Doherty had just been promoted to Captain
photographed by Matthew Brady
Click on Images to Enlarge
First Lieutenant Doherty's Report
DETACHMENT SIXTEENTH NEW YORK CAVALRY,
Col. J. H. TAYLOR,
COLONEL: I have the honor to report that on Monday, April 24, 1865, I received the following order:
DEPARTMENT OF WASHINGTON, TWENTY-SECOND ARMY CORPS,
COMMANDING OFFICER DETACHMENT SIXTEENTH NEW YORK CAVALRY:
SIR: The major-general commanding directs that you detail twenty-five men, well mounted, to be commanded by a reliable and discreet commissioned officer, to report at once to Col. L. C. Baker, Special Agent, War Department, 217 Pennsylvania avenue, opposite Willard's Hotel. Report your action.
respectfully, your obedient servant,
DETACHMENT SIXTEENTH NEW YORK CAVALRY,
E. P. DOHERTY,
SIR: You are hereby detailed for the duty specified in the preceding order, and will report immediately to Col. L. C. Baker for instructions.
In pursuance to the foregoing orders I reported to Colonel Baker, at the time and place specified, and received the following information and instructions. He informed me that he had reliable information that the assassin Booth and his accomplice were somewhere between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. He gave me several photographs of Booth and introduced me to Mr. Conger and Mr. Baker, and said they would accompany me. He directed me to scour the section of the country indicated thoroughly, to make my own disposition of the men in my command, to forage upon the country, giving receipts for what was taken from loyal parties, and to land at or near Belie Plain at all hazards, to swim my horses ashore if I could not and otherwise, and return when I thought proper. I embarked upon the steamer John S. Ide, at Sixth-street wharf, this vessel having been plated at my disposal by the following order:
QUARTERMASTER'S OFFICE, RIVER TRANSPORTATION,
CAPTAIN OF STEAMER JOHN S. IDE:
SIR: Having received on board twenty-five men and horses, proceed down the river, subject to the orders of the officer in charge; having performed the duties required of you, return to this city and report to me.
I then proceeded down the river to Belle Plain, and having landed my force I issued the following order to the captain commanding the vessel:
DETACHMENT SIXTEENTH NEW YORK CAVALRY,
CAPTAIN: You will please moor off, after landing my command, to a place of safe anchorage, not to exceed one mile from this place, and there await further orders. Should you not receive a dispatch from me before the 26th instant at 6 p.m. return to Washington. Should you see any of the enemy's force report the fact to the gunboat. Forage will remain on board your boat.
I then proceeded in the direction of Fredericksburg, and after advancing about three miles I turned southwest and struck the Rappahannock River about twelve miles above Port Conway, 6 a.m. There I met two fishermen, who informed me of a member of surgeons living in the vicinity, and having previously learned the fact that Booth was crippled I deemed it proper to visit the different surgeons and search their premises, making such inquiries and examinations as were thought necessary; this being accomplished, and, finding no traces of the assassin or his accomplice, Mr. Conger requested me to furnish him four men and a corporal, which I did, and he moved down the Rappahannock, following its course. I then marched with the remainder of my command, making a detour of some fifteen miles by the way of King George Court-House, forming a junction with Mr. Conger at Conway's Ferry at 2 p.m. April 25,1865.
