Boston Corbett Haiku

Ladies of the night

Wink and arouse your manhood?

Best chop off your balls.

Let me introduce you to the man who shot the man who shot Abraham Lincoln, folks.

Thomas H Corbett was born in London in 1832, later moving to New York at the tender age of eight. Unfortunately, he went with the profession of ‘hatter’, which… Well, you remember the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, right? Mercury fumes do no favors for anyone.

What also does no favors for anyone is having your wife and child die in childbirth. It’s all too understandable why he’d crawl into a bottle and stay there, at the expense of his livelihood and his home. Happily for him, he got religion. Except… New converts are usually a little zealous, but Corbett was especially zealous and he never, ever turned it down.

First, he changed his name to ‘Boston’, after the city in which he was saved. Then he grew his hair long to be like the J Man. Then he got the nickname of ‘The Glory to God Man’ on account of his enthusiastic behaviour at revival meetings. Then he became a street preacher. Then, once he got back in the hatting game, he would pray and sing hymns whenever his co-workers said a naughty word. Then came the incident referred to in the haiku.

While walking home from church one day, a pair of prostitutes giggled at him. This got him a little too excited, so he dashed home to read his Bible. He happened upon this verse: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee….and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” God couldn’t be any clearer than that now, could he? Corbett got to work with a pair of scissors, then went back to church.

Now, where would the absolute worst place for such a fellow be? ‘The Union Army in 1861’ is a contender. Didn’t keep him from enlisting in the New York Militia, though, where he proceeded to piss off absolutely everyone. In addition to preaching every damned minute, he would reprimand officers for their naughty words. This made him an enemy in the form of Colonel Daniel Butterfield (of ‘Taps’ fame, although it was at that time a ‘goodnight’ call), especially when he continued to wave his Bible at him even after a stint in a cell. Corbett was court-martialed and kicked out of the army in 1863.

So what does he do? He re-enlists before the month’s out, of course! Aaannnd winds up in the infamous Confederate prison, Andersonville. He was released as part of a prisoner exchange in late 1864, time passed, Appomatox happened, John Wilkes Booth shot the president.

And guess whose regiment was sent to track that pretty boy B-grade actor down!

The 16th New York Volunteer Cavalry finally found Booth in a tobacco barn on April 26, where he was busy being in horrendous pain due to his broken leg and raging because an ungrateful nation somehow didn’t see him as a great hero. Thus, Booth wouldn’t come out. The regiment set fire to the barn to warm Booth to their point of view. Still, he remained cold to the idea. Corbett, peeking through a crack, thought he saw Booth taking aim as a response to this information and the fact that God told him to. As it happened, the Secretary of War, Edward Stanton, had told them all not to, but we are all aware of Corbett’s priorities by this point. Regardless, Booth experienced a slow, painful death and that was good enough for Stanton, so he pardoned Corbett.

Life did not go well for him after that. He did receive a hefty portion of the reward money for finding Booth, but many doubted whether he was the man who shot him (this led him to draw his pistol at a soldiers’ reunion one time), and he couldn’t hold down a job. He tried going on the lecture circuit, but his lectures didn’t make sense. He believed bigwigs in Washington responsible for all these troubles, and that Booth sympathisers were out to kill him. This came to a head in 1887 when, while serving as doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives, he became convinced that the officers were conspiring against him and went after them with a revolver. He was committed to an insane asylum the next day.

The last we hear of Corbett is in 1888, when he escaped from an asylum. Whether he went to Mexico, as he told someone he would, or died in the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894, or experienced another fate entirely, we just don’t know. It was all too easy for people to drop off the radar in those days.

There is a story that before a performance one evening, Edwin Booth was asked for a free ticket from a strange man. Edwin asked him why he should provide that. Because he was the one who shot John Wilkes, said the man.

Edwin gave him the ticket.

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