Grave Thursday: General John Hartranft

Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


Good evening fellow gravers,

This is Kate bringing you the newest installment of Grave Thursday.

With so many fascinating stories populating the Lincoln assassination field, it is often hard to choose the lucky one that will be featured next. This week I chose to spotlight a Union man who always seemed to remain moral, even when confronted with civilians in gray.

Major General John Hartranft

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Burial Location: Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, Pennsylvania

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Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

John Frederick Hartranft (pronounced “Hart – ranft” according to Inside the Walls authors Barry Cauchon and John Elliott) was born on December 16, 1830 in Pennsylvania. His father, Samuel, worked as an innkeeper and eventually became a real estate inspector (a job his son, and only child, assisted him with for some time). In 1850, at the age of 20, Hartranft left home for New York, enrolling in Union College in Schenectady, New York. He graduated at 23 with an engineering degree. Returning to Pennsylvania in 1854, Hartranft married Sallie Sebring. They had six children together although three died as infants. In letters, Sallie affectionately referred to her husband as “Jackie”. Hartranft soon discovered that a career in engineering was not the right fit for him and began studying law. He was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in October of 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the American Civil War.

When fighting broke out at Fort Sumter in April of 1860, the 30 year old Hartranft pulled together, a mere days after President Abraham Lincoln first called for volunteers, a regiment of 600 men calling themselves the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment. However, the regiment fell apart even quicker than it had assembled. The men did not share the same patriotic zeal as Colonel Hartranft and returned home just hours before the first Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the war. Despite the loss of his troops, Hartranft was present at Bull Run and would eventually (in 1886) be awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery on the battlefield as he attempted to “rally the regiments which had been thrown into confusion” by the superior Confederate forces.

Despite his valiant efforts, Hartranft was stained by the scandal of his disloyal Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment. The ever vindictive Secretary of War Edwin Stanton would say of Hartranft, “This is the Colonel of the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment that refused to go into service at Bull Run.” Hartranft soon raised another regiment, the 51st Pennsylvania Volunteers, who would enter combat at the Second Battle of Bull Run (which would also end in loss for the Union). Hartranft and the 51st saw the fall of Vicksburg in 1863 which, along with the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg, turned the tides of war in favor of the Boys in Blue. Hartranft was promoted to brigadier general on May 1, 1864 and became a major general in March of 1865. The Norristown bank printed greenbacks with his portrait to celebrate the news. But while thousands of men returned home following the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in April of 1865, the life of Major General Hartranft would take a far different turn.

On May 1, 1865, President Andrew Johnson appointed Hartranft the commander of the Washington Arsenal and tasked him with guarding the eight Confederate civilians who would stand trial for the assassination of President Lincoln. General Hartranft kept meticulous records of his life inside the walls of the Arsenal in a letterbook that still exists today. It has been published as The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators: Their Confinement and Execution as Recorded in the Letterbook of John Frederick Hartranft.

General Hartranft and his staff (you can read about one member, General Levi Dodd, here) were responsible for seeing to every aspect of the prisoner’s daily lives. When Hartranft first reported for duty on May 1, he wrote,

“I have the honor to report that I took charge of eight Prisoners in the cells of this prison…I immediately swept out the cells and removed all nails from the walls and searched the persons of the prisoners.”

He also recorded how he made twice daily inspections of the prisoners. Upon sensing the beginnings of mental imbalances in some of them, General Hartranft petitioned that they be allowed to exercise in the prison yard each day. His request was granted.

It was Hartranft who received the execution orders from President Johnson on July 6, 1865. Ironically, he also received a letter from his wife in which she begged him not to act as a hangman. However, he followed his orders with the same stoicism he had shown throughout the Civil War. He delivered the sentences to the four condemned prisoners, Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt, and then turned to the details of the execution he had been placed in charge of. At some point on July 7, 1865, a photograph was taken of General Hartranft and his staff.

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Believing that perhaps President Johnson would spare Mary Surratt from the gallows, and possibly believing in her innocence himself, Hartranft posted mounted guards along the route from the prison to the Executive Mansion so that he would be the first to receive any messages from Capitol Hill. That order never came. On the afternoon of July 7, 1865, General Hartranft led the somber march to the gallows and completed one of his final tasks, reading the death warrant. For his kind treatment of the prisoners, Hartranft was thanked by Anna Surratt, the clergy members who accompanied the condemned on the scaffold, and given ownership of David Herold’s pointer dog (Hartranft had allowed the dog to remain with his master in the Arsenal) by Herold himself just before he died. General Hartranft’s work in Washington was done.

General Hartranft returned home to Norristown in 1865. He was elected the 17th governor of Pennsylvania and served in that office from 1873 to 1879. He tried but failed to secure the Republican Presidential nomination in 1876. He served as postmaster, was appointed to numerous veterans boards, and was an official state delegate at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, his first and only time abroad. Just a few years later, in 1893, Chicago would successfully outrank the Paris exposition in size, grandeur, and overall impact with the World’s Colombian Exposition.

