Posts Tagged With: Execution

“Helped to Guard the Conspirators”

While doing a little searching tonight, I came across an interesting article from the December 15, 1902 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It highlights a Philadelphia resident named Isaac M. Marshall who claimed to have been among the guards detailed the watch over the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their trial and imprisonment. The article gives some candid thoughts that Corporal Marshall had about the conspirators, which I thought would be worth sharing.

Living at 3213 Mt. Vernon street is a veteran of the Civil War – Isaac M. Marshall – who was one of the guards of the conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln, and who has still a vivid recollection of how they looked and acted when on trial for their lives at the old Arsenal in Washington. “I was a member of Company I, of the Third Regiment, Hancock’s Veteran Corps, at the time,” he said yesterday to a reporter of The Inquirer. “We were camped outside the capital in 1865, and the morning after the great crime had been committed we got orders to watch all the approaches leading from the city. The entire regiment was given this duty and no one was allowed to go through the lines without establishing his or her identity, and that they had a right to pass on.

“Later on our company was at the Arsenal during the trial of the men and Mrs. Surratt. I remember all of the conspirators well. Lewis Payne, one of those who were hanged, always wore a knit shirt. He was stalwart and of athletic build and had an eagle eye. The stern look on his face never appeared to change. David E. Herold was handsome, and he knew it. He had long black hair and he frequently pushed it above his forehead. There were many young women present – admitted by card – and to some of these he frequently bowed. One of his peculiar actions was to raise his hands so that they could see his manacled wrists.

“Of Samuel B. Arnold, whose story of alleged cruel treatment I have read with deep interest, as it appears from day to day in The Inquirer, I want to say this: Whatever may have happened to him at the Dry Tortugas, he did not look as if he had suffered any before his trial occurred. On the contrary, he appeared to have been well fed and otherwise well cared for. You could scarcely tell what kind of a man he was. At times his countenance wore a look of defiance; then of sternness and again of unconcern. He was neatly attired, as were all the others, save Payne, who managed to change his clothes after the crime, assuming the garb of a laborer.

“Michael O’Laughlin, who also went to the Dry Tortugas, was the only one who seemed to be affected and sorry. George Atzerodt I didn’t pay much attention to. Dr. Mudd did not have the appearance at all of a physician or professional man. Mrs. Surratt was always veiled; sat immovable and looked like a statue. After the trial the Third Regiment was sent to Camp Butler, at Springfield, Ill., and I was there when the lamented Lincoln was buried…”

Marshall’s extended comment about Samuel Arnold is due to the fact that this article came out in 1902, the same year that Arnold allowed his lengthy memoirs to be printed in the newspapers after he had read his own obituary. In his memoir, Arnold complained at length about the treatment he received at the hands of the government. Marshall provides a small rebuff to Arnold’s claims that he was mistreated while in Washington (though considering the hoods Arnold and the others were forced to wear, you can’t blame him too much for complaining). The other descriptions of the Lincoln conspirators are very much in line with what other visitors of the trial observed.

While I can’t positively confirm that Isaac Marshall was one of the guards at the trial of the conspirators, it seems fairly likely he is telling the truth. The Old Arsenal Penitentiary, where the conspirators were imprisoned and tried, was largely manned by members of the Veteran Reserve Corps, which Marshall was a member. On the day of the execution of the conspirators, Marshall’s specific group, the Third Regiment, was assigned duty as sentinels from the northeast corner of the arsenal grounds extending along the east bank of the river. Members of the 3rd regiment were also stationed in a line 100 yards south of the prison grounds. So, at the very least, Marshall did have guard duty on the day of the conspirators’ death. Even Marshall’s claim to have been in Springfield when Lincoln was buried is possible. The Third Regiment wasn’t officially mustered out of service until December of 1865 and Abraham Lincoln’s remains were “buried” in a temporary vault in Oak Ridge Cemetery on December 21, 1865. Isaac Marshall may have had the unique experience of being present at both the execution of the conspirators and at one of Abraham Lincoln’s many burials.

Isaac Marshall died on July 6, 1919 and is buried in Fernwood Cemetery, outside of Philadelphia.

References:
(1902, December 15) Helped to Guard the Conspirators. Philadelphia Inquirer, p 5.

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

Beyond the Courtyard

Good evening to the historically theatrical nerds out there.

