Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Romantic Rivals: John Wilkes Booth and Robert Todd Lincoln

Robert Todd Lincoln
A series of events have linked John Wilkes Booth's family with Abraham Lincoln's family over the years. Not only did John's brother, Edwin Booth, save the life of Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, shortly before John assassinated Abraham Lincoln in 1865, but Robert and John also competed for the affection of a senator's daughter named Lucy Hale.

In 1862, around the same time Lucy Hale, daughter of U.S. Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire, met Robert Todd Lincoln, then a college student in Boston, she also met John Wilkes Booth, then a famous theater actor who was performing at the Boston museum.

Although Hale and Lincoln's relationship never became romantic, Lincoln reportedly had feelings for her. Coincidentally, so did Booth.

John Wilkes Booth
Shortly after their first meeting, Booth sent Hale a letter on Valentine's Day telling her “You resemble in a most remarkable degree a lady, very dear to me, now dead and your close resemblance to her surprised me the first time I saw you.” Their relationship progressed quietly, although a few select members of the Booth family knew about it, and they were secretly engaged a few years later.

Although Booth was an outspoken supporter of the Confederacy, Hale knew nothing of his plans to harm the president and the assassination came as a major shock.When Booth was killed in a stand off two weeks after the assassination, police discovered several photos of young women in Booth's pocket, including a photo of Lucy Hale.

In 1878, a Chicago newspaper discovered that Booth and Lincoln were once romantic rivals for Lucy Hale's affection and published an article suggesting this rivalry was “a new motive for Booth's action in regard to President Lincoln.” The paper later printed a denial of the story by Robert Todd Lincoln and an explanation that although he was friends with Lucy, their friendship never progressed further than that.

Lucy Hale eventually married U.S. Senator William E. Chandler and Robert Todd Lincoln married Mary Eunice Harlan.
Photo of Lucy Hale that was found on Booth's body

American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies; Michael W. Kauffman; 2005

American Heritage; They All Loved Lucy; Richard Morcom; October 1970

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Civil War Submarine H.L. Hunley Unveiled

Recovery of the H.L. Hunley in 2000
The Confederate Civil War submarine, the H.L. Hunley was completely unveiled for the first time earlier this month after a decade of repairs and restoration work on the vessel.

First raised from the ocean floor near Charleston, South Carolina in 2000, the 42 foot long submarine has been partially obscured from the public eye while undergoing its 22-million-dollar restoration at Charleston conservation laboratory at the Charleston Navy Yard.

Launched in 1863 off the coast of Charleston, the Hunley sank enemy ships during the Civil War by ramming spikes tethered to explosive charges into ship's hulls.

Designed by Horace Hunley and built in Mobile, Alabama, the Hunley is made from cast iron and wrought iron and maneuvered through the water with hand-crank propellers.

Although highly effective at destroying enemy ships, the Hunley sank at least three times during its military career, killing a total of 13 crew members, including its inventor Horace Hunley.

Drawing of the H.L. Hunley
It first sank in August of 1863 during a training exercise, killing five members of the crew. It sank a second time a few months later in October, this time killing all eight members of the crew, including Horace Hunley himself, who was steering the submarine.

After each sinking, the Confederates hauled the submarine back up to the surface, removed the bodies and planned the Hunley's next attack.

According to a recent article by Reuters, historical documents describe workers cutting bodies into pieces to remove them from the sunken submarine.

The Hunley sank for the last time shortly after it destroyed the Union ship, the Housatonic, with a 135 pound torpedo in February of 1864. It is not known exactly what caused the submarine to sink, although one theory suggests that it was rammed by the Union ship USS Canadaigua, which was on its way to rescue the Housatonic's crew. Another theory suggests the submarine did not get far enough away from the Housatonic before the charge detonated and may have sustained damage in the blast. Yet another theory suggests the crew ran out of oxygen and suffocated after attaching the explosives.

Painting of the H.L. Hunley by Chapman, circa 1863
After sinking, the Hunley remained lost until 1970. When it was finally raised in 2000, scientists had to remove 10 tons of sediment as well as skulls, bones and other human remains from the vessel.

Although innovative, the Hunley was not the world's first submarine. That title is held by the Turtle, which was a wooden-hulled submarine used in New York Harbor during the Revolutionary War. Nonetheless, the Hunley was the first submarine designed for the open ocean and built specifically for warfare.

Restoration work will continue on the submarine as scientists attempt to remove corrosion from the submarine's hull and preserve its outer skin. Although it is currently on display in a tank of fresh water to prevent rust, it will eventually be displayed in open air.


Friends of the Hunley

Reuters; Complete Civil War Submarine Unveiled for First Time; January 12 2012

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Edwin Booth Saved Robert Todd Lincoln's Life

Robert Todd Lincoln
In a strange twist of fate, Edwin Booth, the brother of John Wilkes Booth, once saved the life of Abraham Lincoln's son Robert Todd Lincoln.