Up to this time we had found no trace of the assassin or his accomplice. I then stopped to feed. It was thought by the detectives that we would not find any traces of the assassins. After feeling, however, I determined to push across the ferry; Mr. Conger, one of the detectives, remained at the house. Mr. Baker, the other detective, accompanied me to the ferry, where I met a negro, who informed me that men answering the description crossed the day before, and that one of them had been into Mr. Roland's house. Mr. Baker, and myself proceeded to the house of Mr. Roland, and there, after exhibiting the photographs, we concluded that we were on their track. I dispatched three men in a small boat to bring over a scow, which was on other side of the Rappahannock River; I also dispatched one man to inform Mr. Conger that we had track of the assassins, and to come down immediately. Mr. Rollins, at the ferry, informed me that two men were brought there from Mathias Point by a negro, to whom they had paid $15, and wanted to engage him, Rollins, to take them to Orange Court-House; that he refused to go so far, but they engaged him to take them to Bowling Green for $10; that these men showed great anxiety to get across the river, and wished him (Mr. Rollins) to use his small boat, and they would pay him extra; that Herold told him that they were brothers, and that Booth was wounded at Petersburg; that he refused his small boat for the reason he was using it putting out his fishing net; that, at about this time, three Confederate soldiers came up and shook hands with one of them. Herold then came to the house and apologized for not taking the horse and wagon, and said he had met an old schoolmate, and that they were going to ride in "twain." Mrs. Rollins said the three soldiers were Capt. Willie Jett, Lieutenants Ruggles and Bainbridge; that Captain Jett was courting a young lady by the name of Goldman, whose father kept a hotel at Bowling Green. In the meantime the horses and men were being ferried across as rapidly as possible. At 6 p.m. my whole command was across, and I moved on toward Bowling Green. On the road, absent three miles from Port Royal, I met a negro on horseback; not, wishing to lose time I rode ahead of the column and directed the negro to turn back and ride beside myself. I learned from him that the party that we were in quest of had all returned except Capt. Willie Jett (rebel). Proceeding along we arrived at a house seven miles from Bowling Green. I learned here that some of Mosby's men had been along the day before and taken three horses from three Yankee soldiers. Messrs. Conger and Baker entered the house and were informed that the party who had passed there the previous day had all returned except Captain Jett. The house of Mrs. Clark, some four miles distant, was spoken of as a place where some of the party might be. I determined, however, to push on to Bowling Green and secure the said Captain Jett. Arriving within about half a mile of the town I dismounted ten men, who were ordered to accompany Mr. Baker into the town. Mr. Conger, Rollins (the guide), and myself rode ahead and surrounded the house; the dismounted men shortly afterward arrived and surrounded the house and outhouses; this was about 12 o'clock midnight We knocked about fifteen minutes at each door without receiving and reply; at length a negro appeared on the street who showed the way to the negro house in rear, and on entering I asked a negro where Willie was, meaning Captain Jett; he replied that he was in bed. Conger inquired where the room was, &c. In a few moments Mrs. Goldman opened the door, and we asked for her son; she showed us up stairs, and we found Jett and her son in bed, partly undressed. We took Jett down stairs and informed him our business, telling him that if he did not forthwith inform us where the men were he should suffer; that no parley would be taken, &c. He requested that two of the party withdraw and leave him with one, and he would make a full statement of what he knew of the assassin's whereabouts. This was granted. Mr. Baker and myself had scarcely left the room when he told Mr. Conger that he would show us the place. On learning this I took him in my own charge. His horse was got out, he was mounted, and we went back to the house of Mr. Garrett, about twelve miles from Bowling Green. I ordered my command to surround the house, and, as a precautionary measure, sent six men in rear of the barn and outbuildings. While I was placing my men around the buildings the detectives knocked at the door, which was opened by the elder Mr. Garrett, who was much excited; he said the men who had been there went to the woods the previous evening. While engaged in conversation the son of Mr. Garrett came in, advising the father to tell where they were. I seized this man by the collar, and pulled him out of the door and down the steps, put my revolver to his head and told him to tell me at once where the two assassins were; he replied, "in the barn." I said "show me the barn." We started on the run for the barn, I holding him by the collar, calling on my men to follow me and surround more closely the building I should indicate. In the meantime another of the Garrett sons appeared, who was seized by one of the detectives and ordered to get a candle. He immediately procured a candle. On arriving at the barn I left the Garrett I had in charge with some of my men, and posted my men around the barn. This accomplished, I returned to the front of the barn, and found Garrett coming out of the barn; it appears that he had been sent in there during my absence to summon Booth to surrender. This I disapproved, as there were soldiers enough there to perform such duty. Booth, however, refused to surrender. The detectives were in favor of firing the barn, which I opposed, declaring my intention to wait until daylight and I would send