Posts Tagged With: Abraham Lincoln

Grave Thursday: The Montgomery Theatre

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.


The Montgomery Theatre

Burial Location: 39 S Perry St, Montgomery, Alabama

Connection the the Lincoln Assassination:

For this week’s Grave Thursday we are dealing with the death of a place, rather than a person. The place is the old Montgomery Theatre in Montgomery, Alabama which is currently in the final phases of demolition.

In the fall of 1859, Colonel Charles T. Pollard, president of the Montgomery and West Point Railroad, commissioned the construction of a new theater in Montgomery, Alabama. The brick contractor was B. F. Randolph who used his female slaves as the laborers for the theater’s masonry and plastering. By October of 1860, the large and stately Montgomery Theatre was completed. The first lessee and manager of the theater was Matthew Canning, who opened the theater with his troupe of actors on October 22, 1860.

Matthew W. Canning

22 year-old John Wilkes Booth was part of Matthew Canning’s troupe of actors.  Booth’s tour with Canning was his first as a star performer. Prior to this he had been learning his craft in Philadelphia and Richmond. Attempting to succeed on his own talents rather than his prestigious family name, he had been and was continuing to be billed “J. B. Wilkes” or “John Wilkes”.

When the Canning troupe presented the grand opening performance of the show, School for Scandal, at the Montgomery Theatre, John Wilkes Booth was not present. Ten days earlier, when the troupe had been in Columbus, Georgia, Booth had suffered an accidental gunshot wound to his thigh. Though stories differ, the most reliable account holds that Booth and Canning were attempting to clean a pistol when the weapon accidentally discharged. This gunshot wound ended Booth’s performances in Columbus and caused him to sit out most of his starring performances in Montgomery as well.

John Wilkes Booth finally made his debut at the Montgomery Theatre on Monday, October 29, 1860, when he performed as Pescara in The Apostate. He would perform for the rest of the week before closing his engagement to recuperate further. John Wilkes Booth was resting in Montgomery, Alabama when Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States on November 6, 1860.

On November 16, Booth returned to the stage of the Montgomery Theatre in a benefit performance for his fellow actor, Kate Bateman. Booth played Romeo to Bateman’s Juliet.

The troupe’s final day at the Montgomery Theatre was on December 1, 1860 in a benefit performance for Booth himself. Booth performed in a two act play called Rafaelle, the Reprobate, and then his fellow actor, Maggie Mitchell, performed in Katy O’Sheal. The evening was ended with Booth performing the titular character in the fifth act of Shakespeare’s Richard III. This performance marked the end of Booth’s engagement in Montgomery but it also marked a new beginning for the young actor. It was on the stage at the Montgomery Theatre that John Wilkes Booth reclaimed his true name and was billed as J. Wilkes Booth. From this day onward, the actor would always use his true name.

John Wilkes Booth would never return to Montgomery, but the beautiful theater he helped to christen would continue to operate for many years. Edwin Booth would perform on the same stage in 1876, 1882, and 1888 along with countless other luminaries of the stage.

After 47 years of operation, the Montgomery Theatre was closed on November 13, 1907 when a newer, grander theater was opened in the city. The old theater’s interior was remodeled into a department store but the outside retained its original construction. The Webber department store lasted until the 1990’s when it finally closed. After a few years the building was bought by a foundation which paid almost half a million dollars to replace the roof. In 2010, the foundation sold the building to a developer who planned to restore the structure and create retail and housing space within the interior. Unfortunately while work was being done to restore the building in June of 2014, the structure suffered a partial collapse.

Though the hope was that the restoration would continue, the owner of the building didn’t have the funds to continue after the collapse. The ownership of the building reverted to the city of Montgomery in December of 2014. The city valiantly made efforts to find a buyer willing and financially able to restore the structure, offering to sell structure for $1 to any developers who would restore it. In the end, however, the city could not find a buyer with the means to restore the building. The property was sold off and slated for demolition which began in late 2016. Here is how the building looked on March 30th of this year:

Though the Montgomery Theatre building could not be saved, deconstruction of the building has been slow to allow for the salvage of some of the structure’s cast iron, bricks, and masonry pieces. Some of the windows of the theater are also being saved and will be given to the local historical society.

