THE LIFE, CRIME, AND CAPTURE
JOHN WILKES BOOTH,
WITH A FULL SKETCH OF THE
Conspiracy of which he was the Leader,
PURSUIT, TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF HIS ACCOMPLICES.
BY GEORGE ALFRED TOWNSEND,
A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.
One year ago the writer of the letters which follow, visited the Battle Field of Waterloo. In looking over many relics of the combat preserved in the Museum there, he was particularly interested in the files of journals contemporary with the action. These contained the Duke of Wellington's first despatch announcing the victory, the reports of the subordinate commanders, and the current gossip as to the episodes and hazards of the day.
The time will come when remarkable incidents of these our times will be a staple of as great curiosity as the issue of Waterloo. It is an incident without a precedent on this side of the globe, and never to be repeated.
Assassination has made its last effort to become indigenous here. The public sentiment of Loyalist and Rebel has denounced it: the world has remarked it with uplifted hands and words of execration. Therefore, as long as history shall hold good, the murder of the President will be a theme for poesy, romance and tragedy. We who live in this consecrated time keep the sacred souvenirs of Mr. Lincoln's death in our possession; and the best of these are the news letters descriptive of his apotheosis, and the fate of the conspirators who slew him.
I represented the World newspaper at Washington during the whole of those exciting weeks, and wrote their occurrences fresh from the mouths of the actors. Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1865,
By DICK & FITZGERALD,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.
It has seemed fitting to Messrs. DICK & FITZGERALD to reproduce the World letters, as a keepsake for the many who received them kindly. The Sketches appended were conscientiously written, and whatever embellishments they may seem to have grew out of the stirring events,—not out of my fancy.
Subsequent investigation has confirmed the veracity even of their speculations. I have arranged them, but have not altered them; if they represent nothing else, they do carry with them the fever and spirit of the time. But they do not assume to be literal history: We live too close to the events related to decide positively upon them. As a brochure of the day,—nothing more,—I give these Sketches of a Correspondent to the public.
G. A. T.
THE LIFE, CRIME, AND CAPTURE
JOHN WILKES BOOTH.
Washington, April 17.
Some very deliberate and extraordinary movements were made by a handsome and extremely well-dressed young man in the city of Washington last Friday. At about half-past eleven o'clock A. M., this person, whose name is J. Wilkes Booth, by profession an actor, and recently engaged in oil speculations, sauntered into Ford's Theater, on Tenth, between E and F streets, and exchanged greetings with the man at the box-office. In the conversation which ensued, the ticket agent informed Booth that a box was taken for Mr. Lincoln and General Grant, who were expected to visit the theater, and contribute to the benefit of Miss Laura Keene, and satisfy the curiosity of a large audience. Mr. Booth went away with a jest, and a lightly-spoken "Good afternoon." Strolling down to Pumphreys' stable, on C street, in the rear of the National Hotel, he engaged a saddle horse, a high-strung, fast, beautiful bay mare, telling Mr. Pumphreys that he should call for her in the middle of the afternoon.
From here he went to the Kirkwood Hotel, on the corner of Pennsylvania avenue and Twelfth street, where, calling for a card and a sheet of notepaper, he sat down and wrote upon the first as follows:
For Mr. Andrew Johnson:—
I don't wish to disturb you; are you at home?
J. W. Booth.
To this message, which was sent up by the obliging clerk, Mr. Johnson responded that he was very busily engaged. Mr. Booth smiled, and turning to his sheet of note-paper, wrote on it. The fact, if fact it is, that he had been disappointed in not obtaining an examination of the Vice-President's apartment and a knowledge of the Vice-President's probable whereabouts the ensuing evening, in no way affected his composure. The note, the contents of which are unknown, was signed and sealed within a few moments. Booth arose, bowed to an acquaintance, and passed into the street. His elegant person was seen on the avenue a few minutes, and was withdrawn into the Metropolitan Hotel.
At 4 P. M., he again appeared at Pumphreys' livery stable, mounted the mare he had engaged, rode leisurely up F street, turned into an alley between Ninth And Tenth streets, and thence into an alley reloading to the rear of Ford's Theater, which fronts on Tenth street, between E and F streets. Here he alighted and deposited the mare in a small stable off the alley, which he had hired sometime before for the accommodation of a saddle-horse which he had recently sold. Mr. Booth soon afterward retired from the stable, and is supposed to have refreshed himself at a neighboring bar-room.
At 8 o'clock the same evening, President Lincoln and Speaker Colfax sat together in a private room at the White House, pleasantly conversing. General Grant, with whom the President had engaged to attend Ford's Theater that evening, had left with his wife for Burlington, New-Jersey, in the 6 o'clock train. After this departure Mr. Lincoln rather reluctantly determined to keep his part of the engagement, rather than to disappoint his friends and the audience. Mrs. Lincoln, entering the room and turning to Mr. Colfax, said, in a half laughing, half serious way, "Well, Mr. Lincoln, are you going to the theater with me or not?" "I suppose I shall have to go, Colfax," said the President, and the Speaker took his leave in company with Major Rathbone, of the Provost-Marshal General's office, who escorted Miss Harris, daughter of Senator Harris, of New York. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln reached Ford's Theater at twenty minutes before 9 o'clock.
The house was filled in every part with a large and brilliantly attired audience. As the presidential party ascended the stairs, and passed behind the dress circle to the entrance of the private box reserved for them, the whole assemblage, having in mind the recent Union victories, arose, cheered, waving hats and handkerchiefs, and manifesting every other accustomed sign of enthusiasm. The President, last to enter the box, turned before doing so, and bowed a courteous acknowledgment of his reception—At the moment of the President's arrival, Mr. Hawks, one of the actors, performing the well-known part of Dundreary, had exclaimed: "This reminds me of a story, as Mr. Lincoln says." The audience forced him, after the interruption, to tell the story over again. It evidently pleased Mr. Lincoln, who turned laughingly to his wife and made a remark which was not overheard.
The box in which the President sat consisted of two boxes turned into one, the middle partition being removed, as on all occasions when a state party visited the theater. The box was on a level with the dress circle; about twelve feet above the stage. There were two entrances—the door nearest to the wall having been closed and locked; the door nearest the balustrades of the dress circle, and at right angles with it, being open and left open, after the visitors had entered. The interior was carpeted, lined with crimson paper, and furnished with a sofa covered with crimson velvet, three arm chairs similarly covered, and six cane-bottomed chairs. Festoons of flags hung before the front of the box against a background of lace.
President Lincoln took one of the arm-chairs and seated himself in the front of the box, in the angle nearest the audience, where, partially screened from observation, he had the best view of what was transpiring on the stage. Mrs. Lincoln sat next to him, and Miss Harris in the opposite angle nearest the stage. Major Rathbone sat just behind Mrs. Lincoln and Miss Harris. These four were the only persons in the box.
The play proceeded, although "Our American Cousin," without Mr. Sothern, has, since that gentleman's departure from this country, been justly esteemed a very dull affair. The audience at Ford's, including Mrs. Lincoln, seemed to enjoy it very much. The worthy wife of the President leaned forward, her hand upon her husband's knee, watching every scene in the drama with amused attention. Even across the President's face at intervals swept a smile, robbing it of its habitual sadness.
About the beginning of the second act, the mare, standing in the stable in the rear of the theater, was disturbed in the midst of her meal by the entrance of the young man who had quitted her in the afternoon. It is presumed that she was saddled and bridled with exquisite care.
Having completed these preparations, Mr. Booth entered the theater by the stage door; summoned one of the scene shifters, Mr. John Spangler, emerged through the same door with that individual, leaving the door open, and left the mare in his hands to be held until he (Booth) should return. Booth who was even more fashionably and richly dressed than usual, walked thence around to the front of the theater, and went in. Ascending to the dress circle, he stood for a little time gazing around upon the audience and occasionally upon the stage in his usual graceful manner. He was subsequently observed by Mr. Ford, the proprietor of the theater, to be slowly elbowing his way through the crowd that packed the rear of the dress circle toward the right side, at the extremity of which was the box where Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and their companions were seated. Mr. Ford casually noticed this as a slightly extraordinary symptom of interest on the part of an actor so familiar with the routine of the theater and the play.
The curtain had arisen on the third act, Mrs. Mountchessington and Asa Trenchard were exchanging vivacious stupidities, when a young man, so precisely resembling the one described as J. Wilkes Booth that be is asserted to be the same, appeared before the open door of the President's box, and prepared to enter.
The servant who attended Mr. Lincoln said politely, "this is the President's box, sir, no one is permitted to enter." "I am a senator," responded the person, "Mr. Lincoln has sent for me." The attendant gave way, and the young man passed into the box.