As many of you know, yesterday was the anniversary of the Lincoln conspirators’ execution. Just prior to this, July 6th marked the reveal of the commission’s verdict to both the public and, more importantly, to the four people condemned to die the following day. On this July 6th, 153 years later, the Society for the Restoration for Port Tobacco (SRPT) hosted for their First Friday event “Beyond the Courtyard: The Final Hour of the Lincoln Conspirators.”

Set in Washington’s Old Arsenal Penitentiary on the afternoon of the infamous hanging, the first person performance (written by Dave and me) had a four person cast, making it the largest of the Lincoln assassination themed reenactments done with the SRPT. Being a woman, I took on the role of Mary Surratt.

Dave, with all his impressive height, played Lewis Powell (called Paine by the other characters).

Bob Bowser, a board member and docent at the Dr. Mudd House Museum was David Herold.

Lastly, Southern Maryland naturalist Mike Callahan lent his German accent to the role of George Atzerodt.

Throughout the unfolding narrative, each person reflects on the various choices that drove them to conspire against the Union government, and the witnesses who brought those choices to light, until their tales intersect and lead to a collision of opinions and an outburst of violence. However, in the end, history still came with a vengeance.

Although we were all inside the Port Tobacco Courthouse, miles from Washington and in conditions much better than those suffered by the conspirators, it still felt eerie to be bringing a past back to life so soon before the anniversary of its haunting termination. Though over 150 years have passed, the echoes of the event which closed the Civil War can still be felt today.

Below you can view the program and see if you too can hear those reverberations of a time not so unlike our own. Please note that this was a staged reading and also took creative license with the dialogue. No incarceration accounts from the conspirators exist.

Local photographer, Eva Lightfoot, captured the great photos of the event that accompany this blog post. The rest of the album, along with other examples of her work, can be seen on her website.

Until next time.

-Kate

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

The Execution of the Lincoln Conspirators

The sun was bright and hot as Alexander Gardner tended to his equipment on July 7, 1865. The noted Civil War photographer had brought two cameras with him, one wet plate and one stereoscopic, with which to capture the day’s event. Gardner was lucky, due to his prestige he was able to set himself up in the cool shade of a nearby building overlooking the scene. From his vantage point, facing out of two windows on the second floor of an old shoe factory on the property, Gardner could take in the entire scene.

Men began trickling into the courtyard below. Most were soldiers on assigned guard duty, but there was also a notable contingent of civilians. Many were newspapermen, here to commit to writing what Gardner would record on glass. A few others had come, in spite of the oppressive heat, to see justice meted out. Gardner focused his cameras on the object around which all the men had gathered – a hastily built gallows. Over the course of the next thirty minutes or so, Gardner would take at least 10 photographs of the proceedings. Through his lens, the execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt was recorded in haunting clarity.

By using high resolution versions of Alexander Gardner’s photographs available through the Library of Congress, one can splice most of the execution photographs together to recreate the final moments of the four condemned conspirators in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in vivid detail. NOTE: The animation is below but is a bit large so it might take a second to load, especially on mobile devices.

Alexander Gardner’s photographs of the hanging provide us with a glimpse of the past that no newspaper report can equally replicate. Combined with modern technology, these photographs bring realism to a story whose epilogue was written 153 years ago today.

Click to view the full sized composite image

References:
The post was inspired by the work of Barry Cauchon and John Elliott

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

“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: , , , , , , , , , , | 16 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: , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Grave Thursday: General John Hartranft

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.


Good evening fellow gravers,

This is Kate bringing you the newest installment of Grave Thursday.

With so many fascinating stories populating the Lincoln assassination field, it is often hard to choose the lucky one that will be featured next. This week I chose to spotlight a Union man who always seemed to remain moral, even when confronted with civilians in gray.

Major General John Hartranft

general-john-hartranft

Burial Location: Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, Pennsylvania

hartranft-grave-1

hartranft-grave-3

hartranft-grave-2

hartranft-grave-4

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

John Frederick Hartranft (pronounced “Hart – ranft” according to Inside the Walls authors Barry Cauchon and John Elliott) was born on December 16, 1830 in Pennsylvania. His father, Samuel, worked as an innkeeper and eventually became a real estate inspector (a job his son, and only child, assisted him with for some time). In 1850, at the age of 20, Hartranft left home for New York, enrolling in Union College in Schenectady, New York. He graduated at 23 with an engineering degree. Returning to Pennsylvania in 1854, Hartranft married Sallie Sebring. They had six children together although three died as infants. In letters, Sallie affectionately referred to her husband as “Jackie”. Hartranft soon discovered that a career in engineering was not the right fit for him and began studying law. He was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in October of 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the American Civil War.

