Posts Tagged With: Edman Spangler

Grave Thursday: The Spangler Family

On select Thursdays 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 Spangler Family

Burial Location: Prospect Hill Cemetery, York, Pennsylvania

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

In 1865, Ford’s Theatre carpenter and scene-shifter Edman Spangler was put on trial for his alleged participation in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Edman Spangler had known the actor John Wilkes Booth for several years and was one of the carpenters who assisted in the construction of the Booth family home, Tudor Hall, in Harford County, Maryland. Spangler’s friendship with Booth, his pro-Confederate sympathies during the war, and the fact that Booth often asked favors of Spangler (including the request for Spangler to hold his horse on the night of April 14th) caused Edman to be tried alongside the others who were involved in Booth’s plot against the government. In the end, the government could not prove that Spangler had any foreknowledge of the assassination plot but he was still found guilty of, “having feloniously and traitorously aided and abetted J. Wilkes Booth in making his escape.” For this, Edman Spangler received a sentence of 6 years in prison at Fort Jefferson.

Prior to his friendship with John Wilkes Booth, however, Edman Spangler had been born and raised in York, Pennsylvania. Edman’s family had been in York since his great grandfather, Baltzer Spangler* immigrated to the area from present day Germany in 1732. Baltzer was one of four Spangler brothers who established homes in the York area around this time. In 1760, Baltzer built a two-story brick mansion on what was then the outskirts of York.

The Baltzer Spangler House circa 1904

After Baltzer’s death in 1770, this home was inherited by one of his sons, George Spangler, who was Edman Spangler’s great great uncle. The home stayed in the family until the 1840s when it was sold. By 1850, the home had been transformed into a school run by a British veteran of the War of 1812 named Charles Henry Bland. The school was known as Sherwood’s School and also colloquially as Bland’s Academy. Clarence Cobb, a former student who attended the academy in the former Spangler home later recalled that, “Bland’s boys learned but little and were taught less. There was no system, no regular course of study, nor recitation. Bland’s school failed utterly, at the last. The old gentleman secured employment thereafter, as a steward, at Fairfax Seminary, Va., back of Alexandria. I am informed that he lived to a great age. He believed in corporal punishment and plenty of it. Perhaps his extensive exercise as a whipping-master was the cause of his health, vigor and activity. He never whipped me as I think I may say I was a good boy, but, I thought, he used to whale the bad boys for fun.”

When giving his reminiscences of Bland’s Academy in 1916, Cobb also recalled one of his former classmates at the time.

“John Wilkes Booth, whom we always called Jack, attended school there for only a few weeks in 1853.”

Cobb is the only source we have that John Wilkes Booth spent time at Bland’s Academy. We do know from period sources that Cobb was a classmate of Booth’s when the two boys both attended the Milton Boarding School in Cockeysville, Maryland together from 1849 – 1852. Cobb gives a vivid description of Booth as a student while at the Milton Academy but doesn’t say anything specific about his time at Bland’s. If John Wilkes Booth did attend school in York it would have been in the fall of 1853 and also would have represented the end of his formal educational career. In his authoritative volume, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, researcher Art Loux stated that Booth “may have” attended Bland’s Academy, perfectly demonstrating the lack of supporting evidence. So, while it has not been proven with certainty, it is still somewhat eerie that a young John Wilkes Booth may have been educated, albeit briefly, in a home built by the ancestor of a future conspirator.

Sadly, the Baltzer Spangler house, home to the short-lived Bland’s Academy, no longer stands today. Instead, the 400 block of Prospect St. in York is the site of rowhouses.

Drive by of the former site of Bland’s Academy, about 420 Prospect Street, York, PA

Another son of Baltzer Spangler who inherited some of the property around the Spangler home was Edman Spangler’s grandfather, John Spangler. John and his wife, Margaret Beard, were the parents of eight children before John’s death in 1796. In the 1890s, when a Spangler genealogist was working on a book about his ancestors, he found an extraordinary relic among John Spangler’s belongings:

“In the old and handsome family Bible of John Spengler, was found by the writer a letter in German, alleged to have been written by God Himself and delivered by an angel at Madgeburg, Germany in 1783. It exempted the possessors from lightning, fire and water. A century ago it made a profound impression.”

The letter discovered in John Spangler’s bible was a fairly common document in the Pennsylvania Dutch communities at the time. Called a himmelsbrief or “heaven’s letter”, these papers were a mixture of Christian scripture and magic, claiming to ward off misfortune as long as the owners abided by the moral covenants instructed by the letter. In essence, these letters were an early form of chain letters with a healthy dose of Christian teachings to make them popular. The Madgeburg letter found in John Spangler’s bible was one of the most common versions of himmelsbrief. You can read more about these interesting chain letters here.

The second of John and Margaret Spangler’s children was William Spangler. William was born on September 21, 1785. He likely spent quite a bit of time in the old Baltzer Spangler home owned by his nearby neighbors and cousins. Around 1814, William married a woman named Anna Maria and they began their family together. They would have at least 5 children between the years of 1815 – 1825. The youngest of their children was Edman Spangler, born on August 10, 1825. Less than six months later, on February 12, 1826, Anna Maria Spangler died, leaving William a widower with several young children. To help support his young family, William Spangler became the sheriff of York County in 1827. He served a three year term which ended in 1830. William married again that same year. His new wife was named Sarah “Sally” Spangler. Sarah was a widow herself having been previously married to William’s first cousin once removed. She fulfilled the much needed role of mother to the Spangler children, including Edman. William and Sarah had one child of their own, Maria Jane, who was born in 1834.

As perhaps a harbinger of the misfortune to befall the Spangler family and the nation a few years later, Edman’s older brother Theodore Spangler died on April 15, 1852 at the age of 36. Thirteen years later would see the death of President Lincoln on the same date.

The news of Lincoln’s assassination spread quickly and, in a short while, the Spangler family in York began reading of their son and sibling’s name in connection with the great crime. William Spangler, now an old man of 79 years, wrote a letter to his son asking him to explain the circumstances he found himself in. Below is William Spangler’s letter to Edman with his numerous misspellings and complete lack of punctuation unaltered:

“York April

Dear Son This is to let you no that we are all in good Heath except my selfe I am Getting worse in my leg and Arm I can Scarcily do aney Work but I thank my God That my Bodey heath is Good I have no particulars to wright Onley this that our Family is in grate distres That your name is mentiond In So maney papers About you In this murder of the Chief President now if you Will gratfy us to hear of you The truth of the matter and The reason of your name in Almost everey paper in the Countrey You can certainly Let me no the truth about The Matter I expected A Letter from you as you might have reconsiled our Family much by Sending us the truth of all you no About it there is so much About it in the Nues that We cannot no the truth And as the[re] is So much Suspicen I dont want to wrigh More than I want to no wat you no about it if you Wright and think that your Letter is or may bee Suspicious Take it to the post office and Let it bee red by some of the Members of the post office My hand is so lame that I can scarceley hold the pen Dear Son Do answer this Imediatley From your Affecinate father God bee with you Wm Spangler”

What response, if any, Edman composed to his father is not known. In the end, William and the rest of the Spanglers in York read about the conspiracy trial and Edman’s subsequent six year prison sentence to Fort Jefferson.

