Troy Cowan Topic: The need to kill James William Boyd

The need to kill James William Boyd

There were two plots to kill Abraham Lincoln on April 14. One was by Vice-president Andrew Johnson and the other was the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. Each one knew nothing of the other’s plan. Edwin Stanton's assassin was James William Boyd and Andrew Johnson's assassin was John Wilkes Booth.

On the day planned to assassinate Lincoln, Boyd decided to leave town. Without an assassin, Stanton’s plan to kill Lincoln failed. Boyd knew of Stanton’s plan to kill Lincoln and Stanton needed Boyd silenced forever.

James William Boyd (Stanton's assassin)

James William Boyd was a captured southern spy. He received benefits from his captors by keeping the prison guards informed of any escape plans. Some of his fellow inmates were beginning to suspect him as an informer and Boyd began to fear for his life. Boyd wrote to Stanton telling him of his usefulness to the north.

Lafayette Baker was the head of the National Detective Police. He interviewed James William Boyd when he was a prisoner of war. Baker told Boyd that he would be a valuable asset if came to work for the people that had the power to release him from prison. To get out of prison, Boyd would agree to anything. On the pretext of family hardship, Stanton had him released from prison. Boyd went to work for Baker.

One of Boyd's jobs was to map the best escape routes out of Washington. Boyd made a map and gave Baker a copy. Boyd's map included the people and places where a Confederate soldier would find people willing to give assistance. There were two routes marked on this map, one went north and the other went south. Marked on the southern route was the Surratt tavern, Dr. Mudd's home, Samuel Cox's home, Elizabeth Quesenberry's home, and Dr. Stuart's home.

On April 14, Boyd had been a free man for several months and saw no benefit to himself to kill Lincoln, he left Washington.

John Wilkes Booth (Andrew Johnson's assassin)

Late in the afternoon of April 14th, Andrew Johnson convinced Booth to kill Lincoln. Then, Booth went to the Nights of the Golden Circle to inform them that he planned to kill Lincoln tonight. They told Booth that they would assist him if he included the assassination of Johnson and Seward. Booth agreed to kill the three men, but had serious misgivings about killing his partner in crime, Andrew Johnson. Booth knew George Atzerodt would not kill anyone. He assigned Atzerodt to kill Johnson, knowing he would not do it.

Booth assigned Lewis Payne to kill Seward. Booth knew that after Seward’s assassination, the whole town would be alerted. The military would immediately take control of the area and it would make it very difficult for Booth to escape. If Booth killed Lincoln first, the military would be alerted and Payne could not escape the city. Both killings had to occur at the same time. Ten-fifteen was selected as the time for the murders.

The stagehand, Edmund Spangler, was a Lincoln hater and a good friend to Booth. He was recruited by Stanton to turn out the theater lights. As the gas light dimmed, the assassin would step into Lincoln's box and put a bullet in his head. Then the killer would climb over the railing and drop down to the stage below. In the dark theater, the killer would mingle in with the crowd and walk out of the theater. Spangler was not given the name of the assassin. When Booth asked Spangler for his assistance, he thought Booth was the assassin and told Booth he would turn out the lights. Booth told Spangler to turn out the lights at exactly 10:15.

At 10:15, Booth was outside Lincoln's box waiting for the lights to go out. When the lights didn't go out, he couldn't wait any longer. Soon the city would be alerted to Seward’s murder. Booth had to take action with the lights on. Booth walked into the president's box and shot Lincoln. Booth then jumped over the railing onto the stage below. He ran from the theater. A stagehand by the name of Peanut John was waiting with a horse at the back of the theater.

Booth then rode to the Navy Yard Bridge, he gave the password he got from Vice-president Johnson and crossed into Maryland. On his way to Surrattsville, in the darkness of night, Booth's horse tripped and fell with Booth still in the saddle. The horse rolled over Booth's foot, breaking it. Booth also hurt his back and he was in much pain. David Harold caught up to Booth, seeing he was hurt, he helped Booth mount his horse and together they rode to Surrattsville. They stopped at Lloyd's tavern and exchanged horses. Booth needed medical attention for his leg and back. Booth and Dr. Mudd were friends, so Booth and Harold headed for the doctor's home. The two arrived at Dr. Mudd's home a few hours before sunrise.

