Burning ‘Manhunt’ Finale Questions: Wait, Did That Really Happen?

Though most of its season played out like a crime thriller, “Manhunt” on Apple TV+ ended with a one-episode courtroom drama that brought the story of the Lincoln assassination to a close. As with any adaptation of real history, “Manhunt” couldn’t include everything about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, especially since reality is often stranger than any scripted story. There’s a lot that the “Manhunt” finale got right, some that was made up, and an entire universe of material that didn’t make it to the screen, so let’s take a look at how the Lincoln conspiracy really ended.

We’ll begin with a few final questions about John Wilkes Booth, whose surprise death in the penultimate episode of “Manhunt” had its antagonist exiting stage left before the final scene:

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What were John Wilkes Booth’s last days really like? 

They were as most of the days of his life had been — marred by the irrepressible fact that John Wilkes Booth was a racist, melodramatic narcissist. He bullied people who could have helped him, violently forced a Black couple out of their cabin so he could sleep in their bed, and demanded that complete strangers risk their lives to make him more comfortable.

In one famous example, Booth received what he interpreted as a less than hospitable response from a household he’d demanded food from and wasted some of his precious escapin’ time to write a sternly written letter back to the family:

“Forgive me, sir, but I have some little pride,” Booth’s letter read, “…I would not have turned a dog from my door in such condition.” Later in the letter, he offered them five dollars as an intentionally insulting payment for their “services.” He then rethought this approach, started the letter over, and wrote much the same thing except this time he only offered them two dollars and fifty cents.


How did John Wilkes Booth actually die?

As seen on “Manhunt,” John Wilkes Booth was trapped in a burning tobacco barn on Garrett’s farm when Union soldier Boston Corbett fatally shot him through a crack in the barn’s siding. Corbett insisted that he only meant to injure his target, but Booth moved at the last second and took the bullet in the back of his head — nearly the same location where he’d shot Lincoln days earlier.

Unlike in “Manhunt,” which portrays Booth dying within minutes, the bullet severed Booth’s spinal cord and left him literally paralyzed with agony. Witnesses say the actor begged for death, but none of the men on the scene obliged, unanimously choosing to let Booth suffer for almost three hours before dying of his wound. His final words pretty much summed up his existence: “Useless…useless.”

What happened to Boston Corbett?

Man, what didn’t happen to Boston Corbett? We’re talking about a guy whose response to experiencing sexual desire was to castrate himself with a pair of scissors and keep going about his day. After killing Booth, he became a national hero and often signed pictures of himself for his adoring fans. When the hype died down, Corbett descended into paranoia and developed the exciting new hobby of pulling a gun on people for illogical reasons.

He kept that up until 1887, when he pulled said gun on the entire Kansas State Legislature while they were in session. For that, Corbett was sent to live the rest of his days in the Topeka Asylum for the Insane, which held him for less than a year before he escaped on a horse and told a friend he was riding down to Mexico to disappear. He was never heard from again.

Was Officer Lewis Weichmann of Stanton’s War Department in a romantic relationship with a conspirator? 

One of the bombshell moments of the “Manhunt” finale happens when the nebbishy Officer Louis Weichmann confesses in court that he and John Surratt Jr, the conspirator who had fled to Europe, had “slept together.” Here’s the thing: that is technically true, but not in the way the show portrays. Weichmann and Surratt really were friends after meeting in a seminary, which led to Weichmann moving into Mary Surratt’s boarding house and sharing a room and bed with John — a common setup for single men living in a boarding situation at the time.

It’s of course impossible to know the exact nature of the bed-sharing now, but there’s nothing in the court documents or transcript that suggests Weichmann outed himself at the tribunal.

The better question is how did Weichmann live in the house where the crime of the century was planned and not think to report anything to his job in the literal War Department? Was he a double agent? Was he stupid? Or did he elevate the practice of minding his own goddamn business to an art? Alas, Louis Weichmann’s whole deal is an unsolved mystery to this day.

Did Stanton really lock himself in the Secretary of War’s office to spite Andrew Johnson?

Yes! Kind of. In 1868, Stanton responded to President Andrew Johnson’s attempt to fire him by barricading himself in his office and refusing to leave. It’s historically probable that he was a little drunk at the time, having split a bottle of whiskey with his alleged replacement Lorenzo Thomas before telling him to kick rocks. Stanton then remained in his office for ninety days, but in reality a small network of government employees supported him by sneaking him out for meals and rest.

While his presence in the office made it physically impossible for his replacement to seize power, Congress picked up on Stanton’s vibe and made it legally impossible to do so by impeaching Johnson for violating the Tenure of Office Act.

As “Manhunt” shows, Johnson was not convicted in his impeachment, but he’s since gone down in history as being the first president to be such a jerk that Congress broke the emergency glass on a system designed to protect the United States from crisis.

All episodes of “Manhunt” are streaming on Apple TV+.

Sources used in this article include “Manhunt, the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” and partial public domain reprints of John Wilkes Booth’s travel diary.

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