Posts Tagged With: Research

One Million!

On August 13, 2018 at around 10:15 pm, BoothieBarn officially reached over one million views!

I announced similar milestone moments when this blog made it to 10,000 and 100,000 views. I was happy then and I’m ecstatic now that this blog continues to grow at such an amazing pace.

While the vast majority of the visitors to this site come from the United States, this blog has been able to make a splash internationally as well. Here’s a map showing all the places that have visited BoothieBarn.com since its founding in 2012.

Granted, the map isn’t completely filled up. Clearly I have to do more outreach in places like Chad, Greenland, Lesotho, Tajikistan, Svalbard, the Solomon Islands, Djibouti, and others. Still, I’m very pleased this site has found such a global audience especially since it deals with a uniquely American story.

Here are some more numbers to mark this milestone:

453 = total number of posts on this blog (so far)

629 = average words per post in 2012

756 = total number of blog followers

2,354 = age of the blog in days

3,119 = average words per post in 2018

6,072 = highest number of views in a single day. It occurred on April 14, 2015, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination

15,633 = average views per month in 2017

401,904 = total number of words contained in all the blog posts here on BoothieBarn

I’d just like to thank you, the readers, for all of your support and community over these past six years. I’m especially grateful to those of you who have graciously donated to this site through Patreon. I have been blown away by the level of generosity and am so very appreciative of it. With this level of continued support, I’m hoping to bring even more exciting things to BoothieBarn in the future. With one million views there’s no stopping us.

Thank you all for reading, commenting, and giving to BoothieBarn.

Sincerely,

Dave (and Kate) Taylor

Categories: News | Tags: , , | 13 Comments

The Ford’s Theatre Orchestra

“More is probably known about the people who were at work in Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865, and about the topography of the theatre itself than of any other house in the world. We know the names, habits, and duties of every actor, stagehand, ticket-taker, box-office man, and usher*, and we know who many of the audience were.”

This quote comes from the doctoral dissertation of John Ford Sollers, the grandson of Ford’s Theatre owner, John T. Ford. While Sollers’ claim wasn’t quite true when he wrote it in 1962, thanks to modern scholarship, we now really do know a lot about the actors and stagehands of Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. However, despite the wealth of information historians have discovered, we still have one blind spot in our knowledge of the inner workings of the theater that night. This blind spot was even acknowledged by Sollers in his day, forcing him to add a footnote after the word “usher” in the quote above. The footnote attached to it admitted that:

“Unless further information has been found, we do not know the names or even the number of the orchestra”

Music was a crucial part of the theater experience in the Civil War era. Even during non-musical performances (like the comedic play Our American Cousin) an overture and entr’acte music were expected by audiences. Theaters were houses of entertainment and an orchestra was part of what you paid for when you bought your ticket. We know that Ford’s Theatre had an orchestra. We know that President’s Lincoln’s party, arriving late to the theater, was greeted by that orchestra. But how much do we really know about the musicians who played that fateful night?

The big challenge when it comes to determining the identities of the orchestra members at Ford’s Theatre, is that we lack any sort of list from the period. When John Ford Sollers was writing his dissertation about his grandfather, he had access to documents that had belonged to John T. Ford and even he could not come up with the names of any members of the orchestra aside from its director. Over the past week, with the assistance of fellow researcher Rich Smyth, I have assembled a partial list of those who were said to have been in the orchestra the night Lincoln was killed. The evidence supporting their attendance is, overall, extremely weak and varies greatly from man to man. Every name must be taken with a grain of salt and, aside from William Withers, we cannot guarantee that any of these men were actually present. With that being said, what follows is the list of the possible Ford’s Theatre orchestra members on April 14, 1865:

William Withers – orchestra director
George M. Arth – double bass
Scipione Grillo – baritone horn
Louis Weber – bass
William Musgrif – cello
Christopher Arth, Sr. – violin
Henry Donch – clarinet
Reuben Withers – drums
Henry Steckelberg – cello
Isaac S. Bradley – violin
Salvadore Petrola – cornet
Joseph A. Arth – drums
Paul S. Schnieder – possibly violin or trumpet
Samuel Crossley – violin
Luke Hubbard – triangle and bells

Below you will find little biographies of each man and the evidence we have about their presence at Ford’s Theatre. I’ve placed them in an order that arranges them from more likely to have been at Ford’s to less likely to have been at Ford’s. Judge the evidence for yourself as we explore the boys in the band.


William “Billy” Withers, Jr. – orchestra director

In 1862, when John T. Ford first remodeled the Tenth Street Baptist Church and opened it up as Ford’s Atheneum, he hired a musician named Eugene Fenelon to be his orchestra director. As director, Fenelon not only conducted the orchestra on a nightly basis, but was also tasked with the duty of recruiting and hiring musicians to ensure that Ford would have an ample sized band each night. In this capacity, Fenelon recruited local D.C. musicians. Fenelon remained as Ford’s orchestra director until a fire struck Ford’s Atheneum in December of 1862. The loss was a hefty one for John Ford at about $20,000. Consumed in the fire was a bulk of the orchestra’s instruments and music. While Fenelon stayed in D.C. during the process of rebuilding that followed, when the new theatrical season opened in the fall of 1863, Fenelon took a job as the orchestra leader of the recently opened New York Theatre in NYC. Ford was then tasked with finding a new orchestra leader for his new theater. He chose to put his faith in a 27 year-old violinst and Union veteran, William “Billy” Withers, Jr.

Withers was from a musical family and, at the beginning of the war, he and his father and brothers had joined the Union army and served as members of a regimental band. The bands provided music during marching and aided with the morale of the men. In the late summer of 1862, however, Congress passed a law abolishing regimental bands, feeling that the service had been abused by non-musical men trying to avoid regular duty and that the bands were not worth the cost during war time. Though Withers stayed on for some time after the dissolution of his band and acted as a medic, he was eventually discharged. Withers excitedly took up John T. Ford’s offer to be his new band leader. When the new Ford’s Theatre opened in August of 1863, Withers’ orchestra, and his experience playing patriotic music was complimented.

“The music under the leadership of Prof. Wm. Withers was highly pleasing, and the execution of the national airs gave a spice to the entertainment, which was fully appreciated.”

Ford’s Theatre had always had a healthy competition with their Washington rival, Leonard Grover’s National Theatre. As the two leading theaters in the city, the press abounded in making comparisons between the two houses. One way the theaters rivaled each other was with their orchestras. While a normal theater orchestra at the time would contain about ten musicians on a nightly basis, both Ford’s and Grover’s began advertising that their orchestras had been “augmented” to include more musicians. It appears that Withers continued to augment the orchestra during his tenure and found his growing of the band to be a point of pride. “Our orchestra under the Brilliant Leader Prof. William Withers, Jr. is considered second to no theatre South of New York,” proclaimed one Ford’s Theatre advertisement. Another highlighted the fact that the orchestra, “has lately been increased and numbers now nearly a Quarter of a Hundred first class Instruments,” and that it had been, “lately largely augmented and is now unsurpassed in numerical and artistic strength.” Billy Withers was a great asset to Ford during his first theatrical season. In addition to his duties as conductor of the orchestra, Withers would occasionally volunteer his services as a solo violinist for special occasions.

