In keeping with the celebratory President’s day coming up next monday, I thought I would give you all a bit of history. Our new president seems set on making himself the next Abraham Lincoln. His life story does parallel our sixteenth president in many ways.
1. he gives great speeches
2. he’s a lawyer
3. he won the war between the red and the blue states
4. his face is on just about everything you can imagine.
What he doesn’t have is a beard, a top hat, and an assassin.
Abraham Lincoln, as you’ve probably heard, was shot at the Ford Theatre by a man named John Wilkes Booth, (obviously a very dramatic & temperamental actor). What you probably don’t know, unless you’re a history buff, is the name of the Union Army soldier who shot Booth. He never gets any attention.
Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett was born in London, England, but his family immigrated to America in 1839. Thomas took on the trade of a hatter in Troy, New York. Yes, a hatter was a maker or seller of hats. Sounds like a great career move, right? Well, the term, “mad as a hatter” wasn’t pulled out of thin air. Some say the mercury used in the making of felt could be absorbed through the skin and cause Korsakoff’s syndrome.
Corbett was married for a short while but his wife died in childbirth, and after her death, he moved to Boston, Massachusetts. There he became a born again evangelical Christian and changed his name to “Boston” because he wanted to reform his whole life. Apparently his given name had negative connotations, such as “doubting Thomas”. The newly named Boston was also the first Jesus freak. He decided to grow his hair long in imitation of the Lord.
In July of 1858 he must have been having some real problems with lust, because in order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes he decided to castrate himself with a pair of scissors. (That is taking the Bible verse “if _____ offends thee, cut it off” way too literally) Now such an act would probably fell the best of men, but Boston had a will of iron and a lack of nerve endings. He went out for a meal and a prayer meeting, and then took a walk before coming to the conclusion that he should see a doctor. He ended up at Massachusetts General Hospital.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, he eagerly joined the Union and actually reenlisted three times. He was a Sergeant in the 16th New York Cavalry and was captured by the Confederates in 1864, and held at Andersonville prison until an exchange was made and he was returned to his unit.
On April 24th, 1865, he was selected with 25 other cavalrymen from his unit to pursue the assassin John Wilkes Booth. After cornering Booth and his accomplice David Herold, in a tobacco barn on a Virginia farm, the soldiers set the barn on fire to force them out. Herold surrendered, but Booth didn’t budge. Boston Corbett was known as a sharpshooter; he aimed through a crack in the barn wall and shot Booth in the neck. Since the soldiers had been ordered to take the man alive, it didn’t go over well at first. Boston stated that he saw Booth raise his pistol after being told to surrender and point it at their commander, so he shot. Other eyewitnesses disagreed, but the American people wanted justice and Secretary of Justice Stanton said, “The rebel is dead. The patriot lives.” And Corbett received his share of the reward money. Later when asked why he really shot Booth, Boston Corbett replied, “God Almighty directed me.” Could have been the mercury talking, but I don’t know.
He returned to being a hatter. Probably not a wise idea but its what he knew. In 1875 he attended a soldier’s reunion in Ohio. Like most reunions it was filled with jerks and pompous windbags trying to appear more important and successful than the next guy. Several men joked that Corbett didn’t really kill Booth, and Boston Corbett drew his weapon and pointed it in their faces as though to say, make my day. There is no record of him actually shooting any of them, so I guess they backed down.
He moved to Kansas and lived in a dugout, keeping to himself except on rare occasions when he happened into town. One Sunday he saw some boys playing baseball and being a very religious mad hatter, he pulled his .38 and waved it in the air, putting an immediate end to the game. The sheriff came to tell him he was to stand trial for threatening youngsters. He dismissed the sheriff with the barrel of his gun, but still showed up for trial because the Lord told him to. In the middle of the hearing, he yelled, “I’ve fallen in with a den of liars!” and dismissed the meeting with another wave of his gun.
Corbett’s friends offered him a job as assistant doorkeeper of the Kansas Legislature and he became a sort of tourist attraction at the state house. After another incident of threatening folks with his trusty sidearm, he was judged to be insane and sent to the State Asylum. Not one to let things happen to him without a fight, he stole a pony and made his getaway. He stayed with a friend for a short while and then took off bound for Mexico.
The funny thing is, Boston Corbett ended up in Hinkley, Minnesota. Or at least that is one of the rumors. No one really knows for sure, but after the Great fire that took place there on September 1, 1894, his name was on the list of the dead and missing. Not only was he mad as a hatter, he had a terrible sense of direction.
Well, there you have it. The history of another great American hero.
Happy unBirthday President Lincoln. I’m sure you’d be proud to know your image is being put on the penny once again, while your reincarnation, President Obama, prints his on a pile of thousand dollar bills two miles high and pushes it down the government’s rabbit hole.