Monthly Archives: November 2012
For a third time, I have inadvertently run into the name of Edwin Pitts, the Chief Clerk of the Judge Advocate General’s Office in the War Department. It appears, from photographs, that among Mr. Pitts’ duties were to attend to and show interested parties the relics of the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. Twice I have highlighted images of Mr. Pitts holding Booth’s derringer:
In addition to the anonymous photographers above that wished to see the trial exhibits, Edwin Pitts also apparently showed the relics to at least one author of an assassination book. Upon the completion and publication of his book, Philip Van Doren Stern sent Edwin Pitts an autographed copy of his book, The Man Who Killed Lincoln. The War Department replied to the gift with the following sad letter:
January 14, 1939
My dear Mr. Stern:
This office is in receipt of an autographed copy of your book entitled “The Man Who Killed Lincoln”, addressed to Mr. Pitts.
I am very sorry to advise you that Mr. Pitts died of lobar pneumonia on December 12th last after an illness of two weeks.
The book and your letter to Mr. Pitts will be turned over to his widow upon her return from Florida where she has gone for recuperation.
Very truly yours,
Joseph L. Lyons,
I don’t know how long Edwin Pitts was employed in the JAG office, but from the above pictures it appears that this civil servant died a bit before his time. Au Revoir, Mr. Pitts and thank you for keeping an eye on the assassination relics during your tenure.
EDIT: Thanks to the wonderful memory of researcher Wesley Harris, an expert on the weapons used by the conspirators, here is another piece of evidence of Mr. Pitts’ employment at the War Department. The following letter is to a Miss. Lenigan who apparently asked what items were in the possession of the War Department in 1936. This list was sent to her by E. B. P. or Edwin B. Pitts:
Not all the items in the above list are correctly identified, though. The biggest one would be Powell’s knife which was not in the posession of the JAG’s office since it was given to Private George Robinson in 1867. Still it’s clear that Mr. Pitts was the go to person in the JAG’s office when it came to the relics of the conspirators.
After his capture, David Herold gave a lengthy statement to authorities while imprisoned aboard the monitor Montauk. He impressively mixed fact with fiction in his attempt to dig himself out of his own grave. Reading his statement provides a valuable look into the reaction Booth had towards the reports of his actions. For example, Herold twice recalled that Booth was, “sorry from the bottom of his heart about the sons” of Secretary Seward, which he had heard were killed in the attack upon their father. Though this proved not to be true both Frederick and Augustus Seward survived their encounter with Powell, Booth seemed to feel remorse over the spilling of innocent blood.
During the interrogation, Davy was shown several photographs and asked to identify the individuals pictured. After one such photo Davy responded with the following:
“I don’t know him. (After a pause) Yes, I have seen him at Ford’s Theatre. He was the stage carpenter there, I think. Mr. Booth had a horse up at the back of Ford’s Theatre, and he loaned it to me. This carpenter & a boy up there attended to the horse.”
Later, the questioning returns to this carpenter:
Q. Did you see the carpenter the Friday before you left town?
A. I have not seen that carpenter for I believe six weeks. I will tell you what Booth did say. He said there was a man at the theatre that held his horse that he was quite sorry for.
Q. Did he say what man it was?
A. He did not say his name, and if I were to hear it, I would know it. Booth said it might get him into difficulty.
After that, there is no more mention of the Ford’s Theatre carpenter, Edman Spangler. If Davy is to be believed and Booth actually did express these sentiments about the “difficultly” Spangler might get into for the holding his horse, it certainly places Spangler in a softer light. Could this statement be another instance of Booth lamenting the plight of the innocent? Or is it one conspirator trying to protect another? Where do you come down on Edman Spangler’s guilt or innocence?
I’m sitting on a delayed flight trying to get back home to Illinois for Thanksgiving and so I’m a little bored. The product of that combination is this post of random assassination related pictures that I happen to have on my iPhone. Enjoy!
On this date (OTD), November 19th, in 1864, Private Boston Corbett was released from Andersonville prison.
Captured in June, Corbett spent five months under the tortuous conditions of Andersonville. Corbett was seen as a godsend by many in the prison population by preaching the Bible during such rough and terrible times. Of the fourteen men in Corbett’s company, only himself and one other survived their imprisonment there.
Upon returning to the 16th New York Cavalry, Corbett was promoted to Sergeant and would later join the hunt for Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. At Garrett’s farm, Corbett fired the fatal shot that ended Booth life. Corbett would testify at the conspiracy trial detailing his actions with the 16th in the capture of Davy Herold and the slaying of Booth. He would also testify at the trial of Andersonville commander Henry Wirz. Both Davy Herold and Henry Wirz would share the same temporary grave in the yard of the Old Arsenal prison until their bodies were released to their families.
Abraham Lincoln and Boston Corbett: With Personal Recollections of Each by Byron Berkeley Johnson (1914) Page 50
Today I attended a “soft opening” of a new museum in Caroline County, Virginia. Called the Port Royal Museum of American History, it is located in the heart of Port Royal right off of Route 301 in the former Union First Market Bank building.
The museum contains the extensive collection of Herbert Collins, a former curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, who I have highlighted on this blog before. Herb’s collection of White House china takes up an entire room in the new museum as does his collection of toleware pieces.
