A Boothie Road to Appomattox

This past weekend, I attended the 2015 conference for the Society of Women and the Civil War. The organization, dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding of women’s lives and roles in the American Civil War, holds an annual conference in a different city and state each year. This year’s conference took place at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, VA with built in excursions to nearby Lynchburg and Appomattox Court House.

As always, Kate and I took the opportunity to find places and things associated with the Lincoln assassination during the trip. Here are some of the tweets I sent out of the places we visited during the weekend:

In addition to these excursions, it was a weekend filled with fascinating speakers who professed new information about the varying roles of women during the Civil War. One of those speakers was Kate Ramirez, who spoke at length about Mary Surratt and the controversy of her trial and execution. Kate’s speech was met with great enthusiasm by the conference attendees and she is excited to be presenting it again at the upcoming Surratt Society Conference in 2016.

During the conference another presenter gave some fascinating information about a Civil War era diarist who lived in Alexandria and Washington, D.C. for most of the war. The presenter later hinted to me that the diarist recorded several things relating to Lincoln’s assassination that would be worth checking out.  I spent much of last night engrossed in her diaries and she does, indeed, have some wonderful firsthand accounts regarding the reaction to Lincoln’s death in the nation’s capital.  I hope to publish my full research on her connections to the Lincoln assassination (there are many and some are quite exciting) in the next day or so. Stay tuned!

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An Assassination Vacation in the Midwest

Kate and I are visiting my family here in Illinois and decided to use the opportunity to make use of the newly updated Lincoln assassination maps here on BoothieBarn.  We planned and executed a two day excursion to visit some of the sites on the Lincoln Assassination in the Midwest map.  The following is an overview of our trip composed using the tweets I sent out en route along with a couple of short videos I made.

While the trip mainly consisted of two long days of driving, Kate and I enjoyed ourselves and it was a lot of fun to see so many Lincoln assassination places, graves, and artifacts all at once.  Thank you to the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County, Mr. Blair Tarr, curator of the Kansas State Historical Society Museum, Nikaela Zimmerman, Barry Cauchon, and Steve Miller for all your help in making this trip possible.  Also, thank you to my parents for letting me use (and put a considerable number of miles on) their car.

Boston Corbett's Dugout 7-8-2015

Now you all get out there, take your own assassination vacation, and tell me about it in the comments below!

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The 4th of July at Port Royal

Port Royal Event 7-4-2015

Every year for the past 16 years, Port Royal, Virginia has put on a celebratory Independence Day event.  The day is filled with musicians, Revolutionary and Civil War reenactors, speakers, 18th century dancers, bagpipers, and a formal reading of the Declaration of Independence. It is a wonder annual program and a great way to spend part of the 4th.  Here are a few pictures that I managed to take of the event:

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This year, I had the honor of being asked to give a short speech.  Knowing my interest in the Lincoln assassination story, my fellow board members of Historic Port Royal asked me to speak on the topic of John Wilkes Booth.  I heartily agreed.  Later on though, as I was trying to prepare for my speech, I had a hard time reconciling the discussion of a Presidential assassin on the day of our country’s birth.  So, rather than discussing John Wilkes Booth, I decided to present a more Revolutionary tale.  Below is a video of the speech I presented.

I wish you all a very happy Independence Day.

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Jumping John Surratt

After I posted about the update to the Maps section yesterday, Lincoln researcher Eva Lennartz of Germany made the following comment:

“I have a question – from Mr. Fazio’s new book I just “learned” Surratt’s leap over the balustrade was an embellishment (which would make sense to me). So you think it wasn’t?”

What follows is my response to Eva, which started as a comment but quickly grew into a post.


John Surratt's Leap 2

Eva,

With regards to John Surratt’s leap from justice on November 8, 1866, there has been some embellishment done to the story (particularly in some of the fanciful penny dreadfuls, that illustrate this post), but records are clear that he did make the jump.

You’ll remember that John Surratt was most likely in Elmira, NY when the assassination occurred.  When he heard the news he fled up to Canada, where he was hidden away for the entirety of the trial of the conspirators.  In September of 1865, Surratt traveled from Montreal to Liverpool, England. From there he made his way to Rome where he enlisted in the Papal Zouaves (the Pope’s army) on December 11, 1865.  His alias was John Watson, a native of Scotland and he served in the Papal Zouaves until he was identified by a fellow zouave, Henri Beaumont de Ste. Marie.  Finally, on November 7, 1866, John Surratt was arrested by the Zouaves on the request of the American government and imprisoned for a night in the Zouave barracks in Veroli, then part of the Papal States.  On the morning of November 8th, Surratt was awaken by the guards, told he was going to be transported to Rome, given coffee and then marched with a guard of six men towards the barracks gate.  As the story goes, before reaching the gate John Surratt asked to use the privy which was located near the back of the barracks and overlooked a cliff leading down to the valley below.  He was given permission to use the privy and, upon being unescorted near the latrine, he vaulted over a balustrade and leapt over the cliff.  Let’s look at the reports and accounts of John Surratt’s escape.

