FBI: Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth

David D. Dana, brother of Charles A. Dana, the founder, owner and publisher of the New York Sun, in December, 1897, lived in a small, one-story frame house in West Lubec, Maine. This being the ancestral home of his wife’s people, where he set­tled some twenty years prior to December, 1897, at the time when the opening of lead mines in this sec­tion promised to make Lubec famous the world over, and after years of mining with indifferent success, Gen. Dana settled down to the quiet life of the farmer with his wife and many pets as companions, being eight miles from the nearest village. But he was by no means a recluse, being well informed on all current events, and a constant reader of the news­papers and periodicals of the day.

Gen. Dana’s story is given in full below:

“The Boston Sunday Globe, Dec 12, 1897.


“David Dana, Brother of Chas. A Dana, Tried to Prevent the Assassination of the Martyr President—Now a Dweller in Lubec, Maine—He Tells of His Pursuit of Booth.

“Away down in a remote corner of New England, in the most easterly town in this broad country, dwells the man who alone had knowledge before­hand of the meditated assassination of Lincoln, and who tried by every means in his power to thwart the conspiracy, but all in vain.

“This man, David Dana, brother of the late Chas. A. Dana, is a most unique and interesting character, and one who has seen his full share of life, and has been a part of the most stirring events in our country’s history. It was the writer’s good fortune re­cently to hear him tell of the part he took in the pur­suit of the assassin, Booth, and his accomplice, Her­old. Inasmuch as the story gives facts never before laid before the public, the recital cannot fail to be of great interest to every one who has ever perused the story of these exciting times.

” ‘In the spring of ’65 I was near Washington,’ began Mr. Dana, ‘with my headquarters at Fort Ba­ker, just above the east branch of the Potomac. It was within the lines of the Third Brigade of Har­den’s Division, Twenty-second Corps, commanded by Gen. C. C. Augur, under whom I was provost marshal. I had authority over nearly all those parts of Maryland lying between the east branch of the Potomac and the Patuxent river. This part of the State was swarming with rebels, and I was com­missioned to watch all their movements and learn if possible of any plots against the Federal govern­ment.

” ‘While patrolling this territory I learned that a plot was forming against the government, and that the blow would undoubtedly be aimed against the life of President Lincoln. I at once asked for a bat­talion of veteran cavalry, in addition to the regu­lar provost guard, and the request was granted. I was ordered to establish a line of pickets from Fort Meigs on the left to Geisboro point on the right, with orders to permit none to enter the city of Washington during the day unless they could give their names, where.they were from, and what was their business at the capitol.

” ‘From sundown to sunrise no one was to enter or leave the city except in case of sickness or death. All suspicious persons were arrested and sent to the commanding general for examination.

“On Friday, April 14,1865, two men appeared be­fore the guard oh the road leading into Washington from the east. Refusing to give their names or state their business, they were arrested and put in the guard tent, whence they were to be sent to headquar­ters. This was about 1 o’clock in the afternoon. In an hour or two they gave their names as Booth and Herold.

” ‘The officers on guard under me carried out my orders so strictly that it was very annoying to the rebel sympathizers who wished access to the city, so that many complaints were made by prominent citi­zens of Maryland.

” ‘About 4 p.m. I received an order from Gen. Au­gur to release all prisoners held by the guards and to withdraw the guard until further orders. I sent an orderly to the officers on the line from Fort Meigs easterly, with orders to release all prisoners and to report to me at Fort Baker. On the line from Fort Meigs to Surrattville I went in person and with­drew the guard to my headquarters.

” ‘Booth and Herold were released as soon as the orders reached the guard, and they proceeded at once to Washington, reaching there about 6:30 in the aft­ernoon. I had a guard at each end of the bridge on the eastern branch of the Potomac and one of the guards knew Booth and recognized him as he rode into the city and as he came out after the assassina­tion, and had it been known that he had killed Lin­coln escape would have been impossible.

” ‘I returned to headquarters about 11 p. m. and had dismissed the guard and was eating supper, when an officer rode into camp with the startling intel­ligence that Lincoln was killed and that the murder­er, with another man, had ridden at a rapid pace into the country.

“‘I called out the guard and sent detachments in different directions and then went to the bridge to learn what I could there. On my way I met a company of cavalry, the 13th New York, which I ordered to patrol the river to Ouisi Point and learn all they could and then return to Fort Baker.

