Posts Tagged With: Lewis Powell

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you all enjoy the speech.

Dave

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

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

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.

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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

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

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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 1860, 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: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Picture This: A New Image of Michael O’Laughlen

At around 9:00 p.m. on April 17, 1865, a young, mustachioed man in handcuffs was brought to Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard and placed aboard a ship named the U.S.S. Saugus. The Saugus was lying at anchor in the middle of the water in preparation for its role of becoming an island fortress to hold those arrested as conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination. This 24 year old man, whose presence on board christened the Saugus as a prison ship, was named Michael O’Laughlen.

O'Laughlen from Harper's Weekly

O’Laughlen was a long time friend of John Wilkes Booth. The two grew up as boys together on Exeter St. in Baltimore, where the Booth’s lived across the street from the O’Laughlen family. Though Booth had a more personal relationship with Samuel Williams O’Laughlen, Michael’s older brother, Booth still had fond memories of Michael. As both Booth and O’Laughlen grew up, their lives went in different directions. Booth became a noted Shakespearean star, following in the footsteps of his father and brothers, while O’Laughlen ended up joining a Maryland regiment which fought on the side of the Confederacy. Much of O’Laughlen’s time in the Confederacy was plagued with illness and by 1862 he was back home in Maryland assisting his brother in the hay and feed business.

In the fall of 1864, Booth reconnected with his old friend and the charismatic actor easily convinced O’Laughlen to join his plot to abduct President Lincoln for the benefit of the Confederacy. Delays and inaction continued for several months and O’Laughlen eventually lost interest in the plot and returned to work with his brother. On April 13, 1865, O’Laughlen traveled from Baltimore down to D.C. in order to take in the Grand Illumination celebration with friends. He allegedly made a couple of attempts to meet with Booth on this date, but failed to connect with the actor. When the assassination occurred on April 14th, O’Laughlen was terrified due to his intimate connection with the assassin. O’Laughlen returned to Baltimore but, after a few days, realized that his arrest would be unavoidable and imminent. O’Laughlen was the only conspirator to have turned himself in, arranging his surrender at the home of his sister.

And so it was that Michael O’Laughlen was the first of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators to be placed aboard the Saugus, confined for his own protection away from mob violence that might do him harm but also in a condition that would prevent him from communicating with anyone. As other conspirators were arrested, they would be place aboard the Saugus as well, until the ship no longer had enough space to adequately isolate them all and the U.S.S. Montauk was brought alongside for additional space. O’Laughlen was kept aboard the Saugus during this time, confined to the ship’s head.

O’Laughlen was on the Saugus from April 17th until April 29th when all the accused aboard the ironclads were transferred to the Arsenal Penitentiary. The research of authors Barry Cauchon and John Elliott has shown pretty conclusively that during this period of confinement, photographer Alexander Gardner made four visits to the ships to photograph the conspirators. O’Laughlen’s mugshots were taken with the bulk of the other conspirators’ images on April 25th. The following are the two images previously known of Michael O’Laughlen:

Michael O'Laughlen Mug Shot Front

Michael O'Laughlen Mug Shot Profile

Until now, these two images were the only images we have ever found of Michael O’Laughlen. Mugshots such as these were used by artists to create engravings for the illustrated newspapers of the day. However as a low interest conspirator and one who was not involved in the actual assassination plot, few took the time to make an engraving of the mild mannered O’Laughlen. The public was far more interested in getting a look at Lewis Powell, the scoundrel who viciously attacked the Secretary of State, so far more impressive engravings were made of him.  One of the lesser known illustrated newspapers, the Washington Weekly Chronicle, contained engravings of most of the conspirators when they published their July 15, 1865 issue:

Washington Weekly Chronicle 7-15-1865

Though Lewis Powell took center stage, the Chronicle also provided this engraving of Michael O’Laughlen:

O'Laughlen Washington Weekly Chronicle

A detailed look will demonstrate that this particular engraving does not actually match either one of the two known mugshot photos of Michael O’Laughlen. It is somewhat similar to the hat-less photo of O’Laughlen, but this engraving shows more of his face than the original source image.

