Born Thomas Patrick Corbett, Sergeant "Boston" Corbett is forever known in history as the man who shot and killed John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, in April of 1865. Less well known is the fact that Corbett lived in Camden for several years, at 308 Mechanic Street and later on Pine Street below South 4th Street, also serving as pastor of the Memorial Methodist Protestant Church on Broadway below Kaighn Avenue for a brief time.
Much has been written about Boston Corbett. Deeply religious and often described as mentally unstable, accounts by those who knew and served with the man offer a different perspective of him, at least through the mid 1860s. Probably the most accurate and personally revealing account came from Byron Berkley Johnson in his book, Abraham Lincoln and Boston Corbett, with Personal Recollection of Each, published in 1914. Corbett himself is quoted at length. This book can be read through the related links below.
After having served as a private in the 12th Regiment, New York State Militia in 1861, Boston Corbett enlisted as a Private on August 4, 1863 at the age of 31, joining Company L, 16th Cavalry Regiment New York on September 5, 1863. He was promoted to Full Corporal on September 6, 1863, soon demoted to Full Private on Feb 26, 1864. Corbett was taken prisoner at Centrevill (near Culpepper), Virginia on June 26, 1864 and sent to the notorious Andersonville camp, from which he briefly escaped. After falling ill at Andersonville, he was paroled on November 19, and after a month's recovery returned to his regiment. In the meantime, Corbett had again been promoted, this time to Full Sergeant on Oct 31, 1864.
On April 25, 1865 under the command of First Lieutenant E.P. Doherty, Sergeant Corbett was part of a detail seeking to arrest John Wilkes Booth, who had assassinated President Abraham Lincoln a few days before. Although orders had been given to take Booth alive, Sergeant Corbett shot the assassin, who died a few hours later.
Doherty's report of the incident is below, his comments about Corbett bear repeating:
I would call the attention of the commanding general to the efficiency of Sergt. Boston Corbett, Company L, Sixteenth New York Cavalry, who was untiring in his efforts to bring the murderers to justice. His soldierly qualifications have been tested before this occasion, and, in my judgment, are second to none in the service.
After his encounter with John Wilkes Booth in April of 1865, Sergeant Corbett mustered out with Company L, 16th Cavalry Regiment New York on August 17, 1865 at Washington, DC.
George Reeser Prowell's History of Camden County, New Jersey states that Boston Corbett was the second pastor of the Memorial Methodist Protestant Church on Broadway below Kaighn Avenue and was replaced in 1867. Boston Corbett remained in Camden until 1878. The 1870 Federal Census, taken August 2nd of that year, shows Boston Corbett residing in South Camden, lodging at the home of Isaac Boggs, his wife Sarah, and their 12-year old daughter Anna. Corbett's occupation is listed as "Preach Gospel." He also worked as a hatter, his pre-Civil War occupation..
An 1877 news article in the West Jersey Democrat states that Corbett was living on Pine Street below South 4th Street. He was still in town in 1878, but not for long. The City Directory for 1878 shows Rev. Boston Corbett as pastor of the Independent Methodist Church at 328 Pine Street, where he also resided. He left Camden for Cloud County, Kansas that year, where he tried his hand at farming, homesteading 80 acres, which did not turn out well.
In March of 1880 Boston Corbett was granted an invalid's pension for his Civil War service.
The G.A.R. secured Corbett a post as doorkeeper for the Kansas State Legislature. Corbett, whose sanity had been questionable before the Civil War, became unhinged one day in 1887 and fired twelve shots, fortunately none of which hit anyone. The following day, a judge declared Corbett insane and he was sent to an insane asylum. Boston Corbett escaped the following year, and after visiting a fellow ex-Andersonville prisoner, Richard Thatcher, in Kansas, was never heard from again.
Corbett's eventual fate is unknown. Sources have him dying in fires in Minnesota and Kansas, leaving the United States for Mexico, and spending his last days in Oklahoma. A number of imposters claimed to be Corbett but were all discredited in time.