my men through the four different doors and overpower the assassin, but after consultation the project of burning the building was abandoned for the time being. In the meantime considerable conversation took place concerning the surrender of Booth between Mr. Baker, myself, and the assassin. Sergt. Boston Corbett, Company L, Sixteenth New York Cavalry asked permission to enter the barn alone, which I refused. Booth all this time was very defiant and refused to surrender. At one time he said if we would draw up in line fifty paces off he would come out, adding that he was lame and had only one leg. This, however, I refused. Booth up to this time had denied there was anyone in the barn besides himself. Considerable conversation now took place between myself, Booth, and the detectives. We threatened to burn the barn if he did not surrender; at one time gave him ten minutes to make up his mind. Finally, Booth said, "Oh; Captain, there is a man here who wants to surrender awful bad:" I answered, and I think Mr. Baker did at the same time, "Hand out your arms." Herold replied, "I have none." Baker said, "We know exactly what you have got." Booth replied, "I own all the arms, and intend to use them on you gentlemen." After some little parley I said, "Let him out." Some one objected. I ordered Garrett, the younger son, who had the key, to unlock the barn, which he did. I partially opened the door, and told Herold to put out his hand, which he did. I then told him to put [out] his other hand. I took hold of both his wrists and pulled him out of the barn. Almost simultaneous with my taking Herold out of the barn the hay in the rear of the barn was ignited by Mr. Conger, and the barn fired. Sergt. Boston Corbett, Company L, Sixteenth New York Cavalry, shot the assassin Booth, wounding him in the neck. I entered the barn as soon as the shot was fired, dragging Herold with me, and found that Booth had fallen on his back. Messrs. Conger and Baker, with some of my men, entered the barn and took hold of Booth. I proceeded with Herold to find a rope to secure him, there being no irons for that purpose. The assassin Booth lived about two hours. In the meantime a doctor was procured, who remained with Booth till he died. I procured a wagon, sewed up the body in a blanket myself, and placed it in the wagon. I then proceeded to Port Royal, where we arrived at 9 a.m. April 26, 1865, and crossed the river in a scow. While crossing my command Mr. Baker, without authority, moved off with the body of the assassin, taking with him the two men who had been previously detailed as a guard to the body, also one of the prisoners (Captain Jett, rebel). I was some time crossing my command, and experienced some difficulty in bringing Herold and the two Garretts along, having only one horse to mount the three; thus delay was occasioned. After proceeding some distance I procured an additional horse. Fearing some accident might happen to the body of the assassin and the prisoner Jett, whom Mr. Baker had taken with him. I dispatched an orderly to tell Mr. Baker to halt. The orderly rode over four miles at full speed, when, overtaking Mr. Baker, he told him to halt until the column came up. This Mr. Baker, however, did not do, but continued on missing me and the road. I arrived at Belle Plain at 6 p.m., and found the corpse had not yet arrived. I felt great anxiety, and was about to apply to Major Bosworth, Sixteenth New York Cavalry, who was at Belle Plain with his command, for a detachment of men to go in search of the body, when Mr. Baker arrived. I immediately asked him where the prisoner, Captain Jett, was. He replied, "he did not know; he had escaped." After a short delay the body of the assassin Booth was placed on board the steamer John S. Ide, and we proceeded to Washington, where I delivered over the body of Booth, Herold, and the two Garretts to Col. L. C. Baker, at 3 a.m. the 27th day of April, 1865.
The command consisted of twenty-six enlisted men of the Sixteenth New York Cavalry, and myself, the two gentlemen, Messrs. Conger and Baker, sent by Colonel Baker, making a total in all of twenty-nine men. I would say that great credit is due to all concerned for the fortitude and eagerness they displayed in pursuing and arresting the murderers. For nearly sixty hours hardly an eye was closed or a horse dismounted until the errand was accomplished. I would call the attention of the commanding general to the efficiency of Sergt. Boston Corbett, Company I,, Sixteenth New York Cavalry, who was untiring in his efforts to bring the murderers to justice. His soldierly qualifications have been tested before this occasion, and, in my judgment, are second to none in the service. Mr. Rollins, at Port Conway, is also worthy of notice for his willingness to impart all the information he possessed. In conclusion I beg to state that it has afforded my command and myself inexpressible pleasure to be the humble instruments of capturing the foul assassins who caused the death of our beloved President and plunged the nation in mourning.
of which is respectfully submitted.
THE BULLETIN of The CAMDEN COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY - February 1960
“MAD HATTER" - The Man who Shot the Man who Shot Lincoln
By Arthur D. Pierce and Howard R. Kemble
The year was 1870. The address was 308 Mechanic Street. Camden, New Jersey. The occupant of the house was the man who shot the man who shot Abraham Lincoln. His name was Boston Corbett.
Corbett's residence in Camden for the best part of a decade is known to few, just as Corbett's brief but blazing day in the sun has been largely forgotten. Yet the man was a hero to millions, and had he not been more than slightly cracked he might have become a figure familiar in history books to this day. His career was fantastically colorful, and he possessed the faculty of creating excitement wherever he went.
