There is a special connection between man and canine. As a species, dogs provide humans a degree of loyalty that is unmatched in the animal world. What’s even more interesting is how we, as people, develop the need to reciprocate that loyalty and devotion to our four legged friends. Just this month, New York enacted a new regulation allowing pet cemeteries to accept cremated human remains, so that humans could be buried for eternity with their beloved pets.
Dogs provide a comforting effect. Even in the most dire of circumstances they can provide an individual with a degree of ease and calm. Therefore, it seems fitting that, while imprisoned as accessories in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, at least three of the conspirators’ thoughts were of their dogs.
David Herold met his end on the scaffold on July 7th, 1865. He demonstrated dog like devotion to John Wilkes Booth during his flight from justice. Despite many opportunities to leave the wounded assassin behind, Herold remained loyal to him and that loyalty eventually cost him his life. According to one newspaper account however, he was allowed the comfort of his own loyal friend before he died. In 1888, Captain Christian Rath gave an interview to the newspapers about his legacy of being the conspirators’ executioner. In part of the interview he stated, “I always regarded Harold as an unthinking boy – a spoiled child. He was a great sportsman, though, fond of shooting, and the owner of a splendid pointer dog. We kept the dog for him in the prison, and at his death he left it to Gen. Hartranft.” If Rath’s memory is correct and true, then it is likely that Herold spent his last few days on Earth uniting with the creature he so expertly replicated in life.
Edman Spangler survived the executions of July 7th. Instead he was sentenced to 6 years in prison, a relative slap on the wrist compared to the sentences of the other conspirators. Thomas Ewing, Jr., lawyer for Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Spangler, wrote a letter to his father dated the day of the execution. In it, he described his continued efforts to gain the freedom of his clients through a writ of habeas corpus. He also wrote the following, “They say Spangler was delighted at escaping hanging. He sent a special request to Ford today to send him to prison his large testament, and his small dog!” Whether Spangler was successful in acquiring his dog remains uncertain as there is no mention of it, or David Herold’s dog, in General Frederick Hartranft’s letterbook about his supervision of the Old Arsenal Prison.
I find it ironically appropriate that Spangler owned a “small” dog. Years later, after his release from Fort Jefferson, Edman Spangler went to visit, and ultimately live with, his former cellmate, Dr. Mudd. As Nettie Mudd wrote later in her book about her father, “A short time after Spangler’s release, he came to our home early one morning, and his greeting to my mother, after father had introduced him, was: ‘Mrs. Mudd, I came down last night, and asked some one to tell me the way here. I followed the road, but when I arrived I was afraid of your dogs, and I roosted in a tree.'” Clearly Spangler preferred his small dog over big ones like Dr. Mudd’s.
Samuel Arnold was imprisoned with Dr. Mudd, Spangler and Michael O’Laughlen at Fort Jefferson. His later memoirs describe how painful and tortuous he found his imprisonment there. With only rats and crabs as his animal companions, Arnold’s thoughts turned to his dog. In a letter to his mother in 1867, Sam Arnold writes elegantly of his beloved pet:
“Keep my dog till he dies. For my sake let him be treated well, and when dead bury him. Erect a slab inscription, ‘A true friend,’ for he would never forsake me even should the whole world do so. He loved me, even the ground I walked upon, and I loved him. Poor Dash! We have forever parted. Thou without a soul, yet did you love me, and thou art not forgotten.”
The connection between man and dog transcends guilt or innocence. Whether its owner is a President or a criminal, a dog will stay by an owner who loves him. Even the worst criminals can demonstrate their humanity by the way they treat their dogs. In the midst of their confinement for the crime of the century, David Herold, Edman Spangler, and Samuel Arnold showed their humanity in this way.
Mrs. Surratt’s Case, The Evening Repository, 2/16/1888
Thomas Ewing Family Papers, LOC
The Life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd by Nettie Mudd
Memoirs of a Lincoln Conspirator by Michael Kauffman