Posts Tagged With: Lewis Powell

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

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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

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The Hidden History of Spencer Clark

On April 1, 2017, I spoke at the annual Surratt Society Conference. The topic of my speech revolved around the hidden histories of some of the minor characters in the Lincoln assassination story. One of the subjects of that talk was Spencer M. Clark, a witness at the conspiracy trial with a very scandalous past. The following text comes from my speech. Click here to read about another subject of the speech, James P. Ferguson.


Spencer Morton Clark

Burial Location: Spring Grove Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Spencer Morton Clark was the very first superintendent of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. At the trial of the conspirators Clark was called to testify regarding the pair of boots that had been confiscated from conspirator Lewis Powell. The day before Clark gave his testimony he was given one of Powell’s boots by the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and was asked to inspect them. Inside one of the boots was a mark of ink. After examining the boot under a microscope, Clark came to the conclusion that the mark of ink had been put there to obscure some sort of writing that lay beneath it. Using a bath of oxalic acid, Clark was able to remove the top layer of ink. He was clearly able to see the letters J W then a letter that was either a P or a B. He also determined the last two letters were th. Clark concluded that the written word that had been cover up was the name J W Booth. Unfortunately Clark left the oxalic acid on too long and the ink from the name was also dissolved away. However, Clark was supported in his assessment by two other treasury workers who were with him. Spencer Clark’s testimony at the trial was brief but worked to prove that the boots worn by Powell had either been owned or purchased by John Wilkes Booth.

Hidden History:

Spencer Clark was born in Brattleboro, Vermont in 1811. As a young man Clark entered into many business ventures all of which failed. He declared bankruptcy twice before gaining employment in D.C. in a position he was not qualified for. In 1860, Clark was made the Acting Engineer in the Bureau of Construction for the U.S. Treasury Department despite the fact that he was not an engineer. However Clark made a good impression on Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase and was retained.

Salmon P. Chase was Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury from 1861 – 1864

Clark’s employment in the Treasury department came at a monumental time. Prior to the Civil War the only legal tender in the United States were gold and silver coins produced by the Treasury. These coins were known as specie. However the costs associated with the Civil War were so high and the amount of gold and silver was limited. Lincoln and his government had to look elsewhere to find a way to finance the war. The decision was finally made to introduce paper notes to serve as legal tender bills. This is commonplace to us now, but back then it was highly controversial and even Lincoln only agreed to it as a necessary, yet unfortunate, war effort. The treasury at this time did not have the facilities to print their own notes and there was great fear that the practice of printing money would fuel corruption within the government. Therefore these early notes were printed by private companies and then sent to the Treasury in sheets. In his position in the Treasury, Clark and his clerks were charged with cutting out the notes, signing them on behalf of the treasury officials, and the imprinting each note with a seal.

Clark soon required a larger work force to handle the increased output of the notes. With most able-bodied men off fighting in the war, the Treasury became one of the first government agencies to hire a large number of female clerks. The women who joined the ranks were often teenagers and young women whose fathers were either off fighting or had been killed. The Treasury sought to hire only girls and women who demonstrated a true need for employment to help provide for their families. Over 300 women found employment in the Treasury department before the end of the war.

In July of 1862, Clark and his department were investigated by a Congressional committee over the government’s contracts for the notes and qualifications of its workers. The committee determined that the contracts signed by the government with the private printers resulted in an extravagance in the expenditure of public money. They also found that Clark was not qualified for his position and suggested his removal. Clark was retained however due to his familiarity with Secretary Chase and his other superior, Francis Spinner, who was the Treasurer of the United States.

Francis Spinner was the Treasurer of the United States from 1861 – 1875

In August of 1862, Clark was authorized to purchase the machines necessary for the government to print some of its own notes rather than buying all of them from private companies. This decision essentially established the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and resulted in Spencer Clark becoming its first Superintendent. Clark supervised the production of the $1 and $2 notes. Clark’s new bureau was also tasked with the printing of the government’s new fractional currency. These bills were worth less than a dollar and were meant to supplement the dwindling supply of specie. In the initial run of fractional notes only Thomas Jefferson and George Washington appeared.

Examples of U.S. fractional currency

Clark, it should be noted, did a good job of instituting better security measures to impede counterfeiting. In the second issue of fractional currency, Clark had a copper circle placed around the head of Washington and Jefferson. If the bill was photographed, this ring would come out as black, thwarting the counterfeiter. Yet despite the positive aspects Spencer Clark brought to his position, there were also many negative aspects. Clark’s investment in the government’s printing presses proved to be misplaced. The presses Clark acquired literally came from the lowest bidder and the quality was lacking. Broken presses were common and delayed their production. Clark was also very poor in his book-keeping. His incomplete records of production and distribution were troublesome to members of Congress who were already worried about the corruptible nature of printing the country’s money.

In late 1863, Secretary Chase began hearing rumors about his printing department. These rumors were not about poor books or broken machines, however. The rumors being spread were about Clark, his female employees, and “gross immoralities” that were occurring under his supervision. Chase, who still held aspirations of his own to become President, decided to look into the matter in order to prevent any political enemy from discovering something that might damage his future. Chase requested that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton lend him a capable investigator to look into the rumors. Specifically Chase requested the assistance of Lafayette Baker.

Lafayette Baker

Chase would come to regret his request to have Baker investigate. Baker had served as a detective, special agent, and finally as a special provost marshal under Stanton. While Baker made himself useful to the government, his methods and character were highly questionable. He was notorious for throwing those he believed of wrongdoing into the Old Capitol Prison without charge. The declaration of martial law during the war gave him the authority to do so. After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Stanton would call on Baker again to help manage the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators.

Lafayette Baker committed himself to his investigation into the Treasury and opponents of the administration could smell the scent of scandal brewing. Salmon Chase had hoped for a quick exoneration of his subordinates but that was not what Baker had in mind. Baker believed that the public demanded a full and detailed inquiry and he would not allow himself to be a tool for Chase’s benefit. Baker was far too much of a loose cannon to do Chase’s bidding and wrap up the investigation quietly. While Baker charged a couple of Clark’s clerks with corruption, his biggest accusations were about Clark himself whom he accused of committing sexual misconduct with his female workers. Baker gathered statements by female employees that added up to a very damning picture against Clark, a married man.

Ella Jackson stated that she and another female clerk had traveled to Philadelphia at the invitation of Clark and another male clerk in the department named Gustavus Henderson. In Philadelphia, Miss Jackson registered at a hotel under an assumed name and spent the weekend with Clark. She also stated that Clark often offered her beer in his private office late at night, though she insisted she never drank more than two glasses and was never drunk at work. Ada Thompson, an actress, provided further details of Clark’s affair with Miss Jackson by informing to Baker that, “During the month of December last, Miss Jackson seldom came home before two or three o’clock in the morning. She stated to me that during these times she did not work later than ten or eleven o’clock and that the balance of that time…she spent in Mr. Clark’s private office.” Thompson also stated to Baker that she had “often seen in Miss Jackson’s possession obscene books, pictures, and prints, which she…informed me were given to her by Clark.”