Despite his advanced age, William Spangler lived long enough to see his son’s release from prison in March of 1869. Spangler, Dr. Mudd, and Samuel Arnold each received a pardon from outgoing President Andrew Johnson. The forth conspirator sentenced to prison at Fort Jefferson, Michael O’Laughlen, had died of a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1867. Spangler returned home but it’s not clear if he went to York. Shortly after his release he was right back at work as a theater carpenter for John T. Ford. A staunch believer in his employee’s innocence, Ford had bankrolled Spangler’s defense at the conspiracy trial and the efforts to get him released from prison. Likely out of appreciation, Spangler went to work at Ford’s Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore.

On July 7, 1873, Edman Spangler’s step-mother, Sarah Spangler, died in York at the age of 80. It is unknown if Edman attended her funeral. In September of 1873, the Holliday Street Theatre suffered a devastating fire which destroyed the building. When that happened, Spangler retired from the theater scene and bid goodbye to John T. Ford. Rather than making his way north to York, Spangler headed south to the farm of Dr. Mudd in Charles County, Maryland. Though strangers to each other prior to Lincoln’s death, the two had become friends during their shared imprisonment. Dr. Mudd welcomed Spangler into his home with open arms and even gave Spangler his own piece of land to live on and work. On February 7, 1875, at the age of 49, Edman Spangler died at the Mudd farm . On February 9th, he was buried by the Mudd family at the original St. Peter’s Cemetery.

William Spangler actually outlived his infamous son, but only by a few months. The elder Spangler died on October 28, 1875 at the age of 90. In 1882, Maria Spangler, the daughter of William and Sarah and half-sister of Edman Spangler, died and was buried with her parents.

Today, there are four Spangler gravestones standing in Section S, Lot 236 of Prospect Hill Cemetery in York, Pennsylvania, all of whom are related to conspirator Edman Spangler.

Graves of John and Margaret Spangler, Edman Spangler’s grandfather and grandmother.

Grave of Maria Jane Spangler, half-sister of Edman Spangler

Grave of William and Sarah Spangler, Edman’s father and stepmother

There may be other Spangler relatives buried in the same plot as those pictured above such as Edman Spangler’s biological mother and his brother who died on April 15, 1852. Unfortunately, during the Great Depression, a fire destroyed a large chunk of the records at Prospect Hill Cemetery. If additional Spanglers are buried in this plot unmarked, they are known only to God now.

In the end, it’s a bit unfortunate that Edman Spangler is buried so far away from the rest of his kin. York was such a big part of his family’s story and Prospect Hill Cemetery is filled with many more of his cousins, uncles, and aunts. Yet Edman Spangler lies in a small rural cemetery far away from any member of his family. Sent to prison for his alleged involvement in Lincoln’s death, it appears that, in at least one way, Edman Spangler never really came home.

The annals of the families of Caspar, Henry, Baltzer and George Spengler, who settled in York County, respectively, in 1729, 1732, 1732, and 1751 : with biographical and historical sketches, and memorabilia of contemporaneous local events by Edward W. Spangler (1896)
June Lloyd’s research on her Universal York blog
York County Heritage Trust
“J. Wilkes Booth at School: Recollections of a Retired Army Officer Who Knew Him Then” by James W. Shettel, The New York Dramatic Mirror, February 26, 1916 Part 1, Part 2
John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux
Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD
Prospect Hill Cemetery, York, PA
Thanks to Colleen Puterbaugh at the James O. Hall Research Center for confirming Edman Spangler’s death date for me after I found conflicting newspaper obituaries claiming he died a week later.
*As was common at the time, many of Edman Spangler’s ancestors anglicized their names when they immigrated. Baltzer Spangler, for instance, was born, Johann Balthasar Spengler. The last name of “Spengler” would slowly change over a couple generations to “Spangler”. For ease of reading, I have used the anglicized names and modern surname of Spangler.

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

Grave Thursday: Sidney Raymond

Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.

Sidney Raymond


Burial Location: Hampton National Cemetery, Hampton, Virginia

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

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

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


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

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

Sidney Raymond didn’t live with his third wife

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

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

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

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

Sidney Raymond won the lottery

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

Sidney Raymond lost his whole family for 50 years!

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


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


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

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Grave Thursday: Jacob Rittersbach

Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.

Jacob Rittersbach


Burial Location: Hampton National Cemetery, Hampton, Virginia

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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The Dry Tortugas Prisoners

On April 7, 1866, the following article was published in the New York Herald. It provides an interesting  look at the condition and day to day existence of three of the Lincoln assassination conspirators imprisoned at Fort Jefferson: Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Edman Spangler.

The Dry Tortugas Prisoners

Health and Varied Employments of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators and Colonel Maramaduke, the Rebel Emissary to Burn Chicago – How They Look, Talk, Feel, and Behave, &c

Our Fortress Monroe Correspondence

Fortress Monroe, April 5, 1866.

The government transport steamer Eliza Hancox, Captain Shuter arrived here this morning from Galveston, Texas. She left Galveston on the 22d ult., and on the route, meeting with some rough but mainly favorable weather, stopped at Key West, Charleston and Morehead City. From here she expects to go to New York to be discharged from the government employ, though there is some talk of her being detained as quarantine steamer. She brings several discharged prisoners from the Dry Tortugas. By conversing with these prisoners I have obtained full particulars touching the present condition, health, and varied employments of the assassination conspirators against President Lincoln, now undergoing imprisonment there.

Dr. Mudd.

Dr. Mudd 4

Dr. Mudd, since his attempt to escape by concealing himself in the coal bunker of a steamer, has not been able to revive the confidence reposed in him previous to that time. He is still kept under close guard, and compelled to clean out bastions in the casemates of the fort, and do some of the most menial and degrading work required to be done. Instead of becoming reconciled to his lot, he grows more discontented and querulous. Never very robust, he is now but little better than a skeleton, and his growing emaciation shows how bitterly his spirit chafes under his imprisonment, and how deeply the iron pierces his soul. His constant prayer is for death, which alone can set him free. It is natural he should suffer more than his colleagues in crime. The most intelligent of them all, and in the associations and habits of his former life greatly lifted above them, he is so much the more the keenest sufferer now. But there is none to pity him. All keep aloof from him.