Hartranft contracted Bright’s disease (inflammation of the kidneys) and pneumonia in 1889. He died on October 17, 1889, just shy of his 59th birthday. He was laid to rest in a large, well-marked burial plot in Montgomery Cemetery.

General Hartranft left few personal documents behind. Most of what historians know about him comes from his 1865 letterbook. Its words show a man who always carried out his orders but did so with respect, humanity, and kindness. And so we forever salute you, Major General John Hartranft.

Until next time,

-Kate  

GPS coordinates for Major General John Hartranft’s grave: 40.117581, -75.364860

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Photo of the Day: John Wilkes Booth

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Grave Thursday: Junius Brutus Booth, Jr.

Each week I am highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


Junius Brutus Booth, Jr.

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Burial Location: Rosedale Cemetery, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts

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Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. was the eldest brother of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Lincoln. For much of his younger brother’s upbringing, June (sixteen years John Wilkes’ senior) was acting in California. By the time June returned from the west, John Wilkes was grown and beginning his own acting career. Nevertheless, out of all of the Booth brothers, June may have had the closest relationship to John Wilkes. The differences in their ages and June’s more substantial life experiences likely made June a surrogate father figure to his younger brother. John Wilkes also took great interest in the lives of June’s children, doting upon and nurturing the acting careers of his nieces. More than anyone else in the family, June was the most sympathetic to John Wilkes’ political views. While June did not address politics with the same passion as John Wilkes, he was, nevertheless, more Confederate in his sympathies than the other Booths during the Civil War. However, June knew that he was a father and breadwinner to his children first and so he kept most of his sympathies to himself to protect his income and family.

While John Wilkes was close to June, he did not confide in him about his plot against Lincoln. In spring of 1865, John Wilkes kept up the charade among his family that he had made a fortune in the oil business and that he need not act upon the stage any more. Shortly before Lincoln’s assassination, June had learned the truth of John Wilkes’ failure in his oil ventures and wrote to him to “let go yr oil bus.” and “attend to your profession”. June was unaware that, since his failure in the oil fields, John Wilkes had referred to his plot to kidnap Lincoln as the “oil business”. When detectives found June’s letter while searching John Wilkes’ rented room at the National, they believed the elder Booth might have known of his brother’s plot. After barely escaping mob justice in Cincinnati where he had been performing, June was arrested at his sister’s house in Philadelphia. He and his brother-in-law, John Sleeper Clarke, were kept at the Old Capitol Prison in D.C. until they were released in the month of June.

Post assassination, Junius Brutus Booth returned to his career as an actor and theater manager. He married his third wife, Agnes Perry, in 1867 and had four boys with her, two of whom would survive into adulthood and become actors themselves. In his later years, Junius moved to Manchester-by-the-Sea in Massachusetts. June and Agnes opened and ran a large hotel called the Masconomo House where they often arranged for outdoor theatrical performances, including some of the earliest “Shakespeare in the Park” performances that had ever occurred.

When Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. died in 1883 he was not interred in the Booth family plot at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore. Instead, June is buried in Manchester-by-the-Sea at Rosedale Cemetery. His two young sons by Agnes preceded him in death. Agnes and a third son, Sydney Barton, were later buried in the same plot. Check out the Maps page for more details. For more images of Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., his wives, and his children, visit the Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. Picture Gallery.

GPS coordinates for Junius Brutus Booth, Jr.’s grave: 42.582743, -70.768894

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Fake David Herold

Recognize this face?
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No? Well, that’s completely understandable because, despite the words on the bottom of this CDV, this image is definitely not of conspirator David Herold. However, like the false image of Mary Surratt that has been previously discussed on this site, in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination this image was copied and distributed to the general public as the likeness of David Herold. The nation clamored for images of John Wilkes Booth and his gang of conspirators and, when images were unavailable or difficult to acquire, some photographers were forced to improvise.

One of those improvising photographers was a man by the name of Anthony Berger. Berger had learned his trade from the famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady and had even run Brady’s studio in Washington, D.C. Under Brady’s tutelage, Berger became a experienced photographer and respected artist in his own right. Berger photographed President Lincoln at least 14 times and many of the classic images of Lincoln that we revere today were taken not by Brady, but by Berger. All of the images of Lincoln that we use on our money today were the products of Berger’s work:

Photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken by Anthony Berger on February 9, 1864. This image was the basis for the Lincoln penny.

Photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken by Anthony Berger on February 9, 1864. This image was the basis for the Lincoln penny.

Photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken by Anthony Berger on February 9, 1864. This image appears on the current $5 bill.

Photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken by Anthony Berger on February 9, 1864. This image appears on the current $5 bill.