The easiest conclusion to draw is that the engraver added a little bit of their own artistic license when creating the drawing of Michael O’Laughlen. This is not unheard of. As a matter of fact, the large image of Lewis Powell in this edition does not match a known image of Lewis Powell. Despite the tagline that this engraving was based on a photograph taken especially for the Washington Weekly Chronicle, according to author Betty Ownsbey, this engraving of Lewis Powell appears to be a sort of composite between two images of Powell, instead.

Composite Powell Engraving Washington Weekly Chronicle

So it seemed reasonable that the engraving of Michael O’Laughlen in this issue was also not based on an actual photograph, but instead on an artist’s extrapolation of O’Laughlen’s mugshot photographs.

It turns out, however, that this engraving actually isn’t an extrapolation or artistic license. Today, while searching through the online digital collections of the Huntington Library in California, I decided to click on a thumbnail that I assumed was one of the two common mugshot photographs of Michael O’Laughlen.

O'Laughlen Thumbnail Huntington

Immediately I was struck with the suspicion that something was wrong. It was a strange feeling to have. Before me was obviously the hat-less mugshot photo of Michael O’Laughlen, and yet, at the same time, it wasn’t right. As a longtime researcher and reader on the Lincoln assassination I have become so accustomed to seeing the same images over and over again. My accustomed brain was saying, “Yep, this is the same picture of O’Laughlen you always see,” but, at the same time, I couldn’t shake the idea that something was different. Suddenly, I had to see Michael O’Laughlen’s mugshot photographs, I needed to silence the voice saying something was wrong. I opened up my O’Laughlen Picture Gallery and stared at the mugshots. Then it hit me, this image was not the same as the traditional hat-less mugshot. I was surprised and ecstatic to see that this was the photograph that the Washington Weekly Chronicle engraving was based on. Here, at long last, was O’Laughlen’s missing mugshot photograph:

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot Huntington Library

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 2 Huntington Library

Unlike the original hat-less photo, O’Laughlen’s face is angled more towards the viewer in this image. The fact that O’Laughlen’s chin is slightly blurry here also hints that he was moving, possibly turning, when the photo was taken.

While Michael O’Laughlen escaped formal execution at the conclusion the trial of the conspirators, his ultimate fate would be equal to it. While serving his life sentence at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, O’Laughlen was one of the many souls who contracted Yellow Fever in the fall of 1867. Despite the attentive care provided to him by his fellow prisoners, Dr. Mudd, Edman Spangler, and Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen perished from Yellow Fever on September 23, 1867. Dr. Mudd lamented that O’Laughlen had become a dear friend to him and that he would miss his, “warm friendly disposition” and, “fine comprehensive intellect.”

This newly discovered mugshot of conspirator Michael O’Laughlen gives us another, much needed angle on a man whose life was tragically cut short due to his involvement in John Wilkes Booth’s plot against Lincoln. It gives us an additional chance to look into the eyes of a young man who has realized that he allowed a charismatic friend to lead him down the path of his own destruction.

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 3 Huntington Library

This image should also remind us that there are still new discoveries to be made. The book of the Lincoln assassination will never be completely written, and, as demonstrated here, it will never be completely illustrated either.

References:
The Huntington Library Digital Collections
A Peek Inside the Walls: 13 Days Aboard the Monitors by John Elliott and Barry Cauchon
Betty Ownsbey
The Assassin’s Doctor by Robert K. Summers
LOC

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , | 28 Comments

What’s Missing? Episode 2

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

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

What’s Missing A:

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What’s Missing B:

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What’s Missing C:

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What’s Missing D:

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What’s Missing E:

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What’s Missing F:

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What’s Missing G:

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What’s Missing H:

What's Missing H

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What’s Missing I:

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What’s Missing J:

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What’s Missing K:

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Categories: Levity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Emerick Hansell: The Forgotten Casualty

The following article was my very first foray into researching and writing about the Lincoln assassination story. It was originally published in the November 2010 issue of the Surratt Courier.


