Authors: Brendan Powell Smith
It was signed by the acclaimed Shakespearean actor, Junius Brutus Booth, with the postscript: “You know me! Look out!” Though it was dismissed as a forgery at the time, 175 years later, scholars verified that the letter was indeed penned by the father of John Wilkes Booth.
After three years of civil war and hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides, the Union was finally gaining a clear advantage over an increasingly desperate Confederacy.
Despite the proximity of Washington, DC, to enemy lines, and the prevalence of Southern sympathizers in the capital, President Abraham Lincoln would, at times, still ride through the city unguarded and alone.
On one evening in mid-August of 1864, Lincoln was riding to his family’s summer retreat just outside the city when a rifle shot startled his horse, and Lincoln lost his hat.
The president rode the rest of the way at a fast pace, working hard to regain control of his horse, and eventually arriving by the guarded gate.
Retracing Lincoln’s route, the guard later found Lincoln’s hat, and, on inspection, discovered a bullet hole through it.
When the hat was returned to him, Lincoln asked that the matter not be made public, and added that, “I long ago made up my mind that if anybody wants to kill me, he will do it . . . It seems to me, the man who would succeed me would be just as objectionable to my enemies—if I have any.”
Son to the most famous Shakespearean actor of his day, young John Wilkes Booth carried on his family’s tradition. Three years into his acting career, at age twenty, he was proclaimed the handsomest actor on the American stage.
By 1861, at age twenty-three, Booth was starring in lead roles in theaters in New York, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis, earning $20,000 a year (equivalent to about $500,000 today), and reviewers considered him the most promising young actor in America.
Young women from the North and the South found Booth’s refined charms and dashing good looks irresistible, and he never had trouble finding female companionship.
Having grown up in a slaveholding area of Maryland, Booth made no secret of his admiration for the South when it seceded in 1861, and once wrote that he considered slavery “one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us) that God ever bestowed upon a favored nation.”