As he appeared at the door, taking a quick, comprehensive glance at the interior, Major Rathbone arose. "Are you aware, sir," he said, courteously, "upon whom you are intruding? This is the President's box, and no one is admitted." The intruder answered not a word. Fastening his eyes upon Mr. Lincoln, who had half turned his head to ascertain what caused the disturbance, he stepped quickly back without the door.
Without this door there was an eyehole, bored it is presumed on the afternoon of the crime, while the theater was deserted by all save a few mechanics. Glancing through this orifice, John Wilkes Booth espied in a moment the precise position of the President; he wore upon his wrinkling face the pleasant embryo of an honest smile, forgetting in the mimic scene the splendid successes of our arms for which he was responsible, and the history he had filled so well.
The cheerful interior was lost to J. Wilkes Booth. He did not catch the spirit of the delighted audience, of the flaming lamps flinging illumination upon the domestic foreground and the gaily set stage. He only cast one furtive glance upon the man he was to slay, and thrusting one hand in his bosom, another in his skirt pocket, drew forth simultaneously his deadly weapons. His right palm grasped a Derringer pistol, his left a dirk.
Then, at a stride, he passed the threshold again, levelled his arm at the President and bent the trigger.
A keen quick report and a puff of white smoke,—a close smell of powder and the rush of a dark, imperfectly outlined figure,—and the President's head dropped upon his shoulders: the ball was in his brain.
The movements of the assassin were from henceforth quick as the lightning, he dropped his pistol on the floor, and drawing a bowie-knife, struck Major Rathbone, who opposed him, ripping through his coat from the shoulder down, and inflicting a severe flesh wound in his arm. He leaped then upon the velvet covered balustrade at the front of the box, between Mrs. Lincoln and Miss Harris, and, parting with both hands the flags that drooped on either side, dropped to the stage beneath. Arising and turning full upon the audience, with the knife lifted in his right hand above his head, he shouted "Sic, semper tyrannis—Virginia is avenged!" Another instant he had fled across the stage and behind the scenes. Colonel J. B. Stewart, the only person in the audience who seemed to comprehend the deed he had committed, climbed from his seat near the orchestra to the stage, and followed close behind. The assassin was too fleet and too desperate, that fury incarnate, meeting Mr. Withers, the leader of the orchestra, just behind the scenes, had stricken him aside with a blow that fortunately was not a wound; overturning Miss Jenny Gourlay, an actress, who came next in his path, he gained, without further hindrance, the back door previously left open at the rear of the theater; rushed through it; leaped upon the horse held by Mr. Spangler, and without vouchsafing that person a word of information, rode out through the alley leading into F street, and thence rapidly away. His horse's hoofs might almost have been heard amid the silence that for a few seconds dwelt in the interior of the theater.
Then Mrs. Lincoln screamed, Miss Harris cried for water, and the full ghastly truth broke upon all—"The President is murdered!" The scene that ensued was as tumultuous and terrible as one of Dante's pictures of hell. Some women fainted, others uttered piercing shrieks, and cries for vengeance and unmeaning shouts for help burst from the mouths of men. Miss Laura Keene, the actress, proved herself in this awful time as equal to sustain a part in real tragedy as to interpret that of the stage. Pausing one moment before the footlights to entreat the audience to be calm, she ascended the stairs in the rear of Mr. Lincoln's box, entered it, took the dying President's head in her lap, bathed it with the water she had brought, and endeavoured to force some of the liquid through the insensible lips. The locality of the wound was at first supposed to be in the breast. It was not until after the neck and shoulders had been bared and no mark discovered, that the dress of Miss Keene, stained with blood, revealed where the ball had penetrated.
This moment gave the most impressive episode in the history of the Continent.
The Chief Magistrate of thirty, millions of people—beloved, honored, revered,—lay in the pent up closet of a play-house, dabbling with his sacred blood the robes of an actress.
As soon as the confusion and crowd was partially overcome, the form of the President was conveyed from the theater to the residence of Mr. Peterson, on the opposite side of Tenth street. Here upon a bed, in a little hastily prepared chamber, it was laid and attended by Surgeon-General Barnes and other physicians, speedily summoned.
In the meanwhile the news spread through the capital, as if borne on tongues of flame. Senator Sumner, hearing at his residence, of the affair took a carriage and drove at a gallop to the White House, when he heard where it had taken place, to find Robert Lincoln and other members of the household still unaware of it. Both drove to Ford's Theater, and were soon at the President's bedside. Secretary Stanton and the other members of the cabinet were at hand almost as soon. A vast crowd, surging up Pennsylvania avenue toward Willard's Hotel, cried, "The President is shot!" "President Lincoln is murdered." Another crowd sweeping down the avenue met the first with the tidings, "Secretary Seward has been assassinated in bed." Instantly a wild apprehension of an organized conspiracy and of other murders took possession of the people. The shout "to arms!" was mingled with the expressions of sorrow and rage that everywhere filled the air. "Where is General Grant?" or "where is Secretary Stanton!" "Where are the rest of the cabinet?" broke from thousands of lips. A conflagration of fire is not half so terrible as was the conflagration of passion that rolled through the streets and houses of Washington on that awful night.
The attempt on the life of Secretary Seward was perhaps as daring, if not so dramatic, as the assassination of the President. At 9:20 o'clock a man, tall, athletic, and dressed in light coloured clothes, alighted from a horse in front of Mr. Seward's residence in Madison place, where the secretary was lying, very feeble from his recent injuries. The house, a solid three-story brick building, was formerly the old Washington Club-house. Leaving his horse standing, the stranger rang at the door, and informed the servant who admitted him that he desired to see Mr. Seward. The servant responded that Mr. Seward was very ill, and that no visitors were admitted. "But I am a messenger from Dr. Verdi, Mr. Seward's physician; I have a prescription which I must deliver to him myself." The servant still demurring, the stranger, without further parley, pushed him aside and ascended the stairs. Moving to the right, he proceeded towards Mr. Seward's room, and was about to enter it, when Mr. Frederick Seward appeared from an opposite doorway and demanded his business. He responded in the same manner as to the servant below, but being met with a refusal, suddenly closed the controversy by striking Mr. Seward a severe and perhaps mortal blow across the forehead with the butt of a pistol. As the first victim fell, Major Seward, another and younger son of the secretary, emerged from his father's room. Without a word the man drew a knife and struck the major several blows with it, rushing into the chamber as he did so; then, after dealing the nurse a horrible wound across the bowels, he sprang to the bed upon which the secretary lay, stabbing him once in the face and neck. Mr. Seward arose convulsively and fell from the bed to the floor. Turning and brandishing his knife anew, the assassin fled from the room, cleared the prostrate form of Frederick Seward in the hall, descended the stairs in three leaps, and was out of the door and upon his horse in an instant. It is stated by a person who saw him mount that, although he leaped upon his horse with most unseemly haste, he trotted away around the corner of the block with circumspect deliberation.
Around both the house on Tenth street and the residence of Secretary Seward, as the fact of both tragedies became generally known, crowds soon gathered so vast and tumultuous that military guards scarcely sufficed to keep them from the doors.
The room to which the President had been conveyed is on the first floor, at the end of the hall. It is only fifteen feet square, with a Brussels carpet, papered with brown, and hung with a lithograph of Rosa Bonheur's "Horse Fair," an engraved copy of Herring's "Village Blacksmith," and two smaller ones, of "The Stable" and "The Barn Yard," from the same artist. A table and bureau, spread with crotchet work, eight chairs and the bed, were all the furniture. Upon this bed, a low walnut four-poster, lay the dying President; the blood oozing from the frightful wound in his head and staining the pillow. All that the medical skill of half a dozen accomplished surgeons could do had been done to prolong a life evidently ebbing from a mortal hurt.
