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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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Washington, April 28--8 P. M.

A hard and grizzly face overlooks me as I write. Its inconsiderable forehead is crowned with turning sandy hair, and the deep concave of its long insatiate jaws is almost hidden by a dense red beard, which can not still abate the terrible decision of the large mouth, so well sustained by searching eyes of spotted gray, which roll and rivet one. This is the face of Lafayette Baker, colonel and chief of the secret service. He has played the most perilous parts of the war, and is the capturer of the late President's murderer. The story that I am to tell you, as he and his trusty dependents told it to me, will be aptly commenced here, where the net was woven which took the dying life of Wilkes Booth.

When the murder occured, Colonel Baker was absent from Washington, He returned on the third morning, and was at once besought by Secretary Stanton to join the hue and cry against the escaped Booth. The sagacious detective found that nearly ten thousand cavalry, and one-fourth as many policemen, had been meantime scouring, without plan or compass, the whole territory of Southern Maryland. They were treading on each other's heels, and mixing up the thing so confoundedly, that the best place for the culprits to have gone would have been in the very midst of their pursuers. Baker at once possessed himself of the little the War Department had learned, and started immediately to take the usual detective measures, till then neglected, of offering a reward and getting out photographs of the suspected ones. He then dispatched a few chosen detectives to certain vital points, and awaited results.

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The first of these was the capture of Atzeroth. Others, like the taking of Dr. Mudge, simultaneously occured. But the district supected being remote from the railway routes, and broken by no telegraph station, the colonel, to place himself nearer the theater of events, ordered an operator, with the necessary instrument, to tap the wire running to Point Lookout, near Chappells Point, and send him prompt messages.

The same steamer which took down the operator and two detectives. brought back one of the same detectives and a negro. This negro, taken to Colonel Baker's office, stated so positively that he had seen Booth and another man cross the Potomac in a fishing boat, while he was looking down upon them from a bank, that the colonel, was at first skeptical; but when examined the negro answered so readily and intelligently, recognizing the men from the photographs, that Baker knew at last that he had the true scent.

Straightway he sent to General Hancock for twenty-five men, and while the order was going, drew down his coast survey-maps. With that quick detective intuition amounting almost to inspiration, he cast upon the probable route and destination of the refugees, as well as the point where he would soonest strike them. Booth, he knew, would not keep along the coast, with frequent deep rivers to cross, nor, indeed, in any direction east of Richmond, where he was liable at any time to cross our lines of occupation; nor, being lame, could he ride on; horseback, so as to place himself very far westward of his point of debarkation in Virginia. But he would travel in a direct course from Bluff point, where he crossed to Eastern Tennessee, and this would take him through Port Royal on the Rappahannock river, in time to be intercepted there by the outgoing cavalry men.

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

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