Right after Surratt made the leap and escaped, the commander of the detachment in Veroli, Captain de Lambilly, sent a telegram to Velletri that was forwarded on to Rome. It said, “At the moment he left the prison, surrounded by six men as guards, Watson plunged into the ravine, more than a hundred feet deep, which defends the prison. Fifty zouaves are in pursuit.”

Later that day, when the pursuit of Surratt had failed to recapture him, Captain de Lambilly, would write about the circumstances further. “The gate of the prison opens on a platform which overlooks the country; a balustrade prevents promenaders from tumbling on the rocks, situated at least thirty-five feet below the windows of the prison…This perilous leap was, however, to be taken, to be crowned with success. In fact, Watson, who seemed quiet, seized the balustrade, made a leap, and cast himself into the void, falling on the uneven rocks, where he might have broken his bones a thousand times, and gained the depths of the valley”.

Probably the most helpful account, however, is one written by Colonel Allet, De Jambilly’s immediate superior. Allet was stationed in Velletri, some 70 km away from Veroli. After Surratt’s escape on November 8th he sent one of his men to Veroli to investigate. On November 9th, Allet wrote to his superior, the Pontifical Minister of War, what had been learned from the investigation: “I am assured the escape of Watson savors a prodigy. He leaped from height of twenty-three feet on a very narrow rock, beyond of which is a precipice. The filth from the barracks accumulated on the rock, and in this manner the wall of Watson was broken. Had he leaped a little further he would have fallen into the abyss.”

John Surratt's Leap 3

From the above records it seems a bit unclear the exact distance of Surratt’s leap. Regardless, there’s no doubt that Surratt made this perilous leap and was extremely lucky to have landed where he did. Had he missed the outcropping of filth covered rocks some 23 – 35 feet below, he surely would have perished in the fall. But that’s not to say that even the jump he made couldn’t have killed him. Even Captain de Jambilly was astonished that Surratt survived, “Lieutenant Monsley and I have examined the localities, and we asked ourselves how one could make such leaps without breaking arms and legs.”

Despite what Mr. Fazio might have you believe in his book, John Surratt did not land unscathed. He injured his arm and his back in the fall. That is why, when he reached the Italian city of Sora, Surratt sought medical treatment. From Sora he went to Naples where he was questioned and held by the authorities there. While there he passed himself off as a Canadian and told the Naples police that, “he had been in Rome ten months; that, being out of money, he enlisted in the Roman Zouaves, &c.; that he was put in prison for insubordination, from which he escaped, jumping from a window or high wall, in doing which he hurt his back and arm, both of which were injured.”

So, let’s look at the evidence. In supporting John Surratt’s leap we have multiple 1866 reports on the nature of his escape, and a supporting confession from John Surratt himself before any publication of the story occurred. On the side against him making the leap is a newspaper article from 1881 filled with the inaccuracies. You can read Mr. Lipman’s account for yourself HERE.

The account is filled with errors, but the one that makes it the most obvious that Lipman never met Surratt in the Zouaves is the fact that he gives the precise year of 1867 as when everything occurred. As we know, Surratt was back in America in 1867 as he was standing trial by then. Lipman shows some knowledge of the Italian territory (though his geography of Surratt’s whereabouts doesn’t exactly match the official record) which makes it possible that he could have been a member of the Zouaves himself. However, it seems that, after learning the details of John Surratt’s arrest from other zoauves or even just from the latter’s highly publicized trial, Lipman decided, years later, to falsely add himself to the narrative.

Is the story of John Surratt leaping over the balustrade at the Papal barracks in Veroil, Italy a dramatic one that is hard to believe? Absolutely, but it did happen.

John Surratt's Leap 1

Surratt had be on the run for over a year and a half before he was his arrested in Veroli. Did he plan his perilous escape while sitting in his cell the night before or did the idea just come to him as he walked near the barracks’ privy? Did Surratt take the plunge expecting to die in the attempt, or did he have faith he would live? How did his survival from such a death defying leap affect the rest of his escape and his life? These are the fascinating questions that I like to ponder.