By 1865, Berger had moved to his own photography studio in New York. This is why the above image of “fake Herold” was copyrighted in Brooklyn and not in Washington, D.C. The true identity of the man pictured in Berger’s photograph is unknown as is Berger’s reasons for attempting to pass off such an image. The most obvious reason would be financial gain with Berger knowingly passing off a fake image of Herold during a time of huge demand and in a place where no one would know the difference. Or perhaps Berger truly believed that it was an image of David Herold and, being so far away from anyone who could correct him, it was mistakenly published as such. Eventually, Berger’s false image found its way into the illustrated newspapers that were published in New York. This fake David Herold image appeared as an engraving in Harper’s Weekly on June 10, 1865:

David Herold engraving Harper's Weekly 6-10-1865

In addition to being flipped horizontally, someone took the liberty of adding a mustache to the man, a detail that does not appear on the original image. Perhaps this was done in order to fit the newspaper reports of the day which gave descriptions of the conspirators appearances. We know that Herold, like most of the conspirators, grew out his facial hair during the trial as the conspirators were rarely shaven during their imprisonment. Military commission member Lew Wallace sketched the conspirators while they were in the courtroom and his drawing of Herold also demonstrates an increase in facial hair:

Herold by Lew Wallace

By the time the execution came about we know that Herold had returned to his nearly clean shaven look:

Herold on the Scaffold

Despite Berger’s success at getting his image published in the illustrated newspapers, it appears that the image never really became the big seller he was hoping for. Perhaps the wide publication of it in Harper’s Weekly made him, and others, aware that the image was incorrect. Just a couple of weeks later Harper’s Weekly published engravings of the conspirators based on the mug shot photographs by Alexander Gardner. Comparing Berger’s and Gardner’s photographs of Herold made it clear that Berger’s image was false.

So many errors were made in the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination. Names were misspelled, printed biographies contained inaccurate details (like Herold having attended Charlotte Hall Military Academy), and false images were published. Some of these myths and mistakes still pop up in the present. This fake image of David Herold, like the one of Mary Surratt, is a nice visual reminder that we have to carefully sift through the reports of the past and always question the validity and reliability of the evidence. Like Abraham Lincoln once said, “Not everything you read on the internet is true”.

References:
Roger Norton’s Lincoln Discussion Symposium
Roger Norton’s Abraham Lincoln Research Site

Categories: History | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Grave Thursday: Adam Herold

Each week I am highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


Hello to all you graveyard enthusiasts and those who often wander through cemeteries. This is Kate, taking over for Dave who spent the night watching the Paralympics and grading papers.

Not long ago I was visiting Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. where I maintain a garden plot. Dave gave me the task of deciding on a person at Congressional who should be featured in an installment of Grave Thursday. I decided to copy the theme of last week’s Grave Thursday and choose another relative of a conspirator. My choice bears a surname that is familiar to you. For this week we’ll look at Adam George Herold, the father of conspirator David Herold.

Adam George Herold

Burial Location: Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

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Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Adam Herold was born, according to his baptism record, on January 6, 1803 in Baltimore City. He married Mary Ann Porter, born January 8, 1810 in Wilmington, Delaware, on September 11, 1828 in Washington City. At the time of his death, newspapers reported that Mr. Herold had been a Washington resident for 43 years, meaning he would have moved to the city around 1821 at the age of 18.

Adam and Mary Herold had at least eleven children in the 36 years they were married. The named children were, in order, Jerome Jacob D. (1829-1837), Margaret Cecelia (1831-1904), George Christopher (1833-1834), Adam George Jr. (1835-1837), Mary Alice (1837-1917), Elizabeth Jane (1839-1903), David Edgar (1842-1865), Catherine Virginia (1846-1917), Emma Frances (1850-1874), Alice King (1851-1930), and Georgia Isabel (1904). In the Herold family plot at Congressional there are an additional two burials listed in the cemetery records as unnamed Herolds. One was buried in 1834 and another in 1845. It is possible that these two burials were additional Herold children who died very young, possibly at birth.

Three of the four Herold sons (there is no documentation listing the sexes of the two nameless Herolds) died as children. Thusly, David Edgar Herold, born on June 16, 1842, was the only son of Adam Herold who survived into adulthood. The Herold family home stood at 636 8th Street (near the South East-corner of 8th and I Streets) only a few paces from the large gate which still today marks the entrance to the Washington Navy Yard.

Davy's House Harper's 5-20-1865

In order to support his large family, Mr. Herold worked as a clerk in the Navy Yard, eventually becoming the chief clerk in the Quartermaster department. By 1850, according to a Baltimore Sun article, Mr. Herold had become the Vice President (having formerly been an officer and the Secretary) of the Navy Yard Beneficial Society, which provided Navy Yard workers with insurance in case of disability of death.

Sadly, on October 6, 1864, Adam Herold died at the age of 61 from a prolonged, but unspecified, illness. Due to his numerous years of service with various Washington societies, Mr. Herold was buried with full honors. The large procession which led the hearse from Christ Church, the Herold family parish where the funeral service was held, to Congressional Cemetery, the burial grounds owned by Christ Church where the casket was interred, was led by the members of the beneficial society and a band from Lincoln Hospital.