Theatrical seasons ended during the hot months, which left many musicians without jobs during the summer. Without the steady (albeit small) income from the theaters, musicians had to make their own arrangements. During this time, many teamed up with other musicians to play small concerts in music halls. With his connections, Withers was able to rent out bigger venues. During the summer of 1864, Withers and his orchestra played concerts at both Grover’s and Ford’s theaters. On July 10, 1864, Withers presented a “Concert of Sacred Music” at Ford’s during for which he brought in two vocalists and, “forty musicians of the best talent in the city, forming an array of talent such has never before appeared jointly in Washington.” The concert was well received and the proceeds helped the D.C. music scene make it through the lean summer.

When the 1864-65 theatrical season opened in the fall, Withers was rehired by Ford to be his orchestra director. The season started without a hitch but, in January of 1865, Withers experienced some unaccustomed criticism of his orchestra in the press. In comparing the two main D.C. theaters, a reviewer from the National Intelligencer stated that, “In some respects, Mr. Ford has done better. His theater has been uniformly dignified, and he has succeeded in procuring a different class of stars from those played by his competitor…but his stock company has not by any means been all that it should be, and his orchestra needs improvement.” It appears that, perhaps due to this critique, Withers began the process of augmenting the Ford’s Theatre orchestra again. His attention on the theater orchestra was a bit distracted however, as Withers was chosen to provide some of the music for President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration ball. He entered into a contract in which he would be paid $1,000 for forty pieces of music. Withers not only used the local talent at his disposal but also brought in musicians from New York. After the inauguration was over, it’s likely that a few of these musicians from New York were hired by Withers to augment the Ford’s Theatre band.

As much as John T. Ford liked being the best, he and Leonard Grover had realized the costly arms race that dueling orchestras would cause them. It appears that some time over the last two years, the two theater owners had come to an mutual understanding regarding the size of their orchestras. Rather than continuing in attempting to one-up each other, they had put an unknown limit on each other in order to keep the houses equal. When Withers began increasing the size of the orchestra in early 1865, Ford objected, fearing it would break the truce with Grover. On April 2, 1865, Ford wrote a letter to his stage manager, John B. Wright:

“Respecting the orchestra I have promised and wish to keep my word to make my orchestra the same number that Grover has in his – will you notify Withers that for the rest of the season, I wish it reduced. The necessity of this I will explain and stisfy you – If Grover wants Withers – he can go – O can easily supply his place. Let us have the same Instruments that Grover has – my honor is pledged to this.”

Rather than run off to Grover’s National Theatre, as Ford thought might occur, William Withers stayed at Ford’s Theatre and likely reduced his orchestra as ordered.

In addition to being a band leader and talented violinist, Withers also composed music. He wrote several polkas and instrumental pieces which were sold by local music shops. Another piece that he composed that he had not published was a song called “Honor to Our Soldiers”.

With the Civil War coming to an end in April of 1865, Withers was looking for a chance to perform his own patriotic air, which featured vocalists. He had arranged for a quartet of vocalists to perform the song on the evening of April 15th. However, during the morning rehearsal for Our American Cousin on April 14th, Withers heard the news that the Lincolns, possibly joined by the Grants, were coming to the show that night. Performing his song in front of the President and General Grant would make for a much better debut and so he decided to perform the piece that night instead. Not having time to arrange for formal vocalists for that night, Withers was forced to rely on the talent around him. Withers tapped three of his coworkers to sing solos in the song: May Hart, Henry B. Phillips, and George M. Arth. May Hart was a new member of the Ford’s Theatre stock company having been recently transferred from the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore. She was performing the minor role of Georgina that night. H. B. Phillips was the acting manager at Ford’s and it was his job to improve the quality of the stock actors. Phillips is credited as having written the lyrics for “Honor to Our Soldiers”. George Arth was actually a member of the Ford’s Theatre orchestra who is discussed later. In addition to these soloists, lead actress Laura Keene said she and other members of her company would be happy to sing along as back up.

As we know, the Lincoln party did not arrive at the theater on time. Knowing they were on their way, Withers was given instructions to play a longer than average overture in hopes they would appear. After 15 minutes elapsed without the Presidential party, the play began without them. When the Lincolns, Major Rathbone, and Clara Harris did make their appearance, the play was halted and Withers and his orchestra began playing “Hail to the Chief”. This was followed by a rendition of “See, the Conquering Hero Comes” as the Lincolns and their guests took their seats in the Presidential box. With that, the play went on.

Withers was initially promised that the performance of his song would occur during the intermission between the first and second acts. However, when the intermission came, he was told by stage manger John Wright that Laura Keene was not prepared to perform during this break and that the orchestra should play his normal intermission music instead. Though slightly annoyed, Withers was assured the song would be performed during the next act break. When the second act break came, however, Withers was once again informed that Laura Keene was not ready. When the third act began, Withers made his way out of the orchestra pit by means of the passageway that led under the stage. He was miffed that his song had been delayed twice. He made his way up one of the two trapdoors on either side of the stage and went to converse with John Wright backstage. Wright said that Withers should plan to perform the song at the conclusion of the play and that Laura Keene had already sent word to the Presidential party to please remain after the curtain fell. Angry at Wright, Withers spied Ford’s stock actress Jeannie Gourlay also backstage and went over to talk with her. It while was Withers was conversing quietly with Jeannie Gourlay about his troubles that the shot rang out.

What occurred next has been well documented. After shooting the President and slashing away Major Rathbone with his knife, John Wilkes Booth jumped from the Presidential box onto the stage. The only actor on stage at the time, Harry Hawk, turned and ran out of Booth’s path. Upon reaching the backstage, it was William Withers and Jeannie Gourlay who stood in the way of Booth’s exit.

“Let me pass!” Booth yelled as he slashed at Withers with his knife, cutting his coat in two places. Booth pushed past Withers and Gourlay, made his exit out the back door, and escaped on horseback into the Washington streets. Withers’ backstage encounter with Booth became a well known part of the assassination story and up until his death in 1916, the orchestra leader never passed up an opportunity to tell his tale. As far as evidence goes, William Withers’ attendance at Ford’s Theatre that night is airtight and even his slashed coat is on display in the Ford’s Theatre museum.

