Boston Corbett on John Wilkes Booth’s Death

Boston Corbett was the sergeant who shot and killed John Wilkes Booth on April 26, 1865 in Port Royal, Va.

Corbett, whose real name was Thomas P. Corbett, was a London immigrant and a deeply religious man who changed his first name to “Boston” after experiencing a religious conversion at a church revival in Boston.

Corbett later joined the Union army at the outbreak of the Civil War and eventually became a sergeant in the 16th New York Cavalry. On April 24th, Corbett was one of the selected cavalrymen from his unit sent to hunt down John Wilkes Booth, who was still at large.

Corbett’s detachment unit tracked down Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, at Garrett Farm in Port Royal, Va and found them hiding in a tobacco barn. The troops set the barn on fire and ordered them to surrender. Herold complied but Booth refused, saying they would never take him alive. Corbett said that he approached the barn and when he saw Booth through a gap in the wall, he fired. He was quickly arrested for disobeying orders but was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

Boston Corbett photographed by Mathew Brady 1865 - 300 x 495

Boston Corbett photographed by Mathew Brady in 1865

Since the day of the shooting, many sources have stated that Corbett deliberately ignored orders to take Booth alive and fired upon him out of revenge for Lincoln’s assassination. Frustrated by these reports, Corbett wrote a letter, in May of 1865, in an attempt to clear his name. The letter was published a few days later in the New York Times. Although he denied disobeying orders, he suggested that God willed him to shoot Booth:


DEAR BROTHER BROUGHTON: I thought it high time to keep my promise and send you a letter and at this time I thought it might be desirable, as there are many false reports in the papers charging me with violation of order, &c., in shooting BOOTH, but my commanding officer of the expedition not only clears me from all blame, but recommended me to the attention of the Commanding-General, for my untiring exertion to bring the murderer to justice. He was a desperate man, and fully determined to die rather than to be taken alive; and it was only when it was actually necessary that I shot him. When I first saw him by the light of the burning hay, he turned toward the fire, either for the purpose of putting it out or else of shooting the one who set it on fire.

I was on that side, and then he was quite near to him, and I had a full front-breast view of him, and it would have been much easier to have hit him then than when I did, but I waited till I was satisfied his purpose was to use his arms and try and fight his way out of the door that HARROLD had just been taken out of. I then fired on him, and he fell, and when I saw where the ball had struck him — in the neck, near the ear — it seemed to me that God had directed it, for apparently it was just where he had shot the President.

H. HARROLD’s trial is now going on. I do not know how long it will be before I may be allowed to return home, but I should like to do so soon by furlough, if I cannot obtain my discharge.

Inclosed please find one of the photographs made by BRADY, of me, after we returned. Yours, &c.,


Sergeant Company L, 16th, N.Y. Cavalry,

Washington, D.C.”


Kansas Historical Society: Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett:

The New York Times; May 15 1865: The Manner of Booth’s Death Letter from Boston Corbett:

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Captain Sidney Clarke’s Firsthand Account of the Lawrence Massacre

On August 21, 1863, a rebel guerrilla group called Quantrill’s Raiders, led by William Quantrill, raided the pro-Union town of Lawrence, Kansas. The raiders killed close to 200 men and boys and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from residents and businesses in the town.

It is believed the group targeted the town not only because of its pro-Union stance but because it also served as a center for militia and vigilante groups such as Jayhawkers and Redlegs, who were know for attacking farms and plantations in Missouri’s pro-slavery counties. According to the book “William Quantrill: His Life and Times,” Quantrill himself admitted he raided Lawrence to “plunder, and destroy the town in retaliation for Osceola” (a Union attack on Osceola, Mo in September of 1861.) Quantrill’s Raiders were never caught or punished for their actions in Lawrence and later went on to commit similar atrocities, with the help of Jesse James, at Centralia, Mo in 1864.

Below is a firsthand account of the massacre from Captain Sidney Clarke, who was serving as both a captain and an acting assistant Provost-Marshal-General for Kansas at the time of the incident:

The Destruction of the City of Lawrence Kansas and the massacre of its inhabitants by the rebel guerrillas August 21 1863

“The Destruction of the City of Lawrence, Kansas and the Massacre of its Inhabitants by the Rebel Guerrillas, August 21, 1863.” Harper’s Weekly illustration published September 5, 1863