Adam Herold’s death may have more of a connection to the Lincoln assassination than his life did. It was shortly after Mr. Herold’s death that John Wilkes Booth reignited his friendship with the then 22 year old David Herold. This friendship would lead to David becoming part of Booth’s plot to abduct, and then assassinate, President Lincoln. If Adam Herold had not died in 1864, could he have possibly advised his only son to discontinue his relationship with Booth? Did a lack of a father figure cause the young druggist clerk to attach himself to the famous and personable John Wilkes Booth? How might the history of David Herold (and maybe even the whole nation) have been different if Adam Herold had been on this earth just 6 months more?

Congressional Cemetery is the final resting place of the entire Herold clan, with most of the children buried in the family plot with the patriarch, Adam George. Check out the Maps page for more details on other Herolds buried in Congressional. For more images of Adam’s son, David Herold, visit the David Herold Gallery.

GPS coordinates for Adam Herold’s grave: 38.8823225, -76.9783331

Until next time,

-Kate

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , | 5 Comments

Dr. Mudd’s Suicide Attempt

1871 must have been a rough year for a certain Charles County physician. In late March of that year a few of the regional newspapers carried stories about the apparently successful suicide of Dr. Mudd who played a small role in the story of Lincoln’s assassination.

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The Dr. Mudd reported to have committed suicide by cutting his own throat was not Dr. Samuel Mudd, but rather his second cousin, Dr. George Dyer Mudd.

George Mudd

This “other” Dr. Mudd was actually the elder of the doctors Mudd. George even sponsored his younger cousin, Samuel, when the latter was applying for his doctorate in medicine.

Unlike his younger cousin, Dr. George Mudd was a Union supporter during the Civil War and as such was well liked and known among the Union soldiers who occupied Charles County. It was likely due to this reason that Dr. Samuel Mudd chose to confide to Dr. George Mudd that two “strangers” had come to his house on the morning of April 15th, after the assassination of President Lincoln. Samuel told this to George on April 16th, when both men attended Easter Sunday services at St. Peter’s Church. Dr. Sam hinted to Dr. George that he was worried that these two men might have been connected with Lincoln’s death, but did not put too fine a point on this suspicion. George Mudd said he would tell the authorities, but did not actually report the news until the next day. The authorities eventually followed up on Dr. George Mudd’s lead, and pretty soon the whole family’s name was Mudd due to his younger cousin’s well established acquaintance with John Wilkes Booth.

Despite what the papers initially reported in March of 1871, however, Dr. George Mudd did not succeed in his attempt to kill himself. A correction was quickly published.

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Further information was published in the local newspaper, The Port Tobacco Times, on March 24th. The article started with a copy of one of the original notices citing Dr. Mudd’s death by suicide:

“The above, which we find in the Baltimore papers of Wednesday last, is incorrect, and we copy it merely to correct the misstatements of false rumors, growing out of a very unfortunate affair. From trustworthy sources we learn that on Sunday morning last, during a fit of temporary insanity, superinduced by mental prostration, Dr. Mudd did attempt to take his own life but was prevented by friends, but not until he had inflicted an ugly cut upon his throat. The wound is by no means fatal, and, at last accounts, the Doctor is pronounced out of danger.”

Dr. George Mudd recovered from his suicide attempt and it does not appear he ever tried to take his own life again. Instead, two years later, Dr. George Mudd enter politics and was elected as a state senator. When he was re-elected to the legislature in 1876, many newspapers confused him with his infamous cousin.

Categories: History | Tags: , , | 10 Comments

Grave Thursday: Hartman Richter

Each week I am highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


Ernest Hartman Richter

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Burial Location: Neelsville Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Germantown, Maryland

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Hartman Richter's grave

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Ernest Hartman Richter, often known as just Hartman Richter in assassination literature, was the first cousin of conspirator George Atzerodt. Richter’s mother’s maiden name was Christanna Maria Atzerodt, the sister of George’s father, Johann. Like his cousin, Hartman Richter was born in Germany. In 1844, the Atzerodts and Richters immigrated to the United States  where they settled in Montgomery County, Maryland. Johann Atzerodt and his brother-in-law Frederick Richter invested in a farm in what is now Germantown, Maryland, and the families lived there together for some time. After a few years, Atzerodt sold his interest in the farm to his brother-in-law and moved his family to Westmoreland County, Virginia.

