Posts Tagged With: Conspiracy Trial

“You know best, Captain” The Executed Conspirators in Lincoln’s Assassination

On June 27, 2017, I was fortunate enough to return to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in order to speak to their volunteers and members of the public. The topic of my talk revolved around the four conspirators who were executed for their involvement in John Wilkes Booth’s plot against Lincoln. The following is a video of that talk that the ALPLM was kind enough to put on YouTube:

In the process of researching and writing this speech I consulted many excellent books. Specifically, I’d like to point out the vital scholarship of Betty Ownsbey in her book on Lewis Powell and the research of Kate Clifford-Larson in her book about Mary Surratt. These texts are a wealth of information and proved invaluable in preparing for this speech. I would also like to thank Betty Ownsbey and Dr. Blaine Houmes for allowing me to use some of their images in this speech.

The day before the speech I gave a radio interview to WTAX, the local Springfield station, about the speech and my interest in the Lincoln assassination. It’s only about 5 minutes long and can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/news-radio-wtax/6-26-17-dave-taylor-lincoln-assassination-expert-podcast

I’d like to thank the folks at the ALPLM for allowing me to come back and speak to their volunteers. I must admit that I definitely feel a strong sense of pride at being able to tell people that I’ve spoken at the Lincoln library. Kate and I had an amazing time touring the museum and being taken into the vault to see their treasures.

I hope you all enjoy the speech.

Dave

EDIT: For ease of access I’m also going to embed the video of my prior speech for the ALPLM in which I discussed John Wilkes Booth’s history:

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Come See Us: Spring 2017

Spring is the busy season for Lincoln assassination events. Kate and I will be attending and participating in several of the offerings that will occur in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia area. As much fun as it is to research and write here on BoothieBarn, there’s something special about being out in public and sharing aspects of the Lincoln assassination with others, face to face. For those of you who live in the region, here are some of the upcoming Lincoln assassination talks that Kate and I (or some of our learned friends) will be giving that you might be interested in attending.


Date: Saturday, April 1, 2017
Location: Colony South Hotel and Conference Center (7401 Surratts Rd, Clinton, MD 20735)
Time: Full conference runs from 8:50 am – 8:30 pm

Speech: Assassination “Extras”: Their Hidden Histories
Speaker: Dave Taylor
Description: The Lincoln assassination story is filled with characters who play the part of background extras. They are men and women who very briefly enter the scene, play their small part, and then are forgotten. All of them are connected by their minor involvement with the events of April, 1865, yet many have fascinating personal stories all their own. In his speech, Dave will highlight some of these extra characters and talk about their hidden histories.

Speech: “Beware the People Whistling”
Speaker: Kate Ramirez
Description: As the evening’s entertainment for the Surratt Society’s annual Lincoln assassination conference, Kate will perform her one woman show depicting Mary Surratt as she reflects on her life and choices in the hours leading up to her execution.

Cost: Dave and Kate’s speeches are two of the seven that will be presented at the annual Surratt Society Lincoln Assassination Conference on the weekend of March 31st – April 2nd. The day of speakers is on Saturday, April 1st. The cost of the full conference is $200. The event is always worth the cost and filled with fascinating discussions about so many aspects of the Lincoln assassination story. Other speakers this year include, Dr. Blaine Houmes, Karen Needles, Burrus Carnahan, Scott Schroeder, and William “Wild Bill” Richter. Please visit: http://www.surrattmuseum.org/annual-conference for full details and registration information.


Date: Friday, April 7, 2017
Location: Port Tobacco Courthouse (8430 Commerce St., Port Tobacco, MD 20735)
Time: 6:00 pm
Speech: A Conversation with George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt
Speaker: Kate Ramirez Description: Join Kate Ramirez and Mike Callahan as they portray conspirators Mary Surratt and George Atzerodt and discuss their involvement in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Cost: Free. Donations to the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco appreciated.


