STATE YOUR CASE (No. 3): Has He Been Hiding in Plain Sight? John Wilkes Booth and the Richmond Grays

May 10, 2010: Barry Cauchon

Subject: Has He Been Hiding in Plain Sight? John Wilkes Booth and the Richmond Grays
Author: Angela Smythe (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Proposition: To determine if several photos of the Richmond Grays, a pre-Civil War Virginia militia group, taken during the John Brown deployment, contain John Wilkes Booth. Angela Smythe has taken this subject and painstakingly researched it presenting a very viable case for you to consider. The investigation starts by examining the most likely and widely known group images taken at that time and place. Next the investigation  turns to those Richmond Grays who have been documented at Charles Town during the 1859 deployment and an assessment of the Charles Town pictures, including visual comparison to other known pictures of some of the participants. Finally, careful consideration is given to whether John Wilkes Booth could possibly be in one or more of these pictures.
NOTE: For reasons of copyright requirements, Angela’s article is hosted on a secured website. The link is listed below (see LINK TO STATE YOUR CASE (No. 3) . I encourage you to comment on her work and give honest, fair feedback for her to consider. To do so, you will need to return to this site by clicking on the link at the bottom of her article. Once back here, you can then leave your comments in the Comments section at the bottom of the page.

For the past 10 years, I have supported the earth-orbiting Atmospheric Infrared Sounder Project (AIRS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Dr. Moustafa Chahine, our Science Team Leader is often asked about his opinion on climate change based on our satellite’s measurements, and he always replies that as an objective observer, he can only be a witness and his role is not, nor should it be, that of judge, jury, prosecutor or defense counsel. It is a wonderful explanation of what true research is all about, being a witness; and that is what I have tried to accomplish with “Hiding”.  I have written what I have seen.  It is up to the jury, the readers of “Hiding”, to determine for themselves if John Wilkes Booth has been hiding in plain sight.
Has He Been Hiding in Plain Sight?
John  Wilkes  Booth and the Richmond  Grays
In  November of 1859 John Wilkes Booth accompanied the Richmond Grays during  their militia deployment to Charles Town in the aftermath of John Brown’s Raid at  Harper’s Ferry. This fact was known even in  Booth’s own lifetime.  His participation and presence have long been verified by first-hand narratives  and confirming documentation.
In The Unlocked Book, Booth’s sister Asia recounts seeing a picture of him with others dressed in their uniforms during  the 1859 Charles Town militia deployment.  A tantalizing possibility  arises, one which  begs an  important question.  Does Asia’s  picture, or any others taken of Booth during this time, still exist?
For the answer to this question… (click the link below to see the full article with supporting photographs).



DISCLAIMER: A Little Touch of History does not endorse or challenge the validity of the content presented here. The theories are published here solely for the purpose of giving aspiring researchers a place to present. I will not be taking sides or giving any personal comments publicly on their subjects. The authors have confirmed that the work is their own, and in publishing it here, take sole responsibility for any claims made.


Thank you.



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30 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is an interesting article. While I am not familiar with historical research I feel Angela Smythe makes a good case for John Wilkes Booth appearing in those photos.

    • Thank you for commenting on Angela’s paper. I agree with you that it is very well presented and she has “Stated Her Case” excellently.

      • Angela has made an excellent case. Phillip Whitlock (the smiling soldier on the right in RG1) wrote about Booth. He mentioned that they were often marching next to each other because they were the same height. Whitlock’s head is downward in the ambrotype, but it seems that he and the cadet that Angela believes to be Booth, are the same height. I think this point supports Angela’s belief.

  2. There have been some wonderful comments made on Randal Berry’s great site “ at Feel free to leave your comments here or on Randal’s site.

  3. Angela,

    You did an excellent job of researching your subject and stating your case. The only thing left to do is give an opinion.

    I feel that the very last image RG#3, CC3648 has the best chance of being Booth. My opinion is based on nothing more than my eyesight. The other photos just don’t look like him to me.

    Again, great job. You really did your homework.

    • Thank you John. I can’t thank Barry enough for giving an unknown “amateur researcher” this wonderful opportunity.

      I would love to see additional work be done both on these pictures and locating others. Hopefully “Hiding” will provide a foundation for this future work. I’ve been working with these pictures since January and interestingly, I’ve had people tell me that visually, they “see” him in each of the 3 pictures. I’ve even had people tell me that they recognize the profile in the fuzziest of the 3 images (RG#3) and I’ve had people tell me that they don’t see a resemblance at all! So the “jury” is still out. Remember that I’m only the witness. Does that mean a witness can have an opinion? Of course, but the only one that matters is the jury’s.

