Twelve days after the murder of Abraham Lincoln, the largest manhunt in American history ended before dawn on April 26, 1865, in Richard Garrett’s Virginia tobacco barn. The assassin John Wilkes Booth was himself felled by a fatal shot fired by Union Sergeant Boston Corbett, while co-conspirator David Herold surrendered without resistance.
As soon as the massive pursuit for the fugitives ended, however, the quest for the mammoth reward money began. On April 20, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had offered an unprecedented $50,000 for the capture of Booth and $25,000 each for the apprehension of accomplices John Surratt Jr., who by that point had actually fled to Canada, and Herold. Broadsides sporting descriptions and photographs—perhaps the first to have ever appeared on wanted posters—of the three men had poured off the printing presses.
Hundreds submitted flimsy claims for the blood money. Serious consideration, however, was mostly confined to the egotistical Lafayette Baker, summoned by Stanton to investigate the crime, and the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment, as well as two detectives—Everton Conger and cousin Luther Baker—Baker dispatched to Virginia to track down Booth and Herold. While Lafayette Baker had placed Conger in charge of the posse, a special War Department commission instead determined that the cavalry’s Lieutenant Edward Doherty was the leader and deserving of the largest cut of the $75,000 reward—a 10 percent share similar to the traditional bounty given to ship captains who captured enemy vessels. A committee of claims established by the U.S. House of Representatives, however, 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.
Lafayette Baker’s numerous enemies, however, howled in protest. When it gave its final approval, Congress adjusted the shares of the $75,000 reward one last time. Conger received $15,000 and Doherty $5,250. Lafayette Baker’s payout was slashed to $3,750, while his cousin was given $3,000. Corbett, the man who killed the assassin, walked away with just $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.