Corbett During the Civil War
By all accounts, Corbett was reasonably proficient with his weapon and never had an issue conforming to the army’s grooming standards and dress code. His religious fervor, on the other hand, got him into lots of trouble with his colleagues and higher-ranking officers. During a parade in Franklin Square in New York, Colonel Daniel Butterfield (a future general) was irate at his men’s inability to follow formation and swore angrily at them.
Corbett fearlessly stepped forward and said: “Colonel, don’t you know you are breaking God’s Law?” Butterfield apparently didn’t care and ordered the intransigent soldier to be thrown in jail. The indefatigable Corbett responded by singing hymns as loud as he could. Butterfield sent a messenger to warn the prisoner to stop, but Corbett refused.
The colonel offered to release him in return for an apology, but Corbett said the colonel had offended God. At some stage, Corbett was court-martialled for failure to follow orders and was sentenced to death. However, his sentence was reduced, and he was discharged in August 1863. Corbett joined Company L in the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment in the same month.
He was captured by the Confederates in June 1864 and spent five months in the infamous Andersonville prison. Corbett was released as part of the prisoner exchange program in November and was treated for malnutrition, scurvy, and exposure. When he returned to the army, he was promoted to Sergeant. He also testified in the trial of Henry Wirz, the commander of Andersonville.
The Death of Booth
The North’s celebrations at the South’s surrender were short-lived because, on April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington. The War Department put a total of $100,000 on the heads of the President’s killer, John Wilkes Booth, and his suspected accomplices David C. Herold and John H. Surratt.
Booth and his accomplices were still at large 10 days after the shooting, so the government turned to the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment for help. After a day of unsuccessful searching, the group received a tip that Booth and Herold were seen heading towards a place called Bowling Green in Virginia’s Caroline County. After threatening an innkeeper who knew the whereabouts of the fugitives, the Regiment was led 12 miles to Garrett’s Farm at Port Royal.
The leader of the Regiment, Edward P. Doherty, soon learned that Booth and Herold were in the tobacco barn. Doherty ordered the men to surrender, and while Herold did so after a few hours, Booth refused. The Regiment set the barn on fire, but Booth remained steadfast in his refusal to surrender.
Details of what happened next are unclear although Corbett claims he was watching Booth intently from his vantage point and only shot him when the assassin raised his gun. Booth died from his wounds several hours later, and government officials were furious; they had wanted Booth alive so he could provide some answers. Amongst the public, however, Corbett was a hero.