Across the Potomac

Just spent a few days on the Northern Neck of Virginia, staring across the Potomac at Maryland. Where we stayed at Westmoreland State Park near Montross, the river is perhaps 5 miles across, much wider than between Alexandria and Washington. As we looked across, we realized about 150 years ago almost to the day, John Wilkes Booth and his accomplice David Herold tried to row across.

Potomac River
Potomac River

It would have been a formidable trip, especially at night. In fact, their first attempt ended with them mistakenly doubling back and returning to the Maryland side.

Here was their route from Washington, through Southern Maryland, to eventual shooting (Booth)/capture (Herold) in Virginia, thanks to the Surratt House Museum, which runs tours of the route.


Here's what Julia Wilbur had to say in her diary on April 15, 1865:

There is a report that Boothe [sic] has been taken; that his horse threw him on 7th st. & he was taken into a house.—

There is no doubt that it was intended to murder the President, the Vice Pres. all the members of the cabinet and Gen. Grant. & that the managers of the theater knew of it.

On April 20, 1865:

Numbers of persons have been arrested. but Booth has not been taken yet. Ford & others of the Theater have been arrested. The Theater is guarded or it would be torn down. If Booth is found & taken I think he will be torn to pieces. The feeling of vengeance is deep & settled.

Finally, on April 26, 1865:

Report that Booth is taken. 

Then, more detail the next day, April 27, 1865:

Booth was taken yesterday morning at 3 oclock, 3 miles from Port Royal on the Rappac., in a barn, by 25 of 16th. N.Y. Cav. & a few detectives. He was armed with 2 revolvers & 2 bowie knives & a carbine 7 shooter, all loaded. Harrold, an accomplice was with him. Neither wd. surrender until the barn was fired. Then Harrold gave himself up. & when Booth was about to fire at some of the party, he was shot in the head by Sargt. B. Corbett, & lived 2 ½ hrs. afterwards.

He was sewed up in a blanket & brought up from Belle Plain to Navy Yd. in a boat this A.M. One of the capturers, Paredy, was here this P.M. & told us all about it.—

(I believe this to be Emery Parady, one of the soldiers who shared in the reward. Because he was from an upstate New York regiment, perhaps this is how he would have recounted his experience to Julia.)

In June, she watched some of the trial of the assassins and included a sketches of the courtroom in her dirary, realizing, as she often did, that she was witnessing history in the making.

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