Grave Thursday: General Lew Wallace

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.


General Lewis Wallace

Gen Lew Wallace NARA

Burial Location: Oak Hill Cemetery, Crawfordsville, Indiana

Lew Wallace Grave 1

Lew Wallace Grave 2

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On February 15, 1905, Major General Lew Wallace died at his home in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The late general had been many things during his lifetime: soldier, lawyer, governor, diplomat, inventor, and artist. Today, however, he is most likely known for his work as an author and especially for his acclaimed novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ. There have been several books written about Lew Wallace and his study in Crawfordsville is a wonderful museum about his life and legacy.

I previously visited the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in 2014 and posted about this fascinating place. As I noted then, Wallace’s name is most known to assassination researchers due to his being assigned as one of the nine military commissioners that presided over the trial of the conspirators. During the lengthy trial proceedings, Wallace took the time to sketch the accused conspirators and later used these drawings to compose a painting of Booth and his accomplices which is now on display in his Crawfordsville study:

The Conspirators in the Lew Wallace Study Labeled

During the conspiracy trial proceedings Wallace kept fairly quiet, but he did pipe up from time to time. He was one of the first to defend Senator Reverdy Johnson, a defense lawyer for Mrs. Surratt who was accused by another of the commission members as being ill suited to appear before the court because he represented a secretly treasonous state during the war, Maryland. Wallace asked that Johnson be allowed to explain himself and wanted him to be able to do so in open session. The complaint against Johnson was dropped and he would be approved by the court. After a few days of service however, Johnson would relieve himself from the proceedings, leaving Mrs. Surratt’s defense to Frederick Aiken and John Clampitt.

Lew Wallace was also responsible for the first instance of “dress up” for conspirator Lewis Powell. During the testimony of George Robinson, the army nurse who had grappled with Powell during the latter’s attack on Secretary of State William Seward, Wallace asked for the prisoner to rise. Wallace then had the guard who had been sitting next to Powell place the hat that had been found at the Secretary’s home on the head of the prisoner to see if it fit. According to the newspapers, “Payne here stood up in the dock and the hat was placed on his head for purpose of identification. As this was done Payne smiled with a sort of grimace at the sort of figure he was making.” Wallace then asked the guard, “Does it fit pretty loose, or pretty tight?” The orderly replied that the hat was, “Pretty tight”. Later on during that day’s testimony, Lewis Powell would exhibit more of the clothes he had worn when he attacked Seward.

In June of 1865, during the final days of the conspiracy trial, Wallace wrote to his wife about his growing impatience and predictions about the outcome:

“The trial is not yet over: but I say to myself, certainly it can’t endure beyond this week, and do all I can to be patient. Judge Bingham, on the side of the government, speaks tomorrow, and then the Com. votes ‘guilty or not guilty.’ I have passed a few words with my associate members, and think we can agree in a couple of hours at farthest. Three, if not four, of the eight will be acquitted that is, they would be, if we voted today. What effect Bingham will have remains to be see.”

Wallace’s assumption that “three, if not four, of the eight” conspirators would be acquitted is an interesting one. The case against Edman Spangler was the prosecution’s weakest which would account for at least one acquittal in Wallace’s mind. The other questionable cases to Wallace were likely those of Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, and Dr. Mudd. General Wallace was one of four commission members who did not sign the clemency plea on behalf of Mary Surratt, likely demonstrating his belief that Mrs. Surratt was guilty. In the end, however, Wallace’s belief of three or four acquittal’s did not prove to be accurate since all eight of the conspirators were found guilty.

Lew Wallace near the end of his life

Lew Wallace, in his study, near the end of his life

To learn more about General Lew Wallace, a man who led an illustrious life outside of his brief connections to the Lincoln assassination story, I highly suggest a visit to the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The museum has a great website and is also very active on social media like Twitter and Facebook. Wallace’s final resting place in Oak Hill Cemetery is only a short drive from the museum. His obelisk, seemingly the tallest in the cemetery, is capped with the carved shape of a draped American flag, a fitting tribute to a lifetime of service to his country.

Lew Wallace Grave 3

GPS coordinates for Lew Wallace’s grave: 40.056945, -86.914723

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

A John Wilkes Booth Poem

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and the many poems being shared today, here is a poem written by John Wilkes Booth in February of 1860.

john-wilkes-booths-poem-to-mary-white-2-18-1860-alplm

This poem by Booth is an acrostic poem and as such the beginning letter in each line spells out the names of the poem’s recipient and author. Here is a transcript of the poem including Booth’s incorrect spelling of the words distressed and despair.

Miss White

May all good angels guard & bless thee.
And from thy heart remove all care.
Remember you should ne’re distrest be.
Youth & hope, can crush dispare.
+
Joy can be found, by all, who seek it.
Only be, right, the path, we move upon
Heaven has marked it; Find & keep it
Ne’re forget the wish of – John.

Richmond Feb 18th 1860

He who will ever be your friend

J. Wilkes Booth

Booth wrote this poem as he was learning the acting trade in Richmond’s Marshall Theatre. The date of this poem places it just a couple of months after Booth had returned from his soldiering. For two weeks in late November and early December Booth had stood guard at the imprisonment and execution of abolitionist John Brown. When he returned to his theatrical company only the pleas of his friends allowed him to rejoin the troupe after his impromptu departure. At this point he was still being billed, when his minor part warranted any sort of billing that is, as Mr. J. B. Wilkes.

j-b-wilkes-in-romeo-juliet-1860

The recipient of this poem was a woman by the name of Mary C. White. Little is known about her. Booth’s poem is located in a “Forget Me Not” autograph album that is inscribed with Ms. White’s name and the words “Richmond, Va. December 10 1859”. In addition to the poem by Booth, there are also other farewell like notes from W. H Caskie (a Richmond native who would later join the Confederacy), George Wren (a fellow actor in Booth’s troupe), two poems signed under the aliases of Fido and Junius (not Booth’s brother), and Samuel Knapp Chester (another troupe member and a man Booth would try to recruit into his abduction plot against Lincoln in the future).

In their book, “Right or Wrong, God Judge Me”: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, editors John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper suggest that Mary C. White might be a fellow actress. They cite an entry in T. Allston Brown’s History of the American Stage, which is essentially an early encyclopedia of actors and actresses, for a Mary Ann White “attached to the Richmond, Va. Theatre for some time” who “died 1860, in that city, June 20”. Rhodehamel and Taper point out that there are no other poems or farewells in the album past June of 1860, which might coincide with the owner’s death. I have been unable to find a record of a Ms. White in the theater troupe, but, if she was young, as many of the poems about her allude to, she may have played only minor roles in which she would receive no mention in the papers. I’m not 100% convinced Ms. White was an actress, but without more information, it’s as good a guess as any.

The album containing Booth’s signature is in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Kate and I were fortunate enough to see it in person after my talk to the ALPLM’s volunteers last summer. The ALPLM has digitized this poem and many other Booth related items they acquired from the collection of Louise Taper. You can see more of their digitized items here.