Date: Saturday, April 8, 2017
Location: Surratt House Museum (9118 Brandywine Road, Clinton, MD 20735)
Time: 7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Speech: John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Bus Tour
Speaker: Dave Taylor Description: Dave is one of the narrators for the Surratt Society’s John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Tour. The 12 hour bus tour documents the escape of the assassin through Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. While Dave will only be narrating the April 8th tour, there are other tours set for April 15th and 22nd. Please call the Surratt House Museum to see if there is any availability left on these tours. If they are booked up, Dave and the other guides will also be conducting tours in the fall.
Cost: $85. Information can be found at: http://www.surrattmuseum.org/booth-escape-tour


Date: Saturday, April 22, 2017
Location: Port Royal, Virginia
Times: 11:00 am – 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Speech: John Wilkes Booth in Port Royal Walking Tour
Speaker: Dave Taylor and Kate Ramirez Description: Dave and Kate will conduct walking tours of Port Royal, giving the history of some of the landmarks connected with the escape of the assassin. Interested participants should park and meet at the Port Royal Museum of Medicine (419 Kings St., Port Royal, VA 22535). The entire tour is about one mile of walking. At the end, participants will be instructed to drive across 301 to the Port Royal Museum of American History (506 Main St., Port Royal, VA 22535) where they can view artifacts relating to John Wilkes Booth and enjoy some light refreshments.
Cost: The suggested donation for the tour is $10 per person and all proceeds benefit Historic Port Royal’s museums.


Date: Sunday, April 23, 2017
Location: Rich Hill Farm (Rich Hill Farm Rd, Bel Alton, MD 20611)
Time: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Speech: An Open House at Samuel Cox’s Rich Hill
Speaker: Dave Taylor and Kate Ramirez Description: Come out and see the progress that has been done on the restoration of Rich Hill, one of the stops on John Wilkes Booth’s escape. Dave and Kate will both be there in costume to give talks and answer questions about the house and its history.
Cost: Free, but donations encouraged in order to facilitate the restoration of the home.

Also on Sunday, April 23, 2017

Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: John Wilkes Booth and Tudor Hall
Speaker: Jim Garrett Description: Lincoln assassination author and speaker, Jim Garrett, will be presenting about John Wilkes Booth at the Booth family home of Tudor Hall. Since Kate and Dave will be at Rich Hill all day, they’d really appreciate if someone could go and heckle Jim on their behalf.
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Saturday, May 6, 2017
Location: Grant Hall (Fort Lesley J. McNair, 1601 2nd St. SW, Washington, DC 20024)
Time: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Speech: Grant Hall Open House
Speaker: Kate Ramirez and Betty Ownsbey Description: Once a quarter, Fort Lesley J. McNair opens up the third floor of Grant Hall, the site of the trial of the Lincoln conspirators, to the public. Visitors can see the restored courtroom, the site of the conspirators execution, and different artifacts relating to the assassination and the 2010 movie, The Conspirator. Historian Betty Ownsbey is usually present to tell the history of the assassination and trial while Kate will be there in the persona of Mary Surratt to share her story with visitors.
Cost: Free, but registration is required for entry into the military base. When registration opens a link will be supplied.