To read more on William Withers, pick up Tom Bogar’s book, Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination, or check out the following articles by Richard Sloan and Norman Gasbarro.


George M. Arth – double bass

Like William Withers, George Arth came from a musical family. At least two of his brothers and his cousin were active in the D.C. music scene. In August of 1861, George Arth joined the U.S. Marine Band, known as The President’s Own band. Arth could play many instruments, but his role in the Marine Band was that of a bass drummer. With the Marine Band, Arth would perform at important events around Washington, often for the President or other dignitaries. The job wasn’t full time, however, and many members of the Marine Band had other jobs in the city as music teachers or as theater orchestra members. In 1864, while Laura Keene was renting out and appearing at the Washington Theatre in D.C., she hired George Arth to be her orchestra director for the engagement. The job was temporary, however, and when she left the city, George Arth went back to being just an ordinary orchestra member at Ford’s Theatre.

Arth must have had a good singing voice since, as pointed out earlier, he was one of the Ford’s employees that Withers pegged to help him in the singing of his song, “Honor to Our Soldiers”. While we do not have any record of Arth’s whereabouts during the assassination, we can safely assume he was somewhere on the premises preparing for the song when the shot rang out.

An additional piece of evidence we have that places George Arth at Ford’s that night is a letter he wrote in the days following the assassination. After Lincoln was shot, the theater was shut down and subsequently guarded. Members of the Ford’s Theatre staff were brought in for questions and some were arrested. On a normal night, it was typical for the musicians to leave their instruments in the theater, especially when they were engaged to play the next day. While Arth likely assumed that the next night’s performance at Ford’s Theatre wasn’t going to occur, in the chaos that ensued after Lincoln was shot he was apparently unable to retrieve his own instrument. Unlike some of the other musicians who may have carried their instruments out of Ford’s with them, Arth played the largest bowed instrument in the orchestra, a double bass. After the government locked down Ford’s and started guarding it, no one was able to take anything out of the premises.

On April 21st, Arth wrote a letter to the general in charge of the guard detail asking for permission to retrieve his trapped instrument.

“Respected Sir,

I beg of you to grant me a permit to enter Fords Theatre & bring from it mu double bass viol & bow belonging to me & used by me as one of the orchestra at said theatre – as it is very necessary to me in my profession & I am suffering for its use.

I am humbly your servant

George M. Arth”

Arth’s request was approved and he was allowed to retrieve his double bass. Arth remained in D.C. after the war and continued working as musician. He died in 1886 at the age of 48 from consumption and was buried in Congressional Cemetery.


Scipione Grillo – baritone horn

A native from Italy, Scipione Grillo became a naturalized citizen in 1860. He originally made his home in Brooklyn, New York where he offered his services as a music teacher. By 1861, however, he had relocated his wife and kids to Washington and in July he joined the Marine Band. In addition to being a musician Grillo was a bit of a businessman. When John T. Ford rebuilt his theater after the 1862 fire, he devoted space on the first floor just south of the theater lobby to the creation of a tavern. As part of his property, Ford could lease it out for a profit and provide an easily accessible place for patrons to get drinks between acts. The tavern space was eventually leased by two Marine Band members, Peter Taltavul and Scipione Grillo, who co-owned the venture. They called their establishment the Star Saloon after the theatrical stars who would patronize it. On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, it was Taltavul’s time on duty and he acted as barkeep to the thirsty theater-goers. Taltavul has become famous for pouring John Wilkes Booth his last drink before the actor assassinated Lincoln.

Scipione Grillo’s partnership in the Star Saloon is often overlooked because he was spending that night in the orchestra instead of serving Booth. While Grillo was required to attend the trial of the conspirators during the entire month of May in 1865, he was never called to testify about his acquaintanceship with John Wilkes Booth and David Herold. It wasn’t until two years later, at the trial of John Surratt, that Grillo took the stand to state what he knew. During his routine questioning, Grillo was asked about whether he saw anyone out on the pavement of Ford’s during the show. He replied:

“No, sir. I was not out of the place myself. I was in the orchestra between the first and second acts; but in the third act we had nothing to do, (being always dismissed after the curtain is down,) and so I went out and went inside of my place.”

Grillo also stated that he was still inside of the Star Saloon when the assassination occurred. So, while he did not witness the assassination firsthand, he was among the members of the orchestra that night. Since it was part of the Ford’s Theatre building, the Star Saloon was also closed by the government, which ended Taltavul and Grillo’s business together.

Scipione Grillo appears to fall off of the map after his 1867 testimony. I have not been able to find any trace of him after that, but it is possible he, his wife, and children traveled back to Italy to live.


Louis Weber – bass

Louis Weber had been born in Baltimore in 1834 but his family moved to D.C. when he was four years old. He became a member of the U.S. Marine Band and played at the inauguration ceremonies for Presidents Buchanan and Lincoln. He was an active member of the Marine Band for 25 years.

In the same manner as George Arth, the evidence pointing to Weber being a part of the Ford’s Theatre orchestra was the return of his instrument by the government. While Weber’s original request does not seem to have survived, on April 28th, Col Henry Burnett (later one of the prosecutors at the trial of the conspirators) sent a telegram off to the general in charge of the Ford’s Theatre guards ordering him to, “send to this office, one bass violin the property of Louis Weber”. This order was fulfilled and later that same day, Louis Weber signed a receipt for his bass.

Weber lived out the remainder of his life in Washington. He died in 1910 from a stroke and was buried in Congressional Cemetery.


William Musgrif – cello

William Musgrif was born in England in 1812. After immigrating to America he settled in New York. As a musician, Musgrif was skilled in both the violin and the cello, but seems to have preferred the cello best. In 1842, Musgrif and his cello became founding members of the newly established New York Philharmonic. As part of the Philharmonic, Musgrif mentored younger players in the cello. By 1860, he, along with his wife and son, had moved to D.C. where he offered his skills as a music teacher. Musgrif was also the conductor for his own group in D.C. called the Mozart Society.

The evidence that William Musgrif also moonlighted as a member of the Ford’s Theatre orchestra comes from yet another letter written in the days after Lincoln assassination. William Withers had already written once and received a portion of his instruments that had been left at Ford’s that night, but he had not received all of them In May of 1865, Withers penned another letter asking for permission to get the “balance of my things” which included “sleigh bells, triangle, harmonica”. He also requested, “one instument, violocella, for Mr. Musgrive [sic]”

These items were inspected and then delivered to Withers. On May 7th, Withers signed a form stating her had received, “a lot of sleigh bells, a triangle, harmonica, and violincella being properties left at Fords Theatre on the night of the Assassination of President Lincoln.” Withers signed for both himself “and Mr. Musgive [sic]”.

