Posts Tagged With: Prison

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

Grave Thursday: Captain Christian Rath

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


Christian Rath

christian-rath-seated

Burial Location: Mount Evergreen Cemetery, Jackson, Michigan

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Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Hello cemetery patrons,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rath2

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

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

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

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

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

old-christian-rath

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

Until next time.

-Kate

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

Grave Thursday: 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

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Burial Location: Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, Pennsylvania

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hartranft-grave-4

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

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

When fighting broke out at Fort Sumter in April of 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: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Grave Thursday: Hartman Richter

Each week I am 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.


Ernest Hartman Richter

hartman-richter

Burial Location: Neelsville Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Germantown, Maryland

hartman-richters-grave-1-3-2015

Hartman Richter's grave

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Ernest Hartman Richter, often known as just Hartman Richter in assassination literature, was the first cousin of conspirator George Atzerodt. Richter’s mother’s maiden name was Christanna Maria Atzerodt, the sister of George’s father, Johann. Like his cousin, Hartman Richter was born in Germany. In 1844, the Atzerodts and Richters immigrated to the United States  where they settled in Montgomery County, Maryland. Johann Atzerodt and his brother-in-law Frederick Richter invested in a farm in what is now Germantown, Maryland, and the families lived there together for some time. After a few years, Atzerodt sold his interest in the farm to his brother-in-law and moved his family to Westmoreland County, Virginia.

After the assassination of Lincoln, conspirator George Atzerodt escaped Washington City and headed north towards this former family home, now owned by his uncle and cousin. Atzerodt arrived at the Richter farm on April 16th and was welcomed in with open arms. George stayed about the home for several days until the early hours of April 20th, when Union soldiers came knocking at the door. It was George’s cousin, Hartman Richter who answered the soldiers knock that morning. I’ll let Sgt. Gemmill, the lead officer who arrived at the Richter home, explain what happened next:

“I went to the house of a man named Richter, I think, and asked him if there was a man there named [Atwood]. I had two men with me at the time. I understood him to say that he was his cousin but [he] had left and gone to Frederick. One of my men understood the same, but the other did not. I then told him I would search the house. He then said there was a man in the house. He commenced telling me a yarn and I was suspicious of him. I then searched the house and went up to his room. There were three men in one bed, two of them young men by the name of Nichols living in the neighborhood, who did not explain how they came there; but as my orders were to arrest Atzerodt alone, I did not arrest them [Note: the two Nichols men were the brothers of Hartman Richter’s wife]. When the door opened the two of them awoke. He [Atzerodt] did not awake or at least pretended not to till I went up to the bed. I asked him his name. He gave me a name which I though was Atwood, but I heard it indistinctly as he spoke with a German accent and I was not certain about it.”‘

Despite Sgt. Gemmill having orders to only arrest Atzerodt, Richter’s attempt to hide his cousin’s presence in the home was very suspicious and led Gemmill to return to the Richter home. “I told his cousin to get ready, as I wanted him to go with me. He said he did not want to go; that he did not know what he was arrested for. Atzerodt never asked me a question in relation to the cause of his arrest, although he was in my custody several hours.”

Hartman Richter was taken down to Washington and imprisoned aboard the USS Saugus just like his cousin. Richter also has the distinction of having his mug shot photograph taken just like the main conspirators. From time to time you’ll find people who mistake Richter’s mug shot photographs for ones of Dr. Mudd. Dr. Mudd was never placed, or photographed, on the monitors.

Richter, like the conspirators, was transferred to the Old Arsenal Penitentiary where he would be imprisoned until May 13th. By that date it had been well determined that Richter had no knowledge of his cousin’s involvement in the plot against Lincoln. He was transferred to the more “minimum security” prison, the Old Capitol Prison, where some of the other “suspicious but not evidently guilty” persons were held. On May 30th, Richter was released from jail completely.

Ernest Hartman Richter far outlived the cousin he tried to protect, dying on February 21, 1920. He is buried in the Neelsville Presbyterian Church Cemetery, in Germantown, Maryland, not too far from the site of his former home. Check out the Maps page for more details. For more images of Hartman Richter and the other “non-conspirator” who had mug shot photographs taken, visit the Fake Conspirators Gallery.

