Thomas Boston Corbett

Thomas “Boston” Corbett (1832 to 1894?)

Thomas “Boston” Corbett (1832 to 1894?) was born in London, England. After immigrating to the U.S. with his family, he found work as a hatter in New York City. Because of his later erratic behavior, some have speculated that the mercury fumes caused his later problems – “mad as a hatter” has some basis in fact.

Corbett enlisted as soon as the call went out in April 1861, and became a private in Co. L, 16th New York Cavalry. Captured by Mosby at Culpepper, Virginia in June 1864, he spent five months at Andersonville before being exchanged, and would later testify at the trial of Captain Henry Wirz.

Corbett’s real “claim to fame,” however, is partly the result of “luck.” It was the 16th NY that was sent to apprehend John Wilkes Booth on April 24, 1865. Two days later Corbett’s unit located Booth and Herold in a tobacco barn. Through a crack in the wall, Corbett could see Booth moving, and later testified that he thought Booth was going to shoot at others in the unit. So Corbett shot him in the neck through the crack in the wall. Booth died a few hours later, his spinal cord damaged by the bullet.

Some have claimed Booth committed suicide, or that the trigger-happy Corbett shot him without cause. The autopsy showed that the shot came from a cavalry pistol, effectively ruling out suicide. Whether Booth was a threat to the members of Corbett’s unit is another mystery that will probably be argued for another century. Corbett did have other “incidents” later that resulted in his being declared insane in 1887 and sent to the Topeka (Kansas) Asylum for the Insane. He escaped shortly after and was never seen again. Some presume he moved to a cabin near Hinckley, Minnesota and is thought to have died in the Great Hinckley Fire in 1894, but no proof of that ever emerged.

Information courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc.

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