This is the fourth in a series of articles exploring the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the alleged links to Clay County as told by co-authors Ray Neff and Leonard Guttridge in "Dark Union: The Secret Web of Profiteers, Politicians, and Booth Conspirators that led to Lincoln's Death."
From the moment National Detective Police Agent Everton Conger set a Garrett farm tobacco barn on fire, the man believed to be John Wilkes Booth still inside, a chain of bizarre events was put into action.
Without confirmation of the identity of the man inside the burning barn, Sgt. Thomas "Boston" Corbett shot into the structure, fatally wounding the person within. Companion David Herold emerged from the barn before it was ablaze, surrendering to the cavalry troop commanded by Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty.
As written in "Dark Union," Conger left the Garrett farm with items he had removed from the pockets of the wounded man commonly believed to be Booth in spite of members of the Garrett family indicating they believed him to be Capt. James W. Boyd. The items included a small black diary (Booth's diary, once on display in Washington, D.C. but now sealed for preservation, is red), a carbine, two pistols and a bowie knife. NDP Det. Luther Baker, cousin of NDP Chief Lafayette Baker, allegedly stole the body and 10-12 hours later appeared at the Belle Plain landing, claiming to have taken a wrong road.
On Thursday, April 27, 1865, Lafayette Baker took over at the Potomac port of Alexandria, and telegraphed Major Thomas Eckert at the War Department to notify him of the assassin's capture and death. Neff and Guttridge write that the body was moved to the monitor Montauk at the Washington Navy Yard, and the vessel's captain was not notified of the body's boarding or departure. None of Booth's alleged conspirators, who were shackled on a nearby ship, were allowed to identify the body. Army Surgeon Gen. Joseph K. Barnes was in charge of the proceedings, and none of Booth's fellow actors, known friends or family members were called upon to identify the body. Lafayette Baker asked physician John Frederick May, who had once removed a tumor from Booth's neck, to look at the body aboard the ship. His initial response, as quoted in "Dark Union," was not one of confirmation: "There is no resemblance in that corpse to Booth, nor can I believe it to be him."
But May did find a scar on the back of the neck, and said that if it was Booth, his appearance was considerably altered, and looked older and more freckled. The surgeon general's autopsy report also described the injury to the left leg. May described it as the right leg in a later memoir, and Neff and Guttridge write that his son staunchly defended his father's description as he was allegedly a stickler for detail. A photo of the body taken to Baker resembled Booth aside from the photographed body's long scraggly hair and mustache. The photo disappeared after it was delivered. But Dr. Samuel Mudd later served prison time for assisting Booth in his flight by tending to his leg and providing him with a razor, with which Booth shaved his face. Other corpses were brought to Washington, D.C. in the belief that each was the remains of Lincoln's assassin.
"Dr. Mudd got a life sentence for letting Booth shave his mustache off there," Neff said. "Was it Booth or not? We're looking for truth. We're not putting a spin on anything."
Numerous suspects were questioned and provided testimony to a military commission, and eventually four alleged co-conspirators were hanged, including Mary Surratt, the first woman ever to be hanged in the United States. Others served out prison sentences. While the commission had made its findings known, and new President Andrew Johnson did not heed requests for stays of execution, family members of Capt. Boyd indicated they never saw or heard from him again. While the post-Civil War U.S. moved forward by all outward appearances, the investigation into Lincoln's assassination quietly continued, its fingers probing deep into central Indiana.
In future articles, read about the role of numerous Hoosiers connected to Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth and the subsequent probe, a case of mistaken identity, the research that culminated in the writing of "Dark Union," and the ultimate goal of the nonfiction book's authors.