Date: Sunday, May 7, 2017
Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: Junius Brutus Booth, Jr.: The Eldest Brother of John Wilkes Booth
Speaker: Dave Taylor Description: While born almost a generation apart, June Booth was very close to his younger brother, John Wilkes. June paved the path that most of the Booth brothers would walk when he became an actor in defiance of his father’s wishes. In his speech, Dave will discuss the life of Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., pointing out the ways in which he replicated his father and how he reacted to the news that his brother had killed Abraham Lincoln. More information can be found at: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2016/11/make-plans-to-visit-tudor-hall-in-2017_7.html
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Saturday, May 13, 2017
Location: The Historical Society of Harford County (143 N. Main Street, Bel Air, MD 21014)
Time: 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm (doors open at noon)
Speech: Lincoln’s Final Hours and the Hunt for John Wilkes Booth
Speakers: Kathy Canavan & John Howard Description: The Junius B. Booth Society (JBBS) and the Historical Society of Harford County (HSHC) are holding an intriguing, one-of-a kind fundraising event titled Lincoln’s Final Hours and the Hunt for John Wilkes Booth featuring author/historian Kathryn Canavan and Lincoln assassination historian John Howard. Kathy will speak about her book, Lincoln’s Final Hours.  John, as one of the narrators for the John Wilkes Booth escape route tours, will give an overview of Booth’s escape. All proceeds from this fundraiser will be split between JBBS and HSHC. All proceeds to JBBS will be used for the Tudor Hall museum (childhood home of the Booth family including Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth). Seating is limited to 100 people, so reserve your seats now. Drinks and snacks will be provided. Following the closing remarks, the first floor of Tudor Hall, the childhood home of John Wilkes Booth will be open to attendees till 5:30 PM. For more information, including biographies of the speakers, visit: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2017/02/lincolns-final-hours-hunt-for-john.html
Cost: $25.00 per person. Tickets can be purchased from: http://www.harfordhistory.org/events.php


Date: Sunday, June 4, 2017
Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: “A Long Look Backward”: From the Pen of Asia Booth
Speaker: Kate Ramirez Description: Asia Booth was the chronicler of the Booth family’s greatest triumphs and their most heart breaking failures. In her speech, Kate will look more into Asia Booth and her myriad of writings. More information can be found at: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2016/11/make-plans-to-visit-tudor-hall-in-2017_7.html
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Sunday, June 25, 2017
Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: Junius Brutus Booth and Tudor Hall
Speaker: Jim Garrett Description: Jim Garrett returns to Tudor Hall with his presentation about the patriach of the Booth family, Junius Brutus Booth. More information can be found at: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2016/11/make-plans-to-visit-tudor-hall-in-2017_7.html
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Location: The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (112 N 6th St, Springfield, IL 62701)
Time: 5:30 pm
Speech: “You know best, Captain”: The Executed Conspirators in Lincoln’s Assassination
Speaker: Dave Taylor
Description: On April 26, 1865, the manhunt for the murderer of President Abraham Lincoln came to fiery end when John Wilkes Booth, trapped in a burning tobacco barn in Virginia, was shot and killed after refusing to surrender. With the assassin dead, attention turned to his group of co-conspirators. Nine individuals would eventually be put on trial for their involvement in Lincoln’s assassination, with four paying the ultimate price. In this speech, Dave will delve into the lives and actions of the four conspirators who helped plot the death of Abraham Lincoln and then followed him to the grave.
Cost: This speech is a private event for the museum’s volunteers but, if you are interested in attending, please email Dave.


You also might see us out and about in costume. Kate is a docent for the Dr. Samuel Mudd House Museum and can be found giving tours there on a regular basis. In addition to the scheduled bus tours, I can sometimes be seen giving escape route tours for private groups. If you have a private group or organization that is interested in booking your own escape route tour, you can contact the Surratt House Museum to make arrangements and can request me as your tour guide.

A condensed version of our upcoming speaking engagements can always be found on the sidebar menu for desktop users and near the bottom of the page for mobile users. Kate and I hope to see you out in the real world and we thank you all for your support.

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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

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

john-somerset-leaman-grave-1

john-somerset-leaman-grave-2

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.

leaman-brothers-home

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: Captain Christian Rath

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.


Christian Rath

christian-rath-seated

Burial Location: Mount Evergreen Cemetery, Jackson, Michigan

christian-rath-grave-2-peter-gaudet

christian-rath-grave-1-peter-gaudet

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Hello cemetery patrons,

This is Kate resuming the blog’s Grave Thursday tradition following our holiday hiatus.

