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

Letter V: A Solution Of The Conspiracy

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So Surrattsville only ten miles from Washington, has been throughout the war a sect of conspiracy. It was like a suburb of Richmond, reaching quite up to the rival capital; and though the few Unionists on the peninsula knew its reputation well enough, nothing of the sort came out until the murder.

Treason never found a better agent than Mrs. Surratt. She is a large, masculine, self-possessed female, mistress of her house, and as lithe a rebel as Belle Boyd or Mrs. Greenhough. She has not the flippantry and menace of the first, nor the social power of the second; but the rebellion has found no fitter agent.

At her country tavern and Washington home Booth was made welcome, and there began the muttered murder against the nation and mankind.

The acquaintance of Mrs. Surratt in Lower Maryland undoubtedly suggested to Booth the route of escape, and made him known to his subsequent accomplices. Last fall he visited the entire region, as far as Leonardstown, in St. Mary's county, professing to be in search of land but really hunting up confederates upon whom he could depend. At this time he bought a map, a fellow to which I have seen among Atzerott's effects, published at Buffalo for the rebel government, and marking at hap-hazard all the Maryland villages, but without tracing the highroads at all. The absence of these roads, it will be seen hereafter, very nearly misled Booth during his crippled flight.

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It could not but have struck Booth that this isolated part of Maryland ignorant and rebel to the brim, without telegraph or railways, or direct stage routes, belted with swamps and broken by dense timber, afforded extraordinary opportunities for shelter and escape. Only the coast survey had any adequate map of it; it was ultima thule to all intents, and treason might subsist in welcome upon it for a thousand years.

When Booth cast around him for assistance, he naturally selected those men whom he could control. The first that recommended himself was one Harold, a youth of inane and plastic character, carried away by the example of an actor, and full of execrable quotations, going to show that he was an imitator of the master spirit both in text and admiration. This Harold was a gunner, and therefore versed in arms; he had traversed the whole lower portion of Maryland, and was therefore a geographer as well as a tool. His friends lived at every farmhouse between Washington and Leonardsville, and he was respectably enough connected, so as to make his association creditable as well as useful.

Harold, whose picture I have seen, is a dull-faced, shallow boy, smooth-haired, and provincial; he had no money nor employment, except that he clerked for a druggist a while, until he knew Wilkes Booth, who looked at him only once, and bought his soul for a smile. Harold was infatuated by Booth as a woman by a soldier. He copied his gait and tone, adopted his opinions, and was unhappy out of his society. Booth gave him money, mysteriously obtained, and together they made the acquaintance of young John Surratt, son of the conspiratress.

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

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