How John Wilkes Booth Escaped After Lincoln’s Assassination
10 mins read

How John Wilkes Booth Escaped After Lincoln’s Assassination


  • John Wilkes Booth narrowly escapes Washington due to lucky breaks, including fooling a guard at a closed bridge.
  • Dr. Samuel Mudd assists Booth post-assassination, while a free black man guides Booth on his journey south.
  • Stanton fears a Confederate conspiracy in Lincoln’s assassination, and Lafayette Baker makes headway in the investigation.



Warning! This article contains major spoilers for Manhunt episodes 1 and 2.Apple TV+’s latest high-profile show is the historical drama miniseries Manhunt, which chronicles the hunt for John Wilkes Booth after his assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Based loosely upon James L. Swanson’s book of the same name, the seven-episode miniseries follows characters on both sides of the hunt, including the conspirators who helped Booth escape Washington and flee South along with the men and women who played a role in his eventual capture and death. The series stars Anthony Boyle as John Wilkes Booth, Tobias Menzies as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and Hamish Linklater as Abraham Lincoln.

While the story of Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theater is familiar to most Americans, the story of the 12-day manhunt to find his killer is less well-known. The first two episodes of Manhunt deal with the immediate lead-up to the assassination, as well as Booth’s brazen escape from Washington, D.C. The show utilizes flashbacks to provide insight into the days and months leading up to the assassination, and as Booth’s attempted journey to the South unfolds, the show will continue to highlight some of the key events that motivated Booth’s heinous murder.

Booth Got Lucky And Escaped Washington

Booth would never have made it over the bridge if not for a guard recognizing him.

John Wilkes Booth talks his way over the bridge out of Washington in Manhunt

A lot of things had to go exactly right for John Wilkes Booth to escape Washington after murdering the president in a crowded theater. He had to get out of Lincoln’s box, not get caught in the theater, have his horse still waiting outside, and then he needed not to be caught on the way out of the city. As seen in Manhunt episode 1, the only real hiccup in that plan came when Booth broke his leg jumping onto the stage out of Lincoln’s box.

John Wilkes Booth is played by Anthony Boyle, who currently stars in another Apple TV+ prestige drama,
Masters of the Air
, as Lt. Harry Crosby.

The other key moment came when Booth was attempting to cross a closed bridge out of the city. In a memorable scene, he is stopped by the bridge’s sentry who is enforcing a curfew. In Manhunt, Booth manages to get past by lying about why he needed to cross, and the sentry luckily recognized him as a beloved actor. Starstruck and unaware of the assassination, the sentry allows Booth to pass despite the bridge being closed. It’s unknown how the real conversation went, Booth did in fact talk his way over the bridge to escape Washington and begin the chase.

Why Dr. Samuel Mudd Treated And Sheltered John Wilkes Booth and David Herold

The doctor assisted Booth directly after the assassination.

John Wilkes Booth is treated by Dr. Samuel Mudd as David Herold looks on in Manhunt

30 miles outside of Washington, D.C., Booth and Herold stop at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, in Maryland. Mudd, who knew about Booth and what his intentions were. The real Samuel Mudd was a Confederate sympathizer and suspected co-conspirator in Booth’s plotting, and while his actual role is unknown, Manhunt makes it clear that he was heavily involved. While Booth is there, he is identified by Mudd’s former slave (now technically an employee) Mary Simms, although she holds her tongue when Mudd is first questioned by authorities.

A Free Black Man Guided Booth On His Journey South

Booth and David Herold paid Oswell Swann to guide them to safety without revealing their identities.

Roger Payano as Oswell Swann in Manhunt

As Booth and Herold leave Mudd’s house, the doctor tears a page out of a book of Mary’s that shows a secret path across the Mason-Dixon line (presumably the Underground Railroad or something similar). At the recommendation of Mudd, Booth and Herold make their way to the home of Oswell Swann, a free black man who can guide them on a safe path to Rich Hill, where they will meet a man who can get them further South. Manhunt episode 2 ends with Booth continuing his journey with Swann as his guide.

Two Of Booth’s Co-Conspirators Are Captured

Both Mary Surratt and Lewis Powell are captured but refuse to give up any information.

Mary Suratt is questioned by Thomas Eckert and Edwin Stanton in Manhunt

Mary Suratt, the owner of the boardinghouse in which Booth was staying and preparing for the assassination, is arrested and interrogated by Thomas Eckert and Edwin Stanton after her potential involvement with Booth is revealed by an officer who stayed with her. Lewis Powell, the co-conspirator who attempted to murder Secretary of State William H. Seward, returned to the Surratt boardinghouse and was also arrested. Neither gave up any further information on Booth or the larger conspiracy, which leads Stanton back to the boardinghouse.

