Seth Kaller, Inc.

Inspired by History

Other Abraham Lincoln Offerings


Other Civil War and Reconstruction Offerings


Other Presidents and Elections Offerings


Great Report on the Hunt for Lincoln’s Assassin and Claim for Reward by Irish War Hero
Click to enlarge:
Select an image:

[LINCOLN ASSASSINATION]. James Rowan O’Beirne, Autograph Document, Claim for Reward for Capture of John Wilkes Booth, David E. Herold, and George A. Atzerodt, December 27, 1865, Washington, D.C. 6 pp., 8 x 13 in. With Handwritten Clerical Copies of Appendices to the Claim, including items found in Atzerodt’s hotel room and statements by Patrick Brennan and U.S. Marshal Robert Murray regarding the importance of O’Beirne’s telegram to the captures. Each signed by Assistant Adjutant General Robert Williams. 5 pp., 8 x 12½ in.

Inventory #26049       Price: $10,000

In mid-April 1865, James Rowan O’Beirne had been Provost Marshal of the District of Columbia for just over three months. He had overhauled the department, firing clerks and transferring officers guilty of corruption or questionable practices, in an attempt to restore public confidence in the office. As Provost Marshal, O’Beirne was also responsible for the safety of the President and his family. On April 14, 1865, he agreed to First Lady Mary Lincoln’s request to assign John Parker to guard the President’s box at Ford’s Theatre. When Parker left his post, John Wilkes Booth was able to enter the box without difficulty and assassinate the President.

O’Beirne provided brandy to the physician attending the wounded President and on the orders of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton proceeded to the Kirkwood House hotel to bring Vice President Andrew Johnson to the Petersen House, where Lincoln lay dying. After Lincoln’s death the next morning, O’Beirne returned to the Kirkwood House to search a room above the Vice President’s. There he found evidence that George Atzerodt was a conspirator with Booth and had been assigned to kill Johnson. The evidence O’Beirne found linked several of the conspirators to Booth, and Stanton ordered O’Beirne to take his detectives and hunt down the conspirators.

Over the next several days, O’Beirne and his men followed the trail of Booth and co-conspirator David E. Herold, arrested Dr. Samuel Mudd, found evidence leading to the arrest of Atzerodt, and arrested two key witnesses in the later trial of the conspirators. Most importantly, O’Beirne learned that Booth and Herold had fled across the Potomac River into Virginia. When he telegraphed this information to Stanton, the Secretary of War ordered him to remain in Maryland and sent Colonel Lafayette C. Baker and his men to pursue Booth and Herold. They found them in a tobacco barn on the farm of Richard Henry Garrett. Herold surrendered, but Booth refused, and the pursuers set the barn on fire. Sergeant Boston Corbett mortally wounded Booth in the burning barn, who died a few hours later.

On November 24, 1865, the War Department issued an order seeking a portion of the rewards had to file a claim by the end of the year. Because of the volume of claims submitted, a commission led by Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt and his assistant Edward D. Townsend considered the evidence to determine how to distribute the rewards. They issued their report in April 1866, but within a month a Congressman introduced a resolution asking the Committee of Claims to inquire into the “fairness and propriety of the distribution of rewards” for the capture of Jefferson Davis and the assassination conspirators. The Committee of Claims investigated and on July 24, 1866, issued its report.

Although Everton J. Conger of Baker’s intelligence service and the men of the 16th New York Cavalry received the majority of the glory and reward for the capture of Booth and Herold, O’Beirne did receive $2,000 for his role in the capture of Booth and the other conspirators of the $75,000 distributed. A quarter century later, O’Beirne received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Fair Oaks on May 31 and June 1, 1862.

James Rowan O’Beirne (1839-1917) was born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States with his family as an infant. They settled in New York City. After attending St. John’s College (now Fordham University), O’Beirne briefly trained as an attorney before enlisting as a private in the 7th New York militia in 1861. He later served as captain of the 37th New York Volunteer Regiment (the “Irish Rifles”). He was badly wounded in the chest, head, leg at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Rendered unfit for field service by his wounds, he requested a transfer to the Invalid Corps or Veteran Reserve Corps, in which he was commissioned a captain on July 22, 1863. He was later promoted to major, brevet lieutenant colonel, and brevet colonel. He played a critical role in the defense of Washington during the Battle of Fort Stevens in July 1864, and he led troops in pursuit of Confederate General Jubal Early’s forces as they retreated through Maryland into Virginia. For his efforts, he was appointed Provost Marshal of the District of Columbia on January 4, 1865. Acting on the instructions of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in the early hours of April 15, 1865, O’Beirne began the search for Lincoln’s assassin. When he tracked Booth to northern Virginia, O’Beirne telegraphed Stanton with the information. Stanton sent Lafayette C. Baker to complete the capture of Booth, but O’Beirne eventually received $2,000 of the reward money. In September 1865, O’Beirne was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. O’Beirne became a journalist for several newspapers and became the Washington correspondent of the New York Herald. In 1891, O’Beirne received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on May 31 and June 1, 1862, at the Battle of Fair Oaks.

