Boston Corbett: The (Insane) Killer Of John Wilkes Booth

“I mean, yeah.”

Boston Corbett, when asked “like, are you crazy, or?”

boston corbett

So, let’s talk about history, shall we?  American history, naturally, because that’s the best kind, and all you “our church was made in 1103, and our beer has been brewed for a thousand years” European ninnys can hand us the beer, sure, but otherwise shut your damn mouths.  American history is great, largely because, and we can’t believe how this gets glossed over in our Social Studies books in elementary school, but it is deeply weird a lot of the time.  Like, we once had a president die because he drank a bunch of milk and ate too many cherriesDied!  A real honest-to-God Commander-in-Chief died doing an impression of someone who plays Pac Man but keeps wanting to be able to eat the ghosts.

So the point is, American history is awesome, and entertaining, and deeply, deeply weird, and we at America Fun Fact of the Day embrace that, because it means that every day we can come across something we didn’t know that suddenly becomes our new favorite fact.

For example, Boston Corbett, the man who shot and killed Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, was a self-castrated soldier driven mad by mercury poison.  Let’s talk about that motherfucker, right?  Okay then!

Boston Corbett:  The (Insane) Killer Of John Wilkes Booth

corbett 2

Boston Corbett was born Thomas P. Corbett in 1832 in London, England, at which point his parents evidently decided that Europe didn’t have enough mercury for him to casually ingest, so they might as well move to New York City, which they did seven years later.  As a child, Corbett apprenticed as a hatter, which historically might hold the record for “most harmless sounding profession that actually was incredibly unhealthy and dangerous” throughout the 19th century.  Many of you probably know this, but to those who are unaware that the term “Mad as a hatter” only exists because hatters used mercury nitrate to produce felt, and since this was the 1830’s, society’s response was to shrug and say, “You know what?  All this mercury is making hat makers hallucinate, lose their memory, and go crazy…let’s keep having them use it, but we can address the situation by making a little colloquial joke about how they so crazy.”

Needless to say, Corbett, who spent much of his childhood working with, you know, fucking mercury not surprisingly ended up being kind of crazy for the rest of his life.  When he grew up, he married (hey there, single readers, if there’s hope for crazy mercury poisoned Brits, there’s hope for you!) only to have his wife and child die in childbirth (oh, never mind, the past was horrific, hug a loved one).

He began drinking, because this is America and that’s how we bury our problems, moved to Boston, which we’re pretty sure we just addressed in our last point, and become homeless, because you should have expected this article to be dark considering it’s about a guy who became famous for killing a dude.  He eventually sobered up, turning to the church with all the zeal that you’d expect from a recently Baptized mentally-damaged alcoholic homeless person.  He changed his name to Boston, in honor of the city where he was converted, where he became known as the “Glory to God man” among his congregation due to his, well, enthusiasm.  Oh, he also grew out his hair in an attempt to look more like Jesus, so whoever had “Jesus complex” along with “family tragedy”, “occupational poisoning” and “homelessness” on their “scary wacko nut job” Bingo cards, come on down and claim your prize.

bingo card

It’s like regular Bingo, only slightly fewer mentally fragile people are playing it.

In 1857, much like that one friend of yours in that relationship you loathed but who kept coming back to their ex, Corbett took another hatter job while working as a street preacher, where he fast became known as “one of those guys, you know, the guy with the church stuff who’s always shouting.”  A year later, he was heading back from a church meeting where two prostitutes approached him asking for a “date.”  We can’t say for sure if the term “two for one” was thrown around, but we can assure you that of the dozens of ways you expected that story to end, even the ones you’re scared to say out loud because they’re awful, you’re wrong.  Horribly, horribly wrong.

No, this Dear Penthouse letter ended about the worst way it possibly could—the encounter freaked him out so much he went home, read the bible, happened to stumble across the worst passage to stumble across (“there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake, no wait dude, we didn’t mean it like that ohh noooo” from the Gospel of Matthew) and…yeah, in order to avoid sexual temptation, he castrated himself with a pair of scissors (we’ll pause for a bit to allow for the men reading this to cringe appropriately), ate a meal, and went to a prayer meeting before finally seeking medical attention.  We didn’t say dude wasn’t hardcore, just that he was fucking nuts.