I hope this helps, Eva. Remember to always question noncontemporary sources from people claiming to have been involved in historical events. The desire to be connected in someway to history can drive even the most decent and honest person to lie and exaggerate. Too often, authors are so determined to find proof of their claims that they suffer from confirmation bias, and put their faith in disreputable sources like these in order to “prove” their beliefs.

I would, however, be remiss if I did not include this final note on the subject. On April 8, 1867, a newspaper article was published in the New York Times entitled, “A Visit to Surratt”. The article recounts the visit of the newspaper corespondent to John Surratt’s jail cell, where the conspirator permitted an interview. You can read the full article HERE.

According to the article, while John Surratt was in prison in America he read, “with great apparent interest, the published accounts of his capture and escape.” The article then recounted the following regarding his famous leap:

Surratt recounts his escape 1867

So perhaps, Surratt’s magnificent jump was only a distance of twelve feet. By the time the other zouaves made it over to the balustrade and looked down he could have climbed down the extra ten or fifteen feet, which was then thought by those above to have been the distance he fell. We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that John Harrison Surratt did continue his flight from justice by taking a leap of faith in Veroli, Italy, only to be captured less than twenty days later, in Alexandria, Egypt.

References:
The Pursuit & Arrest of John H. Surratt: Despatches from the Official Record of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln edited by Mark Wilson Seymour
John Surratt: The Lincoln Assassin Who Got Away by Michael Schein

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Take an Assassination Vacation!

With summer in full swing, now is the time to get out there and take a vacation. Whether it be a lengthy week long trip to a city or shore far distant, or a day’s drive to a “not so nearby” locale, there’s nothing like the thrill of going somewhere new. For the historically minded, vacations often involve adventures such as visiting a museum, rediscovering a National Park, or just taking a selfie with a historical marker off the highway. No matter what form they may take, vacations allow us to make our own marks and memories in places outside our everyday lives.

I’ve long said that the story of Lincoln’s assassination is told all over this nation. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of nowhere when suddenly I find a reference to the assassination staring me right in the face. The impact of Lincoln’s death and the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth reached around the globe. Over the last week, I have been working diligently to update the Maps section of this website in order to demonstrate how far reaching it truly is. The result has been the creation of five new maps, four which cover the entirety of the United States and a fifth map representing the rest of the world. All of these maps provide the locations, a brief description and the exact GPS coordinates of different sites related in some way to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln Assassination Maps

The maps are still in the beginning stages. The 225 locations currently marked are little more than a drop in the bucket of the potential sites worldwide. Everyday, however, new sites pop into my head and I diligently research to determine their exact GPS coordinates. I’ve analyzed Civil War era maps to determine their modern counterparts, struggled with foreign languages in order to find international sites, and I have even spent hours staring at aerial pictures of cemeteries trying to determine the exact locations of specific graves. It is very slow work, but by pinpointing these sites with GPS coordinates, we can ensure that they will never be lost. The buildings and terrain around them may change but, with GPS, where they once stood can always be found.

With this in mind, I encourage you all to check out the newly updated Maps section of BoothieBarn. See if there’s something “not so nearby” that you might want to drive and see. Better yet, if you are already planning a trip somewhere, take a look and see if you’ll be passing by something assassination related. I mean what kid wouldn’t love to make a detour on their way to Disney World in order to visit a cemetery in Geneva, Florida? “Forget Cinderella’s Castle, Mommy. What I really want to see is the grave of Lewis Powell’s skull!”

So check out the Maps section here on BoothieBarn by clicking the image above. Then get out there and have yourself an assassination vacation!

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Lloyd-ering around Banks O’Dee

In Charles County, Maryland, located on the peninsula that is created by the merging of the Potomac and Wicomoco Rivers is a small rural area called Banks O’Dee:

Banks ODee, Maryland

The name Banks O’Dee or “The Banks of the Dee” was given its name by Welsh and Irish settlers to the region who named the area after the River Dee which forms part of the border between England and Wales. It is now, as it was then, a very small rural community with only a local road bearing the name Banks O’Dee Road to betray its existence. Yet, as we have often seen, even the most isolated and small communities can have connections to Lincoln’s assassination. Banks O’Dee, exemplifies this fact by having not one, but two associations to the great crime of April 14, 1865.