GPS coordinates for Ernest Hartman Richter’s grave: 39.1958242, -77.2431242

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 15 Comments

Following Orders: The Arrest and Case of John McCall, Assassination Sympathizer

Recently, there was a comment posted by Gary Goodenow in the Grave Thursday entry for General Dodd relating a story about a possible relative of Gen. Dodd’s who participated in the execution of King Charles I of England, and was later executed himself for treason by the restored King Charles II. Gary mentions that the colonel in question attempted to use the defense that he was following the command of his superior when he participated the Charles I’s trial and death. This defense did not succeed for Col. Axtell. However, the idea of a “following orders” defense reminded me of another legal case related to the Lincoln assassination. It was a case brought forward by a man named John McCall who lived in Mendocino County, California.

Abraham Lincoln Bierstadt

Abraham Lincoln in September of 1861

Before getting to Mr. McCall, however, some background knowledge on a specific legal aspect of the Civil War is necessary. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus, which is Latin for “you may have the body”, is the right for an individual detained by an authority to appear before a court in order to contest the reasons for their continued detainment. In its simplest sense, habeas corpus prevents authorities from locking people away for indefinite periods of time without charge or trial. According to the U.S. Constitution the only time habeas corpus can be suspended is “when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” So, when Lincoln suspended the writ in 1861, it could be argued that he was in his legal right, due to the open rebellion of the Confederacy. However, the above quote about when one can suspend the writ is detailed in the Constitution under the section describing the powers of Congress, not the executive branch.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney

The debate over who had the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus loomed large in the early Civil War years. Lincoln’s actions were challenged by those who had been imprisoned for their southern sympathies and continually held. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney staunchly believed that the executive branch had no legal right to suspend the writ, while Lincoln argued that since the rebellion began when Congress was in recess he had the right to suspend the writ in their absence. Eventually, on March 3, 1863, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, which retroactively gave the President the authority to suspend habeas corpus for the duration of the rebellion and protected the President and his subordinates from any liability for their previous actions:

“SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That any order of the President, or under his authority, made at any time during the existence of the present rebellion, shall be a defence in all Courts to any action or prosecution, civil or criminal, pending or to be commenced, for any search, seizure, arrest, or imprisonment, made, done, or committed, or acts omitted to be done, under and by virtue of such order, or under color of any law of Congress; and such defence may be made by special plea, or under the general issue.”

Lincoln then paired this act with a proclamation of his own on September 15, 1863, declaring the classes of people who could be arrested and held under the suspension of habeas corpus:

“Whereas, in the judgment of the President, the public safety does require that the privilege of the said writ shall now be suspended throughout the United States in the cases where, by the authority of the President of the United States, military, naval, and civil officers of the United States, or any of them, hold persons under their command or in their custody, either as prisoners of war, spies, or aiders or abettors of the enemy, or officers, soldiers, or seamen enrolled or drafted or mustered or enlisted in or belonging to the land or naval forces of the United States, or as deserters therefrom, or otherwise amenable to military law or the rules and articles of war or the rules or regulations prescribed for the military or naval services by authority of the President of the United States. or for resisting a draft, or for any other offense against the military or naval service”

In short, Lincoln’s proclamation gave military officers the authority to hold without charge or trial those they believed were prisoners of war, spies, deserters, draft dodgers, and aiders or abettors, even if the belief could not be proven. The act of March of 1863, subsequently protected the officers from liability in enacting this authority.

Lincoln assassinated headline San Fran

When Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, the news spread around the country. In some of the western states and territories the reactions to Lincoln’s death were mixed, especially due to the unique blend of Northerners and Southerners who had moved there. It was not uncommon to find ardent Unionists and Confederates living in the same small area.

This was the case in an area of northern California called Potter Valley in Mendocino County. The valley was split in its sympathies with those with Southern sympathies settling in the upper part of the valley and those with Union sympathies in the lower part. The original school in Potter Valley had been built in the Southern leaning upper part and, during the Civil War, a second school was built in the Unionist lower part to ensure that the different students in the area received the appropriate political education.