After writing about Major General John Hartranft for a previous Grave Thursday, I received a comment regarding my lack of information about Captain Christian Rath, the man who always seems to appear alongside General Hartranft. I answered the question by stating that such a distinguished figure as Captain Rath deserved his own spotlight, not a mere afterthought bolted onto someone else’s legacy. So, without further ado, here is the story of Captain Christian Rath, perhaps secondary in rank but first in honor.

Little is known of Rath’s early life other than he was born on October 22, 1831 in Germany. He either left or fled home – depending on the source – at the age of 18 after joining a group of revolutionaries that attacked the German government. Immigrating to the United States in 1849, Rath made his way to Jackson, Michigan, the place that would become his permanent settlement. In 1857 he married Evaline Henry, with whom he had two children, and became a shoemaker, the trade in which he was employed at the outbreak of the Civil War. Before enlisting himself, Rath ran an enlistment office out of his storefront.

During the war between the states, Rath served with Company G of the 17th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, the same regiment he had aided and the same company he had organized. In 1862, at the age of 30, he became the company’s second lieutenant. He would be promoted to first lieutenant the same year and rise to the rank of Captain in 1863. Due to being wounded at the famous battle of Antietam, Rath would suffer various medical ailments for the rest of his life. He was also briefly captured by Confederate forces at Spotsylvania in 1864 but managed to escape. Rath remained a Captain for the remainder of the war, his next promotion coming only after fighting had ceased.

Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, Rath received notice that General John Hartranft, the man placed in charge of the conspirators at Washington’s Old Arsenal Penitentiary, wanted Rath as his Provost-Marshal. According to Rath, the two men had known each other for some time:

“I was well acquainted with Hartranft; we had met in many battles, and I had broken many horses for him, both of us being lovers of fine animals.”

General Hartranft had also previously selected Major Richard Watts for his staff. Watts had been a member of the 17th Michigan as well and recommended Rath for service when Hartranft asked for more recruits.

In the courtroom, Hartranft and Rath often sat together at a small table by the public entrance checking audience passes.

Arguably, Rath is most remembered for being the hangman of the four condemned conspirators. On the afternoon of July 6, 1865, the Union government headed by Andrew Johnson presented Rath with a long list of jobs (build and test the gallows, make the nooses and hoods, oversee the digging of the graves) and a ridiculously short amount of time to complete them all (slightly less than one day).  According to the Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia by Edward Steers,

“The scaffold was twenty feet long, fifteen feet wide, and ten feet high to the floor of the scaffold, and twenty feet high to the beam that held the ropes. The platform consisted of two drops, each six feet by four feet, supported by an upright beam that could be knocked away on command.”

It took all night to complete the gallows. The final nail was only hammered in on the morning of the execution, making it less than 24 hours old at the time of its use.

Rath also tied the nooses long after the sun had set on July 6th. Tired and believing Mary Surratt would be spared, he only put five turns in the knot instead of the regulation seven.

“I put seven knots in each one except one, and I only put five in that, for I fully expected that Mrs. Surratt would never hang.”

Rath found his “prop knockers” (William Coxshall, Daniel Shoup, George Taylor, and Joseph Haslett) only by claiming he needed assistance with a “special duty.” However, this sly idea did not find any volunteer grave diggers and Rath had to order soldiers to the task. “All the workmen were superstitious,” he later wrote. It was a common 19th century belief that grave digging brought bad luck.

Authors Barry Cauchon and John Elliot attempted to follow Rath around the courtyard in their book supplement, Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators. They placed him on the gallows, where he said to Lewis Powell, “I want you to die quick,” and then eventually found him back on the ground where he gave the signal to knock away the support posts. The signal changes from source to source, sometimes being recorded as three claps or a thrust of the hand. Moments before this, Rath recalled asking General Winfield Hancock if Mary Surratt would be saved to which Hancock replied no.

rath2

After the execution, Rath was promoted to Brevet Major and Lieutenant Colonel for “special and efficient services during the confinement, trial, and execution of the conspirators.”

