Assassination!: The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents (8 page)

BOOK: Assassination!: The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents
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A panicked David Herold decided he did not wish to burn to death and came out of the barn unarmed to surrender. But Booth was defiant and remained inside with a broken leg and a stash of guns.

“Captain, I consider you to be a brave and honorable man,” Booth called out, “I am a cripple . . . If you’ll take your men fifty yards from the door, I’ll come out and fight you.”

Having been given orders to capture Lincoln’s assassin alive for questioning, they rebuffed his offer and lit the barn on fire, hoping to flush Booth out.

The heat inside the barn quickly grew intense, and Booth approached the back door of the barn using a crutch and holding his weapons. The light from the flames now allowed soldiers to see Booth through the cracks in the vertical planks of the barn.

A soldier named Boston Corbett took aim and shot Booth, hitting him in the neck, paralyzing him, and leaving him in excruciating pain. Later explaining to his superiors why he had shot Booth without orders, Corbett told them, “Providence directed me.”

Seven years earlier, a deeply religious Boston Corbett had decided to take Jesus’s direction in Matthew 19:12 to heart. To avoid the temptations of prostitutes, he had cut off his own testicles with a knife.

He then went to a prayer meeting and ate a hearty meal before seeking medical attention.

Booth was taken to the front porch of the nearby farmhouse, where, barely able to speak, he whispered, “Tell mother, I died for my country.” He then looked down at his hands and uttered in his dying breath, “Useless . . . useless . . . ”

The manhunt quickly rounded up Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt. Tried by a military tribunal, they were sentenced to death by hanging. Joining them at the gallows was Mary Surratt, owner of the boarding house where the conspiracy had been planned.

Surratt and Atzerodt died almost immediately, while Herold and Powell struggled nearly five minutes before dying. Mary Surratt was the first woman ever executed by the US government.

After several months, William Seward and his son Frederick both made full recoveries. The elder Seward, with his face now permanently scarred, continued in his role as secretary of state under President Andrew Johnson, and in 1867, arranged the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.

For the rest of his life, Major Henry Rathbone was haunted by his inability to prevent Lincoln’s assassination. On December 23, 1883, he shot his wife Clara to death and attempted to commit suicide with a knife. He survived, but spent the remainder of his days in an insane asylum.

BOOK: Assassination!: The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents
6.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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