After the assassination of Lincoln, conspirator George Atzerodt escaped Washington City and headed north towards this former family home, now owned by his uncle and cousin. Atzerodt arrived at the Richter farm on April 16th and was welcomed in with open arms. George stayed about the home for several days until the early hours of April 20th, when Union soldiers came knocking at the door. It was George’s cousin, Hartman Richter who answered the soldiers knock that morning. I’ll let Sgt. Gemmill, the lead officer who arrived at the Richter home, explain what happened next:

“I went to the house of a man named Richter, I think, and asked him if there was a man there named [Atwood]. I had two men with me at the time. I understood him to say that he was his cousin but [he] had left and gone to Frederick. One of my men understood the same, but the other did not. I then told him I would search the house. He then said there was a man in the house. He commenced telling me a yarn and I was suspicious of him. I then searched the house and went up to his room. There were three men in one bed, two of them young men by the name of Nichols living in the neighborhood, who did not explain how they came there; but as my orders were to arrest Atzerodt alone, I did not arrest them [Note: the two Nichols men were the brothers of Hartman Richter’s wife]. When the door opened the two of them awoke. He [Atzerodt] did not awake or at least pretended not to till I went up to the bed. I asked him his name. He gave me a name which I though was Atwood, but I heard it indistinctly as he spoke with a German accent and I was not certain about it.”‘

Despite Sgt. Gemmill having orders to only arrest Atzerodt, Richter’s attempt to hide his cousin’s presence in the home was very suspicious and led Gemmill to return to the Richter home. “I told his cousin to get ready, as I wanted him to go with me. He said he did not want to go; that he did not know what he was arrested for. Atzerodt never asked me a question in relation to the cause of his arrest, although he was in my custody several hours.”

Hartman Richter was taken down to Washington and imprisoned aboard the USS Saugus just like his cousin. Richter also has the distinction of having his mug shot photograph taken just like the main conspirators. From time to time you’ll find people who mistake Richter’s mug shot photographs for ones of Dr. Mudd. Dr. Mudd was never placed, or photographed, on the monitors.

Richter, like the conspirators, was transferred to the Old Arsenal Penitentiary where he would be imprisoned until May 13th. By that date it had been well determined that Richter had no knowledge of his cousin’s involvement in the plot against Lincoln. He was transferred to the more “minimum security” prison, the Old Capitol Prison, where some of the other “suspicious but not evidently guilty” persons were held. On May 30th, Richter was released from jail completely.

Ernest Hartman Richter far outlived the cousin he tried to protect, dying on February 21, 1920. He is buried in the Neelsville Presbyterian Church Cemetery, in Germantown, Maryland, not too far from the site of his former home. Check out the Maps page for more details. For more images of Hartman Richter and the other “non-conspirator” who had mug shot photographs taken, visit the Fake Conspirators Gallery.

GPS coordinates for Ernest Hartman Richter’s grave: 39.1958242, -77.2431242

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

Following Orders: The Arrest and Case of John McCall, Assassination Sympathizer

Recently, there was a comment posted by Gary Goodenow in the Grave Thursday entry for General Dodd relating a story about a possible relative of Gen. Dodd’s who participated in the execution of King Charles I of England, and was later executed himself for treason by the restored King Charles II. Gary mentions that the colonel in question attempted to use the defense that he was following the command of his superior when he participated the Charles I’s trial and death. This defense did not succeed for Col. Axtell. However, the idea of a “following orders” defense reminded me of another legal case related to the Lincoln assassination. It was a case brought forward by a man named John McCall who lived in Mendocino County, California.

Abraham Lincoln Bierstadt

Abraham Lincoln in September of 1861

Before getting to Mr. McCall, however, some background knowledge on a specific legal aspect of the Civil War is necessary. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus, which is Latin for “you may have the body”, is the right for an individual detained by an authority to appear before a court in order to contest the reasons for their continued detainment. In its simplest sense, habeas corpus prevents authorities from locking people away for indefinite periods of time without charge or trial. According to the U.S. Constitution the only time habeas corpus can be suspended is “when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” So, when Lincoln suspended the writ in 1861, it could be argued that he was in his legal right, due to the open rebellion of the Confederacy. However, the above quote about when one can suspend the writ is detailed in the Constitution under the section describing the powers of Congress, not the executive branch.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney

The debate over who had the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus loomed large in the early Civil War years. Lincoln’s actions were challenged by those who had been imprisoned for their southern sympathies and continually held. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney staunchly believed that the executive branch had no legal right to suspend the writ, while Lincoln argued that since the rebellion began when Congress was in recess he had the right to suspend the writ in their absence. Eventually, on March 3, 1863, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, which retroactively gave the President the authority to suspend habeas corpus for the duration of the rebellion and protected the President and his subordinates from any liability for their previous actions:

“SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That any order of the President, or under his authority, made at any time during the existence of the present rebellion, shall be a defence in all Courts to any action or prosecution, civil or criminal, pending or to be commenced, for any search, seizure, arrest, or imprisonment, made, done, or committed, or acts omitted to be done, under and by virtue of such order, or under color of any law of Congress; and such defence may be made by special plea, or under the general issue.”