Emerick Hansell: The Forgotten Casualty

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

By Dave Taylor

“I’m mad, I’m mad,” were the alleged words of the assassin Powell as he fled from the bloodied scene behind him.  Assigned by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward at his home, Lewis Powell encountered a small resistant force that hindered the battle trained Confederate from completing his task.  In his wake, Powell left a menagerie of wounds and wounded:

  • Secretary Seward’s face was slashed, opened, and forever scarred by Powell’s blade.
  • Frederick Seward, who was spared a bullet when Powell’s gun misfired, received, instead, a skull splitting slam from the butt of the insolent weapon.
  • Private George Robinson, the newly assigned male nurse to the Secretary, endured stabs and blows while wrestling with the assailant.
  • Augustus Seward joined Private Robinson in defense of his father and withstood similar swipes from Powell’s fists and knife.
  • The last victim of that night, and the subject of this article, is an oft forgotten State Department messenger named Emerick Hansell.

Even in the most detailed of assassination texts, Hansell’s involvement that night is generally summed up with a variation of the following sentence: “As Powell, raced down the stairs of the Seward home, he met State Department messenger, Emerick Hansell, and stabbed him in the back.”  With that, Emerick Hansell usually enters and leaves the pages of documented history.  However, further research into Emerick Hansell’s past and future yields further connections to his actions on April 14th, 1865.

Emerick W. Hansell was born near Philadelphia in 1817.  In 1840, he married D.C. native Elizabeth Ann Robinson and moved into the Capital.  Together they had one son, George, and two daughters, Emma and Roberta.  They also had one child who died in childbirth.  This death would be the first of many sorrows in Hansell’s life.  Hansell’s occupation prior to his government work is unknown, but by 1855 he was employed by the State Department as an “acting” messenger.  For this position he was paid $700 a year.[1]  By 1858, Hansell was a full messenger and made $900 a year, a pay rate he sustained throughout his tenure.[2]  With the onset of the Civil War, the State Department inherited ever increasing duties.  Later, Frederick Seward reflected on the department employees during wartime and stated that Hansell was a man, “of proved efficiency and integrity.”[3]  Along with his government work, Hansell was a member of the International Order of Odd Fellows, a charitable fraternity.  The Hall of Odd Fellows in D.C., a common meeting place for the Order, is also the same venue in which John H. Surratt Jr. was scheduled to appear during his post-trial lecture circuit.[4]  Hansell was also an active member in St. Paul’s English Lutheran Church, attending and teaching adult Christian classes.  By 1865, Hansell was a respected and integral employee of the State Department, ferrying messages between the department headquarters and the Secretary of State.  On the night of April 14th, Hansell’s continued “efficiency and integrity” would be tested by Powell’s blade.

In the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, the coincidental stabbing of a messenger at Seward’s was unimportant and almost undocumented in the conspiracy trial.  While Mr. Hansell’s name is included with the other wounded parties in the charges against Lewis Powell, his involvement in the affair is limited to the testimony of only one witness: Dr. Tullio S. Verdi.

Dr Tullio Verdi

Dr Tullio Verdi

When the call for doctors rang out following the massacre, Dr. T. S. Verdi was the first to arrive at the Seward home in Lafayette Park.  As he recounted in an article a month later, “I found terror depicted on every countenance and blood everywhere.”[5]  As the initial doctor present, Verdi began triage duty.  He first saw to the Secretary.  After announcing that the facial wound was not fatal and applying ice to stop the bleeding, he was told of Frederick’s condition.  Dr. Verdi barely finished applying ice to Frederick’s hemorrhage when he was sent to tend to Augustus’ stabs.  Initially, Dr. Verdi was shocked as the number of wounded increased only to have this shock eclipsed by growing terror.  After seeing to Private Robinson’s wounds, he was called to see Emerick Hansell.