Sam Arnold's Mug Shot

Sam Arnold’s Mug Shot

Arnold is employed as clerk of Captain Van Reade, Post Adjutant. An uncommonly fine penman and accurate accountant – his profession will be remembered as that of a bookkeeper – and well behaved and modest and yielding in his demeanor, he grows in usefulness and popularity each day. A guard attends him to his meals, which are the same as the other prisoners, and at night he is in close custody. His behavior shows that he appreciates his position and that he does not, like Dr. Mudd, and intend to abuse the confidence placed in his and lose it. His health is good.


Spangler 1

Spangler is at work in the Quartermaster’s carpenter shop. Already he begins to count the years, months, and days remaining to complete his term of imprisonment. He is robust and jolly – a physical condition he attributes, however, – solely to his being innocent of any participancy in the dreadful crime charged against him.

Colonel Marmaduke

In striking contrast to the persons I have referred to is Colonel Marmaduke, found guilty of the noted conspiracy to free the prisoners at Camp Douglas and burn Chicago. He has charge of the post garden. In respect to manual labor, no royal gardener has an easier time. Like the lilies of the field, he toils not. His only business is to see that those under him work. He has the privilege of going outside the fort at any time between reveille and sunset. He does not evidently allow his prison life to interfere seriously with his health or spirits, for both are excellent. In the extent of freedom allowed him, he is very much given to putting on the airs of a fine gentleman and walks and struts about like one on the very best terms with himself and the world.

Number of Prisoners

When the Eliza Hancox left Key West there were at Fort Jefferson, or the Dry Tortugas, sixty-five white and ninety-five colored prisoners. Most are undergoing sentences of courts martial, and every day the number is being diminished through expiration of terms of imprisonment. Under the admirable and humane managements of Companies C, D, L and M, Fifth United States artillery, Brevet Brigadier General Hill commanding, doing garrison duty, there is nothing of which to complain, either on the part of prisoners or soldiers. The rations are of the best and abundant, and the prisoners’ quarters and barracks are kept clean and healthy. Officers, soldiers and prisoners enjoy unwonted good health.

There are two main things of note in this article. First, even though Dr. Mudd had enacted his failed escape attempt in September of 1865, the former prisoners interviewed in this piece recount Mudd still paying the price for it. The sorrowful description of Dr. Mudd’s condition was no doubt distressing to Mrs. Mudd as this column was published nationwide. Dr. Mudd also did not spare his wife the details of his degenerating condition in his letters home to her.

Second, this article has a great deal of unintended, and slightly ironic, foreshadowing. Clearly someone neglected to “knock on wood” after writing the final lines that Fort Jefferson was “clean and healthy” and that the “prisoners enjoy unwonted good health”. Dr. Mudd and Samuel Arnold, in their letters and later recollections would definitely disagree with those assertions. However, even if the Fort was clean and healthy at that time, by August of 1867, the exact opposite had become true with the Yellow Fever epidemic that infected 270 of the 400 people at Fort Jefferson and claimed 38 lives. One of the lost souls was conspirator Michael O’Laughlen, who is ironically absent from this article as well.

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 3 Huntington Library

Poor O’Laughlen. He’s the conspirator we know the least about and he was already being overlooked a year before his early demise at that “healthy” prison with, “nothing of which to complain,” about.


“The Dry Tortugas Prisoners” New York Herald, April 7, 1866

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Treasures of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum

Dr Mudd House 2015-11

Located off of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Road in Waldorf, Maryland is, appropriately, the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. Situated on 197 acres of farmland, the museum tells the story of Dr. Mudd and his involvement with the tragedy of 1865.

Dr. Samuel A. Mudd

There are so many fascinating objects to see at the Mudd House. In fact, one could return time and time again and still find new items of captivating interest.  The following are just a few of the countless treasures to be found at the Dr. Mudd House Museum.

A Doctor’s Life (Prior to 1865)

Dr. Mudd’s Medical Book

Mudd medical book

Dr Mudd's name on medical book

Mudd medical book interior

This volume of Beck’s Materia Medica (the text of which can be read online here) was owned by Dr. Mudd and was conceivably used by him while he was studying for his degree in medicine. Perhaps he also consulted this book from time to time during his practice. In addition to his name being written on the cover of the book, there is also an interior inscription of “Saml. A Mudd MD, Bryantown Char. Co., M.D.” While Dr. Mudd’s handwriting changed over time, the interior inscription does appear to match the handwriting on Dr. Mudd’s doctoral thesis, making it likely that he wrote the inscription himself. This book is sometimes seen laying out on the secretary in the doctor’s office or is otherwise shelved with some other medical books.

Dr. Mudd’s Mortar and Pestle

Mudd's mortar and pestle

In his occupation as a physician, Dr. Mudd owned and used this mortar and pestle to create medicines for his patients. It is on display in the doctor’s office.

Clay Jars made by Dr. Mudd’s slaves

Jars made by Dr Mudd's slaves

The practice of medicine was largely secondary to Dr. Mudd, who was first and foremost a plantation owner with a large farm. Dr. Mudd own several slaves who worked in his fields tending to his crops and in his home doing domestic chores. These clay jars, on display in the kitchen of the Mudd house, were made by some of the Mudd family slaves. Dr. Mudd could be a very harsh master at times and at the trial of the conspirators several of his former slaves testified against him. One of his former slaves, Elzee Eglen, recounted how Dr. Mudd had shot him for being “obstreperous” and then threatened to send him south to Richmond to build defenses for the Confederacy. Elzee escaped from slavery by running away from Dr. Mudd’s farm in 1863. On the other hand, a few of Dr. Mudd’s slaves testified in his favor and stated that he was a kind master. After Emancipation, three of Dr. Mudd’s slaves stayed with the family and continued to work for him for several years. We do know that Dr. Mudd participated in “slave catching posses” to recapture escaped slaves. At the very least, Dr. Mudd’s strong ties to slavery and the cause of the Confederacy dispels the concept that he was “a Union man,” as he tried to paint himself after being arrested. To learn more about those held in slavery by Dr. Mudd, I recommend the book, The Doctor’s Slaves by Robert K. Summers.

