth and Herold over the bridge and the pursuit of the owner of the horse ridden by Herold, when he says, "Booth and Herold were permitted to pass and the only hon­est man who sought to pass was stopped.")

In this connection we have no information from history or Gen. Dana, from whom such information should come, that the guard who allowed Booth and Herold to pass was disciplined for the violation of orders. It, therefore, stands to reason that the guard was not punished but was simply carrying out orders in passing Booth, and Herold his ac­complice, and also in refusing to allow others to pass. But is the situation explained by Gen. Dana, who says that the orders prohibited the passing of persons through the lines, except upon conditions mentioned, and that he had individually taken in the guards at the East Potomac bridge, which he had not.

The question is, what interest did he have—or why should Dana individually do this, and intrust his orders at all other points to be delivered by an orderly? What special interest, I ask, should Dana have had in this identical spot, through which Booth was later to escape when he had killed Presi­dent Lincoln?

Gen. Dana, himself, confesses that he went to the East Potomac bridge and gave his orders in person. And, again, I ask, What were those orders? His­tory does not record. He does not say. The only answer is the act of the guard. Let the world inter­pret what those orders were. It is true, beoause it was a physical fact, the guard was on duty—Booth was allowed to pass on giving the pass word "T. B.;" Herold, his accomplice, was allowed to pass. Was the guard obeying orders when he allowed Booth and Herold to pass and turned back "the only honest man," the man in pursuit? If this act of the guard was a violation of orders he was caught red-handed and should have been punished as a particeps criminis for the crime of the assassination of President Lincoln. The penalty for which, under the order of Secretary Stanton of April 20th, 1865, making all those who aided Booth in his escape guilty of his (Booth's) crime, was punishable by death. Then, I ask, why was not this punishment meted out to the men who alone had it in their power to prevent the escape of Booth and Herold, but who did, knowingly, permit them to escape?

Further, Gen. Dana says that the orders were for calling in the guards to his headquarters, located at Fort Baker, and that he individually gave the orders at the East Potomac bridge; that these orders were issued to him (Dana) about four o'clock in the afternoon of April 14th, 1865, by Gen. C. C. Augur.

The reader is asked to note the significance of the fact that at about this hour St. Helen (Booth) says that he and Vice-President Johnson had separated at the Kirkwood hotel, Johnson going to arrange for Booth's escape. Is this order to Dana from his superior commanding officer, Major Gen. C. C. Augur, an echo of Johnson's mission?

Again, Gen. Dana says that in pursuance to these orders the guards were removed to his headquar­ters at Fort Baker. But it is a physical fact that at ten thirty o'clock p. m., when Booth crossed the bridge, the guards had not been removed; and if removed at all it was done after this as a subterfuge for carrying out the order to call in the guards, which seems to have been the case. For true it is that Gen. Dana says he had not reached his head­quarters with this guard until about eleven o'clock p. m. that night and was eating his evening meal when he first received word of the shooting of the President.

Any one knowing the distance from the East Potomac bridge to Fort Baker will readily under­stand how Gen. Dana, together with his guards, mounted and leaving the East Potomac bridge at about ten thirty o'clock could reach Fort Baker at or about eleven o'clock. This would make the state­ments of Gen. Dana consistent, and this I believe to be a correct explanation of his seeming contra­diction in respect to the matter of withdrawing the guards from the East Potomac bridge, which respon­sibility he personally assumed and for which he will be held responsible.

However this may be, it is true that the guards were on duty at the bridge and, as a matter of fact and of history, whether intentionally or unintention­ally, did assist Booth and his accomplice in passing the line, and equally true that they did refuse to allow the owner of the horse ridden by Herold to pass a few minutes later. Then, I ask, why this discrimination against the man in pursuit of the fleeing assassin and his accomplice 1 This can only be answered by the guards, or Gen. Dana. Unless the conduct of the guards explains. But, legally holding these men responsible for the necessary con­sequence of their acts, they did aid Booth in his escape, while all the circumstances attendant upon Booth's passing of the guards tend to establish their guilty knowledge, or the guilty knowledge and conduct of their superior officers.

At this eleventh hour, while he was yet at his meal, Gen. Dana says he was ordered before Gen. C C Augur, but then too late, as the crime had been already committed and the assassin had escaped the confines of the military powers of Washington.

Gen. Dana, on reaching the headquarters of Gen. Augur, found him in tears and his first words were: 4'My God, marshal, if I had listened to your advice this terrible thing would never have happened."

Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth_Page_150
Gen. C.C. Augur.,Commander of the Army Stationed Around Washington for Protection of the Life of Lincoln, and the Home of the Government. Who Issued the Order Calling in the Guards.