Baker interviewed and received a statement from another young woman who had been in the employ of Mr. Clark. This girl stated:

“Mr. S M Clark came to me in the office, and asked me to come to his private residence, at the same time informing me that his wife was in the country. I did not at first comply with his request. On the next Saturday night…I went to Mr. Clark’s house about eight o’clock in the evening…Mr. Clark and myself occupied the same room until morning…About two weeks after my first visit to Mr. Clark’s house, he again asked me to go to his house and spend another evening with him; this request I complied with. I recollect distinctly a conversation I had with Mr. Clark. He said his wife was very jealous and at one time told him that she believed the Treasury Department was nothing more nor less than a house of ill-fame…Clark paid me as high as forty dollars; these amounts were independent of my wages earned in the Department…I freely confess my shame and disgrace, trusting that no publicity will be given to my statement.”

Lafayette Baker did not heed this woman’s request for confidentiality. Slowly, different pieces of Baker’s investigation were being leaked to public. Secretary Chase was seeing the reputation of his department and himself sullied. Chase suspended Clark but stopped short of firing him. Chase wanted Clark to resign but the latter would not go so easily. “I think it right that the country should know that your confidence in my official management has not been misplaced,” Clark wrote in an open letter to Chase that was published in the newspaper. Clark claimed that the charges against him were politically motivated since he was a hold out from President Buchanan’s administration. Essentially Clark set it up that if Chase moved to fire him, it would be far more damaging to Chase and his prospects as it would be confirmation that he had allowed things to get so out of hand in his department. Chase was trapped. The allegations against Clark were so detailed and extensive that they were undoubtedly true, but Chase had to save face. And so Chase turned to the only thing left of him, partisan politics.

While Baker’s investigation failed to find any major examples of monetary corruption in the Treasury department, the reports surrounding Clark’s sexual malfeasance became blood in the water to opponents of Lincoln’s administration in Congress. An investigative committee was created. Chase however, was connected enough to make sure that the majority of the Congressmen placed on the committee were friends. While there were a few token Democrats to provide the illusion of impartiality, the chairman of the committee was Republican representative, and future President, James Garfield.

Representative James A. Garfield

Chase and Garfield had become extremely close with Chase considering Garfield to be the son he never had.  The Republican majority committee worked extensively to attack Baker’s investigation. Each political party now found itself in a strange place. The Democrats, who loathed Baker and his methods, jumped to Baker’s defense while the Republicans, who had relied on Baker many times to be the shady means to achieve their ends, turned against him. Baker, feeling betrayed by his friends released all the pages of his scandalous findings to the public. Many newspapers would not print the reports deeming them too depraved to print, but others published the ladies’ statements in all their depraved detail. A political cartoon of the day even included the scandal with a brazen gentlemen eyeing a group of young ballerinas preparing for the Treasury Department’s production of “A New Way to Pay Old Debts”.

One might think that with all of the uproar that was being caused in the Democratic newspapers over Clark’s misconduct and the release of Baker’s reports that it would be impossible for Chase, Clark, and the Republicans to come out unscathed. However, in the end, Lafayette Baker’s own over-zealousness in his investigation would cause his downfall.

In early May of 1864, right about when the congressional investigation began, one of the Treasury department’s female clerks, Maggie Duvall, suddenly died. Maggie was described as “a beautiful and attractive young lady, with auburn hair, somewhat freckled.” Baker did not believe this death was a coincidence. He believed that Maggie had been a victim of Mr. Clark and died as a result of an abortion. Baker was able to collect a statement from another clerk that seemed to support this idea. And so, against the heartrending protests of Maggie’s family, Baker had Maggie’s funeral halted and had her body sent to an examining committee of local physicians to check for signs of an abortion.

In the end, however, Baker’s gamble backfired. It was found that Maggie had died of consumption and that her “virtue” was still intact. When the press heard the news of what Baker had done, they crucified him for it. His desecration of the poor girl’s body against the wishes of her family and the way he had attempted to sully her reputation became more of an outrage that than Clark’s alleged actions towards the other women. The Republicans were amazingly able to refrain the issue and turn Baker into the enemy. When Garfield and his majority in the congressional committee released their report they alleged that most of the charges against Clark were fabrications created by Baker on behalf of private printing companies in New York who were unhappy with having lost their contracts to print the government’s notes with the establishment of Clark’s bureau. In the end, the committee found that Lafayette Baker, “by the aid of coerced testimony” and with the assistance of “female prostitutes associated with him” had set out to destroy the reputation of Spencer Clark.

Lafayette Baker was livid and challenged Garfield to produce any evidence that he was working behalf of printing companies, had coerced any testimonies, or had used female prostitutes to make his case. In truth, all of these charges were groundless but it didn’t matter. Garfield had managed to reframe the issue in the public mind to protect his friends and his party. The Treasury scandal just went away which is why Spencer Clark was still in his position as superintendent of the printing division when he was asked to examine Lewis Powell’s boot in 1865.

But we’re still not done with Mr. Clark. In fact, we haven’t even touched on the scandal he is most known for and the way in which he changed the course of American currency forever.

In June of 1864, just after the inquiry over Clark’s sexual misconduct ended, Congress approved the creation of a third issue of fractional currency. The first and second issues, which ranged from 5 cents to 50 cents, had only contained the portraits of Washington and Jefferson. The design process was a lengthy affair with dies having to be created by outside companies. During this time Secretary Chase resigned from his post. He was replaced by Maine Senator William Fessenden who became the new Secretary of the Treasury.

William Fessenden was Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury from 1864 – 1865

Clark was in charge of the creation of the new fractional notes. It’s possible he was trying to curry favor with his new boss when he approached him with his idea for the portraits that should be placed on the new notes. Clark suggested that the notes contain the images of Secretary Fessenden, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury George Harrington, Controller of the Currency Hugh McCullough, and the Treasurer of the United States Francis Spinner.  Secretary Fessenden agreed to have his own face on one of the bills but told Clark to ask the other gentlemen for their consent. The other gentlemen were reluctant to the proposition but eventually agreed to it when they were assured by Clark that Secretary Fessenden wanted it so (which was a lie). In time Secretary Fessenden’s portrait appeared on the 25 cent note, and Treasurer Spinner’s portrait went on the 50 cent note.

Fractional currency notes bearing the likenesses of William Fessenden and Francis Spinner

These high value notes went into circulation but were not as common as the lower ones. The die for Controller McCullough’s note was damaged upon delivery to the Treasury and he, already being uncomfortable with the idea of being on currency, refused to allow Clark to order a new one. The design for Harrington’s note was apparently not yet in production. What occurred next is a little uncertain but end result was this:

A 5 cent fractional note bearing the likeness of Spencer Clark

Spencer Clark put his own face on the 5 cent fractional note. The story goes that the demand for 5 cent notes were so high that the treasury was under a time crunch to release the new issue of these bills. Strangely, or perhaps purposefully, Clark had originally planned for Francis Spinner to be on the 5 cent note but moved him to the less popular 50 cent note. Clark went up to Treasurer Spinner, told him of the almost completed design for the 5 cent note but lamented he had no portrait to put upon it. According to one story, Clark then said, “What head shall we use?” Clark asked Spinner, “the boys have got up a die with my head, what objection is there to using it?” Spinner then allegedly replied, “I have none”. Clark then went off telling people that he had the authorization of Francis Spinner to use his own image and he just so happened to have a die with his own portrait on it ready to go. However the truth is that Francis Spinner did not have the authority to approve designs nor did he claim to. When Secretary Fessenden saw the early proofs of the new 5 cent notes with Clark’s face, he rebuffed Clark. Clark then told him that it was Spinner who had insisted that Clark’s image be put upon the notes due to his years of faithful service to the bureau (which was a lie). The other story surrounding the placement of Spencer Clark’s face states that, when Clark approached Treasurer Spinner inquiring about who to put on the 5 cent note, he said something along the lines of, “Would the likeness of Clark do?” Spinner apparently believed that Spencer was referring to that great American explorer William Clark, of Louis and Clark fame. Spinner agreed to this and it was not until after the proofs were made that it was discovered that there had been a “misunderstanding”. Regardless of what really happened, due to the time constraints and demand for the bills, the production of the 5 cent notes with Spencer Clark’s face was allowed to continue.

