John Wilkes Booth's Escape
The compass used by John Wilkes Booth when he tried to escape Washington, D.C. after shooting President Abraham Lincoln. Artifact in the museum collection, National Park Service, Ford's Theatre
Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Photographer: Carol M. Highsmith
After shooting Lincoln, dropping from the balcony of the Presidential and declaring "Sic Semper Tyrannis" to the stunned crowd, John Wilkes Booth darted for the exit door at the back of the theatre.
Booth rushed into the back alley, known as Baptist Alley, due to the previous occupant of the theatre location was a baptist church. He rushed toward a Ford's Theatre stagehand holding his horse, Peanut Burroughs, and grabbed the reins from him. Booth had asked Edman Spangler to hold his horse when he first arrived, but Spangler passed the duty off to Burroughs, because Spangler had scenes to shift for Our American Cousin. Booth mounted his steed and rode away from the theatre and headed South through Washington toward the Navy Yard Bridge.
The Navy Yard Bridge spanned the Anacostia River and led to southern Maryland. It was guarded by Union soldiers and the rules were to not allow anyone to pass after nine o'clock at night. Booth simply told the guards he was waiting for the moon to rise higher, thus giving adequate moonlight to travel by. The guards thought this reason was perfectly fine and allowed him to pass.
Not far from the bridge, Booth met up with David Herold at a previously designated point, called Soper's Hill. It's unsure how long Herold had been there, after tying Powell's horse to tree and fleeing from Secretary Seward's home.
The two fugitives traveled on and made a short stop at Mary Suratt's tavern. She'd visited the tavern that same day and left a package for the tavern keeper, John M. Lloyd. When Booth and Herold arrived, they were given guns and field glasses. Lloyd noticed Booth was struggling to stay on his horse and seemed to be in pain. It was due to a broken leg the actor was suffering from, caused by either the leap from the balcony in Ford's Theatre, or from a fall off the horse in the ongoing escape.
Because of Booth's leg, they couldn't travel much further without having it tended to. Booth remembered a doctor he'd met approximately six months prior, looking for some horses to purchase. The two men made there way in the direction of Bryantown, Maryland, where Dr. Samuel Mudd resided just outside of the city. It was near four in the early morning when they arrived and despite meeting before, Mudd later explained to investigators he didn't recognize either man and the duo used false names.
Dr. Mudd could see Booth was in pain and fulfilled his obligation to setting the broken leg. Herold and Booth stayed overnight and into the next day, letting Booth recover some. It wasn't long however before Union soldiers were closing in and the fugitives left Mudd's farm in the early evening on April 15th. They traveled aimlessly through the back country swamps and woods, until finding a man that could lead them a confederate sympathizer, Colonel Samuel Cox. Cox provided some food and allowed them stay in the brush near his house. The next day he asked his brother, Thomas Jones, to care for the men and get them across the Potomac River.
Other Pages You May Be Interested In:
It would be nearly a week before the two men reached the other side of the Potomac to Virginia. Due to bad weather and waiting for the right moment, Booth and Herold, finally crossed into Virginia on April 23. Over the next couple of days the fugitives worked their way through Virginia with the help of Confederate sympathizers, albeit many were reluctant to assist them, and in the evening of April 24 the stop at the farm of Richard Garrett. Posing as a Confederate Soldier, John Wilkes Booth is welcomed into the Garrett's home. David Herold meanwhile stayed in nearby Bowling Green. While there, Herold heard information that Union troops are nearby and travels to the farm to alert Booth. His sudden appearance and their odd manor cause the Garrett's to force them out of the house. Booth and Herold are allowed to stay one more night, but this time, they must sleep in the tobacco barn.
The Union troops knew they were closing in on Booth and at 2 a.m. on April 26 they find their man. It was the 16th New York Calvary that found him and they yell out for Booth to surrender. While the two men slept, the calvary had surrounded the barn. Booth was trapped, but would not give up. Herold on the other hand yields to the troops demands and comes out. To force out Booth, the soldiers set fire to the barn.
As the fire enveloped the barn, forcing Booth make a choice, Sergeant Boston Corbett spied the assassin through the cracks of the barn slats. He saw Booth with a rifle and revolver. Fearing Booth was going to shoot his way out, Corbett aimed and fired his own rifle into the barn. The shot hit Booth in the neck, instantly paralyzing him. The soldiers ran into the inferno and pulled John Wilkes Booth from the barn. His limp body is placed on the nearby front porch of the Garrett's house. He lived for few more hours, struggling to breath, until finally dying near 7 a.m. His body was taken back to Washington by the Union army.