Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 3 Num. 89

("Quid coniuratio est?")

The Lincoln Conspiracy
By David Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier, Jr.


"On Thursday, April 20, Dandridge Mercer Green stopped sawing a piece of timber to stare at two men coming toward him. One was a stranger, the other Green recognized as James William Boyd, hobbling along on a crutch." Boyd arranged with Green for him and his companion to be hidden at Green's farm. Boyd and Herold, his companion, stayed hidden at Green's farm until Sunday, April 23, when they were able to hire a wagon driven by one Charlie Lucas. They had the driver take them south toward Port Conway.

Charlie Lucas's father, Willie Lucas, had driven the same wagon in the same direction earlier that day. What is more, his father had also carried two men, one of whom also had a hurt leg and walked with a crutch.

From Port Conway, Boyd and Herold crossed the Rappahannock to Port Royal in Caroline County, Virginia. They continued south to a farm owned by a Mr. Garrett. There, they were met by Mr. Garrett, whose religion required that he welcome strangers. Garrett welcomed Boyd and Herold into his home.

"Luther and Andrew Potter's NDP search party reached Culpeper Court House late that afternoon. They asked about a man with a crutch... and soon picked up the trail." However, unbeknownst to them, they had picked up the trail of Boyd and Herold. "Booth and Henson... moved toward Fredericksburg, well behind the detectives, who had overrun their quarry."

According to Captain Boyd's Papers, in the Ray A. Neff Collection, Boyd had a tattoo on his hand that read, "J.W.B." [B.R. The authors keep throwing in these cryptic statements and then abandoning them. As I noted before, the style of the book involves a lot of loose threads that one hopes will eventually unite.]

Boyd and Herold stayed the night of Monday, April 24, at Garrett's farm. The next day, Boyd and Herold became panicy when a troop of Union cavalry thundered past the farm. The suspicions of Garrett's son, Jack, became aroused and he asked that Boyd and Herold leave. A compromise was worked out and Boyd and Herold moved themselves to Garrett's barn.

However, Jack Garrett was still suspicious of the two men. Fearing that they might try to steal horses from the barn, Jack Garrett locked them in the barn that night (Tuesday, April 25).

Meanwhile, the troop of cavalry that had frightened Boyd and Herold arrived in Bowling Green at about midnight. They interrogated one Willie Jett who they knew had helped to ferry a man with a hurt leg across the river earlier that day. They went so far as to threaten to kill Jett unless he told them where the man was. Jett told them that the man they sought was probably hiding at the Garrett farm.

The troop of cavalry doubled back and arrived at the Garrett farm at about 4 a.m. on Wednesday, April 26, 1865. They surrounded the house and commanded the occupants to come out. When Garrett and his family complied, they were roughly questioned until they divulged that Boyd and Herold were still locked in the barn.

Among the federal troops were a Lt. Luther Baker and Lt. Colonel Everton J. Conger, an aide to NDP chief Lafayette Baker. Garrett's son Jack was ordered to unlock the barn and to tell the men inside to come out. Garrett did as he was told, but Boyd refused to come out. The authors cite a source which claims that Boyd called out, "Who are you? What do you want? Who do you want?" The authors assert that no answer was provided to Boyd's questions. Conger yelled to the men inside that he was going to set fire to the barn. At this point, David E. Herold agreed to come out and was taken into custody.

Boyd was steadfast in his refusal to exit from the barn. According to the authors, Conger went around the side of the barn and set fire to it. "It caught instantly. He saw the man inside swing up his rifle toward the flames."

"Conger glanced around. Nobody could see him. He reached for his revolver and took careful aim. Suddenly the loud crack of a pistol from the other side of the barn was heard. The man inside the barn fell forward. [Lt. Luther] Baker rushed in, followed by young Garrett, and grabbed the prostrate man."

"Conger, Garrett, and Baker dragged Boyd's body away from the burning barn, across the farm lane, and onto the grass under a stand of locust trees."

While Boyd lay dying under a stand of locust trees near the Garrett barn, the fiction that Boyd was really Booth was given birth. Someone asked, "Who shot Booth?" A Sergeant Boston Corbett declared that he had shot "Booth" through a crack in the barn. The reason why Corbett would claim that he had shot Booth is perhaps that he was demented. Corbett was an alcoholic who had sworn off booze when he had "found God" sometime before the war. His newfound beliefs were so powerful that in 1858 he had castrated himself when he was tempted by two prostitutes. Thus, one could say that Sergeant Boston Corbett was a bit "off." This may explain why he declared that it was he who shot "Booth."