The Booth Sofa

Booth Sofa Mudd House

The centerpiece of the Mudd House parlor is an antique settee. This small sofa is undoubtedly the most iconic item on display in the Dr. Mudd House and the most photographed piece in the museum. After the assassin of Abraham Lincoln and his accomplice arrived at the Mudd farm during the early morning hours of April 15, 1865, the injured assassin was brought inside and laid upon this couch. It was while here that Dr. Mudd first examined the leg of John Wilkes Booth.  To subsequent generations of the Mudd family, this couch perfectly personified the desired mythology for Dr. Mudd. This settee was an innocent bystander, a piece that unknowingly gave comfort to an assassin. One can not place blame a sofa for being laid upon just as one cannot blame a doctor for fulfilling his Hippocratic Oath. However, while the sofa is free from any wrong doing, history has proven that Dr. Mudd had known Booth long before the assassination and likely provided assistance in Booth’s plot to abduct Abraham Lincoln.

Mrs. Mudd’s Painting

Mrs Mudd's Painting

On the wall of the bedroom where John Wilkes Booth slept during most of the daytime hours of April 15, 1865, hangs a beautiful painting called, “The Sleeping Beauty.” This painting was painted by Sarah Frances Dyer, Dr. Mudd’s wife. She painted this portrait when she was in school and it demonstrates Mrs. Mudd’s creative talents.

Wood Working to Pass the Hard Time (1865 – 1869)

A. Fort Jefferson

Many of the unique treasures contained in the Mudd house consist of objects Dr. Mudd created while carrying out his prison sentence at Fort Jefferson. During his imprisonment, Dr. Mudd (and the other prisoners) tried their hands at various crafts and trades to help pass the time. The imprisoned conspirators often sent boxes of crafts and carpentry projects back home to their loved ones. Here is a newspaper article which mentions the Lincoln conspirators’ handiwork:

Gifts from Fort Jefferson article

The following artifacts, on display at the Mudd house, are all items created by Dr. Mudd while he was in prison.

Shark Cartilage Cane

Dr Mudd Cane

Fort Jefferson is located approximately 67 miles west of Key West, Florida. This island prison was so isolated and the threat of survivable escape from it was so low that prisoners were allowed almost complete access to the entire island. As such, there were many chances for Dr. Mudd and the others to collect specimens from the tropical waters. Dr. Mudd made several canes and walking sticks while at Fort Jefferson but this one has the unique feature of being decorated with shark cartilage likely scavenged from the remains of a shark that had washed up on the Dry Tortugas. This cane is displayed on the bed in Dr. Mudd’s bedroom.

Book of Pressed Flowers

Dr Mudd's pressed flowers

Though a limited amount of flora grew on Fort Jefferson due to the lack of fresh water, Dr. Mudd still took the time to collect samples of flowers and leaves from the island’s vegetation. He put his specimens into this album, which appears to have been originally created to hold CDVs, common photographs of the day. This book is on display in a case in the second floor hallway.

Letter Opener

Mudd letter opener

Dr. Mudd created this plain yet practical letter opener while at Fort Jefferson. It is displayed in the second floor case.

Frame of Shells

Dr Mudd Frame of Shells

Though fresh water was scarce, what was not lacking on the shores of Fort Jefferson’s beaches were shells. As such, Dr. Mudd took to collecting shells and affixing them to many different objects. This frame decorated by shells is in the second floor display case.

Jewelry Boxes

Mudd jewelry box 1

Mudd jewelry box 2

The Dr. Mudd House displays two jewelry boxes built by Dr. Mudd which he ornately encrusted with a plethora of seashells. Another jewelry box created by Dr. Mudd appeared on Antiques Roadshow several years back.

Cribbage Board

Dr Mudd's cribbage board

Jewelry boxes and cribbage boards appear to have been the most popular items to construct when spending time at Fort Jefferson. In 1867, Dr. Mudd’s fellow conspirator Edman Spangler sent a package of gifts to his former employer John T. Ford. The package contained several items to be distributed among the friends and families of Spangler, Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen. The items were four decorated boxes and six cribbage boards.  So it appears that the conspirators had a veritable cribbage board factory at Fort Jefferson and honed their skills making them. This board, said to have been created by Dr. Mudd, is in the second floor display case.

Checkerboard Tabletop

Dr Mudd's checkerboard top

This checkerboard tabletop, created by Dr. Mudd, is affixed to a small table just inside the front door of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. It demonstrates Dr. Mudd’s increasing skill at inlay and marquetry. It is worth noting that lumber was fairly scarce on the islands of the Dry Tortugas. These pieces would have been made with either driftwood that washed up on the shore, or with surplus wood from the Fort’s carpentry shop where Dr. Mudd was sent to work alongside Edman Spangler.

Circular Game Table

Dr Mudd's inlaid table

As Dr. Mudd’s time on Fort Jefferson increased, it appears he became more and more adept at woodworking and general carpentry. This game table shows great skill and is likely due to the teachings of his fellow inmate, Edman Spangler, who had been a carpenter by trade. Spangler helped construct the Booth family home of Tudor Hall many years before he was employed by John T. Ford to work as a carpenter and scene shifter in his theaters. It is likely that Spangler gave lessons in carpentry to his fellow prisoners and assisted Dr. Mudd in the creation of this table. It is on display next to the Booth sofa in the front parlor of the Mudd house.

A Familiar Guest (1873 – 1875)

As we know, Dr. Mudd eventually secured a pardon from President Andrew Johnson due to his conduct during a Yellow Fever epidemic that swept Fort Jefferson in 1867. That epidemic took the life of Michael O’Laughlen, one of the other Lincoln conspirators. President Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd shortly before the end of his term. He also pardoned the two remaining conspirators, Samuel Arnold and Edman Spangler. The men had bonded quite a bit due to their shared ordeal and circumstances. Though they parted ways, there was a reunion of sorts between Dr. Mudd and his teacher of carpentry, Edman Spangler.

Spangler Icon

Spangler originally went back to work for John T. Ford in his theaters. John T. Ford always believed in his employee’s innocence and worked hard to get Spangler released. However, when Ford’s Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore burned down in 1873, Spangler found himself out of a job. Spangler made his way to Dr. Mudd’s farm where he was welcomed in with open arms. Spangler lived with the Mudds for about 18 months doing carpentry, gardening, and other farm chores. Some of the artifacts on display at the Mudd house were owned or built by Edman Spangler.

Doll Chairs

Spangler doll chairs

These doll chairs, on display in the second floor case, were made by Edman Spangler for Dr. Mudd’s young children. Nettie Mudd, the doctor’s youngest child, recalled that Spangler’s, “greatest pleasure seemed to be found in extending kindnesses to others, and particularly children, of whom he was very fond.”