Despite the loss of the Montgomery Theatre building, the history of the site will not be lost. There is a historic marker that will be returned once construction on the site is completed. In addition, the company that is redeveloping the property has vowed to, “include a plaza and information to recognize the building’s history.”

I want to close this post with the words of an old time Montgomery resident by the name of Frank P. O’Brien. O’Brien was present the night the Montgomery Theatre opened in 1860. When the theatre closed in 1907 he gave his reminiscences of the many plays and actors that had graced its stage. At the end of the article, O’Brien stated the following words, which are very fitting today:

“Wednesday night, November thirteenth, the curtain was ‘rung down’ in the old play-house to give way to one of more modern construction. The soft glow of unforgotten scenes alone is left to me, and many whose hearts have throbbed with hope for future years, as nightly we ascended the broad stairs from the street to listen to and witness scenes of comedy, music, and tragedy. Thus is marked the passing of the glory of the old Montgomery theatre…There is not one of us who has not gone up the wide stairs loving, and come down them loving the more. There is not one of us who has not left some weight of the soul there and never returned to claim it.

Vale! old house, the ghostly shadows of scenes long to be remembered will continue to hover within thy hallowed walls ’till the inevitable march of progress hastens thy destruction.”

GPS coordinates for the former site of Montgomery Theatre: 32.378385, -86.307671

Categories: Grave Thursday, History, News | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Grave Thursday: Fleetwood Lindley

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.


Fleetwood Herndon Lindley

Burial Location: Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On September 26, 1901, Fleetwood Lindley was attending his school in Springfield, Illinois when he received a note sent by his father. The note told the 14 year-old to leave school immediately, hop on his bicycle, and ride quickly to Oak Ridge Cemetery. When Lindley arrived at the cemetery he found a group of twenty men and two women gathered around the outside of Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. Over the past 15 months, the final resting place of President Lincoln had undergone massive renovations. During that time, the coffins of the Lincoln family had been placed in a temporary crypt next to the tomb. With the restoration complete, the coffins were officially being moved back into the tomb. While the coffins of Mary Todd, Willie, Tad, and Eddie Lincoln, would be placed in the wall of the tomb, it had been ordered by the last surviving Lincoln son, Robert Todd, that his father’s coffin be placed in a cage ten feet deep where it would be encased in concrete for all time. This seemingly extreme burial procedure was due in part to the almost successful grave robbing of Lincoln’s remains in 1876.

Though Robert Todd Lincoln had requested that his father’s coffin not be reopened at the time of the final burial, those present on September 26, 1901 could not pass up the chance to look upon the face of the Great Emancipator. Under the guise of verifying that the body of Abraham Lincoln did, indeed, lay inside the coffin, the decision was made to open part of it. Lincoln’s coffin had been opened four times previous to this, the last of which having occurred in 1887. Fleetwood’s father, Joseph Lindley, had been present when the casket was opened back in 1887 and likely wanted his son to share in the experience this time.

A piece of the lead-lined coffin was chiseled away. Fleetwood Lindley joined the others present and took his turn gazing upon Lincoln’s face for the last time. After the identification was complete, the coffin was resealed, and Lincoln was placed into his concrete tomb.

Gazing upon the face of Abraham Lincoln made an indelible impression on Fleetwood, who was the youngest person present that day. He would describe the scene several times over the course of his life. He lived his whole life in Springfield, starting his own floral business which he ran for over 40 years. He was a frequent speaker around Springfield and later served as the president of the board of managers for Oak Ridge Cemetery. He could often be found greeting visitors to Lincoln’s tomb and telling his story about viewing Lincoln’s remains.

“Lincoln’s face seemed to be well preserved. It was ash white in color,” Lindley recalled in 1934. “The head piece in the lead coffin had rotted away and Lincoln’s head was thrown back and resting to one side. His clothes were mildewed.”