      Thank you and all that have posted, both here and on Randal’s site. It has been a wonderful experience. I hope someone asks questions – I am ready, willing and looking forward to furthering the dialogue.


  4. Angela,
    Congratulations on your tremendous, well-researched and fascinating study. One of the joys of history for me is achieving a feeling of “being there” at a particular time or event. Your gathering and interpretation of the descriptions and photographs of the time have given me that feeling.

    Art Loux

    • Hi Art: I must agree with you that Angela did an outstanding job on her presentation and I’m hopeful that it will serve as a guide to students and other researchers on how to properly present a subject for consideration. As I’ve told her very often, she should be very proud of efforts. I am.

  5. For all of you who read and posted comments for “Hiding” – many thanks. I thought you might like to see some documentation dating from 1956 inquiring into John Wilkes Booth’s participation at Charles Town with the Richmond Grays and the possibility of a photograph being taken. You can see I haven’t been the first one to wonder about this. Hopefully, “Hiding” might lead to additional information on this intriguing possibility.

    The letter from Harold Klein, dated May 9, 1956 was inquiring into the possibility of a photograph of the Richmond Grays, in connection with Booth. (A) The answer from Boyd B. Stutler is also attached, in 2 parts (B an C). Mr. Stutler discusses that no photograph of the John Brown hanging was permitted but does not address Mr. Klein’s specific question regarding a photograph of the Richmond Grays and Booth, but his letter provides a wealth of historical tidbits.

    The website these were taken from:The West Virginia Memory Project, is an excellent one for the John Brown Raid and aftermath and – almost ALL of their attachments are easily viewed on line!

    Hope you enjoy!


    I have also posted this topic on Randal Berry’s wonderful site at

  6. Angela:

    Very impressed with your research.

    It is hard to be sure looking at the pix online, but is the individual in RG1 not holding the same knife as RG3 out in a somewhat dramatic fashion?

    I am on the fence as to a visual match. I can’t get past the nose, which is clearly somewhat rounded and the columella (yes, had to look that up) hangs low on the portraits of Booth. Maybe the shadows simply obscure it in the pix of the Grays, but the nose of RG 1 and RG 2 looks more squarish.

  7. TP: Thank you for reading Hiding and posting your comments. I greatly appreciate the time you obviously spent in reading and reviewing the information presented.

    Taking your questions in order:

    1. Individual in RG#1 holding the knife in RG#3:
    At first glance and looking only at the low resolution images which I was allowed to post, it can appear to be the same individual. The folds of the coats in RG#1 makes it difficult to ascertain the arm and individual holding the knife. However, upon closer review of the high resolution images, it is a different individual in RG#1 and RG#3 which is holding “a” knife. RG#1 the individual holding the knife appears to be the same as the one identified in RG#3 as “Restraining Man”, his same face clearly appears in RG#2 as well.

    As for the knife itself in RG#1, it may or may not be the same one being held in RG#3; the knife’s distinctive lines visible in RG#3 are not captured in RG#1. The positions are different. Even the high resolution images do not disclose enough information to confirm if they are indeed the same knife and that is why it was not discussed in “Hiding”. Hopefully there is someone with an enhanced photographic process that can take this to the next step to investigate. There is still so much work that can be done, and hopefully will be done, on these intriguing images. “Hiding” was just the start on what I hope will be a future body of work. It is comments and questions like yours that further this process and I am very grateful for your interest.

    2. Visual Match:
    As for the visual match – Remember that the RG photographs were groupings taken by a part time photographer, “ad hoc” in flat daylight (and any woman taking a picture can tell you what that does to your face, myself included!) it makes a tremendous difference. Flat light “flattens” focus, obscures highlights and provides no shadowing . Lighting can emphasize details or obscure them. The images of Booth that we are all familiar with were posed shots of a stage star, carefully staged, by professional photographers. Again, that makes a tremendous difference. And of course, that dark curly hair is obscured by a hat in all 3 images.

    In RG#1, look at the eyes, space between the eyes. Shapes of ears also are a good indicator – from documented images of Booth, his earlobes curved forward, distinctively so – and you can see this same feature in RG#1 and in a lesser degree in RG#2. RG#2 is a far poorer image, the light and focus is worse than RG#1 but there is that distinctive curled hair flip. Also-wherever Booth was, he was always described as “the handsomest man in…”. Take a close look at the individuals in RG#1 and compare their faces with the TBD Booth in that picture. There is an symmetry to that one face that the rest do not have. That one face stands out from the crowd, very much like all of those descriptions.

    in RG#3 – what I call “my action shot” – movement blurs the facial features in the TBD Booth image but then I have still had people tell me they recognize his profile nonetheless. And as for that dramatic fashion of the pose – yes it is certainly uniquely that, isn’t it!

