John Wilkes Booth’s Diary

Booth’s escape journal offers an unparalleled window into the assassin’s mind. Into this pocket date book, Booth inscribed for all time his deepest emotions. He justifies Lincoln’s murder: “Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment.” He loses hope: “After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and last night being chased by gun boats  . . . with every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair.” But he will not give up, and rallies his spirits: “I think I have done well, though I am abandoned, with the Curse of Cain upon me . . .To night I try to escape these blood hounds once more.” His plight as an injured, hunted man has not robbed him of his characteristic vanity: “I have too great a soul to die like a criminal  . . . spare me that and let me die bravely.” And then, the final entry, quoting the villain Macbeth: “‘I must fight the course.’ Tis all that’s left me.” He does not know it when he writes those words, but John Wilkes Booth has five days to live.

James L. Swanson is the author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln’s Killer.