Secretary Stanton, just arrived from the bedside of Mr. Seward, asked Surgeon-General Barnes what was Mr. Lincoln's condition. "I fear, Mr. Stanton, that there is no hope." "O, no, general; no, no;" and the man, of all others, apparently strange to tears, sank down beside the bed, the hot, bitter evidences of an awful sorrow trickling through his fingers to the floor. Senator Sumner sat on the opposite side of the bed, holding one of the President's hands in his own, and sobbing with kindred grief. Secretary Welles stood at the foot of the bed, his face hidden, his frame shaken with emotion. General Halleck, Attorney-General Speed, Postmaster-General Dennison, M. B. Field, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Judge Otto, General Meigs, and others, visited the chamber at times, and then retired. Mrs. Lincoln—but there is no need to speak of her. Mrs. Senator Dixon soon arrived, and remained with her through the night. All through the night, while the horror-stricken crowds outside swept and gathered along the streets, while the military and police were patrolling and weaving a cordon around the city; while men were arming and asking each other, "What victim next?" while the telegraph was sending the news from city to city over the continent, and while the two assassins were speeding unharmed upon fleet horses far away—his chosen friends watched about the death-bed of the highest of the nation. Occasionally Dr. Gurley, pastor of the church where Mr. Lincoln habitually attended, knelt down in prayer. Occasionally Mrs. Lincoln and her sons, entered, to find no hope and to go back to ceaseless weeping. Members of the cabinet, senators, representatives, generals, and others, took turns at the bedside. Chief-Justice Chase remained until a late hour, and returned in the morning. Secretary McCulloch remained a constant watcher until 5 A. M. Not a gleam of consciousness shone across the visage of the President up to his death—a quiet, peaceful death at last—which came at twenty-two minutes past seven A. M. Around the bedside at this time were Secretaries Stanton, Welles, Usher, Attorney-General Speed, Postmaster-General Dennison, M. B. Field, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Judge Otto, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, General Halleck, General Meigs, Senator Sumner, F. R. Andrews, of New-York, General Todd, of Dacotah, John Hay, private secretary, Governor Oglesby, of Illinois, General Farnsworth, Mrs. and Miss Kenny, Miss Harris, Captain Robert Lincoln, son of the President, and Drs. E. W. Abbott, R. K. Stone, C. D. Gatch, Neal Hall, and Leiberman. Rev. Dr. Gurley, after the event, knelt with all around in prayer, and then, entering the adjoining room where were gathered Mrs. Lincoln, Captain Robert Lincoln, Mr. John Hay, and others, prayed again. Soon after 9 o'clock the remains were placed in a temporary coffin and conveyed to the White House under a small escort.
In Secretary Seward's chamber, a similar although not so solemn a scene prevailed; between that chamber and the one occupied by President Lincoln, visitors alternated to and fro through the night. It had been early ascertained that the wounds of the secretary were not likely to prove mortal. A wire instrument, to relieve the pain which he suffered from previous injuries, prevented the knife of the assassin from striking too deep. Mr. Frederick Seward's injuries were more serious. His forehead was broken in by the blow from, the pistol, and up to this hour he has remained perfectly unconscious. The operation of trepanning the skull has been performed, but little hope is had of his recovery. Major Seward will get well. Mr. Hansell's condition is somewhat doubtful.
Secretary Seward, who cannot speak, was not informed of the assassination of the President, and the injury of his son, until yesterday. He had been worrying as to why Mr. Lincoln did not visit him. "Why does'nt the President come to see me?" he asked with his pencil. "Where is Frederick—what is the matter with him?" Perceiving the nervous excitement which these doubts occasioned, a consultation was had, at which it was finally determined that it would be best to let the secretary know the worst. Secretary Stanton was chosen to tell him. Sitting down beside Mr. Seward's bed, yesterday afternoon, he therefore related to him a full account of the whole affair. Mr. Seward was so surprised and shocked that he raised one hand involuntarily, and groaned. Such is the condition of affairs at this stage of the terror. The pursuit of the assassins has commenced; the town is full of wild and baseless rumors; much that is said is stirring, little is reliable. I tell it to you as I get it, but fancy is more prolific than truth: be patient! [Footnote: The facts above had been collected by Mr. Jerome B. Stillion, before my arrival in Washington: the arrangement of them is my own.]
THE OBSEQUIES IN WASHINGTON.
Washington, April 19, (Evening).
The most significant and most creditable celebration ever held in Washington has just transpired. A good ruler has been followed from his home to the Capitol by a grand cortege, worthy of the memory and of the nation's power. As description must do injustice to the extent of the display, so must criticism fail to sufficiently commend its perfect tastefulness, Rarely has a Republican assemblage been so orderly. The funeral of Mr. Lincoln is something to be remembered for a cycle. It caps all eulogy upon his life and services, and was, without exception, the most representative, spontaneous, and remarkable testimonial ever rendered to the remains of an American citizen.
The night before the funeral showed the probable character of the cortege. At Willard's alone four hundred applications by telegraph for beds were refused. As many as six thousand persons spent Tuesday night in the streets, in depots and in outbuildings. The population of the city this morning was not far short of a hundred thousand, and of these as many at thirty thousand walked in procession with Mr. Lincoln's ashes.
All orders of folks were at hand. The country adjacent sent in hay-wagons, donkey-carts, dearborns. All who could slip away from the army came to town, and every attainable section of the Union forwarded mourners. At no time in his life had Mr. Lincoln so many to throng about him as in this hour, when he is powerless to do any one a service. For once in history, office-seekers were disinterested, and contractors and hangers-on human. These came, for this time only, to the capital of the republic without an axe to grind or a curiosity to subserve; respect and grief were all their motive. This day was shown that the great public heart beats unselfish and reverent, even after a dynasty of plunder and war.
The arrangements for the funeral were made by Mr. Harrington, Assistant-Secretary of the Treasury, who was beset by applicants for tickets. The number of these were reduced to six hundred, the clergy getting sixty and the press twenty. I was among the first to pass the White House guards and enter the building.
Its freestone columns were draped in black, and all the windows were funereal. The ancient reception-room was half closed, and the famous East room, which is approached by a spacious hall, had been reserved for the obsequies. There are none present here but a few silent attendants of the late owner of the republican palace. Deeply ensconced in the white satin stuffing of his coffin, the President lies like one asleep. The broad, high, beautiful room is like the varnished interior of a vault. The frescoed ceiling wears the national shield, some pointed vases filled with flowers and fruit, and three emblazonings of gilt pendant from which are shrouded chandeliers. A purplish gray is the prevailing tint of the ceiling. The cornice is silver white, set off by a velvet crimson. The wall paper is gold and red, broken by eight lofty mirrors, which are chastely margined with black and faced with fleece.
Their imperfect surfaces reflect the lofty catafalque, an open canopy of solemn alapaca, lined with tasteful satin of creamish lead, looped at the curving roof and dropping to the four corners in half transparent tapestry. Beneath the roof, the half light shines upon a stage of fresh and fragrant flowers, up-bearing a long, high coffin. White lace of pure silver pendant from the border throws a mild shimmer upon the solid silver tracery hinges and emblazonings. A cross of lilies stands at the head, an anchor of roses at the foot. The lid is drawn back to show the face and bosom, and on the coffin top are heather, precious flowers, and sprigs of green. This catafalque, or in plain words, this coffin set upon a platform and canopied, has around it a sufficient space of Brussels carpet, and on three sides of this there are raised steps covered with black, on which the honored visitors are to stand.
The fourth side is bare, save of a single row of chairs some twenty in number, on which the reporters are to sit. The odor of the room is fresh and healthy; the shade is solemn, without being oppressive. All is rich, simple, and spacious, and in such sort as any king might wish to lie. Approach and look at the dead man.
Death has fastened into his frozen face all the character and idiosyncrasy of life. He has not changed one line of his grave, grotesque countenance, nor smoothed out a single feature. The hue is rather bloodless and leaden; but he was alway sallow. The dark eyebrows seem abruptly arched; the beard, which will grow no more, is shaved close, save the tuft at the short small chin. The mouth is shut, like that of one who had put the foot down firm, and so are the eyes, which look as calm as slumber. The collar is short and awkward, turned over the stiff elastic cravat, and whatever energy or humor or tender gravity marked the living face is hardened into its pulseless outline. No corpse in the world is better prepared according to appearances. The white satin around it reflects sufficient light upon the face to show us that death is really there; but there are sweet roses and early magnolias, and the balmiest of lilies strewn around, as if the flowers had begun to bloom even upon his coffin. Looking on uninterruptedly! for there is no pressure, and henceforward the place will be thronged with gazers who will take from the sight its suggestiveness and respect. Three years ago, when little Willie Lincoln died, Doctors Brown and Alexander, the embalmers or injectors, prepared his body so handsomely that the President had it twice disinterred to look upon it. The same men, in the same way, have made perpetual these beloved lineaments. There is now no blood in the body; it was drained by the jugular vein and sacredly preserved, and through a cutting on the inside of the thigh the empty blood vessels were charged with a chemical preparation which soon hardened to the consistence of stone. The long and bony body is now hard and stiff, so that beyond its present position it cannot be moved any more than the arms or legs of a statue. It has undergone many changes. The scalp has been removed, the brain taken out, the chest opened and the blood emptied. All that we see of Abraham Lincoln, so cunningly contemplated in this splendid coffin, is a mere shell, an effigy, a sculpture. He lies in sleep, but it is the sleep of marble. All that made this flesh vital, sentient, and affectionate is gone forever.