    I would be happy to answer any additional questions you have – please ask. Happy that “Hiding” is still providing a pebble in a pond ripple!

    Thank you again.


  8. Looking at other images google provides for Booth, there are three or four that look much more comparable to RG2 than the pic you set alongside it.

    I’m still looking for that long, round-tipped nose though!

    • Hello TP: Thank you for looking at this so closely! I am grateful to further this conversation.

      The image that was selected as the Booth comp for RG#2 was done because it most closely approximated the same facial alignment to the TBD. It also disclosed the undeniable curly hair flip shown in both images. Also the washed out “flat” quality of the photograph chosen was similar to the same quality of the RG#2 photo. There are other images of Booth but again, throughout “Hiding” I tried to use those that most closely featured similar alignment/orientation. Because there are so few images of Booth, this was indeed a challenge. His subsequent favored pose was a 3/4 length very studied star “strike a pose” shot which didn’t help me in comping the very different group outdoor shots in “Hiding”.

      I am glad that “Hiding” has intrigued you to look further and hope that others will do so as well.

      Since its May 10th publication, I have located yet another image I believe taken by Mr. Dinkle at Charles Town. The subjects do not include any comps for Booth, they are all high ranking officers, but it just goes to prove that there is so much still out there…

      Thanks again!


  9. You know, if you told me that John Pitt from the Honor Roll was RG#2, I would believe you.

    • I just replied and it apparently did not take. My apologies if this repeats:

      Thanks TP for your continued interest! Yes, Mr. Pitt was confirmed to have been one of 13 men present at Charles Town in 1859 who appear in Honor Roll. Both the low and high res images of Honor Roll confirm that he had straight hair. The TBD in RG#2 clearly shows whisps of curls. Additionally, Mr. Pitt is sporting full facial hair; moustache and beard. His age in 1860 via the census records indicates approx 36. It was common for men, once their facial hair choices were established, to retain these same features throughout adulthood. Accordingly it is likely that he would have had at least some sort of a beard during this timeframe. I will try to locate any additional information I can find on Mr. Pitt, even hopefully another image, and will gladly post whatever I find.

      Thanks again!


  10. TP: Here is some additional information I was able to locate on John Pitt. He would have been 87 when he passed in 1911. No additional picture other than what is already on line in “Honor Roll”.

    1824 – 1911; What history he lived through!


    John Pitt was a Richmond tailor with home on 24th St. between M and N streets. Born 1824 in Isle of Wight County, Virginia. Enlisted with Grays 4/19/61 (CSA vs. Militia) and transferred from 1st VA to 12th VA. AWOL late December 1861 to mid January 1862 in order to care for sick family. Discharged 8 August 1862 as being overage (draft at that time stopped at 35 years).

    Following information was provided by the Henrico Union Lodge No. 130 A.F. & A.M.
    Sandston, Virginia

    “John Pitt began his journey in Freemasonry in December 1863, and became a Master Mason on March 12, 1864. Her served as Worshipful Master of Henrico Union Lodge No. 130 A.F. & A.M., Richmond, Virginia USA from 1870-1872. Having done so makes him a “Past Master” of Henrico Union Lodge, which operates under a charter from the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Virginia. Our records indicate that he died in April 1911. “

    • Angela,
      My name is Linwood Lee Pitt, Jr. and John Pitt was my Great-great Grandfather! I have never seen a photograph of him, so it was through misty eyes that I gazed at the photograph in the article about John Wilkes Booth. Thank you and the others that have researched this event. I have been doing my own research, but have not found out as much as have you. I do know John Pitt was a Lieutenant when he was captured at Saylors Creek after the fall of Richmond and was in prison afterwards. I will continue to delve into all that is here in these stories. Thanks again for your help.
      Linwood L. Pitt

      • Hi Linwood. Angela Smythe responded but had trouble posting it here so I’ve done it for her. Enjoy. Barry

        Mr. Pitt: Barry Cauchon was kind enough to forward to me your recent posting on his blog site and I have taken the liberty to email you directly. I tried to post a reply this morning but am having trouble logging on: Here is what will be posted as soon as that difficulty is resolved:
        Mr. Pitt – Thank you for your kind comments. It is always such a pleasure and a rare privilege to hear from a family member of one of these remarkable men. You can find a direct link to John Wilkes Booth and his band of brothers, the antebellum Richmond Grays on my website at:

        Direct link:–the-richmond-grays.html

        In particular, you might want to follow the journey that your great great grandfather made to Charles Town as detailed in “Bound for Glory”.