As you might imagine, when these new 5 cent notes first appeared in public in February of 1866, there was quite an uproar. People had previous talked of the impudence of when Salmon Chase was placed on the $1 notes produced by the treasury and now here were fractional bills containing the images of three more treasury workers. Though George Washington was retained on the 3 cent and 10 cent notes, Thomas Jefferson had lost his place among our nation’s money completely.

Members of Congress were the most outraged especially considering the drama that had unfolded around Clark just two years earlier. The man had been rightfully accused of using his position to solicit sexual favors from his female subordinates and now he was the face of the 5 cent note. So, on March 1, 1866, Representative Martin Thayer of Pennsylvania added the following amendment to an appropriations bill for the Treasury:

“Hereafter no portrait or likeness of any living person shall be engraved or placed upon any of the bonds, securities, notes, or postal currency of the United States.”

Thayer humorously demonstrated how teachers all over the country will have to do away with their old table of Federal currency and learn the one currently promoted by the Treasury.

Rep. James Garfield expressed his disagreement with the amendment, initially citing his belief that money should represent the leaders of the day. However, his argument quickly shifted into a prolonged and flowery defense of Spencer Clark:

“Sir, I take pleasure in saying a word for an abused man, who is not here to answer his accusers; and I say it, too, remembering the declaration of an ancient philosopher, that people love to hear accusation better than defense. I do not hesitate to declare it as my opinion that when the history of our financial struggles during the later war shall have been written; when all passion and prejudice shall have died away; when the events of the present shall be seen in the clear light of veritable history, this man, whose picture is now sneered at; this man, so little known to fame, and so unfavorably spoken of among many members of this House, will stand out in that history as a man most remarkable for genius and ability, for having accomplished a work which will take its place among the wonders of mechanism and useful invention, and for having saved to the Treasury, by his skill and fidelity, millions of money. Whatever people please to say concerning S. M. Clark and his antecedents, he has done his country signal service; and, sir, I believe his merits will some day be recognized by the American people as they have been and still are by those who know what he has done and is still doing in the public service.”

Representative James Brooks from New York, the Congressman who had started the call to investigate Clark two years ago and served as one of Garfield’s token Democrats in the committee could not let Garfield’s aggrandizement of Clark go without a response.

Rep. James Brooks of New York

“What a eulogy he has pronounced upon a great hero of this war! When the name of Grant shall have faded away; when the magnificent victories of Sherman, from the mountains of Tennessee throughout all George, North and South Carolina, and Virginia, shall have been forgotten; … when even Lincoln shall have been buried with Julius and Augustus Caesar, there will arise one remarkable man; high on the horizon, and that is Clark, the printer of the public money!”

This response was met with laughter from the House. Garfield and Brooks then argued for some time about the past investigation into Clark before Brooks brought the attention back to the matter at hand.

“Sir, the honorable gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Thayer is right. No man should be immortalized upon the public money of the country until the verdict of posterity has been pronounced upon his name, and it can go down upon that record sanctioned by the voices of men of all parties, all politics, and of all religions.”

In the end, the Representatives voted to put Rep. Thayer amendment in. When the amendment arrived in the Senate the only change made was to allow the current plates of notes to be used until their expiration in order to avoid the cost of halting production and purchasing new ones at this time. This was agreed to by both the Senate and House without dissent.

Finally on April 7, 1866, the appropriations bill was passed which contained the amendment banning living people from appearing on our money and stamps.

This policy still stands today. Coincidentally. the same appropriations bill that banned portraits of living people on money also approved the expenditure of $100,000 for the purchase of a property in Washington City “for the deposit and safe keeping of documentary papers relating to the soldiers of the army of the United States, and of the museum of the medical and surgical department of the army.” The property’s name? Ford’s Theatre.

Spencer Clark survived an investigation into his qualifications. He survived an investigation into his immoral and predatory behavior with his female clerks. Spencer Clark even survived the aftermath of the widespread embarrassment he had brought upon his government by putting his own face on money. However, could not survive one last scandal. On November 17, 1868, Clark tendered his resignation after an investigative committee found him guilty of…improper book-keeping. After leaving the Treasury, Clark acquired a position in the Department of Agriculture, eventually becoming the head of the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Clark died on December 10, 1890 and is buried in Hartford, Connecticut next to his wife.

Spencer Clark was a failed businessman, a fake engineer, the Superintendent of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, a scumbag sexual predator, and man who put his own face on money. That’s quite a scandalous hidden history.

References:
The Enemy Within: Fears of Corruption in the Civil War North by Michael Thomas Smith – a fascinating book which details Spencer Clark and the Treasury Scandal

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Lewis Powell at Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg is among the most well-known of all Civil War battles. While, today, many view it as an important turning point of the Civil War, Gettysburg’s original notoriety was derived from the sheer number of soldiers who fought and died there in July of 1863. Over one hundred thousand men from the Union and Confederate armies fought in the foothills of Pennsylvania during the three day battle. Four months after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln would speak at the dedication of a national cemetery in Gettysburg to honor the sacrifice of the Union soldiers who were lost during the fight. His speech, known as the Gettysburg Address, is among one of the greatest speeches ever written and it also helps to propel the Battle of Gettysburg in the minds of people today. Many wonderful texts have been written about the actions of the famous Union and Confederate officers who squared off in this pivotal battle. The movements of their units are depicted and recounted on monuments and signs throughout the Gettysburg National Military Park. In the sea of ranks, infantry, and units, it is difficult to adjust one’s view to consider the stories of individual soldiers. To each soldier who fought, Gettysburg was its own unique experience with very few being exactly alike. However, as Walt Whitman so noted, “the real war will never get in the books,” and so many of the stories of the common men and women of the Civil War are unrecorded. However, thanks to the research of author Betty Ownsbey, we do know at least some of the Gettysburg experiences of a 19 year-old private with the 2nd Florida Infantry named Lewis Thornton Powell.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Lewis Powell was a teenager living in Hamilton County, Florida. The Sunshine State seceded from the Union in January of 1861, and shortly thereafter Lewis made up his mind to enlist in the Confederate army. On May 30, 1861, Lewis Powell joined up with the Hamilton Blues which later became a company of the 2nd Florida Infantry. Powell was 17 years old at the time of his enlistment, below the age requirement of 18. To get around this, the tall and muscularly built Powell claimed to be 19 years old.

In a time before widespread identification methods, Powell was apparently taken at his word. It wouldn’t be the last time Powell would lie about his identity.

