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Lot #2056
Handwritten Account of John Wilkes Booth’s Final Days

50–page eyewitness account of Booth’s final days

Estimate: $10000+
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50–page eyewitness account of Booth’s final days

Remarkable handwritten eyewitness account of Booth’s last days by Richard Baynham Garrett, who was a child living at his father Richard H. Garrett's tobacco farm near Port Royal, Virginia, where the fugitive John Wilkes Booth and conspirator David Herold, under pseudonyms, hid out for two days before being discovered by Federal troops on April 26, 1865; while Herold surrendered himself, Booth was shot and killed. The lengthy 50–page manuscript is contained within a 6 x 8.75 ‘Signal Note Book,’ signed on the front cover in ink, "R. B. Garrett, Austin, Texas. July 16th 1892.” Referred to as ‘A Chapter of Unwritten History,’ Garrett delivered his account on the lecture circuit during the 1880s and 1890s. After setting the scene with some information about the end of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination, Garrett launches into his tale. In small part:

“Lincoln was dead!…It was a reckless, daring, desperate thing. The plot had been well laid, so far as immediate escape was concerned. An accomplice held a horse at the stage entrance in an alley back of the theatre…The story of the next ten days has never been told…All we know definitely is that Booth and Herold spent these ten days in the woods near the residence of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd…But this hiding in the pines became too dangerous after a time. The whole country was filled with detectives and troops searching for the conspirators…

It was about three o’clock on the afternoon of Monday that I first saw the men who were destined to bring so much trouble upon us. When they rode up to the yard gate I went out with my father to meet them. The one dressed in the uniform of a Confederate captain said, ‘Mr. Garrett I suppose you hardly remember me.’ ‘No, sir, I believe not,’ said my father. ‘My name is Jett, I am the son of your old friend Jett of Westmoreland County.’ Then turning to the other men, he introduced Lieut. Ruggles and then said, ‘This is my friend Mr. Jas. W. Boyd a Confederate soldier who was wounded at the battle of Petersburg and is trying to get to his home in Maryland. Can you take care of him for a day or two until his wounds permit him to travel’…The next morning when I arose I noticed for the first time hanging on the post of his bed in which Mr. Boyd slept, a belt which held two large revolvers and a pearl handled dagger, while laying on the mantle was a leather case containing a pair of opera glasses…

That day at dinner my brother returned from a visit in the neighborhood…While absent that morning (the morning of Apr. 25th) my brother had heard for the first time the rumor of the death of President Lincoln…The neighbor present then said that he had heard it also, and in addition that $100,000 reward had been offered for the capture of the assassin…My brother laughingly remarked, ‘That man had better not come this way for I would like to make a hundred thousand dollars just now.’ Mr. Boyd turned to the speaker and asked, ‘Would you betray him for that.’ ‘He had better not tempt me,’ was the reply, ‘for I haven’t a dollar in the world.’ The conversation then turned upon the effect on the South if the news were true, and Mr. Boyd joined in the conversation as calmly as any of the rest, agreeing with my father in the belief that the report was false…

About two o’clock that night my father was awakened by a knock on the door. Thinking that some of the servants were sick he went to the door in his night clothes and when he opened it a man standing on the step thrust a pistol into his face and told him to open his mouth at his own peril…At this time some of the men came up and said, ‘Captain there is someone in the barn’…With the barn surrounded by the troops, the officer in charge called upon them to surrender. The man we knew only as Boyd replied, ’We don't know who you are, whether friend or foe. Perhaps you are our friends and if so there is no need for us to surrender’…At last Boyd said, ‘Captain, there is a man in here who wants to surrender.’ ‘Let him hand out his arms then,’ was the reply. ‘He has no arms, they are all mine,’ said Boyd…when Herold thrust out his hands he was quickly handcuffed and dragged through the door…

My brother was ordered to pile some dry brush against the side of the barn and the officers announced to Booth that they intended to burn the barn over him. He replied ‘All right, I will not surrender’…At last finding their effort to induce him to surrender vain, Col. Conger the officer in command went to a corner of the barn where a quantity of hay was stored, pulled a wisp of it through a crack and set it on fire. In an instant the fire blazed to the ceiling of the building…

At this moment the crack of a pistol was heard, and we who were watching saw him sink down where he stood. The fire was almost upon him. The soldiers still dared not enter the building. My brother, no longer able to bear the sight, threw open the door and running in dragged the dying man out of the reach of the hungry flames…The men said he shot himself, but too many were watching him at the time…Presently a sergeant was found who said that he had fired the fatal shot to save the life of his commander as Booth was just in the act of firing upon him. It was not true. He made no movement to fire upon anybody. It was a curious fact that this Sergeant, Boston Corbett, had been pardoned by President Lincoln while under sentence of death for desertion. He died in the Kansas Lunatic Asylum several years ago.

As Booth laid upon the grass near the burning barn he said, ‘Captain, it is hard that this man’s property should be destroyed. He does not know who I am.’ These words perhaps saved my father’s and brother’s lives, as a proclamation had been issued authorizing the hanging of anyone without trial, found harboring the assassins of the President…He then called to the officer standing by him and said, ‘Tell my mother I died for my country, I did what I thought was best.’” In very good to fine condition, with some cracking to the notebook’s spine and repairs to the first few pages (nothing affecting most pages, all of which remain intact). The complete manuscript was published in a 1963 issue of The Virginia Magazine; accompanied by photocopies of that section. Also includes an original printing of the report by the House of Representatives on Richard H. Garrett’s petition for compensation for the property destroyed by the troops.

Richard B. Garrett would later write to Edwin Booth, relaying his brother’s dying words and sending a lock of his hair. As an adult, Garrett became a Baptist minister in addition to lecturing widely on the subject of Booth and the Lincoln assassination. His detailed manuscript is thoroughly entertaining as he presents the gripping tale of the demise of Lincoln’s assassin.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Remarkable Rarities: Elite 100
  • Dates: #484 - Ended September 25, 2016