I ask, and the civilized world listens for the reply —What had Gen. Dana advised Gen. Augur touch­ing the safety of the President, and "this terrible thing," as he calls it, prior to the assassination, which, in Gen. Augur's opinion, if heeded, would have prevented the killing of President Lincoln t Is this a self-accusation—an unwitting admission of his responsibility for the death of President Lin­coln t This expression of self-accusation, taken in connection with Gen. Augur's surprising and unex­plained order, issued about four o'clock on April 14th, 1865, in face of the known and impending danger to the life of President Lincoln, is startling. The withdrawing of the guard from the protection of the President on the late afternoon of the evening of his assassination has never been explained. And the bloody deed was accomplished in less than six hours after the order of withdrawal was issued, and before the ink was well dry on the record which changed the policy of the government for the pro­tection of the life of the President, long guarded by a well-maintained standing army at Washington, and made possible the escape of the assassin. With­out reason, without explanation and without re­quest, and without suggestion even, of the President, or any other person in authority in the army superi­or in command to Gen. C. C. Augur, this important move was made, changing the fixed plans and tear­ing down the barriers of protection so long deemed , necessary by the government as a wise and pruden­tial policy, upon the authority and orders only of Gen. C. C. Augur, so far as we are informed by Gen. Dana.

In the light of events following this mysterious order, we ask, to what conduct of his or advice of Gen. Dana could Major Gen. C. C. Augur refer as his failure to listen to Gen. Dana! Could it have been that Dana had advised the holding of Booth and Herold while they were yet prisoners at the block house, at the East Potomac bridge? Or had he, against the advice or knowledge of Gen. Dana, entered into the plans of conspiracy against the life of President Lincoln?

One would infer from the statements imputed to him by Gen. Dana that Major Gen. Augur had had it in his power, and was so advised by Gen. Dana, to save the life of the President and had failed to do so and that, too, against the admonitions of Gen. Dana, to which he (Augur) had declined to listen, according to his own confession.

This leads to the conclusion that Gen. Augur must have known of a purpose to take the life of Presi­dent Lincoln previous to the assassination; other­wise he could not have prevented it by taking the advice of Gen. Dana. According to Dana's state­ment Gen. Augur admits that he could have pre­vented the commission of an act by another. Unless Gen. Augur had knowledge of the purpose to com­mit that act, and of the person who was to perform the specific act complained of, he had no such power as he admitted. Therefore, upon the statement of Gen. Dana, which we assume to be true, Major Gen. C. C. Augur had a knowledge of some act, which, if performed, would have saved the life of President Lincoln. Reasoning from the assumed admission to physical facts, based upon the proviso that Gen. Dana is correctly reporting, which I believe to be true because his report of the pursuit of Booth is in the main a strong corroboration of the story of St. Helen (or Booth) told to me, this is the inevit­able conclusion, applying the legal rule, the stand­ard by which we measure the words of men—if true in one thing, true in all, or false in one thing, false in all. This rule must sustain the statements of Dana, which, without further explanation, must show that Major Gen. Augur, on his own confession, could have saved the life of President Lincoln, bat did not do it, even when advised to do so by Gen. Dana, his subordinate officer, and conscience-whip­ped after the assassination he cries out:

"My God, marshal, if I had taken your advice this terrible thing would not have happened."

And shall these words ring on and on through the changing cycles of time, a lasting tribute to the truth of the old, trite saying, "Murder will out" and "truth, though crushed to the earth, will rise again?"

CHAPTER X.

THE EAST POTOMAC BRIDGE

Gen. Dana says, in speaking of the pursuit of Booth and Herold: "Booth and Herold remained a day and one night at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd." St. Helen (or Booth) told me they reached the home of Dr. Mudd just before daylight on the morning of April 15th, 1865, the morning after the assassination, where his riding boot was cut off by Dr. Mudd and his sprained ankle and fractured shin bone dressed and splintered by the doctor with parts of a cigar box, and the old doctor made him a rough crutch out of a broom handle; when after an early breakfast, their horses in the brush near by, having finished feeding, they, thanking and paying Dr. Mudd for his services, mounted their horses and left, riding the most direct way they could, keeping well in the country and by-roads, to the home of Mr. Cox, during the 15th day of April, 1865, the day after the killing of President Lincoln, showing sub­stantial corroboration of Gen. Dana so far.

Gen. Dana says Booth and Herold killed their horses while they were in hiding back of the Cox plantation on the Potomac river, but Booth says the horses were not killed but taken away, as he sup­posed, by Mr. Jones.