When fighting broke out at Fort Sumter in April of 1861, the 30 year old Hartranft pulled together, a mere days after President Abraham Lincoln first called for volunteers, a regiment of 600 men calling themselves the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment. However, the regiment fell apart even quicker than it had assembled. The men did not share the same patriotic zeal as Colonel Hartranft and returned home just hours before the first Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the war. Despite the loss of his troops, Hartranft was present at Bull Run and would eventually (in 1886) be awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery on the battlefield as he attempted to “rally the regiments which had been thrown into confusion” by the superior Confederate forces.

Despite his valiant efforts, Hartranft was stained by the scandal of his disloyal Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment. The ever vindictive Secretary of War Edwin Stanton would say of Hartranft, “This is the Colonel of the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment that refused to go into service at Bull Run.” Hartranft soon raised another regiment, the 51st Pennsylvania Volunteers, who would enter combat at the Second Battle of Bull Run (which would also end in loss for the Union). Hartranft and the 51st saw the fall of Vicksburg in 1863 which, along with the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg, turned the tides of war in favor of the Boys in Blue. Hartranft was promoted to brigadier general on May 1, 1864 and became a major general in March of 1865. The Norristown bank printed greenbacks with his portrait to celebrate the news. But while thousands of men returned home following the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in April of 1865, the life of Major General Hartranft would take a far different turn.

On May 1, 1865, President Andrew Johnson appointed Hartranft the commander of the Washington Arsenal and tasked him with guarding the eight Confederate civilians who would stand trial for the assassination of President Lincoln. General Hartranft kept meticulous records of his life inside the walls of the Arsenal in a letterbook that still exists today. It has been published as The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators: Their Confinement and Execution as Recorded in the Letterbook of John Frederick Hartranft.

General Hartranft and his staff (you can read about one member, General Levi Dodd, here) were responsible for seeing to every aspect of the prisoner’s daily lives. When Hartranft first reported for duty on May 1, he wrote,

“I have the honor to report that I took charge of eight Prisoners in the cells of this prison…I immediately swept out the cells and removed all nails from the walls and searched the persons of the prisoners.”

He also recorded how he made twice daily inspections of the prisoners. Upon sensing the beginnings of mental imbalances in some of them, General Hartranft petitioned that they be allowed to exercise in the prison yard each day. His request was granted.

It was Hartranft who received the execution orders from President Johnson on July 6, 1865. Ironically, he also received a letter from his wife in which she begged him not to act as a hangman. However, he followed his orders with the same stoicism he had shown throughout the Civil War. He delivered the sentences to the four condemned prisoners, Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt, and then turned to the details of the execution he had been placed in charge of. At some point on July 7, 1865, a photograph was taken of General Hartranft and his staff.

hartranft-and-staff

Believing that perhaps President Johnson would spare Mary Surratt from the gallows, and possibly believing in her innocence himself, Hartranft posted mounted guards along the route from the prison to the Executive Mansion so that he would be the first to receive any messages from Capitol Hill. That order never came. On the afternoon of July 7, 1865, General Hartranft led the somber march to the gallows and completed one of his final tasks, reading the death warrant.

hartranft-reading

For his kind treatment of the prisoners, Hartranft was thanked by Anna Surratt, the clergy members who accompanied the condemned on the scaffold, and given ownership of David Herold’s pointer dog (Hartranft had allowed the dog to remain with his master in the Arsenal) by Herold himself just before he died. General Hartranft’s work in Washington was done.

General Hartranft returned home to Norristown in 1865. He was elected the 17th governor of Pennsylvania and served in that office from 1873 to 1879. He tried but failed to secure the Republican Presidential nomination in 1876. He served as postmaster, was appointed to numerous veterans boards, and was an official state delegate at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, his first and only time abroad. Just a few years later, in 1893, Chicago would successfully outrank the Paris exposition in size, grandeur, and overall impact with the World’s Colombian Exposition.

Hartranft contracted Bright’s disease (inflammation of the kidneys) and pneumonia in 1889. He died on October 17, 1889, just shy of his 59th birthday. He was laid to rest in a large, well-marked burial plot in Montgomery Cemetery.