When the news of Lincoln’s death arrived in Potter Valley there were those who mourned the fallen leader with intense grief, and those who greeted the news with great joy. One of those joyful men was an older resident of the valley named John McCall.

McCall was about 60 years old and originally from Tennessee. At least twice in April of 1865, McCall made statements while on the public road in Potter Valley about his satisfaction with Lincoln’s death. According to Unionist witnesses who later reported on him, McCall stated that, “Lincoln was shot, and that the damned old son of a bitch should have been shot long ago, and that some more of his kind would go the same way shortly.” A few days later, McCall followed up on this line of thinking and stated, “That he did not believe that General Lee had surrendered, and believed that General Lee was still carrying on the war; and that he did not believe for a long time after hearing of the president’s assassination that it was true; and said, I am only afraid that it is not so – if three or four more of the leaders of the abolition party were killed it would be a good thing, as it would be the downfall of that party.”

These words would be John McCall’s downfall. Others around the country were learning the danger of speaking positively about Lincoln’s death. The backlash against those who celebrated Lincoln’s death was intense. Mob justice was prevalent with some supporters of Lincoln’s death being swiftly lynched. Even those in isolated towns would band together to punish those gloating rebels.

Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell

Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell

On April 17, 1865, a general order was sent out by Union Major General Irvin McDowell who was the commander of the Department of the Pacific stationed in San Francisco. General Order 27 stated the following:

“It has come to the knowledge of the major-general commanding that there have been found within the department persons so utterly infamous as to exult over the assassination of the President. Such persons become virtually accessories after the fact, and will at once be arrested by any officer or provost-marshal or member of the police having knowledge of the case. Any paper so offending or expressing any sympathy in anyway whatever with the act will be at once seized and suppressed.”

With this order, Gen. McDowell was essentially authorizing the arrest of any person in his district who was demonstrating joy in Lincoln’s death.  Whether he knew of this order or not, John McCall made himself susceptible to its consequences with his words on April 20th and April 29th. On June 1, 1865, John McCall saw Union troops riding up to his farm and found himself under arrest. The arresting officer was Captain Charles D. Douglas who was the commander of Fort Wright, located almost 60 miles north of Potter Valley.

McCall was not the only seditious citizen arrested that day. Captain Douglas also arrested men by the names of Andrew J. LaFever, Simon Wurtenberg and Thaddeus Dashiell, all of whom had spoken positively of Lincoln’s death with Dashiell having given a celebratory Rebel Yell at the news. Also arrested was the teacher of the Confederate leaning upper school, a Miss Harriet Buster, who allegedly stomped on the American flag after hearing of Lee’s surrender to Grant. Miss Buster was released shortly after her arrest and the men were marched three miles to an adobe hut where they spent the night under confinement.

Thaddeus Dashiell and Andrew LaFever, two of John McCall's fellow prisoners, in their later years.

Thaddeus Dashiell and Andrew LaFever, two of John McCall’s fellow prisoners, in their later years.

The next day the soldiers and their prisoners made the trek of almost 60 miles north to Fort Wright. There were not enough animals for all of the men to ride and so John McCall and the other prisoners had to walk for most of the way. They passed through the mountains which were high and cold, and had to endure a hail storm as they went. They finally arrived at Fort Wright at between 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock at night. At Fort Wright the men met another prisoner, named James Patrick, in identical circumstances. They slept that night, cold and wet, on the floor of the guard house. The gang stayed at Fort Wright for three days, during which time one of the men, Andrew LaFever took the oath of allegiance and was released. Whether the oath was offered to the others is unknown.

From Fort Wright the prisoners were taken by mule to Fort Bragg, a coastal town some 75 miles away. Traveling over mountains meant it took two days to make the trip, but by the evening of June 7th, they arrived in Fort Bragg. McCall would later describe each leg of the journey as being “pulled, dragged and hauled” across the roughest of terrain.

The men were placed on a lumber schooner called the Albion at nearby Noyo Harbor but, due to rough waters, the schooner failed to depart as planned on June 9th. The next day it successfully began its sail to San Francisco. Fellow prisoner Thad Dashiell described the trip: “The schooner barreled down the coast, one time out of sight of land, most of the time in sight of the coast.” Upon arriving in San Francisco on June 11th, Dashiell and the other prisoners were surprised to find that, for the first time, their guards held their revolvers on them with “pistols cocked, fingers on the trigger.”