Lincoln then paired this act with a proclamation of his own on September 15, 1863, declaring the classes of people who could be arrested and held under the suspension of habeas corpus:

“Whereas, in the judgment of the President, the public safety does require that the privilege of the said writ shall now be suspended throughout the United States in the cases where, by the authority of the President of the United States, military, naval, and civil officers of the United States, or any of them, hold persons under their command or in their custody, either as prisoners of war, spies, or aiders or abettors of the enemy, or officers, soldiers, or seamen enrolled or drafted or mustered or enlisted in or belonging to the land or naval forces of the United States, or as deserters therefrom, or otherwise amenable to military law or the rules and articles of war or the rules or regulations prescribed for the military or naval services by authority of the President of the United States. or for resisting a draft, or for any other offense against the military or naval service”

In short, Lincoln’s proclamation gave military officers the authority to hold without charge or trial those they believed were prisoners of war, spies, deserters, draft dodgers, and aiders or abettors, even if the belief could not be proven. The act of March of 1863, subsequently protected the officers from liability in enacting this authority.

Lincoln assassinated headline San Fran

When Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, the news spread around the country. In some of the western states and territories the reactions to Lincoln’s death were mixed, especially due to the unique blend of Northerners and Southerners who had moved there. It was not uncommon to find ardent Unionists and Confederates living in the same small area.

This was the case in an area of northern California called Potter Valley in Mendocino County. The valley was split in its sympathies with those with Southern sympathies settling in the upper part of the valley and those with Union sympathies in the lower part. The original school in Potter Valley had been built in the Southern leaning upper part and, during the Civil War, a second school was built in the Unionist lower part to ensure that the different students in the area received the appropriate political education.

When the news of Lincoln’s death arrived in Potter Valley there were those who mourned the fallen leader with intense grief, and those who greeted the news with great joy. One of those joyful men was an older resident of the valley named John McCall.

McCall was about 60 years old and originally from Tennessee. At least twice in April of 1865, McCall made statements while on the public road in Potter Valley about his satisfaction with Lincoln’s death. According to Unionist witnesses who later reported on him, McCall stated that, “Lincoln was shot, and that the damned old son of a bitch should have been shot long ago, and that some more of his kind would go the same way shortly.” A few days later, McCall followed up on this line of thinking and stated, “That he did not believe that General Lee had surrendered, and believed that General Lee was still carrying on the war; and that he did not believe for a long time after hearing of the president’s assassination that it was true; and said, I am only afraid that it is not so – if three or four more of the leaders of the abolition party were killed it would be a good thing, as it would be the downfall of that party.”

These words would be John McCall’s downfall. Others around the country were learning the danger of speaking positively about Lincoln’s death. The backlash against those who celebrated Lincoln’s death was intense. Mob justice was prevalent with some supporters of Lincoln’s death being swiftly lynched. Even those in isolated towns would band together to punish those gloating rebels.

Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell

Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell

On April 17, 1865, a general order was sent out by Union Major General Irvin McDowell who was the commander of the Department of the Pacific stationed in San Francisco. General Order 27 stated the following:

“It has come to the knowledge of the major-general commanding that there have been found within the department persons so utterly infamous as to exult over the assassination of the President. Such persons become virtually accessories after the fact, and will at once be arrested by any officer or provost-marshal or member of the police having knowledge of the case. Any paper so offending or expressing any sympathy in anyway whatever with the act will be at once seized and suppressed.”

With this order, Gen. McDowell was essentially authorizing the arrest of any person in his district who was demonstrating joy in Lincoln’s death.  Whether he knew of this order or not, John McCall made himself susceptible to its consequences with his words on April 20th and April 29th. On June 1, 1865, John McCall saw Union troops riding up to his farm and found himself under arrest. The arresting officer was Captain Charles D. Douglas who was the commander of Fort Wright, located almost 60 miles north of Potter Valley.

McCall was not the only seditious citizen arrested that day. Captain Douglas also arrested men by the names of Andrew J. LaFever, Simon Wurtenberg and Thaddeus Dashiell, all of whom had spoken positively of Lincoln’s death with Dashiell having given a celebratory Rebel Yell at the news. Also arrested was the teacher of the Confederate leaning upper school, a Miss Harriet Buster, who allegedly stomped on the American flag after hearing of Lee’s surrender to Grant. Miss Buster was released shortly after her arrest and the men were marched three miles to an adobe hut where they spent the night under confinement.

Thaddeus Dashiell and Andrew LaFever, two of John McCall's fellow prisoners, in their later years.

Thaddeus Dashiell and Andrew LaFever, two of John McCall’s fellow prisoners, in their later years.

The next day the soldiers and their prisoners made the trek of almost 60 miles north to Fort Wright. There were not enough animals for all of the men to ride and so John McCall and the other prisoners had to walk for most of the way. They passed through the mountains which were high and cold, and had to endure a hail storm as they went. They finally arrived at Fort Wright at between 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock at night. At Fort Wright the men met another prisoner, named James Patrick, in identical circumstances. They slept that night, cold and wet, on the floor of the guard house. The gang stayed at Fort Wright for three days, during which time one of the men, Andrew LaFever took the oath of allegiance and was released. Whether the oath was offered to the others is unknown.