Conger rode away to the nearest telegraph station so that he could get the news to Washington that "Booth" had been shot. "Twenty minutes after Conger left the scene, Boyd was dead. His body was wrapped in an old saddle blanket."

An old army ambulance was obtained and the body of "Booth" was placed inside. The driver was ordered to drive the body to Belle Plain. In Belle Plain, the body was loaded onto the John S. Ide "...and placed under guard until the ship could build up a head of steam for the trip upriver.

According to the Andrew Potter Papers, it was at this point that it was discovered that the body was not that of John Wilkes Booth. It was known that Booth had shaved off his mustache while at Dr. Mudd's, yet the body thought to be that of Booth had a "long shaggy mustache." What is more, Booth's mustache was black whereas the mustache on this corpse was red. It became obvious that the troops had mistaken Boyd and Herold for Booth and Herold.

"In Washington that morning, Lafe Baker received a coded cipher from Conger: 'Booth has been shot to death near Bowling Green. Herold is a prisoner... Body follows. Conger.'"

"With Booth dead, the secret service [a.k.a. NDP] chief's part in the Lincoln conspiracy could never come out. Booth couldn't talk. Herold would keep his mouth shut on pain of death."

Shortly thereafter, Conger's telegram declaring that "Booth" had been shot began to cause an uproar. The news had been leaked to the press and the newspapers were spreading it throughout the city: "John Wilkes Booth, who shot President Lincoln the night of April 14 in Ford's Theatre, has been killed. His body is being returned by steamer to Washington. Government authorities this morning shot Booth while he was trying to escape from a farmer's barn near Bowling Green."

But of course it was not Booth but Boyd who had been shot dead. "Lt. Doherty, Luther Baker, and Lt. Col. Conger picked up Boyd's trail and followed him to Garrett's farm. No one there had ever seen Booth. Boyd was shot because they thought he was Booth. [My emphasis, B.R.]" And, after the false news of Booth's death had been spread far and wide, Baker found this out. The problem was augmented by the fact that Herold was still alive, knew Booth well, and was beginning to tell whoever would listen that Booth had not been shot at Garrett's farm.

When Stanton learned of the situation, he ordered that Herold be stopped from talking immediately. To accomplish this, he commanded that Herold be isolated from the other prisoners. According to the Andrew Potter Papers, after Stanton had given things some thought he hit upon the idea of letting the country continue to believe that it was Booth who had been shot dead at Garrett's farm. "Booth will be forgotten if we continue to let the nation believe he's dead. If we admit that we killed Boyd by mistake, and continue the hunt for Booth, he might be captured alive." And if Booth were captured alive, then he might tell all that he knew.

On Thursday, April 27, Stanton received a telegram informing him that the remains of "Booth" had been placed aboard the Union ironclad Montauk. He was also told that the body of "Booth" was decomposing rapidly.

Stanton immediately ordered that no persons were to be allowed aboard the Montauk "...unless under the joint pass of the Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy."

An Identification Commission was formed, headed by Stanton's aide, Thomas Eckert. "The mock inquest would formally identify Boyd's body as that of Booth."

"Witnesses summoned aboard the Montauk had one lack in common: none knew Booth well. None of Booth's relatives or accused conspirators were called, although most were in custody on the adjacent [Union ironclad] Saugus."

"None of the witnesses were surprised that the face had a mustache, since apparently none had been told that Booth had shaved off his mustache at Dr. Mudd's [on April 16th]."

A summons was sent to a Dr. John Franklin May by the "inquest." Because some time earlier Dr. May had treated a man calling himself Booth for a neck tumor, he was ordered to come to the Montauk to help identify the body.

Dr. May informed the "inquest" that he had treated someone claiming to be Booth about 18 to 24 months previous. When Dr. May first viewed the corpse, his immediate reaction was, "There's no resemblance in that corpse to Booth, nor can I believe it to be him." Sensing perhaps that this was the wrong thing to say, Dr. May then asked if there was a scar on the back of the neck. Dr. May then described what the scar would look like if it were present. The Surgeon General, who was also in attendance, immediately declared that Dr. May had described the scar as well as if he were looking at it.

"In Dr. May's verbal and written statement, there is no mention that he actually examined the scar for positive identification, and the bullet, of course, had made a bloody mess of Boyd's neck." Dr. May finally stated to the "inquest" that, "I am enabled, imperfectly, to recognize the features of Booth."

