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

Letter VI: The Detectives' Stories

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The military forces deputed to pursue the fugitives were seven hundred men of the Eighth Illinois cavalry, six hundred men of the Twenty-second Colored troops, and one hundred men of the Sixteenth New York. These swept the swamps by detachments, the mass of them dismounted, with cavalry at the belts of clearing, interspersed with detectives at frequent intervals in the rear. They first formed a strong picket cordon entirely around the swamps, and then, drawn up in two orders of battle, advanced boldly into the bogs by two lines of march. One party swept the swamps longitudinally, the other pushed straight across their smallest diameter.

A similar march has not been made during the war; the soldiers were only a few paces apart, and in steady order they took the ground as it came, now plunging to their arm-pits in foul sluices of gangrened water, now hopelessly submerged in slime, now attacked by Regions of wood ticks, now tempting some unfaithful log or greenishly solid morass, and plunging to the tip of the skull in poison stagnation; the tree boughs rent their uniforms; they came out upon dry land, many of them without a rag of garment scratched, and gashed, and spent, repugnant to themselves, and disgusting to those who saw them; but not one trace of Booth or Harold was any where found. Wherever they might be, the swamps did not contain them.

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While all this was going on, a force started from Point Lookout, and swept the narrow necks of Saint Mary's quite up to Medley's Neck. To complete the search in this part of the country, Colonel Wells and Major O'Bierne started with a force of cavalry and infantry for Chappel Point; they took the entire peninsula as before, and marched in close skirmish line across it, but without finding anything of note. The matter of inclosing a house was by cavalry advances, which held all the avenues till mounted detectives came up. Many strange and ludicrous adventures occured on each of these expeditions. While the forces were going up Cobb's neck, there was a counter force coming down from Allen's Fresh.

Major O'Bierne started for Leonardstown with his detective force, and played off Laverty as Booth, and Hoey as Harold. These two advanced to farm-houses and gave their assumed names, asking at the same time for assistance and shelter. They were generally avoided, except by one man named Claggert, who told them they might hide in the woods behind his house. When Claggert was arrested, however he stated that he meant to hide them only to give them up. While on this adventure, a man who had heard of the reward came very near shooting Laverty. The ruse now became hazardous and the detectives resumed their real characters.

I have not time to go into the detail of this long and excellent hunt. My letter of yesterday described how the detectives of Mr. Young and Marshal Murray examined the negro Swan, and traced Booth to the house of Sam Coxe, the richest rebel in Charles county. There is a gap in the evidence between the arrival of Booth at this place and his crossing the Potomac above Swan Point, in a stolen or purposely-provided canoe. But as Coxe's house is only ten miles from the river, it is possible that he made the passage of the intermediate country undiscovered.

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

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