William Musgrif continued to live in D.C. in the few years following the assassination. In 1868, an unfortunate incident caused Musgrif to make the acquaintance of another person who had been at Ford’s on April 14th. On February 19th, Musgrif was in the billiard room of the National Hotel observing a man named William Rogers, who was drunk. When Musgrif attempted to take the billiard balls away from the drunkard, Rogers “hit him over one of the eyes.” A police officer was summoned, arrested Rogers and proceeded to take down the 56 year old musician’s sworn statement. That responding police officer was none other that Officer John F. Parker, the man history has condemned for allegedly leaving Abraham Lincoln unguarded on the night of his assassination.

By the mid 1870s, William Musgrif had moved out to Colorado with his son. It is likely he died and was buried there.


Christopher Arth, Sr. – violin

Chris Arth was the cousin of George M. Arth, the would be soloist for “Honor to Our Soldiers”. His 1901 obituary, which is also one of the pieces of evidence for his presence at Ford’s Theatre, gives a good description of his life.

In addition to this obituary’s claim that Chris Arth was a member of the Ford’s Theatre orchestra, there is also a 1925 article from a D.C. correspondent known as the Rambler which supports the idea. I’ve briefly touched on the Rambler before. His real name was John Harry Shannon and he wrote for the Evening Star newspaper from 1912 to 1927. His stories involved local interest pieces and often involved him travelling around Washington talking to old timers. In an article he wrote about the history of D.C.’s music scene, the Rambler included a letter that was written to him by John Birdsell, the secretary of the Musicians’ Protective Union. You’ll notice that in the obituary above it states that Chris Arth was a member of the same union during his lifetime. Birdsell compliments the Rambler’s work and then poses a challenge to him:

“In this connection it may be possible that, during the course of your researches for the preparation of these writings, you may acquire a complete roster of the orchestra which played at Ford’s Theater the night President Lincoln was shot. I have had inquiry for this from several sources. The first came from somewhere in California. I communicated with the Oldroyd Museum, and while they did not possess this information, they expressed a desire to acquire it.”

After this, Birdsell proceeds to give the list of names he has been able to determine.

“To date the partial roster, which I have is as follows: Leader, William Withers; violin, Chris Arth, sr.; bass, George Arth; clarinet, Henry Donch; cornet, Salvatore Petrola.”

After this list Birdsell makes the final statement that since the average orchestras at the time consisted of 10 instruments he believes he is only half complete. Birdsell was likely unaware of Ford’s and Grover’s mutually agreed upon augmented orchestras which were no doubt larger than ten musicians.

If we trust his obituary and Birdsell’s list, then Chris Arth, cousin of George Arth, was in the orchestra at Lincoln’s assassination.


Henry Donch – clarinet

Henry Donch was a native of Germany who moved to the United States in 1854. He lived in Baltimore and was also a member of the Annapolis Naval Academy Band before he moved to Washington. Donch joined the U.S. Marine Band in August of 1864.

The evidence for Donch’s presence at Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was shot is the same as Chris Arth’s: the Birdsell list and his obituary:

An second obituary for Donch provided an additional detail regarding his alleged presence at Ford’s:

“Mr. Donch was a member of the orchestra at Ford’s Theater on the night Lincoln was shot. Mr. Donch, who was facing the assassin as he leaped from the box, always declared that Booth never uttered the phrase, ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis,’ which is attributed to him.”

While the general consensus is that Booth did, in fact, utter the phrase “Sic Semper Tyrannis” after shooting the President, Donch’s contrary claim does not, by itself, prove him to be a liar. The eyewitness accounts from Ford’s vary widely and it’s possible that, in the confusion, Donch truly did not hear or remember Booth stating these words.

Coincidentally, Henry Donch would observe another Presidential assassin, though this time during the period after his crime. After Charles Guiteau shot President James Garfield, Henry Donch was selected at one of the grand jury members in his trial.


Reuben Withers – drums

Reuben Withers was the younger brother of Ford’s Theatre orchestra director, William Withers. Reuben had joined the same regimental band as his brothers and father at the start of the Civil War, but similarly was sent back home when such bands were disbanded. He joined the ranks of his brother’s brass band and, it appears, the Ford’s Theatre orchestra.

In his older years, William Withers suffered from paralysis and was cared for by Reuben. The two elderly men shared a home and business together in the Bronx. Even in his paralysis, reporters came to hear the story of William Withers being stabbed by Booth on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. In at least interview, Reuben recounted his own remembrances of the night of April 14th:

“The President was a little late coming in. We had played the overture and the curtain was just going up when we saw him enter the stage box. Brother William immediately started us playing ‘Hail to the Cheif,’ then ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ and there was a lot of cheering. Everybody was feeling good and happy…

After we had played the overture I left the theatre to catch the 9.20 train for Zanesville, O., and so I missed the actual scene of the great tragedy. I had been offered a better position to play in the band of Bailey’s circus, and I had fixed that night of April 14, 1865, as the time of my leaving Washington…”

Was Reuben Withers truly in the orchestra that night? After years of hearing his brother tell his tale, perhaps he just wanted to include himself in the narrative. Or perhaps he did tell the truth and left the theater before the crime occurred. We may never really know. Reuben Withers preceded his brother in death, dying in 1913. The house and business the Withers brothers owned still stands, albeit a bit modified, at 4433 White Plains Road in the Bronx.


Henry Steckelberg – cello

Henry Steckelberg was born in 1834 in Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1858 residing at first in New York. When the Civil War broke out he, like the Witherses, joined a regimental band in New York. After returning to civilian life, Steckelberg made his way to Washington and can be found in the 1864 D.C. directory listed as “musician”.

When Steckelberg died in 1917, his obituary stated that, “On the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination he was playing at Ford’s Theater. The orchestra was having an intermission when the tragedy occurred.”

An additional piece of evidence comes from the Steckelberg family. The genesis for this entire post was an email from Steckelberg’s great granddaughter asking if a list of the orchestra members existed. She told me about her family’s belief that her great grandfather played that night and that the family still owns Steckelberg’s treasured cello that he, assumingly, used. In addition, she was kind enough to send along a letter, written by Henry Steckelberg’s sister-in-law which supplemented his obituary. The relevant part of the letter states:

“On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, he [Steckelberg] was playing in the regular orchestra in Ford’s Theater. The assassin was a regular hanger on around the theater and he (Booth) often played cards with the orchestra members in the rehearsal room below the orchestra pit. His presence in the theater caused no notice. Booth was unemployed at the time, very jealous of his successful brother. He had no personal animosity toward Lincoln but wished to do something to draw attention to himself.”

It’s hard to tell if the writer of this letter was using knowledge she had obtained from Steckelberg or merely adding her own embellishments and beliefs about the Lincoln assassination story to the basic Steckelberg obituary. The latter part of the paragraph is entirely opinion and the former contains one factual error: there was no rehearsal room “below the orchestra pit” at Ford’s Theatre as the pit was the lowest you could get.

