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Author Topic: Was Booth a coward?  (Read 5130 times)
Rob Wick
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« on: February 01, 2012, 09:05:27 PM »

In the article I had hoped to place in North and South magazine on Everton J. Conger, which is located elsewhere on this site, I wrote the following:

“If there was anything in the assassin’s career which prompted admiration, it was his courage,” Conger said. “I was twice wounded in the Civil War, was under fire at many of the most disastrous battles and led my command right through the teeth of almost certain annihilation, yet this exhibition of sublime courage, with death lurking in every corner, was a lesson to me.” Conger suggested Booth was either a maniac or the bravest man he ever saw. “I am inclined to think that the former was nearer the exact situation with him than the latter.” Conger’s opinion wasn’t meant to signal approval for Booth’s actions. But as a man who witnessed how scores of soldiers responded to their imminent demise, he knew that as reprehensible as Booth was, acceptance of his fate was anything but cowardly.

So I'm curious...did Conger get this right? Was Booth courageous or was he a coward? I have my opinion, but I'll wait until others chime in before revealing it.

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Rob
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Randal
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« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2012, 09:15:55 PM »

Courageous, had to be, as he didn't know what the other man in the box was packing, just went ahead and did it. IMO.
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RogerM
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« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2012, 09:28:03 PM »

Didn't Booth supposedly admire John Brown for his courage to act on his convictions, even though he didn't agree with him?
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BoothBuff
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« Reply #3 on: February 01, 2012, 10:02:51 PM »

     While I don't think shooting an unarmed man in the back of the head is particularly brave, there's a lot more to this story. Booth walked into enemy territory and he was on a mission. I think he was prepared for and fully expected that he may be challenged. I'd bet if he was denied entry by a guard outside the box, whoever that may have been (should have been Parker) would have been stabbed. He said he planned only for success, so this scenario had to enter his mind. A coward runs away from danger and confrontation. Someone with courage disregards their own safety and gets the job done.
     His actions at Garrett's also show how defiant and brazen he was. While Herold was pulled, whimpering, from the barn, Booth called him a coward and still would not give up, challenging his pursuers with his ridiculous request to fight them all. Madman, drunk, egomaniac - maybe. Coward? Not in my opinion.  
« Last Edit: February 02, 2012, 06:38:41 AM by BoothBuff » Logged
rich smyth
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« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2012, 06:35:16 AM »

He had to know the risk posed to himself and the others for following his convictions. I think all of us would like to say we would run into a burning building to save someone but how many actually would? Actions speak louder than words. Crazy? Maybe. Coward? I don't think so.
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Thomas Thorne
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« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2012, 06:45:33 AM »

He certainly did a cowardly act,but he was not a coward!!!
    quite right
    Tom
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Rob Wick
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« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2012, 09:03:15 AM »

So then does everyone accept Booth's statements as to why he chose not to fight for the Confederacy? Promising his mother that he wouldn't and telling Asia he could be more effective by using his money?

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Rob
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Richard Petersen
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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2012, 11:41:54 AM »

Boothbuff covered my thought. I have wondered if Booth only wanted to kill the President, he could have taken Powell and ambushed him on the carriage ride to Ford's theater.The President would have been shot an an unknown rider would ride away in the darkness. Entering the theater, going into the box, having only a 1 shot Derringer, jumping on stage, escaping, ... so many things could have gone wrong. 
If I recall, Willie Jett asked Booth what he thought about the assassination and Booth replied something like "not much"  (Michael Kauffman mentioned this on the DVD that was made I believe in 05.
Booth 15 minutes of fame lives on and on...
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BoothBuff
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2012, 01:56:16 PM »

     So much of what Booth said is hogwash, it's tough to decipher what the truth is with him. I think if he could have enlisted as a General, he may have, but that's unreasonable. He truly did have a lust for fame. I think a lot of his actions can be attributed to his egotistical personality. I don't think enlisting as a Private and not giving the orders would have suited his personality. I tend to think he may have got a taste of this at Harper's Ferry with the Richmond Grays and that too influenced his decision.
     By April, as he wrote, he may have come to deem himself a coward. The reasons he did so will only be known to Booth, I believe. He was the target of some nasty zingers toward the end of the war. Harry Ford said to him, when he complained Lee shouldn't have given up, that at least Lee had three stars on his shoulder. Another man, who's name escapes me, said to him when Booth was arguing in April that the cause was not lost and there was time for something to be done, "What are you going to do? Play Hamlet for 101 nights?"
     I think there may be a little meat on that bone, Rob. If there was a small fear living inside Booth that prevented him from enlisting, maybe the digs from friends and family, mixed with feelings of worthlessness for not overcoming this fear, fueled by booze and rage, came to a head on April 14th.     
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JS Banning
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« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2012, 02:13:07 PM »