References:
The Taper Collection at the ALPLM
“Right or Wrong, God Judge Me”: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper

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

Grave Thursday: Sidney Raymond

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.


Sidney Raymond

sidney-raymonds-grave

Burial Location: Hampton National Cemetery, Hampton, Virginia

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Believe it or not, Jake Rittersbach (the subject of last week’s Grave Thursday) is not the only individual buried at the Hampton National Cemetery who has a connection to conspirator Edman Spangler. In 1865, Sidney D. Raymond was a Union army veteran who was employed as a detective in the D.C. provost marshal’s office. On the night of April 17th, it was decided that enough evidence had been produced to arrest Edman Spangler for complicity in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Two detectives were sent out to locate Spangler and make the arrest at his boardinghouse. Detectives Sidney Raymond and William Eaton completed this task. After Spangler was taken to the Old Capitol Prison, a second group of detectives was sent back to Spangler’s boardinghouse in order to search his room. These investigators consisted of Sidney Raymond, Charles Rosch, and a third, unnamed detective. They only found a carpet bag at the house as Spangler apparently kept most of his things inside a trunk at Ford’s Theatre. The carpet bag consisted of nothing but an eighty-one feet coil of rope, some blank papers, and a dirty shirt collar. Raymond and the other detectives confiscated these items. The innocuous rope would later be used by the trial prosecution who attempted to prove that it was going to be used for nefarious purposes relating to Lincoln’s death. It was one of the many weak pieces of evidence used against Spangler.

Other than the arrest of Spangler and the search of his living quarters, nothing else is known of Raymond’s participation in the manhunt for Booth and his conspirators. On the 19th of May, William Eaton and Charles Rosch both were called to testify at the trial of the conspirators. Eaton testified about his arrest of Spangler while Rosch documented the few items found in his room. Nowhere in either one of these men’s testimonies is there any mention of Raymond, though Rosch did admit to having searched the room with two other detectives whose names he could not remember. Raymond no doubt read the testimonies of Eaton and Rosch in the next day’s newspaper and was apparently upset that his part in the investigation was not mentioned. On May 21st, Raymond wrote a letter to Col. Henry Burnett, who was serving as Judge Advocate at the trial, in order to set the record straight:

sidney-raymonds-letter-to-col-burnett

Unlike others, Raymond does not appear to have petitioned for any of the reward money for the capture of the assassins. Charles Rosch applied, and was awarded $500, but his reward stemmed from the fact that he was also present at the arrest of Lewis Powell.

Even though Sidney Raymond’s involvement in the Lincoln assassination story is brief, a few of his other unique life experiences bear mentioning.

Sidney Raymond didn’t live with his third wife

Sidney married his first wife, Eliza, in 1862. She died in 1871, at the age of 29. Raymond remarried a few years later to his second wife, Florence. This marriage lasted until 1909, when Florence passed away. Raymond was 66 years old when Florence died and one might think that his marrying days were over. But wouldn’t you know it, in 1915, love found a way. The then 72 year old Sidney Raymond married his third wife Alice, who was 49. On the occasion of their one year anniversary and Sidney Raymond’s 73rd birthday, the Baltimore newspapers ran a story about how Mr. Raymond had received a gift from his wife…through the mail:

“It is understood that the couple agreed that it would be happier to live apart, for the groom is afflicted with paralysis and the wife found this a handicap to her ideas of married life. Mr. Raymond said yesterday when seen at his home that he continues to contribute to the support of his wife, and exhibited a necktie that she had sent him as a remembrance of either the birthday or the marriage anniversary, she having failed to specify which.

Still Mr. Raymond was happy. He took a short walk in the morning and in the afternoon spent the time fondling his granddaughter Ruth, the daughter of his son, with home he now lives. His daughter-in-law is most solicitous for his comfort and the veteran feels better in her charge, he said, than if his wife were his caretaker…

‘Some day, maybe,’ said Mr. Raymond, ‘my wife and I may live together again, but at present we feel that both get along better separated.'”

Sidney Raymond won the lottery

In July and August of 1901, over 2 million acres of land were seized in southwestern Oklahoma. It was, sadly, yet another of our country’s shameful abuses of Native American tribes, as the land seized by the government consisted of the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache and the Wichita-Caddo-Delaware reservations. These seized reservations were the same ones that the Native American tribes had been forced into in the 1800’s when their original lands were seized. This complete disenfranchisement of Native peoples, and betrayal of prior treaties between the Untied States and the Native tribes, resulted in the profitable use of the Oklahoma territory by white settlers. To entice people to come and cultivate Oklahoma, over 13,000 160 acre tracts were given away in a lottery. Interested individuals registered and then waited for the drawing. Sidney Raymond entered this drawing and won. In 1901, he moved his family out to Oklahoma to live on his tract of land. For whatever reason, he did not stay there. After three years he sold his piece of the Native Americans’ land for $1,200 and moved back to Baltimore.

Sidney Raymond lost his whole family for 50 years!

When Sidney Raymond went off to fight in the Civil War his parents, eight brothers, and two sisters moved out west, eventually settling in Michigan. Unfortunately, no one thought to send word to Sidney about their move. When Sidney returned home from the war he found his homestead empty, with no idea where his family had gone. It took him 50 years to track them down:

sidney-raymonds-family-reunion-1916

Sidney Raymond, one of the men who arrested Edman Spangler in 1865, spent his final years at the Old Soldier’s Home in Hampton, Virginia. It would be interesting to know if he ever saw or talked to Jake Rittersbach, a man with whom he shared an unknown connection. Raymond died on March 7, 1927 and was buried in the Hampton National Cemetery just a few yards from Rittersbach, who had died less than a year prior.

raymond-and-rittersbach-proximity

GPS coordinates for Sidney Raymond’s grave: 37.018699, -76.334927

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Honor, God, and Reward Money: A New Boston Corbett Letter

You’d be amazed what you can turn up nowadays with a just Google search and a friendly inquiry. A few weeks ago I was working on the Maps page of BoothieBarn looking for more sites around the country that have a connection to the Lincoln assassination. While most of the time I’m looking for the graves of certain individuals involved in the story, for some reason I decided to change my method and focus on an certain city and see what I could turn up by Googling. For no reason in particular, I chose Omaha, Nebraska as a place to search for folks connected to the assassination. I happily discovered that Omaha is the final resting place of Pvt. Augutus Lockner, a Union soldier who was saved by conspirator Lewis Powell in December of 1864. If you want to read more about that fascinating story, pick up the second edition of Betty Ownsbey’s book, Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy.

KENT SIEVERS/THE WORLD-HERALDI also stumbled across an article from the Omaha World-Herald in which the newspaper went behind the scenes of The Durham Museum to see some of the objects in the museum’s large and varied Byron Reed collection. One of the items mentioned in the article was a playbill from Edwin Booth’s namesake theater (pictured).