Spangler’s Wood Plane

Spangler's wood plane 1 Mudd house

This wood plane, used in carpentry work to flatten and smooth a piece of wood, belonged to Edman Spangler and he likely used it while doing carpentry projects around the Mudd farm. It is usually regulated to a shelf in the doctor’s office but if you ask about it, and your docent is willing, he or she may take it out so that you can see the stamped ends that bear Spangler’s name.

Spangler's wood plane 2 Mudd house

Spangler’s Dresser

Spangler's dresser Mudd house

This dresser was made by Edman Spangler while he lived at the Mudd farm. Today, this piece furnishes the children’s bedroom, a fitting place due to Spangler’s affinity for children.

Spangler’s New Testament

Spangler's New Testament from Ewing

In the second floor display case of the Mudd house is a 1861 copy of the New Testament which belonged to Edman Spangler. It was inscribed to him by Mrs. Ewing. At the trial of the conspirators, Edman Spangler was one of the last to find legal representation and it was essentially appointed to him by the court. His lawyer was General Thomas Ewing, Jr. Ewing had already been hired to defend Dr. Mudd and Samuel Arnold and was then asked to defend Spangler as well when the latter could not find any other representation. When Mrs. Ewing, the wife of Spangler’s lawyer, gave him this New Testament is unknown. However, whether he received it in the midst of the trial or at its conclusions when his fate was known, Spangler likely read thorough it for guidance and hope during the dark days at Fort Jefferson. It was found among his things when he died in the Mudd house on February 7, 1875. Edman Spangler died at the age of 49 while being cared for by his good friend, Dr. Mudd.

Endings and Beginnings (1883 – Present)

Dr. Mudd’s Original Gravestone

Mudd Outbuilding with grave

Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd died on January 10, 1883 at the age of 49. He was interred at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery where his parents were buried. Dr. Mudd’s wife, Sarah Frances, outlived her husband by 28 years before passing away in 1911. She was buried alongside her husband but for many years had no stone of her own. Around 1940, some of Dr. and Mrs. Mudd’s descendants decided to replace Dr. Mudd’s old headstone with a new one that would include both of their names. This was also deemed advantageous to do because there was a mistake on Dr. Mudd’s original tombstone that needed to be corrected. When the gravestone was replaced, Dr. Mudd’s old headstone was brought back to the farm. It was eventually placed in an old chicken coop located right behind the Mudd house. Look closely at the image below and see if you can find the mistake on Dr. Mudd’s original headstone.

Former Mudd Stone

The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House

One cannot discuss the wonderful treasures in the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum without acknowledging the treasure that is the restored house museum itself. Dr. Mudd’s home continued to be owned and lived in by his descendants all the way up to the present day. As a family home, it underwent its share of upgrades and changes. In the 1970’s, the house looked quite a bit different than it did in Dr. Mudd’s day:

Dr. Mudd House circa 1970

It is very fortunate that generations of the Mudd family came together in the 1970’s and embraced the house’s historical importance. They choose to restore the house to its 1865 appearance and open it as a museum. The earliest known photographs of the Mudd house, like this one from 1895, were consulted during the restoration in order to duplicate the exterior of the home as accurately as possible.

Mudd house 1895 Victor Mason

Dr. Mudd House 1

Today, the restored Mudd house sits on almost the same amount of land it did in 1865, preserving the historic landscape that John Wilkes Booth and David Herold saw when they departed the home after receiving aid.

Mudd house landscape

Click to enlarge

Even ignoring the massive repository of items and artifacts relating to Dr. Mudd’s life and saga, the Mudd house is definitely a treasure all its own.

Plan Your Visit (The Future)

Despite the numerous artifacts highlighted in this post, there is still so much to see at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. There’s Mrs. Mudd’s original cruet set, the Mudds’ original sideboard table, a large format photograph taken of Dr. Mudd at Fort Jefferson, a secretary built by Dr. Mudd while in prison, keys said to be from Dr. Mudd’s prison cell, a chair from Ford’s Theatre, and so much more. Just to see these artifacts in person is worth the $7 admission price. The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum closes down for the winter season so you have plenty of time to plan your future visit to this very worthwhile museum. Please visit for more information.

The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum
The Doctor’s Slaves by Robert K. Summers
The Assassin’s Doctor by Robert K. Summers
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman

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What’s Missing? Episode 2

Once again it’s time to test your Boothie knowledge, resourcefulness, and observational skills with a game called, What’s Missing?

What's Missing Icon

Below you will find 20 images all related in some way to the Lincoln assassination story. Most of them have previously appeared on this website, either in the Picture Galleries or in one of the many posts. Your job is to look at the images carefully to see if you can determine “What’s Missing?” from the image. You can click on each image to enlarge it a bit and get a better look. When you’re stumped, or ready to check your answer, click on the “Answer” button below each image. Good luck!

What’s Missing A:

What's Missing A

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What’s Missing B:

What's Missing Answer Icon

What’s Missing C:

What's Missing C

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What’s Missing D:

What's Missing D

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What’s Missing E:

What's Missing E

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What’s Missing F:

What's Missing F

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What’s Missing G:

What's Missing G

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What’s Missing H:

What's Missing H

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What’s Missing I:

What's Missing I

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What’s Missing J:

What's Missing J

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What’s Missing K:

What's Missing K

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What’s Missing L:

What's Missing L

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What’s Missing M:

What's Missing M

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What’s Missing N:

What's Missing N

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What’s Missing O:

What's Missing O

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What’s Missing P:

What's Missing P

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What’s Missing Q:

What's Missing Q

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What’s Missing R:

What's Missing R

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What’s Missing S:

What's Missing S

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What’s Missing T:

What's Missing T

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So how did you do? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Julia Wilbur and the Saga of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

This is the second of two posts utilizing content gleaned from the diaries of Julia Ann Wilbur, a relief worker who lived in Alexandria, Virginia and Washington, D.C. during the Civil War. For biographical information on Julia Wilbur, as well as information regarding her diaries please read the first post titled, Julia Wilbur and the Mourning of Lincoln.

Witness to History: Julia Wilbur and the Saga of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

Source: Haverford College

Julia Ann Wilbur, Source: Haverford College

When Abraham Lincoln’s assassination occurred on April 14, 1865, Julia Wilbur understood the impact it would have on the history of our country. When not working to provide relief to the thousand of newly freed African Americans residing in Alexandria and Washington, D.C., Julia Wilbur was a student of history. She traveled far and wide to visit places of historical importance, relished exploring the old burial grounds of a city, and found instances to mingle with those who were shaping her times. Therefore, she not only took the time to be a part of the mourning events for Abraham Lincoln, but she also went out of her way to document and even involve herself in the saga of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. The following are excerpts from Julia Wilbur’s diaries detailing her interactions with the assassination’s aftermath.

