Willie Jett: What Happened to the Confederate Soldier?


The authorities close in on John Wilkes Booth in Apple TV+’s ‘Manhunt,’ with the fifth episode bringing them close to catching the assassin. The episode focuses on Booth and Herold’s effort to escape by mixing in with a group of Confederate soldiers and crossing the river into safe territory without getting caught by Edwin Stanton’s men. They receive an unexpected backlash from the soldiers they believe are on the same side as them, but one decides to help them. The soldier is identified as Willie Jett and points Booth and Herold in the direction of a house that would eventually be the site of Booth’s death. While we know what happened to Lincoln’s assassin, what became of the man who helped him?

How did Willie Jett Die?

Willie Jett died in the Eastern Lunatic Asylum on July 17, 1884, at the age of 37 due to apoplexy. It is believed by some that his degrading mental health and the stroke that claimed his life might have been due to syphilis, as his symptoms are in line with the sexually transmitted disease. The official cause, however, remains apoplexy. He is laid to rest in the Confederate Cemetery in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Willie Jett was about seventeen years old when he enlisted in the Confederate Army on June 16, 1864. He served as a soldier in Company C, “Lee’s Light Horse” of Westmoreland County, 9th Virginia Cavalry. On June 29, 1864, he was severely wounded in a fight against the Wilson’s Raiders at Sappony Church, Virginia. He was shot in the abdomen, and his injury rendered him unable to serve on the battlefield again. Following his departure from the 9th, he joined Company G, 43rd Regiment (Mosby’s) Partisan Virginia Cavalry, with his brother.

Image Credit: The Surratt House Museum

When the war ended, he decided to go to Caroline County to meet with his friends before heading back home. It was on the way that he crossed paths with Booth and Herold, who openly acknowledged their identities. Despite being aware of their involvement in Lincoln’s assassination, Jett decided to help them. When they’d crossed the river from Port Conway to Port Royal, he took them to the house of Randolph Peyton, who was not at home at the time. His elder daughter didn’t like the idea of having two strange men (who she thought were nothing more than Confederate soldiers) in the house, so she asked them to find shelter somewhere else. Jett then took them to the house across the street, but when they rejected them too, it was suggested that they should go to Richard H. Garrett’s farm, which is where Jett finally left Booth and Herold.

Later, when the authorities tracked him down, Jett quickly gave up Booth and Herold, but he was also arrested for having helped them in the first place. When he was being transported to Washington, he escaped on the way. However, Edwin Stanton issued his arrest warrant, and Jett was arrested on May 1, 1865, and taken to Old Capitol Prison. There, he was interrogated to determine whether or not he had been involved in Lincoln’s assassination. He co-operated with the authorities and appeared as a witness for the prosecution, helping bring the conspirators of Lincoln’s murder to justice. His own involvement with the assassination was never proven, and he was let go on May 31, 1865.

Once a free man, Willie Jett returned to Virginia at his home in Westmoreland County. Some claim that his betrayal of Booth resulted in his ostracisation; however, other sources confirm that he had no such troubles. It is noted that he traveled around a lot, worked as a salesman, and married a woman named Fannie Krozer. Soon, however, he started to exhibit signs of mental illness. He was reported to have pulled a pistol on a streetcar conductor in Baltimore and for stealing stuff from public and private establishments. As a result, he was admitted to the Eastern Lunatic Asylum, where his mental and physical health deteriorated, and he eventually succumbed to his illness.

Read More: Manhunt: Who was Sanford Conover? What Happened to Him?