In the conspiracy trial transcript as compiled by T. B. Peterson & Brothers, Dr. Verdi’s account of Hansell’s wound is limited to a single sentence: “I found Mr. Hansell, a messenger of the State Department, lying on a bed, wounded by a cut in the side some two and a half inches deep.”[6]

Luckily, Benjamin Perley Poore’s transcript of the trial did not condense Dr. Verdi’s account:  “I found Mr. Hansell in the south east corner, on the same floor with Mr. Seward, lying on a bed.  He said he was wounded: I undressed him, and found a stab over the sixth rib, from the spine obliquely towards the right side.  I put my fingers into the wound to see whether it had penetrated the lungs.  I found that it had not; but I could put my fingers probably two and a half inches or three inches deep.  Apparently there was no internal bleeding.  The wound seemed to be an inch wide, so that the finger could be put in very easily and moved all around.”  Dr. Verdi was then asked if the stab had the appearance of being just made to which he responded, “Yes, sir: it was bleeding then, very fresh to all appearances.  Probably it was not fifteen or twenty minutes since the stab occurred.” [7]

While at the conspiracy trial Dr. Verdi asserted that the wound was not fatal, there must have been some uncertainty at the time.  When Secretary of War Edwin Stanton arrived at the Secretary of State’s home, he found Seward, Frederick and Hansell each “weltering in their own gore.”[8]  Later, as Stanton was attending to President Lincoln’s deathwatch, he sent a dispatch to Major-General Dix stating, among other things, that, “The attendant who was present [at Seward’s] was stabbed through the lungs, and is not expected to live.”[9]  Contrary to Stanton’s dispatch, Hansell’s wound, like all those inflicted by Powell that night, proved to be non-fatal.

Dr. Verdi’s brief testimony contains the only official mentioning of Emerick Hansell in the conspiracy trial.  While beneficial, it does little to explain Hansell’s presence and whether he had just arrived or was departing the scene when he was stabbed.  Hansell, unlike Augustus Seward, Private Robinson, and doorman William Bell, was never called to testify about his experiences.  Oddly enough, these men did not mention Hansell in their testimonies at all.  This is surprising since it seems that someone had to have helped Hansell up the stairs and into the third floor bedroom where he was found by Dr. Verdi.  These omissions led one author in the 1960’s to propose that Augustus Seward perjured himself on the stand and that it was actually Hansell who helped Robinson eject the assassin from the Secretary’s room[10].  However, further research disproves this theory.

During the trial for John H. Surratt Jr. in 1867, the prosecution recalled many of the same witnesses from the initial conspiracy trial.  William Bell, Augustus Seward, and Private Robinson returned to give their accounts.  The prosecution also brought in new witnesses: Frederick Seward and his wife Anna.  Dr. Verdi was not recalled and Emerick Hansell was still absent.  Nevertheless, in this trial, it is Private Robinson who recounts Mr. Hansell’s actions that night, “On [Powell’s] way down, on the first flight, he overtook Mr. Hansell, a messenger at the State department, who had been roused by the noise that had been made, and had apparently turned to go down stairs for help.  He came within reach of him and struck him in the back.”  Robinson was then asked if Hansell said anything to which he responded, “He started to say ‘O!’ I presume, but he did not say it exactly.  He hallooed out pretty loud.  He did not utter any particular word that I heard.” [11]

Pvt. George Foster Robinson

Pvt. George Foster Robinson

Robinson’s 1867 testimony is supported in a May of 1865 letter from Secretary Seward’s wife, Frances.  In this letter she wrote, “While [Augustus] was stepping into his room for a pistol, the man made his escape down the stairs, on his way wounding Mr. Hansell, a messenger from the department, who came out of a lower room and was going to the street door to give the alarm.”[12]

From the above witnesses, we can conclude that Hansell had taken up residence in the Seward home the night of the 14th and was awakened by the commotion upstairs.  As he left his room to either flee or raise the alarm, Powell overtook him and stabbed him callously in the back.  It was a long and deep cut that barely missed penetrating his lungs.  Then, someone in or around the Seward house helped the wounded Hansell up the stairs and into a third floor bedroom.

