Apple TV+’s ‘Manhunt’ Tracks the Search for Lincoln Assassin John Wilkes Booth

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February 9, 2024
Apple TV+'s 'Manhunt' Tracks the Search for Lincoln Assassin John Wilkes Booth

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John Wilkes Booth wasn’t originally planning to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

Booth and his allies wanted to abduct the 16th president, but the stage actor and Confederate sympathizer opted to kill Lincoln only after a number of kidnapping attempts failed and the South teetered on the edge of collapse. He was shocked to find that not everyone was elated at the murder of the president, even in the former Confederacy. Once the deed was done, the federal government immediately launched a massive search for Booth and his conspirators.

Author and Lincoln scholar James Swanson’s 2006 book, “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer”, chronicled the search for the architects of the president’s death. Now, a new limited series on Apple TV+ based on that book details the hunt for Booth from Ford’s Theatre to the Garrett Farm near Port Royal, Virginia, and dramatizes what The New York Times bestseller called “the world’s best known but least understood crimes.”

The trailer opens with John Wilkes Booth boldly declaring that he would be the most famous man in the whole world. Strangely enough, he didn’t have to shoot Lincoln to gain fame; he was already the 19th-century equivalent of a Leonardo DiCaprio or Robert DeNiro. But Booth’s career was hardly the most important thing on the actor’s mind.

Anthony Boyle (“Masters of the Air”) stars as Booth, who truly believed the war could still be won after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. He killed Lincoln on April 14, 1865, the same day he learned the president would be attending the show at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Booth infamously fled the city after the assassination, almost completely uncontested, with the help of conspirators who provided horses and accompanied him out of the city.

The same night, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Tobias Menzies, “The Crown”) launches his investigation of the assassination and the titular manhunt for Booth and anyone who might have aided his escape. Stanton reportedly wept when he saw Lincoln’s dying body, then somehow switched off his emotions and took command of the situation. Historian William Marvel believed it was Stanton’s steadiness that made starting the manhunt possible that night.

Booth, of course, did skip town immediately after shooting President Lincoln, escaping into the lesser populated areas of southern Maryland and rural Virginia, chased shortly after by Union troops and federal agents. The federals, of course, would eventually catch up to not only John Wilkes Booth, but also his co-conspirators, Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, Edmund Spangler and Mary Surratt.

Brandon Flynn and Tobias Menzies star in “Manhunt.” (Apple TV+)

Surratt, Powell, Herold and Atzerodt were all hanged for the crime. O’Laughlen died in prison while the rest were eventually pardoned and released. Booth was cornered in a barn some 12 days after the assassination. Union troops set the barn on fire and shot Booth as he moved around inside. The former actor was dragged out of the blaze and died of his wounds.

All that remains of Booth’s memory today is a small, unmarked tombstone, an understated end to the most incredible crime — and manhunt — of the 19th century. Visitors to Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery can find it by first locating the large obelisk tombstone of Booth’s father, Junius Brutus Booth. Close by, they’ll find a white stone covered in pennies, presumed to be John’s, with the one-cent pieces placed on it by visitors giving Lincoln the final word.

“Manhunt” also stars Will Harrison (“Daisy Jones & The Six”), Brandon Flynn (“13 Reasons Why”), Lovie Simone (“The Craft: Legacy”), Hamish Linklater (“The Stand”), Matt Walsh (“Veep”) and Patton Oswalt (“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”). The series will debut on Apple TV+ on March 15, 2024.

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