“August 25, 1863, Leavenworth City, Kans.,
Captain Sidney Clarke to Colonel James B. Fry
Leavenworth City, August 25, 1863.
Provost-Marshal-General, Washington, D.C.:
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit for your information the following brief report of facts connected with the destruction of Lawrence, and the books, records, and enrollment lists of the provost-marshal’s office for the Southern District of Kansas. I make this report from personal observation, as I was in Lawrence on the morning of the massacre and barely escaped the clutches of the guerrillas. The attack was made by the notorious guerrilla chief Quantrill, with a force of about 300 men, at sunrise on the morning of Friday, the 21st instant. The guerrillas entered the city from the south, and at once commenced an indiscriminate murder of its citizens. The work of death was continued for three hours, and whenever a citizen made his appearance, or escaped from a burning building, he was shot down in the streets. Fires were set to buildings in all parts of the town, and all the business portion of the city and many of the private residences were burned. In many instances men were murdered in their homes in the presence of their wives and children, and the dead bodies burned. With the exception of those who were shot down in attempting to escape, the citizens were first robbed and then murdered. Up to the present time 150 dead bodies have been found, and many more will doubtless be found in the ruins. The provost-marshal’s office, with all the records, papers, and enrollment lists, was entirely destroyed, and Captain Banks was taken prisoner and held during the occupancy of the town.
The value of the property destroyed will reach $2,000,000, and the money secured by the guerrillas cannot be less than $100,000. A fearful state of excitement exists throughout the State of Kansas, and the people are unanimous in attributing the Lawrence massacre, and the present deplorable state of affairs upon the border, to the policy now being pursued by the commander of the Department of the Missouri. The guerrillas of Western Missouri have been largely re-enforced by men from Price’s army, and have never been so active and defiant as now. From this time forward the war on this border promises to be one of extermination. Two or three thousand of the citizens of Kansas are in arms, and bidding defiance to the policy of General Schofield and General Ewing. They are determined to invade Missouri for retaliation. I am of the opinion that this result will be inevitable, taking into consideration the determined character of the people of Kansas, growing out of a long border contest, intensified by the massacre without parallel in the history of civilized warfare. I have deemed this statement necessary to a full understanding of the peculiar condition of affairs in Kansas, and which must necessarily affect the administration of this bureau. Asking for such instructions as you may think necessary,
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain and Actg. Asst. Provost-Marshal-General.”


“William Clarke Quantrill: His Life and Times”; Albert E. Castle; 1962 KCArchives:

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Captain Sally Louisa Tompkins: Nurse and Officer in the Confederate Army

Sally Louisa Tompkins was a Civil War nurse and the only officially commissioned female officer in the Confederate Army.

Born on November 9, 1833 into a wealthy Virginia family, Tompkins was the daughter of Colonel Christopher Tompkins and Maria Patterson and grew up on the family’s plantation in Poplar Grove, Mathews County. After Colonel Tompkins passed away, shortly before the outbreak of the war, Sally relocated to Richmond.

Following the first Battle of Bull Run, the Confederate government asked the citizens of Richmond to help nurse wounded soldiers. This prompted Tompkins to ask her friend, Judge John Robertson, who had recently moved out of Richmond to the countryside, if he would donate his three-story home near the corner of Third and Main Streets to the cause. He agreed and Tompkins turned the home into a 22 bed infirmary for wounded soldiers.

Sally Tompkins

Sally Tompkins

The Robertson Hospital officially opened on August 1 in 1861. The government assigned six surgeons and supplied only food, medicine and supplies to the hospital, with Tompkins covering the remaining expenses with her inheritance. Tompkins was strict about cleanliness in her hospital, which resulted in a 94 percent survival rate among her patients. Of the 1,300 wounded soldiers sent to her hospital, only 73 died.

According to the book “An Encyclopedia of Women at War,” in September of 1861, after it was discovered that a number of private hospitals were overcharging the Confederate government, President Jefferson Davis called for the closure of all private hospitals. This order ensured only military officials were allowed to run the remaining hospitals. Tompkins pleaded with the Confederate government to allow the Robertson Hospital to remain open, prompting them to take an unusual action:

“Tompkins, aided by William W. Camp, the assistant secretary of the treasury, appealed to the Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Impressed by her accomplishments as a hospital administrator, Davis commissioned Tompkins as a captain in the Confederate cavalry. Thus, Robertson Hospital, now run by an army officer, could remain operational. Tompkins accepted the commission; however, she refused to draw a salary for her position. Tompkins was the first, and only, woman to receive an officer’s commission in the Confederate’s armed forces. Her commission was dated September 8, 1861.”