The bedroom he was placed in was Fanny Seward’s, the Secretary’s treasured daughter.  In her diary Fanny wrote, “I went across the hall into my own room.  I was there twice.  The first time they were dressing poor Hansell’s back (he was stabbed in the back) the second time he lay on the bed.  Eliza the seamstress was there to attend to him.”[13]

Lastly, Dr. Verdi, in an article published in May of 1865, gave the same basic story as the others with a slight change in where Hansell was sleeping and with an assumption about Emerick Hansell’s character.  All emphases are Dr. Verdi’s: “Mr. Ansel (sic), the fifth person who was wounded, is a messenger in the State Department, and was sleeping that night over the Secretary’s room, waiting for his turn of watching.  Hearing the fearful screams of Miss Fanny, he (a very weak-kneed gentleman) was making his way out of the house as fast as possible, when, after having descended a flight of stairs, he met the murderer, also on the landing.  Mr. Ansel, however, endeavored to run faster; but the assassin, fearing he might give the alarm, gave him a memento of his brutality by plunging the dagger in his back.”[14]

Dr. Verdi’s description of Hansell as a “weak-kneed” gentleman may explain why Hansell was never called to testify and is barely mentioned in the trial testimonies.  In contrast to the brave Private Robinson who fought off the assassin, Hansell was running away when he was stabbed.  His assumed cowardice made it so very little was said about his role that night.  When the media did report on him and his recovery, the matter in which he received his wound was generally left out, as this excerpt from the April 18th New York Times will show: “Mr. Hansell, the Messenger of the State Department who was stabbed in the back at the same time, is a great sufferer, but believed to be out of danger.”[15]

Emerick Hansell would be in pain for the rest of his life.  Following some time to convalesce, Hansell managed to return to his duties as a messenger and faithfully continued to carry them out.  Records show that he was still a messenger of the State Department in 1869.[16]  In 1870, however, tragedy stuck Emerick Hansell again.  On October 8th, 1870, Emerick Hansell’s wife of thirty years, Elizabeth, died of tuberculosis.[17]  The loss of his wife, along with the ever growing pain from his wound caused Emerick to retire from the State Department at the age of 56.

Nothing is known about Emerick Hansell’s life for the next three years following his wife’s death.  Some time during that period however, he must have been introduced to Mary E. Cross, a widow.  Though twenty years his younger, the two courted and on June 4th, 1873, Emerick and Mary were married.  Also during this period, a congressional action honoring Private Robinson for his bravery occurred.  In 1871, for saving the life of Secretary Seward, Private Robinson was presented a Congressional Gold Medal and awarded the sum of $5,000.

The congressional medal awarded to Pvt. George Foster Robinson for protecting Secretary William Seward.

The Congressional medal awarded to Pvt. George Foster Robinson for protecting Secretary William Seward.

By 1874, Hansell had been in constant pain for almost ten years.  He elicited the help of Dr. Verdi and his own physician, Dr. Sonnenschmidt, to write letters on his behalf explaining the nature of his wound and its impact on his physical being.  Dr. Verdi wrote back confirming that, “The wound is at present in such a condition as will preclude ever after his engaging in any active work for any length of time.”[18]  Hansell’s reasoning for such confirmations of his condition?  He was appealing the Congress to grant him a federal pension for his sustained wounds.

