John Wilkes Booth is one of the most infamous people in American history. He murdered one of the greatest presidents of all time, Abraham Lincoln. Booth was a some what popular Shakespearean actor, and an ex- confederate soldier who had very strong political views about the South which eventually drove him to drastic measures.

John Wilkes Booth was born on May 10, 1838 in a log cabin in rural Maryland. He was one of ten children. He grew up in Bel Air, Maryland, 25 miles south of the Mason-Dixon line. His father, Junius Brutus Booth Sr., and older brothers, Edwin and Junius Booth Jr., were all famous actors in Baltimore, Maryland.

John Wilkes Booth started acting in Baltimore, when he was 17. He performed, when needed and then two years later on a regular basis, at the Charles Street Theater in Baltimore. John had always been compared to his father and once he started acting the comparisons got worse. He had hoped to make a name for himself by becoming an actor but by the time he was 19 years old the director of the theater told him he did not have a future in acting. With no where else to turn and a war starting John enlisted into the Confederate Army.

The Confederate Army was made up of men sympathetic to the southern cause and those who believed in slavery. Although John grew up very close to the Mason - Dixon Line, the separation point between the north and the south , he decided to join up with the south because he believed the southern confederate views were correct. Booth became a private in the Richmond Grays, a unit of the Confederate Army based in Richmond, Virginia. Booth did not like army life, he wanted to be promoted. He did not get along with his army personal and was soon discharged. Without a job and no where else to turn, John Wilkes Booth became a smuggler. He then started smuggling medical supplies away from the Union soldier from the North, and sold them to the Confederate Army of the South. Along with smuggling Booth became a spy for the South. Although there are no documents, historians believe that he worked for the Confederate Secret Service.

As the war raged on, John Wilkes Booth was very angry because the South could possibly lose the war. There were many people who felt the same way as John did and it was not long before John joined up with a group of these unhappy confederate sympathizes. The conspirators as they were known, numbered five not including Booth. The conspirators were: Lewis Powell, a wounded Confederate veteran who had sworn allegiance to the south; David E. Herold, a druggist's clerk, who was possibly mentally impaired; George Atzerodt, a German-born painter who could barely speak English; and John H. Surratt, a part-time Confederate spy, who's widow mother, Mary Surratt, kept a boardinghouse outside of Washington, DC The group often met and had meeting at the Surratt House. The group was angry about the Confederate prisoners of war (POW), how they were treated and when their release would come. The group thought President Lincoln was the main problem. They felt that everything that had gone wrong for the south was Lincoln's fault. To help the southern cause, the conspirators decided to kidnap President Lincoln once he was with them, he would release the prisoners and the south could win the war. The plan was to kidnap President Lincoln from the Soldiers Home, where the Lincoln family sometimes slept. The group rode out to the Soldiers Home on March 17, 1861, but Lincoln was not there. Booth became very angry because of the failed attempted. He then decided that the only recourse was to assassinate President Lincoln.

The group then worked out a plan and almost four years later, on April 14, 1865 John Wilkes Booth carried out the plan. President Lincoln was attending a performance at Fords Theater near the White House in Washington, DC. Booth knew a great deal about the theater and how it was laid out, he also knew about the play the Lincoln's had come to see. He waited for a joke to be said by one of the characters and for the noise of the crowd laughing before he shot the president. John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln in the back of his head. Booth then jumped from the balcony onto center stage. He caught his boot spur on the American flag and fell breaking his leg. Booth escaped from the theater on horseback and rode south. He traveled through southern Maryland and stopped at the Surratt Tavern. None of the conspirators were at the Surratt House, he did speak with Mary Surratt. He rested at the tavern and then proceeded south to Dr. Mudd's house in Waldorf, Maryland. Once Dr. Mudd set Booth's leg and John continued his journey south. At the same time President Lincoln lay dying in a boarding house across the street from Fords theater. Once the Union Army became aware of the assassination of the President they trailed John Wilkes Booth through southern Maryland. The Union Soldiers traced the southern Maryland route asking people if they had seen a rider with a broken leg and everyone told the soldiers what they knew of the rider. Many of the people questioned did not even know that the rider had killed the president. Mary Surratt was arrested and later hung for being a conspirator. She admitted to helping Booth giving him a place to rest and a new horse. Dr. Mudd was arrested and imprisoned, not for helping John Wilkes Booth but for lying. He told the union soldiers that he had not seen Booth, many people had told them that he had in fact seen Booth and set his leg. John Wilkes Booth was cornered by the Union Soldiers in a Virginia at tobacco barn. Historian do not know if he was killed by the soldiers of if he committed suicide. John Wilkes Booth died on April 26, 1865.