The officers present are Generals Hunter and Dyer and two staff captains. Hunter, compact and dark and reticent, walks about the empty chamber in full uniform, his bright buttons and sash and sword contrasting with his dark blue uniform, gauntlets upon his hands, crape on his arm and blade, his corded hat in his hands, a paper collar just apparent above his velvet tips, and now and then he speaks to Captain Nesmith or Captain Dewes, of General Harding's staff, rather as one who wishes company than one who has anything to say. His two silver stars upon his shoulder shine dimly in the draped apartment. He was one of the first in the war to urge the measures which Mr. Lincoln afterward adopted. The aids walk to and fro, selected without reference to any association with the late President. Their clothes are rich, their swords wear mourning, they go in silence, everything is funereal. In the deeply-draped mirrors strange mirages are seen, as in the coffin scene of "Lucretia Borgia," where all the dusky perspectives bear vistas of gloomy palls. The upholsterers make timid noises of driving nails and spreading tapestry; but save ourselves and these few watchers and workers, only the dead is here. The White House, so ill-appreciated in common times, is seen to be capacious and elegant—no disgrace to the nation even in the eyes of those foreign folk of rank who shall gather here directly.
As we sit brooding, with the pall straight before us, the funeral guns are heard indistinctly booming from the far forts, with the tap of drums in the serried street without, where troops and citizens are forming for the grand procession. We see through the window in the beautiful spring day that the grass is brightly green; and all the trees in blossom, show us through their archways the bronze and marble statues breaking the horizon. But there is one at an upper window, seeing all this through her tears, to whom the beautiful noon, with its wealth of zephyrs and sweets, can waft no gratulation. The father of her children, the confidant of her affection and ambition, has passed from life into immortality, and lies below, dumb, cold murdered. The feeling of sympathy for Mrs. Lincoln is as wide-spread as the regret for the chief magistrate. Whatever indiscretions she may have committed in the abrupt transition from plainness to power are now forgiven and forgotten. She and her sons are the property of the nation associated with its truest glories and its worst bereavement. By and by the guests drop in, hat in hand, wearing upon their sleeves waving crape; and some of them slip up to the coffin to carry away a last impression of the fading face.
But the first accession of force is that of the clergy, sixty in number. They are devout looking men, darkly attired, and have come from all the neighboring cities to represent every denomination. Five years ago these were wrangling over slavery as a theological question, and at the beginning of the war it was hard, in many of their bodies, to carry loyal resolutions, To-day there are here such sincere mourners as Robert Pattison, of the Methodist church, who passed much of his life among slaves and masters. He and the rest have come to believe that the President was wise and right, and follow him to his grave, as the apostles the interred on calvary. All these retire to the south end of the room, facing the feet of the corpse, and stand there silently to wait for the coming of others. Very soon this East room is filled with the representative intelligence of the entire nation. The governors of states stand on the dais next to the head of the coffin, with the varied features of Curtin, Brough, Fenton, Stone, Oglesby and Ingraham. Behind them are the mayors and councilmen of many towns paying their last respects to the representative of the source of all municipal freedom. To their left are the corporate officers of Washington, zealous to make this day's funeral honors atone for the shame of the assassination. With these are sprinkled many scarred and worthy soldiers who have borne the burden of the grand war, and stand before this shape they loved in quiet civil reverence.
Still further down the steps and closer to the catafalque rest the familiar faces of many of our greatest generals—the manly features of Augur, whose blood I have seen trickling forth upon the field of battle; the open almost, beardless contour of Halleck, who has often talked of sieges and campaigns with this homely gentleman who is going to the grave. There are many more bright stars twinkling in contiguous shoulder bars, but sitting in a chair upon the beflowered carpet is Ulysses Grant, who has lived a century in the last three weeks and comes to-day to add the luster of his iron face to this thrilling and saddened picture. He wears white gloves and sash, and is swarthy, nervous, and almost tearful, his feet crossed, his square receding head turning now here now there, his treble constellation blazing upon the left shoulder only, but hidden on the right, and I seem to read upon his compact features the indurate and obstinate will to fight, on the line he has selected, the honor of the country through any peril, as if he had sworn it by the slain man's bier—his state-fellow, patron, and friend. Here also is General McCallum, who has seamed the rebellious South with military roads to send victory along them, and bring back the groaning and the scarred. These and the rest are grand historic figures, worthy of all artistic depiction. They have looked so often into the mortar's mouth, that no bravo's blade can make them wince. Do you see the thin-haired, conical head of the viking Farragut, close by General Grant, with many naval heroes close behind, storm-beaten, and every inch Americans in thought and physiognomy?
What think the foreign ambassadors of such men, in the light of their own overloaded bodies, where meaningless orders, crosses, and ribbons shine dimly in the funeral light? These legations number, perhaps, a hundred men, of all civilized races,—the Sardinian envoy, jetty-eyed, towering above the rest. But they are still and respectful, gathered thus by a slain ruler, to see how worthy is the republic he has preserved. Whatever sympathy these have for our institutions, I think that in such audience they must have been impressed with the futility of any thought that either one citizen right or one territorial inch can ever be torn from the United States. Not to speak disparagingly of these noble guests, I was struck with the superior facial energy of our own public servants, who were generally larger, and brighter-faced, born of that aristocracy which took its patent from Tubal Cain, and Abel the goatherd, and graduated in Abraham Lincoln. The Haytien minister, swarthy and fiery-faced, is conspicuous among these.
But nearer down, and just opposite the catafalque so that it is perpendicular to the direction of vision, stand the central powers of our government, its President and counsellors. President Johnson is facing the middle of the coffin upon the lowest step; his hands are crossed upon his breast, his dark clothing just revealing his plaited shirt, and upon his full, plethoric, shaven face, broad and severely compact, two telling gray eyes rest under a thoughtful brow, whose turning hair is straight and smooth. Beside him are Vice-President Hamlin, whom he succeeded, and ex-Governor King, his most intimate friend, who lends to the ruling severity of the place a half Falstaffian episode. The cabinet are behind, as if arranged for a daguerreotypist, Stanton, short and quicksilvery, in long goatee and glasses, in stunted contrast to the tall and snow-tipped shape of Mr. Welles with the rest, practical and attentive, and at their side is Secretary Chase, high, dignified, and handsome, with folded arms, listening, but undemonstrative, a half-foot higher than any spectator, and dividing with Charles Sumner, who is near by, the preference for manly beauty in age. With Mr. Chase are other justices of the Supreme Court and to their left, near the feet of the corpse, are the reverend senators, representing the oldest and the newest states—splendid faces, a little worn with early and later toils, backed up by the high, classical features of Colonel Forney, their secretary. Beyond are the representatives and leading officials of the various departments, with a few odd folks like George Francis Train, exquisite as ever, and, for this time only, with nothing to say.
Close by the corpse sit the relatives of the deceased, plain, honest, hardy people, typical as much of the simplicity of our institutions as of Mr. Lincoln's self-made eminence. No blood relatives of Mr. Lincoln were to be found. It is a singular evidence of the poverty of his origin, and therefore of his exceeding good report, that, excepting his immediate family, none answering to his name could be discovered. Mrs. Lincoln's relatives were present, however, in some force. Dr. Lyman Beecher Todd, General John B. S. Todd, C. M. Smith, Esq., and Mr. N. W. Edwards, the late President's brother-in-law, plain, self-made people were here and were sincerely affected. Captain Robert Lincoln sat during the services with his face in his handkerchief weeping quietly, and little Tad his face red and heated, cried as if his heart would break. Mrs. Lincoln, weak, worn, and nervous, did not enter the East room nor follow the remains. She was the chief magistrate's lady yesterday; to-day a widow bearing only an immortal name. Among the neighbors of the late President, who came from afar to pay respect to his remains, was one old gentleman who left Richmond on Sunday. I had been upon the boat with him and heard him in hot wrangle with some officers who advised the summary execution of all rebel leaders. This the old man opposed, when the feeling against him became so intense that he was compelled to retire. He counselled mercy, good faith, and forgiveness. To-day, the men who had called him a traitor, saw him among the family mourners, bent with grief. All these are waiting in solemn lines, standing erect, with a space of several feet between them and the coffin, and there is no bustle nor unseemly curiosity, not a whisper, not a footfall—only the collected nation looking with awed hearts upon eminent death.
This scene is historic. I regret that I must tell you of it over a little wire, for it admits of all exemplification. In this high, spacious, elegant apartment, laughter and levee, social pleasantry and refined badinage, had often held their session. Dancing and music had made those mirrors thrill which now reflect a pall, and where the most beautiful women of their day had mingled here with men of brilliant favor, now only a very few, brave enough to look upon death, were wearing funeral weeds. The pleasant face of Mrs. Kate Sprague looks out from these; but such scenes gain little additional power by beauty's presence. And this wonderful relief was carved at one blow by John Wilkes Booth.
The religious services began at noon. They were remarkable not only for their association with the national event, but for a tremendous political energy which they had. While none of the prayers or speeches exhibited great literary carefulness, or will obtain perpetuity on their own merits, they were full of feeling and expressed all the intense concern of the country.