” ‘At the bridge I found an orderly from Gen. Augur with orders for me to report to him at Wash­ington without delay. I did so, and was ushered into his presence, where I found him standing by his desk with streaming eyes.

” ‘My God, marshal,’ he cried, upon seeing me, ‘if I had listened to your advice this terrible thing never would have happened!’

” ‘After conversing with him for a few moments I was appointed adjutant general on his staff and ordered to use my own judgment as to the best way of capturing Booth. The order read as follows:

” ‘To Commanders of all Divisions, Brigades, Regi­ments, Companies, and Posts: You will obey all orders emanating from Adjt. Gen. and Provost Mar­shall D. D. Dana the same as though especially issued from these headquarters.

(Signed) Maj. Gen. C C Augur,

Commanding 22d Corps in Dept. of Washington.’

” ‘While with Gen. Augur and by his request I laid out the plan for the capture of Booth. First, one of the swifest steamers which could be obtained should patrol the Potomac as far as the Patuxent river and seize all boats which could not give a good account of themselves. Then a steamer should be sent up the Patuxent and all boats on this river were to be seized at all hazards to as far as Horse Head ferry.

” ‘These orders were telegraphed to the boats on the Patuxent and were carried out to the letter. The reason was this: In scouting through Maryland I had learned that a boat would be used by the assas­sin, who would go by land to the Patuxent, thence across to the Albert river, from there to the Atlantic coast, and thence to Mexico. The only thing that prevented Booth’s escape was the seizure of these boats.

Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth_Page_128
THE SURRATT TAVERN. At Surrattville, Where Booth and Herold Stayed the Night of the 13th of April, 1865, as They Returned to Washing­ton, and Where Booth Waited for Herold to Overtake Him in His Flight.

” ‘I returned to Fort Baker, left orders for the cavalry, who were out scouting, took a small detach­ment of my own guard and started after Booth, tak­ing the road by Surrattville to Bryantown. As we passed by the Surratt mansion all was as dark as though it had never been inhabited, but I found an old man and woman who had a boy sick with the smallpox. Finding that no information could be obtained there, from the old man or his wife, I took him along with us for a mile and a half to a secluded dell. Refusing to give the desired information, I ordered him to be strung up to the limb of a big oak tree.

” ‘It was a clear night with the moon just rising, its silvery glints touching the tops of the trees in the dell and the flickering light of the campfire, which the men had kindled, casting fantastic shad­ows here and there. The rope was made fast about the old man’s neck and, at a signal from me, he was hoisted up and suspended between heaven and earth.

It was a weird and gruesome scene, there in the light of the fire and moon was the swaying body of the man struggling in his futile efforts to grasp the rope, while the spasmodic action of his body and the gurg­ling sounds from his throat produced an effect never to be forgotten.

” ‘I ordered him to be cut down after a few mo­ments and he was resuscitated. Bather than try a second pull on the rope he told me that Booth and Herold had been at the Surratt mansion and had had something to eat and drink and that after supper, though Booth was badly hurt, they had mounted their horses and rode toward Bryantown.

” ‘I pushed on after them and a few miles from Bryantown I came to a detachment of ten men under a sergeant as patrol guard to watch suspicious peo­ple in that section. I sent the sergeant to Port To­bacco at once, and ordered the troops to scout up the Patuxent river to arrest all suspicious persons and to report to me at Bryantown. The patrol guard afterward acknowledged that they heard the clatter of Booth’s and Herold’s horses’ feet as they passed by on the road leading to Dr. Samuel Mudd’s to­ward Bryantown.

” ‘This came about from the fact that a short dis­tance above the guard was a road leading to Dr. Mudd’s, who resided about three and a half miles from the village, and this road the pair had taken, reaching the doctor’s house about 4 a. m., about two hours ahead of my troops.

” ‘I arrived at Bryantown about 6 o’clock, and at once placed guards at all the roads leading into the village, with orders that anyone might enter the town but that none were to leave it. About 2 o’clock that afternoon the detachment of troops from Port To­bacco reached me. In the meantime troops had been sent to Woodbine ferry and Horsehead ferry, all the boats had been seized and all crossing of the river had been stopped.