McCall, Dashiell, Wurtenberg, and Patrick were marched at gunpoint through the streets of San Francisco to the provost marshal’s office. They were placed in a 10 x 12 ft guardhouse which was “a very filthy place,” Dashiell recalled. The men were handcuffed for the first time and spent two days in the provost marshal’s guardhouse. Captain Douglas, who had escorted the prisoners the entire distance, relinquished his custody of the men to the provost marshal and would make his was back to Fort Wright.

Alcatraz Island circa 1869

Alcatraz Island circa 1869

On June 13th, the four men were put in a small boat and transferred to Fort Alcatraz. At Alcatraz they were given hard labor. According to Dashiell, they were, “put to work breaking rocks into small pieces” alongside military prisoners and endured many hardships. McCall would later state that, “My arm was rubbed raw in one place. I asked for a change of irons. They would not get me any.”

The disloyal men from Mendocino County spent six days doing hard labor at Alcatraz. They managed to acquire the services of a lawyer and, despite the suspension of habeas corpus that could have kept them there indefinitely, the lawyer managed to persuade the provost marshal to release them. They were removed from Alcatraz and had to spend one final night at the provost marshal’s guardhouse with drunken soldiers before they were allowed to take the oath of allegiance. Upon taking the oath, John McCall, Thad Dashiell, Simon Wurtenberg, and James Patrick were released and began the long journey back to their homes in Potter Valley about 140 miles away.

One would think that the story would end there and that the disloyal secessionists got what they deserved for celebrating at a time of national tragedy. But John McCall was very angry about the treatment he had endured and did not believe that his arrest was justified. By October of 1865, John McCall announced that he was bringing a suit against Captain Douglas and General McDowell seeking damages of $100,000.

Alcatraz suit 10-12-1865

The announcement of the case received wide press with some newspapers announcing that, rather than suing, McCall should, “consider himself very fortunate that he escaped a justly deserved hanging.”

Immediately though, John McCall’s case against Gen. McDowell and Cap. Douglas hit a snag. According to Section 5 of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act passed by Congress in March of 1863, any suit brought against authorities in regards to habeas corpus was to be taken up by the Circuit Court and not by the state courts. McCall, likely hoping to receive a jury trial which would be more sympathetic to his cause, petitioned heavily that his case not be taken to the Circuit Court level where only a judge would decide his case. McCall’s lawyer challenged Congress’ authority to circumvent the lower state courts. On September 17, 1866, McCall’s motion to keep the trial at the state level with a jury was denied.

While McCall was waiting to hear about his motion to keep his case at the state level, an act was passed by Congress to further clarify the legal protections granted to authorities during the suspension of habeas corpus. The act, passed on May 11, 1866, granted protection to those who had carried out an order, “written or verbal, general or special, issued by the President or Secretary of War, or by any military officer of the United States holding command of the department, district, or place within which such acts . . . were done or omitted to be done.” This act, meant to help and clarify the defense of military officers, would actually cause trouble for one of the defendants in McCall’s case.

In March of 1867, all of the evidence and testimony for the case was taken. Captain Douglas testified about his role in arresting and transporting McCall stating that no deliberate malice was done to the prisoners while he was in charge of them. General McDowell also testified, acknowledging that he gave the order to arrest those celebrating Lincoln’s demise. “I issued this order,” McDowell said, “and I think it quieted the country. And there would have been bloodshed. I think this order saved the lives if not the property of prominent citizens of the city.” Thaddeus Dashiell testified on John McCall’s behalf about the circumstances surrounding their arrest and imprisonment.

Judge Matthew Deady

Judge Matthew Deady

On Friday, April 5, 1867, the case McCall v McDowell et al was argued before Judge Matthew Deady of the U.S. Circuit Court in San Francisco. McCall’s attorney, Henry Irving, made the case that his client’s utterances were not enough evidence to suspect him of being an “aider and abettor” of the Confederacy and thus he did not fall under President Lincoln’s September of 1863 proclamation as a class of citizen eligible for arrest without the benefit of habeas corpus. Irving also argued that Gen. McDowell had not been authorized by the President or Secretary of War to issue the order to arrest assassination sympathizers, a condition seemingly necessary in order to protect him from legal action according the act of May 11, 1866. At the end of the day, Judge Deady announced that a decision would come at the end of the month because the, “points involved were of paramount importance.”