The procession surpassed in sentiment, populousness, and sincere good feeling, anything of the kind we have had in America. It was several miles long, and in all its elements was full and tasteful. The scene on the avenue will be alway remembered as the only occasion on which that great thoroughfare was a real adornment to the seat of government. In the tree tops, on the house tops, at all the windows, the silent and affected crowds clustered beneath half-mast banners and waving crape, to reverentially uncover as the dark vehicle, bearing its rich silver-mounted coffin, swept along; mottoes of respect and homage were on many edifices, and singularly some of them were taken from the play of Richard III., which was the murderer's favorite part The entire width of the avenue was swept, from curb to curb, by the deep lines.
The chief excellence of this procession was its representative nature. All classes, localities and trades were out. As the troops in broad, straight columns, with reversed muskets, moved to solemn marches, all the guns on the fortifications on the surrounding hills discharged hoarse salutes—guns which the arbiter of war whom they were to honor could hear no longer. Every business place was closed. Sabermen swept the street of footmen and horsemen. The carriages drove two abreast.
Not less than five thousand officers, of every rank, marched abreast with the cortege. They were noble looking men with intelligent faces, and represented the sinews of the land, and the music was not the least excellent feature of the mournful display. About thirty bands were in the line, and these played all varieties of solemn marches, so that there were continual and mingling strains of funeral music for more than three hours. Artillery, consisting of heavy brass pieces, followed behind. In fact, all the citizen virtues and all the military enterprise of the country were evidenced. Never again, until Washington becomes in fact what it is in name, the chief city of America, shall we have a scene like this repeated—the grandest procession ever seen on this continent, spontaneously evoked to celebrate the foulest crime on record. If any feeling of gratulation could arise in so calamitous a time, it would be, that so soon after this appalling calamity the nation calmly and collectedly rallied about its succeeding rulers, and showed in the same moment its regret for the past and its resolution for the future. To me, the scene in the White House, the street, and the capitol to-day, was the strongest evidence the war afforded of the stability of our institutions, and the worthiness and magnanimous power of our people.
The cortege passed to the left side of the Capitol, and entering the great gates, passed to the grand stairway, opposite the splendid dome, where the coffin was disengaged and carried up the ascent. It was posted under the bright concave, now streaked with mournful trappings, and left in state, watched by guards of officers with drawn swords. This was a wonderful spectacle, the man most beloved and honored in the ark of the republic. The storied paintings representing eras in its history were draped in sable, through which they seemed to cast reverential glances upon the lamented bier. The thrilling scenes depicted by Trumbull, the commemorative canvases of Leutze, the wilderness vegetation of Powell, glared from their separate pedestals upon the central spot where lay the fallen majesty of the country. Here the prayers and addresses of the noon were rehearsed and the solemn burial service read. At night the jets of gas concealed in the spring of the dome were lighted up, so that their bright reflection masses of burning light, like marvelous haloes, upon the little box where so much that we love and honor rested on its way to the grave. And so through the starry night, in the fane of the great Union he had strengthened and recovered, the ashes of Abraham Lincoln, zealously guarded, are now reposing. The sage, the citizen, the patriot, the man, has reached all the eminence that life can give the worthy or the ambitious. The hunted fugitive who struck through our hearts to slay him, should stand beside his stately bier to see how powerless are bullets and blades to take the real life of any noble man!
Washington, April 27th.
Justice is satisfied, though blinder vengeance may not be. While the illustrious murdered is on the way to the shrine, the stark corpse of his murderer lies in the shambles. The one died quietly, like his life; the other died fighting, like his crime. And now that over all of them the darkness and the dew have descended, the populace, which may not be all satisfied, may perhaps be calmed. No triumphal mourning can add to the President's glory; no further execration can disturb the assassin's slumbers. They have gone for what they were into history, into tradition, into the hereafter both of men and spirits; and what they were may be in part concluded. Mr. Lincoln's career passes, in extent, gravity, and eventful association, the province of newspaper biography; but Booth is the hero of a single deed, and the delineation of him may begin and be exhausted in a single article. I have been at pains, since the day of the President's obsequies, to collect all valid information on the subject of his assassin, in anticipation of the latter's capture and death. Now that these have been consummated, I shall print this biography.
The elder Booth in every land was a sojourner, as all his fathers were. Of Hebrew descent, and by a line of actors, he united in himself that strong Jewish physiognomy which, in its nobler phases, makes all that is dark and beautiful, and the combined vagrancy of all men of genius and all men of the stage. Fitful, powerful, passionate, his life was a succession of vices and triumphs. He mastered the intricate characters of dramatic literature by intuition, rather than by study, and produced them with a vigor and vividness which almost passed the depicting of real life. The stage on which he raved and fought became as historic as the actual decks of battle ships, and his small and brawny figure comes down to us in those paroxysms of delirious art, like that of Harold, or Richard, or Prince Rupert. He drank to excess, was profligate but not generous, required but not reliable, and licentious to the bounds of cruelty. He threw off the wife of his bosom to fly from England with a flower-girl, and, settling in Baltimore, dwelt with his younger companion, and brought up many children, while his first-possessed went down to a drunken and broken-hearted death. He himself, wandering westward, died on the way, errant and feverish, even in the closing moments. His widow, too conscious of her predecessor's wrongs, and often taunted with them, lived apart, frugal and discreet, and brought her six children up to honorable maturity. These were Junius Brutus, Edwin Forrest (though he drops the Forrest for professional considerations), John Wilkes, Joseph, and the girls. All of the boys are known to more or less of fame; none of them in his art has reached the renown of the father; but one has sent his name as far as that of the great playwright to whom they were pupils; wherever Shakspeare is quoted, John Wilkes Booth will be named, and infamously, like that Hubert in "King John," who would have murdered the gentle Prince Arthur.
It may not be a digression here to ask what has become of the children of the weird genius I have sketched above. Mrs. Booth, against whom calumny has had no word to say, now resides with her daughters in Nineteenth street, New-York. John S. Clarke dwells in princely style in Philadelphia, with the daughter whom he married; he is the business partner of Edwin Booth, and they are likely to become as powerful managers as they have been successful "stars." Edwin Booth, who is said to have the most perfect physical head in America, and whom the ladies call the beau ideal of the melancholy Dane, dwells also on Nineteenth street. He has acquired a fortune, and is, without doubt, a frankly loyal gentleman. He could not well be otherwise from his membership in the Century Club where literature and loyalty, are never dissolved. Correct and pleasing without being powerful or brilliant, he has led a plain and appreciated career, and latterly, to his honor, has been awakening among dramatic authors some emulation by offering handsome compensations for original plays. Junius Brutus Booth, the oldest of them all, most resembles in feature his wild and wayward father; he is not as good an actor as was Wilkes, and kept in the West, that border civilization of the drama; he now lies, on a serious charge of complicity, in Capitol Hill jail. Joseph Booth tried the stage as an utility actor and promptly failed. The best part he ever had to play was Orson in the "Iron Chest," and his discomfiture was signal; then he studied medicine but grew discouraged, and is now in California in an office of some sort. A son of Booth by his first wife became a first class lawyer in Boston. He never recognized the rest of the family. Wilkes Booth, the third son, was shot dead on Wednesday for attempting to escape from the consequences of murder. Such are the people to whom one of the greatest actors of our time gave his name and lineaments. But I have anticipated the story:
Although her family was large, it was not so hard sailing with Mrs. Rosalie Booth as may be inferred. Her husband's gains had been variably great, and they owned a farm of some value near Baltimore. The boys had plain but not sufficient schooling, though by the time John Wilkes grew up Edwin and Junius were making some little money and helping the family. So Wilkes was sent to a better school than they, where he made some eventful acquaintances. One of these won his admiration as much in the playground as in subsequent life upon the field of battle; this was Fitzhugh Lee, son of the great rebel chieftain. I have not heard that Lee ever had any friendship for young Wilkes, but his port and name were enough to excite a less ardent imagination—the son of a soldier already great, and a descendant of Washington. Wilkes Booth has often spoken of the memory of the young man, envied his success, and, perhaps, boasted of more intimacy than he ever had. The exemplars of young Wilkes, it was soon seen, were anything but literary. He hated school and pent-up life, and loved the open air. He used to stroll off to fish, though that sort of amusement was too sedentary for his nature, but went on fowling jaunts with enthusiasm. In these latter he manifested that fine nerve, and certain eye, which was the talk of all his associates; but his greatest love was the stable; He learned to ride with his first pair of boots, and hung around the grooms to beg permission to take the nags to water. He grew in later life to be both an indurated and a graceful horseman. Toward his mother and sisters he was affectionate without being obedient. Of all the sons, Wilkes was the most headstrong in-doors, and the most contented away from home. He had a fitful gentleness which won him forgiveness, and of one of his sisters he was particularly fond, but none had influence over him. He was seldom contentious, but obstinately bent, and what he willed, to did in silence, seeming to discard sympathy or confidence. As a boy he was never bright, except in a boy's sense; that is, he could run and leap well, fight when challenged, and generally fell in with the sentiment of the crowd. He therefore made many companions, and his early days all passed between Baltimore city and the adjacent farm.