Most of the period Corbett lived in Camden he was pastor of the Memorial Methodist Protestant Church, located on the west side of Broadway below Kaighn Avenue. By that time, however, his erstwhile glamour had worn thin and he was so far removed from the public consciousness that newspapers began to publish stories about his death. Like Mark Twain's, it was "greatly exaggerated." Said the West Jersey Press, on April 3, 1872:
"The papers are incorrect. Mr. Corbett is a resident of Camden, is in good health, and has as fair a prospect of long life as any of those who have been pronouncing his death"
Born in England, reportedly in 1832, his parents named him Thomas P. Corbett, and he was but seven years old when the family removed to Troy. New York. Young Corbett later became a hatter- and soon indeed, a mad hatter! He is recorded as having had jobs in various cities of the East. While he was in New York he married, presumably while quite young. Little is known of this marriage save the fact that his wife died during delivery of a stillborn daughter.
This tragedy, however, unhinged Corbett's mind. First he took to drink; then he "got religion" when the Salvation Army converted him on the streets of Boston. But so extreme was his conversion, so loud, incoherent and vehement his exhortations to others, that he embarrassed his fellow-evangelists. They finally persuaded him to carryon elsewhere, and alone. Before leaving town, however, Corbett felt that he should commemorate the city of his conversion. So he abandoned the "Thomas P." and took the name "Boston."
Corbett was equally embarrassing to any hat-makers who gave him jobs. Let a fellow-workman mention taking a drink, or utter some careless oath, and Corbett would disrupt the assembly line, get on his knees, and make a long and fervent prayer.
Came the Civil War and Corbett lost not a moment in joining up. The Union Army little dreamed what it was getting; but its officers soon were to find out. Shortly before his induction Corbett preached a wild sermon. He startled the women in his audience by declaring his intention not only to enlist, but to shoot any Southerner on sight. Declared Boston: "I will say to them 'God have mercy on your souls,' and then pop them off."
In his excellent book "Myths After Lincoln", Lloyd Lewis tells of a day of drilling in Franklin Square, New York, when Colonel Butterfield, commanding his regiment, burst out with profanity over the awkwardness of the raw recruits. Corbett stepped out of line and saluted:
"'Colonel, don't you know you are breaking God's law?' asked the private firmly but kindly.'"
"Take him to the guardhouse,' howled Butterfield." They took Boston to the guardhouse. But that bothered him not at all. He liked martyrdom. Soon he was shouting hymns in a loud voice. When the infuriated Colonel gave orders to stop, Corbett merely sang louder. Baffled, Butterfield finally sent word that if he would apologize for insulting his superior officer he would be released. Corbett sent back a message that "I have only offended the Colonel, while the Colonel has offended God, and I shall never ask the Colonel's pardon until he has asked pardon of God." Butterfield threw up his hands. Corbett was freed.
In one famous encounter Corbett alone held twentysix Confederates at bay, until his ammunition ran out. At that point stories differ. One says he hid in a well where the enemy found him, coolly eating a sandwich. The other holds that after his guns were useless he started at the Confederates with clubs, swinging wildly while the enemy colonel, Mosby, looked on in astonishment and admiration.
Captured, Corbett was sent to the notorious Andersonville prison. Characteristically, he escaped, only to be recaptured by bloodhounds. Later he was exchanged, when the Confederates thought he was a physical wreck. Yet after only a month's rest he was back in the fray and it does not seem at all surprising that he should turn up among the twenty-seven Union men who were surrounding a barn on the road to Bowling Green, Virginia. In that barn was trapped John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot Lincoln.
Strict were the orders. No one was to fire without command. Planned were a great public trial and a ceremonious hanging. The whole nation would be shown, in Booth's punishment, what fate awaited assassins. Boston Corbett, however, took orders only from God, and he had ignored so many orders from the Army that this one probably did not impress him very much.
After Booth refused to surrender, and tried to play for time by endless talk from within his hideout, the barn was set afire. Corbett had been stationed some thirty feet from the barn and through a large crack in the wail he could see, in the light of the flames, the trapped prisoner moving about in hope of escape.
Suddenly a shot was heard above the crackling of the burning wood. Booth fell to the floor. Some thought he had shot himself. But Boston quickly corrected that impression. Boston said he had fired the shot, and it had struck Booth in almost the spot where Booth's bullet had hit Lincoln. While the murderer of tile President was being carried from the blazing barn, Colonel Conger summoned Corbett and said: "Why did you fire against orders?" Boston replied: "The Almighty directed me."
