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"The Last Shot"

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Heitland, Jon E. (American playwright, attorney, writer, 1952-____), “The Last Shot,”

a 20-minute drama in English, set in the interior of a barn near Richard Garrett’s house, south of the Rappahannock River near Port Royal, Virginia, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 26, 1865,


; • © 2002 by Jon E. Heitland; • in Jon E. Heitland’s The Last Shot (Iowa Falls, Iowa, U.S.A.: Author, 2002); • script/rights available from Jon E. Heitland, 11140 Maplehurst Drive, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126, U.S.A., e-mail HeitlandJo@aol.com, telephone (home) 641 648 5460, (work) 515 242 5041, fax 641 648 9162. • Cited by Jon E. Heitland via ftp May 17, 2002; Heitland says,

§ Dramatis Personae John Wilkes Booth (m), 27, actor, assassin; Farmer (m), 47, young Garrett, Booth’s captive, one of the sons of the farm owner, Old Mr. Garrett; Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty (m), 25, Booth’s captor.

§ Synopsis “An injured man seeks refuge in an old barn. The farmer who owns the barn discovers him and tries to help him get medical help. But the arrival of a Union cavalry officer searching for the man forces John Wilkes Booth to keep the farmer in the barn overnight at gunpoint. As they await the dawn, the farmer, who lost a son at Chancellorsville, questions Booth about why he shot Lincoln, and the two men debate the assassination, the Southern cause, and the war. The cavalry officer returns, Booth is shot and with his dying words realizes that he has hurt, not helped, the South for which he thought he had acted.

