FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth

Baker and Conger believed Booth to be at Bowling Green, fifteen miles away, and so they pushed on, leaving behind the man they so much desired to cap* tore.

“It was near midnight when the party clattered into Bowling Green, and with hardly a spoken com­mand surrounded the dark, rambling hotel. Baker stepped boldly to the front door, while Conger Strode to the rear, from which came the dismal barking of a dog. Presently a light flickered on and some one opened the door ajar and inquired in a frightened, feminine voice, what was wanted. Baker thrust his toe inside, flung the door open and was confronted by a woman. At this moment Con­ger came through from the back way, led by a negro. The woman admitted at once that there was a Confederate cavalryman sleeping in the house and promptly pointed out the room. Baker and Conger, candle in hand, at once entered. Capt. Jett sat up staring at them and said: ” ‘What do you want!’

” ‘We want you/ answered Conger. ‘You took Booth across the river, and you know where he is.’

” ‘You are mistaken in your man/ Jett replied rolling out of bed.

” ‘You lie!’ roared Conger, springing forward, his pistol close, to Jett’s head.

“By this time the cavalrymen had crowded into the room and Jett saw the candle light glinting on their brass buttons and on their drawn revolvers.

” ‘Upon my honor as a gentleman/ he said, pal­ing, ‘I will tell you all I know if you will shield me from complicity in the whole matter/

” ‘Yes, if we get Booth/ responded Conger.

” ‘Booth is at the Garrett home, three miles thifc side of Port Conway/ he said. ‘If you came that way you may have frightened him off, for you must have passed the place.

“In less than thirty minutes the pursuing party was doubling back over the road by which it had just come, bearing Jett with it as a prisoner.

“The bridle reins of the horse ridden by him were fastened to the men on each side of him in the fear that he would make a dash to escape and alarm Booth and Herold.

“It was a black night, no moon, no stars, and the dust rose in choking clouds. For two days the men had eaten little and slept less, and they were sd worn out that they could hardly sit on their jaded horses, and yet they plunged and stumbled on through the darkness over fifteen miles of mean­dering country road, reaching the Garrett home at half-past 3 or 4 o’clock on the morning of April 26, 1865.

“Like many other Southern places, Garrett’s home stood far back from the road, with a bridle gate at the end of a long lane. So exhausted were the cav­alrymen that some of them dropped down in the sand when their horses stopped and had to be kicked into wakefulness. Rollins and Jett were placed under guard and Baker and Conger made a dash up the lane, some of the cavalry following. Gar­rett’s house was an old-fashioned southern mansion, somewhat dilapidated, with a wide! hospitable piazza, reaching its full length in front, and barns and tobacco houses looming up big and dark apart

“Baker leaped from his horse to the steps and thundered on the door. A moment later a window close at hand was cautiously raised and a man thrust his head out. Before he could say a word Baker seized him by the arm and said: ‘Open the door! Be quick about it!’ The old man, trembling, complied, and Baker stepped inside, closing the door behind him. A candle was quickly lighted, and then Baker demanded of Garrett to reveal the hiding place of the men who had been staying in the house.

” ‘They are gone to the woods,’ he said. (This was true, as Booth had gone to the woods about 2 or 3 o’clock the day before, when notified by Bug­gies and Bainbridge.) Baker thrust his revolver in the old man’s face. ‘Don’t tell me that,’ he said. ‘They are here.’

“Conger now came in with young Garrett. ‘Don’t injure father,’ said the young man. ‘I will tell you all about it. The men did go to the woods last evening when some cavalry went by, but came back and wanted us to take them over to Louisa Court House.’ (Booth had left as the old man Garrett said.)

“The men spoken of by young Garrett as coming back were Herold and Buddy, returning from Bowl­ing Green, as prearranged at the Rappahannock Ferry, and explained to me by St. Helen (Booth) to meet Booth, who they found had gone. They re­mained that night with the Garretts. There was no one with Booth at the Garrett’s, and when he left he left alone. Buggies and Bainbridge corroborate St. Helen (Booth), and say that when they returned to the Garrett home and notified Booth to leave they looked for Herold, who had not yet returned to Booth, and that Booth straightway left by himself, in the direction which they pointed out to him. So the allusion by young Garrett to the two men return­ing, had no reference to Booth’s return, for at the time Booth left the Garrett home Herold and Buddy had not yet reached there on their return from Bowl­ing Green.