Separated from the service, with some $1600 reward money in his pocket, Boston took to the lecture platform, as so many heroes have before and since. Religious and patriotic societies clamored to hear him- but none clamored more than once. Instead of telling his eager audiences what they wanted to hear- how he shot the man who had shot Lincoln- Boston gave them long, incoherent talks on religion, talks so wild they bored his audiences and sent people hurrying for the doors. Soon his fame had vanished, a job in the hat-business vanished also -and Boston Corbett turned up in Camden, as pastor of the little church on Atlantic Avenue.
Apparently Camden had a calming effect on Corbett, for he lasted a number of years as pastor and remained in the city almost a decade, a longer: stay in one place than any he had made up to that time.
On July 25, 1877, the West Jersey Press noted:
“Boston Corbett, whose other name is "The man who shot Wilkes Booth,' and who has been heard of from one end of the country to the other, is riow in very destitute circumstances at his home on Pine Street below Fourth in this city.' He is completely broken down in health, and without friends or money. For some years he has labored as a local Methodist preacher, but his remuneration from that source has been absolutely nothing. He is a hatter by trade, but can obtain no employment. Is it not sad that, after what he did for his country, he should be left to suffer in a Christian community?" '
After various wanderings, of which little is known, Corbett, in 1886 was given a job as doorheper for the Kansas Legislature. This had been arranged by the G. A. R. In February 1887, however, on a drowsy day when the legislators were debating at leisure, Boston quietly locked the door, and brought out two large- and loaded-revolvers. Telling the Legislators that God demanded their lives, Boston let loose with both guns at once. Twelve blasts went in all directions. The frantic solons dived under chairs, hid behind trash baskets, and tried to butt open the doors. But Boston's aim was not what it had been on the night he shot the man who shot Lincoln. Nary a Legislator was hit.
So, once again Boston Corbett made headlines. The West Jersey Press quoted the following from the Sioux City (Iowa) Times:
"Poor Corbett! He ran with McDowell, fortified with McClellan, charged with Hoover, fought it out under Grant, and shot Booth on his own account. But the talk of the Kansas Legislature was too much for his endurance, and now he is crazy."
Corbett may have lost his aim, and he may have lost his mind. But he had not lost his gift for escaping his captors. On May 26, 1888, while marching along a road with other inmates of an asylum, Boston spotted a horse tied to a post. Dashing from the line he quickly: climbed into the saddle and rode off in a cloud of dust.
Corbett's days thereafter are befogged with mystery.
Reports of his "discovery" in one place after another were noted as late as 1905, but none was definitely confirmed. There is some evidence that he made his way to Oklahoma, was therein 1901, and passed this remaining days in the state. In his "Indian Trails and Early Paths", however, Charles S. Boyer states that Corbett perished in a snowstorm near the Soldiers' Home in Leavenworth. Kansas. He gives no date. In any case, Boston finally found peace at the end of a turbulent trail.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For decades after Booth's death, the role of Boston Corbett was not seriously questioned. However, certain latter-day historians have been arguing that Boston did not shoot Booth after all. Yet beyond that conclusion even the "revisionists" disagree. Some have argued that Col. Conger shot Booth; others that Lieutenant Baker shot him; still others that Booth shot himself. Neither the "revisionists" nor the authors of this article were on hand to see who shot whom. But the following facts are beyond dispute: Corbett is the only man who admitted shooting Booth. He admitted it on the scene; and he admitted it again on the witness stand. Conger specifically denied firing the shot. So did Baker. And the shot was fired at an angle which makes suicide seem improbable. That Conger himself believed Corbett fired the shot is evidenced by the fact that he took him to Washington for court martial, on charges of disobeying orders -the orders being NOT to shoot Booth. Finally, when Secretary of War Stanton dismissed the charges, he said: "The rebel is dead- the patriot lives. He has saved us continued excitement, delay and expense. The patriot (Boston Corbett) is released."
Myths After Lincoln. by Lloyd Lewis; 1929, New York, Harcourt, Brace & Co., Inc.
Indian Trails and Early Paths by Charles S. Boyer, 1938, Camden, N. J., The Camden County Historical Society.
Various contemporary newspapers, particularly the West Jersey Press.
Harper's Weekly - May 13, 1865
Stars and Stripes - November 23, 1964
Thanks to Mike Coccia for his help in creating this web-page
RETURN TO CAMDEN'S INTERESTING PEOPLE PAGE
RETURN TO DVRBS.COM HOME PAGE