I have heard it said as the only evidence of Booth's ferocity in those early times that he was always shooting cats, and killed off almost the entire breed in his neighbourhood. But on more than one occasion he ran away from both school and home, and once made the trip of the Chesapeake to the oyster fisheries without advising anybody of his family.
While yet very young, Wilkes Booth became an habitue at the theater. His traditions and tastes were all in that direction. His blood was of the stage, like that of the Keans, the Kembles, and the Wallacks. He would not commence at the bottom of the ladder and climb from round to round, nor take part in more than a few Thespian efforts. One night, however, a young actor, who was to have a benefit and wished to fill the house, resolved for the better purpose to give Wilkes a chance. He announced that a son of the great Booth of tradition, would enact the part of Richmond, and the announcement was enough. Before a crowded place, Booth played so badly that he was hissed. Still holding to his gossamer hopes and high conceit, Wilkes induced John S. Clarke, who was then addressing his sister, to obtain him a position in the company of the Arch Street Theater at Philadelphia.
For eight dollars a week, Wilkes Booth, at the age of twenty-two, contracted with William Wheatley to play in any piece or part for which he might be cast, and to appear every day at rehearsal. He had to play the Courier in Sheridan Knowles's "Wife" on his first night, with five or ten little speeches to make; but such was his nervousness that he blundered continually, and quite balked the piece. Soon afterward he undertook the part of one of the Venetian comrades in Hugo's "Lucretia Borgia," and was to have said in his turn—
"Madame, I am Petruchio Pandolfo;" instead of which he exclaimed:
"Madame, I am Pondolfio Pet—, Pedolfio Pat—, Pantuchio Ped—; damn it? what am I?"
The audience roared, and Booth, though full of chagrin, was compelled to laugh with them.
The very next night he was to play Dawson, an important part in Moore's tragedy of "The Gamester." He had bought a new dress to wear on this night, and made abundant preparation to do himself honor. He therefore invited a lady whom he knew to visit the theater, and witness his triumph. But at the instant of his appearance on the stage, the audience, remembering the Petruchio Pandolfo of the previous night, burst into laughter, hisses, and mock applause, so that he was struck dumb, and stood rigid, with nothing whatever to say. Mr. John Dolman, to whose Stukely has played, was compelled, therefore, to strike Dawson entirely out of the piece.
These occurrences nettled Booth, who protested that he studied faithfully but that his want of confidence ruined him. Mr. Fredericks the stage manager made constant complaints of Booth, who by the way, did not play under his full name, but as Mr. J. Wilkes—and he bore the general reputation of having no promise, and being a careless fellow. He associated freely with such of the subordinate actors as he liked; but being, through Clarke, then a rising favourite, of better connections, might, had he chosen, advanced himself socially, if not artistically. Clarke was to have a benefit one evening, and to enact, among other things, a mock Richard III., to which he allowed Wilkes Booth to play a real Richmond. On this occasion, for the first time, Booth showed some energy, and obtain some applause. But, in general, he was stumbling and worthless I myself remember, on three consecutive nights, hearing him trip up and receive suppressed hisses. He lacked enterprise; other young actors, instead of waiting to be given better parts, committed them to memory, in the hope that their real interpreter might not come to hand. Among these I recall John McCullough, who afterwards became quite a celebrated actor. He was getting, if I correctly remember, only six dollars a week, while Booth obtained eight. Yet Wilkes Booth seemed too slow or indifferent to get on the weather side of such chances. He still held the part of third walking gentleman, and the third is always the first to be walked off in case of strait, as was Wilkes Booth. He did not survive forty weeks engagement, nor make above three hundred dollars in all that time. The Kellers arrived; they cut down the company, and they dispensed with Wilkes Booth. He is remembered in Philadelphia by his failure as in the world by his crime.
About this time a manager named Kunkle gave Booth a salary of twenty dollars a week to go to the Richmond Theater. There he played a higher order of parts, and played them better, Winning applauses from the easy provincial cities, and taking, as everywhere the ladies by storm. I have never wondered why many actors were strongly predisposed toward the South. There, their social status is nine times as big as with us. The hospitable, lounging, buzzing character of the southerner is entirely consonant with the cosmopolitanism of the stage, and that easy "hang-up-your-hatativeness," which is the rule and the demand in Thespianship. We place actors outside of society, and execrate them because they are there. The South took them into affable fellowship, and was not ruined by it, but beloved by the fraternity. Booth played two seasons in Richmond, and left in some esteem.
When the John Brown raid occured, Booth left the Richmond Theater for the scene of strife in a picked company with which he had affiliated for some time. From his connection with the militia on this occasion he was wont to trace his fealty to Virginia. He was a non-commissioned officer, and remained at Charleston till after the execution, visiting the old pike man in jail, and his company was selected to form guard around the scaffold when John Brown went, white-haired, to his account. There may be in this a consolation for the canonizers of the first arm-bearer between the sections, that one whose unit swelled the host to crush out that brave old life, took from the scene inspiration enough to slay a merciful President in his unsuspecting leisure. Booth never referred to John Brown's death in bravado; possibly at that gallows began some such terrible purpose as he afterward consummated.
It was close upon the beginning of the war when Booth resolved to transform himself from a stock actor to a "star." As many will read this who do not understand such distinctions, let me preface it by explaining that a "star" is an actor who belongs to no one theater, but travels from each to all, playing a few weeks at a time, and sustained in his chief character by the regular or stock actors. A stock actor is a good actor, and a poor fool. A star is an advertisement in tights, who grows rich and corrupts the public taste. Booth was a star, and being so, had an agent. The agent is a trumpeter who goes on before, writing the impartial notices which you see in the editorial columns of country papers and counting noses at the theater doors. Booth's agent was one Matthew Canning, an exploded Philadelphia lawyer, who took to managing by passing the bar, and J. Wilkes no longer, but our country's rising tragedian. J. Wilkes Booth, opened in Montgomery, Alabama, in his father's consecrated part of Richard III. It was very different work between receiving eight dollars a week and getting half the gross proceeds of every performance. Booth kept northward when his engagement was done, playing in many cities such parts as Romeo, the Corsican Brothers, and Raphael in the "Marble Heart;" in all of these he gained applause, and his journey eastward, ending in eastern cities like Providence, Portland, and Boston was a long success, in part deserved. In Boston he received especial commendation for his enactment of Richard.
I have looked over this play, his best and favorite one, to see how closely the career of the crookback he so often delineated resembled his own.
How like that fearful night of Richard on Bosworth field must have been Booth's sleep in the barn at Port Royal, tortured by ghosts of victims all repeating.
"When I was mortal my anointed body By thee was punched full of deadly holes: Think on the Tower and me! Despair and die!"
Or this, from some of Booth's female victims:
"Let me sit heavy on thy soul to-morrow! I that was washed to death with fulsome wine; Poor Clarence, by thy guile betrayed to death: To-morrow in the battle think on me; despair and die!"
These terrible conjurations must have recalled how aptly the scene as often rehearsed by Booth, sword in hand, where, leaping from his bed, he cries in horror:
"Give me another horse! bind up my wounds! Have mercy, Jesu! Soft! I did but dream. Oh! coward conscience how thou dost afflict me! The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight! Cold, flareful drops stand on my trembling flesh. What do I fear? Myself! there is none else by: Is there a murderer here? No!—Yes!—I am! Then fly,—what from myself?
* * * * *
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, And every tongue brings in a several tale. And every tale condemns me for a villain! Perjury, perjury in the highest degree: Murder, stern murder in the direst degree: All several sins, all used in each degree. Throng to the bar, crying all, Guilty! guilty!"
By these starring engagments, Booth made incredible sums. His cashbook, for one single season, showed earnings deposited in bank of twenty-two odd thousand dollars. In New York he did not get a hearing, except at a benefit or two: where he played parts not of his selection. In Philadelphia his earlier failure predisposed the people to discard him, and they did. But he had made enough, and resolved to invest his winnings, The oil fever had just begun; he hired an agent, sent him to the western districts and gave him discretionary power; his investments all turned out profitable.