That this is true, I am inclined to believe, for two reasons: First, the horse ridden by Booth and de­scribed to me by St. Helen (or Booth) was a very fine and valuable animal, purchased by him in Mary­land some time before this event. The second rea­son is that Gen. Dana's men were too close on Booth and Herold to permit of their killing the horses, which must have been done by shooting them. Dana then says they were buried. This would have been a physical impossibility, for Booth, in his crippled condition, could not help and Herold was without the necessary implements with which to do it.

Booth says the Federal troops of cavalry were so close to them in their hiding in the pine brush be­hind the Cox plantation that they could hear the footfalls of the horses and the voices of the men, and for that reason their horses were taken away to pre­vent their neighs from attracting attention to them by the passing Cavalry, as they "had neighed fre­quently, much to our fear and discomfort."

Gen. Dana further says that "Booth and Herold must have had guides." The truth is Herold was well acquainted with this section of the country, as was Booth, from his previous inspections of this route over which Lincoln was to have been carried if kidnaped and taken to Richmond, as originally designed. It is true, however, that Herold was to some extent a guide for Booth.

Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth_Page_156
MRS. SURRATT At Her Boarding house in Washington City. Where Booth Met Her Son, John H. Surratt, delivering the letter from David E. Herold, Their Mutual Friend.

Herold is dead and I suppose I am the only liv­ing man who knows why Booth became associated with Herold, so unlike and inferior to himself, for David E. Herold was seemingly a man of no cultiva­tion, and was a drug clerk employed in a drug store in Washington City, where he made the acquaint­ance of Booth.

The explanation made to me by St. Helen (or Booth) was that he had become acquainted with Herold while he was a clerk in a drug store which he (Booth) frequented to buy cosmetics sometimes used by him in his or others' makeup for the stage. And at these meetings he learned of Herold's old acquaintance with this section of the country, what was then called "The underground route be­tween Washington, D. C, and Richmond, Virginia/' and for this reason he made a friend of Herold and took him into his confidence. It was in company with Herold that Booth made his first as well as many other trips over this route. In the meantime he learned that Herold knew John H. Surratt. Hav­ing found Herold a willing and loyal friend, desir­ous of lending himself to Booth's plans against the

Federal government and the life of President Lin­coln, Booth trusted him; and it will be remembered that it was Herold who gave Booth the letter of in­troduction to John H. Surratt.

Mrs. Surratt, the most prominent of the persons suspected of complicity in Booth's crime, was inno­cent of any complicity whatever in the matter; was a woman of middle age at the time of her execution, rather good-looking, and the mother of two or more children, among them John H. Surratt and a daugh­ter. Mrs. Surratt was at one time comfortably well off but had been reduced to the necessity of remov­ing from Surrattville, her home, to Washington, where she kept a boarding house on H street. I am informed that Mrs. Surratt is the only woman ever hanged by a judgment of a Federal Adjudica­tion.

Recurring to the incident at the East Potomac bridge and the statements made by Demond to Gen. Dana, where he says, "I well remember when you came down to meet some one that was waiting on the Washington side, but never knew who it was un­til I read the account given by you in The Sunday Globe."

Is this statement suggestive T Gen. Dana fails to mention that he had a meeting with some third party who was waiting for him at the East Potomac bridge on the Washington side.

Was this meeting by prearrangement f And does it explain why Gen. Dana went in person to the East Potomac bridge, ostensibly to call in the guard, but presumably to meet this party in waiting? We reach this conclusion from the physical fact that he did meet this party and that he did not call in the guards, if so, not until Booth had made good his escape.

Gen. Dana says that he went in person to the East Potomac bridge to call in the guard, using this language: "On the line from Port Meigs to Sur-rattville I went in person and withdrew my guard to my headquarters," his headquarters being at Port Baker. He follows this statement by saying: "I returned to headquarters about eleven o'clock that night and had dismissed my guards." Thus referring to, or meaning, the guards which he had called in from the East Potomac bridge, the point where Booth crossed the river.

Booth killed the President about ten minutes past ten o'clock p. m. and arrived at the East Potomac and crossed the bridge about ten thirty o'clock. Gen. Dana says he received the order to call in the guards about four o'clock that afternoon; that he went in person to call in the guards from this bridge; that he reached his headquarters at Fort Baker and dis­missed his guards about eleven o'clock that night. Gen. Dana gives no account of himself from four o'clock p. m. until about eleven o'clock p..as. of. the 14th day of April, 1865. Nothing of what he did at the bridge, what time he reached there, or when he left. Nothing of who this third party was at the bridge waiting on the Washington side, with whom he was seen to meet and talk by Demond.

Where was Gen. Dana when President Lincoln was shot! Of this he gives no account. Where was he when Booth and Herold crossed the bridge about ten thirty o'clock! Of this time he gives no account. Was he present at the bridge! He says he with­drew the guards, and the guards were present when Booth and Herold crossed!

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