By 1876, the House of Representatives Committee of Claims had reviewed Hansell’s petition for a pension.  Previous to this petition, federal pensions were limited to those who served the government in times of war in the Army or Navy.  Except for the recent federal judiciary pension list, no civilians were granted pensions.  Nevertheless, the Committee of Claims granted Mr. Hansell’s request.  They justified their decision thusly:

“Mr. Hansell is now advanced in years, infirm, and disabled, as stated. In the opinion of the committee he is entitled to the just and generous consideration of the Government, and the most appropriate form of relief is that adopted toward those who have honorably served the country in the common defense and been disabled in its service. They therefore recommend that the name of the petitioner be placed upon the pension roll at the rate of $8 per month, to date from the 14th day of April, 1865, and submit a bill to that effect, with the recommendation that it pass.”[19]

While Hansell did not serve in the Army or Navy, the committee construed his actions on the 14th as being in defense of Secretary Seward, and therefore in defense of the country.  His petition was transformed into “A bill (H. R. 3184) granting a pension to Emerick W. Hansell”.  Upon reaching the House of Representatives, the bill was passed, and he was put on the pension roll.

Emerick Hansell's signature

Emerick Hansell’s signature

Then the bill was looked at by the Senate’s Committee on Pensions who were concerned about the precedent this bill would set.  They challenged the House’s Committee of Claim’s justification for giving the civilian Hansell a pension.  However, they did not disagree with granting him some money for his pain and suffering.  The Senate, therefore, proposed, in lieu of a pension, the following amendment:

“That the Secretary of the Treasury be, and hereby is, authorized and directed to pay to Emerick W. Hansell, of the city of Washington, in the District of Columbia, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, the sum of $2,000, on account of injuries received by said Hansell while in attendance upon the late William H. Seward, former Secretary of State, on the occasion of the attempted assassination of said Seward”[20]

This amendment was approved.  A small debate then occurred when Senator Henry Anthony of Rhode Island proposed an amendment that would increase the amount from $2,000 to $5,000.  Senator Anthony supported his amendment thusly:

“I should like very much to have the amount in the bill increased to $5,000. I think it is a great shame that this Government did not pay the expenses of the sickness, slow recovery, and surgical treatment of the illustrious Secretary of State and all others who were injured in that attempt at assassination which sent a thrill of horror throughout every part of the country, the South as well as the North. I should very much like, if it will not interfere with the bill and if my friend from Iowa will accept it, to amend it so as to give him $5,000, which I think is a very small compensation for the injuries which this faithful man suffered and which have disabled him for the whole of his future life.”

Many of the Senators asked for more information about Hansell, his injury, and his age.  Unfortunately, their only source of information was the report from the Committee of Claims based on Hansell’s petition which, assumedly, was less than specific.  One Senator, John Ingalls of Kansas, expressed his disagreement to the proposed increase fairly eloquently:

“I am aware that it is a very ungracious thing and a very difficult thing to attempt to argue against a sentiment, to resist an appeal that is made upon the ground of sympathy.  So far as Mr. Hansell is concerned, of course no Senator here desires to say that he shall not be remunerated; but it seems to me that we ought not to give any more than he has asked; inasmuch as he himself has asked for but $8 a month, I can conceive that no good will be obtained by doubling the sum…”[21]

In the end, Senator Anthony withdrew his amendment.  The new bill, granting Hansell $2,000 was renamed “A bill (H.R. 3184) for the relief of Emerick Hansell” and passed the Senate.  It was then sent back to the House for concurrence, where Representative William Holman of Indiana recited his approval of the amendment thusly:

“I want to say a single word. I do not object to this, but I think the amendments made by the Senate are very wise and prudent amendments. Although this is an entire gratuity, it is one of those gratuities, perhaps, which are proper for the Government to give…”[22]

The House concurred with the amendments of the bill and it was signed by the Presidents pro tempore of both the House and Senate.  President Ulysses S. Grant approved and signed the finished act on August 15th, 1876.  Emerick Hansell was given $2,000 for the wound he received on the night of April 14th, 1865.

While many of the Senators spoke of Emerick Hansell’s advanced age, he was only 59 when his petition was granted.  Though indeed infirmed, Emerick Hansell would live for seventeen more years after receiving his relief money.  His actions during this time are unknown except that he continued to be active in both the International Order of Odd Fellows and in St. Paul’s English Lutheran Church.