Sally Tompkins

Sally Tompkins

Yet, other sources state that the hospital wasn’t ordered to close until Inspector of Hospitals William A. Carrington recommended it in his official report on Robertson Hospital, dated October 24th, 1862:

“Surgeon E. S. Gaillard Medl Director
I have the honour to report that I have this day inspected the private Hosl called the Robertson Hosl situated on corner of Main & 3rd Sts (Richmond). It has been occupied as a hosl since July 30th 1861. Having been leased free of rent by its distinguished owner Judge Robertson who had made it his residence for many years. A large yard surrounds it in which are the necessary out houses – The hosl building is an irregularly shaped wooden structure – the main building 3 stories high – In addition to an offices, Dining room kitchen & storeroom there are rooms affording a capacity for about 40 patients – 10-13 only now are in the Hospl. Surgeon A. Y. P. Garnett also in charge Genl Hosl no 3 is the only Medl officer of the Hosl & visits it daily or more frequently if necessary – The other attendants are one cook & 2 nurses. An Asist Surgeon formerly resided in the Hospital. Some of them I was informed rendered services gratuitously. I found order & neatness in every part of the Hosl which is supervised in rotation by the ladies who have it under charge – one or two being on duty every day. They exhibited a neat & accurate register showing that 539 patients had been admitted to date. According to the table prepared by the Surg Genl. To Sept 17th 1862 of 550 admitted – 44 had been furloughed, 57 Discharged & 46 Died. This is not a military Hosl in that there is no guards but little restraint exercised over the men; the house is not filled up with similar furniture to the Genl Hosls; having still much of the furniture of the owner’s in use – the food is of a better material than in the large Hosls being prepared and under the supervision of experienced ladies who consider the patients their guests. There is an absence of all that would remind the patient that he beds in ‘an institution’ & many things to make him feel that he is an individual cared for at home – This is an institution similar in origin & intent to other hosls previously inspected & reported – they originated to give form & consolidation to the private exhibitions of patriotism from the noncombatants of our city – when thousands wounded were brought in in one day they filled their post of usefulness and honour; but now the regularly organized institutions are more than sufficient for the demand upon them – they all have a surgical staff & attendants sufficient for their capacity & the government alone is able to provide for all the ordinary & extraordinary demand upon it – In previous reports on other private Hospls I stated other reasons why it would be better for the patients & for the service that this change be made, & in addition I will remark the great additional clerical labor in Reports acquisitions invoices – orders – rations – of property & provision. Monthly abstracts – muster rolls & payrolls &c &c &c for these Hospitals at the Surgeon Generals offic – the Medical Directors Medical Purveyor’s – Commissary – Q. M.s – paymasters – &c &c – In view of these things I recommend
(1) that the patients now in these Hosls be removed to Genl Hosl No. 3 which in order neatness & discipline will compare favorably with this or any other Hosl;
(2) that the support in Rations & Medl supplies be withdrawn;
(3) that the managers who deserve honour & commendation as among the heroines of the war be requested to such among our many wards (hitherto secluded from their presence) fields where their ministrations may be productive of greater usefulness.
Very Respectfully
Your Obt Servant,
Wm. A. Carrington
Surgeon & Inspector of Hospls”

Robertson Hospital in Richmond Va

Illustration of Robertson Hospital in Richmond

According to the book “Richmond’s War Time Hospitals” this indicates that Tompkins must have received her commission much later than previously thought:

“It is often repeated that Miss Tompkins used the hospital’s low mortality rate as the basis of her argument for obtaining her commission and keeping the hospital open. However, her commission is dated September 9, 1861, less than two months after the opening of the hospital and well before any threatened closing of the hospitals. It has been suggested that Sally was not appointed until 1862 and that the date of the commission was backdated to the point of which her services were recognized to have commenced. However, the commission is signed by Leroy P. Walker, secretary of war. Walker resigned that post on September 19, 1861. What actually prompted President Davis to give Miss Tompkins her commission is unknown. Perhaps Sally was simply foresighted enough to realize that for her hospital to achieve permanence, she would have to transfer organizational and financial responsibility of it to the government and that she would have to work within the military framework.”

Regardless of when she acquired the position, her new role quickly earned her the new nickname “Captain Sally” among her patients and staff at the hospital. The hospital remained open until the end of the war, officially closing its doors on June 13, 1865. In August of 1875, Robertson hospital was torn down and a new building took its place.

Although she had numerous marriage proposals, Tompkins never married and instead continued with her charity work after the war, helping widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers. After spending most of her fortune helping others, Tompkins entered Richmond’s Home for Confederate Women in 1905 where she remained for 11 years until her death on July 25, 1916. She was buried with full military honors at the Christ Episcopal Church in Matthews County, Virginia.


Civil War Richmond: Carrington’s Inspection Report October 24 1862:

“Richmond’s Wartime Hospitals”; Rebecca Barbour Calcutt; 2005

“Women and War: A Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present”; Bernard A. Cook; 2006

“Women in the Civil War: extraordinary stories of soldiers, spies, nurses, Doctors, Crusaders and Others”; Larry Eggleston; 2003

“An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields”; Edited by Lisa Tendrich Frank; 2013

“Famous American Women: A Biographical Dictionary from Colonial Times to the Present”; Edited by Robert McHenry; 1980

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