In 1962, Lindley told his rotary club that, “We all filed slowly around the coffin. Lincoln was a chalky white. The head rest had given away, so his head had slipped backward. He had been in the casket for 36 years. His nose and chin were the most predominant features. The body was remarkably well preserved. He looked just like his pictures.”

While Fleetwood Lindley was well known around Springfield, he achieved wider recognition when he was highlighted in Life Magazine on February 15, 1963. At the time of his interview, Lindley was the last surviving member of the group of 23 that had viewed Lincoln’s remains. He gave his interview to the Life Magazine reporter from his room at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield where he was awaiting a gall bladder operation. The Life Magazine article describing the final identification of Abraham Lincoln can be read, in full, here.

Lindley ended his recollections with the following, “Yes, his face was chalky white. His clothes were mildewed. And I was allowed to hold one of the leather straps as we lowered the casket for the concrete to be poured. I was not scared at the time but I slept with Lincoln for the next six months.”

Fleetwood Lindley in his later years

The interview for Life Magazine proved to be the last one Fleetwood Lindley ever gave. He passed away only a couple of days later on January 31*, 1963 at St. John’s Hospital. He was 75 years old.

Fleetwood Lindley, the last living person to have seen the face of Abraham Lincoln, is buried not far from the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Location of Fleetwood Lindley’s grave in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, IL

* Many online sources, including Wikipedia and FindaGrave, give Lindley’s death date as February 1, 1963 due to that date having been given in the Life Magazine article. However, his obituary and death record clearly indicate he died at around 9:30 pm on Thursday, January 31, 1963.

GPS coordinates for Fleetwood Lindley’s grave: 39.822233, -89.658423

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

“An Evening with John Wilkes Booth”

On March 3, 2017, Kate and I presented at an event for the Friends of Rich Hill and the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. The event venue was the restored Port Tobacco courthouse in Port Tobacco, Maryland. Though Port Tobacco is the former stomping grounds of conspirator George Atzerodt, the subject of this event was the lead assassin, John Wilkes Booth. While I have given speeches about Booth in the past, including my 2016 speech for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum volunteers, I had never previously attempted to portray John Wilkes Booth in the first person. The event in Port Tobacco, billed as “An Evening with John Wilkes Booth”, was my first attempt at being John Wilkes Booth, rather than just discussing John Wilkes Booth.

The following play is meant to provide an insight into the mind of John Wilkes Booth by utilizing much of his own words and writings. Some of the words said by Booth are uncomfortable to hear, but they are vital if we are to truly understand the world view of Lincoln’s assassin. The video of the performance is embedded below or you can watch it directly on YouTube by clicking here.

If you are interested in more first person portrayals of conspirators, Kate will be performing as Mary Surratt twice in April, 2017. On April 1st, Kate will be performing her one woman show about Mrs. Surratt’s imprisonment at the annual Surratt Society Conference in Clinton, Maryland. To sign up for the conference please visit the Surratt House Museum’s website. Kate will also be portraying Mary Surratt at an event in Port Tobacco, Maryland on Friday, April 7th at 6:00 pm. At this performance, Mrs. Suratt will be joined by George Atzerodt and the two of them will discuss their involvement in the conspiracy against Lincoln. The event at Port Tobacco is free and open to the public.

EDIT: I just realized that today is the five year anniversary of my very first posting here on BoothieBarn. When I started this site, it was an outlet for me to share some of the interesting things I had learned while researching the Lincoln assassination. I didn’t really know if it would be of interest to anyone other than myself. However, through this site I have made many wonderful friends and have been fortunate enough to speak about John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln’s assassination in several venues. And so after 5 years, 400+ posts and almost 600 followers later, I want to thank you all for your much appreciated support. As long as I keep finding interesting things about the Lincoln assassination to share, I expect posts will continue here on BoothieBarn for many more years to come. 