General Hartranft left few personal documents behind. Most of what historians know about him comes from his 1865 letterbook. Its words show a man who always carried out his orders but did so with respect, humanity, and kindness. And so we forever salute you, Major General John Hartranft.

Until next time,

-Kate  

GPS coordinates for Major General John Hartranft’s grave: 40.117581, -75.364860

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

An Assassination Vacation in the Midwest

Kate and I are visiting my family here in Illinois and decided to use the opportunity to make use of the newly updated Lincoln assassination maps here on BoothieBarn.  We planned and executed a two day excursion to visit some of the sites on the Lincoln Assassination in the Midwest map.  The following is an overview of our trip composed using the tweets I sent out en route along with a couple of short videos I made.

While the trip mainly consisted of two long days of driving, Kate and I enjoyed ourselves and it was a lot of fun to see so many Lincoln assassination places, graves, and artifacts all at once.  Thank you to the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County, Mr. Blair Tarr, curator of the Kansas State Historical Society Museum, Nikaela Zimmerman, Barry Cauchon, and Steve Miller for all your help in making this trip possible.  Also, thank you to my parents for letting me use (and put a considerable number of miles on) their car.

Boston Corbett's Dugout 7-8-2015

Now you all get out there, take your own assassination vacation, and tell me about it in the comments below!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

A Military Tribunal Observance

Hello fellow history enthusiasts,

Kate Ramirez here stepping in for Dave to tell you all about some of the events hosted inside the walls of Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D. C.

As you know, commemorations remembering the 150 years since the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the death of John Wilkes Booth have long since passed. However, another milestone passed just a few weeks ago, 150 years since the beginning of the Lincoln Conspiracy Trial. Accordingly, Fort McNair hosted a two day event which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

(Side note: I’m trying to get the hashtag #LCT150 to go viral and become the official hashtag for the trial. So if you could use that for your various social media postings I would really appreciate it).

On May 8th, Fort McNair held a VIP event in the Officers’ Club which is only a few yards from Grant Hall, where the trial took place in a room on the third floor. Among the guests were Dave and I, many high profile military officials, Colonel Michael Henderson (Commander of Myer-Henderson Hall) delivered the welcome remarks, published Lincoln assassination historians like Kate Clifford Larson, and descendants of various individuals involved in the assassination, including Dr. Samuel Mudd and Thomas Ewing. After some mingling set to the tunes provided by some amazingly talented military musicians, four acclaimed speakers talked in depth about the military tribunal and its participants.

Fort McNair Event Program 5-8-15

Starting off the program was American Brutus author Michael Kauffman. He provided an overview of events and discussed the differences between military and civil trials.

Mike Kauffman Fort McNair 5-8-15

John Elliott, co-author of Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators, spoke about how it would have felt to be a spectator during the infamous trial of 1865. For all those who have seen Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, being a spectator was not as cushy as it appeared on film. In the days before fire codes and maximum capacity rules, there was nothing wrong with shoving as many people into a room as possible. Add that to the fact that air conditioning had yet to be invented and it was the middle of summer. You do the math.

John Elliott Fort McNair 5-8-15

Barry Cauchon, the second author of Inside the Walls, who thankfully got his computer connected to the projector in time, gave an AWESOME (yes, that word deserves to be in all caps) presentation about finding the smallest of details in the different execution photos. You can even see the Smithsonian Castle in one of the images. It was like “Where’s Waldo” but more fun.

Barry Cauchon Fort McNair 5-8-15

Betty Ownsbey, author of Alias Paine (a second edition was just released so go buy it), was the final presenter. This was fitting as she talked about the various myths surrounding the original burial of John Wilkes Booth (no, he was not tossed into any rivers in case you were wondering), the final resting places of the four executed conspirators, and the journey taken by the skull of Lewis Powell.

Betty Ownesby Fort McNair 5-8-15

The event then moved outside to the execution site where Barry Cauchon and John Elliott had earlier marked the locations of the gallows, the graves of the conspirators, the first burial place of Booth, the prison door, and various other structures we have all seen in pictures. Usually I do not find it fortunate that a tennis court was built on the hanging ground. However, said court does come fitted with bright lights which made seeing Barry, his informative presentation, and the gallows and shoe factor markers easy despite the sun having all but disappeared behind the horizon.

Barry Cauchon Execution Site 5-8-15

(Barry demonstrating the height of the gallows).