From Fort Wright the prisoners were taken by mule to Fort Bragg, a coastal town some 75 miles away. Traveling over mountains meant it took two days to make the trip, but by the evening of June 7th, they arrived in Fort Bragg. McCall would later describe each leg of the journey as being “pulled, dragged and hauled” across the roughest of terrain.

The men were placed on a lumber schooner called the Albion at nearby Noyo Harbor but, due to rough waters, the schooner failed to depart as planned on June 9th. The next day it successfully began its sail to San Francisco. Fellow prisoner Thad Dashiell described the trip: “The schooner barreled down the coast, one time out of sight of land, most of the time in sight of the coast.” Upon arriving in San Francisco on June 11th, Dashiell and the other prisoners were surprised to find that, for the first time, their guards held their revolvers on them with “pistols cocked, fingers on the trigger.”

McCall, Dashiell, Wurtenberg, and Patrick were marched at gunpoint through the streets of San Francisco to the provost marshal’s office. They were placed in a 10 x 12 ft guardhouse which was “a very filthy place,” Dashiell recalled. The men were handcuffed for the first time and spent two days in the provost marshal’s guardhouse. Captain Douglas, who had escorted the prisoners the entire distance, relinquished his custody of the men to the provost marshal and would make his was back to Fort Wright.

Alcatraz Island circa 1869

Alcatraz Island circa 1869

On June 13th, the four men were put in a small boat and transferred to Fort Alcatraz. At Alcatraz they were given hard labor. According to Dashiell, they were, “put to work breaking rocks into small pieces” alongside military prisoners and endured many hardships. McCall would later state that, “My arm was rubbed raw in one place. I asked for a change of irons. They would not get me any.”

The disloyal men from Mendocino County spent six days doing hard labor at Alcatraz. They managed to acquire the services of a lawyer and, despite the suspension of habeas corpus that could have kept them there indefinitely, the lawyer managed to persuade the provost marshal to release them. They were removed from Alcatraz and had to spend one final night at the provost marshal’s guardhouse with drunken soldiers before they were allowed to take the oath of allegiance. Upon taking the oath, John McCall, Thad Dashiell, Simon Wurtenberg, and James Patrick were released and began the long journey back to their homes in Potter Valley about 140 miles away.

One would think that the story would end there and that the disloyal secessionists got what they deserved for celebrating at a time of national tragedy. But John McCall was very angry about the treatment he had endured and did not believe that his arrest was justified. By October of 1865, John McCall announced that he was bringing a suit against Captain Douglas and General McDowell seeking damages of $100,000.

Alcatraz suit 10-12-1865

The announcement of the case received wide press with some newspapers announcing that, rather than suing, McCall should, “consider himself very fortunate that he escaped a justly deserved hanging.”

Immediately though, John McCall’s case against Gen. McDowell and Cap. Douglas hit a snag. According to Section 5 of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act passed by Congress in March of 1863, any suit brought against authorities in regards to habeas corpus was to be taken up by the Circuit Court and not by the state courts. McCall, likely hoping to receive a jury trial which would be more sympathetic to his cause, petitioned heavily that his case not be taken to the Circuit Court level where only a judge would decide his case. McCall’s lawyer challenged Congress’ authority to circumvent the lower state courts. On September 17, 1866, McCall’s motion to keep the trial at the state level with a jury was denied.

While McCall was waiting to hear about his motion to keep his case at the state level, an act was passed by Congress to further clarify the legal protections granted to authorities during the suspension of habeas corpus. The act, passed on May 11, 1866, granted protection to those who had carried out an order, “written or verbal, general or special, issued by the President or Secretary of War, or by any military officer of the United States holding command of the department, district, or place within which such acts . . . were done or omitted to be done.” This act, meant to help and clarify the defense of military officers, would actually cause trouble for one of the defendants in McCall’s case.

In March of 1867, all of the evidence and testimony for the case was taken. Captain Douglas testified about his role in arresting and transporting McCall stating that no deliberate malice was done to the prisoners while he was in charge of them. General McDowell also testified, acknowledging that he gave the order to arrest those celebrating Lincoln’s demise. “I issued this order,” McDowell said, “and I think it quieted the country. And there would have been bloodshed. I think this order saved the lives if not the property of prominent citizens of the city.” Thaddeus Dashiell testified on John McCall’s behalf about the circumstances surrounding their arrest and imprisonment.

Judge Matthew Deady

Judge Matthew Deady

On Friday, April 5, 1867, the case McCall v McDowell et al was argued before Judge Matthew Deady of the U.S. Circuit Court in San Francisco. McCall’s attorney, Henry Irving, made the case that his client’s utterances were not enough evidence to suspect him of being an “aider and abettor” of the Confederacy and thus he did not fall under President Lincoln’s September of 1863 proclamation as a class of citizen eligible for arrest without the benefit of habeas corpus. Irving also argued that Gen. McDowell had not been authorized by the President or Secretary of War to issue the order to arrest assassination sympathizers, a condition seemingly necessary in order to protect him from legal action according the act of May 11, 1866. At the end of the day, Judge Deady announced that a decision would come at the end of the month because the, “points involved were of paramount importance.”