I don't think very much of Booth's plan if he even had one. For him to succeed what had to happen was exactly what happened. If he had been denied entry into the box, and needed to get past Forbes or whomever, I imagine that would have created quite a ruckus which would have alerted Lincoln and Rathbone that something was amiss and Booth wouldn't be able to sneak up on the President. We know that Rathbone had the courage and presence of mind to leap to his feet and grapple with Booth before he could leap to the stage. I just don't see Booth taking on and taking out Lincoln and Rathbone with a one shot derringer and knife. Also There were a lot of Army officers in that area. Didn't Booth think that at least a few of them were combat vets trained to react instantly, rather than DC desk jockeys? He might have been shot down before he even opened the door of the box. In my mind only a coward sneaks up and kills someone in front of the spouse. Even mafia hitmen have codes against that.

Joe
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Roger Norton
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« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2012, 02:20:56 PM »

Well said, Joe.

For him to succeed what had to happen was exactly what happened.

This isn't what you had in mind, but this is actually the main point of Robert Lockwood Mills' "It Didn't Happen the Way You Think." Only Mills argues it wasn't accidental that things worked out for Booth.

(Randal, please don't kill me for mentioning Mills' book -  you already know I don't agree with his theory any more than you do.)
« Last Edit: February 02, 2012, 02:45:02 PM by Roger Norton » Logged
MatthewR
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« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2012, 03:54:31 PM »

I think perhaps Booth knew how things worked and he would have little resistance making his way into the box especially being who he was.
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Randal
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« Reply #12 on: February 02, 2012, 04:48:28 PM »

I think perhaps Booth knew how things worked and he would have little resistance making his way into the box especially being who he was.

Excellent point!
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jonathan
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« Reply #13 on: February 02, 2012, 05:11:27 PM »

I think whether he was or was not a coward may come down to semantics, or maybe personal opinions and definitions. While I certainly don't think that sneaking in and shooting somebody in the back of the head is the most manly way to commit a murder, when I think of what it must have been like to actually be in that spot, it seems that it must have taken nerves of steel. I think many people may be of the opinion that it was a cowardly act, made by someone who was afraid to face the changes that were coming. But he also knew the risks involved. Had anything not gone perfectly in those first few minutes, in particular after he had pulled the trigger, he likely would have been strung up immediately. He knew this. I'm not sure a true coward could have gone through with it knowing the consequences. Yes, he probably knew he would meet little resistance getting into the box, but what if Rathbone held him up a few seconds more? What if he landed on his face when he hit the stage and couldn't get up and away as quickly. What if somebody tripped him up when he was trying to exit the theater? What if men on horses immediately chased after him? There were many situations that could have led to him being immediately captured and killed, and yet he had the nerve to go through with it anyway. By my personal definition, I'm not sure a coward could have known all of this, stood there in the vestibule, known exactly what the situation was, and still had the guts to open that door and pull the trigger. Again, I think it comes each person's definition of what a coward is.
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jonathan
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« Reply #14 on: February 02, 2012, 05:18:50 PM »

Quote
Madman, drunk, egomaniac - maybe. Coward? Not in my opinion.  

I have to agree with Joe and the rest here.  Booth a coward?  Not in my estimation.  I don't think any of the conspirators were - no, not even Atzerodt.  We've gone over that before; Ol' George had to have courage in order to run the river as he did.  Herold was somewhat fool hardy.  JWB may have been simply a glory seeker or misguided "patriot" as was Powell, but coward?  No.


Betty, interesting point about Atzerodt. I've kind of had the opinion that he didn't really have much courage, but you make a good point that he must have had. I still don't think he was ever a serious threat to kill Johnson though.
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