Mistaken Identi’Dee

After Lincoln’s assassination, the government mobilized troops and detectives to scour the entire region around Washington. Many men were sent into Southern Maryland which was a hotbed for Confederate sympathizers. Washington Provost Marshal, James R. O’Beirne, ordered several of his detectives into the region around Banks O’Dee in the search for John Wilkes Booth and David Herold in the hope that they had not yet crossed the Potomac River into Virginia. Three of O’Beirne’s detectives, Henry Bevans, Michael O’Callaghan, and Edward McHenry, were steamed in on April 19th to investigate the locals. Two the the detectives, McHenry and O’Callaghan, impersonated refugees and found themselves dining with a Banks O’Dee farmer by the named of Richard Claggett. During dinner, Claggett’s son revealed that at around 7:00 am on April 16th, he had seen two men in boat crossing over to a place on the Virginia shore called White Point (now Colonial Beach). The detectives passed this information along to O’Beirne and even crossed over the Potomac themselves in search for the two men in a boat, to no avail.

A farm near the water at Banks O'Dee. Thomas Harbin and Joseph Baden crossed the Potomac river near here on April 16, 1865.

A farm near the water at Banks O’Dee. Thomas Harbin and Joseph Baden crossed the Potomac river near here on April 16, 1865.

By April 24th days had gone by with no new credible sightings of Booth and Herold in Southern Maryland. O’Beirne, in the field himself at Port Tobacco, decided to once again bring the report of his detectives in Banks O’Dee to the attention of Lafayette Baker, head of the National Detective Police. Baker decided the report was now worth investigating further and approved the dispatch of men from the 16th New York Calvary to travel into the Northern Necks of Virginia in search of Booth and Herold. Two days later, this gamble paid off as the 16th New York cornered and killed John Wilkes Booth at the Garrett Farm in Caroline County, VA.

However, this report from Banks O’Dee of two men crossing over the Potomac in a boat on April 16th was a case of mistaken identity. From April 16 – 20, John Wilkes Booth and David Herold were hiding out in a pine thicket near Samuel Cox’s Rich Hill farm. The two men who did cross from Banks O’Dee on April 16th were actually Joseph Baden and Thomas Harbin. Harbin had been an early recruit into John Wilkes Booth’s abduction plot and, when the assassin did manage to cross the river, Harbin briefly assisted Booth onward to Dr. Stuart’s. Still, had Harbin and Baden not been seen by a farmer in Banks O’Dee who then blabbed the sighting to undercover government detectives, John Wilkes Booth may have been able to escape further south.

Lloyd-ering around Banks O’Dee

Banks O’Dee’s connection to the Lincoln assassination story stretches even further back than 1865.  In 1835, two large properties in the area were purchased by a man named Minchin Lloyd, Jr.  Mr. Lloyd’s father was an Irish immigrant who had set up his residence, and family, in Virginia and then in Port Tobacco, the county seat of Charles County.

Minchin Lloyd, Jr. was an enterprising businessman in Charles County, serving his county as a Deputy Sheriff and Deputy Tax Collector.  The second of six brothers, Minchin, Jr. had been entrusted by his siblings with many things of importance.  When his youngest brother Francis died, the financially successful Minchin inherited his entire estate.  He also inherited a large piece of his brother William’s estate when William died in 1833. William, who had been a businessman in Port Tobacco running a general store, also left two other things to his brother Minchin upon his death.  This two things were his two young sons.  Minchin became the guardian of William’s two children, Charles William and John Minchin Lloyd.

The latter name should sound familiar.  In 1865, John Minchin Lloyd would play a pivotal role in the assassination saga when, while renting Mary Surratt’s country tavern, John Wilkes Booth and David Herold arrived at the tavern, demanded the weapons that had been hidden there previously, and rode off after telling Lloyd they had assassinated President Lincoln.  John M. Lloyd would prove to be one of the government’s key witnesses against Mary Surratt at the trial of the conspirators and his testimony would help seal her fate.

When William died in 1833, John was 8 years old.  He and his younger brother went to live with his Uncle Minchin.  In 1835, Minchin bought a large (500+ acre) property near Banks O’Dee.  Minchin moved his whole family into a beautiful home which stood, “on an eminent hill in the center of the farm”.  The house was called Milton Hill and was constructed around 1792.  As a young boy of 11 years old, John is sure to have spent many days at Milton Hill with his uncle/adopted father.  John M. Lloyd grew up in the Banks O’Dee area and watched as the family acquired more land in the area.  Today a road, creek, and point in the region bear the Lloyd name and there are still descendants of the Lloyd family living in the area.  By about 1850, John M. Lloyd had left Banks O’Dee and had settled in Washington, D.C.  Lloyd became a brick layer, Washington Police Officer, and, later, unlucky tavern keeper.

Amazingly, the house in which a young John M. Lloyd lived still stands today in Banks O’Dee.  Milton Hill, which is private property, dates to about 1792.