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Fake David Herold

Recognize this face?
fake-david-herold-by-berger-boothiebarn

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

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

Categories: History | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

“The Murderer: John Wilkes Booth and the Plot Against Lincoln” at the ALPLM

Almost a year ago, I was contacted by representatives from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Though I was right in the middle of setting up my classroom for a new school year (at a brand new school, and grade, actually), I dropped everything to take the call from employees of such an esteemed institution. As part of their volunteer educational programming, the ALPLM asked me if I would be willing to come to Springfield in the upcoming year and give a talk about the assassin of President Lincoln. I suppose it is not difficult to ascertain what my response was. After a few victory laps around my minefield of classroom, I settled in for the long wait until summer.

Dave Taylor at the ALPLM 6-29-2016

Less than a month ago, on June 29, I was humbled to present my speech, “The Murderer: John Wilkes Booth and the Plot Against Lincoln” for the wonderful folks at the ALPLM. The museum was kind enough to record my presentation and put it on YouTube, and so I have embedded the video below. It misses some of the fancy animations I included in my PowerPoint but is of far better quality than I could have ever done. The video below includes the lively question and answer session that followed the speech where we cover several other Lincoln assassination topics beyond John Wilkes Booth.

In addition to the speech, Kate and I spent our time in Springfield visiting the Lincoln sites and viewing several of the ALPLM’s assassination related letters and artifacts. Altogether, the speech and visit to the ALPLM are among the highlights of my “career” as a “historian.” I would like to thank Jeremy Carrell, Barbara McKean, Samuel Wheeler, Dr. James Cornelius, David Grimm, and Chuck Hand for setting everything up and for their hospitality in, and around, the ALPLM.

It was truly an honor to speak at the ALPLM and, if you have the time, I hope you enjoy the speech below.

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“To Whom it May Concern”

On this date in 1865, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a telling letter written by John Wilkes Booth, the recent assassin of President Lincoln.

To Whom is Published

The letter is known to readers of the Lincoln assassination story as John Wilkes Booth’s, “To Whom it May Concern” letter. Its title is derived from the letter’s greeting which was appropriated by Booth from a letter written by Lincoln in July of 1864. At that time, a small delegation of “peace emissaries” representing the Confederacy had approached the Union government under the guise of facilitating a cessation of hostilities and possible re-unification of the nation under the condition that they be allowed to continue the practice of slavery. It was a difficult period in the war and Lincoln himself knew his chance of winning re-election later that year was slim. Knowing that Lincoln would never agree to their terms, the so-called “Niagara Falls peace conference” was a piece of propaganda for the Confederacy, which was more aimed to further diminish Lincoln’s approval and chance of re-election. Lincoln was likely well aware of conference’s true purpose and wrote to the “peace emissaries” that any discussion of peace must include the “abandonment of slavery”.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Knowing that his position would be viewed and lamented as stubbornness by the Confederacy and by the Democrats running against him, Lincoln decided to add further insult to injury by refusing to address the emissaries by name. Instead, Lincoln wrote his note “To Whom it May Concern,” diminishing the importance and respectability of the so-called “peace emissaries.” John Wilkes Booth subsequently used this somewhat insulting address in his own explanatory letter that follows.

The letter was published due to the efforts of Booth’s brother-in-law, John Sleeper Clarke. Following the assassination of Lincoln, Clarke and his wife, Asia Booth, recalled that John Wilkes had left a package of papers in the safe of their home in Philadelphia. Upon opening the package they found this letter, another addressed to his mother, Mary Ann Booth, and some oil stocks. As more and more Booths arrived at the Clarkes’ home (Mary Ann came from New York very soon after hearing the tragic news in order to comfort Asia, who was pregnant, and Junius Jr. arrived from an acting engagement in Cincinnati to be with the family), John Sleeper thought that the letters would be of help in proving the family’s innocence as to John’s plan. Clarke had copies made of both the To Whom it May Concern letter and the one addressed to Mrs. Booth. Then, accompanied by a member of the Philadelphia press corps, Clarke went to the office of William Millward, the Provost Marshal of Philadelphia.

