SHARE

Hours after President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre, John Wilkes Booth became one of the most wanted men in the world. For nearly two weeks he was on the run as the Union military scoured the area looking for the man who successfully assassinated the president.

Now the story of Lincoln’s murder and the hunt for Booth is coming to TV. Apple TV+ will premiere Manhunt next month on March 15, and just released the first trailer for the miniseries. Manhunt isn’t the first bit of 21st Century media to dive into the Lincoln assassination — the Robert Redford-directed film The Conspirator looked at the aftermath and it even appeared as a plot point in the second National Treasure film — but it is adapting one of the most in-depth nonfiction books about the event, James Swanson’s Edgar Allan Poe Award winning Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. Swanson’s book is an expansive look at the build up to that fateful night at Ford’s Theatre and the search for Booth, detailing the main players and the intricacies and screw ups around the violence in Washington, D.C. 

It’s not clear how much the miniseries will show of the planning for the murder, but the trailer does lay out the two principal players: Anthony Boyle (currently appearing in the World War II series Masters of the Air) plays Booth while Tobias Menzies (Game of Thrones, The Crown) plays Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, himself one of the intended victims of Booth’s wider destabilization plot. Although missing the historic Stanton’s massive beard, the trailer shows Menzies’ Stanton overseeing the military’s response to the Lincoln assassination. 

Although Booth’s murder of Lincoln is well known, the overall plot and details are less so. Booth was a famous actor with Confederate sympathies, but he could not reach the fame his brother or father had. He was, in modern parlance, something of a failson. He and other pro-Confederate conspirators planned to first kidnap Lincoln and then later stage a large-scale assassination of top Union leaders. Even when Booth shot Lincoln, his escape and attempt at a dramatic one-liner were marred by him breaking his leg and the confusion of the audience in the theater. Although Booth was successful, his collaborators were not, leaving the frustrated actor-turned-assassin on the run before he was eventually killed by Army sergeant and eccentric Boston Corbett (who is set to appear in the show as well). 

Subscribe to Task & Purpose Today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.

Despite the shared name, the show is unrelated to the 2017-2020 Discovery series of the same name that tracked both the hunt for Ted Kaczynski and Eric Rudolph. 

Alongside Boyle and Menzies, the series features Hamish Linklater (Legion, Midnight Mass) as Lincoln, Lili Taylor and Patton Oswalt, among others. Carl Franklin, director of Devil in a Blue Dress and an episode of The Pacific, directs the show while Monica Beletsky serves as the main writer and also developed the miniseries.

Manhunt is not the only series coming soon or in development about the death of a president tied to the civil war. Earlier this month Netflix announced it was developing the miniseries Death by Lightning, based off Candice Millard’s book Destiny Of The Republic. The show will follow the life and assassination of President James Garfield (set to be played by Michael Shannon). Garfield, himself a veteran of the Civil War who reached the rank of major general, was shot by Charles Guiteau in 1881 and died two and a half months later. Interestingly both Garfield and Lincoln were attended to in part by the same doctor, Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (Doctor was his given name), a Civil War surgeon turned self-promoting medical professional. Although Bliss was one of several doctors too late to save Lincoln, his poor care and hygiene over several months resulted in Garfield’s death. No actor has apparently been cast as Bliss in either project. 

Manhunt premieres March 15 on Apple TV+.

The latest on Task & Purpose