The Madman and the Assassin

The Madman and the Assassin
The Madman and the Assassin

The Madman and the Assassin

The Strange Life of Boston Corbett, the Man Who Killed John Wilkes Booth
By Scott Martelle


240 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Mobipocket, EPUB, PDF, Trade Paper

Trade Paper, $16.99 (US $16.99) (CA $22.99)

ISBN 9781613736494

Rights: WOR

Chicago Review Press (Mar 2017)


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As thoroughly examined as the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth have been, virtually no attention has been paid to the life of the Union cavalryman who killed Booth, an odd character named Boston Corbett. The killing of Booth made Corbett an instant celebrity whose peculiarities made him the object of fascination and derision. Corbett was an English immigrant, a hatter by trade, who was likely poisoned by the mercury then used in the manufacturing process. A devout Christian, he castrated himself so that his sexual urges would not distract him from serving God. He was one of the first volunteers to join the US Army in the first days of the Civil War, a path that would in time land him in the notorious Andersonville prison camp, and eventually in the squadron that cornered Booth in a Virginia barn. The Madman and the Assassin is the first full-length biography of Boston Corbett, a man who was something of a prototypical modern American, thrust into the spotlight during a national news event—an unwelcome transformation from anonymity to celebrity.


“A curious portrait of a celebrity nonentity caught up in the throes of history.” —Kirkus

"History buffs will enjoy this fast-paced, well-told addition to the literature on Lincoln and the Civil War.” —Library Journal

“With the journalist’s eye for a telling detail, a historian’s ability to unearth an untold tale, and a writer’s keen sense of drama, Scott Martelle renders a fascinating portrait of one of the oddest figures to walk across the pages of Civil War history. To the reader’s good fortune, Martelle separates myth from the man and provides a sympathetic, engaging, and authentic portrait of the soldier who killed one of America’s most famous assassins.” —James McGrath Morris, author of Pulitzer and The Rose Man of Sing Sing

“A fascinating look at Boston Corbett, an eccentric who appears at one of the critical junctures in American history. Scott Martelle deftly brings Corbett’s nineteenth-century world back to life in his compelling tale of murder and madness.” —Julia Flynn Siler, author of The House of Mondavi and Lost Kingdom

“Perhaps Martelle’s biggest contribution to Lincoln lore is his detailed examination of Corbett’s post-Booth life.” —Cannonball!!

“Mr. Martelle has done an admirable job of researching Corbett’s life. Serious students of the Civil War may be happy to learn more about the obscure oddball who killed the assassin.” —The Wall Street Journal

Author Biography

Scott Martelle is a professional journalist and the author of The Admiral and the Ambassador, Blood Passion, Detroit: A Biography, and The Fear Within. He is an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Irvine, California.