Reporting the News

Like many citizens around the country, Ms. Wilbur took to her diary to report the latest news about the hunt for Booth and his assassins. Sometimes the news was good. Other times, Ms. Wilbur reported on the gossip that was on the lips of everyone in Washington.

April 15, 1865:

“President Lincoln is dead! Assassinated last night at the theater shot in the head by a person on the stage. The president lingered till 7 this A.M. so all hope is over. And Secretary Seward had his throat cut in bed in his own house, but he was alive at the last despatch. It is said an attempt was made on Sec. Stanton but he escaped. Many rumors are afloat, but the above is certain.

…Evening. Sec. Seward is comfortable, & may recover, his son Frederick is in a very critical condition, his son Clarence has only flesh wounds & is able to be about the house. There is a report that Boothe has been taken; that his horse threw him on 7th st. & he was taken into a house.— There is no doubt that it was intended to murder the President, the Vice Pres. all the members of the cabinet and Gen. Grant. & that the managers of the theater knew of it.”

April 16, 1865:

“Two Miss Ford’s were at the Theater at the time of the murder.”

[Note: These Miss Ford’s appear to be friends of Ms. Wilbur’s and unaffiliated with the Fords who owned Ford’s Theatre]

April 17, 1865:

“About noon we saw people going towards G. on the run. & we were told that two men had been found in a cellar dressed in women’s clothes. & it was thought they were the murderers, Miss H. & I walked up that way. They are probably deserters. We met them under guard; they were guilty looking fellows.

…We passed Seward’s House. A guard is placed all around it. & on the walk we were not allowed to go between the guard & the house. He was not told of the President’s death until yesterday. He seems to be improving. No news in particular. No trace of the murderers.”

Wilbur diary no trace of the murderers
April 18, 1865:

“Mr. Seward is no worse & Mr. F. Seward is improving.”

April 19, 1865:

“When Frances got ready about 12 M. we went out. (all about are posted notices, “$20,000 reward for the apprehension of the Murderer of the President.”)”

April 20, 1865:

“Numbers of persons have been arrested. but Booth has not been taken yet. Ford & others of the Theater have been arrested. The Theater is guarded or it would be torn down. If Booth is found & taken I think he will be torn to pieces. The feeling of vengeance is deep & settled.”

April 21, 1865:

“I went around by Ford’s Theater today. It is guarded by soldiers, or it wd. be torn down. There is great feeling against all concerned in it.— Mr. Peterson’s House opposite where the President died is an inferior 2 storybrick,—but the room in which he died will be kept sacred by the family. A number of persons have been arrested & there are many rumors; but Booth has not been taken yet.— Mr. Seward & son remain about the same.”

April 26, 1865:

“Report that Booth is taken.”

Learning of Booth’s Death from an Eyewitness

One of the more remarkable things in Ms. Wilbur’s diary is how she recounts the details of Booth’s capture and death. On April 27th she is able to give specifics of Booth’s death when such details did appear in papers until the next day. The reason for this is because Ms. Wilbur was able to hear the story firsthand from one of the soldiers of the 16th New York Cavalry, Emory Parady.

Pvt. Emory Parady in his later years

Pvt. Emory Parady in his later years

April 27, 1865:

“Booth was taken yesterday morning at 3 o clock, 3 miles from Port Royal on the Rappac., in a barn, by 25 of 16th. N.Y. Cav. & a few detectives. He was armed with 2 revolvers & 2 bowie knives & a carbine 7 shooter, all loaded. Harrold, an accomplice was with him. Neither wd. surrender until the barn was fired. Then Harrold gave himself up. & when Booth was about to fire at some of the party, he was shot in the head by Sargt. B. Corbett, & lived 2 ½ hrs. afterwards. He was sewed up in a blanket & brought up from Belle Plain to Navy Yd. in a boat this A.M. One of the capturers, Paredy, was here this P.M. & told us all about it.”

Collecting Relics

Julia Wilbur was fond of acquiring relics and would occasionally display her collection to visiting friends. The events of April 14th, motivated Ms. Wilbur to acquire some relics of the tragic event.

April 20, 1865:

“I purchased several pictures of the President, also Seward’s.

…Miss Josephine Slade gave me a piece of a white rosette worn by one of the pallbearers. Then Mrs. C. & I went to Harvey’s where the coffin was made. & obtained a piece of the black cloth with wh. the coffin was covered & pieces of the trimming. The gentleman who was at work upon the case for the coffin was very obliging & kind. This case is of black walnut, lined with black cloth, & a row of fringe around the top inside, I have also a piece of this box.”

April 21, 1865:

“Called on Mrs. Coleman. Then we went to Mr. Alexander’s & got some pieces of the cloth which covered the funeral Car. Then we saw an artist taking a Photograph of the car. which stood near the Coach Factory where it was made. We went there & Mrs. C. took of pieces of the cloth & alpaca. & a young man told us the Car would be broken up to day & he would save us a piece.

“…Then I went out again & obtained a board from the Funeral Car, which a workman was taking to pieces. & also some of the velvet of the covering. I intend to have this board made into a handsome box. & will make a pin cushion of the velvet.”

April 22, 1865:

“Went to see Mrs. Coleman. she gave me some of the hair of President Lincoln.”

May 2, 1865 (in Philadelphia):

“In all the shops are pictures of the President, & there are some of Booth.”

Booth drawing CDV 1865

October 12, 1865:

“Called at Ford’s Theater. got relic.”

October 18, 1865:

“Then Mrs. B. went with me to Ford’s Theater & we each obtained from Mr. Kinney who has charge of the building, a piece of the Presidents Box. The wood work where his knees rested when he was shot.”

A Visit to Richmond

Ms. Wilbur temporarily departed Washington in mid May of 1865. During that time she traveled to Richmond, with side trips to Petersburg and Appomattox, to provide relief work for the newly freed African Americans. Diary entries during her time in Richmond lament the poor living conditions of the black citizens and also discuss her own experiences in the city. One of my favorite anecdotes from that period is Ms. Wilbur’s recounting having tea with a family of free African Americans.

May 19, 1865:

“Took tea by invitation at Mr. Forrester’s. Quite a company. We drank from Jeff. Davis’s tea cups, eat with his knives & forks & eat strawberries & ice cream from his china saucers— I sat in the porch & looked at Jeff’s house not many rods distant, & tried to realize that I was in Richmond— The morning of the evacuation people fled & left their houses open. goods were scattered about the street, & Jeff’s servants gave this china to Mr. Forrester’s boys. That morning must have been one long to be remembered by those who were there. All night long there was commotion in the streets. Jeff. & his crew were getting away with their plunder.”