Christian Rath quietly lived out the rest of his life in Michigan. He resumed work as a shoemaker, owned a fruit farm, raised chickens, frequently participated in military parades and from 1868 to 1900 worked as a a mail clerk for the Michigan Central Railroad. With the exception of a handful of interviews, he did not speak much about the events he witnessed during the summer of 1865. Rath died at the age of 89 on February 14, 1920. He was buried beside his wife, who had died in 1908, in Mount Evergreen Cemetery in Jackson, Michigan.

Several stories followed Rath’s legacy due to his involvement in the infamous execution. One story, found in the book, The Man Who Traded his Wife for Woodworking Tools: And Other True Stories of 19th Century Jackson, Michigan, claimed that Rath was plagued by nightmares of Anna Surratt screaming at him for killing her mother. Why this hysterical apparition of sorts appeared to Rath and not Andrew Johnson I do not know.

A similar tall tale said that Mary Surratt’s spirit was punishing those who had wrongly taken her life, including Christian Rath who had gone insane and died in a mental institution. However, this was little more than the likes of a penny dreadful fable. Unlike Boston Corbett or Henry Rathbone, Rath only suffered from rheumatism (joint pain), dyspepsia (chest pain), and cystitis (bladder inflammation) due to his war wounds and dementia due to age. Furthermore, Rath treated Mary Surratt with the utmost of respect during the execution. “I had Lieutenant-Colonel McCall lead Mrs. Surratt from her cell to the gallows, as I did not want an ordinary soldier to lay his hands on her,” he said. Even her placement on the gallows, decided by Rath, conveyed honor. “I wanted to give Mrs. Surratt any honor I could, so I seated her one the right.” After the hanging, Rath said, “I took charge of Mrs. Surratt myself, not being willing that any hand should desecrate her. I lifted her tenderly in my arms…removed the noose from her neck, and with my own hands and alone placed her in the box.”

Unfortunately, despite his good intentions, Rath was a soldier, not an executioner. His limited knowledge of proper hanging procedures and the demanding deadline swiftly caught up with him. He failed to correctly prepare and secure the ropes, leading to an unexpected botched execution. While Mary Surratt and George Atzerodt did die quickly, the same could not be said for David Herold or Lewis Powell who strangled for about five and seven minutes, respectively. Christian Rath will always be known as the “hangman” of the Lincoln conspirators. However, it should also be remembered that, despite his failures, he did try to make moral choices.

old-christian-rath

Grave photographs courtesy of Peter Gaudet. You can view his website by clicking here.

Until next time.

-Kate

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Grave Thursday: Frederick Aiken

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.


Frederick Aiken

frederick-aiken-grave-1

Burial Location: Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Frederick Aiken was one of Mary Surratt’s defense counsels at the trial of the conspirators. A dramatic version of his exploits during the trial was the subject of the 2010 movie, The Conspirator, starring James McAvoy and Robin WrightDuring the course of researching for the film, it was discovered by researcher Christine Christensen that Aiken had been buried in an unmarked grave in D.C.’s Oak Hill Cemetery. The Surratt Society completed a fundraiser to mark Aiken’s grave. I briefly posted about the installment of the grave marker in 2012.

I highly recommend Christine Christensen’s article about Aiken’s life called, Finding Frederick.

Coincidentally, Frederick Aiken is buried within throwing distance of another attorney at the trial of the conspirators, William Smith Cox, the lawyer who represented Michael O’Laughlen. Later, Walter Cox would be involved in a trial for another assassinated president when he was the presiding judge at the trial of Charles Guiteau, the assassin of President James Garfield.

aiken-and-coxs-grave-oak-hill

 

GPS coordinates for Frederick Aiken’s grave: 38.914285, -77.058428

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

Grave Thursday: General Levi Dodd

In an effort to get back to posting on a more regular schedule, I’ve decided to attempt a weekly post entitled, Grave Thursday. Each week I will highlight 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. They won’t be lengthy posts, but they will be something to look forward to between my increasingly irregular research intensive pieces.