” ‘By taking possession of these positions and seiz­ing the ferry boats and by closely guarding the line of the river Booth’s chances of escape this way were cut off. Could he have got across the Patuxent river into Calvert county, he would most certainly have reached Mexico in safety.

” ‘After Booth and Herold arrived at Dr. Mudd’s Booth’s leg was set, and after giving them their breakfast, the doctor made a crutch for Booth and fixed him up ready to start at an instant’s notice.

” ‘Dr. Mudd came into Bryantown at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and stayed there until 8 or 9 in the evening, when a cousin of his, Dr. Ceorge Mudd,, asked as a personal favor, a pass for him through the lines. After closely questioning Samuel Mudd and believing him to know nothing of Booth, and having confidence in what his cousin said, I let Dr. Samuel Mudd go.

” ‘During the doctor’s long absence Booth got un­easy and sent Herold on horseback to Bryantown, Learning that troops were in the town, he tied his horse to a large clump of willows that grew on the side of a stream near the road, and there watched for Dr. Mudd’s return.

” ‘When the doctor made his appearance Herold came out and the two returned to the doctor’s house. Booth was anxious to leave at once, but the good doctor assured him that there was no danger that night.

”’ George Mudd, let me say in passing, never inti­mated to me that his friend was a doctor, or was a relative of his. I learned the next day, when it was too late, that his cousin was a rank rebel, and I plainly told George Mudd what I thought of him.

” ‘The fugitives left Dr. Mudd’s early the next morning and took the road for Horsehead ferry. When within two and one-half miles of the ferry they saw a man of about sixty years leaning on a fence in front of his house; Booth rode up and asked him if he had heard the news of Lincoln being killed. He said yes, he had heard it from some troops that had arrived at the ferry. Booth asked him if there were any troops then at Horsehead ferry and the man told him there were.

” ‘Booth got a drink of water and wanted a drink of whiskey, but the old man had none. He asked the men who they were, and Booth answered: “Detec­tives looking for Booth and Herold.” “What are you doing with a crutch t” was the rejoinder.

” ‘The assassin explained that his horse had stum­bled and had fallen upon him, hurting his leg very badly. They asked the way to Woodbine ferry, and being directed, set off at a brisk trot.

” ‘When within two miles of Woodbine ferry they met an old darkey and inquired: “How far is it to the ferry V’ Upon being told they asked him the news. “Massa Lincum’s killed an’ Woodbine ferry’s chock full of troops.” “How many, unclet” asked Booth. “Golly, massa, dere’s more’n a hundred! Day’s swarming like bees!” answered the negro.

” ‘The horsemen rode on a short distance through a gate into a mowing field, and there all trace of their horses’ footprints were lost. But they returned to the vicinity of Dr. Mudd’s and entered the Sekiah swamp from the east, where they spent two days and two nights, being supplied with food by friends near by.

” ‘I had made arrangements for a detachment of troops to scour the swamp with a guide, when a heavy storm came up and made it impossible. Had I done so I certainly would have caught them, as they did not leave until 2 or 3 o’clock that day. When my troops reached the island the next day they found where the horses had been tethered, and the very moss where Booth and Herold had slept. ‘They also found the pieces of blanket with which their horses’ hoofs had been muffled. How they made their way from Woodbine ferry to the swamp is a mystery. It could only have been done by wrap­ping the horses’ feet in blankets.

11 ‘The different movements they made from the time of the assassination to their reaching Sekiah swamp shows that they had their course all laid out beforehand. They knew where to go and who their friends were and were only prevented from escap­ing by the rapid movements of the troops under my command.

” ‘Sekiah swamp lies a short distance nearly west of Bryantown. It is full of quagmires and sinkholes and is exceedingly dangerous to enter except by day­time. Even then great caution is required unless a person is acquainted with the swamp. Booth and Herold must have had a guide both going in and coming out.

” ‘They never could have got their horses there alone; to attempt it would have been the last of them.

” ‘There is a small stream running through the swamp, but large enough to float a small boat. It discharges into the Patuxent river. After leaving the swamp the fugitives went to a log cabin in a thick growth of pines and underbrush quite distant from any road. It was the dwelling of a man named Jones, who had a negress for a housekeeper. It was in that scrubby pine and underbrush, back of the house, that the two horses were killed and buried.