Booth died, as far as understood without debts. The day before the murder he paid an old friend a hundred dollars which he had borrowed two days previously. He banked at Jay Cook's in Washington, generally; but turned most of his funds into stock and other matters. He gave eighty dollars eight month's ago for a part investing with others in a piece of western oil land. The certificate for this land he gave to his sister. Just before he died his agent informed him that the share was worth fifteen thousand dollars. Booth kept his accounts latterly with great regularity, and was lavish as ever, but took note of all expenditures, however irregular. He was one of those men whom the possession of money seems to have energized; his life, so purposeless long before, grew by good fortune to a strict computation with the world. Yet what availed so sudden reformation, and of what use was the gaining of wealth, to throw one's life so soon away, and leap from competence to hunted infamy.
The beauty of this man and his easy confidentiality, not familiar, but marked by a mild and even dignity, made many women impassioned of him. He was licentious as men, and particularly as actors go, but not a seducer, so far as I can learn. I have traced one case in Philadelphia where a young girl who had seen him on the stage became enamored of him.
She sent him bouquets, notes, photographs and all the accessories of an intrigue. Booth, to whom such things were common, yielded to the girl's importunities at last and gave her an interview. He was surprised to find that so bold a correspondent was so young, so fresh, and so beautiful. He told her therefore, in pity, the consequences of pursuing him; that he entertained no affection for her, though a sufficient desire, and that he was a man of the world to whom all women grew fulsome in their turn.
"Go home," he said, "and beware of actors. They are to be seen, not to be known."
The girl, yet more infatuated, persisted. Booth, who had no real virtue except by scintillations, became what he had promised, and one more soul went to the isles of Cyprus.
In Montgomery, if I do not mistake, Booth met the woman from whom he received a stab which he carried all the rest of his days. She was an actress, and he visited her. They assumed a relation creditable only in La Boheme, and were as tender as love without esteem can ever be. But, after a time, Booth wearied of her and offered to say "good by." She refused—he treated her coldly; she pleaded—he passed her by.
Then, with a jealous woman's frenzy, she drew a knife upon him and stabbed him in the neck, with the intent to kill him. Being muscular, he quickly disarmed her, though he afterward suffered from the wound poignantly.
Does it not bring a blush to our faces that a good, great man, like he who has died—our President—should have met his fate from one so inured to a life of ribaldry? Yet, only such an one could have been found to murder Abraham Lincoln.
The women persecuted Booth more than he followed them. He was waylaid by married women in every provincial town or city where he played. His face was so youthful, yet so manly, and his movements so graceful and excellent, that other than the coarse and errant placed themselves in his way. After his celebrated Boston engagement, women of all ages and degrees pressed in crowds before the Tremont House to see him depart. Their motives were various, but whether curiosity or worse, exhibiting plainly the deep influence which Booth had upon the sex. He could be anywhere easy and gentlemanly, and it is a matter of wonder that with the entry which he had to many well-stocked homes, he did not make hospitality mourn and friendship find in his visit shame and ruin. I have not space to go into the millionth catalogue of Booth's intrigues, even if this journal permitted further elucidation of so banned a subject. Most of his adherents of this class were, like Heine's Polish virgins, and he was very popular with those dramatic ladies—few, I hope and know, in their profession—to whom divorce courts are superfluous. His last permanent acquaintance was one Ella Turner, of Richmond, who loved him with all the impetuosity of that love which does not think, and strove to die at the tidings of his crime and fight. Happy that even such a woman did not die associated with John Wilkes Booth. Such devotion to any other murderer would have earned some poet's tear. But the daisies will not grow a whole rod from his grave.
Of what avail, may we ask, on the impossible supposition that Booth's crime could have been considered heroic, was it that such a record should have dared to die for fame? Victory would have been ashamed of its champion, as England of Nelson, and France of Mirabeau.
I may add to this record that he had not been in Philadelphia a year, on first setting out in life, before getting into a transaction of the kind specified. For an affair at his boarding-house he was compelled to pay a considerable sum of money, and it happily occurred just as he was to quit the city. He had many quarrels and narrow escapes through his license, a husband in Syracuse, N. Y., once followed him all the way to Cleveland to avenge a domestic insult.
Booth's paper "To Whom it may Concern" was not his only attempt at influential composition. He sometimes persuaded himself that he had literary ability; but his orthography and pronunciation were worse than his syntax. The paper deposited with J. S. Clarke was useful as showing his power to entertain a deliberate purpose. It has one or two smart passages in it—as this:
"Our once bright red stripes look like bloody gashes on the face of heaven."
In the passages following there is common sense and lunacy:
"I know how foolish I shall be deemed for undertaking such a step as this, where, on the one side, I have many friends and everything to make me happy, where my profession alone, has gained me an income of more than twenty thousand dollars a year, and where my great personal ambition in my profession has such a great field for labor. On the other hand, the South have never bestowed upon me one kind word; a place now where I have no friends, except beneath the sod; a place where I must either become a private soldier or a beggar. To give up all of the former for the latter, besides my mother and sisters, whom I love so dearly (although they so widely differ with me in opinion) seems insane; but God is my judge."
Now, read the beginning of the manifesto, and see how prophetic were his words of his coming infamy. If he expected so much for capturing the President merely, what of our execration at slaying him?
"Right or wrong, God judge me, not man. For be my motive good or bad, of one thing I am sure, the lasting condemnation of the North.
"I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression. For four years have I waited, hoped and prayed for the dark clouds to break, and for a restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved as idle as my hopes. God's will be done. I go to see and share the bitter end."
To wait longer would be a crime. Oh! what was the crime not to wait! Had he only shared the bitter end, then, in the common trench, his memory might have been hidden. The end had come when he appeared to make of benignant victory a quenchless revenge. One more selection from his apostrophe will do. It suggests the manner of his death:
"They say that the South has found that 'last ditch' which the North have so long derided. Should I reach her in safety, and find it true, I will proudly beg permission to triumph or die in that same 'ditch' by her side." The swamp near which he died may be called, without unseemly pun—a truth, not a bon mot—the last ditch of the rebellion.
None of the printed pictures that I have seen do justice to Booth. Some of the cartes de visite get him very nearly. He had one of the finest vital heads I have ever seen. In fact, he was one of the best exponents of vital beauty I have ever met. By this I refer to physical beauty in the Medician sense—health, shapeliness, power in beautiful poise, and seemingly more powerful in repose than in energy. His hands and feet were sizable, not small, and his legs were stout and muscular, but inclined to bow like his father's. From the waist up he was a perfect man; his chest being full and broad, his shoulders gently sloping, and his arms as white as alabaster, but hard as marble. Over these, upon a neck which was its proper column, rose the cornice of a fine Doric face, spare at the jaws and not anywhere over-ripe, but seamed with a nose of Roman model, the only relic of his half-Jewish parentage, which gave decision to the thoughtfully stern sweep of two direct, dark eyes, meaning to woman snare, and to man a search warrant, while the lofty square forehead and square brows were crowned with a weight of curling jetty hair, like a rich Corinthian capital. His profile was eagleish, and afar his countenance was haughty. He seemed throat full of introspections, ambitious self-examinings, eye-strides into the future, as if it withheld him something to which he had a right. I have since wondered whether this moody demeanor did not come of a guilty spirit, but all the Booths look so.
Wilkes spoke to me in Washington for the first time three weeks before the murder. His address was winning as a girl's, rising in effect not from what he said, but from how he said it. It was magnetic, and I can describe it therefore by its effects alone. I seemed, when he had spoken, to lean toward this man. His attitude spoke to me; with as easy familiarity as I ever observed he drew rear and conversed. The talk was on so trite things that it did not lie a second in the head, but when I left him it was with the feeling that a most agreeable fellow had passed by.
The next time the name of Wilkes Booth recurred to me was like the pistol shot he had fired. The right hand I had shaken murdered the father of the country.
Booth was not graceful with his feet, although his ordinary walk was pleasant enough. But his arms were put to artistic uses; not the baser ones like boxing, but all sorts of fencing, manual practice, and the handling of weapons.
In his dress, he was neat without being particular. Almost any clothes could fit him; but he had nothing of the exquisite about him; his neckties and all such matters were good without being gaudy. Nature had done much for him. In this beautiful palace an outlaw had builded his fire, and slept, and plotted, and dreamed.
I have heard it said that Booth frequently cut his adversaries upon the stage in sheer wantonness or bloodthirstiness. This is a mistake, and is attributable to his father, the elder Booth, who had the madness of confounding himself with the character. Wilkes was too good a fencer to make ugly gashes; his pride was his skill, not his awkwardness. Once
he was playing with John McCullough in the last act of "Richard." They were fighting desperately. Suddenly the cross-piece on the hilt of McCullough's sword flew off and cut the owner deeply in the forehead. Blood ran down McCullough's face, though they continued to struggle, and while, ostensibly, Booth was imitating a demon, he said in a half whisper:
"Good God, John, did I hurt you?"
And when they went off the stage, Booth was white with fear that he had gashed his friend.