        My husband and I have been compiling biographical information on each of the 1859 Richmond Grays and hope to have that information on line by the end of the year. I will be emailing you separately this morning documentation we have compiled on John Pitt. Some of this you may already have but hopefully one or two items will be new to you. In the meantime you can see his signature for his time served in Charles Town on the “Pay Roll of the 1859 Richmond Grays” at:

        His signature appears under that of Virginius Bossieux’s, press Zoom on the scroll bar at the bottom of the image and scroll all the way to the right.

        Please accept my kindest regards to you and your family.

        Angela Smythe

  11. This well-researched and objectively-presented article touches on not just the historical facts but also helps us question our assumptions. For example, it is reasonable to assume that the individual in the center of the dramatically-staged “Attacking Man” photo would have been the person who paid for the photograph. The fact that this is clearly a staged scene and yet there is a certain familiarity and cooperation between the men for this stunt also indicates that they appreciated the presence of the “attacking man” as a special member of their group. These commonsense notions are combined with the very thorough identification of all persons who are definitely NOT John Wilkes Booth, thereby invites the reader to focus in on a few key arguments. Rather than resorting to speculation, Ms. Smythe carefully builds up a preponderance of evidence, all the while anticipating each of my “…but…” objectives. There are no arm-waving (“It just can’t be him!”) or leap of faith arguments, rather the feeling that the reader is being treated with respect, dignity and a feeling of not being rushed to a conclusion. Rightfully so, the conclusion is simply that each person must decide for himself or herself that a solid argument has been made. In my opinion, we may never know for sure but for me the scales are definitely tipped to the “Yes” side. Well done and thanks for a wonderful sleuthing experience!

  12. I enjoyed your highly interesting piece.

    I suspect that John Carrington Mayo may be the son or grandson of Joseph Carrington Mayo (1795-1872), mayor of Richmond from 1853 until the fall of the city, April 3, 1865.

  13. Thank you Don for reading Hiding and taking the time to post your comments. I am very grateful for your interest in the material.

    FYI I am currently working on a supplement – lots of exciting new details. Hopefully this will be released in May, 2011.

    William Carrington Mayo is identified as sitter #19 from the the Museum of the Confederacy’s “Honor Roll of the Richmond Grays” circa 1870.

    William Carrington May is indeed a member of the prominent Mayo family of Richmond. He was born in Richmond on January 8, 1834, son of Edward Carrington Mayo and Adeline (Marx) Mayo. While not an expert on this important Virginian family, I believe that John Carrington Mayo, the Mayor of Richmond from 1853 to 1865 was a relation but not his father. The Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Vol. 5, (1915) and Col. John Wise of England and Virginia (1617-1695), by Jennings C. Wise, (1918) both provide detailed biographical information on him. Notably he was wounded during the war six times and was an accomplished scholar and linguist. He died in Richmond on April 12, 1900, at the age of 66.

    Interesting as far as a tie-in to Hiding; in 1870 he married the youngest daughter of Henry A. Wise – Margaretta Ellen Wise. Henry A. Wise was the Virginia governor during John Brown’s raid and subsequent trial and execution!

    Richmond was indeed a very, very small world.

    Thank you again for posting.


  14. Excellent study of the Charles Town photographs!

    My wife, Rosemary D’Adamo Jones, is the great-great granddaughter of Julian Alluisi and a first cousin once removed of WIlliam Colavita, who has the original ambrotype of RG#1. Her grandmother, Philomena Colavita D’Adamo, was a sister of Philip Colavita. Jr. and a granddaughter of Julian Alluisi. We will save and treasure your analysis as an accompaniment to a modern copy we have of the photo.

    In my own readings and research on the Civil War and family genealogy, I at some point stumbled across an account of John Wilkes Booth pleading with members of the Richmond Grays to be allowed to accompany them to Charles Town as they departed Richmond in November of 1859. As I recollect the story (haven’t been able to relocate the source), Booth was working in a theater as the Grays passed by on the way to the train station and on impulse ran out and joined the group. This story suggested that he was not a member of the unit, but was impelled by his great disdain for John Brown to tag along. Having been granted permission to travel with the Grays, who recognized the already well-known actor, Booth left with the clothes on his back and went to Charles Town for the duration of the deployment, losing his theater job in the process. On his return, Richmonders supportive of Booth’s gallant escapade pressured the theater owner to reinstate Booth in his old job.

    This story may be apocryphal. Would you have encountered it in doing your research on Booth and the question of his Charles Town presence?

