Boston Corbett: The Man Who Killed Abraham Lincoln's Assassin

By | August 24, 2016

English-born Boston Corbett was the Union Army soldier who shot and killed John Wilkes Booth.


Photo: Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As a teen, Corbett was exposed to mercury fumes, believed to have led to hallucinations and psychosis. After his young wife died during child birth, along with their child, Corbett turned to Methodist religious extremism and changed his name to "Boston."

In 1858, after running into some particularly memorable characters (prostitutes mostly) on the street, Corbett read the Gospel of Matthew's "And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee." Feeling enlightened, he proceeded on castrating himself with a pair of scissors. Afterward, he had his dinner and went to church before finally deciding he should probably find a doctor.

Later, as a soldier, Boston Corbett would defy orders to capture John Wilkes Booth alive, firing when he saw him reach for his gun. Smart move, in my opinion. Coincidentally, Booth was hit in almost the same spot as he shot Abraham Lincoln, and his spinal cord was severed.

After becoming an American hero, Corbett later lived a paranoid and erratic life, eventually going into hiding. He was presumed dead in 1894.