After tweeting out the image of the playbill, both myself and Carolyn Mitchell from Tudor Hall, the home of the Booth family, sent a message asking The Durham Museum if they had any other artifacts connected to the Booths or the assassination. The collection’s manager graciously searched their archives and found four other playbills for Booth’s Theatre and two 1865 newspapers announcing the news of Lincoln’s death.

The collections manager also informed us that the Byron Reed collection contained a letter written by the avenger of Lincoln himself, Sergeant Boston Corbett. She kindly photographed the letter and sent the images to us. I then contacted Steve Miller, a fellow assassination researcher and the foremost expert on Boston Corbett. I was happily surprised to find that this letter was a new discovery for him and that he had not yet come across it during his years of research. Working together, Steve and I were able to produce a transcript of the letter which had been somewhat damaged with age.

Corbett wrote the letter to his former commanding officer, the then Lieutenant of the 16th New York Cavalry that tracked down John Wilkes Booth and David Herold, Edward P. Doherty. Writing on December 1, 1866, Corbett is responding to Doherty’s request for an affidavit relating to his role in the capture of Booth. Before sharing the letter, however, some historical context is needed.


On July 26, 1866, Representative Giles Hotchkiss of New York presented to the House of Representatives the findings of the Committee of Claims in reference to the reward money. Prior to this, the War Department had presented Congress with their recommendations of how to divide up the money. Mr. Hotchkiss’ committee took the War Department’s advice when it came to the division of monies for the capture of Jefferson Davis and only made a few changes to the War Department’s allotment for reward money for the arrests of George Atzerodt, Lewis Powell, and Mary Surratt. However when it came to the reward money for capture of Booth and Herold, there was much debate. Rep. Hotchkiss’ committee put forth a bill recommending that Gen. Lafayette Baker, the head of the National Detective Police who sent detectives Everton Conger and Luther Baker with Doherty and the 16th New York into Virginia, receive $17,500 in reward money. Detective Conger was also to receive $17,500. Luther Baker would get $5,000, Lieutenant Doherty would receive $2,500, and Corbett and the rest of the 16th NY would each get $1,000. This allotment did not sit well will some of the other members of the House. Several felt it unfair for Gen. Baker to receive such a lion’s share of the reward money when he was not even present at Booth’s capture. Rep. Hotchkiss replied that Gen. Baker had been the mastermind of the entire manhunt and therefore desired the highest amount, with Conger receiving the same amount since he was in charge of the group that captured Booth. This point about Conger being in charge was disputed by Lieut. Doherty who had produced papers to counter the claim. However, within the House of Representatives there was great sympathy for Everton Conger since he was a veteran who had been wounded earlier in the war.

Representative Giles Hotchkiss of New York circa 1865

Representative Giles Hotchkiss of New York circa 1865

As the debate over amounts continued, Hotchkiss seemed to become angry with his fellow lawmakers. One of the other congressmen tactlessly pressed Hotchkiss to provide more money for one of his constituents who aided in the manhunt, noting how he had presented this claim to Hotchkiss personally and was disappointed to see how little had been allotted. This exasperated Hotchkiss, leading him to express that this whole matter had been trouble from the start. Hotchkiss said he had consulted the mountains of reward claims that had been submitted to the War Department in an effort to divvy up the money as best as he could, noting that there was no protocol for him to follow. He did not like the insinuation that he was playing favorites, noting that neither Gen. Baker or the other claimants were friends of his and that he was merely doing, “the duty I was called upon to perform”.

In attempting to show his impartiality, an angry Hotchkiss decided to make a point using Lieut. Doherty:

“During this session a telegram has been shown me from Lieutenant Doherty, saying that there was a great fraud being perpetrated here, and he wanted the American Congress to stop the wheels of legislation and wait until he could be here. Lieutenant Doherty has been here pretty much all winter, and has been before me time and time again in regard to this matter. I have had rolls of documents from him, and I wish to avoid saying anything about him. But now, since he has had the impudence to come here and charge a man who has been engaged in the honest discharge of his duty, without fear or favor, one who is a stranger to all these men, who does not care personally whether they get a cent, and since gentlemen have shown the want of confidence in the committee to make the remarks they have, I feel constrained to say that I believe Lieutenant Doherty was a downright coward in this expedition.

From all the evidence, I believe that while these five men where guarding that tobacco-house where these prisoners were secreted, and while Lieutenant Colonel Conger was endeavoring to get a guard around the building, Doherty stayed under a shed, and no power could drive him out of it. And now he comes in and claims that he did the whole. Such is the evidence in the case, as it has been presented. If there is anything to contradict it, let it be brought in.”

Hotchkiss then points out that despite his strong belief that Lt. Doherty was an coward who deserved no portion of the reward money, the committee still allotted him some funds “in deference in part to popular clamour”.

Hotchkiss also spoke harshly of Boston Corbett. He said the evidence he saw supported the idea that Corbett defied orders by leaving his assigned post, made his way close to the barn where he was not supposed to be, and then shot Booth who was attempting to surrender himself. He described Corbett as, “an insane man” at the shooting of Booth. “I am told that Corbett has since died in a lunatic asylum, and he was then evidently an insane man. Yet he is given the same sum as the other soldiers receive. For a two days’ ride I think that is an ample compensation.”

While Hotchkiss provided a defense of the committee’s reasoning for their proposed reward allotments, he didn’t feel it worth a prolonged fight. After an hour of debate, Hotchkiss was tired of the insinuations from his colleagues and just wanted the whole mess to be over. Another representative had put forth an amendment to his bill, changing the amounts provided for Booth and Herold’s capture and, in the end, Hotchkiss did not fight it and the amended bill was approved. “When you cannot do as you would, you must do as you must,” Hotchkiss stated.

The amended bill still gave Everton Conger the largest share of reward money at $15,000, a decrease from Hotchkiss’ $17,500. General Lafayette Baker dropped way down from $17,500 to $3,750. Luther Baker fell from $5,000 to $3,000. Ironically, it was Lt. Doherty, Boston Corbett, and the rest of the soldiers who benefited the most from this amended bill. Doherty’s reward money went from $2,500 in Hotchkiss’ bill to $5,250 in the amended version. Corbett and all the other soldiers also got pay increases from $1,000 to $1,653.84 each. In the end, it would be these amounts that would be passed in the Senate and given out.

Lieutenant Doherty's reward money

Lieutenant Doherty’s reward money

While Doherty ended up receiving a good deal of money, when he learned of what Giles Hotchkiss had said about him on the floor of the House of Representatives, remarks that were carried in newspapers around the country, he became very offended at the attack on his honor. On August 1st, while stationed in South Carolina, Doherty sent off a letter to the New York Herald promising a rebuttal to Hotchkiss’ lies.

“I cannot remain quiet under such charges affecting my character as a soldier, and my conduct as an officer, coming from such a quarter. In the course of a short time I shall place before the people of the United States such evidence as will convince them that the charges made by the honorable member are untrue. The language used by the member from New York, did not come to my notice until after the adjournment of Congress, and when I no longer had an opportunity of vindicating myself before that body.

Chance has connected my name with a great historical event; and I simply desire that the army with whom I served, and the people for whom I fought, should know that in the performance of my duty I was not a laggard and a coward.