    Edward Jones

    • Thank you Ed for you wonderful comment. I will let Angela know you have posted this here and I’m sure she will be in touch with you shortly.

      • Good morning Ed! I am so happy to hear from a relative of one of the men in these pictures! Julian Alluisi was an amazing man!

        Have you read both “Hiding” released May 2010 and its supplement “Out of Hiding” released May 2011? The supplement contains a biography section for the men mentioned. William Colavita very kindly provided pictures of Julian Alluisi’s personal effects which appear there and graciously allowed me to provide a picture of the original ambrotype, that little picture which has turned into the most iconic group image of this time. Still the “go to” image in use to this day! Amazing.

        The story you reference of John Wilkes Booth’s participation with the Richmond Grays to Charles Town is not apocryphal.

        Several versions of the story are documented in first hand recollections (the gold source for researchers!) and are recounted and their sources footnoted in “Hiding”. Notably, two first hand sources for this story are provided by fellow Richmond Grays Philip Whitlock (identified in the images) and Edward Morrison Alfriend (whom I believe is also in the images; I have identified him as a TBD in both Hiding and Out of Hiding) fellow Richmond Gray George W. Libby also left a narrative but I was unable to identify him in any of the images. And of course, I have copies of Booth’s actual militia pay audits!

        Upon their return to Richmond, members of the Grays were also credited in getting Booth his job back at the theater. I wish I knew if they marched down in uniform and if they were still armed. Talk about the “power of persuasion!”

        Thank you for your kind comments – they are so greatly appreciated!



  15. Angela:

    In my excitement over discovering “Out of Hiding” as I was doing some Google searching on Julian Alluisi, I overlooked the earlier piece. Thanks for sending me there. The combined work is a formidable piece of sleuthing and analysis, which I will share with other Alluisi descendants in my family. Julian Alluisi and John Wilkes Booth just a few feet apart — amazing!

    Edward Jones

  16. I seem to remember reading a period account that had Booth sccompanying the 1st Virginia to Harpers Ferry (in civilian clothes), but not actually going as an enlisted member of its ranks. Of course I’ll not be able to find that account now that I want to find it.

    • Hi Greg: Thanks for your comment. Angela Smythe has become the expert on this subject so I’ll let her know that you’ve posted. I’m sure she’ll be able to give you the info that you can’t find. I appreciate you taking the time to write as comments like yours means a lot to the authors of these articles.

  17. Hello Greg! Thank you for taking the time to read and post your comment.

    I would be extremely interested in any additional information you can remember about that account you mention. Do you know if it was a personal recollection provided to a newspaper by an eye-witness or a more “removed” article?

    When JWB arrives at the train to depart he is in civilian clothes. He acquires a uniform between the time he boards the train and arrives in Charles Town and there are multiple stories about just how he is outfitted. He was not an enlisted member of the Richmond Grays Militia Unit although he certainly knew at least some of its members and he of course, would have been known by any of them who not only saw him around town (he stood out in a crowd!) but anyone who went to the theater. Philip Whitlock in particular and Miles T. Philips (who was the theater’s boxkeeper) most easily come to mind among many.

    When the alarm bell rings summoning the militia to deploy at the
    train depot JWB was an “enthusiastic” volunteer rushing to go along with them. Historic newspaper accounts indicate that many men were prompted to do so, the rumors were rampant that an invading army of Brown’s supporters were on their way to rescue him and his fellow prisoners and many men, not enrolled members of a militia, were prompted to volunteer to “defend” Virginia. In JWB’s case, (due to the young age of Libby and Bossieux at the baggage car, his enthusiasm, his celebrity status, his personal acquaintance with enrolled members?) JWB’s volunteer services were accepted.

    Please let me know if you have any other questions or additional information to help me locate the particular article you mention.

    Again, many thanks. Both “Hiding” and its supplement “Out” are not easy or short reads!



  18. I’m pretty sure it was a memoir. I make it a point to buy and read every Confederate memoir, diary book, letter book, etc. I have nearly every one published, even the rare ones. I just don’t recall which one I read it in. However what you’ve written jives with my memory of what I read, execept I didn’t know he’d found a uniform. I remember reading something along the lines of Booth was in Richmond and some people he knew were going to the excitement in Charles Town and he jumped on the train with them for the ride. One possibllity is that the book I’m thinking of is John Sergeant Wise’s “The End of an Era” I’ll check it out.

  19. Dear Angela Smythe,
    I find your research very interesting, I have what is believed to be ether only image of Jefferson Davis taken between 1861-67
    I have been researching the photo for 12 yeRs or so, I heard you employed facial recognition in your research , hoping you could share with me who you used to do that
    Best regards,
    Scott Berube.

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