May 10, 2014

Barry M. Cauchon

Well, this is it. Angela Smythe has sent me the last installment of her fantastic research. It was five years in the making. Each step was shared here on this blog each year on the anniversary of John Wilkes Booth’s birth (May 10). The final piece of the puzzle is now presented here. Congratulations Angela. I’m proud of you. You are a wonderful friend and colleague and I appreciate that you allowed me to be a part of this exceptional journey.



Chasing Shadows 150 Years Old, Part II

“Conversations through the Glass”

John Wilkes Booth and the Richmond Grays

by Angela Smythe

“I think that’s John Wilkes Booth!”

I remember that moment from almost six years ago as if it was yesterday

My interest as an “armchair historian” was never in the American Civil War. I had no family history, both sides coming here long afterwards. My knowledge base was limited solely to the occasional documentary, reading (and seeing) Gone with the Wind, marveling at Bette Davis’ performance even earlier as the quintessential southern belle in Jezebel, and a glancing knowledge of what I thought were the facts, or what I had been taught were the facts about that war years ago.   A dear friend of mine, the late Dr. Moustafa Chahine, asked me one day over lunch while rehashing our shared history interests “Did I think that Mrs. Lincoln was crazy?”  I said I didn’t really know and he asked me to “Look into it and tell me what I thought.”  So I read a few books and provided my opinion.  He then asked me “Did I think Mrs. Surratt was guilty?”  Again I gave him the same response, which again prompted his earlier one of  “Well, look into and tell me what YOU think.”  In search of that answer; of course any path leads you to the Lincoln Assassination and to John Wilkes Booth.  The more I read about the historic “John Wilkes” the less he seemed to fit the image of “Booth” that I remembered from my now long ago college years.  In hoping to learn about the man behind the myth, I consulted his sister’s memoir, Asia Booth Clarke’s The Unlocked Book where I found her mention of a photograph taken of him in uniform while at Charlestown.  An armchair artist in addition to an armchair historian, this immediately got my attention – Did it still exist?

That was in the summer of 2009. Throughout a path that has lead from a troop train in Richmond in 1859 to a note written in one of Mrs. Ella Mahoney’s library books in 1937, the answer has proved to be yes.  Not only a newly discovered image of him, but of him in THE most iconic image of the American Civil War.

“Conversations through the Glass” completes the 5 year journey from thinking it to proving it.

Conversations FINAL V11

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Angela,

    As always your research is impeccable and extraordinarily well written. However, despite your excellent assessment and work on this over the years, I still do not agree with your identification. My disagreement is not due to a lack of evidence or scholarship on your part, Lord knows you’ve done far more work investigating this subject than anyone could ask. Rather, my stubborn view is based solely on the appearance of the man you identify as John Wilkes Booth. In short, he does not look like Booth to me.

    If I wanted to believe that Booth was in this series of photographs, I believe that the slightly blurry man over the shoulder of the man you say is Booth bears the strongest resemblance to Lincoln’s assassin. You identify him as Cyrus Bossieux.

    Based on the later Honor Roll image of the Richmond Grays, to my eyes the man you think is Booth looks not unlike Cyrus Bossieux:

    In the end, photographs are so subjective. Each individual sees what he or she wants to see. The only way I would be able to accept your identification would be if there was a copy of this photograph with Asia’s writing on it identifying her brother. And even then I would still probably question the identification given the discrepancies in appearance that I see. Short of that definitive piece of evidence, I will continue to believe that Booth is probably not in this photo of the Richmond Grays.

    Regardless of my view, you’ve done a tremendous amount of work to further our knowledge of Booth’s time with the Grays. For that, I sincerely thank you.


    Dave Taylor

  2. Angela,

    Congratulations on what I’m sure was a long and challenging research project. I have a master’s degree in history, and RG #1 has long been one of my favorite images. I love the youthful expressions on the men’s faces and how “alive” they feel. After reading all of your research, I believe your conclusion is correct. I just wanted to thank you for uncovering a mystery and turning an already extraordinary image into something truly amazing.

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