Dr. Mudd made a splint for Booth's broken leg. There was little he could for Booth's back. Booth needed rest. Booth slept the rest of the night and part of the next day. Booth needed to get moving. Dr. Mudd told Booth he could get assistance from Samuel Cox. Booth and Harold left for his house.

Samuel Cox was a man that helped escaped Confederate prisoners return to the South. Boyd once lived near Mr. Cox and knew him well. Boyd was at Mr. Cox's house when Harold and Booth arrived. Mr. Cox asked Boyd to lead Booth and Harold to a good hiding place in a pine thicket. After Booth and Harold were well hidden, Boyd informed Booth that Mosby's raiders were at the Rappahannock River crossing and for three hundred dollars, he could meet with Mosby and arrange for his assistance. Booth agreed. Boyd went to find Mosby and then he would wait for Booth and Harold to catch up to him on the other side of the Potomac.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cox asked his son to find Thomas Jones and ask him to take Booth and Harold through the Zekiah Swamp to the Potomac River. Jones was a Confederate courier and he could help Booth and Harold cross the Potomac. With Jones' help, Harold and Booth crossed the Potomac and were in Virginia when they were reunited with James William Boyd. The three made their way into Port Royal, Virginia.

Also heading to Port Royal was General James O'Beirne. He was hot on Booth's trail. Stanton received a telegram from General O'Beirne saying that he found Booth's trail and the capture of Booth was imminent. With O'Beirne's description of their route and location, Baker realized that they were following Boyd's map. Baker concluded that Boyd must be working with Booth. Stanton wired back and told General O'Beirne to do nothing further and return to Washington.

Stanton then selected two of his trusted men, Lieutenant Doherty and Colonel Conger to find Boyd and kill him. Lieutenant Doherty was to collect together a group of trusted volunteer soldiers willing to go after Booth. Doherty looked for and found a known fanatic, Boston Corbett. Boston Corbett believed that God wanted revenge for Lincoln's assassination and he wanted to be God's instrument of death. Doherty assured him that he might get his chance if he would join up with him on his search to find Booth. Boston Corbett was the first to volunteer.

Because Boyd knew of Stanton and Baker's involvement in a plan to assassinate Lincoln, he needed to be silenced (killed). Booth knew nothing of Stanton's plan and there was no need to kill him.

On April 25, the day before Doherty and his men arrived at the Garrett farm, Booth left the Garrett home for the Shenandoah Valley. That night, Harold and Boyd were sleeping in the Garrett barn when Doherty and his men arrived. Lieutenant Doherty yelled out for the two to surrender. Boyd said he would never come out without a fight, but Harold said he wanted to give himself up. Harold was told to put his hands out. When he did, Lieutenant Doherty grabbed his hands and slammed him to the ground. Harold was taken to a tree and tied.

The Garrett barn was made to air dry tobacco and was full of ventilation cracks. Colonel Conger pushed burning straw through the barn’s open slats and set the barn on fire. In the bright light of the fire, Boyd was visible to Colonel Conger. When Conger realized it was Boyd. He knew this was his chance to kill him. Colonel Conger shot Boyd, hitting him in the neck. Boyd was not dead but had been paralyzed. He was then dragged from the burning barn and placed on the porch of the farmer's house. Boyd died a few hours later on April 26, 1865. Stanton and Baker were very relieved that Boyd was dead and they began to falsify evidence to show that Booth was the man that died.

Conger found a dupe to take the blame for killing the man identified as Booth. Corbett was taken in chains to Edwin Stanton for disobeying orders. Instead of anger, Stanton was pleased. Stanton ordered Corbett’s release and told him that he was going to receive some of the reward money. All Corbett had to do is never change his story that he killed John Wilkes Booth.


 Troy Cowan, author of Lincoln, Davis, and Booth: Family secrets

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