Edward P. Doherty
Second Lieutenant Fifth Cavalry, U. S. Army”

Doherty quickly sent off a letter to Boston Corbett, a man he knew would support him and could help tell the real story of what happened at the Garrett farm. Corbett was still a bit of a hero for slaying Booth and Doherty was hoping he could depend on Corbett to publicly refute Hotchkiss since he, too, had been a victim of the Congressman’s lies. The very much alive and not (quite) insane former sergeant responded just as Doherty had hoped. He wrote a letter back to Doherty in South Carolina on August 6, 1866. Doherty then had the text of the letter was published in the New York Citizen on August 25th:

“God bless you, my dear sir; the slander and lie that was told by Mr. Hotchkiss, in Congress, about you, makes me love you more than ever. And I do not believe that such a wicked lie and such a malicious slander will be allowed to go altogether unpunished, or to have the effect on the public mind that was intended. I do not doubt, though, that it did have the effect desired in Congress; and I do truly believe that it was told and used there for the express purpose of getting the largest share of the reward for the Detectives, and getting the military into disgrace, and consequently the small apportionment that was made to us.

I do without hesitation pronounce the assertion that you was under a shed, and that the Detective could not force you out, to be a wicked lie. For I well know that you not only commanded the party, but commanded it well; and at the time that the house and barn of Mr. Garrett was surrounded, it was done by your orders; and that you took the leading part in all that was done there, as also in the whole expedition.

I am aware, also, that you placed me next in command to yourself before leaving Washington, giving me charge as acting orderly sergeant, and had you been killed I should myself have been in command of the party, and not the Detective. I am also aware of the fact that when you got track of the assassins, you had to send men after the Detective (Conger), who was off in another direction at the time.

Boston Corbett and Edward Doherty

Boston Corbett and Edward Doherty

The injury that has been done us by giving us a small share, instead of the principal share of the rewards, cannot now be remedied, since it has passed Congress in that way. But be assured, dear sir, that I stand ready to give a certificate at any time, properly attested if needs be, that I have ever known you to be a brave and efficient officer, and never in my life saw any act on your part that indicated cowardice in the least degree.

I always liked to go on a scout with you, because I knew you to go forward in the work, and a true officer and soldier, having the welfare of your command always in view, and losing no opportunity of doing good service for your country.

With kindest regards and earnest prayers for your welfare, and that you may outlive all such wicked slanders, I remain, as ever

Boston Corbett”

As grateful as Doherty must have been for Corbett to come to his aid, Hotchkiss’ slanderous remarks apparently continued to gnaw at the lieutenant. Over three months later, on November 26th, Doherty wrote another letter to Corbett seemingly asking the late sergeant to write out a more thorough or perhaps notarized affidavit regarding Doherty’s services in apprehending Booth. It is Boston Corbett’s letter to Doherty’s second communique, months after the Hotchkiss affair, that is housed in The Durham Museum in Omaha.


Even though Corbett had written in August of 1866 that he stood ready, “to give a certificate at any time, properly attested if needs be,” regarding Doherty’s actions and character, in this response to his former commander in December of 1866, it appears that Corbett is trying to get Doherty to put the whole incident aside.

boston-corbett-1866-letter-to-doherty-durham-1

91 Attorney St
New York
Dec 1st 1866

Lieut E. P. Doherty

Dear Sir

Your letter of Nov 26th reached me yesterday. And as I was not sure by the heading of it wether [sic] it meant South Carolina, or Lower Canada; I concluded to write to you for the Address in full; And also to suggest that it might be best to drop the whole matter; And let it end as it is.

For my own part as a Christian I freely forgive Mr. Hotchkiss for the injury that he has done; And so would rather let end thus. But if you still insist upon the Affidavit being made to clear your character, I feel that I owe it to you to do it. And so would not further refuse.

But while I sincerely desire to see your Character Vindicated: how much rather would I see your soul saved, And you brought to love and serve God with all your heart. I expect you think it very strange that I appear so indifferent to that which is a point of honor; but the secret of it all is this the Christian knows that the time will soon come when the secrets of all hearts will be made bare in the judgement And he feels that he can well afford to be hid about here.  So that he stands justified there. This with me is the only cause of reluctance to make the Affidavit, which I believe I can do with a clear conscience if you think best after reading this.

If you have written me lately before; the letter never reached me, for the only letter that I have got from you before this since you have been in the Service again; was dated Sumter, S.C. August 1st. Which I promptly answered

Will you please inform me if you have taken any steps to get the Local Rewards collected. When I was in Washington to get the Amount that Congress Awarded me, I went to Johnson, Brown & Co, at the Intelligencer Building and put my interest in their [sic] hands to collect for me. They advised me to consult with you, which I fully intended doing before, but rather expected to hear from you. They have written to the Pennsylvania Govt. and received Answer by Official Document which I have. That this Reward was on condition that Booth be taken in the State.

With kindest regards Boston Corbett

boston-corbett-1866-letter-to-doherty-durham-signature

Please direct to 91 Attorney St. Mr. Peck is out of Business now and no longer holds the store where I was working.

Boston Corbett was a deeply devoted Christian almost to the point of being a zealot (the man castrated himself in order to avoid the temptations of the flesh, after all). While his preaching helped to bring hope to his fellow prisoners at the Andersonville prisoner of war camp during the war, I highly doubt Lieut. Doherty was pleased to find that Corbett had responded to his request for help with a lesson on Christian forgiveness.

After side-stepping the issue of Hotchkiss with his talk of saving Doherty’s soul, Corbett then went into a topic he knew would be of mutual interest to them both: more reward money. While both of them had received their share of the reward money offered by the federal government, Corbett mentioned his attempt to procure some of the smaller rewards that certain states and cities were offering after the assassination of Lincoln. He apparently made application in Pennsylvania for a reward they had offered, only to learn that the reward was contingent on the fact that Booth was actually found in Pennsylvania.

Coincidentally, Doherty was pursuing the same type of course with a reward that had been offered in D.C.. It’s possible that Doherty’s renewed desire to get an affidavit from Corbett was not just to seek vindication against Hotchkiss, but was designed to strengthen his bid for this local reward.  Doherty certainly did not want to be maligned again as he sought a portion of the $20,000 the city of Washington had offered. This is especially true since most of the major players from the federal rewards case sought out their own share of the D.C. rewards as well.

For the D.C. money, Doherty was once again up against General Baker, Everton Conger, and Luther Baker. But the other claimants quickly grew as the case went through the courts. Washington was not as willing to pay out their reward and so the legal process lasted years. Lieutenant Doherty had submitted his claim in November of 1866, and by September of 1870, the case was still unresolved. By that time the number of claimants had swelled to 39, and rather than fighting with each other over who should get what amount, they were all working together to force D.C. to pay out the money they had promised. In the end, however, their case was dismissed when the judge determined that the city of Washington, funded by Congress, never had the authority to offer the $20,000 reward in the first place. The only legitimate reward the claimants could have hoped for in the city of Washington was the federal one which had been paid out in 1866.


