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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter IV: The Assassin's Death

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"Water," cried Conger, "bring water."

When this was dashed into his face, he revived a moment and stirred his lips. Baker put his ear close down, and heard him say:

"Tell mother--and die--for my country."

They lifted him again, the fire encroaching in hotness upon them and placed him on the porch before the dwelling.

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A mattrass was brought down, on which they placed him and propped his head, and gave him water and brandy. The women of the household, joined meantime by another son, who had been found in one of the corn cribs, watching as he said, to see that Booth and Harold did not steal the horses, were nervous, but prompt to do the dying man all kindnesses, although waived sternly back by the detectives. They dipped a rag in brandy and water, and this being put between Booth's teeth he sucked it greedily. When he was able to articulate again, he muttered to Mr. Baker the same words, with an addenda. "Tell mother I died for my country. I thought I did for the best." Baker repeated this, saying at the same time "Booth, do I repeat it correctly." Booth nodded his head. By this time the grayness of dawn was approaching; moving figures inquisitively coming near were to be seen distinctly, and the cocks began to crow gutturally, though the barn was a hulk of blaze and ashes, sending toward the zenith a spiral line of dense smoke. The women became importunate that the troops might be ordered to extinguish the fire, which was spreading toward their precious corn-cribs. Not even death could banish the call of interest. Soldiers were sent to put out the fire, and Booth, relieved of the bustle around him, drew near to death apace. Twice he was heard to say, "kill me, kill me." His lips often moved but could complete no appreciable sound. He made once a motion which the quick eye of Conger understood to mean that his throat pained him. Conger put his finger there, when the dying man attempted to cough, but only caused the blood at his perforated neck to flow more, lively. He bled very little, although shot quite through, beneath and behind the ears, his collar being severed on both sides.

A soldier had been meanwhile despatched for a doctor, but the route and return were quite six miles, and the sinner was sinking fast. Still the women made efforts to get to see him, but were always rebuffed, and all the brandy they could find was demanded by the assassin, who motioned for strong drink every two minutes. He made frequent desires to be turned over, not by speech, but by gesture, and was alternately placed upon his back, belly and side. His tremendous vitality evidenced itself almost miraculously. Now and then, his heart would cease to throb, and his pulses would be as cold as a dead man's. Directly life would begin anew, the face would flush up effulgently, the eyes open and brighten, and soon relapsing, stillness re-asserted, would again be dispossessed by the same magnificent triumph of man over mortality. Finally the fussy little doctor arrived, in time to be useless. He probed the wound to see if the ball were not in it, and shook his head sagely, and talked learnedly.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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