Powell’s early military career was plagued by visits to base hospitals for different illnesses. Despite this, when his one year term of serviced ended in 1862, Powell chose to re-enlist for the duration of the war and claimed the $50 bounty that was offered for re-enlistment. As part of the 2nd Florida Infantry, Powell saw battle during the Peninsula Campaign and at the Battle of Chancellorsville. In the summer of 1863, the 2nd Florida Infantry became a part of the Army of Northern Virginia and were, therefore, present at the Battle of Gettysburg.

At Gettysburg, Powell’s unit was part of Perry’s Brigade, which consisted of the 2nd, 5th, and 8th Florida Infantry combined. While the brigade was named for Brigadier General Edward Perry, a future governor of Florida, Perry had contracted typhoid fever during the Battle of Chancellorsville and was not present in Gettysburg. Instead, Perry’s Brigade was led by Col. David Lang.

Col. David Lang was Lewis Powell’s brigade commander during the battle of Gettysburg.

On July 1st, the first day of battle at Gettysburg, the 700 plus men of Perry’s Brigade did not see battle. They, as part of Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s Division, were too far to the rear to engage with the Union. By July 2nd, the Union forces had established a fishhook line around Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill just to the southeast of the city of Gettysburg. During that morning, Anderson’s Division had moved closer to the front and took refuge in a patch of woods running from Seminary Ridge southward. Perry’s Brigade was located just north of the Peach Orchard. At 6:00 pm, Perry’s Brigade advanced forward along with the rest of Anderson’s Division. They attacked Brig. General Andrew Humphreys’ Second Division, forcing the Union to abandon several artillery guns as they retreated. Despite the push and the large number of casualties the Confederate forces inflicted on Humphreys’ Division, they were not able to advance to Cemetery Ridge as planned. The Union Infantry on the slope of the ridge prevented further advancement. Union reinforcements pressed in on their right flank and made the ground Perry’s Brigade had gained untenable. Perry’s Brigade, and the rest of Anderson’s division, were pushed back into the woods that they started from.

After pushing the Confederates back, the Union advanced, “recovered the artillery that had been abandoned and captured many prisoners and held the position during the night.”

One of the prisoners that was captured by the Second Division was a wounded Lewis Powell who had suffered a gunshot wound to his right wrist. While we do not know the exact circumstances surrounding Powell’s wounding, it is safe to say that it occurred after 6:00 pm on July 2nd, as Perry’s Brigade was making either their advance or retreat. He may have fallen on the field and not been found until the next morning, as his records state he was captured on July 3rd. Regardless of the exact circumstances, Powell was now a wounded prisoner of war. After his capture, Powell was sent about 2.5 miles to the southeast to a field hospital that had been established by the Twelfth Corps on the farm of George Bushman.

The brick building which served as the main hospital at Bushman farm still stands today. Powell was one of about 1,200 wounded soldiers brought in for triage style treatment, with the majority of these being Union soldiers not Confederate prisoners of war like himself. Powell is recorded to have been a patient in the the 12th Army Corps Hospital on July 4th. On July 6th, Powell was transferred from the field hospital to the larger makeshift hospital that had been set up on the grounds of Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College). The Confederates had seized Pennsylvania College on the first day of battle and had converted one of the buildings, Pennsylvania Hall (also known as the Edifice), into their own field hospital. When the Confederates were forced to abandon the hospital, the Union took it over.

Penn Hall circa 1878

Penn Hall, 2017

Though Powell arrived at the Penn Hall hospital for his own recovery, before too long he found his position at the hospital expanded from patient to nurse. Even with his arm in a sling, Powell started to provide assistance to the doctors and stewards in their care for other wounded Confederates. During his service at Penn Hall, Powell was described as, “good at the work, and kind to the sick and wounded.” The fact that Powell had been previously laid up in other hospitals during his early military career no doubt helped him in his assumed position.

Lewis Powell is given the title of “nurse” on this register list of Confederates in Gettysburg hospitals.

The number of casualties from the Battle of Gettysburg brought in many more volunteers hoping to provide comfort to the wounded. One of these volunteers was a woman from Baltimore named Maggie Branson. Branson was a Confederate sympathizer and she traveled to Gettysburg specifically to tend to the wounded boys in gray. Branson was 30 years-old and unmarried. Over the course of July and August, Branson and Powell worked side by side in the hospital. At the end of August, the Penn Hall Hospital was shutting down. Powell met with the Provost Marshal who decided it would be a better use of the young Confederate’s abilities to continue his work as a nurse in a hospital rather than languish away in a prisoner of war camp. Powell was transferred away from Gettysburg and arrived at West’s Buildings Hospital in Baltimore on September 2, 1863. After only a few days in Baltimore, Powell was able to facilitate his escape. Though Lewis Powell’s exploits from this date onward would eventually bring him back into the military service of the Confederacy, when he did enlist again he did so under a new, assumed name (for that story click here). For the remainder of the war the muster rolls for the 2nd Florida Infantry would record Pvt. Powell as a prisoner of war.

In time, Lewis Thornton Powell would come into contact with John Wilkes Booth. The meeting between soldier and actor would start a series of choices that would change Powell’s life forever. It led the “kind” nurse of Gettysburg to savagely and ruthlessly stab a helpless man lying in his bed. It transformed Lewis Powell from one of the countless faces in the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, into one of the most infamous criminals in our nation’s history. In his final moments, as the Confederate stared at the rope which would strangle him to death in July of 1865, one wonders if Lewis Powell wished his end had come among the foothills of Pennsylvania in July of 1863 instead.

References:
Alias “Paine”: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy by Betty J. Ownsbey
Interactive Gettysburg Battle Map featured in A Cutting-Edge Second Look at the Battle of Gettysburg by Anne Kelly Knowles
The Battle of Gettysburg – Stone Sentinels: Perry’s BrigadeAnderson’s DivisionHumphrey’s 2nd Division, 3rd Corps

Categories: History | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Grave Thursday: John Hubbard

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.


John B. Hubbard

Burial Location: Friendship Methodist Church Cemetery, Seneca, South Carolina

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

John B. Hubbard’s connection to the Lincoln assassination story can be summarized in a three sentences. 1. He was one of the detectives assigned to guard the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their imprisonment and trial. 2. In this position, Hubbard was called to testify at the trial about one of his captives. 3. Two years later Hubbard was recalled to provide similar testimony at the impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson. While that, in essence, describes the reason John B. Hubbard first came to my attention, Hubbard’s post 1865 life makes him a worthy subject for the following lengthy post. If you have the time, please read on about John B. Hubbard, a man who not only attended the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their trial, but also raised a police force that fought against the KKK.


First off, very few details regarding the personal life of John B. Hubbard are available and it takes a bit of deducing to piece together the basic details of his life. Hubbard was likely born between 1828 and 1830.  At the time of his death, newspapers claimed that Hubbard was a cousin of Horace Greeley and was originally from New York. When described during the trial of the conspirators in 1865, a reporter said he was from California. When Hubbard provided testimony during the impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson, he stated at the time that “My home is in Connecticut,” though it is not known if that was also his birthplace.

