The Assassin's Escape: Following John Wilkes Booth

Sepia Photo portrait of a dapper mustached well-dressed gentleman, seated and holding a cane

After assassinating Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth fled Ford’s Theatre and went on the run. His escape continued for the next twelve days and covered over ninety miles through the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Follow along with our maps and stories to see what happened on each day of Booth’s escape, up to his final moments at the Richard Garrett Farm near Port Royal, Virginia.

Red Colonial Style House with 5 bays, two floors and a front porch
Surratt Tavern in Surrattsville (now Clinton), Maryland

Friday, April 14

John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre and fled via Baptist Alley, behind the theater. Booth rode on horseback down to Pennsylvania Avenue and 11th Street to the Navy Yard Bridge. The actor escaped the city by talking his way across the closed bridge, as the sentries had not yet heard about the assassination. Booth met up with his co-conspirator David Herold in Maryland. The two men proceeded to the Surratt Tavern in Surrattsville (now Clinton), Maryland, arriving just after midnight on April 15. Booth may have fallen from his horse and broken his left fibula during this ride, if he had not already broken it jumping to the stage at Ford’s Theatre.
White Frame two story house surrounded by trees and a grassy field
Dr. Samuel Mudd House, today operated as a museum, Waldorf, Maryland

Saturday, April 15

John Wilkes Booth and David Herold arrived at the Surratt Tavern just after midnight. They retrieved supplies hidden for them at the tavern, including guns and field glasses. Booth told the tavernkeeper, John Lloyd, that he had assassinated the president that night. Needing a physician to treat his broken leg, Booth and Herold sought out Dr. Samuel Mudd, a local doctor involved in Booth’s previous plan to kidnap Abraham Lincoln. Mudd set Booth’s leg and allowed the assassin to rest at his home while he went into the nearby town for supplies. Upon hearing of the assassination, Dr. Mudd returned home and forced Booth and Herold to leave his property.

The two men set off for Rich Hill, the home of Confederate sympathizer Samuel Cox, but they soon got lost in the dangerous Zekiah Swamp. Booth and Herold stumbled upon the cabin home of a free Black man named Oswald Swan, whom they agreed to pay in exchange for guiding them to Cox’s home as darkness fell.
Two story wood frame house with clapboards and an exposed brick end chimney
Rich Hill, currently undergoing restoration, Bel Alton, Maryland

Sunday, April 16 (Easter Sunday)

John Wilkes Booth and David Herold, guided by a free Black man named Oswald Swan, arrived at Rich Hill, the home of Confederate sympathizer Samuel Cox. The conspirators paid Swan $12 for his assistance and spent a brief amount of time inside the plantation home. Cox escorted Booth and Herold out of the house before sunrise and sent them with his overseer, Franklin Robey, to a pine thicket two miles away. Cox contacted his foster brother, Confederate agent Thomas Jones, for help getting Booth and Herold across the Potomac River. Jones met Booth and Herold in the pine thicket, agreeing to bring them supplies until he could safely convey them across the river. The assassin spent the first of four nights sleeping in the woods.
Piney woods with many trees and scrubby underbrush

Monday-Wednesday, April 17, 18, and 19

John Wilkes Booth and David Herold hid in a pine thicket near Bel Alton, Maryland, waiting for an opportunity to cross the Potomac River into Virginia. Confederate agent Thomas Jones supplied the men with food and newspapers. Booth may have written an entry in his diary describing his thoughts on the assassination. More on Booth's journal and the text of what he wrote while on the run.
Historic marker on the edge of a field
Marker near Dent's Meadow, where Booth and Herold picked up a boat that had been hidden there for them to get across the Potomac. Note the marker incorrectly indicates the night of April 21 rather than April 20 for the crossing attempt.

Thursday, April 20

As John Wilkes Booth and David Herold continued hiding in the pine thicket, Confederate agent Thomas Jones learned that soldiers and detectives were focusing on St. Mary’s County to the south. Jones visited Booth and Herold and told them to prepare to cross the Potomac River into Virginia that night.

The three men stopped briefly at Jones’ home, Huckleberry, before proceeding to a 12-foot fishing boat hidden on the banks of the Potomac. Jones gave Herold an oar and gave Booth a compass, a candle, and an oar for steering. Booth thanked Jones for his help and paid him for the boat. Jones pushed Booth and Herold off into the river on a foggy night with light wind.
Sandy shoreline lined with bushy plants, with small waves lapping onshore and
Shore of the Potomac River near the place where Booth and Herold crossed.

Friday - Saturday, April 21 & 22

As John Wilkes Booth and David Herold attempted to paddle across the Potomac River to Virginia in the dead of night, they became lost and veered off course. When day broke, the two men found themselves still in Maryland, about 9 miles upriver from where they had started. Herold knew the area from various hunting trips and found the way to Indiantown farm, leased by a friend of his, John J. Hughes. Hughes offered food and a small unused house for the men to rest in, which they did for the remainder of the day. John Wilkes Booth wrote in his diary that night about how he had been “hunted like a dog” and now found himself “here in despair. . . looked upon as a common cutthroat” for his actions.