Milton Hill, childhood home of John M Lloyd

Milton Hill, childhood home of John M. Lloyd

Epilogue

In addition to visiting Banks O’Dee and locating Milton Hall today, Kate and I tried to determine the final resting place of John M. Lloyd’s father, William.  It seemed that the Lloyds often worshiped at St. Mary’s Church at Newport, the same church where Confederate agent Thomas Jones is buried.  We traveled to St. Mary’s in hopes there might be a few Lloyds there. In the end we found this stone which seems very promising:

The possible gravestone for William Lloyd, father of John M. Lloyd

The possible gravestone for William Lloyd, father of John M. Lloyd in St. Mary’s Church in Newport, MD

If this is the stone for “our” William Lloyd than it seems the phrase “like father, like son” is applicable even in death.  John M. Lloyd also has a small stone with only his name on it that has been knocked flat over the passage of time:

Grave of John M. Lloyd in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

Grave of John M. Lloyd in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

References:
The Lincoln Assassination Reward Files by William Edwards
The Lloyds of Southern Maryland by Daniel Lloyd

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“President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” at the Newseum

Located on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th Street in northwest D.C., the Newseum is an impressive institution devoted to the evolution of news reporting and the importance of free press in a society. The seven floor museum contains impressive permanent exhibits relating to some of the most news worthy events in American and world history. There are also many galleries in the museum which house an array of different temporary exhibits. When I visited Washington, D.C. for the first time in 2009, I made sure to tour the Newseum due to the fact that they were displaying a temporary exhibition based around James Swanson’s book, Manhunt. One of my very first posts on this site recounted that wonderful exhibit.

Since that time (and my subsequent move to Maryland), I have made many visits to the Newseum.  Their exhibits are fascinating and it is a wonderful place to bring guests from out of town.  As you might expect, there are several permanent items on display at the Newseum related to Lincoln’s assassination that I see each time I am there.  One permanent, 80 foot long display on the top terrace overlooks Pennsylvania Avenue and recounts the history of Washington’s most famous street.

Newseum Terrace

The display also points out that the site currently occupied by the Newseum was once the home to the National Hotel, the preferred hotel of John Wilkes Booth when he was in Washington.

The Newseum collection also contains different newspapers, both physical and digital, that cover the assassination of Abraham Lincoln:

However for this year, the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the Newseum has created a very special exhibition:

New York Herald Exhibit Newseum

President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” is a detailed look at how one of the most widely read newspapers in the country covered the events of April 14, 1865.  Over a period of 18 hours following the shot at Ford’s Theatre, the New York Herald would publish an unprecedented seven special editions, each with new information regarding the President and Secretary of State’s conditions and the subsequent search for their assassins.  The Newseum may very well be the only institution in the world that contains copies of each of the seven editions of the New York Herald from that tumultuous time.


Coverage Chronologically

 
Seven Issues of New York Herald Newseum

The current exhibit at the Newseum contains an original of each of these editions paired with large wall displays that highlight the differences and additions between them.

2:00 AM edition:

NYH 2 am edition Newseum

3:00 AM edition:

NYH 3 am edition Newseum

8:45 AM edition:

NYH 8 am edition Newseum

10:00 AM edition:

NYH 10 am Uncovering the Plot edition Newseum

10:00 AM “Reward” edition:

NYH 10 am Reward edition Newseum

2:00 PM edition:

NYH 2 pm edition Newseum

3:30 PM edition:

NYH 3 pm edition Newseum

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge


Floor to Ceiling Coverage

 
While the “President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” exhibit is only contained in one small room of the Newseum, there is no wasted space.  Even the floor and ceiling contain displays.  On the floor is a map of Civil War Washington with labelled sites relating to the assassination:

Floor map Newseum

Meanwhile the ceiling is festooned with wonderful banners (several of which I wish I could own myself) relating to the assassination:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


The Stories Behind the Story

 
The displays not only provide commentary on the evolving story of how the country came to learn the details of Lincoln’s assassination, but they also introduce us to the people involved in reporting the news.  One of my favorite stories is that of Associated Press reporter, Lawrence Gobright who was responsible for the very first telegraphic dispatch covering Lincoln’s assassination:

First dispatch Newseum

In 1869, Gobright would recollect his actions that night:

“On the night of the 14th of April, I was sitting in my office alone, everything quiet : and having filed, as I thought, my last despatch, I picked up an afternoon paper, to see what especial news it contained. While looking over its columns, a hasty step was heard at the entrance of the door, and a gentleman addressed me, in a hurried and excited manner, informing me that the President had been assassinated, and telling me to come with him! I at first could scarcely believe the intelligence. But I obeyed the summons. He had been to the theatre with a lady, and directly after the tragedy at that place, had brought out the lady, placed her at his side in his carriage, and driven directly to me. I then first went to the telegraph office, sent a short ” special,” and promised soon to give the particulars. Taking a seat in the hack, we drove back to the theatre and alighted; the gentleman giving directions to the driver to convey the lady to her home.