At six o’clock in the morning on February 14th, 1893, Emerick Hansell died at the age of 75.[23]  His death certificate lists “loco-motor ataxia” as his cause of death.  In addition, he had experienced partial paralysis for several years as a result of his wound.  In his will, Emerick left one dollar to each of his children and fifty dollars to St. Paul’s English Lutheran Church.  The rest of his estate was left to his wife, Mary.[24]  His funeral was enacted under the charge of the Odd Fellows.

Emerick Hansell’s final resting place is in D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery.  There, he is buried next to his first wife, Elizabeth, who preceded him in death twenty-three years earlier.  His gravestone bears the following epitaph:

HansellGrave

“Emerick W. Hansell

1817-1893

Wounded with Hon. Wm. H. Seward, Sec. of State

By the Assassin Payne, April 14, 1865.

Erected by his Grandson Marvin Emerick Eldridge”

While Emerick Hansell’s actions on April 14th, 1865 could be debated as either cowardly or valiant, the wound he sustained; the one that infirmed him for the remainder of his life, should be looked upon with sympathy.  His wound personified the savagery of the assassin Powell who deviated from his sole target of Secretary Seward, to attack and maim four others.  For twenty-eight years after his death, Emerick Hansell continued to feel Lewis Powell’s brutality in every breath and movement of his body.  When the assassination slowly faded from public memory, people like Secretary Seward, Frederick Seward, Augustus Seward, Private Robinson and Emerick Hansell bore the scar it forever.  It is due to this suffering and this constant reminder of our dark history, that Emerick Hansell was granted $2,000 from a repentant and forgetful government.

Sources:

[1] U.S. Department of State. (1855). Register of officers and agents, civil, military, and naval, in the service of the United States, on the thirtieth September, 1855. Washington City, DC: A. O. P. Nicholson. (pg. 2).

[2] U.S. House of Representatives. (1858). Reports of committees of the House of Representatives, made during the first session of the thirty-fifth Congress. Washington City, DC: James B. Steedman. (pg. 22).

[3] Seward, F. W. (1891). Seward at Washington as Senator and Secretary of State. (Vol. 1). New York, NY: Derby and Miller. (pg. 633).

[4] Swanson, J. L. (2006). Manhunt: The twelve day chase for Lincoln’s killer. New York, NY: HarperCollins. (pg. 376).

[5] Verdi, T. S. (1865). Interesting correspondence – full particulars of the attempted assassination of the Hon. Secretary Seward, his family and attendants. The Western Homoeopathic Observer, 2(7), 81.

[6] Peterson, T. B. (Ed.), (1865). The trial of the assassins and conspirators at Washington City, D.C., May and June, 1865, for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln. Philadelphia, PA: T. B. Peterson & Brothers. (pg. 82).

[7] Poore, B. P. (Ed.), (1865). The conspiracy trial for the murder of the president, and the attempt to overthrow the government by the assassination of its principal officers. (Vol. 2). Boston, MA: J. E. Tilton and Company. (pgs. 100-101).

[8] Storey, M. (1930, April). Dickens, Stanton, Sumner, and Storey. The Atlantic Monthly, 145, 463-465.

[9] Kauffman, M. W. (2004). American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln conspiracies. New York, NY: Random House. (pg. 62).

[10] Shelton, V. (1965). Mask for treason: The Lincoln murder trial. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books. (pgs. 126-129).

[11] (1867) Trial of John H. Surratt in criminal court for the District of Columbia. (Vol. 1). Washington City, DC: Government Printing Office. (pg. 263).

[12] Seward, F. W. (1891). Seward at Washington as Senator and Secretary of State. (Vol. 2). New York, NY: Derby and Miller. (pg. 279).

