Division of reward key to Lincoln assassination

Both Lafayette Baker and his cousin Luther were not happy with the division of spoils following the execution of John Wilkes Booth. They had been expecting the lion’s share of money because the operation had been fomented by Lafayette and he initially put his cousin in charge of the detail. Lafayette initially put in a request for the entire $75,000, so imagine his surprise when he only got $3,750.

Luther’s story was that Detective Everton Conger showed up and volunteered to accompany his expedition. Since Conger was the most experienced soldier, he soon assumed the command on his own initiative, which is why he was the first man to enter the tobacco-drying shed Booth was locked inside. Afterwards, everyone acted like Conger had been in charge all along.

Conger is the one who started a small fire on the side of the structure as a diversion before entering, but eyewitnesses claim his fire had not really caught hold when a shot rang out. Luther rushed in and immediately assumed Conger had shot Booth, but Conger initially claimed Booth had shot himself. But also upset was Lieutenant Edward Doherty, ranking officer in charge of the squad, although he seemed more peeved about not being called to testify at the trial, and wrote a complaint to his Colonel concerning that staggering omission, but since he believed Conger probably shot Booth, that perspective was not part of the script nor welcome in the court room.

The first official and signed and dated report handed in to the War Department claimed Boston Corbett shot Booth while he was attempting an escape.

The division of spoils was decided by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a man now considered by many researchers as a primary suspect in Lincoln’s death. I’d suggest that after Stanton learned Baker was sending a patrol on Booth’s trail, he asked well-seasoned Detective Conger to go along, and, in great confidence, promised Conger the lion’s share of the reward money provided Booth came back dead rather than alive.

The split was contentious. A special War Department commission determined Doherty was the leader of the patrol and deserved $75,000. A committee of claims established by the U.S. House of Representatives overturned the decision and gave the largest shares—$17,500 a piece—to Lafayette Baker and Conger and reduced Doherty’s reward to $2,500.

Finally, Congress adjusted the shares. Conger received $15,000 and Doherty $5,250. Lafayette Baker’s payout was slashed to $3,750, while his cousin Luther was given $3,000. Corbett, the iQ-challenged patsy who took credit for killing Booth, got $1,653.85, the same as his 25 fellow cavalrymen. The remaining $5,000 was divided among four other investigators and soldiers involved in the manhunt.

The split probably turned both Bakers against Stanton, as Lafayette would soon be unemployed, looking for a publisher for his autobiography.