The gentleman and myself procured an entrance to the theatre, where we found everybody in great excitement. The wounded President had been removed to the house of Mr. Peterson [sic], who lived nearly opposite to the theatre. When we reached the box, we saw the chair in which the President sat at the time of the assassination; and, although the gas had for the greater part been turned off, we discovered blood upon it…

Lawrence Gobright

Lawrence Gobright

My friend having been present during the performance, and being a valuable source of news, I held him firmly by the arm, for fear that I might lose him in the crowd. After gathering all the points we could, we came out of the theatre, when we heard that Secretary Seward had also been assassinated. I recollect replying that this rumor probably was an echo from the theatre; but wishing to be satisfied as to its truth or falsity, I called a hack, and my companion and myself drove to the Secretary’s residence. We found a guard at the door, but had little trouble in entering the house. Some of the neighbors were there, but they were so much excited that they could not tell an intelligent story, and the colored boy, by whom Paine was met when he insisted on going up to the Secretary’s room, was scarcely able to talk. We did all we could to get at the truth of the story, and when we left the premises, had confused ideas of the events of the night. Next we went to the President’s house. A military guard was at the door. It was then, for the first time, we learned that the President had not been brought home. Vague rumors were in circulation that attempts had been made on the lives of Vice-President Johnson and others, but they could not be traced to a reliable source. We returned to Mr. Peterson’s house, but were not permitted to make our way through the military guard to inquire into the condition of the President. Nor at that time was it certainly known who was the assassin of President Lincoln. Some few persons said he resembled Booth, while others appeared to be confident as to the identity.

Returning to the office, I commenced writing a full account of that night’s dread occurrences. While thus engaged, several gentlemen who had been at the theatre came in, and, by questioning them, I obtained additional particulars. Among my visitors was Speaker Colfax, and as he was going to see Mr. Lincoln, I asked him to give me a paragraph on that interesting branch of the subject. At a subsequent hour, he did so. Meanwhile I carefully wrote my despatch, though with trembling and nervous fingers, and, under all the exciting circumstances, I was afterward surprised that I had succeeded in approximating so closely to all the facts in those dark transactions…”

In addition to his quick reporting and continual dispatches throughout the night, Gobright also holds a place in history due to his brief custodianship over the derringer that was used to kill Abraham Lincoln.

Edwin Pitts holding the Derringer 1

After shooting Lincoln with the single shot pistol, John Wilkes Booth immediately dropped the gun onto the floor of the theater box. Somehow it went unnoticed during the chaos that ensued in the small box as physicians entered to care for the mortally wounded president. One of the men who had entered the box along with the physicians was a man named William Kent. Kent would later claim it was his penknife that was used to cut the collar from around Lincoln’s neck. After departing the theater that night, Kent discovered he had lost his keys and so returned to the theater and gained entry into the now empty box. He was searching for his keys when his foot struck something. Lawrence Gobright had also just arrived in the box to report on the scene of the crime:

“A man [Kent] standing by picked up Booth’s pistol from the floor, when I exclaimed to the crowd below that the weapon had been found and placed in my possession. An officer of the navy — whose name I do not now remember — demanded that I should give it to him ; but this I refused to do, preferring to make Major Richards, the head of the police, the custodian of the weapon, which I did soon after my announcement.”

As stated, Gobright did turn the derringer over to the Metropolitan Police and William Kent identified it on April 15th:

William Kent statement


Don’t Believe Everything you Read in the Newspapers

 
The New York Herald exhibit at the Newseum also demonstrates how the newspapers covering Lincoln’s assassination made the same mistake as some modern journalists by printing unreliable or unsubstantiated claims in hopes of being the first to provide their audience with an exclusive.

Booth in custody Newseum

Rumors and speculation would fill every mouth, diary, and newspaper for the next twelve days as the entire country searched for John Wilkes Booth.

In addition to misinformation that was printed in a rush, the New York Herald exhibit at the Newseum also brings attention to later instances that have caused unintended deception.  The New York Herald’s coverage of Lincoln’s assassination was so wide spread that even many years later, the paper was still very well connected to the event in the minds of the public.  Many advertisers attempted to benefit from this connection by creating their own, custom reprints of editions of the New York Herald.  On the face of it, the reprints appeared genuine though some, like the one below, included engravings that were never in the originals.  No matter how real they looked however, hidden either in the text of the front page or within the interior pages were advertisements for the latest miracle tonic, liniment, or some other product.