We mean “fucking nuts” figuratively.  Because clearly, in literal terms, he had NO fucking nuts.

The newly genital-less Boston Corbett went about his life for the next few years before joining the New York Militia in April 1861, where he quickly got in trouble due to his eccentric behavior.  We’re frankly shocked that the bible-thumping mercury-addled self-castrating former homeless person did not make for an ideal soldier, but sure enough he was grossly insubordinate, going against any orders he felt were in violation of God’s word, and would verbally reprimand officers for using profanity (unaware of the fact that telling an American military officer not to swear is like not being able to finish this analogy because the person who just asked that got slapped on the back of the head for being such a fucking asshole).  The problem was so bad that he eventually was court-martialed and sentenced to be shot.  Now, that admittedly was a bit of an overreaction, but luckily his sentence was eventually reduced, and he was instead discharged in 1863.

For whatever reason, less than a month after his discharge, he was able to re-enlist as a private in a New York Cavalry Regiment, since we suppose our recruitment policy at the time consisted of “eh, fuck it.”  This time around, he managed to avoid having his own superior threaten to kill him, but did not manage to avoid getting captured by the Confederates

Now, we shouldn’t gloss over this particular part of Corbett’s life, because for being someone who literally got sentenced to death for being an asshole to his officers, Corbett’s particular brand of crazy made him kind of a badass soldier.  Apparently, when his company was overrun by John S. Mosby’s troops, everyone surrendered immediately except for Corbett, who fired 12 shots from his rifle and emptied his pistol, only stopping his resistance when he ran out of ammo.  Mosby was actually so impressed by this display that he told his troops to hold fire (basically treating him like the parents of a hyperactive kid.  “Don’t worry, he’ll run out of ammo and be ready for a nap after.”) and personally accepted his surrender.

hanks saving private ryan

Artist’s rendition.

Unfortunately for Corbett, he was sent to Andersonville prison in Georgia for five months, which basically was the Carrot Top of prison camps, assuming that instead of being just a shitty comedian, Carrot Top was also responsible for about 13,000 people dying in shitty conditions.  Corbett was one of two people in his regimen, out of thirteen captured Union soldiers, to survive, and even then, it was just barely.  He ended up being released in a prisoner exchange, where he was immediately treated for scurvy, malnutrition, and exposure by a doctor who probably said, “Oh my God, they cut off your dick too!?  The monsters!” before being told that was a pre-existing condition.

After spending three weeks in the hospital recovering, Corbett returned to his unit, where he stayed through the end of the war until he was called to action on April 15th, 1865 to deal with a little issue of one of America’s most beloved presidents got shot in the fucking head midway through a play.  He didn’t know Lincoln had been shot until arriving in Washington to see the flag at half-mast.  His regiment rode in the funeral procession on April 19th and, when Booth was spotted five days later, they were then sent to apprehend the assassin.  Two days later, Corbett and his regiment surrounded John Wilkes Booth and David Herold, his accomplice.  When Herold surrendered, Booth refused to leave, even with the barn he was hiding out in being set on fire.

While Booth was public enemy number one at this point, the orders for Corbett and his crew were simple—bring him in, alive.  “Do not kill the fucker, we can’t stress this enough, do not kill the fucker” is how we’d like to imagine the official order went.

keep calm

Yes, we hate this overused meme as much as you, but here we are.

Now, as you likely assumed, Corbett absolutely ignored this order.  He ignored the everloving shit out of it.  So when he positioned himself near a large crack in the barn wall, and spotted Booth, he shot the fucker.  Officially, he claimed that he saw Booth aiming a gun at him, but then again he also made a lot of noise about God telling him to get vengeance, so who really knows.  All that is certain is that he shot Booth right in the back of the head—almost the exact spot where Lincoln was shot—and when Lt. Colonel Everton Conger, the officer in charge, asked who had shot Booth, Corbett admitted his blame, saying, “Providence directed me” and he was sent to be court-marshalled for disobeying orders.