This letter by Boston Corbett provides a new look into the unique mind of the man who avenged Abraham Lincoln. It is also a great artifact for teaching about the drama and intrigue that was involved in the avengers’ quest for reward money. I’m thankful to The Durham Museum for sharing it with us. It never hurts to ask a museum what they might have hiding in their collections. As shown from this letter, the results can be pretty interesting.

boston-corbett-cdv-boothiebarn

References:
The Byron Reed collection at The Durham Museum
Steven G. Miller
The Congressional Globe: Containing the Debates and Proceedings of First Session of the 39th Congress
The Lincoln Archives Digital Project
Genealogybank.com
The Omaha World-Herald

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Grave Thursday: Jacob Rittersbach

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.


Jacob Rittersbach

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Burial Location: Hampton National Cemetery, Hampton, Virginia

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Jake Rittersbach was a French immigrant who came to the United States with his family when he was eight years old. His family settled in Pennsylvania and, after the Civil War broke out, 21 year-old Jake joined the 124th Pennsylvania Infantry. He served in the army for a period of 9 months before he was discharged. After leaving the service, Rittersbach found his way to Washington, D.C. where he sought out a way to make a living using his knowledge of carpentry. As he looked for a job, he took up residence at a boardinghouse owned by a Mrs. Scott on the corner of 7th and H streets in D.C. One of Rittersbach’s fellow boarders at Mrs. Scott’s home was another carpenter by the name of Edman Spangler.

Spangler made his living as a carpenter and a scene shifter at Ford’s Theatre. After about a year and a half in Washington, Jake Rittersbach found himself working side-by-side with Spangler when he too was hired by the Ford brothers to work as a carpenter in their theater in March of 1865.

It would have been impossible for Rittersbach, a Union veteran, not to have quickly picked up on the pro-Southern sentiments of his fellow coworkers at Ford’s Theatre. Many of the others engaged in backstage work supported the Confederacy and were mourning the recent events. Rittersbach often found himself quarreling with Spangler about their differing political views. Yet, they continued to do their work together, nonetheless.

Like the other employees of Ford’s Theatre, Jake Rittersbach was present backstage when John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Rittersbach was situated right near Spangler on the stage left side (the side of the stage where the President’s box was located) when Booth fired the fatal shot. After Booth leapt to the stage and then made his way out the back door, both Spangler and Rittersbach followed in the direction of the commotion.

On the Stage 4 Frank Leslie's 5-20-1865

“That was John Booth!” declared Rittersbach. “Hush your mouth!” Spangler replied. “You don’t know whether it’s Booth or not.” In his reply, Spangler was speaking a likely truth. Rittersbach had been at Ford’s Theatre for such a short amount of time that he was not very familiar with John Wilkes Booth. It had only been earlier that day that Rittersbach had finally asked Spangler for the name of the actor he had seen around from time to time. Though Rittersbach ended up being correct in his identification of the assassin, in those hectic first moments, Spangler wanted only to protect a man he had known for years and worked alongside in the theater from being wrongfully accused. In the minutes after the assassination, Spangler grabbed his coat and exited out the same back door to search for John Wilkes Booth in hopes of proving this identification incorrect.

But, to Edman Spangler’s dismay, it was John Wilkes Booth who had shot Lincoln. This truth caused a lot of problems for the scene shifter who had known the Booth family since 1852 and who had done errands for John Wilkes, one of the few actors who treated stagehands with respect. Since the crime was committed at Ford’s Theatre and Spangler’s theatrical friendship was well known, Spangler was quickly identified as person of interest.

However, before Spangler found himself under arrest, Jake Rittersbach had already been laying the groundwork to incriminate him. Rittersbach spent the night of April 14-15 in the manager’s office of Ford’s Theatre. He was awakened in the morning by another stagehand named Louis Carland who was looking for Spangler. Rittersbach told his version of events to Carland but added that, upon claiming that it was John Booth who ran out the door, Spangler had slapped him in the mouth. Later, when back drop painter, James Lamb, reported to work, Rittersbach once again told him that Spangler had slapped him the night before. In the opinion of Tom Bogar, author of Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination, “Rittersbach appeared intent on making sure everyone knew what he had experienced, but was too new to Ford’s to perceive how each would receive the information.”

When Rittersbach left to take his breakfast at his boardinghouse on Saturday morning, he found Spangler there. After failing to find Booth, Spangler had spent the night at the home of two of the actors, John and Kate Evans. After a few minutes at breakfast, policemen arrived at Mrs. Scott’s and took both Spangler and Rittersbach in for questioning. Rittersbach was released quickly while Spangler had to endure almost four hours of questioning before he was released. After hearing rumors that Ford’s Theatre would be burned, Spangler, Rittersbach, Carland and some of the other employees decided to spend the night. On Sunday morning, Carland took Spangler to the home of the Gourlay family, a family of actors who had been in Our American Cousin on the 14th. Jeannie Gourlay was engaged to the Ford’s Theatre orchestra director, William Withers, and both had been near Booth’s path when he escaped. Carland asked Withers and Jeannie if either of them had seen Spangler slap Rittersbach as had been told to him. Though the couple had been nearby neither one claimed to have seen any sort of slap between the two men.

Spangler, however, seemed unaware that Rittersbach was making plans to implicate him. On Monday, Spangler took his supper at Mrs. Scott’s boardinghouse and found Rittersbach waiting in the doorway for him when he was leaving. He suggested the pair take a friendly walk. According to Bogar:

“[The walk] lasted about a half hour, the main topic of conversation being Rittersbach’s desire to get some of the reward money being offered. Did Spangler know of any information they could use? Rittersbach said that he, too, had given a statement at police headquarters on Saturday (although no evidence exists that he did). Spangler, as trusting as the animals he befriended seemed completely unaware that Rittersbach had already implicated him to others. Back at their boardinghouse around sunset, the two men parted ways (for good, as it turned out), and Spangler went upstairs to rest…”

Edman Spangler was arrested, for the final time, about two hours after his walk with Rittersbach. He was placed in irons and imprisoned in the Carroll annex of the Old Capitol Prison. Later, Spangler would be moved to the iron clad warships that housed Booth’s core group of conspirators.

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If Rittersbach was hoping to get a piece of the reward money, it was in his best interest to continue to incriminate Spangler as an active party. Claiming that Spangler slapped him was a great way to cast suspicion. Perhaps Rittersbach hoped that, if Spangler was found to be an active conspirator in Booth’s plot, he would get some money out of his “assistance” to the authorities. It’s possible that Rittersbach had already laid the groundwork when he was briefly detained on Saturday. If this was Rittersbach’s plan, however, it seems that he changed his mind about it when he, himself was arrested. Jake Rittersbach was arrested one day after Spangler, Tuesday, April 18th. He was imprisoned in a communal room at the Old Capitol Prison and gave a brief statement. Despite the pains he had taken to inform others at Ford’s that he had identified Booth and that Spangler had apparently slapped him because of it, Rittersbach made no such claims in his statement. Rather, he told the prison superintendent that “he did not see [Booth’s] face and could not say who it was.”