On April 26, 1867, Judge Deady announced his decision on McCall’s case. Judge Deady threw out McCall’s case against Captain Douglas due to the March 3, 1863 Congressional Act and act of May 11, 1866 which protected subordinates following the orders of their superiors. It was not proven that Douglas had acted with malice towards his prisoners and thus he was completely free from any liability. The acts from Congress protected Captain Douglas for having “only followed orders”.

Gen McDowell Fined

Surprisingly, however, Deady found that General McDowell was liable for the false imprisonment of John McCall. He agreed with McCall’s attorney that the act of May 11, 1866 did not protect McDowell from liability since McDowell was not given any orders by either the President or the Secretary of War to issue the arrest of assassination sympathizers in his district. So while Captain Douglas was protected for following the order, Gen. McDowell was not protected for issuing it.

Deady did acknowledge that McDowell was acting for the safety of the public when issuing the order and not out of malice, but contended that he was still subject to legal action due to that order. Deady reassessed the possible damages owed to McCall and decided that he deserved compensation for the money he spent during his time of confinement and an additional $500 for his pain and suffering. In the end, it was the judgement of the court that General Irvin McDowell was to pay $635 to the plaintiff, John McCall.

The judgement rocked California. No one had expected John McCall to win his suit against the military authorities who had once imprisoned him. Newspapers reported the names of other former imprisoned rebels who were preparing their own suits against General McDowell and commanders in other districts. Editorial letters denouncing Deady’s decision and poking holes in his logic filled the news. To military leaders out west, the decision of McCall v McDowell was a terrifying one.

More suits against McDowell to come

Though not the $100,000 he wanted, John McCall was no doubt happy about his success against the military might of the abolition party. This last rebel victory, however, would be extremely short lived. For even as Judge Deady was deciding in John McCall’s favor in the west, back east an act had already passed Congress which would overrule it.

On March 2, 1867, Congress passed an act establishing the validity and conclusivity of all acts and proclamations of the President regarding martial law and the suspension of habeas corpus from March of 1861 to July of 1866. In addition, the act specifically fills in the gap of protection that Judge Deady observed, by declaring that, “all officers and other persons in the service of the United States, or who acted in aid thereof, acting in the premises shall be held prima facie to have been authorized by the President”. In other words, this act maintained General McDowell’s authority to issue orders as he saw fit and that all such orders had the implied approval of the President.

The awareness of this act of Congress did not reach California until early May. When the news did arrive, it was immediately picked up by the newspapers. It was reported that, “under this law, which has only been received within a day, Judge Deady himself would have decided for the defendant.”

In the end, General McDowell’s attorneys appealed Deady’s ruling based on this newly passed act of Congress, and the decision was overruled. John McCall never received a cent from General McDowell and any planned suits against him by other formerly imprisoned rebels were ended.

Unfortunately, John McCall sort of drifted back into obscurity after that. I have been unable to find any record of his later life and death. General Irvin McDowell died in 1885 and is buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery. His subordinate, Captain Charles Douglas, died in 1913 and is buried in Monterey, California. McCall’s neighbor and fellow prisoner, Thaddeus Dashiell, is buried right back in Potter Valley where it all started. Dashiell was elected twice as a county supervisor for Mendocino County and in his later years started to vote Republican. Asked by his friends why he would begin voting for the party of Lincoln, the elder Dashiell would say that he had, “packed sand at Alcatraz for the privilege of expressing any political opinion,” he wanted.

Abraham Lincoln Thinking

Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus continues to be one of the most debated parts of his legacy. Though he had reason for suspending one of the most important personal liberties, it was not an easy decision to make. In addition to stripping away a crucial right of every citizen, suspending habeas corpus also removed one of our national protections against the creation of a despotism. That is why our Constitution only allows for its suspension during times of rebellion and invasion. Even in those cases, however, stripping personal freedoms can be a slippery slope. The not so distant past of the world demonstrates the damage that can occur when those in authority are allowed to imprison individuals without charge or trial. While Captain Douglas may have not have committed a crime when he arrested John McCall, we all know the tragedies of history that can occur in countries where personal liberties are suspended by those “only following orders”.

References:
McCall v. McDowell et al – Judge Deady’s full decision on the case is a fascinating read
The Privilege of Expressing My Opinion: Regionalism and Free Speech in Civil War California by Ronald Cannon
An ‘Un-Lincoln’ story for Abe’s birthday weekend by Gaye LeBaron
An Act relating to Habeas Corpus, and regulating Judicial Proceedings in Certain Cases, March 3, 1863
Proclamation 104 – Suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus Throughout the United States, September 15, 1863
The Act of May 11, 1866
The Act of March 2, 1867
NPS – Alcatraz Island
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Heritage Auctions
GenealogyBank.com
FindaGrave.com
Thank you, Gary, for inspiring this post with your comment

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