When the Civil War broke out, John Hubbard did not serve in the military. On March 25, 1865, he became a detective in Col. Lafayette Baker’s National Detective Police. At the time of Lincoln’s assassination, Hubbard was in Chicago having just come up from Springfield. Upon hearing the news of Lincoln’s death, Hubbard travelled to Washington and reported to Baker. It does not appear that Hubbard took part in the manhunt for the assassins or, if he did, his part was not effective enough for him to submit a reward request. However, once John Wilkes Booth was dead and the other conspirators were in custody, Baker did have role for Hubbard to play. Hubbard became one of four detectives who were assigned to watch over the conspirators at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary during their trial. Hubbard was joined in this assignment by fellow detectives M. Trail, John Roberts, and Charles Fellows. These four men took shifts of six hours each day to watch over the conspirators. They were entirely separate from General John Hartranft’s detachment of soldiers and staff who served as the main guards and caretakers for the imprisoned conspirators. Hubbard and the other detectives were Baker’s personal eyes and ears during the conspirators’ imprisonment, demonstrating Baker’s habit of “watching the watchers” as well.

Hubbard served as Baker’s spy at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary starting on April 29th. Once the trial of the conspirators started, Hubbard and the other detectives were tasked with further duties:

As the trial continued, Hubbard and the others became more acquainted with the men and woman they were guarding. On June 3rd, Hubbard and his fellow detective, John Roberts, were actually called to testify by Lewis Powell’s defense lawyer, William Doster. Realizing the hopeless nature of Powell’s case, Doster was trying to set up an insanity defense for his client and used words Powell had spoken to his captors to set it up. The following is Hubbard’s testimony:

John B. Hubbard,
a witness called for the accused, Lewis Payne, being duly sworn, testified as follows:

By Mr. Doster:

Q. Please state to the Court whether or not you are in charge, at times, of the prisoner Payne?
A. Yes, sir: I am at times.
Q. Have you at any time had any conversation with him during his confinement?
A. I have, occasionally.
Q. Please state what the substance of that conversation was.

Assistant Judge Advocate Burnett: That I object to.

The Judge Advocate: Is this conversation offered as a confession, or as evidence of insanity?

Mr. Doster: As evidence of insanity. I believe it is a settled principle of law, that all declarations are admissible under the plea of insanity.

Assistant Judge Advocate Bingham: There is no such principle of the law, that all declarations are admissible on the part of the accused for any purpose. I object to the introduction of the declarations of the prisoner made on his own motion.

The Judge Advocate: If the Court please: as a confession, of course this declaration is not at all competent; but, if it is relied upon as indicating an insane condition of mind, I think it would be better for the Court to consider it. We shall be careful, however, to exclude from its consideration these statements so far as the question of the guilt or innocence of the prisoner of the particular crime is concerned, and to admit them only so far as they may aid in solving the question of insanity raised by the counsel.

Assistant Judge Advocate Bingham: On the suggestion of the Judge Advocate General, which is entered of record, I beg leave to state to the Court that I shall not insist upon my objection.

The question being repeated to the witness, he answered as follows:

A. I was taking him out of the Courtroom, about the third or fourth day of the trial, and he said he wished they would make haste and hang him; he was tired of life. He would rather be hung than come back here in the Courtroom. That is all he ever said to me.
Q. Did he ever have any conversation with you in reference to the subject of his constipation?
A. Yes: about a week ago.
Q. What did he say?
A. He said that he had been so ever since he had been here.
Q. What had been so?
A. He had been constipated.
Q. Have you any personal knowledge as to the truth of that fact?
A. No sir, I have not.

By the Judge Advocate:

Q. To whom did you first communicate this statement of his?
A. To the officer.
Q. What officers?
A. Colonel Dodd, I think, or Colonel McCall, and, I believe, to General Hartranft.
Q. Nobody else?
A. No, sir.

By Assistant Judge Advocate Bingham:

Q. What else did he say in his talk the third or fourth day of his trial?
A. I have given all he said going downstairs.

The question directed at Hubbard regarding Lewis Powell’s constipation may seem irrelevant, but that subject was broached the day before by another Doster witness, Dr. Charles Nichols. Nichols assented to Doster’s claim that constipation over a long duration could be taken as evidence of insanity. Doster would use the testimony of Hubbard and his next witness, Col. McCall of General Hartranft’s staff, to prove that Powell had been constipated for almost five weeks in his attempt to strengthen his insanity defense.

Hubbard’s fellow Baker detective, John Roberts, also testified regarding Lewis Powell. Roberts stated that, on the day Powell was asked to put on the clothes he was wearing on the night of April 14th and was subsequently identified by Seward’s son in court, Powell had told him (Roberts) that the prosecution was, “tracing him pretty close, and that he wanted to die.” Doster was hoping to use Hubbard’s and Roberts’ testimony to demonstrate Powell’s suicidal thoughts and, therefore, further insanity.

In the end, of course, Doster’s insanity defense for Powell was unsuccessful. Hubbard and the other detectives were undoubtedly present on the hot afternoon of July 7, 1865 when Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt met death upon the gallows. After the deaths of half of the conspirators, half of Baker’s detectives were reassigned:

On July 17th, there was no longer any need for John B. Hubbard to remain at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary as the remaining four conspirators were placed aboard a steamer and sent to Fort Jefferson prison. Hubbard would leave Baker’s employ not long after that. For his services with Baker, Hubbard was paid $150 a month.

In 1866, John B. Hubbard made his way down to South Carolina which was then part of the Second Military District. After the close of the Civil War, the U.S. Army created several administrative units in the former Confederate states. The districts acted as the de facto military government of those states until new civilian governments were re-established. The new state governments were required to ratify the 14th amendment which granted voting rights to black men. In the Second Military District, which compromised North and South Carolina, John B. Hubbard found employment as a detective for the commander of the district, General Daniel Sickles.

On May 17, 1867, John Hubbard was called up from South Carolina to testify at the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson. His testimony in Washington was brief and mainly concerned his duties during the conspiracy trial. He was asked about any confessions that may have been written by the conspirators during his time with them. The only one he recalled was one written by George Atzerodt. Hubbard claimed he did not believe Lewis Powell ever wrote a confession. For this brief testimony, the government paid Hubbard $49 for his 3 days and 470 miles of travel. He subsequently returned to South Carolina.

In August of 1867, General Sickles was removed as commander of the Second Military District and was replaced by General Edward Canby. Hubbard continued in his services as a detective for General Canby until the district was dissolved upon South Carolina’s adoption of a new state constitution and re-admittance to the Union in 1868. The first elected Governor of South Carolina under the new 1868 Constitution was Robert Kingston Scott, a former Union brigadier general and a Republican from Pennsylvania. The new state constitution arranged for the organization of a new state police. Gov. Scott chose John Hubbard to become the state’s first Chief Constable.

Robert Kingston Scott

During the Reconstruction Era, people like Gov. Scott and John Hubbard were referred to as carpet-baggers. This term was used to describe northerners who moved to the conquered South for their own personal gain and, ostensibly, brought their few belongings with them in cheap carpetbags. The term was not without merit as the most notorious carpetbaggers truly were unscrupulous individuals seeking only to gain power and wealth at the expense of the locals. However, not every northerner who moved to the South during Reconstruction was a carpetbagger. Nevertheless, the term came to represent all northerners who moved to the southern states during Reconstruction regardless of intent.