[13] Johnson, P. C. (1963). Sensitivity and Civil War: The Selected Diaries and Papers, 1858-1866, of Frances Adeline (Fanny) Seward. Retrieved from http://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?page=1420&Print=436

[14] Verdi, Interesting, pg. 85.

[15] (1865, April 18). The assassination… The New York Times.  Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1865/04/18/news/assassination-condition-secretary-seward-improving-new-facts-about-murderers.html

[16] U.S. Department of State. (1869). Register of officers and agents, civil, military, and naval, in the service of the United States, on the thirtieth September, 1869. Washington City, DC: Government Printing Office. (pg. 2).

[17] (1870, October 9). Obituary – Hansell. The Philadelphia Ledger.  Retrieved from http://www.congressionalcemetery.org/hansell-elizabeth

[18] House of Representatives. (1876). Index to reports of committees of the House of Representatives for the first session of the forty-fourth Congress, 1875-’76. (Vol. 2). Washington City, DC: Government Printing Office. (pg. 141).

[19] Ibid, pg. 142.

[20] U.S. Congress. (1876). Congressional record containing the proceedings and debates of the forty-fourth Congress, first session; also special session of the Senate. (Vol. 4). Washington City, DC: Government Printing Office. (pgs. 5059, 5060, 5080, 5659, 5663, 5683, 5689, 5698).

[21] Ibid, pg. 5059.

[22] Ibid, pg. 5683.

[23] (1893, February 14). Death of Emerick Hansell. The Evening Star.  Retrieved from http://www.congressionalcemetery.org/sites/default/files/Obits_Hansell.pdf

*Note* This article, along with his death certificate, lists Hansell’s age as 74.  However, basic math shows that Hansell, born sometime in 1817, would have to have been at least 75 when he died in February of 1893.  If he was born in January or early February, he would have been 76 at the time of his death.

[24] Copies of Emerick Hansell’s last will and testament along with his death certificate were courteously provided by David Vancil of the Neff-Guttridge Collection at Indiana State University.  The collection also contains a possible photograph of Mr. Hansell, though its provenance is disputed.

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Julia Wilbur and the Saga of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

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


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

Source: Haverford College

Julia Ann Wilbur, Source: Haverford College

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

Reporting the News

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

April 15, 1865:

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

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

April 16, 1865:

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

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

April 17, 1865:

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

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

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

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

April 19, 1865:

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

April 20, 1865:

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

April 21, 1865:

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

April 26, 1865:

“Report that Booth is taken.”

Learning of Booth’s Death from an Eyewitness

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

Pvt. Emory Parady in his later years

Pvt. Emory Parady in his later years

April 27, 1865:

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

Collecting Relics

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

April 20, 1865:

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

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

April 21, 1865:

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

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

April 22, 1865:

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

May 2, 1865 (in Philadelphia):

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

Booth drawing CDV 1865

October 12, 1865:

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

October 18, 1865:

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

A Visit to Richmond

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

May 19, 1865:

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

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

Admission to the Conspiracy Trial

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

June 17, 1865:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilbur diary Courtroom layout 1

Wilbur diary courtroom layout 2

“This was the position of the court.

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

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

Reporting on the Execution

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

July 6, 1865:

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

July 7, 1865:

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

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

Facesofdeath

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

July 8, 1865:

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

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

Attending Henry Wirz’ Trial

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

November 11, 1865:

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

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

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

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

In the Interim

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

April 14, 1866:

“Anniversary of a sad day.

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

April 28, 1866:

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

April 15, 1867:

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

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

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

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

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

June 21, 1867:

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

The Escaped Conspirator

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

February 18, 1867:

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

June 19, 1867:

Surratt Trail Ticket

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

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

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

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

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

June 21, 1867:

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

June 27, 1867:

John Surratt Trial Drawing

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

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

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

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

Wilbur diary Surratt was a conspirator

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

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

August 10, 1867:

“Papers from Washington.

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

August 12, 1867:

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

August 16, 1867:

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

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

Epilogue

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

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

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