Profile of Thomas “Boston” Corbett
Name at birth: Thomas Corbett
Boston Corbett was a sergeant in the 16th New York Cavalry when Abraham Lincoln was shot on 14 April 1865. Corbett was part of the army squad assigned to pursue and capture the escaped assassin, John Wilkes Booth. After 12 days they found Booth and an accomplice in a tobacco shed in Virginia; the shed was set on fire and Corbett shot Booth through a crack in the wall of the shed. Booth was dragged from the shed and died a few hours later. Corbett was arrested for disobeying orders, but the charges were dropped; he claimed that he had fired after seeing Booth aim a gun at others. Corbett later worked as a hatter in Boston, then moved to Kansas. Due to repeated erratic behavior he was declared insane in 1887. In 1888 he escaped from the Topeka Asylum and disappeared for good.
Corbett’s role in Booth’s death has never been perfectly clear. Some soldiers said that Booth had never aimed his gun and that Corbett was trigger-happy; other rumors claimed that Booth actually committed suicide, with Corbett simply trying to take credit. However, Corbett’s claim was taken for fact in the immediate aftermath of the incident, and an autopsy of Booth showed that he had indeed been shot in the neck with a cavalry pistol.
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