Bvt. Brig. Gen. Levi Axtell Dodd

Gen Levi Dodd

Burial Location: Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

Levi Dodd's Grave Green Mount

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On May 2, 1865, Col. Levi Axtell Dodd of the 211th Pennsylvania Volunteers was assigned duty under the command of Maj. Gen. John Hartranft. At that time, General Hartranft had been assigned as the commander of the Old Arsenal Penitentiary in Washington, D.C. and was charged with the imprisonment and care of the Lincoln assassination conspirators as they underwent trial. Col. Dodd joined Hartranft’s staff and would serve under him. Dodd’s major duties were to supervise the prisoners. Reports show that he supervised George Atzerodt as the latter bathed. After the day’s trial proceedings were over, Dodd would also stay in the court room with some of the prisoners when their lawyers wished to counsel with them. Dodd also supervised visits between the conspirators and their guests, sitting in on a meeting between Mary Surratt and her friend Mr. Kirby. After the execution of four of the conspirators, Dodd, who was subsequently brevetted as a brigadier general due to the recommendation of General Hartranft, was given the task of escorting the four remaining conspirators to their distant prison of Fort Jefferson off of the coast of Florida. This task he completed, earning the appreciation of Dr. Mudd who stated that Gen. Dodd allowed the lily iron handcuffs to be removed from the conspirators during part of the voyage. Dr. Mudd’s appreciation of Gen. Dodd would not last, however. Upon returning back from Fort Jefferson, Dodd, along with two others who accompanied the conspirators, would state that on the journey to the island prison Dr. Mudd confessed that he had known the identity of John Wilkes Booth the moment the assassin showed up at his door. According to Dodd and the others, Dr. Mudd lied about not knowing Booth due to his own fear of punishment.

It is also interesting to note that Levi Dodd was born in Franklin, a small town in Venango County, Pennsylvania. In 1864, John Wilkes Booth traveled to Franklin and invested a great deal of his wealth in the oil fields nearby. Booth and some of his pals sunk quite a lot of money into a well in Franklin called the Wilhelmina, but the enterprise was a failure.

Gen. Dodd is buried in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, the very same cemetery as John Wilkes Booth and many others connected to the assassination of Lincoln. Check out the Maps page for more details.

GPS coordinates for Gen. Levi Dodd’s grave: 39.306333, -76.604881

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , | 20 Comments

Mudd and a Broken Leg

In the “Weird Coincidence” file of Lincoln assassination trivia, we find this little gem.

In 1868, a horse fell on, and broke, the leg of James Mudd, the brother of Dr. Samuel Mudd:

James Mudd suffers a broken leg 1868

Since his brother was serving a life sentence at Fort Jefferson at the time for the assistance he gave to another man with a broken leg, James Mudd had to seek medical help from a different local doctor, Dr. William Boarman (misspelled as “Bowman” in the article).

Setting James’ broken leg was the second piece of assistance that Dr. Boarman provided to the Mudd family. In 1865, he had testified on Dr. Mudd’s behalf at the trial of the conspirators. Dr. Boarman testified about meeting John Wilkes Booth at St. Mary’s Church in November of 1864 and that the actor told him he was in the area looking for land to purchase. We know now that Booth’s true purpose was to scout the escape route for his abduction plan and to recruit conspirators in Southern Maryland. Perhaps if Dr. Mudd had turned John Wilkes Booth down, the actor might have confided his plans to Dr. Boarman instead. All of this is to say that Dr. Boarman probably had no qualms about treating James Mudd while the latter’s brother was in prison. Considering the trouble Boarman might have been in had Dr. Mudd not welcomed John Wilkes Booth into his home, setting Mudd’s leg was a far favorable alternative. Or, to say it another way:

Mudd and Boarman

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

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