John Sleeper Clarke

John Sleeper Clarke

Clarke asked the Marshal for permission to publish the letters and the circumstances surrounding their discovery in order to demonstrate that the family had no foreknowledge of John Wilkes’ crime. Millward approved the publication of the To Whom it May Concern letter for the next day but not the letter that John Wilkes wrote to his mother. Millward did not want anything published that might garner sympathy for the assassin. This was a let down to Clarke, as Booth’s letter to his mother more effectively demonstrated how completely unaware the family was as to John Wilkes’ intentions. While the To Whom it May Concern letter was published, it did not assuage the suspicion on the Booth family. Shortly after the letter was published, both John Sleeper Clarke and Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. were arrested and taken down to Washington, D.C. The youngest Booth, Joseph, would also be arrested leaving Edwin as the only male Booth not to be locked up. This series of events greatly bothered Clarke, who would complain about his improper treatment and the favored treatment of Edwin for the rest of his days. The assassination and the events that followed it marked the beginning of John Sleeper Clarke rejecting all things Booth, including his wife, Asia, whom he would grow to loathe.

Though not dated besides the year, Booth’s letter was likely written just following Lincoln’s miraculous re-election in November of 1864. The letter lays out John Wilkes Booth’s political and ideological beliefs and provides his reasons for his plan to abduct President Lincoln. Booth had started, sort of halfheartedly at first, to assemble a crew of conspirators in the summer of 1864 with the idea of abducting the President and taking him South. In this manner, Booth hoped to use Lincoln as a hostage to reinstate the prisoner exchange program between the Union and the Confederacy. This idea took on an increased importance in Booth’s mind after Lincoln’s surprise re-election on November 8, 1864. Immediately following this date, John Wilkes Booth began acting more in earnest and less than a week after the election, he was in Southern Maryland scouting the area and looking for others who might help him in his plot.

John Wilkes Booth Gutman 27

John Wilkes Booth

This letter, therefore, was written right at the beginning of Booth’s plot to abduct the President. It contains perhaps the most honest look into the mind and thoughts of John Wilkes Booth. In less than six months after this letter was written, the same motivations that led Booth to consider abduction, led him to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

"To Whom It May Concern" 1864 RG 60 Department of Justice Segregated Documents from Attorney General Letters Received, 1809-1870 Box 4 ReDiscovery Identifier: 6542

My Dear Sir                                                                                                                  1864.

You may use this, as you think best. But as some, may wish to know the when, the who, and the why, and as I know not, how, to direct, I give it (in the words of your master)

“To whom it may concern”

Right, or wrong, God, judge me, not man. For be my motive good or bad, of one thing I am sure, the lasting condemnation of the North.

I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression. For four years have I waited, hoped, and prayed, for the dark clouds to break, and for the restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer, would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved as idle as my hopes. ‘God’s’ will be done: I go to see, and share the bitter end.

I have ever held the South were right. The very nomination of Abraham Lincoln four years ago, spoke plainly – war – war upon Southern rights and institutions, his election proved it. “Await an overt act.” Yes till you are bound and plundered. What folly. The South were wise. Who thinks of argument and patience when the finger of his enemy presses on the trigger. In a foreign war, I too could

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 1 NARA

say, “Country right or wrong”, but in a struggle such as ours (where the brother tries to pierce the brothers heart) for God’s sake choose the right. When a country such as ours like this, spurns justice from her side, she forfeits the allegiance of every honest freeman, and should leave him untrammeled by any fealty soever, to act, as his conscience may approve.

People of the North, to hate tyranny to love liberty and justice, to strike at wrong and oppression, was the teaching of our fathers. The study of our early history will not let me forget it. And may it never.

This country was formed for the white not for the black man. And looking upon African slavery from the same stand-point, held by those noble framers of our Constitution, I for one, have ever considered it, one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us,) that God ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power, witness their elevation in happiness and enlightenment above their race, elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man, than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet Heaven

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 2 NARA

knows no one would be willing to do, more for the negro race than I. Could I but see a way to still better their condition. But Lincoln’s policy is only preparing the way, for their total annihilation. The South are not, nor have they been, fighting for the continuance of slavery, the first battle of Bull-run did away with that idea. Their causes since for war, have been as noble, and greater far than those that urged our fathers on. Even should we allow, they were wrong at the beginning of this contest, cruelty and injustice, have made the wrong become the right. And they stand now (before the wonder and admiration of the world,) as a noble band of patriotic heroes. Hereafter, reading of their deeds, Thermopylae will be forgotten.

