Stars and Stripes – November 23, 1964
TOPEKA, Kan. (UPI) – He shot and killed the assassin who shot the President. He was arrested. His sanity became a question.
Jack Ruby sits in Dallas County jail, appealing a death sentence for slaying Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy.
Boston Corbett, a religious fanatic, shot and killed John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, and got away with it.
Like Ruby a century later, his act prevented the country from bringing Booth to trial—though Booth’s alleged accomplices were tried and convicted.
Corbett became a mystery of the West.
HE WAS BORN in ENgland in 1832, baptized Thomas, and was brought to this country in 1839. As a young man, he heard a street corner evangelist in Boston and “became a new man.” He adopted the name of the city as his given name.
“The Mad Hatter” and “The Glory-to-God Man,” he was known as. He wore his red hair long and he had a beard, in imitation of pictures of Christ.
His wife died in childbirth with their infant daughter.
Records show Corbett in his early years mutilated himself as a religious penance.
He joined the Union army and was captured by the confederates.
He spent 10 months in the notorious Andersonville, S. C. prison camp. Released, he stayed in the Union army as a sharp-shooting cavalryman.
He was in a detachment sent out to find John Wilkes Booth after Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater in Washington, April 14, 1865.
Corbett was in the unit that surrounded a barn near Port Royal, Va., where Booth and Davey Herold, a companion, had holed up.
Herold surrendered. He was hanged later with Mrs. Mary Surratt, George A. Atzerodt and Lewis Payne.
Booth either could not or would not surrender. His ankle had been injured in his leap from the Presidential box at the theater. The barn was set on fire.
A shot rang out and Booth was dead. Corbett proudly acknowledged that he had pulled the trigger, firing through a crack in the barn wall.
There had been express orders that Booth was to be taken alive. Corbett was arrested.
In Dallas, Dist. Atty, Henry Wade refused to accept Jack Ruby as an avenging hero. But in 1865, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton said:
“The rebel is dead. The patriot (Corbett) lives and he has saved the country expense, continued excitement and trouble. Discharge the patriot.”
Sgt. Corbett was given $1,653.48 as his share of the $25,000 reward for the dead or alive capture of the assassin.
From that day, Corbett’s life was a downhill ride to insanity.
In 1878 he went to Cloud County, Kansas, where he homesteaded 80 acres. The gun-toting avenger was given a wide berth by his neighbors but it wasn’t wide enough.
He became involved in a shooting scrape and resisted arrest when finally brought to trial, he pulled his guns in the courtroom and walked out.
A politician rescued Corbett and in 1887 he became doorkeeper in the Kansas Legislature—a political plum often passed out to Union soldiers in those days.
On Feb 15, 1887, Corbett became enraged at the horseplay of the young page boys in the house chamber. One had sat in the speaker’s seat and was mocking the normal procedure of business.
WHEN THE page intoned, “the Rev. so and so will now give the benediction,” Corbett blew up.
He yanked his pistols, shouting that it was sacrilege.
Legislators, pages and spectators made wild dashes for doors, windows and the undersides of desks. A marshal got the drop on Corbett and took him in.
The next day a probate court prosided over by Charles Curtis, who later became vice president of the U.S., ruled Corbett insane and committed him to the Topeka State Hospital.
But on May 28, 1888, Corbett escaped. He stole a horse and fled.
A few days later he showed up in Neodesha, Kan., at the home of Richard Thatcher, a school principal who soldiered with Corbett during the war.
He stayed with Thatcher two days and then left on a train, saying he was headed for Mexico.
That day, Sgt Boston Corbett vanished from the face of the earth.