Manhunt Episode Release Schedule


Release Date

Episode 1: “Pilot”


Episode 2: “Post Mortem”


Episode 3: “Let the Sheep Flee”


Episode 4: “The Secret Line”


Episode 5: “A Man of Destiny”


Episode 6: “Useless”


Episode 7: “The Final Act”


Stanton Fears A Confederate Conspiracy

If Booth had Confederate backing, it could lead to a rekindling of Civil War hostilities.

An underlying issue in both episodes is Edwin Stanton’s suspicions of a Confederate conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln. Booth’s ties to a bank in Montreal notorious for Confederate activity, along with evidence discovered in the Surrattsville Tavern inspection linking Mary’s son, John Suratt, Jr., to Confederate president Jefferson Davis, indicate that Booth may not have been acting alone. If Booth had the full support of the Confederacy, it could reopen the violent floodgates of the Civil War. Stanton’s investigation into this potential conspiracy will certainly loom over the rest of Manhunt.

Secretary Of War Edwin Stanton Is A Target

A potential assassin gets on the roof of Stanton’s home and leaves a footprint.

Tobias Menzies as Edwin Stanton matches a shoe to a footprint in Manhunt

During the course of Stanton’s early investigation, his son reveals that John Suratt, Jr. himself applied to be a courier for Stanton, most assuredly in an effort to get close to the Secretary of War to make an attempt on his life. That night, a man is spotted on the roof of Stanton’s home, but he escapes while leaving behind a footprint. Stanton is able to match Suratt, Jr.’s boot size (from his courier application) to the footprint, pointing to Suratt, Jr. as the potential assassin. It’s made clear that although Lincoln is already dead, Stanton is far from safe.

Lafayette Baker Is On Booth’s Trail

The controversial investigator made immediate headway.

Patton Oswalt consults with his cousin as Lafayette Baker in Manhunt

A controversial investigator of questionable motivation and ethics, Lafayette Baker, is placed in charge of the hunt for Booth by Stanton. He immediately reveals that he intends to partake in the reward money by hiring his own cousin to the task. More importantly, he further stokes Stanton’s fear of a Confederate conspiracy by noting that a massive reward combined with Booth’s fame means somebody should have spotted him already.

Baker posits that it’s worth looking into Vice President Andrew Johnson’s involvement, as he had the most to immediately gain from Lincoln’s death.

Baker tells Stanton that the only logical solution is that Booth is being sheltered by the Confederate Secret Service, and that it’s only natural to question if they were the ones who set up the assassination. He also reveals a connection between Booth and several Wall Street big wigs, implying that they could also be behind the assassination. Finally, he posits that it’s worth looking into Vice President Andrew Johnson’s involvement, as he had the most to immediately gain from Lincoln’s death. Baker’s true motivations remain murky, but he will certainly play a large role in the ongoing chase.

Lincoln’s Body Was Sent On A “Funeral Train”

He was mourned by thousands as he journeyed to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois to rest.

After her husband’s death, Stanton discusses Lincoln’s final resting place with Mary Todd Lincoln. His first suggestion was to bury him at Arlington Cemetery, which was only just being built at the time of the assassination. Mary Todd refuses that on the grounds that Lincoln wasn’t a soldier, although Stanton posits that he was the Commander-In-Chief. His son comes up with an idea that both Mary Todd and Stanton embrace: putting Lincoln’s body on a train bound for his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, and conducting a whistle-stop tour on its way there.

Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train passed through over 400 towns and cities, and over 1 million people viewed Lincoln’s corpse when it was displayed for mourners.

Lincoln’s whistle-stop tour was an important factor in the days following the assassination, as it served multiple purposes. The funeral train would keep Booth out of the news, while simultaneously giving millions the chance to mourn the president and keep his vision for the Union alive in the minds of the public. It’s unclear how much more will be seen of the funeral train, but Lincoln’s final journey acts as a parallel to John Wilkes Booth’s journey to escape to the South, which will be the main focus of Manhunt.

Manhunt TV Show Poster Showing a Man Running after John Wilkes Booth in the Silhouette of Abraham Lincoln

Manhunt (2024)

Mahunt is an AppleTV+ mini-series focusing on the hunt for John Wilkes Booth after he assassinates Abraham Lincoln. Anthony Boyle stars as John Wilkes Booth alongside Tobias Menzies, Lovie Simone, and Will Harrison in the series created by Monica Beletsky.

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