While there isn’t much to go on regarding Henry Steckelberg, his obituary does recount that the orchestra was on break during (and therefore didn’t witness) Lincoln’s assassination which is in line with what Scipione Grillo testified to in 1867. It’s possible that Henry Steckelberg was there after all.


Isaac S. Bradley – violin

Isaac S. Bradley was born in 1840 in New York. During the Civil War, Bradley joined the Union army where he served as a bugler in the 10th New York Cavalry. Bradley was discharged from the service on November 20, 1865. By 1868 he had moved to Dayton, Ohio where he married and started a family. He lived in Dayton for the remainder of his days, becoming a photographer. Bradley died on July 10, 1904.

While I have yet to find any period documentation of Bradley’s presence at Ford’s Theatre during his lifetime, in 1960, his elderly daughter Clara Forster was interviewed by a newspaper in her home of Anderson, Indiana. She stated that during her father’s military service he, “fell victim to a rheumatic ailment that hospitalized him for some time in Washington,” and that he, “was ready to accept the offer to play in the orchestra at Ford’s Theater in Washington because he had with him his own Amati violin…”

With her father’s antique violin in her hand, Mrs. Forster then recounted the story her father had told her of that night:

“We were playing very softly when suddenly a messenger came and told us to play louder. We had heard a shot and someone running across the stage above, but we thought nothing of it.

So we played louder, not knowing of the tragedy that had occurred overhead; not knowing that our beloved Abe Lincoln had been shot.”

The article went on to state that “the order to play more loudly was given in an effort to offset commotion caused by the shooting and to avert panic in the audience.” It’s important to note that Mrs. Forster’s account is in contradiction to the testimony of Scipione Grillo who made it clear that the orchestra was not on duty during the assassination.

Mrs. Forster was very proud of her father’s heirloom violin and described it in detail:

“Mr. Bradley was second violinist in the orchestra, playing with four other young soldiers who had served in the Civil War…

[The violin] had been given to him when he was about 10 or 11 years old. It had been acquired by his grandfather from the Cremonesis family in Italy, reported to have taught the famed Antonius Stradivarius the art of producing priceless violins.

Mr. Bradley was told that the instrument purchased by his grandfather, who served in the Revolutionary War, was made in 1637. A certificate inside the violin bears that date and the name of the maker.

Mrs. Forster reports that her brother, the late Frank Bradley, had the violin in his possession for some time and about 1914 refused an offer of $20,000 for it. During the past few years, Mrs. Forster made her home in Milwaukee, where a concert violinist and teacher became interested in the Amati violin and wrote an article about it for a national music publication. One of the amazing facts was that its owner had carried it with him through much of the Civil War and that it had not been damaged.”

Mrs. Forster appears to be the only source that her father was in Washington and a member of the Ford’s Theatre orchestra that night. She was apparently quite convincing though, especially with her father’s violin as a witness. In the 1960s, when the National Park Service was preparing a historic structures report about Ford’s Theatre, Mrs. Forster wrote a letter to George Olszewski, the National Capital Region’s chief historian. Olszewski was convinced enough by Mrs. Forster’s letter that he included Isaac S. Bradley’s name in his partial list of orchestra members.


Salvadore Petrola – cornet

Salvadore Petrola, a native of Italy, came to the United States in 1855 when he was 20 years old. A talented cornet player, Petrola joined the U.S. Marine Band in September of 1861 and remained a member for the maximum time allowed, 30 years. As a band member in the 1880s, Petrola was the assistant conductor of the band, second only to its leader, John Philip Sousa. Petrola assisted Sousa in arranging music for the band and served as its primary cornet soloist for many years.

Despite a lengthy search, the only concrete evidence that I have been able to find to support the idea that Petrola was in the orchestra at Ford’s is the list of names John Birdsell, the secretary of the Musicians’ Protective Union, provided to the Rambler in 1925.

One additional fact could be taken as, perhaps, circumstantial evidence in favor of Petrola’s presence, however. The only instrumental solos contained on William Withers’ handwritten copy of his song, “Honor to Our Soldiers”, is for a cornet. In fact, the cornet gets three solos over the course of the song.

Is it possible that William Withers wrote so many solos for his cornet player because he was working with very talented, Salvadore Petrola? We’ll never know.


Joseph A. Arth – drums

Joseph Arth was the younger brother of Ford’s double bass player, George M. Arth. Like his brother and cousin, Chris Arth, Joseph was a member of the U.S. Marine Band. Like Salvadore Petrola, Joseph stayed in the Marine Band for 30 years.

Our only evidence for Joseph Arth’s presence at Ford’s Theatre comes from his wife’s obituary from 1940. Joseph married Henrietta Scala, the daughter of one time Marine Band leader, Francis Scala. Upon Henrietta’s death at 90 years of age, the newspapers highlighted that she was both the daughter and wife of noted Marine Band musicians. In referencing her husband, the obituary stated:

“She was the widow of Joseph A. Arth, drummer with the band during the same period. Files of The [Evening] Star report that Joseph Arth was the drummer in the pit at Ford’s Theater the night President Lincoln was assassinated.”

It’s not much to go on, but perhaps Joseph was playing alongside his older brother George in the Ford’s Theatre orchestra that fateful night.

A pair of drumsticks in the Ford’s Theatre collection. These are said to have been present on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. Could they have been used by Reuben Withers or Joseph Arth?


Paul S. Schneider – possibly violin or trumpet

Paul Schneider was born in Germany in 1844 and immigrated to the United States in 1861. During the Civil War he joined the Union army under the alias Ernst Gravenhorst. He served as a bugler for the 5th U.S. Artillery from January of 1863 until December of 1865. In the 1870s, Schneider moved to Memphis, Tennessee, initially working as a musician in the New Memphis Theatre before becoming a music teacher. In 1882/3, Schneider became the second director of the Christian Brothers Band, the oldest high school band still in existence. As director of the band, Schneider and his students performed at important events including playing for President Grover Cleveland in 1887 when he visited Tennessee. In 1892, Schneider was succeeded as director by one of his former students, but remained in Memphis and involved in the musical life of the city. He died in 1912.

I have been unable to determine the source of the claim that Paul Schneider was a part of the Ford’s Theatre orchestra on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. It appears to have come after his lifetime but is not well documented. In 2011, Patrick Bolton, the current leader of the Christian Brothers Band, published his doctoral thesis about the history of the band. The dissertation contains a large amount of information about each band leader and the growth of the band over time. While it gives a great biography of Paul Schneider, the information about his connection to Ford’s Theatre is limited:

“Schneider was also known for his skills as a violinist and performed in touring orchestras around the country, including one that performed in Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. On the evening of April 14, 1865 he has been placed in this historic theatre performing Hail to the Chief for President Abraham Lincoln before the fateful performance of the play, ‘Our American Cousin.'”