Denouncing and attacking all northerners as carpetbaggers became one of the main strategies of the southern papers during Reconstruction. The view that all carpetbagger officials were engaging in graft, bribery, and embezzlement was so pervasive that it is very difficult to tell the difference between true instances of carpetbaggery and anti-northerner propaganda.

However, as problematic as financial corruption on the part of carpetbaggers was, what was far more damaging to the sensibilities of white Southerners was the forced advancement of racial equality in the region. The South lost the Civil War and was forced to abandon slavery, but it could not be forced to abandon its belief in white supremacy. As Republican controlled governments established themselves in the South and pushed to ensure equal voting and citizenship rights for the recently freed slaves, the white Democratic populations pushed back with often violent vengeance. (Note: It is important to remember that while the two main political parties of today share the same names as those in existence 150 years ago, the viewpoints of each party have shifted significantly over time. The Republican and Democratic parties of today have little in common with their counterparts of the past.) It was during this time that one of the first incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan arose in South Carolina. As Chief Constable of the state, John B. Hubbard gave a deposition about the Klan’s activities and the work of his force to try to contain them:

“In all the counties except one there were threats, intimidations, and violence used against republicans. Men were taken out by the Ku Klux and whipped, to frighten them from voting the republican ticket. My subordinates officially notified me that in all the counties west of Broad River, as well as in York County, Ku Klux abounded in numbers, and spread general terror all over the county…In Laurens County cases were officially reported to me in which men were stationed on the highways to prevent republican voters from going to the polls. Numerous outrages and murders were perpetrated on republicans.  There was one case in which, in the town of Laurens, a man was publicly shot down in the streets for simply saying he was a republican; another case, in which twenty shots were fired upon a republican in daylight, until he was chased entirely out of town…I daily expected to hear that my deputies were killed, and that anarchy had taken possession of the county.”

The widespread attacks against South Carolina’s Republican voters described by Hubbard above occurred during the election of 1868. The Klan’s efforts to intimidate Republican voters, both white and black, caused the black voter turnout in 1868 to be extremely low. Elaine Frantz Parsons, author of Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction, noted that, “The dramatically lopsided election results in 1868 seemed clear proof to Republicans of a massive campaign of voter intimidation, but Democratic newspapers cynically shrugged it off. Nothing that in the Ninety-Sixth District only eight or ten black men voted, the Charleston News explained, ‘The colored people did not desire to vote and preferred to stay at home.’”

In order to combat the widespread voter intimidation practiced by the Ku Klux Klan, Gov. Scott gave Hubbard the funds and authority to help raise local black militias for the purposes of defense of the Republican citizens. Hubbard’s various constables throughout the state aided the militias in various ways. When Democratic supporters provided Winchester rifles to members of the Ku Klux, Hubbard, in turn, managed to get rifles for some of the militia men. Hubbard desired a larger paramilitary force of Northerners to send to counties where there had been intimidation and in 1870 Gov. Scott agreed to the idea. They commissioned C.C. Baker, a New York carpetbagger who ran a gold mining business in Union county, to go to New York and find men to work as “detectives”. Baker outsourced the job to a man named James Kerrigan who assembled twenty five men. Years later, Hubbard would admit that, “I don’t think it possible to have found or selected a more dangerous lot of men than were in any city of the union.” Parsons explains the failure of this force:

“While there is no record of the Kerrigan detectives causing problems during their stay in Union,Scott’s decision to bring them to Union only confirmed Democratic white’s fears that the Republicans would use their superior bureaucratic organization and resources to mobilize force from beyond the county… Kerrigan’s men did very little, generated no indictments, and left within a few days. But the presence of these hired detectives fed dramatically into Democratic Union Countians’ sense of lack of control… Things did not turn out as Scott and Hubbard had planned”

Bringing in this large number of carpetbaggers to intimidate the Ku-Kluxes in Union actually did the opposite. This event and a subsequent murder of a white man by one of the black militias (likely one of the only times the militias themselves were violent), caused the community of Union to unite behind the Klan. They subsequently engaged in two prison raids and mass lynchings which were covered nationwide and caught the attention of President Grant. The atrocities caused by the Klan in South Carolina helped push Enforcement Acts through Congress. These acts allowed federal troops to enforce the law in the South rather than relying on state militias. It resulted in the arrests and trials of hundreds of Klan members and the suspension of habeas corpus in nine counties in South Carolina.  The Enforcement Acts virtually destroyed the Klan in South Carolina and greatly reduced its power throughout the rest of the South. It would not be until 1915, upon the release of the film, The Birth of a Nation, that the Klan would reassemble itself.  The acts essentially put Hubbard’s deputies out of a job as his force was superseded by federal troops who were far more effective. While Hubbard’s force disbanded, Hubbard did not. In 1872, a year after the third Enforcement Act was put into place, Hubbard is listed as living in Charleston as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. In this capacity he aided the federal troops in making arrests and identifying Ku Kluxes and Ku Klux crimes throughout the state. For two years he worked with the federal troops to rid South Carolina of the KKK with great success.

In 1874, after two years as a Deputy Marshal, Hubbard left the law and became a Special Agent for the Treasury Department. His duties in this position and length of tenure are unknown.

This political cartoon depicts Rutherford B. Hayes strolling off with the prize of the “Solid South” having made a deal with the Devil.

Reconstruction ended with the Great Betrayal of 1877 which gave Rutherford B. Hayes the contested presidency in return for him pulling all remaining federal troops out of the South. With the troops gone, there was no way to apply the Enforcement Acts and the large scale disenfranchisement of black voters began at a state level.

This was also the period of time when the Democratic leaders sought to punish those carpetbagging Republicans who had controlled their states during the Reconstruction years. Charges were brought up against many former Republican officials. The author of Hubbard’s later obituary stated that, “When Democrats overthrew the reconstruction Government in 1876, Hubbard left the State Capitol and fled to the mountains in the northwestern part of the State where he has lived ever since… How he managed to escape their vengeance is still a mystery.” The truth is, Hubbard did not escape the vengeance of the Democrats who now held power. In order to save himself, Hubbard turned against a bigger carpetbagger than himself, his former boss, Governor Robert Scott.

Scott’s tenure as governor ended in 1872 and, though he had continued to live in South Carolina afterwards, he fled the state when the Democrats took power in 1877. Hubbard was either not so quick or had grown attached to his southern home. Rather than run, in 1878, Hubbard subjected himself to be interviewed by the Democrat’s Joint Investigating Committee on Public Frauds. He gave a long testimony and produced many records and correspondences. The committee believed that Gov. Scott had misappropriate massive amounts of funds (which he likely did) and that Hubbard’s constabulary was used for the express purpose of helping Republican candidates and to intimidate Democratic voters. Hubbard reinforced the very notions the committee was looking for but his motive for doing so are unknown. He acknowledged that his constabulary of deputies was used to promote Republican candidates and support Republican voters. Hubbard also laid the blame on Scott regarding the (failed) attempt to establish a paramilitary force of white Republicans in Union. Hubbard provided enough correspondence from his deputies to satiate the committee’s belief that his police force was merely a propaganda arm for the Republicans. To hammer the final nail into the coffin, Hubbard stated flatly that, “Ostensibly, the object of the constabulary force was for the preservation of the peace, but in reality it was organized and used for political purposes and ends.” For this testimony, even though it seemed to prove that Hubbard was engaged with Gov. Scott in the misappropriation of funds in order to intimate Democratic voters state wide, Hubbard was sincerely thanked.