On April 26, 1867, Judge Deady announced his decision on McCall’s case. Judge Deady threw out McCall’s case against Captain Douglas due to the March 3, 1863 Congressional Act and act of May 11, 1866 which protected subordinates following the orders of their superiors. It was not proven that Douglas had acted with malice towards his prisoners and thus he was completely free from any liability. The acts from Congress protected Captain Douglas for having “only followed orders”.

Gen McDowell Fined

Surprisingly, however, Deady found that General McDowell was liable for the false imprisonment of John McCall. He agreed with McCall’s attorney that the act of May 11, 1866 did not protect McDowell from liability since McDowell was not given any orders by either the President or the Secretary of War to issue the arrest of assassination sympathizers in his district. So while Captain Douglas was protected for following the order, Gen. McDowell was not protected for issuing it.

Deady did acknowledge that McDowell was acting for the safety of the public when issuing the order and not out of malice, but contended that he was still subject to legal action due to that order. Deady reassessed the possible damages owed to McCall and decided that he deserved compensation for the money he spent during his time of confinement and an additional $500 for his pain and suffering. In the end, it was the judgement of the court that General Irvin McDowell was to pay $635 to the plaintiff, John McCall.

The judgement rocked California. No one had expected John McCall to win his suit against the military authorities who had once imprisoned him. Newspapers reported the names of other former imprisoned rebels who were preparing their own suits against General McDowell and commanders in other districts. Editorial letters denouncing Deady’s decision and poking holes in his logic filled the news. To military leaders out west, the decision of McCall v McDowell was a terrifying one.

More suits against McDowell to come

Though not the $100,000 he wanted, John McCall was no doubt happy about his success against the military might of the abolition party. This last rebel victory, however, would be extremely short lived. For even as Judge Deady was deciding in John McCall’s favor in the west, back east an act had already passed Congress which would overrule it.

On March 2, 1867, Congress passed an act establishing the validity and conclusivity of all acts and proclamations of the President regarding martial law and the suspension of habeas corpus from March of 1861 to July of 1866. In addition, the act specifically fills in the gap of protection that Judge Deady observed, by declaring that, “all officers and other persons in the service of the United States, or who acted in aid thereof, acting in the premises shall be held prima facie to have been authorized by the President”. In other words, this act maintained General McDowell’s authority to issue orders as he saw fit and that all such orders had the implied approval of the President.

The awareness of this act of Congress did not reach California until early May. When the news did arrive, it was immediately picked up by the newspapers. It was reported that, “under this law, which has only been received within a day, Judge Deady himself would have decided for the defendant.”

In the end, General McDowell’s attorneys appealed Deady’s ruling based on this newly passed act of Congress, and the decision was overruled. John McCall never received a cent from General McDowell and any planned suits against him by other formerly imprisoned rebels were ended.

Unfortunately, John McCall sort of drifted back into obscurity after that. I have been unable to find any record of his later life and death. General Irvin McDowell died in 1885 and is buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery. His subordinate, Captain Charles Douglas, died in 1913 and is buried in Monterey, California. McCall’s neighbor and fellow prisoner, Thaddeus Dashiell, is buried right back in Potter Valley where it all started. Dashiell was elected twice as a county supervisor for Mendocino County and in his later years started to vote Republican. Asked by his friends why he would begin voting for the party of Lincoln, the elder Dashiell would say that he had, “packed sand at Alcatraz for the privilege of expressing any political opinion,” he wanted.

Abraham Lincoln Thinking

Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus continues to be one of the most debated parts of his legacy. Though he had reason for suspending one of the most important personal liberties, it was not an easy decision to make. In addition to stripping away a crucial right of every citizen, suspending habeas corpus also removed one of our national protections against the creation of a despotism. That is why our Constitution only allows for its suspension during times of rebellion and invasion. Even in those cases, however, stripping personal freedoms can be a slippery slope. The not so distant past of the world demonstrates the damage that can occur when those in authority are allowed to imprison individuals without charge or trial. While Captain Douglas may have not have committed a crime when he arrested John McCall, we all know the tragedies of history that can occur in countries where personal liberties are suspended by those “only following orders”.