He admitted that he disobeyed orders during questioning, but insisted that he thought Booth aimed to shoot his way out.  Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War who issued the order to capture Booth alive, responded with a shrug saying, “The rebel is dead.  The patriot lives; he has spared the country expense, continued excitement and trouble.  Discharge the patriot.”  Or, basically, “Eh, fuck it, less paperwork for me, let the guy go.”  He was released to a cheering crowd and was made into a bit of a celebrity.  He also was able to get a portion of the reward money offered for Booth’s capture, though it amounted to $1,653.84 out of the offered $100,000, which is honestly some bullshit.

corbett 3

“We can also give you buttons, Mr. Corbett.  Buttons to thank you for your service.”

Um…okay, thanks?

Corbett was discharged a few months later, where he went back to work as a hatter, possibly in the hopes to make himself crazier.  When the hatting business began to dry up (possibly because poisoning your employees is not a viable business policy outside of those Walmarts that take out life insurance policies) he had a hard time holding onto a job (refer to: crazy), and he traveled from town to town, bouncing between Danbury, Connecticut, Caldwell, Ohio, and Topeka, Kansas.  He’d give sermons, and largely supported himself by speaking at various meetings as Booth’s killer, growing increasingly paranoid that organizations planning to avenge Booth’s death were coming after him.  Let’s just say that “and then Corbett grew suspicious at the stranger or friend he was talking to, and started to brandish his pistol at them” was not an uncommon statement.

By 1887, Corbett, who was working as the assistant doorkeeper of the Kansas City House of Representatives, wiped out his gun and chased house members out of the building, because he thought he was being discriminated against and was also mad from years of mercury poisoning.  He was arrested and sentenced to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane, where he stayed for a year before deciding that it wasn’t really for him.

topeka mental institute

Seriously, they were just asking for him to escape.

On May 26th, 1888, a friend of the superintendent’s son visited the asylum, leaving his pony tied to a post, which Corbett promptly stole the shit out of.  He rode the pony 75 miles before leaving it at Neodesha, Kansas, and sending a letter to the Asylum telling them where to pick up their damn horse.  He spent a few days with Richard Thatcher, a former soldier he met while at Andersonville, before telling Thatcher that he was going to Mexico and riding out into the night, where he was never seen again.  It’s assumed that he built a cabin in the forest by Hinkley, Minnesota, before perishing in the Great Hinkley Fire in 1894 at the age of 62, since a “Thomas Corbett” was listed as a victim of that fire, but there were numerous reports of his whereabouts over the ensuing twenty years, including a medicine salesman who got arrested for pretending to be Corbett to collect his pension in 1900.

Now, Corbett is remembered as, well, someone that not a lot of people really know about, but to those who do, he’s known as the crazy guy who killed John Wilkes Booth and cut off his penis.  That’s not the kind of thing that people necessarily make monuments of, which is why the monument that was made for Corbett is kind of hilarious—a Boy Scout Troop put it up in 1958, or “roughly the centennial of Corbett’s rendezvous with the scissors” and had two six-shooters mortared into it that have since been stolen.  Who steals a gun from a monument?  The kind of people who’d make the trip to Concordia, Kansas to see a monument for Boston Corbett, we guess.

But at the end of the day, Corbett was a true American hero, and legitimate badass, who took to his adoptive country about as strongly as he did to his adoptive religion, though America at least had the decency not to try to lop off any parts of him.  So we at America Fun Fact of the Day salute you, Boston Corbett, you dickless crazy son of a bitch.


2 responses to “Boston Corbett: The (Insane) Killer Of John Wilkes Booth

  1. detroit wheel

    castration is not removing penis you stupid mfer

  2. Thomas F. Corbett

    Great, well written story! I just hope he’s not my ancestor. We already have a few crazies in the family. My family came from County Mayo in the late 1890’s. My Grandfathers name was Thomas and my Grandmother was Bridget Ward. Thomas died in the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 at age 43. Bridget died at 49 in 1926. They lived in Johnstown, NY, where I grew up. If you can connect us to Boston, that would be interesting!

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