Hubbard’s testimony in 1878 is perplexing. While there is obvious truth that his deputies were tasked with supporting the Republican candidates and voters, this was largely done due to the large scale voter suppression they were facing. Hubbard’s additional claim that the force was organized purely for political purposes also discounts the many arrests that the deputies, and Hubbard himself, made to maintain law and respect the rights of the black citizens. Perhaps the incongruous part of Hubbard’s testimony is his claim that, prior to the establishment of the black militias, there was “but little lawlessness” in the counties. This idea is completely contradicted by his report on the Ku Klux Klan activity which preceded the establishment of the militias. Granted the violence did increase after the establishment of the militias but what preceded it would hardly have been referred as “little lawlessness”.

In the end, the motives of Hubbard’s 1878 testimony are unknown.  Did he provide the investigating committee with the information and testimony they sought, even if it was not completely accurate or his true feelings, in order to save himself? Or did Hubbard truly come to think of his former police force as nothing but a political tool that was abused by the former Governor?

Regardless of his true feelings, Hubbard’s testimony apparently allowed him to remain in South Carolina without issue. Though, it should be noted, Hubbard did move from his former homes in Columbia and Charleston to the relatively isolated region in the state’s northwest. On July 4, 1880, John Hubbard married Eliza C. Fredericks at her home in Seneca, South Carolina. Hubbard was about 50 years old and his new bride was 47. Their marriage lasted only eight years before John’s death.

John B. Hubbard died on December 17, 1888 near Seneca. When the newspapers reported his death they briefly recounted that he had, “taken a prominent part in the execution of Mrs. Surratt” and was “a chief advisor” in the breakup of the KKK.  The papers had little to add about his final years. “It is said he was a moonshiner,” they reported. “For the last four or five years he had disappeared altogether from public notice. He died in his mountain vastness.”

Eliza Hubbard outlived her husband by a number of years before dying in 1900. She is buried alongside him in Friendship Methodist Church Cemetery in Seneca. Unfortunately, both of their gravestones have been broken in half.

Like many Grave Thursday offerings, John B. Hubbard is a minor character when it comes to his involvement in the story of the Lincoln assassination. Nevertheless, when making plans to visit South Carolina in order to view the recent eclipse, I made sure that Kate and I found lodging not far from his final resting place. I wanted to find the grave of this man who had such an interesting life beyond 1865. John Hubbard is still very much a mystery in some respects and his true feelings regarding his deputy force are difficult to know for certainty. Nevertheless, I believe that John Hubbard’s legacy should be that he opposed the KKK. He and his deputies fought against the Klan’s attempts to intimidate and prevent African Americans from engaging in their right to be heard and represented.

While doing research for this post, I stumbled across the KKK book quoted earlier by Elaine Frantz Parsons. The details I found regarding Hubbard convinced me to purchase the digital version. I often buy books like this solely for reference purposes, taking out the parts relating to my particular subject but never reading the entire text cover to cover. Though my initial intent was to use the book just for the parts relating to Hubbard, I have found this book extremely engrossing and have already read far beyond any mention of Hubbard. It is an emotionally difficult read but extremely relevant, I think, to current events. I was particular fascinated with how the Democratic newspapers of the time reported on the KKK atrocities. Parsons aptly notes that the, “Democratic elites kept their standard posture of publicly admiring the idea of the Ku-Klux while rigorously denying any local accounts of Ku-Kluxes or Klux attacks”. The denial of local attacks (or claims of “fake news” in modern parlance) was maintained as long as possible until enough outside reports forced the newspapers to acknowledge them. But even when the attacks were finally acknowledged, the Democratic papers in Union County printed story after story about how the crimes reported had actually been carried out by the black Republican militias who were being paid by wealthy radical Republicans in the North to stage attacks and even kill their own in order to illicit sympathy in the North. All of this propaganda worked to turn people to the same side as the KKK without them realizing it. Average citizens, many of who would never put on a hood themselves and cause violence, surrendered the basic tenants of their Christian morality when they embraced the fear and conspiracy of the propagandists.  Parsons points out that though the first KKK was physically destroyed through the Enforcement Acts, its ideas were not. Through their few years of violence and support in the propagandist newspapers, they successfully turned public opinion in their favor and scared those who would stand against them into silence. They lost their form when federal troops came to oppose them, but, when Reconstruction ended, their ideas were put into place when the suppression of black voting rights continued and Jim Crow laws were enacted.

It is for this reason that I admire John Hubbard to a degree.  When Hubbard fought against the KKK, he faced immense backlash from those around him. He was detested for being an outsider and the newspapers condemned him for trying to force his will on the local population. Hubbard himself mentioned the dangers he faced in travelling into KKK dominated counties, “Every time that I myself went into those counties I thought I would not get back alive. I was told by prominent democrats that I would not get back; that I would be killed…that their political friends had sworn to kill me.” Even in the fact of all this, however, Hubbard continued to fight. First with his own police force and then with the federal troops who came into the South.

John B. Hubbard may have been a carpetbagger. He may have used his constabulary for political purposes. We may never truly know his motives. But, when all is said and done, John Hubbard opposed the KKK and its propaganda, and that puts him on the right side of morality and history.

References:
Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction by Elaine Frantz Parsons
The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts edited by William Edwards
John Hubbard’s testimony in Impeachment Investigation: Testimony Taken Before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives in the Investigation of the Charges Against Andrew Johnson
John Hubbard’s Ku Klux Klan report in House Documents, Volume 265
Report of the Joint Investigating Committee on Public Frauds and Election of Hon. J.J. Patterson to the United States Senate: Made to the General Assembly of South Carolina at the Regular Session 1877-78
Newspaper articles accessed via GenealogyBank.com

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , | 10 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: General Lew Wallace

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


General Lewis Wallace

Gen Lew Wallace NARA

Burial Location: Oak Hill Cemetery, Crawfordsville, Indiana

Lew Wallace Grave 1

Lew Wallace Grave 2

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

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

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

The Conspirators in the Lew Wallace Study Labeled

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

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

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

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

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

Lew Wallace near the end of his life

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

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

Lew Wallace Grave 3

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

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

James Donaldson: William Seward’s Helpful Hand

When it comes to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, I often find myself interested in the little people. I enjoy looking into the lives of those who witnessed, took part in, or crossed paths with John Wilkes Booth’s plot. The recent Grave Thursday posts help to demonstrate this interest as Kate and I have been highlighting some of the minor characters that are connected, in some way, to Lincoln’s death. Today’s post shares in this theme by introducing a man on the outskirts of the events of April 14, 1865, James Donaldson.

According to his death record, James Donaldson was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1818. By 1852, Donaldson was married, starting a family, and resided in Washington, D.C., the city he would call home for the rest of his life. In 1853, James Donaldson was hired as a watchman for the State Department under Secretary of State William Marcy where he was paid $500 a year. He continued in the employ of the State Department rising through the ranks to become an assistant messenger with a salary of $700 a year. When Abraham Lincoln appointed William Seward to be the Secretary of State in 1861, Donaldson found himself under a new boss that he would become very close to as the years went on.