Complete Transcript

                                                                        Washington D.C. Decr 27/65


            In compliance with G. O 164 dated A.G.O. Washington D.C Nov 24/65 I have the honor hereby to file my “claim with proofs” to a portion of the reward offered by the War Dept for the apprehension of Jno Wilkes Booth, David E. Harold & G. A. Atzerodt the conspirators & assassins who took the life of President Lincoln & attempted the lives of the Vice President & the several secretaries, and for information which led to their discovery & arrest.

I claimed that I performed the following part in those transactions & submit proof as hereinafter will be specified

First I developed the combination or fraternity of the Conspirators at the Kirkwood House comprehending Booth Harold, Atzerodt & coadjutors, up to which time the Country & Department were in doubt as to their identity.

This is proved as follows & by the letters of Chief Jno James NY detective force & the letter of Andrew Johnson President of the US. Immediately upon leaving the melancholy assassination of President Lincoln I proceeded to the place where he was lying near the scene of the tragedy & rendered such service as was in my power having, in the direct confusion which prevailed, brought to the President’s physician a quantity of Brandy thro which respiration was first restored to the President. I was detailed by the Secty of War to call at the Hotel for Mr Johnson, then Vice President now President of the US & Escort him to the death bed of President Lincoln, which I discharged accordingly conducting him safely back alone without a guard thro a dense crowd of people & on the street. I remained near our beloved & lamented late President until his death-hour & in constant proximity to Mr Stanton, the Honl the Sect of War, as I had reason to believe he was not out of danger  As soon as life was extinct in Mr Lincoln I applied myself at once to the task of discovery & apprehension of the assassins & immediately proceeded to tender my services & those of my Detectives to the Vice President Andrew Johnson which were accepted & I was directed to use my own judgement in <2> such steps as I deemed it proper to take. I caused a thorough inspection & search of all the premises in the Kirkwood House to be made as Vice President Johnson was stopping there then. This led to the discovery by one of my detectives of the articles named in Appendix A in the room occupied by G. A. Atzerodt, principal among which were a loaded Pistol, large Bowie Knife similar to those used by Paine & Booth, & a bank book of J Wilkes Booth.

            This event cleared up all mystery & doubt, establishing at once the Confraternity in guilt of Booth Herold & Atzerodt.

            On the 16th of April I received orders from the Honl the Secty of War (copy herewith marked no 1) relieving me temporarily from duty as Pro Mar of the District of Columbia together with my Detective Force & directing me to use all efforts for the Capture of Booth & fellow assassins. Under this I claim

2dly that I discovered the immediate whereabouts of Booth & Herold Evidence as to which was no more closely connected than one week later & brought the clues of his guilt more clearly to light & from this hour followed him in his course until he was captured by 1st Lieut E. P. Doherty 16th NY Cavy & I directed by the Secty of War to remain at Port Tobacco, having been the first pursuer of Booth in Virginia & abandoned the pursuit only 10 hours previous to his capture & in accordance with the directions of the Secty of War (see Copy of telegram certified by S. H. Beckwith late chief cipher officer of Genl Grant’s staff. In doing this I acted as follows.

