By Nathan Cooper
The story of Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre is legendary. Less familiar are the details of what happened to John Wilkes Booth after he fired the fatal shot.
After jumping out of the presidential box and breaking his left leg, Booth limped out of the building and rode into the night on a waiting horse. He was soon stopped by a sentry at a bridge over the Anacostia River, which civilians were not supposed to cross at night. But word of the shooting had not spread yet, and the sentry decided to make an exception and let Booth go on. About the same time, the dying president was carried out of Ford’s Theatre to a small room across the street.
Booth met with an accomplice named David Herold soon after and the duo travelled nine miles to the Surratt Tavern, where they arrived about midnight and retrieved weapons. Attempting to evade capture and distance themselves from the site of the murder, they continued into the night.
Meanwhile, one of the greatest manhunts in American history was getting underway. Thousands of soldiers began searching for the killer. The War Department soon promised a $100,000 reward.
Booth needed treatment for his leg and stopped at the house of Dr. Samuel Mudd, where he stayed the day before traveling further into southern Maryland, an area with few homes, telegraphs or railroads.
As Lincoln’s body began the slow journey back to Springfield, Booth and Herold were hiding in the woods and reading news accounts provided by a Confederate agent. To Booth’s surprise, they portrayed him as a villain instead of a hero.
Nine days after shooting Lincoln, Booth and Herold managed to slip into Virginia, where more Confederate sympathizers gave them shelter for several days. But federal troops were on their trail and tracked the fugitives to a farm owned by Richard H. Garrett.
Before dawn on April 26, troops surrounded the barn where Booth and Herold were hiding. Herold surrendered. Booth did not. The soldiers set the barn on fire, hoping it would drive Booth out. In the pandemonium, a soldier named Boston Corbett fired into the barn and hit Booth in the neck, mortally wounding him. Corbett would later claim Booth had raised his pistol to shoot at the troops.