“Young Garrett, continuing, said to Baker: ‘We could not leave home before morning, if at all. We were becoming suspicious of them and father told them they could not stay with us.’

” ‘Where are they now?’ interrupted Baker.

” ‘In the barn. My brother locked them in for fear they would steal the horses. He is now keep­ing watch on them in the corn crib.’

“It was plain that Garrett did not know the iden­tity of the men who had been imposing on their hospitality. Baker asked no questions, but taking young Garrett’s arm he made a dash toward the barn, when Conger ordered the cavalrymen to fol­low, and formed them in such position around the barn that no one could escape. By this time the soldiers had found the boy guarding the barn and had brought him out with the key. Baker un­locked the door and told young Garrett that inas­much as the two men were his guests he must go inside and induce them to come out and surrender. The young man objected most vigorously.

” ‘They are armed to the teeth,’ he faltered, ‘and they will shoot me down.’ But he appreciated the fact that he was looking into the black mouth of Baker’s revolver and hastily slid through the door­way.

“There was a sudden rustling of corn blades and the sound of voices in low conversation. All around the barn the soldiers were picketed, wrapped in inky blackness and uttering no sound. In the midst of a little circle of candle light Baker stood at the doorway with drawn revolver. Conger had gone to the rear of the barn.

“During the heat and excitement of the chase Baker had assumed command of the cavalrymen, somewhat to the umbrage of Lieut. Dougherty, who kept himself in the background during the remain­der of the night. Further away, around the house, the Garrett family huddled together trembling and frightened.

“Suddenly from the barn a clear, high voice rang out, ‘You have betrayed me, sir! Leave this barn or I will shoot you!’

“Baker then called to the men in the barn, order­ing them to turn over their arms to young Garrett and surrender at once. ‘If you don’t, we shall burn the barn, and have a bonfire and”a shooting match.’ At this young Garrett came running to the door and begged to be let out. He said he would do anything he could, but he did not want to risk his life in the presence of the two desperate men.

“Baker then opened the door and Garrett came out with a bound. He turned and pointed to the candle which Baker had been carrying since he left the house. ‘Put that out, or he will shoot you by its light,’ he whispered in a frightened voice. Baker placed the candle on the ground at a little distance from the door, so that it would light all the space in front of the barn. Then he called to Booth to sur­render. In a full, clear voice Booth replied:

” ‘There is a man here who wishes to surrender.’ And they heard him say to Herold: ‘Leave me, will yon! Go! I don’t want you to stay!’

“At the door Herold was whimpering, ‘Let me out! Let me out! I know nothing of this man in here.’ (As a matter of fact Herald knew nothing of the man in there with him, who was Buddy, with whom he had been connected only as the employe and guide for Booth, from across the Potomac and Bappahannock rivers, and with whom Herold had gone to Bowling Green and returned to the Garrett home, as explained by Booth to me.)

” ‘Bring out your arms and you can surrender,’ insisted Baker.

“Herold did not have any arms, and Booth (as they called him), finally said: ‘He has no arms. The arms are mine, and I shall keep them.’ By this time Herold was praying pieteously to be let out He said he was afraid of being shot, and begged to be allowed to surrender.

“Baker opened the door a little and told him to put out his hands. The moment the door opened Baker seized his hands and whipped Herold out of the barn and turned him over to the soldiers.

” ‘You had better come out, too,’ said Baker to Booth (or the man in the barn.)

” ‘Tell me who you are and what you want of me. It may be that I am being taken by my friends.

” ‘It makes no difference who we are,’ was the reply. ‘We know you and we want you. We have fifty well armed men stationed around this barn. You cannot escape, and we do not wish to kill yon.’

“There was a moment’s pause and then Booth (as they supposed), said, falteringly: ‘Captain, that is a hard case. I swear I am lame. Give me a chance. Draw up your men twenty yards from here, and I will fight your whole command.’

” ‘We are not here to fight,’ said Baker. ‘We are here to take you.’

“Booth (as they supposed him) then asked for time to consider, and Baker told him that he could have two minutes—no more. Presently he said: 4 Captain, I believe you are a brave and honorable man. I have had half a dozen chances to shoot you. I have had a bead drawn on you, and I have a bead drawn on you now. I do not wish to kill you. Withdraw your men from the door and I will go out. Give me this chance for my life. I will not be taken alive.’

“Even in his deep distress Booth had not forgot­ten to be theatrical.