The whole museum is decorated with many paintings by Sidney King who was the main painter for the National Parks Service for many years. He created over 180 paintings for the nation’s parks with his most famous being his large Jamestown paintings. Herb Collins was good friends with Sidney King and collected over 30 paintings by him. Upon Mr. King’s death in 2002, Herb gave the eulogy at his funeral.
In addition to these many items from Herb’s collection, which he permanently donated to Historic Port Royal, the museum also holds a large number of Native American artifacts collected by the Skinner family of Caroline County.
The museum is not a large one, really only one main room and two small ones, but it’s collection is a wonderful mix of old and new. Important to the history of Caroline County, the museum also has a few items relating to John Wilkes Booth and his death at the Garrett’s.
The most notable item is a hinge said to be from the barn in which Booth died.
The affidavit that accompanies it is from Sidney King and states the following:
“John Wilkes Booth, an actor and southern sympathizer, shot Lincoln while watching a play at the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. Twelve days later he was captured at the Richard H. Garrett estate barn near Bowling Green, VA.
In 1954, the National Park Historian Frances Welshun obtained permission to search the area where the barn once stood. This large wrought iron hinge was found there. The remaining hinges were never found. This hinge was left in my charge and I present this hinge to the Caroline Historical Society as a loan, the 28th of Jan. 1990.
Sidney E. King”
While there is no way to prove its authenticity, it’s still fun to hiope that this hinge could have come off the barn in which Booth died.
The Port Royal Museum of American History won’t have its true grand opening until the spring. When it does open for good, I hope some of you in the area will stop by and show the museum your support. Thanks to the generosity of Herb Collins and the selfless work by the members of Historic Port Royal, the history of Caroline County, Virginia, and the United States as a whole, will continue to be shared.
“When Mary Ann’s labor pangs started November 13, 1833, the birth did not progress as expected. More concerned than usual after the bereavements of the past year, her midwives may have advised sending for a doctor. June, Mary Ann’s oldest boy, was the chosen messenger. As he headed out on the back of a mule hours before daybreak with Joe Hall as his companion, June recalled that in the darkness above, thousands of meteors started raining downward. Baltimore’s papers reported the next morning that many people believed the world was coming to an end. Others were certain the meteors ‘prognosticated some dreadful war.’ Only astronomers seemed unafraid, ‘viewing the phenomenon wonderful.’ The Shower lasted for a full hour. One meteor exploded with a bang over northwest Baltimore, lighting the clouds like a sunrise and leaving a fiery, thirty foot trail.” – My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone
Edwin Booth entered the world on this day to the fanfare of a great celestial event. It seems only fitting then that on this, the 179th anniversary of his birth, another spacial phenomenon occurred:
On this day, I’d also like to give a continued congratulations to Carolyn Mitchell of The Spirits of Tudor Hall and the Edwin Booth Society for her wonderful work on these websites. Carolyn is a wealth of knowledge about the Booth family and I check her sites everyday to see what’s new with Edwin and the rest of the Booths. I certainly wish I could have been in New York today to visit The Players during the celebration of their Founder.
Thanks to Veterans’ Day, Lindsey and I have managed to take a long weekend trip away from our Southern Maryland home. We’re currently at a wonderful B&B in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. We’ve enjoyed the historic and ever constant 74 degree spring that George Washington and many other Virginia notables visited for its healing properties.
Even when on vacation though, I’m always on the lookout for anything assassination related. At a local antique mall I looked through every single CDV and cabinet card they had looking for a familiar face but to no avail. I did find and flip through the 1938 issue of Life magazine which contains pictures of the Booth mummy, but decided against purchasing it.
Instead I spent my hard earned money on a book that Lindsey already has a copy of and I have an electronic copy of, The Life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd by Nettie Mudd:
The reason I decided to purchase this copy is due to the fact that this copy is signed by some of the grandchildren of Dr. Mudd:
Sadly, all of those who signed this book back in 1996 have all died, with the last granddaughter, Marie Mudd Summers, having passed away in January of this year. While not quite a collector’s item (I believe the Mudd House still sells autographed copies too) I feel the personal connection that comes with this book is worth purchasing an extra copy of it. Moreover, I was impressed to find a little piece of my local Maryland home 130 miles away.
The Richmond Whig newspaper carried this article on August 4, 1865 covering the arrival of the Lincoln assassination conspirators to their prison of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas:
What surprised me the most about this article is the claim that, upon reaching the island, the prisoners were relieved at finding it, “not so bad a place as they had supposed,” as it had a “fine sea breeze” and was a “very healthy” place. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Early in his memoirs, Sam Arnold accurately describes the Fort thusly:
“Without exception, it was the most horrible place the eye of man ever rested upon, where day after day, the miserable existence was being dragged out, intermixed with sickness, bodily suffering, want and pinching hunger…”
It would have been a fallacy to think that Fort Jefferson was “healthy” in any sense of the word. Scurvy, malnutrition, diarrhea, and diseases like yellow fever ran rampant. The sick were oftentimes quarantined and only aided by a handful of doctors and nurses. No one enjoyed life on Fort Jefferson. Especially not Dr. Mudd, Edman Spangler, Samuel Arnold, or Michael O’Laughlen.
Richmond Whig, 8/4/1865
Memoirs of the Lincoln Conspirators by Michael Kauffman
Fort Jefferson Historical Structures Report
Just a quick photo post tonight as I’m watching the presidential election coverage.
May you feel like having a celebratory cigar too by the time the election results come in. And if not, remember smoking is bad for you anyway.