“Here Booth and Herold were kept three or four days, when they were taken by boat down the out­let of the swamp to a point below where the troops were stationed, and from there they were carried in a wagon to a point on the Patuxent nearly opposite Aquia creek. From here they were taken across the Potomac and made their way to Garrett’s near Bowl­ing Green, where Booth was killed.’ “

A Bay State soldier corroborates in part the story of Gen. David A. Dana, as well as that of St. Helen. This soldier was stationed at the bridge crossing the East Potomac river, on the road leading into Wash­ington, which John Wilkes Booth crossed going into Washington City and again on his return after the assassination the evening of the same day. This man is Mr. F. A. Demond, and I give his letter in fall: “Mr. D. D. Dana:

“Dear Sir and Comrade—I was very much inte-ested in reading your account of how you tried to prevent the assassination of the late President Lin­coln, as published in The Globe of yesterday. It brought back old memories to me of away back in ’64, as I was a member of your old provost guard, with headquarters at Fort Baker.

“Well do I remember those days. I was detailed from my company—Co. C, Capt. A. W. Brigham, then stationed at Fort Mahan—and ordered to report to you at Fort Baker for duty on provost guard. I did so, and was employed guarding prisoners, sawing wood and going down to Uniontown searching for soldiers without passes. After a short time of ser­vice at headquarters I, with some others from your command, was sent to guard the bridge leading from Washington to Uniontown, down by the navy yard.

“I was stationed at the Uniontown end of the bridge where the gates were hung to stop people from going to Washington. I was under the orders of Corp. Sullivan—I think that was his name—and the command at the other end of the bridge, the Washington side, was under Sergt. Cobb.

“I was present the night that Booth and Herold crossed after Booth had shot the President, but was not on post. I stood in the door of the block house when Booth rode up and heard him ask the guard if anyone had gone through lately. I heard the guard on the post answer him, ‘No,’ and ask him what he was doing out there this time of night f

“He made some kind of answer about going to see some one who lived out on the T. B. road. I did not pay much attention at this time to what they were talking about. I helped open the gate and he rode through.

“A short time after this Herold rode over the bridge and asked if there had been anyone through mounted on a bay horse. Upon being told that there had, he muttered something about being a pretty man not to wait for him.

“Well, we opened the gate and let him through and he rode off in a hurry. About twenty minutes later, I should say, we heard a great uproar across the bridge and in a short time got word of the as­sassination. If we had only known it sooner neither one of them would have passed us, as I would have shot them as quickly as I would a mad dog. But it was too late; they were out of sight and hearing by that time.

“I remember when you came down to meet someone 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. I remember of your going in pursuit, and, if I am not mistaken, one of Co. C.’s boys, Charles Joise, was with you.

“Excuse my writing to you, but I was so glad to hear from you, Lieutenant, that I had to let you know that one of your old boys was still living. Hoping sometime to see you on a visit to me up here, I remain, yours with great respect,

“P. A. Demond, Cavendish, Vt.

“Late private Co. C, Third Heavy Artillery, Mas­sachusetts Volunteers.”

It will be observed that the statements made by Gen. D. D. Dana, supported by the letter of Mr. P. A. Demond, corroborate the statements and confes­sions made to me by John St. Helen (claiming him­self to be Booth) more than twenty-five years prev­ious to Dana’s publication. That the statements of Gen. Dana and St. Helen, or Booth, should differ in immaterial details is not surprising, but the main points agree—that is, St. Helen says, he (Booth) and Herold were returning to Washington City on the morning of April 14th, 1865; that they were arrested and detained at the block house located at the bridge over the east branch of the Potomac; that they were released and went into Washington from this bridge; that Booth was recognized at the time of his de­tention at the East Potomac bridge; that after the assassination of President Lincoln Booth and Her­old returned over the same route over which they came into the city, crossing the East Potomac bridge, which is also the route leading to Uniontown, men­tioned by Demond; that in crossing said bridge and passing the guards they used the pass words “T. B.,’ or “T. B. Road.” It is undeniably a fact that Booth is corroborated in his statements that arrange­ments had been made for his escape; that he did escape from Washington through the Federal lines, is confessedly true, though the city was completely surrounded and guarded by the 22d Army Corps, composed of many thousands of union men, an army within itself, charged with the duty of protecting the City of Washington and guarding the life of President Lincoln against danger, which Dana says he knew was threatened, and he had known it for months prior to the President’s assassination.

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