References:
McCall v. McDowell et al – Judge Deady’s full decision on the case is a fascinating read
The Privilege of Expressing My Opinion: Regionalism and Free Speech in Civil War California by Ronald Cannon
An ‘Un-Lincoln’ story for Abe’s birthday weekend by Gaye LeBaron
An Act relating to Habeas Corpus, and regulating Judicial Proceedings in Certain Cases, March 3, 1863
Proclamation 104 – Suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus Throughout the United States, September 15, 1863
The Act of May 11, 1866
The Act of March 2, 1867
NPS – Alcatraz Island
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Heritage Auctions
GenealogyBank.com
FindaGrave.com
Thank you, Gary, for inspiring this post with your comment

Categories: History | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Grave Thursday: General Levi Dodd

In an effort to get back to posting on a more regular schedule, I’ve decided to attempt a weekly post entitled, Grave Thursday. Each week I will highlight the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. They won’t be lengthy posts, but they will be something to look forward to between my increasingly irregular research intensive pieces.


Bvt. Brig. Gen. Levi Axtell Dodd

Gen Levi Dodd

Burial Location: Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

Levi Dodd's Grave Green Mount

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

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

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

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

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

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Beware the People Whistling

Hello fellow researchers and connoisseurs of all things historical. Kate here, filling in for Dave who is currently online grave hunting.

On June 16th, I gave a first person presentation on Mary Surratt for the Calvert County Historical Society in Prince Frederick, Maryland. Titled Beware the People Whistling, the presentation is a firsthand look at Mary Surratt, the only woman convicted of helping bring about the death of President Abraham Lincoln. As she languishes, locked away in Washington City’s Old Arsenal Penitentiary, contemplating her fate, Mary Surratt recalls memories of her family, the choices she made throughout the bloody American Civil War, and the man who brought her and her fellow prisoners to ruin, John Wilkes Booth.

Beware the People Whistling is a play on the line “beware the people weeping” from Herman Melville’s “The Martyr,” a poem about the murder of President Abraham Lincoln. Throughout the poem, Melville stated that the convicted conspirators were to beware of the Union (the people weeping) since they would decide their fates. As the conspirators were imprisoned in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary, another man imprisoned there, Burton Harrison, recalled regularly hearing a melancholy whistle coming from the cell below his. That cell was occupied by conspirator Samuel Arnold.  The title of this presentation, therefore, turns the poem on its head to imply that the people whistling (the imprisoned conspirators) had power too. In fact, the death of Mary Surratt turned the tables on the Union government, who suddenly found themselves attacked by newfound defenders of her innocence.

Please note that this presentation is a historical fiction portrayal of Mary Surratt, not a completely accurate account of her time in prison. While working on my speech for the 2016 Surratt Conference, I studied Mrs. Surratt, her imprisonment, and eventual execution. That speech was a factual, in-depth analysis of the circumstances surrounding her sentencing. I then used what I learned researching that speech to create the framework for this dramatic portrayal. I condensed the timeline to fit everything I wanted to portray and most of all, I added material about Mary Surratt’s time in prison that may not be supported with facts. In short, I took some creative license in order to portray Mary Surratt the way I wanted to. Some of you may disagree with my sympathetic slant on Mary Surratt, and that is perfectly alright. In the end, this piece is more about trying to convey the thoughts and emotions of Mary Surratt, which we will never truly know. I hope you enjoy it.

All the best in your historic endeavors,

Kate

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The Dry Tortugas Prisoners

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

The Dry Tortugas Prisoners

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

Our Fortress Monroe Correspondence

Fortress Monroe, April 5, 1866.

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

Dr. Mudd.

Dr. Mudd 4

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

Arnold.

Sam Arnold's Mug Shot

Sam Arnold’s Mug Shot

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

Spangler.

Spangler 1

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

Colonel Marmaduke

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

Number of Prisoners

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

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

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

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 3 Huntington Library

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

References:

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

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