Bolton was a good researcher, but it appears that even he had difficulty in finding evidence for this claim. His phrasing of “he has been placed” demonstrates a degree of uncertainty. Likewise, the best reference Bolton could find to support this idea was from a 1993 newspaper article about the Christian Brothers Band which merely mentioned that Schneider had been a member of the Ford’s Theatre orchestra without any supporting evidence.

Without additional, period evidence, I have some serious doubts that Paul Schneider was present at Ford’s. However, the idea that one of their band leaders was a part of such a historic event is a point of pride to the Christian Brothers Band. When the band traveled to Washington, D.C. in 2014, they even presented a picture of Professor Schneider to Ford’s Theatre.


Samuel Crossley – violin

Unfortunately, despite best efforts, I have been unable to find any verifiable information about Samuel Crossley aside from the story I am going to recount. In 1991, the National Park Service received a donation to the Ford’s Theatre collection in the form of this violin.

The violin was said to have been played at Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. A label inside the violin identified its previous owner, a Union soldier by the name of Samuel Crossley.

On February 11, 2009, at the grand re-opening ceremony for the newly remodeled Ford’s Theatre museum, noted violinist Joshua Bell played the song, “My Lord, What a Morning” on the Crossley violin. In the audience were President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Though I haven’t been able to find a recording of that performance, in videos of the President’s remarks, Bell can be seen in the background holding the Crossley violin.

More information about Samuel Crossley (and the provenance behind his violin) is needed.


Luke Hubbard – triangle and bells

Luke Hubbard was born in 1848 in Onondaga County, New York. In 1863, Hubbard attemptted to join the Union army but was rejected on account of being under the age limited (he was only 15 at the time). Not one to be deterred, Hubbard waited a year and then enlisted again, this time claiming he was 18 years old. Records verify that Hubbard served as a private in Company B of the 22nd New York Cavalry from July 1864 until he was discharged from service on October 18, 1865. Years later, Luke Hubbard claimed that an unexpected series of events during his tour of service caused him to not only be present at Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s assassination, but an acting member of the orchestra.

The following comes from two sources, an account that Hubbard gave during his lifetime and his subsequent obituary.

“That fall [1864] I was taken ill with fever and removed to Carver hospital in Washington. After I recovered, instead of being returned to my regiment and probably largely because of my youth as well as being in a weakened state, I was given a position in the Carver hospital band. In the army I had been a bugler. This hospital band furnished the music at Ford’s theater on the memorable night. I was playing the triangles and sat at the end of the orchestra under the box occupied by the presidential party…”

“The actor, John Wilkes Booth, was well known by the president, and when he was not in the piece being presented or when Booth was off the stage for a time, or between acts, he would often call on President Lincoln in his box, when both would witness the performance together, or sit and chat in the most friendly manner, so that he had no trouble gaining access to the box on the night of the conspiracy.”

“Many people have claimed that Booth said this or that when he jumped to the stage from the box, but with thirteen pieces playing at the time. I don’t think he could have been heard had he uttered any remark…

In a moment Mrs. Lincoln appeared at the edge of the box, waved her handkerchief to the leader of the orchestra, who raised his bow, a signal for the music to cease. Mrs. Lincoln was then heard to say, ‘The president has been shot.’

The members of the orchestra meanwhile not understanding the scene before them, saw Booth drag himself across the stage holding in one hand the revolver which had done its fatal work, and in the other grasped a knife for use in case the other weapon failed. As the door at the rear of the stage opened, the orchestra members who sprang to the stage saw two pair of arms sieze [sic] the injured man, the last that was seen of him. When the door was reached it was found to be locked on the outside, and by the time they reached the street through another exit the theater was surrounded by a cordon of soldier, and they were obliged to give their names and business at the theater that night.”

“Mr. Hubbard was the third man to climb over the footlights and rush to the back of the stage, but the door was locked on the outside.”

Ironically, one of the most detailed accounts we have from a person who claimed to have been in the orchestra at Ford’s Theatre is also the least factual and least reliable. Very little of what Hubbard recounted is accurate. The orchestra was not playing when the shot rang out. Booth dropped the derringer pistol he used on Lincoln in the box and therefore did not have it on the stage with him. No one grabbed the injured Booth and pulled him out the rear door of Ford’s. The back door of Ford’s was not found to be locked from the outside after Booth passed through it. And perhaps the most egregious (and somewhat laughable) error of them all: John Wilkes Booth was not a friend of Lincoln’s nor did he often join the President in his theater box to “chat”.

As entertaining as it is, it’s probably safe to dismiss Hubbard’s account entirely. Still, it’s interesting that the instruments Hubbard claimed to have played that night, the triangle and bells, were two of the instruments William Withers asked permission to retrieve after the assassination.


The stage of Ford’s Theatre taken in the days after Lincoln’s assassination. The orchestra pit with music stands and sheet music still in place can be seen at the bottom of the image.

Compared with the stars who graced the stages of Victorian era theaters, the lives of theater orchestra members were without glamour or fame. While equally talented in their own specific roles, many of the men who provided crucial musical accompaniment led quiet and largely uncelebrated lives.

The names listed above are only possible members of the Ford’s Theatre orchestra, with some having much better evidence than others. We only know them because either they chose during their lifetime or their friends and family chose after death, to connect their names with one of the most notable events in our history. This desire to be remembered and connected to such important events leads some people to exaggerate or outright lie. On the reverse, however, it is possible that there were members who did not wish to have their whole musical careers boiled down to a single, traumatic night. How many orchestra members witnessed Lincoln’s assassination, but never talked about it publicly?

As time goes on, additional people who are claimed to have been in the Ford’s Theatre orchestra will no doubt be found. When that happens, we must judge the reliability of their evidence just like the names above. If you stumble across a new name, I encourage you to add a comment to this post so that others may evaluate the evidence.

The exact identities of those playing at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, will never be known for certainty. Just like in 1925 and 1962, we still do not have a reliable count of how many musicians were even there, and we likely never will.

Known and unknown, the orchestra members of Ford’s Theatre, under the direction of William Withers, have the distinction of having played the last music President Abraham Lincoln ever heard.

