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    [Booth and Conspirators] Contemporary Document Copies including James Rowan O'Beirne Unsigned Autograph Document. O'Beirne was Provost Marshal of the District of Columbia; Major, 22nd Veteran Reserve Corps and had charge of the initial pursuit of John Wilkes Booth. In pencil on lined blue paper, five and one-half pages, 8" x 13", Washington, D.C., 27 December 1865. A retained draft of his claim upon the "reward for . . . Jno. Wilkes Booth, David E. Herold, & G.A. Atzerodt, the conspirators and assassins who took the life of President Lincoln & attempted the lives of the Vice President & the several secretaries." A prolix narrative, much corrected and interlineated, which cites a number of named witnesses as well as other documents. O'Beirne first recounts his activities on the murder night: "Immediately upon hearing of the melancholy assassination . . . I proceeded to the place where he was lying . . . & rendered such service as was in my power", fetching the "physician a quantity of brandy thro' which respiration was first restored to the President. I was detailed by the Secretary of War to call at his hotel for Mr. [Andrew] Johnson . . . & escort him to the death bed of President Lincoln, which duty I discharged . . . conducting him safely back alone without a guard thro a dense crowd. . . . I remained near our beloved & lamented President until his death hour & in constant proximity to Mr. Stanton . . . as I had reason to believe he was not out of danger." He notes that his thorough search of the Kirkwood House, where Vice President Johnson was staying, led to the discovery by one of his detectives of items in Atzerodt's room that "cleared up all . . . doubt" as to the "guilt of Booth, Herold & Atzerodt." On 16 April Secretary Stanton ordered him to "use all efforts for the capture of Booth & fellow assassins" and "from this hour [I] followed him . . . until he was captured by Lieut. E.P. Doherty." Among other things for which O'Beirne seeks credit (and cash), either because of his own actions or orders to subordinates, are discovery of the boat in which Booth and Herold crossed into Virginia; their involvement with Dr. Mudd and discovery of Booth's boot at his house; the arrest of John Lloyd (tenant keeper of Mary Surratt's tavern) and seizure of Booth's carbine "for which Mrs. Surratt was to call"; the arrest of Louis J. Weichmann, "an accomplice . . . whose status was subsequently changed"; and furnishing the information of Booth's whereabouts, thus leading to his capture. This information was transmitted, he notes, by Gen. Grant's chief cipher operator, S. H. Beckwith. "We indicted a telegram which he arranged in cipher. Having cut the telegraph wire & having a portable battery, the news was sent on. . . . I was the first & only one whom Mr. Beckwith had . . . met &, he gave me to understand, from whom he could obtain information." Although "eager to return at once to Virginia" O'Beirne says he waited for a response from Washington, which came in the form of orders to remain at Port Tobacco (he notes, sourly, that "having been the first pursuer of Booth" he thus had to abandon "pursuit only 10 hours previous to his capture"). He summarizes his main contributions as "developing the confraternity of the assassins"; arresting Weichmann and Lloyd, "important witnesses . . . who would not have been forthcoming . . . had they not been arrested . . . at the appropriate time"; the arrest of Mudd and gathering clues which "finally brought [him] to justice"; finding information that led to the arrest of Atzerodt; and, above all, furnishing "the information which positively led to the capture of Booth & Herold." The crux of his claim is a remark made to him by Secretary Stanton: "I was by him warmly congratulated. . . . He spoke in . . . substance as follows: 'You have done your duty nobly & you have the satisfaction of knowing that if you did not succeed in capturing Booth, it was at all events . . . the information which you gave that led to it." Slight separation at center vertical fold; near fine.

    This handwritten manuscript is accompanied by three clerical ones, in all about three and one-half pages, 8" x 12.5", which are his retained true copies of appendices that accompanied his claim. Each is annotated "official" and personally signed by Asst. Adjutant Gen. R[obert] Williams. One lists "Articles found in the room of G.A. Atzerodt at the Kirkwood House" including "coat belonging to Booth or Herold", a large heavy Colt revolver, cartridges, a Bowie knife, "bank book of J. Wilkes Booth", handkerchiefs marked "'H' for Herold" and "Mary Booth", and a franked envelope (these clues were what linked Atzerodt to the conspiracy, and by chance they put detectives on Booth's escape trail; Aterodt had been assigned to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson). The others are statements from witnesses Patrick Brennan and U.S. Marshal Robert Murray verifying Stanton's comment that O'Beirne's telegram had "truly and mainly been the means which led to the capture of Booth and Harold." This bureaucratic paperwork did in fact pay off -- O'Beirne shared in the reward monies. Age-toned with vertical folds; fine.

    Provenance: Sang; Timothy H. Bakken; George Rinsland Americana.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2008
    20th Thursday
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