M.B. Best
Witnesses
Lincoln's Assassination


Lincoln County News, Feb. 2, 1939

M.B. Best, Civil War veteran who came to Lincoln County in 1885 and died at the age of 87 in 1925, was one of the guards on duty in Ford's threatre the night Abraham Lincoln was shot. This little-known historical connection between the assassination of the president and a citizen of Lincoln County was given to The News by John Best of Lucas, son of M.B. Best, who was also the father of Mrs. Art Bell of Sylvan Grove.

M.B. Best was 27 at the time of the assassination. He had recently been released from the Confederate prison at Andersonville, following his capture by Southern soldiers, seven days before the surrender of General Lee and the release of all prisoners. He had returned to the capital and on the fateful night the young private who had enlisted at the opening of the war in the 79th Pennsylvania infantry, was assigned to do guard duty in the theatre where Lincoln sought recreation after the end of his arduous four years during the war.

The theatre was well guarded, John Best recalls his father saying, at every point save the back stage entrance known only to actors. Even the guards and their officers apparently did not know of this actors' entrance, but J. Wilkes Booth, an actor who had played in Ford's theatre, knew it, and entered through it to the stage, from which he shot the president, then left by it, making his getaway and outdistancing the guards by reason of his knowledge of the back passage and his greater nearness ot it.

The late Mr. Best was only a few feet from the president when he fell. With especial effort, he believed he might have caught him before he fell, but like the rest of the spectators, even those closest to the president, he was so stunned by the suddenness of the tragedy that he was unble to act. And history records that when the people in the theatre came to themselves and realized what had happened, their first impulse was to pursue Booth. Indeed, the pursuit was quick enough that Booth was seen to mount his horse at the back of the theatre and escape.

It was 20 years afterward, in the spring of 1885, that Mr. Best came to Lincoln County and settled on a farm six miles south and one mile west of Sylvan Grove. His son recalls the description he often gave members of his family of the scene and the assassination, but not having seen the theatre as his father had, many of the details may not have fixed themselves in his memory. However, the account is worthy of a place in the annals of the county named after the martyred president.


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