References:
The Theatrical Career of John T. Ford by John Ford Sollers (1962)
Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination by Tom Bogar
The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection
The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence edited by William Edwards and Edward Steers
The Trial of John H. Surratt, Vol 1
Catherine Adams – great granddaughter of Henry Steckelberg
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre – Historic Structures Report by George J. Olszewski
“The Oldest High School Band in America”: The Christian Brothers Band of Memphis, 1872-1947 by Patrick Joseph Bolton
Rich Smyth
The Art Loux Archive
Newspaper articles discovered via GenealogyBank
Most of the biographical information was compiled through the resources available on Ancestry and Fold3
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Become a Patron of BoothieBarn

When this blog first started in March of 2012, it was little more than a shelf on which I could put the small research oddities and tidbits of information I came across. I was still new to the Lincoln assassination field and unsure whether this hobby would turn into anything constructive. Since that time, the community around this site has grown far beyond what I ever expected. As my followers have grown, I have worked hard to provide new and varied content all with the aim of educating others about the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination. I am very proud at what I have accomplished here on BoothieBarn and, particularly, in the growing scholarship behind the posts I produce.

I am, first and foremost, a teacher and that is why BoothieBarn is, and always will be, an educational resource open to all. As an elementary school teacher, I feel there is no higher calling than using your talents to educate others. As I tell my students, everyone has the capacity of enriching the world around them by sharing their unique knowledge and abilities with others. I research, write, and speak about the Lincoln assassination because I enjoy sharing my passion with others.

BoothieBarn is not a commercial entity. I make no money in writing or producing content for this site. I have no book deals nor do I make any money from advertisements (in fact, I actually pay to keep ads off of this site). In addition, the majority of the speaking engagements Kate and I are asked to do are unpaid. This website, and the Lincoln assassination story in general, is a hobby for us and one that we enjoy, but there are some real costs associated with owning, maintaining, and producing content on BoothieBarn. In webhosting fees and research subscriptions alone, I spend over $400 a year. Even this is a drop in the bucket compared to the costs of books and travel to historic sites and museums when researching new leads. This admission is not a complaint at all, but is merely meant to demonstrate that all we do here on BoothieBarn is a true labor of love.

With that being said, I have decided to launch a Patreon page for BoothieBarn. Patreon is an online system that allows individuals to provide some financial support for the work being done by their favorite creators. The website operates a bit like those infomercials you see on TV where you make a pledge to donate a certain amount each month. You choose whatever amount you would like to give and, once a month, Patreon will charge your credit card that amount and give it to your chosen creator.

My reason for joining Patreon is the hope that some of you might consider becoming a patron of BoothieBarn and help provide some financial support towards the work that we do. Your pledge would help to offset the costs associated with owning BoothieBarn and conducting research for it. A pledge of any amount would truly help to lift some of the financial burden that creating content for this site entails (especially from the shoulders of a couple of newlyweds on a teacher’s salary). I am not expecting that we will ever be able to break even regarding the costs of our work, but every little bit makes an impact.

Those of you who chose to become a patron will not only have our deepest thanks, but also access to some patron-only material on our Patreon page. From time to time I will be adding images and short descriptions of some of the Lincoln assassination artifacts that we have seen in our travels. I’m calling this section “The Vault”, and we already have a few entries ready to go in the “Posts” section of the Patreon page. A recurring pledge of any amount grants you ongoing access to The Vault and the treasures inside. It’s our way of thanking you for your support.

I hope that you will consider becoming a patron of BoothieBarn and help us continue to provide thought provoking, educational material on Lincoln’s assassination. Please click the “Become a Patron” button below to be taken to our Patreon page to read our story. There you will find information on how the Patreon system works so that you can decide whether giving is something you feel you can do.

Even if you don’t have the means to contribute, I appreciate your continued support of our efforts here on BoothieBarn.

Sincerely,

Dave Taylor

Categories: News | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Grave Thursday: Art Loux

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.


Arthur F. Loux

Art Loux

Burial Location: Pleasant Valley Cemetery, Overland Park, Kansas

art-louxs-grave

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Art Loux may not have been around during the time of Lincoln’s assassination, but, based on his detailed work on the subject, you would find it difficult to believe that he wasn’t. As a John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln assassination researcher, Art spent over 40 years delving into the history and engaging with others in the field. His name appears in the acknowledgements of countless books and practically all of the authors in the field considered Art a friend and generous colleague.

Art’s magnum opus, the product of his entire lifetime of researching, was his book, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day.

Art Loux's JWB DBD

This fabulous book documents the day to day movements of the world renowned actor, John Wilkes Booth, who turned into our nation’s first Presidential assassin. Art spent decades compiling Booth’s daily whereabouts and movements using newspapers, personal writings, and published accounts. In the days before the internet, Art sent letters to practically every library and historical society in America asking the recipients to check whatever newspapers and microfilm they had for mentions of the assassin. The magnitude of his research is staggering. Thanks to Art’s careful and meticulous eye, the life of John Wilkes Booth has been documented in a way never before thought possible.

Art Loux passed away on December 29, 2013, two days after signing a deal with McFarland & Company to have John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day published for the masses. In one of the greatest injustices of fate, Art never got to see his work become one of the most revered texts in Lincoln assassination literature.

I have written about my deep appreciation for Art Loux before and I have a page here on BoothieBarn in memory of Art. Please take a few minutes out of your day to read more about the career and life of this wonderful historian.

I decided to choose Art for today’s Grave Thursday selection for two reasons. The first is that this Sunday, October 16th, would have been Art’s 72nd birthday and so I felt a mention this week was appropriate. The second reason I chose to include Art in Grave Thursday is because I know he would have enjoyed it. In addition to being a big Lincoln assassination buff, Art was also a big cemetery buff. Art was always visiting cemeteries looking for, and photographing, graves. Art’s daughter Jennifer, who supervised the publication of her father’s manuscript after his death, has told me that she has many childhood memories trekking through graveyards with her father looking for such-and-such’s grave. To prove it, here’s a picture Art took in 1978 of his daughter standing next to Laura Keene’s grave in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn (Keene, by the way, is the subject of next week’s Grave Thursday):

keene-laura-green-wood-aug-78

Art later became a big contributor to the site FindaGrave.com, uploading over 800 pictures he had taken over the years of different people’s graves. I hope by including Art in Grave Thursday I am honoring not only a man I deeply respect and miss, but also the hobby that he enjoyed so much.

Every time I open Art’s book, I am grateful I had a chance to know such a generous man who gave knowledge so freely and without the expectation of anything in return. In 1977, Art penned the following note, in which he wrote admiringly of the generosity and helpfulness of those in the Lincoln assassination field:

Art's letter 1977

Like the people he writes of in his note, Art, too, was remarkable. He was always generous with his time and knowledge, and still stands as a role model for me on how amateur historians are supposed to act and share. Every new post I put up here on BoothieBarn is my attempt to share my discoveries and knowledge with as many people as I can, just as Art did.