In late 1864 or early 1865, Lincoln was waiting to buy a train ticket in Jersey City, New Jersey when he was accidentally pushed off the railway platform into the path of an oncoming train. He later described the incident in a letter to the editor of The Century Magazine:

The incident occurred while a group of passengers were late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance of the car. The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn. In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.
Edwin Booth

Edwin, a famous theater actor at the time, had no idea the man he saved was the president's son. A few months after the incident occurred, Robert Todd, who was serving in the Union army at the time, told his fellow officer Colonel Adam Badeau about how Booth had saved his life. Badeau happened to be friends with Booth and wrote him a letter praising his heroic behavior and thanking him for rescuing the president's son.

A few months later, when Edwin's brother assassinated Robert's father, Abraham Lincoln, Edwin took comfort in the fact that, despite what his brother did, he himself had saved the president's only living son.


Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever”; Bill O'Reilly, Martin Dugard

The Aftermath: The Booth Family & Lincoln's Assassination

John Wilkes Booth
In the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, police officials swarmed the immediate family of John Wilkes Booth. Although he had no children or wife of his own, Booth was from a large family of famous theater actors in Maryland. After the murder, the War Department believed the assassination was a part of a national conspiracy and they were determined to uncover everyone involved.

According to the book “Manhunt: the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer,” Booth's sister Asia had a manifesto written by John Wilkes Booth describing his early plan to kidnap the president. Asia claimed she never read the manifesto, which was written on a letter and enclosed in an envelope, until after the assassination. When her husband, John Sleeper Clarke, tried to protect himself from being implicated in the crime by showing the manifesto to a U.S. Marshall and allowing it to be published in the newspaper, it caught the attention of the police. Asia later described how detectives ransacked her home: “This unfortunate publication, so useless now when the scheme had failed - and it led to no fresh discoveries - brought a host of miseries, for it not only served food to newsmonger and enemies, but it directed a free band of male and female detectives to our house...My house, which was an extensive (mysteriously built, it was now called) old mansion, was searched; then, without warning, surprised by a full body of police, surrounded, and searched again. We were under hourly surveillance from outside...our letters were few, but they were opened, and no trouble taken to conceal that they had been read first.”

Detectives confiscated any personal belongings connected to John Wilkes, including photographs and family albums, Asia explained: “Everything that bore his name was given up, even the little picture of himself, hung over my babies' beds in the nursery. He had placed it there himself saying, “Remember me, babies, in your prayers.”

Edwin Booth
Police arrested Asia and her husband, believing that the possession of the manifesto implicated them in the crime. When police then discovered numerous letters between John Wilkes and his eldest brother Junius Booth Jr., he was also arrested. Clarke and Junius Booth Jr. were imprisoned for months, along with John Wilkes friend John T. Ford and his agent Matthew Canning, in Washington's Old Capital Prison. The other family members, including his brother Edwin Booth and Asia, who was pregnant at the time, were placed under house arrest, where they received piles of hate mail and death threats, according to the book “My Thoughts Be Bloody.”

Edwin responded to the hate mail by placing an ad that summer in newspapers throughout New York, Philadelphia and Boston that read: “It has pleased God to lay at the door of my afflicted family the lifeblood of our great, good, and martyred President. Prostrated to the very earth by this dreadful event, I am yet but too sensible that other mourners fill the land. To them, to you, one and all, go forth our deep, unutterable sympathy; our abhorrence and detestation for this most foul and atrocious of crimes. For my mother and sisters, for my remaining brothers and my own poor self, there is nothing to be said except that we are thus placed without any power of our own. For our present position we are not responsible. For the future – alas, I shall struggle on in my retirement bearing a heavy heart, an oppressed memory; and a wounded name.

Asia Booth Clarke
After Clarke was released from prison, he was embarrassed by his connection the Booth family and demanded a divorce, but Asia refused. In an attempt to redeem the family name and rebuke the many rumors and lies surrounding them, Asia wrote many biographies about her family, including her brother John Wilkes. Asia and her husband later moved to England, never to return to the United States.

Even after the house arrest order was lifted, most of the family were ashamed and remained in seclusion. Edwin eventually returned to the stage and resumed his acting career, receiving rave reviews for his performances, although he never mentioned Abraham Lincoln's name again and avoided Washington D.C. for the rest of his life.


Good Brother, Bad Brother: the Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth”; James Giblin

Right Or Wrong, God Judge Me: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth”; John Wilkes Booth

My Thoughts Be Bloody: the Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes”;Nora Titone, Doris Kearns Goodwin

“Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer”; James L. Swanson; 2007