Every once and awhile, my attention is drawn back to the knives used in the assassination. The discrepancy between Powell's knife in Alias Paine
and Lincoln's Assassins
was the reason I first contacted the Surratt House Museum and JOHRC. Today, however, I decided to finally try to work out the problems I’ve had with Booth’s knife. I apologize ahead of time for the lengthy post.
Let’s look at some pictures, shall we? First off, here is Booth’s knife as displayed in Ford’s Theatre.
It’s an ornate Manson Sheffield double edged blade with an “America” motif. It’s quite a beautiful and ironic knife for an assassin.
Next, here are the two Atzerodt knives on display at Ford’s.
This large bowie knife would be the one found by detective John Lee upon his search of Atzerodt’s room at the Kirkwood. As he stated, “I then went to the bed, took up the covering piece by piece, and felt all through it to see if there was any thing in the quilt. After I got down underneath the sheets, between the sheets and the mattress, I got the bowie-knife.”
The second one is identified as the one found in the gutter after Atzerodt lost his nerve and tossed it. It was found the next morning in the gutter of F street between 8th and 9th streets. Originally spotted by a lady living in a third story room across the street, she sent out a colored woman to get it, but did not want it in the house. A Mr. William Clendenin, who was walking down F street at the time and saw the woman retrieve it, took possession of it and then turned it over to the chief of police.
The remaining knife at Ford’s is Booth’s switchblade pocketknife that was recovered on him upon his death at Garrett’s (I have a theory about this too, but that’s for another time). All of the above are pictures I took of the knives in March. Now here are some older photographs.
An undated Associated Press news photo of a collection of Booth relics.
Here we see the "America" knife (next to the bullet), Atzerodt’s “Bed” knife (above the derringer), and Atzerodt’s “Gutter” knife (to the left of the “Bed” knife). In addition, there is an unidentified knife with a sheath at the bottom of the image. This unknown knife is what caught my eye.
Here is an older photograph called Booth’s Weapons
showing some items that were recovered from Booth upon his death.
This image, along with a similar one of the conspirator’s weapons that follows later, is believed to have been commissioned by Richard Baynham Garrett during the latter part of the 1890’s to provide images for his lecture about Booth’s death. This image, along with an exact copy I have from the JOHRC, identify the knife in the sheath as the one Booth was wearing when he died.
While it’s impossible to identify the knife, the sheath that it is in, looks to be very similar to the sheath from the unidentified knife in the AP photo:
So at this point I had an 1890's photograph of a knife in sheath that said was the knife taken from Booth's body, and a very similar looking knife in a sheath from a later AP photograph.
Next, I had this image called Booth’s Dagger
Now, at the very least, this is not the same Booth knife that Ford’s has on display. This is a large, single edged blade knife with no ornate engravings. Here is where I started my digging.
At first I believed that this image of “Booth’s Dagger” was mislabeled and was actually that of Atzerodt’s “Bed” knife. They are both Rio Grande Camp knives knives and are very similar. However, looking more at them, I no longer believe this to be true. The biggest thing to notice is this defect on Atzerodt’s “Bed” knife.
When looking at the “Booth Dagger” there is no defect on the blade. Still I thought, that damage could have happened at a later time. But then I have this other Garrett image of the “Evidence Against the Lincoln Conspirators”
While the watermark covers most of the knife up, the copy I have from JOHRC identifies #3 as Atzerodt’s knife. And if I zoom in you can see the same defect in this knife:
Therefore I think it’s safe to say that the Booth’s Dagger picture is not of Atzerodt’s “Bed” knife.
Since I received no help from the images I had, I decided to go back to the testimony of people who were there. I wanted to see if anyone had described the knife that was taken from Booth when he died. I scoured Hall’s On the Way to Garrett’s Barn
and typed up every instance that Booth’s knife was mentioned. David Herold, Everton Conger, Luther B. Baker, John “Jack” Garrett, and Boston Corbett all make mention of Booth’s knife. Most are passing mention of his “bowie knife and sheath”. Baker testified at Andrew Johnson’s Impeachment proceedings that after Booth was shot, he rushed in and took the carbine and one of the revolvers, while Doherty grabbed the other revolver and knife from Booth’s belt. Aboard the Montauk the next day, Luther Baker, Everton Conger, and Davy Herold all identified a bowie knife as Booth’s. Herold went as far as saying that Booth told him he had stabbed Rathbone with that very knife.
This knife was later entered into evidence as Exhibit #28 during the Conspiracy Trial and was once again recognized by Conger as the one removed from Booth’s body (Baker was not called to testify during the initial conspiracy trail).
It should be noted that in all of the statements aboard the Montauk, the Conspiracy Trial testimonies and even Johnson’s impeachment trial in 1867, no particular description is made of Booth’s knife besides it being a bowie knife. I found this very odd considering the ornate and detailed inscriptions on the blade on display at Ford’s You’d think someone would have made a comment about such details.
Finally, at John Surratt’s Trial later in 1867, we are given this description of Booth’s knife from Everton Conger:
“Q: Will you state what articles you took from him?
A: This is the carbine he had. He had two pistols; I think they were Wheeler & Wilson’s; two revolvers, my impression is they were seven-shooting pistols, of some kind, of about six inch barrel. He had a large bowie-knife, or hunting knife, and a sheath.
Q: Do you know whose make that was?
A: No, sir; the knife has a name on it, but I do not know what it is.”
“(A bowie-knife and sheath and a compass were shown to witness, and identified by him as being taken from the body of Booth. A piece of map was also identified by witness as having been taken from Herold…”
“Q: How do you identify the knife?
A: The knife has a spot of rust on it, about two-thirds the way from the hilt to the point, right where the bevel of the knife commences at the end. It was said to be blood, but I have never thought it was myself. It is the same shape and style of knife.
Q: Have you not seen other knives like it?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Have you not seen a great many like it?
A: No, sir; only a few.
Q: You put no marks on it?
A: No. I have no means of identifying it except by the description I have given.
Q: You did not look at the name of the maker?
A: I do not know that the name of the maker is on it. I have looked at it since and noticed the words “Rio Grande camp-knife” on it. I have no means of identifying it except what I have stated, and my general recollection of the style of the knife”
Conger is identifying “Booth’s Dagger”. The “spot of rust” and the words “Rio Grande Camp Knife” are both on this blade:
While it is possible that Conger was presented with a different bowie knife and just thought it was the same he recovered from Booth, at the very least, this eliminates the “America” knife at Ford’s as being the one from Booth’s body since Conger claims that the bowie knife he was shown was the same shape and style. The “America” knife is not the same shape nor the same style as a Rio Grande Camp knife.
In summation, the “America” motif knife on display at Ford’s is not
the knife that was recovered from Booth’s body upon his death. In fact, it seems extremely likely that the "Booth's Dagger" image is of the real knife found on Booth. Furthermore, if Davy Herold is to be taken truthfully that Booth told him he stabbed Rathbone with the knife that was recovered, the "America" knife at Ford's might not have even been used by Booth during the assassination.