“Thought I might as well see some thing of this important trial”

Admission to the Conspiracy Trial

Ms. Wilbur returned to Washington, D.C. in mid-June.  Once back home, she quickly resumed her habit of engrossing herself in the historical proceedings happening around her. In June of 1865, such historical proceedings could only be the trial of the Lincoln conspirators. Before attending the trial however, Ms. Wilbur first visited the conspirators’ former site of incarceration.

June 17, 1865:

“In P.M. went to Navy Yard. Went on to the Saugus & the Montauk.

…The Saugus weighs 10 hundred & 30 tons, draws 13 ft. water & its huge revolving turret contains 2 guns wh. carry balls of 470 lbs. It is 150 ft. in length, pointed fore & aft & its 83 deck & sides plated with iron. The turret, pilot house— smokestack & hatchways are all that appear on deck & in an engagement not a man is visible. It has been struck with heavy balls & deep indentations have been made on the sides of the turret. Once a heavy Dahlgren gunboat during an engagement, The Saugus did service at Fort Fisher.— There are 13 engines in this vessel.

We went below & saw the wonders of the interior. Booth’s associates were confined on this vessel for a time. Booth’s body was placed on the Montauk before it was mysteriously disposed of.”

Then, on June 19th, Julia Wilbur attended the trial of the conspirators:

“At 8 went for Mrs. Colman & got note of introduction to Judge Holt from Judge Day & proceeded to the Penitentiary.

Thought I might as well see some thing of this important trial.

Mr. Clampitt read argument against Jurisdiction of Court by Reverdy Johnson.

It was very hot there. Mrs. Suratt was sick & was allowed to leave the room & then they adjourned till 2, & we left. Mrs. S. wore a veil over her face & also held a fan before it all the while.

Harold’s sisters (4) were in the room. The prisoners excepting Mrs. S. & O’Laughlin appeared quite unconcerned. They are all evidently of a low type of humanity. Great contrast to the fine, noble looking men that compose the court.”

Ms. Wilbur’s diary entry concerning the courtroom is valuable not only due to the descriptions she gives of Mrs. Surratt and Michael O’Laughlen, but also because she took the time to sketch the layout of the court when she got home:

Wilbur diary Courtroom layout 1

Wilbur diary courtroom layout 2

“This was the position of the court.

It was an interesting scene, & I am glad I went, although it is so far, & so hot.”

These diagrams are fascinating and help us solidify the placement of the conspirators and members of the military commission in the court room.

Reporting on the Execution

It is likely that the excessive heat in the courtroom convinced Ms. Wilbur that she did not need to attend the trial again.  However, she did keep up with the proceedings and reported on the sentencing and execution of the conspirators (which she did not attend).

July 6, 1865:

“The conspirators have been sentenced. Payne, Harold, Atzerott & Mrs. Surratt are to be hung to morrow. O’Laughlin, Mudd, & Arnold to be imprisoned for life at hard labor, & Spangler to State prison for 6 yrs.”

July 7, 1865:

“Hottest morning yet. Martha ironed, & the whole house has been like an oven. It was too much for me. I could not work.— The days pass & nothing is accomplished— This eve. F & I took a walk.

— About 1 P.M. The executions took place in the Penitentiary Yard. A large number of people witnessed them. They were buried within a few feet of the gallows. It is all dreadful, but I think people breathe more freely now. They are convinced that Government means to punish those who deserve it. Jeff. Davis friends may feel a little uneasy hereafter.”


Unfortunately, it does not appear that Ms. Wilbur had any reaction to the death of Mary Surratt, a middle aged woman like herself.  In fact the very next day Ms. Wilbur mentions walking past Mrs. Surratt’s house without any commentary.

July 8, 1865:

“Then passed Mrs. Surratt’s house on the way to Mr. Lake’s, where we had a pleasant call.”

It’s likely that Ms. Wilbur agreed with Mrs. Surratt’s fate as Ms. Wilbur was very against those who held “secesh” sympathies.

Attending Henry Wirz’ Trial

Julia Wilbur continued her habit of attending historic trials in the city, by attending the trial of Andersonville prison commandant, Henry Wirz. After Henry Wirz’ execution she once again invoked the Lincoln conspirators:

November 11, 1865:

“Called at Mr. B’s office & saw Mr. & Mrs. Belden. Heard particulars of the Execution yesterday. Mr. B. gave me an Autograph Note of Henry Wirz, a lock of hair & a piece of the Gallows. I came only for the autograph. His body was mutilated after death, Kidneys were divided among 4 surgeons. Another person had a little finger, obtained under pretense of Post Mortem examination. Remainder of body buried in Yard of the Penetentiary near Atzerot. All this, & we claim to be civilized & human! If his body had been given up to his friends, it would be torn to pieces by the infuriated people.”

As we know Henry Wirz mingled with the bodies of the conspirators until 1869, when Andrew Johnson allowed the bodies of all those executed to be claimed by family. Wirz was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, the same resting place of Mary Surratt.

Piece of Henry Wirz' Old Arsenal coffin in the collection of the Smithsonian's American History Museum.

Piece of Henry Wirz’ Old Arsenal coffin in the collection of the Smithsonian’s American History Museum.

In the Interim

By 1866, John Wilkes Booth and four of his conspirators were dead. The other four tried at the trial of the conspirators were serving sentences at Fort Jefferson off the coast of Florida.  As such there was a lull for a time during which Julia Wilbur reported next to nothing revolving around the events of April 14, 1865. Only a few brief mentions exist in her diary of 1866 and early 1867.

April 14, 1866:

“Anniversary of a sad day.

Departments have been closed, & flags are at half mast. No other observance. A year ago today I was in Alex. & could not get away. It was a sad time.”

April 28, 1866:

“Went to the Army Medical Museum. Many interesting in this Museum. Called on Mrs. Smith. She is ill. Went into Ford’s Theater. Not finished yet. It is intended for archives relating to the War of the Rebellion. The sad associations connected with it will make it an object of interest for generations to come.”

April 15, 1867:

“Anniversary of Death of Abraham Lincoln! Two years have passed rapidly away.”

On visiting the National Cemetery in Alexandria on May 12, 1867:

“There is also a monument to the memory of the 4 soldiers who lost their lives in pursuit of Booth the Assassin. They were drowned.”

Upon seeing Secretary War Edwin Stanton on May 27, 1867:

“Saw Sec. Stanton today, but how unlike the Sec. of War that I saw in his office in Oct. ’62. He was then in the vigor & prime of manhood. Hair & beard dark & abundant. But 5 years of War have made him 20 years older. He is thin, sallow, careworn. His locks are thin & gray. I never saw a greater change in any man in so few years.”