As an actor, Booth was too energetic to be correct; his conception of Richard was vivid and original, one of the best that we have had, and he came nearer his father's rendering of the last act than any body we have had. His combat scene was terrific. The statement that his voice had failed has no valid foundation; it was as good when he challenged the cavalry-men to combat as in the best of his Thespian successes. In all acting that required delicate characterization, refined conception or carefulness, Booth was at sea. But in strong physical parts, requiring fair reading and an abundance of spring and tension, he was much finer than hearsay would have us believe.
His Romeo was described a short time ago by the Washington Intelligencer as the most satisfactory of all renderings of that fine character. He played the Corsican Brothers three weeks on a run in Boston. He played Pescara at Ford's Theater—his last mock part in this world—on to-morrow (Saturday) night, six weeks ago.
He was fond of learning and reciting fugitive poems. His favorite piece was "The Beautiful Snow" comparing it to a lost purity. He has been known by gentlemen in this city to recite this poem with fine effect, and cry all the while. This was on the principle of "guilty people sitting at a play." His pocket-book was generally full of little selections picked up at random, and he had considerable delicacy of appreciation.
On the morning of the murder, Booth breakfasted with Miss Carrie Bean, the daughter of a merchant, and a very respectable young lady, at the National Hall. He arose from the table at, say eleven o'clock. During the breakfast, those who watched him say that he was lively, piquant and self-possessed as ever in his life.
That night the horrible crime thrilled the land. A period of crippled flight succeeded. Living in swamps, upon trembling hospitality, upon hopes which sank as he leaned upon them. Booth passed the nights in perilous route or broken sleep, and in the end went down like a bravo, but in the eyes of all who read his history, commanding no respect for his valor, charity for his motive, or sympathy for his sin.
The closing scenes of these terrible days are reserved for a second paper. Much matter that should have gone into this is retained for the present.
THE ASSASSIN'S DEATH.
Washington, April 28—8 P. M.
A hard and grizzly face overlooks me as I write. Its inconsiderable forehead is crowned with turning sandy hair, and the deep concave of its long insatiate jaws is almost hidden by a dense red beard, which can not still abate the terrible decision of the large mouth, so well sustained by searching eyes of spotted gray, which roll and rivet one. This is the face of Lafayette Baker, colonel and chief of the secret service. He has played the most perilous parts of the war, and is the capturer of the late President's murderer. The story that I am to tell you, as he and his trusty dependents told it to me, will be aptly commenced here, where the net was woven which took the dying life of Wilkes Booth.
When the murder occured, Colonel Baker was absent from Washington, He returned on the third morning, and was at once besought by Secretary Stanton to join the hue and cry against the escaped Booth. The sagacious detective found that nearly ten thousand cavalry, and one-fourth as many policemen, had been meantime scouring, without plan or compass, the whole territory of Southern Maryland. They were treading on each other's heels, and mixing up the thing so confoundedly, that the best place for the culprits to have gone would have been in the very midst of their pursuers. Baker at once possessed himself of the little the War Department had learned, and started immediately to take the usual detective measures, till then neglected, of offering a reward and getting out photographs of the suspected ones. He then dispatched a few chosen detectives to certain vital points, and awaited results.
The first of these was the capture of Atzeroth. Others, like the taking of Dr. Mudge, simultaneously occured. But the district supected being remote from the railway routes, and broken by no telegraph station, the colonel, to place himself nearer the theater of events, ordered an operator, with the necessary instrument, to tap the wire running to Point Lookout, near Chappells Point, and send him prompt messages.
The same steamer which took down the operator and two detectives. brought back one of the same detectives and a negro. This negro, taken to Colonel Baker's office, stated so positively that he had seen Booth and another man cross the Potomac in a fishing boat, while he was looking down upon them from a bank, that the colonel, was at first skeptical; but when examined the negro answered so readily and intelligently, recognizing the men from the photographs, that Baker knew at last that he had the true scent.
Straightway he sent to General Hancock for twenty-five men, and while the order was going, drew down his coast survey-maps. With that quick detective intuition amounting almost to inspiration, he cast upon the probable route and destination of the refugees, as well as the point where he would soonest strike them. Booth, he knew, would not keep along the coast, with frequent deep rivers to cross, nor, indeed, in any direction east of Richmond, where he was liable at any time to cross our lines of occupation; nor, being lame, could he ride on; horseback, so as to place himself very far westward of his point of debarkation in Virginia. But he would travel in a direct course from Bluff point, where he crossed to Eastern Tennessee, and this would take him through Port Royal on the Rappahannock river, in time to be intercepted there by the outgoing cavalry men.
When, therefore, twenty-five men, under one Lieutenant Dougherty, arrived at his office door, Baker placed the whole under control of his former lieutenant-colonel, E. J. Conger, and of his cousin, Lieutenant L. B. Baker—the first of Ohio, the last of New-York—and bade them go with all dispatch to Belle Plain on the Lower Potomac, there to disembark, and scour the country faithfully around Port Royal, but not to return unless they captured their men.
Conger is a short, decided, indomitable, courageous fellow, provincial in his manners, but fully understanding his business, and collected as a housewife on Sunday.
Young Baker is large and fine-looking—a soldier, but no policeman—and he deferred to Conger, very properly, during most of the events succeeding.
Quitting Washington at 2 o'clock P. M. on Monday, the detectives and cavalrymen disembarked at Belle Plain, on the border of Stafford county, at 10 o'clock, in the darkness. Belle Plain is simply the nearest landing to Fredericksburg, seventy miles from Washington city, and located upon Potomac creek. It is a wharf and warehouse merely, and here the steamer John S. Ide stopped and made fast, while the party galloped off in the darkness. Conger and Baker kept ahead, riding up to farm-houses and questioning the inmates, pretending to be in search of the Maryland gentlemen belonging to the party. But nobody had seen the parties described, and, after a futile ride on the Fredericksburg road, they turned shortly to the east, and kept up their baffled inquiries all the way to Port Conway, on the Rappahannock.
On Tuesday morning they presented themselves at the Port Royal ferry, and inquired of the ferry-man, while he was taking them over in squads of seven at a time, if he had seen any two such men. Continuing their inquiries at Port Royal, they found one Rollins a fisherman, who referred them to a negro named Lucas, as having driven two men a short distance toward Bowling Green in a wagon. It was found that these men answered to the description, Booth having a crutch as previously ascertained.
The day before Booth and Harold had applied at Port Conway for the general ferry-boat, but the ferryman was then fishing and would not desist for the inconsiderable fare of only two persons, but to their supposed good fortune a lot of confederate cavalrymen just then came along, who threatened the ferryman with a shot in the head if he did not instantly bring across his craft and transport the entire party. These cavalrymen were of Moseby's disbanded command, returning from Fairfax Court House to their homes in Caroline county. Their captain was on his way to visit a sweetheart at Bowling Green, and he had so far taken Booth under his patronage, that when the latter was haggling with Lucas for a team, he offered both Booth and Harold the use of his horse, to ride and walk alternately.
In this way Lucas was providentially done out of the job, and Booth rode off toward Bowling Green behind the confederate captain on one and the same horse.
So much learned, the detectives, with Rollins for a guide, dashed off in the bright daylight of Tuesday, moving southwestward through the level plains of Caroline, seldom stopping to ask questions, save at a certain halfway house, where a woman told them that the cavalry party of yesterday had returned minus one man. As this was far from circumstantial, the party rode along in the twilight, and reached Bowling Green at eleven o'clock in the night.
This is the court-house town of Caroline county—a small and scattered place, having within it an Ancient tavern, no longer used for other than lodging purposes; but here they hauled from his bed the captain aforesaid, and bade him dress himself. As soon as he comprehended the matter he became pallid and eagerly narrated all the facts in his possession. Booth, to his knowledge, was then lying at the house of one Garrett, which they had passed, and Harold had departed the existing day with the intention of rejoining him.
Taking this captain along for a guide, the worn out horsemen retraced, though some of the men were so haggard and wasted with travel that they had to be kicked into intelligence before they could climb to their saddles. The objects of the chase thus at hand, the detectives, full of sanguine purpose; hurried the cortege so well along that by 2 o'clock early morning, all halted at Garrett's gate. In the pale moonlight three hundred yards from the main road, to the left, a plain old farmhouse looked grayly through its environing locusts. It was worn and whitewashed, and two-storied, and its half-human windows glowered down upon the silent cavalrymen like watching owls, which stood as sentries over some horrible secret asleep within. The front of this house looked up the road toward the Rappahannock, but did not face it, and on that side a long Virginia porch protruded, where, in the summer, among the honeysuckles, the humming bird flew like a visible odor. Nearest the main road, against the pallid gable, a single-storied kitchen stood, and there were three other doors, one opening upon the porch, one in the kitchen gable, and one in the rear of the farmhouse.