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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Booth's diary

I'm hesitant to put this first part here because of recent unrest exhibited in our country. But, it provides some insight into madness carried out in the misbegotten name of duty. Plus, it leads up to the thing I really wanted to blog about.

After John Wilkes Booth was shot at Garrett's farm on April 26, 1865, Colonel Everton Conger removed a small red appointment book from Booth's body. The book, which served as Booth's diary, contained a final diary entry, written after the April 14 assassination:
Until today nothing was ever thought of sacrificing to our country's wrongs. For six months we had worked to capture, but our cause being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done. But its failure was owing to others, who did not strike for their country with a heart. I struck boldly, and not as the papers say. I walked with a firm step through a thousand of his friends, was stopped, but pushed on. A colonel was at his side. I shouted Sic semper before I fired. In jumping broke my leg. I passed all his pickets, rode sixty miles that night with the bone of my leg tearing the flesh at every jump. I can never repent it, though we hated to kill. Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment. The country is not what it was. This forced Union is not what I have loved. I care not what becomes of me. I have no desire to outlive my country. The night before the deed I wrote a long article and left it for one of the editors of the National Intelligencer, in which I fully set forth our reasons for our proceedings. He or the gov'r- (Emphasis added.)

Continue reading The Last Diary Entry of John Wilkes Booth.

Whatever became of Booth's diary (actually, pages from his diary)? Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had it at some point as he wrote to President Andrew Johnson on May 14, 1867:

Sir: I have the honor to submit herewith a copy of the entries contained in the memorandum-book found on the person of J. Wilkes Booth at the time of his capture, certified by Gen. Holt, Judge Advocate-General, who has possession of the book, together with his report in relation thereto. The memorandum-book was first seen by me about the 26th day of April, 1865, shortly after Booth's capture, and a few hours before his remains reached Washington. It was brought to my house by Provost-Marshal Baker and another person, who was, I think, Lieut.-Col. Conger. The book was then examined by me in the presence of Gen. Eckert, Assistant Secretary of War, and was found to contain only the entries certified by Gen. Holt, also some photographs of females. Immediately preceding the entries some pages appeared to have been cut out, but there was nothing indicating what had been written thereon, or whether anything had been written, nor when or by whom they had been cut out. Immediately after careful examination of the book and its contents, it was placed in the hands of Gen. Eckert in the same condition as when I first saw it, to be delivered to the Judge Advocate-General, in whose possession after its delivery to him by Gen. Eckert, I am informed and believe, it has continued until the present time. The last time I saw the book was some time last Winter. it was then before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, and was in all respects in exactly the same condition as when I saw it first, without any change or alteration, so far as I could discover, in its contents.
Gen. Eckert reported to me that upon receiving the memorandum-book from me he sealed it up and locked it up in his safe, and it continued in his possession until he delivered it to the Judge Advocate General,, and that it was then in the same condition as when it was brought to my house by Baker.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant, Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

After the quotes from Booth's diary, there's a report from Holt which ends:

Conger was examined before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives to-day.

I bet Conger was sweating bullets that day. Surely these guys weren't having a grand old time with the diary, passing it amongst themselves?

I stopped tracking Booth's diary (or diary pages) after that, so I don't know where the trail leads next. (Please don't tell me if it's been covered extensively in a book; would rather find out the hard way. And, please don't tell me this has already been discussed in a movie by Nicholas Cage. I haven't seen such a thing and I doubt I will.)

Which brings me to the thing I really wanted to blog about: Rail buff says that John Wilkes Booth’s diary is under Atlantic Avenue! By Kristen V. Brown for The Brooklyn Paper:

First, he was Indiana Jones — now railroad history buff Bob Diamond wants to become Geraldo Rivera.
Early next year, Diamond, best known for discovering a long-abandoned trolley tunnel under Atlantic Avenue almost 30 years ago, will bash through a wall, enter a second portion of the passageway and discover an old steam locomotive.
Oh, and he’ll also find the pages of John Wilkes Booth’s diary that reveal who hired him to shoot Abraham Lincoln.
“They could be in there,” said Diamond, whose status as a true Brooklyn legend was burnished in 1981 when he crawled into a manhole in front of what is now the Court Street Trader Joe’s and found a tunnel running between Columbia and Boerum Place — a relic of an old New York City to Boston line on the Long Island Rail Road.
“The first time I crawled into that tunnel, I felt like Indiana Jones,” said Diamond. “I am nervous with anticipation of what will happen this time....”

But, wouldn't that be something after all these years?

I'm sure one of the NYC photobloggers I follow has been on one of Diamond's tours, but I can't seem to remember which one right now. Will update later, if I find it.

Posted by Marie at September 24, 2009 8:36 PM


I think southerners will be talking about the Civil War 500 years from now much like people in the Middle East are still talking about The Crusades ... but I hope not.

Posted by: Rob Author Profile Page at September 25, 2009 9:02 AM

Interesting thought, Rob.

Posted by: Marie Carnes Author Profile Page at September 25, 2009 8:03 PM

I hope Geraldo Rivera is covering that event.

Northerners will talk about that war, too, though we've never had our Shelby Foote or Margaret Mitchell to turn the history into legend.

Posted by: Dan at September 26, 2009 1:33 PM