§ Comment “Simple to produce, one continuous scene. Required props include some bales of hay or straw, two pistols, and a pitchfork. A Union Cavalry uniform or facsimile helps. Required sound effects include a gunshot and horses’ hooves. Optional flickering orange light could simulate the barn being set on fire. • Premiered at Living History Farms, Urbandale, Iowa, U.S.A., May 10 and 11, 2002. ” • Edward P. Doherty’s account states, “I dismounted, and knocked loudly at the front door. Old Mr. Garrett came out. I seized him, and asked him where the men were who had gone to the woods when the cavalry passed the previous afternoon. While I was speaking with him some of the men had entered the house to search it. Soon one of the soldiers sang out, ‘O Lieutenant! I have a man here I found in the corn-crib.’ It was young Garrett, and I demanded the whereabouts of the fugitives. He replied, ‘In the barn.’ Leaving a few men around the house, we proceeded in the direction of the barn, which we surrounded. I kicked on the door of the barn several times without receiving a reply. Meantime another son of the Garrett’s had been captured. The barn was secured with a padlock, and young Garrett carried the key. I unlocked the door, and again summoned the inmates of the building to surrender. After some delay Booth said, ‘For whom do you take me?’ I replied, ‘It doesn’t make any difference. Come out.’ He said, ‘I am a cripple and alone.’ I said, ‘I know who is with you, and you had better surrender.’ He replied, ‘I may be taken by my friends, but not by my foes.’ I said, ‘If you don’t come out, I’ll burn the building.’ I directed a corporal to pile up some hay in a crack in the wall of the barn and set the building on fire. As the corporal was picking up the hay and brush Booth said, ‘If you come back here I will put a bullet through you.’ I then motioned to the corporal to desist, and decided to wait for daylight and then to enter the barn by both doors and over power the assassins. Booth then said in a drawling voice. ‘Oh Captain! There is a man here who wants to surrender awful bad.’ I replied, ‘You had better follow his example and come out.’ His answer was, ‘No, I have not made up my mind; but draw your men up fifty paces off and give me a chance for my life.’ I told him I had not come to fight; that I had fifty men, and could take him. Then he said, ‘Well, my brave boys, prepare me a stretcher, and place another stain on our glorious banner.’ At this moment Herold reached the door. I asked him to hand out his arms; he replied that he had none. I told him I knew exactly what weapons he had. Booth replied, ‘I own all the arms, and may have to use them on you, gentlemen.’ I then said to Herold, ‘Let me see your hands.’ He put them through the partly opened door and I seized him by the wrists. I handed him over to a non-commissioned officer. Just at this moment I heard a shot, and thought Booth had shot himself. Throwing open the door, I saw that the straw and hay behind Booth were on fire. He was half-turning towards it. He had a crutch, and he held a carbine in his hand. I rushed into the burning barn, followed by my men, and as he was falling caught him under the arms and pulled him out of the barn. The burning building becoming too hot, I had him carried to the veranda of Garrett’s house. Booth received his death-shot in this manner. While I was taking Herold out of the barn one of the detectives went to the rear, and pulling out some protruding straw set fire to it. I had placed Sergeant Boston Corbett at a large crack in the side of the barn, and he, seeing by the igniting hay that Booth was leveling his carbine at either Herold or myself, fired, to disable him in the arm; but Booth making a sudden move, the aim erred, and the bullet struck Booth in the back of the head, about an inch below the spot where his shot had entered the head of Mr. Lincoln. Booth asked me by signs to raise his hands. I lifted them up and he gasped, ‘Useless, useless!’ We gave him brandy and water, but he could not swallow it. I sent to Port Royal for a physician, who could do nothing when he came, and at seven o’clock Booth breathed his last. He had on his person a diary, a large bowie knife, two pistols, a compass and a draft on Canada for 60 pounds.”—"The Death of John Wilkes Booth, 1865," EyeWitness—History Through the Eyes of Those Who Lived It, http://www.ibiscom.com (1997). • References: Champ Clark’s The Assassination: Death of the President (1987); Edward P. Doherty’s “Pursuit and Death of John Wilkes Booth,” Century Magazine, XXXIX (January, 1890); Dorothy Kunhardt’s Twenty Days (1965). • See also, The Capture of John Wilkes Booth, Official Report (OR), http://www.civilwarhome.com/booth.htm. • The body of Captain Edward P. Doherty lies buried in Section 1, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Photographs of Doherty and his gravesite are available at Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pif&GRid=2278&PIgrid=2278&PIpi=233539&, accessed May 17, 2002. • John Wilkes Booth’s diary entries leading to his death states, “Until today nothing was ever thought of sacrificing to our country’s wrongs. For six months we had worked to capture, but our cause being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done. But its failure was owing to others, who did not strike for their country with a heart. I struck boldly, and not as the papers say. I walked with a firm step through a thousand of his friends, was stopped, but pushed on. A colonel was at his side. I shouted Sic semper before I fired. In jumping broke my leg. I passed all his pickets, rode sixty miles that night with the bone of my leg tearing the flesh at every jump. I can never repent it, though we hated to kill. Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment. The country is not what it was. This forced Union is not what I have loved. I care not what becomes of me. I have no desire to outlive my country. The night before the deed I wrote a long article and left it for one of the editors of the National Intelligencer, in which I fully set forth our reasons for our proceedings. He or the gov'r-[break] After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and last night being chased by gunboats till I was forced to return wet, cold, and starving, with every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why? For doing what Brutus was honored for. What made Tell a hero? And yet I, for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew, am looked upon as a common cutthroat. My action was purer than either of theirs. One hoped to be great himself. The other had not only his country’s but his own, wrongs to avenge. I hoped for no gain. I knew no private wrong. I struck for my country and that alone. A country that groaned beneath this tyranny, and prayed for this end, and yet now behold the cold hands they extend to me. God cannot pardon me if I have done wrong. Yet I cannot see my wrong, except in serving a degenerate people. The little, the very little, I left behind to clear my name, the Government will not allow to be printed. So ends all. For my country I have given up all that makes life sweet and holy, brought misery upon my family, and am sure there is no pardon in the Heaven for me, since man condemns me so. I have only heard of what has been done (except what I did myself), and it fills me with horror. God, try and forgive me, and bless my mother. Tonight I will once more try the river with the intent to cross. Though I have a greater desire and almost a mind to return to Washington, and in a measure clear my name—which I feel I can do. I do not repent the blow I struck. I may before my God, but not to man. I think I have done well. Though I am abandoned, with the curse of Cain upon me, when, if the world knew my heart, that one blow would have made me great, though I did desire no greatness. Tonight I try to escape these bloodhounds once more. Who, who can read his fate? God’s will be done. I have too great a soul to die like a criminal. Oh, may He, may He spare me that, and let me die bravely. I bless the entire world. Have never hated or wronged anyone. This last was not a wrong, unless God deems it so, and it’s with Him to damn or bless me. As for this brave boy with me, who often prays (yes, before and since) with a true and sincere heart—was it crime in him? If so, why can he pray the same? I do not wish to shed a drop of blood, but ‘I must fight the course.’ ’Tis all that’s left to me.” Booth’s diary is on display at Ford’s Theatre, Washington, D.C. For more information on it, see pp. 155-159 of Right or Wrong, God Judge Me: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper (Urbana, Illinois, U.S.A.: University of Illinois Press, 1997), ISBN 0252023471, LCCN 96051249, 171 pp.

§ Themes assassination, barn, Booth (John Wilkes Booth, United States actor, assassin of Abraham Lincoln, May 10, 1838-April 26, 1865), Civil War, Confederacy, debate, Doherty (Edward P. Doherty, John Wilkes Booth’s captor, 1840-1897), drama, futility, Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States [1861-1865], 1809-1865), politic, Southern cause, tyranny, tyranny of minority, tyranny of one, violence, war.

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Page mounted May 17, 2002, and updated May 12, 2004, by the Webmaster.

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