Fake NYH Newseum

This type of “historical advertising” was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th century.  People were more likely to hold on to the advertisement if it had something compelling on it.  Another example of this type of advertising is this reproduction CDV of John Wilkes Booth’s escape on a bag for dysentery syrup:

John Wilkes Booth Dysentery Syrup

While the newspapers were well known to be advertisements in their day, as time has passed reproductions like the one above have fooled many unknowing treasure seekers into thinking they have a genuine (and pricey) piece of American history. Most of the time, however, a careful read through (especially of the interior pages which are usually just full page ads for the product) will reveal it is a reproduction.  You can see a small sampling of some of the many advertising reproductions of the assassination editions of the New York Herald here.


Plan Your Visit

 
I highly recommend a visit to the “President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination” exhibit at the Newseum.  It is located on the 4th floor of the museum which is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.  Tickets to the Newseum cost $23 for adults and allow you to return the next day for free.  While this price may seem a bit expensive compared to the federally funded museums in D.C. that offer free admission, the Newseum has many wonderful galleries and exhibits that make the price more than worth it.  This special New York Herald exhibit only runs until January 10, 2016 so be sure to visit the Newseum before it is gone.

References:
President Lincoln Is Dead: The New York Herald Reports the Assassination at the Newseum
Recollection of men and things at Washington during the third of a century by Lawrence Gobright (1869)
National Archives
Library of Congress

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A Military Tribunal Observance

Hello fellow history enthusiasts,

Kate Ramirez here stepping in for Dave to tell you all about some of the events hosted inside the walls of Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D. C.

As you know, commemorations remembering the 150 years since the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the death of John Wilkes Booth have long since passed. However, another milestone passed just a few weeks ago, 150 years since the beginning of the Lincoln Conspiracy Trial. Accordingly, Fort McNair hosted a two day event which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

(Side note: I’m trying to get the hashtag #LCT150 to go viral and become the official hashtag for the trial. So if you could use that for your various social media postings I would really appreciate it).

On May 8th, Fort McNair held a VIP event in the Officers’ Club which is only a few yards from Grant Hall, where the trial took place in a room on the third floor. Among the guests were Dave and I, many high profile military officials, Colonel Michael Henderson (Commander of Myer-Henderson Hall) delivered the welcome remarks, published Lincoln assassination historians like Kate Clifford Larson, and descendants of various individuals involved in the assassination, including Dr. Samuel Mudd and Thomas Ewing. After some mingling set to the tunes provided by some amazingly talented military musicians, four acclaimed speakers talked in depth about the military tribunal and its participants.

Fort McNair Event Program 5-8-15

Starting off the program was American Brutus author Michael Kauffman. He provided an overview of events and discussed the differences between military and civil trials.

Mike Kauffman Fort McNair 5-8-15

John Elliott, co-author of Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators, spoke about how it would have felt to be a spectator during the infamous trial of 1865. For all those who have seen Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, being a spectator was not as cushy as it appeared on film. In the days before fire codes and maximum capacity rules, there was nothing wrong with shoving as many people into a room as possible. Add that to the fact that air conditioning had yet to be invented and it was the middle of summer. You do the math.

John Elliott Fort McNair 5-8-15

Barry Cauchon, the second author of Inside the Walls, who thankfully got his computer connected to the projector in time, gave an AWESOME (yes, that word deserves to be in all caps) presentation about finding the smallest of details in the different execution photos. You can even see the Smithsonian Castle in one of the images. It was like “Where’s Waldo” but more fun.

Barry Cauchon Fort McNair 5-8-15

Betty Ownsbey, author of Alias Paine (a second edition was just released so go buy it), was the final presenter. This was fitting as she talked about the various myths surrounding the original burial of John Wilkes Booth (no, he was not tossed into any rivers in case you were wondering), the final resting places of the four executed conspirators, and the journey taken by the skull of Lewis Powell.

Betty Ownesby Fort McNair 5-8-15

The event then moved outside to the execution site where Barry Cauchon and John Elliott had earlier marked the locations of the gallows, the graves of the conspirators, the first burial place of Booth, the prison door, and various other structures we have all seen in pictures. Usually I do not find it fortunate that a tennis court was built on the hanging ground. However, said court does come fitted with bright lights which made seeing Barry, his informative presentation, and the gallows and shoe factor markers easy despite the sun having all but disappeared behind the horizon.

