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Thomas P. "Boston" Corbett
File:Boston Corbett - Brady-Handy.jpg
Boston Corbett
Born Thomas P. Corbett
London, England
Died presumed dead 1894
Occupation Union Army sergeant

Thomas P. "Boston" Corbett (1832 – presumed dead 1894) was the Union Army soldier who shot and killed Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. He disappeared after 1888, but circumstantial evidence suggests that he died in the Great Hinckley Fire in 1894, although this remains impossible to substantiate.

Early life[]

Corbett was born in London, England. His family emigrated to New York City . He became a hatter in Troy, New York. It has been suggested that the fumes of mercury used in the hatter's trade caused Corbett's later mental problems.[1]

Family and "rebirth"[]

Corbett married, but his wife died in childbirth. Following her death, he moved to Boston, and continued working as a hatter. He joined the Methodist Episcopal Church and changed his name to Boston, the name of the city where he was converted.[2] In an attempt to imitate Jesus, he began to wear his hair very long.[3] On July 16, 1858, in order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes, Corbett castrated himself with a pair of scissors.[4] Afterward, he ate a meal and went to a prayer meeting, before going for medical treatment.[4]

Military career[]

Enlistment in the Union army[]

File:Sergent Boston Corbett.jpg

Sgt. Boston Corbett, Union Army.

In April 1861, early in the American Civil War, Corbett enlisted as a private in Company I of the 12 Regiment New York Militia. He was discharged in August, at the end of the regiment's 3 month enlistment. Corbett re-enlisted in September 1863 as a private in Company L, 16th New York Cavalry Regiment. Captured by Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby's men at Culpeper, Virginia on June 24, 1864, Corbett was held prisoner at Andersonville prison for five months, when he was exchanged.[2] On his return to his company, he was promoted to sergeant. Corbett would later testify for the prosecution in the trial of the commandant of Andersonville, Captain Henry Wirz.[5][6]

Pursuit of John Wilkes Booth[]

File:John Wilkes Booth wanted poster new.jpg

Wanted poster for John Wilkes Booth, John Surratt, and David Herold (1865)

Corbett was a member of the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment sent, on April 24, 1865, to apprehend John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, who was still at large. Two days later the regiment surrounded Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, in a tobacco barn on the Virginia farm of Richard Garrett. The barn was set on fire in an attempt to force them out into the open. Herold surrendered, but Booth remained inside. Corbett was positioned near a large crack in the barn wall. He saw Booth moving about inside and shot him with his Colt revolver despite Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton's orders that Booth should be taken alive. Booth was struck in the neck, the bullet damaging his spinal cord, and he died a few hours later.

File:Boston corbett.jpg

Boston Corbett

Corbett was immediately arrested for violation of his orders, but Stanton later had the charges dropped. Stanton remarked, "The rebel is dead. The patriot lives." Corbett received his share of the reward money, amounting to $1,653.84.[7]

In his official statement, Corbett claimed he shot Booth because he thought Lincoln's assassin was preparing to use his weapons. This was contradicted by the other witnesses. When asked later why he did it, Corbett answered that "Providence directed me."[8]

Corbett's later years[]

Immediate post-war life[]

After his discharge from the army in August 1865, Corbett went back to work as a hatter, first in Boston, later in Connecticut, and by 1870 in New Jersey. His life was marked by increasingly erratic behaviour. In 1875, he threatened several men with a pistol at a soldier's reunion in Caldwell, Ohio. In 1878, he moved to Concordia, Kansas


In 1887, because of his fame as Booth's killer, Corbett was appointed assistant doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. One day he overheard a conversation in which the legislature's opening prayer was mocked. He jumped to his feet and brandished a revolver. No one was hurt, but Corbett was arrested and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane. On May 26, 1888, he escaped from the asylum. He went to Neodesha, Kansas, and stayed briefly with Richard Thatcher, whom he had met when they were both prisoners of war. When he left, he told Thatcher he was going to Mexico.[9] His "madness" may have the result of exposure to mercury, an element commonly used in hat manufacturing. It is so well known for this side effect that it has given rise to the expression, "mad as a hatter".

Presumed fate[]

Rather than going to Mexico, Corbett is believed to have settled in a cabin he built in the forests near Hinckley, Minnesota. He is thought to have died in the Great Hinckley Fire of September 1, 1894. Although there is no proof, the name "Thomas Corbett" does appear on the list of dead and missing.


In 1958, Boy Scout Troop 31 of Concordia, Kansas built a roadside monument to Boston Corbett. It is on Key Road in Concordia. A small sign also was placed to mark the dug hole where Corbett for a time had lived.[10]

Further reading[]

  • Swanson, James L. (2007). Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-051850-9. 


  1. Walker, Dale L.; Jakes, John (1998). Legends and Lies: Great Mysteries of the American West. Macmillan. pp. 159. ISBN 0-312-86848-0. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Harper's Weekly, May 13, 1865
  3. Kauffman, Michael W. (2004). American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. Random House. pp. 310. ISBN 0-375-50785-X. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Swanson, p.329
  5. Chamlee, Roy Z.; Chamlee, Roy Z., Jr. (1989). Lincoln's Assassins: A Complete Account of Their Capture, Trial, and Punishment. McFarland. pp. 289. ISBN 0-899-50420-5. 
  6. Chipman, Norton Parker (1891). The Horrors of Andersonville Rebel Prison: Trial of Henry Wirz, the Andersonville Jailer; Jefferson Davis' Defense of Andersonville Prison Fully Refuted. Bancroft Co.. pp. 40. 
  7. Swanson, p.358
  8. Swanson, p.340
  9. Johnson, Byron Berkeley (1914). Abraham Lincoln and Boston Corbett: With Personal Recollections of Each; John Wilkes Booth and Jefferson Davis, a True Story of Their Capture. B.B. Johnson. pp. 52–53. 
  10. "He Killed Lincoln's Killer, Then Lived In A Hole". Retrieved 2008-10-11. 

External links[]

Template:Cloud County History

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