June 21, 1867:

“On return went into Ford’s Theater to see the Medical Museum.”

The Escaped Conspirator

In late 1866, John H. Surratt, Jr. was finally captured after more than a year and a half on the run. Surratt had been an active member of John Wilkes Booth’s plot to abduct President Lincoln and take him south. His arrest in Alexandria, Egypt and extradition to the U.S., set in the motion the last judicial proceedings relating to Abraham Lincoln’s death.  Once again, Ms. Wilbur would be sure to take part in this event, attending John Surratt’s trial twice and providing some wonderful detail of the courtroom scene.

February 18, 1867:

“(Surratt arrived in Washington today, is in jail)”

June 19, 1867:

Surratt Trail Ticket

“Miss Evans & I went to Mr. B’s & he went with us to City Hall & got tickets of admittance for us to the Court Room. 6 ladies present besides ourselves. Surratt was brought in at 10, & the court was opened. Judge Fisher presiding. Witnesses examined were Carroll Hobart. Vt.; Char. H. Blinn, Vt.; Scipano Grillo, Saloon keeper at Ford’s Theater; John T. Tibbett mail carrier, & Sergt. Robt. H. Cooper. Examined by Edwards Pierpoint of N.Y, Atty, Carrington.

Surratt sat with his counsel, Bradly, he, a pale slender, young man, seemed to take an interest in all that was said. His mother’s name was mentioned often, & Tibbett said he had heard her say “she wd. give $1000 to any body who would kill Lincoln.” I could not feel much sympathy for him. They must have been a bad family.

But I think Surratt will never be punished. The Government will hardly dare do it after releasing Jeff Davis.

The room outside the bar was crowded, & this is the first day ladies have been seated inside the bar.

Miss Evans was never in a Court before, & we were both much interested.”

June 21, 1867:

“Frances & Miss Evans went to Surratt’s trial”

June 27, 1867:

John Surratt Trial Drawing

“Rose early. Worked till 9 A.M. Then went to Surratt’s trial at City Hall. Courtroom crowded. Judge Fisher presiding. Witnesses, 2 brothers Sowles, & Louis Weichman. He last boarded with Mrs. Surratt, was intimate with J.H. Surratt. His testimony was minute but of absorbing interest. Examined by Edwards Pierpoint. Bradly & Merrick, counsel for prisoner, are evil looking men.

Surratt looked less confident today than when I saw him a week ago yesterday.

When they were removing the handcuffs he breathed hard. Took his seat looking a little disturbed. His brother Isaac soon came & took a seat by him & they talked & laughed a few minutes.

Isaac looks like a hard case & quite unconcerned. It is very evident that J.H. Surratt was a conspirator & that the family were bad.

Wilbur diary Surratt was a conspirator

I would like to be here at the close of the trial, and hear the summing up.”

Unfortunately, Ms. Wilbur did not get her wish to witness the close of John Surratt’s trial. She was visiting back home near Avon, New York when the trial ended.

August 10, 1867:

“Papers from Washington.

Argument in Surratt case finished. Jury do not agree.”

August 12, 1867:

“Finished reading for Father Mr. Pierpointt’s argument in Surratt case to father. Very able argument.”

August 16, 1867:

“Jury discharged, could not agree, ([illegible]). Surratt remanded to jail.

Bradley has challenged Judge Fisher. Much excitement in W[ashington].”


While the period of assassination events effectively ended with the trial of John Surratt, Ms. Wilbur maintained diaries for the rest of her life.  There could be more passages in her diaries commenting on or recalling those tragic days. As stated in the prior post about Julia Wilbur and the Mourning of Lincoln, Julia Wilbur’s diaries have only been transcribed for the period of March 1860 until July of 1866. All entries in this post dated beyond July 1866, were discovered by meticulously reading through the digitized pages of Ms. Wilbur’s diaries located here. There are still many discoveries to be made in Julia Wilbur’s diaries and I encourage you all to follow Paula Whitacre’s blog to read more about the work being done on Julia Wilbur.

Paula Whitacre’s Blog on Julia Wilbur
Transcriptions of Julia Wilbur’s Diaries from Alexandria Archaeology
Digitized pages of Julia Wilbur’s Diaries from Haverford College

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The Assassination…in Color!

The advent of photography allowed the Civil War to be documented in an unprecedented way.  Instead of relying solely on written accounts and hastily drawn sketches of the battlefield, photography allowed the horrors of war to be transmitted in painful detail to the masses.  In the 150 years that have passed since that great conflict, the black and white and sepia tinted images of the war have become well known and almost commonplace.  However, thanks to new technology and painstaking work by devoted enthusiasts/artists, we are now able to see Civil War scenes and figures almost exactly as they appeared in real life.  Instead of being trapped forever in black and white, these historic images are being reborn in color.

The following images are colorized versions of assassination related people and events.  They are the detailed work of two different men.  One of them is named David Richardson.  David owns and operates his own website, Civil War in Color, where he sells his colorized and 3D photographs.  The other artist is named Mads Madsen.  He is a twenty something year-old Denmark man with a passion for colorization.  His online gallery, which I encourage you all to visit and get lost in for awhile, contains hundreds of images that he has brought to life with his shockingly realistic colorization.  Just today, Mads released a colorized version of John Wilkes Booth and it is so extraordinary that I knew I had to share it.

Both men have been slowly developing and improving their techniques in order to create the most realistic images possible.  The images below come from different periods of that development, with some not being as refined as others.  They nevertheless provide a vivid and unique view of assassination related figures and events.

Work by Mads Madsen:

John Wilkes Booth by Mads Madsen

John Wilkes Booth by Mads Madsen

George Atzerodt by Mads Madsen

George Atzerodt by Mads Madsen

Samuel Arnold by Mads Madsen

Samuel Arnold by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell 1 Colorized by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell Before and After by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell Before and After by Mads Madsen

The "Lincoln Hanging" by Mads Madsen

The “Lincoln Hanging” by Mads Madsen

Work by David Richardson:

David Herold by David Richardson

David Herold by David Richardson

George Atzerodt by David Richardson

George Atzerodt by David Richardson

Michael O'Laughlen by David Richardson

Michael O’Laughlen by David Richardson

Edman Spangler Colorized by David Richardson

Edman Spangler by David Richardson

Lewis Powell by David Richardson

Lewis Powell by David Richardson

The Execution by David Richardson

The Execution by David Richardson

I hope both men continue their impressive work.

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