Barry Cauchon Execution Site 5-8-15

(Barry demonstrating the height of the gallows).

Barry Cauchon Shoe Factory 5-8-15

(Barry discussing how Alexander Gardner set up his cameras in the shoe factory, which was about 100 feet from the execution site).

As for admiring markers which were in darker areas, that gave everyone a valid excuse to return in the morning for the Grant Hall open house (except for Dave who attended the Tudor Hall symposium in Bel Air, MD). However, Dave and I did manage to get a few good pictures before leaving. 

Dave Taylor Execution Site 5-8-15

(Dave standing on the same spot as George Atzerodt when he was executed).

Kate Ramirez Execution Site 5-8-15

(I chose to sit where David Herold was standing when he was executed. I also look a bit like Vampria. I swear I’m not actually this pale in real life).

Kate Ramirez Shoe Factory 5-8-15

(The more natural lighting near the shoe factory marker shows my skin’s normal coloring).

Due to being on a military base, Grant Hall is only open once every quarter. May 9th was all the more special since it was the 150th anniversary of the trial’s beginning (the trial began in secret on May 9, 1865. May 10th was the first day the public was allowed inside) and visitors got to tour the refurbished trial room with John and the courtyard with Barry. I got much better pictures of the different markers in the sunlight. FYI: John needs to get some serious props since he got a facial sunburn while helping Barry put everything together. Dedication, ladies and gentleman. Dedication.

Surratt Grave Marker 5-9-15

Powell Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

Herold Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

Atzerodt Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

(The approximate locations of the executed conspirator’s original graves. Why the government felt they needed to keep dead bodies for four years I will never understand. But that’s just my opinion).

Grant Hall with Grave Markers 5-9-15

(The two red lines represent where the prison wall used to stand. It’s the place where all the soldiers were chilling on execution day in case you don’t know which wall I’m referring to).

Grant Hall Stairs Marker 5-9-15

(This red box marks where the stairs for the gallows were).

Grant Hall Prison Door 5-9-15

(The spot of the now demolished prison door through which the conspirators entered the courtyard on July 7, 1865).

Grant Hall Gallows and Wall Markers 5-9-15

(This is the length from the door to the stairs. The conspirators did not march a long dramatic distance like in the movies).

Grant Hall Gallows and Shoe Factory Markers 5-9-15

(The view from the gallows in the foreground to the shoe factory in the background).

Grant Hall Shoe Factory Marker 2 5-9-15

(And vice versa).

Execution Site from Trial Room 5-9-15

(You can see the entire execution site from the courtroom window on the third floor of Grant Hall).

Grant Hall John Wilkes Booth Burial Place Marker 5-9-15

(X marks the spot of John Wilkes Booth’s original burial place).

The courtroom was nicely decorated with pictures showing who sat where on the prisoner dock and at the commissioner table. This was especially helpful to me since I can usually recall where each conspirator was but often can barely remember the names of the commission members let alone where they chose to sit.

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(That’s Samuel Arnold next to the window. The light obscured his picture).

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While John gave his lecture on the details of the trial, I got the chance to talk with Michael Kauffman, who returned to speak about how the eight conspirators got involved with John Wilkes Booth and how that influenced their individual fates.

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If you ever get a chance to talk with Mr. Kauffman, ask lots of questions because he is an endless storage of facts and tidbits. Did you know that the red color of the Surratt Tavern originally came from turkey blood? Yep, the paint was a mixture of milk and turkey blood. I also managed to get this picture once the chairs were free to sit on again.

Michael Kauffman Kate Ramirez Grant Hall 5-9-15

And this one when the tours were over and the Boothies still hanging around (no pun intended) decided to take advantage of the nice weather and continue chatting outside (and also because we had to vacate the courtroom or else be locked inside).

Kate Ramirez John Elliott Barry Cauchon Michael Kauffman Grant Hall 5-9-15

(Me, John Elliott, Barry Cauchon, and Michael Kauffman indulge in a group selfie).

Though the story surrounding Grant Hall is one of intense darkness in American history, the coordinators at Fort McNair were able to put together a spectacular event that was a remembrance of the past but also an environment for us in the present to interact with friends in a more light-hearted manner.

Fort McNair Event 5-8-15

Times of great horror have the ability to shed light not only on the past but also on the present and future. When we as historians can look objectively at acts of violence without passing too many judgments about the players we realize that we’re not so different from them after all.

Grant Hall Past and Present

(Okay, so it isn’t the clearest image in the world but you get the idea).

(Final image created by John Elliott and Barry Cauchon).

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