” ‘Your time is up,’ said Baker, firmly. ‘If you don’t come out we shall fire the barn.’

” ‘Well, then, my brave boys,’ came the answer in clarion tones, which could be heard by the women who cowered on the Garrett porch rods away, ‘you may prepare a stretcher for me.’

“Then after a slight pause he added, ‘One more star on the glorious old banner.’

“Conger now came .around the corner of the barn and asked Baker if he was ready. Baker nodded and Conger stepped noiselessly back, drew, a husk of corn blades through the crack in the barn, scratched a match, and in a moment the whole interior of the barn was brilliant with light. Baker opened the door and peered in. Booth (as they supposed) had been lying against the mow, but he now sprang for­ward, half blinded by the glow of the fire, his crutches under his arms and his carbine leveled in the direction of the flames as if he would shoot the man who had set them going, but he could not see in the darkness outside. He hesitated, then reeled forward again. An old table was near at hand. He caught hold of it as though to cast it top side down on the fire, but he was not quick enough, and drop­ping one crutch he hobbled toward the door. About the middle of the barn he stopped, drew himself up to his full height and seemed to take in the entire situation. His hat was gone, and his waving, dark hair was tossed back from his high, white forehead, his lips were firmly compressed, and if he was pale the ruddy glow of the firelight concealed the fact.

“In his full, dark eyes there was an expression of mingled hatred and terror, and the defiance of a tiger hunted to his lair. In one hand he held a ear-bine, in the other a revolver, and his belt contained another revolver and a bowie knife. He seemed pre­pared to fight to the end, no matter what numbers appeared against him. By this time the flames in the dry corn blades had mounted to the rafters of the dingy old building, arching the hunted assassin in a glow of Are more brilliant than the lightnings of any theater in which he had ever played.

“Suddenly Booth (as they supposed him) threw aside his remaining crutch, dropped his carbine, raised his revolver and made a spring for the door. It was his evident intention to shoot down any one who might bar his way, and make a dash for liberty, fighting as he ran.

“Then came a shock that sounded above the roar of the flames. Booth (as they supposed him) leaped in the air, then pitched forward on his face. Baker was on him in an instant and grasped both his arms to prevent the use of the revolver, but this precau­tion was entirely unnecessary. Booth (as they sup­posed him) would struggle no more. Another mo­ment and Conger and the soldiers came rushing in while Baker turned the wounded man over and felt for his heart.

” ‘He must have shot himself/ remarked Baker. ‘I saw him the moment the fire was lighted. If not) the man who did do the shooting goes back to Washington in irons for disobedience of orders.’

“In the excitement that followed the firing of the barn Sergeant Corbett, an eccentric character who had accompanied the cavalry detachment, had stepped up to the side of the barn, placed his revol­ver to a crack between two boards, and just as Booth (as they supposed him) was about to spring to the doorway he had fired the fatal shot.

“Booth’s (as they supposed it) body was caught up and carried out of the barn and laid under an apple tree not far away. Water was dashed in his face and Baker tried to make him drink, but he seemed unable to swallow. Presently, however, he opened his eyes and seemed to understand the situa­tion. His lips moved, and Baker bent down to hear what he might say. ‘Tell mother–Tell mother-‘ he faltered, and then became unconscious.

“The flames of the burning barn now grew so intense that it was necessary to remove the dying man to the piazza of the house, where he was laid on a mattress provided by Mrs. Garrett. A cloth wet with brandy was applied to his lips, and under this influence he revived a little, then opened hiseyes and said with deep hitterness: ‘Oh, kill me. Kill me quick!’

” ‘No, Booth,’ (they supposed him Booth), ‘we don’t want you to die. You were shot against or­ders.’

“Then he was unconscious again for several min­utes and they thought he would never speak again, but his breast heaved and he acted as if he wished to say something.

“Baker placed his ear at the dying man’s mouth and Booth (so they supposed) faltered: ‘Tell mother I died for my country. I did what I thought was best.’ With a feeling of pity and tenderness Baker lifted the limp hand, but it fell back again by his side as if dead. Booth (as they supposed) seemed conscious of the movement. He turned his eyes and muttered ‘Hopeless, useless,’ and he was dead.”