So, we have this contradiction with Rittersbach. When the stakes were lower, Rittersbach told his fellow stagehands Carland and Lamb that he had identified Booth and that Spangler had slapped him. However, while under arrest, he denied having both recognized Booth and the slap. Perhaps protecting himself from any suspicion was worth more than trying to turn against Spangler. As the investigation continued and the authorities heard about Rittersbach’s prior statements to Carland and Lamb, they would take an active role to eliminate these contradictions.

A few years after the events, John T. Ford, who had also found himself locked up at the Old Capitol Prison, recounted an instance where significant pressure was put upon Rittersbach to re-implicate Spangler:

“Ritterspaugh [sic] – a witness- was brought before Colonel Lafayette C. Baker, at Baker’s office. Being questioned in regard to what happened on the stage, Ritterspaugh told that when Booth jumped from the box and ran across the stage, after firing the pistol, he (Ritterspaugh) said that that was Booth; and that Spangler turned and said: ‘Hush your mouth! You don’t know whether its Booth or not.’ Here Baker broke in on Ritterspaugh, saying: ‘By God, if you don’t testify to what you said to me before, I’ll put you among the rest, ‘ (meaning the prisoners.) ‘You said to me that Spangler, when you said ‘It’s Booth,’ said: ‘Don’t say which way he went.’

This bullying by Baker was perfectly calculated to shake Ritterspaugh’s nerves and cause him to think he believed he heard what he did not believe he heard.”

There may be some truth to Ford’s belief that Rittersbach was turned (perhaps rather easily based on his own actions before being arrested) against Spangler by the authorities. When Rittersbach was first put upon the stand by the prosecution at the trial of the conspirators on May 19th, he was not asked any questions about what happened at Ford’s Theatre on April 14th. Instead, the prosecution only used Rittersbach as witness regarding Spangler’s arrest and the government’s seizure of his belongings. It was not until May 30th that the prosecution recalled Rittersbach to the stand to testify about the events at Ford’s Theatre. In the trial transcript, right before Rittersbach is brought back, it gives the following statement:

“The Judge Advocate, stated that, since the examination of Jacob Ritterspaugh [sic] for the prosecution, facts had come to the knowledge of the Government not known at the time that witness was examined, and he proposed now to recall that witness for the purpose of examining him in relation to the accused, Edward [sic] Spangler; and he applied to the Commission for permission to re-examine that witness.”

In his new testimony, Rittersbach became the key witness against Spangler. He testified about Spangler having struck him after he identified Booth. Rittersbach also changed Spangler’s words, claiming that Spangler said, “Don’t say which way he went!” and “For God’s sake, shut up!” None of Rittersbach’s testimony was ever supported by Jeannie Gourlay who stood near Rittersbach and Spangler when the exchange was supposed to have occurred. In what may be the most telling piece of evidence of all, Rittersbach was released from prison on the very same day he gave his damning testimony.

While Spangler’s defense attorney, Thomas Ewing, did a noble job of poking holes in Rittersbach’s version of events, he could not completely undo the damage it had done to his client. Mainly due to Jacob Rittersbach, Edman Spangler was found guilty of aiding and abetting in John Wilkes Booth’s escape and was sentenced to 6 years of hard labor.

While Spangler was taken to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas to serve his prison sentence, Jake Rittersbach largely fell from view. John T. Ford invited most of his former workers to help him re-open Ford’s Theatre but that was prevented and the government purchased the building. Some of the stagehands found employment in Ford’s Holliday Street Theater in Baltimore but it is highly unlikely Rittersbach was ever offered a position given what he had done to Spangler.

Despite everything that had happened, Jacob Rittersbach stayed in D.C. for over 30 years working as a carpenter. After the death of his wife, Rittersbach moved to Ohio, where, in 1901, he finally tried to get some money from the government for the events of April 14, 1865. Rittersbach appealed to his Congressman, Representative Charles Grosvenor, not for any reward money for Spangler’s conviction, but for the loss of his tools that were stolen after the assassination:

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Rep. Grosvenor was apparently unsuccessful in getting Rittersbach his reimbursement in 1901 as the Congressman introduced the same bill in 1903. It is unknown if the bill ever passed.

By 1913, Jake Rittersbach had returned to the east coast. On June 12th of that year, he was accepted into the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers located in Hampton, Virginia. He only stayed in the home for three months before asking to be discharged. He re-entered the home on April 5, 1914 and lived there for over four years before he was transferred to the National Home in Dayton, Ohio. He resided there until 1920 when he was transferred back to Hampton.

Jacob Rittersbach died at the Soldier’s Home in Hampton on June 28, 1926. While some of his former coworkers survived him, at 86, Rittersbach was the longest lived of those working at Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. He was buried with a military stone in Hampton National Cemetery.

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GPS coordinates for Jacob Rittersbach’s grave: 37.018650, -76.334817

Most of the information in this post came from Thomas Bogar’s wonderful book, Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination: The Untold Story of the Actor’s and Stagehands at Ford’s Theatre. Please pick up a copy today to learn more about the many people who were working at Ford’s Theatre when their lives, and our history, changed forever.

backstage-at-the-lincoln-assassination-by-thomas-bogar

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Grave Thursday: Cora Lee Garrett

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.


Cora Lee Garrett

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Burial Location: Carlisle Cemetery, Carlisle, Kentucky

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Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On Monday, April 24, 1865, at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, three men rode up on horseback to the farmhouse of Richard Henry Garrett and his family. Mr. Garrett was asked by the leader of the trio, a solider named Jett, if he would be willing to take care of one of their compatriots who had been wounded in the leg. The other two men promised to come back for their infirm friend on Wednesday morning. This temporary refuge was agreed upon with little deliberation by Mr. Garrett. He would later recall, “As it has always been one of the principles of my religion to entertain strangers, especially any in distress, I at once consented and promised I would do the best I could for him.”  Little did Mr. Garrett know at the time that he had just invited into his home the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth.

Booth, portraying himself as Mr. Boyd, was kindly tended to by Mr. Garrett and his family. The occupants of the farm at that time numbered more than a dozen with Mr. Garrett, his wife, and ten children consisting of the bulk of the population. The children present on the farm were, in order: Mary Elizabeth, Jack, Kate, Will, Annie, Richard, Lillie, Robert, Nettie, and, the youngest, Cora Lee.

Though his broken leg pained him, John Wilkes Booth did make an effort to entertain the five youngest Garrett children, all of whom were 10 or younger. He mystified them by moving the needle of a compass around with his pocketknife and he even told them jokes and stories. However, it was to three year-old Cora Lee Garrett that Booth paid the greatest of attention.

