James W. Boyd: The Man in the Barn

James W. Boyd

James W. Boyd has been denied his place in history. It is time for a critical review of all evidence and ramifications that he might be the Man in the Barn.

James William Boyd was one of those invisible heroes in history, absolutely necessary if the story was to unfold, but now an extreme inconvenience. Not that history has not tried to get rid of him. As the supposed alias of a notorious assassin, he might have simply died with the assassin, not having lived at all. But unfortunately for the all who might wish otherwise, then or since, Boyd lived and also died. His life, as family man, soldier, and Confederate secret service agent, is recorded far too many times.

Following the death of Booth, Boyd also disappeared. This gives rise, unavoidably, to speculation that Boyd was the Man in the Barn.

The Search for James W. Boyd

Don’t look for Boyd in books. It is quite unlikely that history will ever be rewritten to admit that James W. Boyd was the Man in the Barn. The sheer number of books on the Lincoln assassination speak to that. Even if proof beyond a reasonable doubt, such as DNA, could prompt so radical a revision, a judge denied the last exhumation request in1995. (However, as proponents of Sally Hemings learned recently, not even DNA stands up in the face of a determined official story.)

Booth and Herold were supposed to have fled Washington together after the assassination, stopped at Dr. Mudd’s to set Booth’s leg, then pushed on to Garretts’ barn where Booth met his end and Herold was captured to be hung after the trial. But other names appear in the original documents not accounted for by this official story.

Dr. Mudd’s Guests

The first discrepancy, finally noticed by assassination expert Michael Kaufman, is that of Dr. Mudd’s visitors. Various members of Mudd’s household testify to the identity of his late night callers. The younger of the two, who took charge of his wounded friend, gave his name as Henson and his friend’s as Tyser. Henson was described as small, light and smooth faced, talkative—the opposite of the dark, taciturn Herold, who would already be showing a thick growth. His wounded friend may or may not have been recognized as Booth.

Mudd’s stablehand got a good look at Henson. At the trial he was asked:

Q. Look at these prisoners here, and see if you recognize any of them. Have you seen any of them before?

A. No, Sir, I do not know any of them.

Q. You never saw the one sitting there, next to the door?—the small man? [Pointing at David E. Herold]

A. No, Sir, I never saw him.

The Burning Barn

Lieutenant Edward Doherty is testifying. Herold has run out of the flames in terror, surrendering to the soldiers. With a shot, the target of the manhunt is laid low. Herold cries out:

”Who is that that has been shot in the in the barn?”

“Why,” I said “you know well who it is.”

Said he, “No, I do not; he told me his name was Boyd.”

Said I,” “It is Booth, and you know it.”

Said he, “No, I did not know that it was Booth.”

Herold was shaking with fright. Was it likely that he was stopping to make up a lie or clever enough to remember to maintain a cover story.

Herold’s Tidy Little Statement

Of course, Herold’s statement to Judge Bingham, on April 27, on the Monitor Montauk, corrects this misstatement. Several things stand out. First, remarkably, Herold’s is the only statement of all the conspirators that makes it into the official record.

Herold never actually seems to understand what he is confessing to. However, it is clear that detectives are standing around him to make sure the details are correct.He states he met Booth while coming home, rather than thundering over the bridge after him.This may fit the detectives’ plan to craft a unified tale, but it throws Herold off. Yet Booth, the wounded assassin invites Herold for a weekend jaunt in the country: “Come along, and we’ll have a gay old time.” So reads the statement.

Secondly,Herold seems to seek detectives’ affirmation at every step, as with the following passage. Herold states he left Booth alone at Bryantown for about 4 hours while he went to find the doctor. Therefore Herold never has to appear at Dr. Mudd’s and the person with Booth, who looks nothing like him, will not be a problem.The detectives believe (incorrectly, as it happens) that Booth should not have Herold “with him” at the Mudd’s.

Judge Bingham asks Herold where they were to meet up.

A. I didn’t appoint any place to meet him.

With no plans, they did remarkably well; dark, unfamiliar roads are easy to navigate on paper. By their pre-dawn reunion, Herold has “heard the news” somewhere. Booth confesses he killed the President; what’s more, Herold is wanted as his accomplice. Herold asks Booth to write him a note absolving him, but Booth insists they are in it together.

Herold also states “[Booth observed] if a man he called Ed Hansen or Hanson, I believe, belonging to Mosby’s command, and a man with him, had done their duty, they would’ve put Johnson through.” So that angle is covered too.

The Conspiracy is Wrapped Up

Herold had every right to feel he did his duty and was off the hook. If he were tried today, it is doubtful he would even be considered an accessory after the fact. However, he was hung, his entire defense consisting of less than 10 minutes.

In conclusion, most historians deny Boyd’s existence, through no fault of their own. The thoroughness with which the original record was cleansed means that those who do not consult primary sources rarely spot the inconsistencies that come out in official accounts. Boyd, the wounded soldier trying to get home, slips between cracks. Had he been at full strength, they might not have taken him.

But the question remains why he was sacrificed. Was it an accident, for the reward? Or did it have to do with Lafayette Baker and whatever the Garrett boy saw Boyd writing in his black diary as they sat in the sun on that final afternoon. An odd discord prevails, something not in sync, that the hunt was driven by the decision to hunt down Booth and Herold when it was already known that Herold was not with Booth.


  1. Garrett, Wm. “True Story of the Capture of John Wilkes Booth,” Confederate Veteran, 1921
  2. Kauffman, Michael W. “Process versus Truth in the Case of the Lincoln Conspiracy,”