            I directed Detectives Lloyd & Cottingham of my force & Lieut Alex Lovett V.R.C. who had been for some time acting under & subject to my orders with 25 Cavalry to proceed by the road via Piscatway, Surrattsville Port Tobacco & Bryantown to the river shore & to scout the neck of land & surrounding country comprised in the St. Mary’s District of Maryland. This developed the fact that Booth & his companion had taken the road to Bryantown in his flight & they were traced to Dr Mudds house. Dr Mudd was arrested by <3> an officer Lt Lovett actg under my orders & his house searched. Here the boot of Booth, the razor with which he was shaved & other articles enumerated in an invoice covered by my report sent in to the Secty of War in obedience to verbal instructions given me by him, were seized by my order in Dr Mudd’s house & he finally brought to justice & conviction thro’ these circumstances. John Lloyd of Surrattsville was also arrested by my order & by one of my Detectives Geo Cottingham. He was subsequently used as one of the most important & useful witnesses for the Govt in the Conspiracy trial. At Lloyd’s house, there was also seized by Cottingham the Carbine left behind by Booth & for which Mrs Surratt was to call as developed on the trial. In the meantime, after having caused the arrest of Louis J. Weichman an accomplice of the conspirators whose status was subsequently changed by the [? ? ?]I left Washington on the noon of the 18th of April/65 to take charge near the scene of operations of such developments as I was causing hourly to be made (see my report filed in the office of the Secty of War & the testimony (as taken on the trial) of Lieut Lovett Joshua Lloyd Geo Cottingham, Simeon Gavacan) I placed myself at once in communication with the whole of my force & the NY Detective force who were operating in Maryland in the vicinity of Bryantown & telegraphed as to Atzerodt’s whereabouts see telegs from Maj Waite. Having made certain dispositions there & scoured the swamp running from Allen’s Fresh to Bryantown, I proceeded in person to the lower neck of Maryland running from Kobb neck & White Point which I reconnoitred very carefully with a force of 6 Detectives & ten Enlisted men of the Vet Res Corps from the Command of Lieut Laverty at Chappel Point & was assisted by him as also Detective John Howey of the NY Metropolitan Police detective force. I succeeded here in developing the fact that Booth & Harold had as I supposed from the start they would worked their Course to Virginia. These discoveries at this time I claim

3rdly That I then & here discovered that Booth & Harold had crossed over in Virginia whither I at once <4> with my steam tug & the force at my command as just enumerated (see statement given Genl Wells & now doubtless in his report as also Copy of telegram herewith marked no. ) I found the boat some distance inland in which they crossed & traced them to the turnpike leading down from King George Court House to Port Conway, Port Royal &c. My men being tired out & leg weary & the coal of my tug being nearly out I resolved to repair to Maryland & left the Virginia shore at 11 oclock at night to return at Early morning & take up the pursuit of Booth which I was confident of being able to bring to a successful termination in at least 48 hours. Arrived at Chappel Point & proceeded to Port Tobacco in order to leave instructions for some of my men who had not yet retd from quarters in which I had sent them. When leaving the latter named place on my direct return to Va I met Mr S. H. Beckwith late chief Cipher operator Genl Grant’s staff, who asked me to communication with him whatever information I had in order that he might be able to convey it by telegram to the War Department which up tot his time had no positive evidence I understood him to say, as to the whereabouts of Booth. I accordingly went into a house on the road side with him & giving him all the knowledge I was possessed of on the subject, we indited a telegram which he arranged in cipher. Having [?]the telegraph wire & having a portable Battery the news was sent on & the Secty of War recd the result of my operations. I was the first & only one whom Mr Beckwith had at that time met, & he gave me to understand, from whom he could obtain information. I was about to leave him as I was impatient & eager to return at once to Virginia & so indicated when he suggested that I should wait until we heard from the War Dept. This I reluctantly consented to do & in response he said to our joint telegram, I was directed to remain at Port Tobacco & informed that I need not return to Virginia. This instruction I recd orally but nevertheless obeyed it (See copy of such instructions recd by telegram as written out by [? ?]from memory <5>

            In obedience to orders subsequently asked by me from the Secty of War, I returned to Washington after Booth & Herold had been discovered a short distance beyond where I had pursued them & reported at once in person to the Honl the Secty of War. I was by him warmly congratulated & complimented during my interview with him in the hallway of 1st floor War Depart Buld’g. He spoke in words & substance as follows: You have done your duty nobly & you have the satisfaction of knowing that if you did not succeed in capturing Booth, it was at all events & certainly the information which you gave that led to it. This was said in the presence of Mr Murray U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of New York (see his letter herewith & sworn deposition of Mr P. Breman These words are particularly & indelibly remembered by me & seemed to be the prevailing & generally accepted opinion with all the clerks whom I subsequently met in the Secty of War’s office.

            I therefore lay claim to such portion of the Govt & municipal rewards as the services which I have rendered would seem to entitle me to & take the liberty here to make a summary of the grounds upon which I feel called on to base this claim as follows

1st For the first development of the confraternity of the assassins Booth Atzerodt & Herold as made by me at the Kirkwood House & as hereinbefore set forth

2d For the arrest of Weichman & Lloyd important witnesses for the Government whose testimony insured the conviction of the parties tried & who would not have been forthcoming as witnesses had they not been arrested by me at the appropriate time

3 For the arrest of Dr Mudd who was convicted by the military commission appointed to try the conspirators <6>

4th for the information which led to the apprehension of Geo A. Atzerodt in Montgomery Co Md (see copy of telegram sent thro Maj Waite 8th Ill’s Cav’y to Secty of War or Gl. Augur.