Lillie Garrett, who was 8 years-old at the time of Booth’s visit would later give an account of Booth’s stay at the family farm to a newspaperman. In her account she detailed Booth’s fondness for Cora:

“We children were about him and with him nearly all of the time. Of course, we were full of romp and frolic, and sometimes he would attempt to be cheerful and encourage us in our play. Our little baby sister, then about 4 [sic] years old, he took a great fancy to, and used to pet her a great deal, but the rest of us he paid little attention to…

He talked more to my little sister than to any one else. He called her his little blue-eyed pet, and, at the last meal he took with us, she sat by his side in her high chair. We were all gathered around the table, when she began making a noise; mother spoke up quite sharply to her, and she burst into tears. Booth at once began soothing her, and said, “What, is that my little blue-eyes crying?”

Within twelve hours of drying his little blue-eyed pet’s tears, John Wilkes Booth was dead, shot in the tobacco barn belonging to her father. And while Cora may have made a distinct mark on John Wilkes Booth in his final hours, he might have been disappointed to learn that he did not make such a mark on her.

In 1881, a newspaper reporter named Col. Frank Burr visited the Garrett farm to talk with its inhabitants. Cora, then a young woman of 19, was still living with her sisters. Burr described his interaction with her:

“In a minute a bright rather handsome young girl, just budding into womanhood, stepped into the room, dressed in her riding habit. She had a full, round face and pleasant countenance lit up by a pair of large, poetic, blue eyes, and a wealth of golden hair fell down her back in a graceful braid, reaching below her waist. A jaunty riding hat evidently of home construction, set upon her shapely head…”

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“‘I don’t remember anything about Booth,’ said the cheerful girl, ‘but they have told me a great deal about him since his death. How I wish I could remember him! I’m just going for a ride,’ and, after a few moments’ conversation, she stepped up and took her riding-whip from its place near the old fashioned fire-place, and a moment later had darted out the door to where her pony was hitched. She put the saddle upon the horse herself, and sprang into it without assistance, and in less time than it takes to tell the story her black pony was flying down the country road, bearing toward a neighboring farm house John Wilkes Booth’s last sweetheart.”

Cora, like the rest of her siblings, would move away from the old farmstead. When her brother, Richard Baynham Garrett, became a Baptist minister in 1882, she accompanied him when he accepted a pastorate located in Carlisle, Kentucky. While in Carlisle she likely made the acquaintance of a widower by the name of William Henry Fritts. Henry was 22 years older than Cora and had a son that was only six years younger than she was. It appears that any romantic feelings between the two took a while to develop as Cora left Kentucky in 1889 when her brother took up a new pastorate in Austin, Texas. Eventually, Henry Fritts followed her to Austin and the two were married by her brother Rev. Richard Baynham Garrett in 1892.

Cora moved back to Carlisle with Henry and the pair had two children together. Sadly, however, both of the children died in childhood. In 1899, Rev. Garrett accepted a pastorate at a Baptist church located in Portsmouth, Virginia. Whether Cora was homesick for her native state or wanted to be closer to her family, we don’t know, but, regardless, within a couple years of Rev. Garrett’s move to Portsmouth, Henry Fritts also accepted a job in Portsmouth, Virginia. He and Cora reunited with her brother. Cora and Henry had a nice life in Portsmouth with Henry working at the Navy Yard. However, in 1913 Henry Fritts died. Cora had his body transported back to Carlisle for burial next to his mother and father. She then returned to Portsmouth. Cora outlived her brother, the Rev. Garrett, who died in 1922 and was buried in Portsmouth.

Cora Lee Garrett Fritts died at the age of 70 on November 18, 1932. She was the penultimate witness to John Wilkes Booth’s death (albeit without any memory of the event), and left her brother, Robert Clarence Garrett, as the only remaining person alive who had witnessed the assassin’s end.

Since Cora had no children of her own (she also outlived her step-son), her final arrangements were tended to by her nephew. The original thought was to bury her back near the old farmstead in Caroline County, Virginia where she was born. There she would have joined her father, mother, and several of her siblings in the Enon Baptist Church Cemetery. But it was later decided that she should be transported to Kentucky and be laid next to her husband.

Cora Lee Garrett, John Wilkes Booth’s blue-eyed pet and last “sweetheart”, is buried in the Fritts family plot in Carlisle Cemetery.

GPS coordinates for Cora Lee Garrett’s grave: 38.314908, -84.034176

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Grave Thursday: John Somerset Leaman

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.


John Somerset Leaman

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Burial Location: Upper Seneca Baptist Church Cemetery, Germantown, Maryland

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

John Somerset Leaman was a resident of Germantown, a village in Montgomery County, Maryland northwest of Washington, D.C. Leaman, who went by both John and by Somerset, his middle name, was a thirty year old carpenter who had lived in Montgomery County his whole life. On April 16, 1865, Easter Sunday, John and his younger brother James were enjoying the hospitality of one of their neighbors named Hezekiah Metz. Metz had invited the Leaman brothers to join him and his family for Easter lunch. Shortly before the noontime meal was to begin, an old acquaintance of both the Leamans and the Metzes showed up at the door. He was known to everyone in the region as Andrew Atwood. His father had once owned a farm in Montgomery County but had moved some years back. Nevertheless Andrew and his brother regularly returned to the Germantown area to visit. Andrew told them that he had come from Washington and that he was heading to his cousin’s home which was only about two miles off. He was a likable enough man and was quickly invited in to join the group for their meal.

The fact that Andrew had come from Washington was of great interest to John Leaman and the other guests. The news of Lincoln’s assassination was everywhere and everyone clamored to hear the news directly. Before the meal began John Leaman asked Andrew in jest, “Are you the man that killed Abe Lincoln?” Andrew answered, “Yes” and then laughed. After the shared laughter ended, John Leaman asked Andrew for more details in order to confirm some of the things they had heard. Andrew told them that yes, Lincoln had been assassinated and that while Secretary Seward had been stabbed along with his sons, he had not been killed. Then Leaman asked Andrew about General Grant. “We had heard that General Grant was assassinated at the same time on the same night,” Leaman said. Andrew replied, “No: I do not know whether that is so or not. I do not suppose it is so. If it had been so, I would have heard it.”

A short time after everyone sat down for the Easter supper and Andrew found himself once again fielding questions from those present, most of which were the same questions Leaman had asked him earlier. Again the question about General Grant’s possible assassination came up. “No, I do not suppose he was,” Andrew replied. “If he was killed, he must have been killed by a man that got on the same train or the same car.”

The attention he was receiving must have given Andrew Atwood a little boost of confidence because he started to make slight flirtations with Hezekiah Metz’ 17 year-old daughter Martha. To John Leaman and his brother James, these attempts at paying his addresses to Ms. Metz made Atwood act confused but calm. These advances were subsequently rebuffed by Ms. Metz with Leaman later agreeing that Martha was “showing him the cold shoulder on that day”.

After dinner was over, Andrew began to depart and was joined for a bit in the yard by John’s brother James. James believed the cold treatment Andrew received from Ms. Metz was bothering Andrew. “Oh, my! What a trouble I see!” Andrew said to James before departing. “Why, what have you to trouble you?” James Leaman inquired. “More than I will ever get shut of,” Andrew replied. With that Andrew bade his goodbye and walked the remaining two miles to his cousins’ home.