Barry Cauchon Shoe Factory 5-8-15

(Barry discussing how Alexander Gardner set up his cameras in the shoe factory, which was about 100 feet from the execution site).

As for admiring markers which were in darker areas, that gave everyone a valid excuse to return in the morning for the Grant Hall open house (except for Dave who attended the Tudor Hall symposium in Bel Air, MD). However, Dave and I did manage to get a few good pictures before leaving. 

Dave Taylor Execution Site 5-8-15

(Dave standing on the same spot as George Atzerodt when he was executed).

Kate Ramirez Execution Site 5-8-15

(I chose to sit where David Herold was standing when he was executed. I also look a bit like Vampria. I swear I’m not actually this pale in real life).

Kate Ramirez Shoe Factory 5-8-15

(The more natural lighting near the shoe factory marker shows my skin’s normal coloring).

Due to being on a military base, Grant Hall is only open once every quarter. May 9th was all the more special since it was the 150th anniversary of the trial’s beginning (the trial began in secret on May 9, 1865. May 10th was the first day the public was allowed inside) and visitors got to tour the refurbished trial room with John and the courtyard with Barry. I got much better pictures of the different markers in the sunlight. FYI: John needs to get some serious props since he got a facial sunburn while helping Barry put everything together. Dedication, ladies and gentleman. Dedication.

Surratt Grave Marker 5-9-15

Powell Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

Herold Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

Atzerodt Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

(The approximate locations of the executed conspirator’s original graves. Why the government felt they needed to keep dead bodies for four years I will never understand. But that’s just my opinion).

Grant Hall with Grave Markers 5-9-15

(The two red lines represent where the prison wall used to stand. It’s the place where all the soldiers were chilling on execution day in case you don’t know which wall I’m referring to).

Grant Hall Stairs Marker 5-9-15

(This red box marks where the stairs for the gallows were).

Grant Hall Prison Door 5-9-15

(The spot of the now demolished prison door through which the conspirators entered the courtyard on July 7, 1865).

Grant Hall Gallows and Wall Markers 5-9-15

(This is the length from the door to the stairs. The conspirators did not march a long dramatic distance like in the movies).

Grant Hall Gallows and Shoe Factory Markers 5-9-15

(The view from the gallows in the foreground to the shoe factory in the background).

Grant Hall Shoe Factory Marker 2 5-9-15

(And vice versa).

Execution Site from Trial Room 5-9-15

(You can see the entire execution site from the courtroom window on the third floor of Grant Hall).

Grant Hall John Wilkes Booth Burial Place Marker 5-9-15

(X marks the spot of John Wilkes Booth’s original burial place).

The courtroom was nicely decorated with pictures showing who sat where on the prisoner dock and at the commissioner table. This was especially helpful to me since I can usually recall where each conspirator was but often can barely remember the names of the commission members let alone where they chose to sit.

27

25

26

(That’s Samuel Arnold next to the window. The light obscured his picture).

24

While John gave his lecture on the details of the trial, I got the chance to talk with Michael Kauffman, who returned to speak about how the eight conspirators got involved with John Wilkes Booth and how that influenced their individual fates.

32

If you ever get a chance to talk with Mr. Kauffman, ask lots of questions because he is an endless storage of facts and tidbits. Did you know that the red color of the Surratt Tavern originally came from turkey blood? Yep, the paint was a mixture of milk and turkey blood. I also managed to get this picture once the chairs were free to sit on again.

Michael Kauffman Kate Ramirez Grant Hall 5-9-15

And this one when the tours were over and the Boothies still hanging around (no pun intended) decided to take advantage of the nice weather and continue chatting outside (and also because we had to vacate the courtroom or else be locked inside).

Kate Ramirez John Elliott Barry Cauchon Michael Kauffman Grant Hall 5-9-15

(Me, John Elliott, Barry Cauchon, and Michael Kauffman indulge in a group selfie).

Though the story surrounding Grant Hall is one of intense darkness in American history, the coordinators at Fort McNair were able to put together a spectacular event that was a remembrance of the past but also an environment for us in the present to interact with friends in a more light-hearted manner.

Fort McNair Event 5-8-15

Times of great horror have the ability to shed light not only on the past but also on the present and future. When we as historians can look objectively at acts of violence without passing too many judgments about the players we realize that we’re not so different from them after all.

Grant Hall Past and Present

(Okay, so it isn’t the clearest image in the world but you get the idea).

(Final image created by John Elliott and Barry Cauchon).

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.