5th For the information which positively led to the discovery & capture of Booth & Herold in Virginia (see testimony of my Detective officers covered in my report filed in the office of the Secty of War in substance as follows “Major I congratulate you & if you were not successful in capturing Booth yourself it was the information you gave which led to it.”

And finally for the collection of collateral evidence which led to the complete & positive identification of the conspirators & assassins wherever there was doubt (see reports of Detectives, see testimony of Colo Barrett & the general character of the evidence on the trial.


Appendix A.

            Articles found in the room of G. A. Atzerodt, at the Kirkwood House.

One Coat belonging to Booth or Harold.

One heavy Colt’s largest sized Revolvers.

One large Bowie Knife.

Packages of Cartridges.

One Bank book of J. Wilkes Booth.

One Pocket handkerchief marked “H” for Harold.

One    do            do                 do   Mary Booth.

One Pair Gauntlets and Spurs.

One franked Envelope, &c.

One Red Silk Handkerchief.

            True Copy of articles turned into the War Department with accompanying report.

                                                                        (sig’d) Jas R. O’Beirne.

                                                                                    Bv’t. Col., & Maj. 22’d Reg’t. V.R.C.


            R. Williams

            Assistant Adjutant General.


Appendix F.

Southern District of New York Ss.

            Robert Murray, of the City and County of New York, being duly sworn deposes and says that he is the Marshall of the United States, for the Southern District of New-York, and that he was so at the time of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, late President of the United States, and the attempted assassination of the Hon. William H Seward, Secretary of State of the United States, on the night of the 14’th of April, 1865. That he was ordered to Washington, by telegram from the Hon. Secretary of War, that he arrived in Washington on the Evening of the 15th of April and by direction of the Secretary of War, reported to Major General Augur, Commanding the Department of Washington, who directed him to report to Colonel Ingraham, Provost Marshal, Defences north of the Potomac; that he so reported, and assisted Col. Ingraham to organize a Commission for developing the theory of the Conspiracy, and brining the assassinator’s to justice, that he was so engaged for 28 days, that on or about the day following the one on which Booth was killed he was in the Hallway of the first floor of the War Department, at Washington, D.C. engaged in conservation [conversation] with the Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War, when Major James R. O’Beirne, then Provost Marshal of the District of Columbia, approached, and was spoken to by the Hon. Secretary of War in substance as follows: “Major, I congratulate you, Every officer <2> engaged in the pursuit of the Conspirators has done his duty faithfully. You have the satisfaction of knowing that if you did not succeed in capturing Booth, it was the telegram which you sent to the War Department which led to it.

                                                                        (sig’d) Robert Murray

Sworn to before me this 29’th day of Dec’r 1865.                  (U.S. Rev. Stamp 05)

                                                                        (sig’d) R. A. Stilwell / U.S. Commr.


            R. Williams

            Assistant Adjutant General.


Appendix G.

            I, Patrick Brennan, being duly sworn, doth depose and say, that at a conversation held between U.S. Marshal Murray of New York, at his office, Chambers St., N. York City and U.S. Deputy Marshal of the D.C., James R. O’Beirne, on the 27’th day of Dec’r 1865, there occurred the following remarks:

            O’Bierne asked Marshal Murray if he remembered having heard Secretary Stanton say anything about the Assassin Booth as related to him O’Beirne, to which Marshal Murray replied Yes he heard him say that all the officers who were in pursuit did their duty nobly.

            When on being further interrogated by O’Beirne, Marshal Murray was asked if he heard the Secretary of War say anything about the telegram, when Marshal Murray answered he did he heard him the Secretary of War, E. M. Stanton, say to O’Beirne it was the telegram which O’Beirne sent to the War Dep’t. that led to the capture of Booth and Herold. From this, besides other remarks made, this deponent was led to believe that it was a fixed belief with the Secretary of War and Marshal Murray, that a telegram which O’Beirne had sent to the War Department had truly and mainly been the means which led to the capture of Booth and Harold.

            And further deponent saith not.

(U.S. Revenue Stamp .05)                             Patrick Brennan         (Seal.) <2>

Sworn before me this day 28th Dec’r 1865.

                                                                        Jotham Wilson. / Commissioner of Deeds.


            R. Williams

            Assistant Adjutant General.

Add to Cart Ask About This Item Add to Favorites