When asked if he recognized the body as Booth's, Dr. May replied, "I do recognize it, although it is very much altered since I saw Booth. It seems much older and in appearance, much more freckled than he was. I do not recollect that he was at all freckled."

"Booth was 28, famous for his ivory, perfect skin, free of blemish. Boyd, on the other hand, was 43, with reddish-sandy hair and a tendency to freckle."

In the official transcript of the proceedings, "The next half dozen words of Dr. May's reply were carefully inked out... [and new words] were added."

Dr. May was dismissed and returned home. He immediately penned a statement in which he declared, "Never in a human being had a greater change taken place from the man whom I had seen in the vigor of life and health than that of the haggard corpse which was before me... The right limb was greatly contused and perfectly black from a fracture of one of the long bones of the leg."

But Booth had snapped the left tibia, about two inches above the ankle. "Dr. Mudd's formal statement on April 21, 1865 read, 'On examination, I found there was a straight fracture of the tibia about two inches above the ankle.'"

Before the body was disposed of, a photographer named Alexander Gardner was brought in and told to take only one picture. After doing so, Gardner was escorted to a darkroom by a War Department detective who had orders not to leave Gardner's side until the plate was developed. When the plate was developed, the War Department detective took possession of both the negative and the positive. "It would be impossible for anyone else to duplicate the picture."

NDP chief Lafayette Baker confiscated the picture and the plate. "The government officially denied that any picture had been taken of the corpse. But the Gardner photograph later ended up in the personal possession of Secretary of War Stanton."

"Booth's" body, which was in reality Boyd's body, was placed in a rowboat. Lafayette Baker and his cousin, Luther Baker, rowed out to the old Arsenal Penitentiary. The body was carried to a convict's cell in which, beneath a stone slab, a grave had been dug. The corpse was lowered into the grave, the stone slab was replaced, and Lafayette and Luther Baker got back in their rowboat and departed. The Arsenal Prison became the sepulchre "...for the mortal remains of the man who had become 'John Wilkes Booth.'"

{ Sources used for this section include, but are not limited }

{ to the following:                                             }
{                                                               }
{ Andrew Potter Papers. Ray A. Neff Collection, Marshall, IL    }
{                                                               }
{ Captain Boyd Papers. Ray A. Neff Collection.                  }
{                                                               }
{ Colonel Lafayette C. Baker's memo-letter to Edwin Stanton,    }
{   April, 1865. In the private collection of Stanton           }
{   descendants. Released in 1976 through an interview with     }
{   Americana appraiser, Joseph Lynch.                          }
{                                                               }
{ Eisenschiml, Otto, In the Shadow of Lincoln's Death         }
{   (Wilfred Funk, Inc., New York, 1940)                        }
{                                                               }
{ Luther Baker Speech delivered in 1932 at Lansing, Michigan.   }
{   Richard D. Mudd Collection.                                 }
{                                                               }
{ Oldroyd, Osborn H., The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln:    }
{   Flight, Pursuit, Capture and Punishment of the              }
{   Conspirators (Privately Published, Washington, D.C., 1901) }
{                                                               }
{ Peterson, T.B., The Trial of the Assassins and Conspirators }
{   (T.B. Peterson and Brothers, Philadelphia, 1865)            }
{                                                               }
{ Pitman, Benn, The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the   }
{   Trial of the Conspirators (Funk & Wagnalls, New York,      }
{   1954)                                                       }
{                                                               }
{ Roscoe, Theodore, The Web of Conspiracy, (Prentice-Hall,    }
{   Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1959)                                 }
{                                                               }

{ Unpublished Voluntary Statement of Dandridge Mercer Green, } { April 30, 1865, National Archives, Ray A. Neff Collection. } { } { Weichmann, Louis J., A True History of the Assassination of } { Abraham Lincoln and of the Conspiracy of 1865, ed. Floyd }

{   E. Risvold, (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1975)               }
{                                                               }
{ The Wilhelmina Titus (grandaughter of Capt. James William     }
{   Boyd) monograph. Ray A. Neff Collection.                    }
                 [ be continued...]

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Aperi os tuum muto, et causis omnium filiorum qui pertranseunt. Aperi os tuum, decerne quod justum est, et judica inopem et pauperem. -- Liber Proverbiorum XXXI: 8-9

Brian Francis Redman "The Big C"

Coming to you from Illinois -- "The Land of Skolnick"