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The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators

Booth’s Last Day

Booth had managed to escape from the scene of the crime unscathed save for the broken leg he sustained after leaping from the President’s box. Booth escaped on horseback and in the coming weeks made his way to the hideout spot of Richard Garrett’s barn in Port Royal, Virginia. Booth’s final days were spent on the run and even when surrounded by Union soldiers, his conspirators having abandoned him, he would not surrender. The pursing officers set the barn on fire in order to flush him out.

Despite orders to capture Booth alive, one shot was fired by Sergeant “Boston” Corbett, intended to wound Booth. Instead the bullet hit Booth in the neck and he died on the property a few hours later. While he was briefly detained and questioned after the shooting, Corbett was never charged or tried, but did later testify at the conspirator’s trial.

Booth’s killer: Sergeant “Boston” Corbett. Via/ Library of Congress

Corbett was a hatter on and off before and after he became a Union soldier and was known to be a religious zealot. Corbett horrifically castrated himself in 1858 after fearing the temptations of the flesh.

Historians now believe his exposure to mercury as a hatter caused him mental health issues, a fact later supported by the fact that he was en route to be committed to an insane asylum when he escaped. Corbett’s whereabouts the last few years of his life are unknown, but some believe he died in the Great Hinkley Fire of 1894.

Lewis Payne and David Herold

As part of the group plot, Secretary of State William Seward was stabbed multiple times in the face and chest with a bowie knife. The perpetrators in this case were Lewis Powell (AKA Lewis Payne) and David Herold. Payne was a former Confederate soldier who had joined Mosby’s Rangers before committing to the assassination plot, while David Herold had gone to school with John Surratt.

The ill will against Seward was based on the fact that as Secretary of State he had discouraged and prevented England from accepting the Confederacy as a sovereign nation, thereby helping to turn the tide in favor of the Union.

William Seward photographed during the Civil War. Via/ U.S National Archives

In the course of his attack on Seward’s home while the Secretary was recovering from a carriage accident, several of Seward’s children, as well as his bodyguard, were also injured. Payne walked the streets of D.C. covered in blood, finally arriving at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse where he would be captured 2 days later. Payne was one of the four conspirators sentenced to death, as was Herold.

David Herold in custody. Via/ Library of Congress

Lewis Payne after his capture in April of 1865. Via/ Library of Congress

Swift Trial

The trial was long while the deliberation was swift, as the public was eager to see justice brought on the people responsible. The trial lasted 7 weeks and heard 366 witnesses.

“Rep. John Bingham, Judge Joseph Holt, and Brigadier General Henry Burnett, prosecutors for Lincoln assassination trial.” Via/ Library of Congress

Board which tried Lincoln conspirators. Via/ Library of Congress

Innocents Convicted in Haste

Convicted Lincoln conspirator, Edward (AKA Edmund) Spangler. Via/ Flickr

Edward Spangler was convicted mostly on questionable testimony from one of his coworkers and he was only loosely involved in the story at all, having been a childhood friend of Booth. Spangler was an employee of the Ford Theater and working the night of the assassination. Spangler was sentenced to 6 years prison time, but 4 years later Spangler was pardoned by President Andrew Jackson.

Among the four conspirators who were convicted and sentenced to prison time was Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who tended to Booth’s broken leg. Along with Spangler and co-conspirators Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen, Mudd was sent to the prison at Fort Jefferson off the Gulf Coast. Mudd, Arnold, and Spangler were both also pardoned.

Samuel Arnold after being caught. Via/ Library of Congress

Click “Next Page” for the mother-son spy duo who made the conspiracy possible and the last day of those sentenced to death!

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