When I aided in the capture and the g execution of John Brown, (who was a murderer on our Western Border, and who was fairly tried and convicted, – before an impartial judge & jury – of treason, – and who by the way has since been made a God – I was proud of my little share in the transaction, for I deemed it my duty and that I was helping our common country to perform an act of justice. But what was a crime in poor John Brown, is now considered (by themselves) as the greatest and only virtue, of the whole

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 3 NARA

Republican party. Strange transmigration. Vice to become a virtue. Simply because more indulge in it. I thought then, as now, that the abolitionists, were the only traitors in the land, and that the entire party deserved the fate of poor old Brown. Not because they wish to abolish slavery, but on account of the means they have ever used endeavored to use, to effect that abolition. If Brown were living, I doubt if he himself would set slavery, against the Union. Most, in or many, in the North do, And openly curse the Union, if the South are to return and retain a single right guaranteed them by every tie which we once revered as sacred. The south can make no choice. It is either extermination, or slavery for themselves, (worse than death) to draw from. I would know my choice.

I have, also, studied hard to discover upon what grounds, the rights of a state to secede have been denied, when our very name (United States) and the Declaration of Independence, both provide for secession. But there is no time for words. I write in haste. I know how foolish I shall be deemed, for undertaking such a step, as this, where on the one side, I have many friends, and everything to make me happy. Where my profession alone has gained me an income of more than twenty thousand dollars a year. And where my great personal ambition in my profession has such a great field for labor. On the other hand- the south have

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 4 NARA

never bestowed upon me one kind word. A place now, where I have no friends, except beneath the sod. A place where I must become either become a private soldier, or a beggar. To give up all of the former for the latter, besides my mother and sisters whom I love so dearly, (although they so widely differ with me in opinion) seems insane. But God is my judge. I love justice, more than I do a country, that disowns it. More than fame and wealth. More – (Heaven pardon me if wrong) more than a happy home. I have never been upon a battlefield, but O my countrymen, could you all but see the reality or effects of this horrid war, as I have seen them (in every State, save Virginia) I know you would think like me. And would pray the Almighty to create in the Northern mind a sense of right and justice, (even should it possess no seasoning of mercy), and that he would dry up this sea of blood between us, – which is daily growing wider.

Alas, poor country, is, she to meet her threatened doom. Four years ago I would have given a thousand lives to see her remain, (as I had always known her) powerful and unbroken. And even now I would hold my life as naught, to see her what she was. O my friends if the fearful scenes of the past four years had never been enacted, or if what had been, had been but a frightful dream, from which we could now awake, with what overflowing hearts could we bless our God and pray for his continued favor. How I have loved the old flag can never, now, be known. A few years since and

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 5 NARA

the entire world could boast of none so pure and spotless. But I have of late been seeing and hearing of the bloody deeds of which she has been made, the emblem, and would shudder to think how changed she had grown. O How I have longed to see her break from the mist of blood and death that now circles round her folds, spoiling her beauty and tarnishing her honor. But no, day by day has she been draged deeper and deeper into cruelty and oppression, till now (in my eyes) her once bright-red stripes look like bloody gashes on the face of Heaven. I look now upon my early admiration of her glories as a dream. My love, (as things stand to day,) is for the South alone. Nor, do I deem it a dishonor, in attempting to make for her a prisoner of this man, to whom she owes so much of misery. If success attends me, I go penniless to her side. They say she has found that “last ditch” which the North have so long derided, and been endeavoring to force her in, forgetting they are our brothers, and that its impolitic to goad an enemy to madness. Should I reach her in safety and find it true, I will proudly beg permission to triumph or die in that same “ditch” by her side.

A Confederate, at present doing duty upon his own responsibility

J WilkesBooth

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 6 NARA

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

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