Being a messenger for the State Department during the Civil War was a important job. In addition to running messages for the Secretary throughout the city of Washington, Donaldson was also called upon to join Seward on his trips across the north. In August of 1863, Seward was entertaining the dignitaries of  several foreign governments, playing tour guide to the ministers of England, France, Russia, Nicaragua, Italy, Sweden, Hamburg, Spain, Prussia, and Chile. He took the ministers and some of their attaches on a brief sight seeing trip to show the ministers the wonderful resources the northern states possessed and to persuade them that backing the Union in the Civil War would be to their respective government’s benefit. Donaldson was asked to come along on this trip with Seward. One place Seward and Donaldson took the ministers was Trenton Falls in New York. At least two pictures were taken of the party at Trenton Falls.

seward-donaldson-et-al-trenton-falls-1863

seward-donaldson-et-al-trenton-falls-1863-2

In the first image Secretary Seward is seated on the rock with a large hat in his hand while in the second one he is the rightmost standing figure. These images also capture assistant messenger James Donaldson who is the leftmost standing figure in both images:

After visiting Trenton Falls, the group would make their way to Seward’s home in Auburn, New York (which is now a museum) where the summit continued. After the end of the summit, Seward and Donaldson returned to the Secretary’s home in Washington, D.C.

By 1865, James Donaldson was 48 years old and had been working for the State Department for over 12 years. On April 5, William Seward was injured in Washington, D.C., when he was forced to jump out of a runaway carriage. The incident resulted in Seward receiving a broken arm, a broken jaw, and a concussion. After this accident, Seward would be bed-ridden as he slowly recovered. While Seward would be assigned two army nurses to look after him during his recovery, the whole Seward household took turns keeping an eye on the Secretary. James Donaldson, practically one of the family members by now, took his turn tending to his boss.

By the afternoon of April 14th, Seward was feeling better. James Donaldson had been with the Secretary that afternoon but was informed by him that he need not stay into the night. Donaldson obediently heeded his boss’ words but informed the family that he would return to attend the Secretary early the next morning. With that Donaldson departed the Seward home.

We all know what happened next. That night, at around 10:15 pm, Lewis Powell, one of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators, entered the Seward home intent on murdering Secretary Seward.

Fight in the Room - The Assassination and History of the Conspiracy

While Powell failed to enact a fatal blow to the Secretary he did manage to injure five of the home’s occupants. The Secretary and two of his sons were wounded, as was the army nurse who was attending him that evening, and one of Donaldson’s coworkers, lead State Department messenger Emerick Hansell. Donaldson quickly made his reappearance to the Seward home and witnessed the carnage. With so many others already occupying the rooms with the Secretary and his sons, Donaldson made his way to the room where Hansell had been placed. His friend and coworker was suffering a deep stab wound to the spine and was not expected to live.

Fanny Seward, the Secretary’s daughter, recounted in her diary Donaldson’s reaction to what he saw:

In the middle of the room sat Donaldson, his face buried in his hands—crying aloud, like a child. I touched his shoulder & said— “Donaldson, you were not hurt?”

“No Miss Fanny” he said— “I wasn’t here. If I had been here this wouldn’t have happened. If I had been here I’d have been a dead man. Oh, why wasn’t I here?”

Miraculously, none of the wounds inflected by Lewis Powell on April 14th proved to be fatal and all five of the injured persons would recover to various degrees. The Secretary’s recovery, however, was not a swift one. The damage caused by Powell’s blade exacerbated Seward’s broken jaw. A new type of splint had to be designed and installed to help heal the wounds. It would not be until October of 1865 that the various apparatuses were all removed from Seward’s mouth and jaw.

During this long period of convalescence, James Donaldson was extremely attentive to his boss. Perhaps Donaldson felt survivor’s guilt at being one of the few men who escaped injury on April 14th because he was lucky enough to have been absent from the house. Regardless of the reason, Donaldson was his boss’ constant companion during his recovery.

In August of 1865, the grateful friends of William Seward decided to reward James Donaldson for his continued helpfulness to the wounded Secretary by presenting him with a gift:

gift-to-james-donaldson-1865

It was for his unceasing devotion to his boss that Donaldson was gifted $1,000 from grateful citizens. Such gifts of appreciation would continue for others who were affected by the attempt on Seward’s life. In 1871, Private George Robinson, the army nurse who was stabbed while attempting the protect the Secretary, was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal and $5,000 for his bravery. In 1876, Donaldson’s coworker, messenger Emerick Hansell, was given $2,000 for the pain and suffering he received the night Lewis Powell dropped in.

In addition to the funds, Donaldson also found that he had been commissioned as a Justice of the Peace by President Andrew Johnson himself. It does not appear that Donaldson immediately took up this role of Justice of the Peace but, instead, continued in his capacity as an assistant messenger to Secretary Seward and the State Department.

Donaldson continued under the employ of Seward throughout Andrew Johnson’s presidency, and likely could have remained at his position even after Seward’s term as Secretary of State ended. Seward was, after all, the fourth Secretary of State Donaldson had worked under. However, Donaldson had bonded so much with Seward that he likely did not want to serve anyone else after him. James Donaldson resigned as a state department messenger on March 4, 1869. Frederick Seward later wrote:

“Seward’s messenger and attendant, Donaldson, resigned his place in the department on the same day as his chief. In reply to his affectionate farewell letter, Seward wrote that he had reserved for his last official act, a recognition of his long and faithful service.”

After leaving the employment of the State Department, James Donaldson took up the job that he had been granted in 1865 and became a Justice of the Peace. He also found himself employment as a crier of the court.

james-donaldson-as-justice-1872

Donaldson’s friendship with Seward continued despite Seward having moved back to his home in Auburn. In 1871, the D.C. newspapers carried a story about Donaldson having recently traveled to visit with his old boss, who himself had just returned from a grand journey across Asia and Europe.

james-donaldson-meets-back-with-seward-1871

Though there is no record of it, it seems very likely that James Donaldson would have attended the funeral of William Seward when the statesman died on October 10, 1872. At the very least, Donaldson must have recalled his former boss and the bond the two had forged after that dark night in April, 1865

James Donaldson would outlive William Seward by fourteen years, dying on December 3, 1886.

death-of-james-donaldson

There’s no question that James Donaldson is one of the little people when it comes to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. His connection to the event can be summarized as “he was lucky enough not to be present at the Seward house on the night Lewis Powell attacked and he afterwards cared for Seward during the Secretary’s recovery.” However, despite his small role in the drama of 1865, James Donaldson’s actions demonstrate a great deal of humanity. Like the nation, he wept at the blood that had been shed. He pined to know why such a tragedy had occurred and why he had been spared. Then, after the initial shock and sadness abated, Donaldson picked himself up and worked hard to help another. If nothing else, James Donaldson represents the plethora of decent men and women who tried to make things better after one of the greatest tragedies in our nation.

References:
Ancestry.com
Trent Falls photographs – Library of Congress
Newspaper extracts – GenealogyBank.com
Fanny Seward’s diary from the University of Rochester
Seward at Washington as Senator and Secretary of State (1861 – 1872) by Frederick W. Seward

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

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