The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts

I have previously written about the wonderful resource tool that is, The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence by William Edwards and Ed Steers. William Edwards went through and painstakingly transcribed the bulk of the National Archives’ record group M599, the government’s collected evidence after Lincoln’s assassination. With editorial annotations by Ed Steers, the book is the best tool for researching the Lincoln assassination primary sources. When used in conjunction with Fold3.com to view the documents themselves, the book becomes of even greater value.

While I could sing the accolades of The Evidence for hours, this post is actually about a new and equally wonderful resource by William Edwards, The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts.

Now I know what you are thinking, “I already have a copy of the conspiracy trial. Why would I buy another one?” It is true that there are many editions and reprints of the conspiracy trial out there. There were three different versions of the trial (Pitman, Poore, and Peterson) and each have been reprinted many times over the years. Even William Edwards’ partner on The Evidence, Ed Steers, released his own reprint of the Pitman edition of the trial. However, as valuable as all of these versions are, William’s new eBook is better. Let me tell you why:

1. This transcription is the most accurate. This transcription was made straight from the microfilmed images of the court’s official copy of each day’s trial proceedings. The words and testimonies have not been summarized or altered in anyway. The words presented are exactly as they were written by the court’s team of stenographers in 1865.

2. This transcription is the most complete. While publisher Benjamin Perley Poore’s editions of the trial are equally accurate since they were taken from the same source material, they are also incomplete. His fourth and final volume of the trial transcript was never released due to a lack of public interest and low sales of the other volumes. Poore’s editions, therefore, are missing the testimonies of around twenty witnesses. In addition, Poore’s versions lack the closing arguments made by the prosecution and defense attorneys. These missing testimonies and closing arguments are found, in full, in this account.

3. This digitized version of the trial employs four different finding aids and is searchable. This digitized version of the trial makes reading and researching easy. Any part of the trial can be found based on section, NARA reel number, date of testimony, or witness name. Also, by pressing Ctrl+F while reading, you can do a search for any keyword in the entire trial.

Ultimately, if you are looking for a version of the conspiracy trial to purchase, look no further. If you already have a copy of the trial, you also need to get this version. For researching, there is no better version of the trial out there.

Buy it from Google Books today. You won’t regret it.

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6 thoughts on “The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts

  1. Pingback: Samuel Arnold’s Confession « BoothieBarn

  2. Richard Sloan

    I beg to differf with you about T.B.Peterson’s transcript (spelled, I believe as I spelled it). I do not think it has ever been reprinted. Morningside Press once entertained thoughts of working with me to do so, but they ultimately decided against it. The Peterson transcript is, like Pitman’s, abridged. It’s main problem is that the names of many witneses and those of the people mentioned in their testimonies are often badly misspelled. This is owing to the fact that the men who took down the testimony for the publisher were not given access to the official list of witnesses. Its redeeming feature lies in the fact that it has some off-the-record asides and descriptions of of outburts and facial expressions that are lacking in all the other transcripts. As such, when some of the testimony is re-enacted in the restored courtroom, those who write “the script” would do well to refer to it. SUch would be the case when Anna Surratt takes the stand, doesn’t see her mother, and asks where she is. I believe there are also moments when a couple of the defendants make comical facial expressions, and maybe even say something out loud in response to some testimony.

    • Richard,

      Thanks for catching my spelling error on Peterson. I have fixed it. While the Peterson brother’s transcript may not have been republished as a physical volume on a mass scale, the fact that it is in the public domain means that anyone is able to do so. In fact if you search for the title, you’ll find many enterprising individuals that have reprinted it.

      While I don’t have a physical copy, I do have the Peterson account as an ebook that I downloaded for free through GoogleBooks.

      All the different versions have their merits. When it comes to the most exact and the most detailed testimony though, I use William Edwards’ new version.

      By the way, Mr. Edwards also just released his Reward Files book as an ebook. It too is a wonderful, searchable source of primary material.

      • Richard Sloan

        Thanx, Dave, for telling me that the T.B. Peterson transcript of the trial has been reprinted in hardcopy! I bought one from Gyan Books, Ltd., New Delhi, India. (books@gyanbooks.com, and http://www.gyanbooks.com) It’s a well-bound hardcover (with a fancy modern art cover and matching dj), and a hard spine bearing the the title. 210 pages. The reproduction is quite good, its only drawback being that the lens (?) that grabbed the images from an original 1865 copy seems to have squeezed the text and pictures from top to bottom a little bit. This is obvious with most of the woodcuts. The typeface on the original printing was a bit small, without much space between lines, making it somewhat of a strain to read. This “squeezing,” as I call it, now makes it a little bit more of an eye strain. I do not know if any of the other companies that reproduce this transcript commit this same “squeezing.” I’m not about to order another copy from somewhere else to make that determination. The reporter who transcribed it reported not just on what witnesses testified but included his own observations about peoples’ expressions and outbursts. I own an original copy, but it’s fragile, and now I can better preserve it by opening this reprint, instead. A word of caution: if anyone is going to order the Peterson version of the trial, they should make sure that the reprinter’s description of the book contains the words “…full of illustrative engravings,” and “Being a full and verbatim Report of the Testimony.” And if more or less than 210 pages, I shouldn’t think it’s Peterson.

    • Steven Isham

      Where does one find the Official List of Witnesses?

  3. Laurie Verge

    An easy source is the Benn Pitman version of the trial testimony. The table of contents lists who said what in the cases of everyone – defense and prosecution. An easy source for this is The Trial book, edited by Edward Steers, Jr. and published in 2003 by The University Press of Kentucky.

    The Pitman version is incorporated in this book along with excellent chapters relating to each conspirator. These chapters were written by a team of eight experts in the Lincoln assassination field and help to understand what the accused and their lawyers were up against.

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