Addenda to Thuper Ranger's excellent writeup:

John Wilkes Booth was cornered by the Union Soldiers in a Virginia at tobacco barn. Historians do not know if he was killed by the soldiers or if he committed suicide. John Wilkes Booth died on April 26, 1865.

Actually, a third theory has gained some popularity in recent years. There is evidence that Booth escaped the burning tobacco barn (set alight by the soldiers pursing him) and settled in Oklahoma, which at the time was part of the Wild West and an excellent place for a fugitive to hide indefinitely. A corpse with signs of old injuries corresponding well to Booth's medical history was found in, IIRC, Tulsa. However, the descendants of the Booth family refused permission for Booth's grave to be exhumed (this was several years ago) and so the question is still open.

Speaking of Booth's grave, he was buried (maybe) in his family plot in Greenmount Cemetery near the site of his brother Edwin Booth's grave. His grave is marked with a blank headstone.

Also in response to the excellent WU of Thuper Ranger:
John Wilkes Booth was cornered by the Union Soldiers in a Virginia at tobacco barn. Historian do not know if he was killed by the soldiers of if he committed suicide. John Wilkes Booth died on April 26, 1865.
There is actually quite a bit of information of the story of Booth's escape and the Tobacco barn. Shortly after killing Lincoln, Booth managed to escape into southern Maryland with the help of the Confederate agent David Herold. This was actually rather brilliant, as none of the Union soldiers thought to turn north. After waiting for a day in Maryland, both Booth and Herold managed to time the tides and the gunboats correctly in order to cross the Potomac back into Virginia.

They quickly made their way south, finding their way to a ferry crossing at the Rappahannock River. As Booth and Herold were crossing the Rappahannock River, they were greeted by three former Confederate soldiers. Mortimer Ruggles, his cousin Absalom Bainbridge along with William Jett. Later Herold boasted to the soldiers that they had killed President Lincoln. Jett aided Booth and Herold by eventually finding shelter for the pair at the farm of nearby southern sympathisers, the Garretts.

Upon arriving at the Garrett house, Herold and Booth were directed to the Tobacco barn where they would spend their time at the farm. Garrett, being quite a shrewd man, actually padlocked the barn, locking the two men inside; he was afraid they would attempt to steal his cattle. This effectively cut off any chance of escape that Booth had.

Meanwhile, twenty-five members of the 16th New York Cavalry unit, under the command of Lt. Edward Doherty, were following Booth's trail. They arrived at the ferry crossing the Rappahannock. The ferryman reported no sightings of Booth, but he did recall seeing a man with a broken leg crossing the ferry earlier. A local fisherman revealed that Jett, who was most likely involved, could be found at the nearby Star Hotel with his girlfriend.

The cavalry made haste to reach the hotel, quickly finding Jett. Everton Conger, one of Doherty's men, discovered that Booth was at the farm by holding his revolver to Jett's head. Upon reaching the farm, the Garretts quickly revealed where Booth was sleeping(after having guns pointed at their heads as well). The cavalry encircled the barn, calling for Booth to come out and surrender; they were under orders to take him alive. Herold quickly emerged, owning up to his role in hopes of a less severe fate. Booth, however, did not come out. Booth refused to surrender, and about 4 a.m., the tobacco shed was set afire. The blaze allowed the soldiers to see Booth moving in the wooden building with a pistol and a rifle. It was at this point that Boston Corbett, another cavalryman, fired his own pistol, claiming later that it was to prevent Booth from killing more people. Several soldiers dragged Booth, still alive, from the burning structure. Booth had been shot in the neck. As he was laid on a wooden porch, he was found to be paralyzed from the neck down and whispered his final words, "tell my mother I did it for my country...useless, useless {while looking at his hands being held up to his face}."

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