The Leaman brothers enjoyed the remainder of their time with the Metzes before they also departed back to their shared home.

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Life continued very much as it had before for the Leaman brothers for the next few days. Either they or Hezekiah Metz made causal mention of the news Andrew had brought regarding the false report of Grant’s assassination to another neighbor named Nathan Page, but they thought nothing else of it.

Then in the early morning of April 20th, the Leaman brothers saw a contingent of Union soldiers heading towards their home. When the soldiers got near the house, James put his head out of the window and called to the soldiers. The sergeant in charge asked James if he knew a man by the name of Atzerodt. James replied that he didn’t. That name was not familiar to him. Then the sergeant asked if he knew a man named Atwood. To this, James replied in the affirmative. The sergeant then went up to the door and John Leaman came out. The sergeant asked John if he knew a man named Atwood and John replied that he did. The sergeant made a motion to the soldiers who had stayed back a bit and John Leaman watched as Andrew Atwood was brought forward. Atwood kept his head down, but when he got in front of John, the two shook hands and Leaman identified the man as Andrew Atwood. John also seemed to recall something that his younger brother didn’t. He confirmed that Atwood’s family name was actually Atzerodt. Upon hearing this information, the sergeant thanked John and sent Atwood away with a detachment of the soldiers.

It was shortly thereafter that the Leaman brothers learned what was going on. It appears that their acquaintance Andrew Atwood was actually named George Andrew Atzerodt and that he was wanted in connection with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Atzerodt CDV

 

A strange case of the game of telephone had occurred over the last few days. Remember how “Atwood” had calmly told the Leaman brothers and the Metzes at Easter dinner that the only way Grant was assassinated was “if a man had followed him onto his train”? That piece of news was told to neighbor Nathan Page who passed it on to another neighbor who was a Union detective named James Purdom. By the time Purdom passed the information on to a detachment of Union soldiers camped nearby, the story had been transformed into a man named “Lockwood” having stopped eating in the middle of the meal, thrown down his knife and shouted that “if the man on the train had followed Grant dutifully, he would have been assassinated too.” This latter statement is far more incendiary than George’s actual words. This is what sent Sergeant Zachariah Gemmill of the First Delaware regiment to the home of Hartman Richter looking for a man named “Lockwood”. While the name was wrong, the description he had been given was accurate enough for Gemmill to compel “Atwood” to come with him. Sgt. Gemmill took “Atwood” to the Leaman brothers’ home where he was unmasked as Atzerodt.

It is important to note that even if the game of telephone style of reporting hadn’t brought Gemmill to the door of Hartman Richter, George Atzerodt would still have been arrested on that day. Just a few hours after Gemmill made his arrest, a separate group of federal detectives arrived at Hartman Richter’s home to arrest George. They had been sent on a lead given to them by John Atzerodt, a detective for the Maryland provost marshal and George’s own brother. This group of detectives were too late to arrest George and also missed out on the reward money for his capture that went to Gemmill and his men.

At the trial of the conspirators, John Leaman, James Leaman, and Hezekiah Metz were all called to testify. The Leaman brothers were used more as defense witnesses, testifying that Atzerodt was calm during the supper and to his exact wording regarding Grant. Metz was a bit more unsure about Atzerodt’s wording regarding Grant, but reinforced the idea that he did not act in any unusual way and definitely did not throw down his knife and make a dramatic statement of any sort. Even Sgt. Gemmill would write in his report about the arrest that he, “could get no evidence around there to prove that [Atzerodt] did say” anything as dramatic as what was reported to him.

Life went back to normal for the Leaman brothers. John Somerset Leaman lived out the rest of his live in Montgomery County. He died on December 15, 1883 at the age of 48. His younger brother James outlived him by a number of years, dying in 1917 at the age of 80. James Leaman is buried in D.C.’s Rock Creek Cemetery.

GPS coordinates for John Somerset Leaman’s grave: 39.2408082, -77.2335394

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Grave Thursday: Silas T. Cobb

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.


Sgt. Silas Tower Cobb

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Burial Location: Central Burying Ground, Holliston, Massachusetts

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Good evening enthusiasts of all things historic, 

This is Kate, returning for another Grave Thursday installment. For this post, I decided to incorporate my work with Dave’s to bring you the full story of the watchman on the bridge, Silas T. Cobb. 

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Sergeant Silas Tower Cobb is most remembered to history as the man who unknowingly created the John Wilkes Booth Escape Route. On April 14, 1865, Cobb allowed John Wilkes Booth and David Herold to cross the Navy Yard Bridge out of Washington City and into Southern Maryland. Riders were not allowed to cross the bridge after 9 PM but Booth and Herold arrived at almost 11. Unaware that President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward were mortally and severely wounded, Cobb allowed Booth and Herold passage. Rules had been lax since the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and riders wishing to leave the Capitol City did not seem nearly as dangerous as riders seeking entrance. Cobb drowned two years later at the age of 29 during a boating accident in Grand Haven, Michigan.

You can read more about Cobb’s later life here. This is the story of his life leading up to April of 1865. 

Named after his father, Silas Cobb was born on October 13, 1838 in Holliston, Massachusetts to Silas and Sophia Cobb. He spent his childhood training as a boot maker, a trade which he would resume after the Civil War, and sailed to the Arctic when he was 19 as a crewman aboard a whaling ship. Cobb did not immediately enlist in the Union Army following the firing on Fort Sumter. Instead, he married Sophia Treen. The couple had one child together, a daughter named Ada, but she died in infancy about a month after the execution of the conspirators. In 1863, Cobb enlisted in the Union Army, joining the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. The regiment remained in its home state until it was called to Washington City to guard its various bridges and passageways. In 1862, General Lee had attempted a march on Maryland to put pressure on Washington and by 1863 had invaded Pennsylvania. Perhaps one reason the 3rd Massachusetts was sent south was to barricade the Capitol in the event that Lee managed to break significant Union lines. Lee’s campaign ultimately failed but it placed Cobb on the Navy Yard Bridge, keeping him from being lost to the pages of history as another name on another roster. While Lee never appeared, on April 14th Cobb received a different kind of Southern sympathizer on the bridge. The rest is history.

It is not known for certain why Cobb was in Grand Haven when he died. Some historians theorize that he was attempting to sell boots, having been honorably discharged from the Union Army and resumed his shoe making. Evidence for this theory points to a friend Cobb knew from his time in Holliston, Edgar Fletcher, who was also a boot maker. The pair were traveling through Michigan together. Both perished in the accident.

The body of Silas T. Cobb was brought back home to Holliston where it was laid to rest in the Central Burying Ground. A small military headstone marks the site today. Much like Cobb, it is a stop on the road to more recognized places (Fall River to the South, Boston and Salem to the North) but it is still a stop worth discussing due to its brush with history.  

Until next time.

-Kate 

GPS coordinates for Silas Cobb’s grave: 42.202776, -71.429104

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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