I must be pardoned for cutting short the circuit­ous and superfluous language Baker employs in his further narrative on reaching Washington with the body of the man he supposed to be Booth, but will condense his statements. He says the body was taken from the Garrett home to the river and placed on the gunboat from which they had disembarked (the steamer John S. Ide), and thence up the Poto­mac river to Washington City, where the body was removed to another gunboat, Sangatuck, lying at anchor near the navy yard. An autopsy and in­quest was held here, the bullet was taken out of the head of the body and produced as evidence of the cause of the death of the man whose body they had. Then Conger produced such evidence as they had of the identity of the body as that of John Wilkes Booth, which follows: The diary, the letters or pa­pers and the pictures of Booth’s two relatives, the carbines, the belt and a compass, which were placed in the hands of Col. Baker, in charge of the body, and all of which Col. Baker delivered to the officers of the Secretary of War, and the body, without fur­ther identification, was buried in a cell on the ground floor of the old navy prison.

So much for the article of Mr. Bay Stannard Ba­ker, a relative of Col. L. C. Baker, and Lieut. L. B. Baker, as refers to the pursuit of and supposed cap­ture and killing of John Wilkes Booth, which is re­produced above because he writes of the subject as of information from Lieut. L. B. Baker, the man who was last in pursuit of Booth, and who is supposed to have captured and killed Booth.

By a casual reading, and without investigation, the statements made by Mr. Bay Stannard Baker would seem conclusive, but it will be seen that Mr. Baker has stated fiction for facts, assuming without proof that the man in the supposed barn or crib was Booth, and that the man killed was Booth, the truth of which fact must rest on the subsequent identification of the body which Lieut. Baker carried to Washington, assuming it to be the body of Booth. Upon this proof of identification of the body by Conger, who produced Booth’s two pictures and the papers mentioned, together with a carbine, a belt and a compass, they were placed in the hands of Col. Baker and were the only proof offered for the identification of Booth.

Does this prove the body to be that of Booth! No, not directly, not positively. But the evidence offered was merely circumstantial, if found on the body of the dead man, as tending to show that it was the body of Booth, upon the presumption that such things as belonged to Booth would be found on his body, but does not negative the probability or pos­sibility of finding these matters of evidence on the body of some man other than Booth. It is claimed, and history discloses, that none of the pursuing party under Lieut. Baker, nor even he himself, knew either Booth or Herold, but they were furnished photographs of them for their identification, while at the inquest the body was not identified by the pic­ture of Booth, so far as we are informed, though it was then and there in the possession of Lieut. Baker. There was no further proof of the identity of the body as that of Booth except the pictures of Booth’8 relatives, the letters, etc., offered by Con­ger, and this was solely relied on. If the body had been that of Booth positive identification could have been had by comparison with his pictures, while hundreds, yea, perhaps thousands of the people liv­ing in Washington could have been called on to pos­itively identify the dead body of Booth under oath. There were so many who knew him personally and others who had so often seen him on the stage that it would have been almost as easy to have identified the body of John Wilkes Booth as that of President Lincoln, whom he had assassinated. Why was not this done? Because even Lieut. Baker says: “In­deed, there were rumors widely circulated in certain parts of the country that Booth had never been cap­tured.” And before the trial of the conspirators was begun he was again sent into lower Maryland to collect evidence against Booth and his accom­plices, and was so far successful as to find the boat in which Booth and Herold had crossed the Potomac river, and Booth’s opera glasses hidden near the Garrett home, both of which he took back to Wash­ington.

How is it that Baker, on his second visit, found Booth’s opera, or field glasses, hidden near the Garrett home. It is evidence of two things: First, that Booth had been ont from the Garrett home, as he was when notified by Buggies and Bainbridge to go to the wooded spot near the Garrett house and wait for them, where they would come for him (which Booth said he did), and this is how and why the glasses were found, as Baker says, “hidden near the Garrett home,” lost or dropped by Booth as he sought the secluded hiding place in the woods.

Second, it was not Booth in the barn, as they sup­posed. If it had been they would have found the glasses there, as we have no record of Booth having left the Garrett home, except by Booth (St. Helen), Mid by Buggies and Bainbridge, who say that Booth was alone when they notified him to leave. They looked for Herold and he was not there. This was a fact, for Herold had not returned with Ruddy from Bowling Green, and they did not reach the Garrett home until 10 o’clock on the night of the day that Booth left the Garrett home (at about 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon). Of this we have the preponderance of proof, to-wit: Buggies and Bain­bridge say they “found Booth on the lawn in front of the Garrett home and notified him to leave;” that he did leave alone, and that they especially looked for Herold and he was not present.

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