After resting at the Indiantown farm in Maryland during the day, John Wilkes Booth and David Herold set off on their second attempt to row across the Potomac River in the night. This attempt succeeded, and the men landed on the Virginia side early the next morning.
5-bay wood frame two story farmhouse with a porch across the whole first floor, two small end chimneys, and several shrubs lining the front walkway
Cleydael, also known as Quarter Neck- in 1865 it was the home of King George County's wealthiest resident, Dr. Richard Stuart

Sunday, April 23

John Wilkes Booth and David Herold successfully rowed across the Potomac River to Virginia, landing at the mouth of Gambo Creek. They sought out the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Quesenberry, a Southern sympathizer recommended to them by Confederate agent Thomas Jones. Mrs. Quesenberry offered the men food but no further help.

The two conspirators linked up with Confederate agents Thomas Harbin and William Bryant. Bryant brought Booth and Herold to Cleydael, the home of Southern sympathizer Dr. Richard Stuart, and left them there. Stuart offered the men food but no further help and had to chase down Bryant to take Booth and Herold off his hands. Bryant took Booth and Herold to the nearby cabin of free Black man William Lucas and his family. Angry at the day’s events, John Wilkes Booth threatened William Lucas at knifepoint and kicked the Lucas family out of their home. Booth and Herold slept in the Lucas family cabin that night.
Black and white 1860s photo of barges moored at a dock in the middle of a river.
Photograph of the Port Royal Crossing ca. 1863-65, taken by photographer Andrew Joseph Russell. (credit Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Monday, April 24

After kicking the Lucas family out of their home and spending the night in it, John Wilkes Booth and David Herold hired Charley Lucas to give them a wagon ride to the Rappahannock River at Port Conway. At the ferry crossing, they met three Confederate soldiers: Mortimer Ruggles, Absalom Bainbridge, and Willie Jett. David Herold revealed John Wilkes Booth’s identity to a stunned Jett. The men rode across the river on the ferry together, and Jett sought accommodations for Booth and Herold in Port Royal, Virginia.

The two were not allowed to stay at the home of Randolph Peyton, as only his two unmarried sisters were home, so Jett took Booth and Herold down the road to the farm of Richard Garrett. John Wilkes Booth was allowed to stay at the Garrett farm under the pseudonym “John W. Boyd” and the alibi of being a former Confederate soldier, while David Herold proceeded to the next town, Bowling Green, with the soldiers. Booth played with the Garrett children and slept the night in the farmhouse.
Black and white photo of a modest two story wood frame farmhouse with a porch across the front
The Garrett farmhouse near Port Royal, Virginia. No trace of the farmhouse remains today.

Tuesday, April 25

John Wilkes Booth enjoyed a relaxing morning at the Richard Garrett farm, eating breakfast and playing with the Garrett children. David Herold returned from Bowling Green in the afternoon, soon followed by Mortimer Ruggles and Absalom Bainbridge, two Confederate soldiers the conspirators had met the day before. Ruggles and Bainbridge reported Union cavalry approaching, causing Booth to flee and hide in the nearby woods while Herold kept watch. Seeing this incident, Richard Garrett’s son Jack, a former Confederate soldier, became suspicious of the two men. That night, Booth and Herold were told to sleep in the tobacco barn, as Jack suspected they may be horse thieves. The conspirators were locked in the barn, while Jack and another Garrett son slept in the nearby corn crib. In Bowling Green, Union soldiers found and interrogated Willie Jett, who had brought Booth and Herold to the Garrett farm. Jett agreed to lead the soldiers to the assassin.
Woodcut engraving of Booth being dragged out of a burning barn by six cavalry soldiers as other soldiers stand nearby holding another man (Herold) captive
Woodcut engraving from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 13, 1865, titled "Capture and death of John Wilkes Booth, near Port Royal, Virginia, April 26, 1865." (credit: Dickinson College)

Wednesday, April 26

At approximately 2:00 am, detectives and Union soldiers of the 16th New York Cavalry arrived at the Richard Garrett farm. The soldiers roughed up Richard Garrett before his son, Jack, ran over and told the men that the fugitives were hiding in the tobacco barn. The soldiers surrounded the barn and demanded the surrender of John Wilkes Booth and David Herold. Booth requested the chance to have a shootout with the soldiers, which they denied.

Under direction from detective Everton Conger, the soldiers lit the barn on fire to force Booth and Herold to come out. Herold surrendered and was pulled out of the barn, as Booth called him a coward. Booth tried in vain to stamp out the flames and seemed to be preparing his gun. Despite orders not to kill the assassin, Sergeant Boston Corbett fired one bullet that passed through John Wilkes Booth’s neck, severing his spinal cord and paralyzing him from the neck down. Conger and others rushed into the barn and pulled Booth out, attempting to interrogate him. Booth could barely speak and was dragged onto the porch of the Garrett farmhouse. A doctor summoned to the home concluded that Booth would soon die.

In his final hours, Booth said “tell my mother I die for my country” and, after asking for the soldiers to raise his hands so he could see them, “useless, useless.” The assassin died around 7:15 am. His body was loaded onto a wagon and taken to the steamship John S. Ide, where it would be transported back to Washington, DC for identification and an autopsy.

Last updated: April 17, 2023

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