So, if you ever find yourself in the Topeka/Kansas City area, stop by Pleasant Valley Cemetery and pay your respects to one of the great historians in the field of Lincoln assassination studies, Arthur F. Loux.

dave-at-art-louxs-grave-7-8-2015

GPS coordinates for Art Loux’s grave: 38.838552, -94.695460

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

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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Julia Wilbur and the Mourning of Lincoln

Julia Ann Wilbur was born in Avon, NY on August 8, 1815. She was brought up in a middle class Quaker household and became a teacher in the Rochester school system. In 1862, at the age of 47, Wilbur was asked by the Rochester Ladies Anti-Slavery Society to go south as a relief worker to aid escaped slaves. She relocated to Alexandria, Virginia where she distributed food, clothing, and supplies to the newly free. She also set up schooled, organized orphanages, and solicited for financial support for her projects from the elites in Alexandria and nearby Washington, D.C. In February of 1865, she moved to Washington, D.C. and would live there until her death in 1895. In the post Civil War years, Wilbur would work for the Freedmen’s Bureau before spending more than 30 years as a clerk in the Patent Office.

Source: Haverford College

Julia Ann Wilbur, Source: Haverford College

In addition to her fine work as a relief worker and, later, suffragette, Julia Wilbur was a detailed diarist. She kept journals spanning practically her entire life.  Not only would she keep small daily journals which allowed for a few lines per day, but Wilbur also maintained diaries of her own construction which allowed her the freedom to write as much as she desired for a set day. The originals of her diaries are housed at Haverford College in Haverford, PA, donated there by Wilbur’s great-nephew, a professor at Haverford.

Wilbur’s small daily diaries were initially microfilmed and sent to other institutions after their donation in the 1980’s. However, her larger, self constructed diaries containing far more detail were not “re-discovered” until about 2013. Using funds donated by Alexandria Archaeology and the group, Friends of Alexandria Archaeology, Haverford College scanned and digitized the large format Wilbur diaries from 1860 – 1873. From there, the Friends of Alexandria Archaeology group, headed by Wilbur researcher Paula Whiteacre, transcribed Wilbur’s 1860 – 1866 diaries into a searchable format.

At this past weekend’s Society for Women and the Civil War conference, Ms. Whiteacre presented an excellent history of Ms. Wilbur and the plethora of historical insight that is to be gained from her diaries.  After consulting Julia Wilbur’s diaries for myself, I discovered that Julia Wilbur had many interactions with aspects of Lincoln’s assassination. Two different pieces have been composed utilizing the Wilbur diaries. These piece contains the details of Julia Wilbur’s diaries in which she recounts the news of Lincoln’s assassination and subsequent funeral events in D.C.. A second post recounts her insight on the saga of the Lincoln assassination conspirators.


Witness to History: Julia Wilbur and the Mourning of Lincoln

The following are excerpts from the diary of Julia Wilbur, detailing the news of Lincoln’s assassination and the memorial events that took place in Washington, D.C. following his death.

Alexandria Reacts to Lincoln’s Death

Though Julia Wilbur had moved to Washington, D.C. in February of 1865, she was not actually in the city on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. She had traveled and spent the night at her old home of Alexandria. Therefore, on the morning of April 15th, Julia Wilbur witnessed how the news of Lincoln’s assassination settled over Alexandria:

“Alexandria VA. Apr. 15 th
93 Cameron St. 10 o clock A.M.

Oh. the bells are giving forth the saddest sound that I ever heard. Tolling, yes, tolling for what seems to us now as the greatest calamity that could have befallen us.

Wilbur Diary Lincoln is DeadPresident 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.

No boat not even a [?] is allowed to leave Alexandria & even Gen. Briggs was not allowed to go on the train this morning. I now regret exceedingly that I did not return to W[ashington, D.C.]. last night, but I remained to see the illumination. But there are precious few Union folks here if the houses of all such were illuminated last night. I never saw a city so dark before not even the lamps were lighted. There were to be fireworks on the cor. of King & Washington, but they were all exploded at once accidentally; & as we walked that way people were gathering in every direction, some were hurt. Hallowell Hosp. & hosp. opposite are illuminated very handsomely, & there was a bonfire in King St. & light appeared from a few dwellings. Many of the houses were entirely closed but through the crevices of others we could see people inside.

I was very, very tired last night. I slept with Mrs. Fish. About 6 o’clock this morning the sad news came to us. I could not believe it. Capt. Gale of Gen. Slough’s staff came from W. in the night. Every soldier is on duty now, & none are to be seen in the city. No persons are allowed to leave the city. It was raining hard but I thought I must go on the 8 o’clock boat, & did not learn till I had nearly reached the wharf that no boats were allowed to leave. I then came to see Mrs. Belding. Found her and Mr. B. at breakfast. Their smiling faces, looked out of place to me. They had not yet heard the bad news. Mr. Baker has been to the Telegraph office and learned that the President died at 7 this morning. I have been so fortunate as to get a paper, & all the particulars that have transpired are given. Mr. Belding has just come in and & says the secesh are being arrested. The military authorities have been very lenient with secesh lately. No passes have been required for a month or more.

Mr. B. says a wood train has just come in on the Orange & Alex. road, & report a large number of rebel cavalry at Burke’s Station. These are probably some of Lee’s men & horses that were given up by Grant or that Grant allowed Lee to retain. Mrs. Belden is not able to go out, I helped Mr. B. fix drapery over the windows. I called at Magnolia House. Mrs. P. & Mr. G. had just procured some black cambrick & were arranging it over the bow window.

…The Soldiers go to every secesh house & make the occupants put something black on the doors or windows. Then went to Dangerfields, & told them to put crape on the door, & after they left it was taken off. The soldiers went back & made them put it on again & told them if they took it off they would pull the house down. Then Dangerfield wrote to Gen. S. to ask to be excused from doing this, but the Gen. sent a piece of black cloth to him & said it must be put over the door. It would have been better if the soldiers had waited till all the Union folks had draped their houses, & then obliged the secesh to do the same, but they could not wait for orders. The soldiers have shot 2 or 3 men today expressing joy that Lincoln is dead.—The Mayor, Mr. Ware said to Mrs. Dogan today that “Lincoln died serving the devil”. This reached Gen. S. & he had an interview with Ware & there were some sharp words.

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.”

“Alexandria. Sunday Apr. 16.

Very bright. windy. Slept with Mrs. Fish & took breakfast with her this morning. Then I went to call on Aunt Lucinda. She was the picture of sorrow. She said she was all tore up, could’nt work, could’nt do any thing. She would put black on her house if it “took the last cent in her pocket.” I went around among the houses of the colored people. It was a touching sight to see a piece of black cloth on every cabin, shanty & shed. On some a simple bit of woolen or cotton, but the best they had. A young man spoke to me & the tears came into his eyes & said he, “I would rather have been shot myself than to have had our President killed. I would rather lose all my relations, I would rather lose my mother than to have him killed who sustained the country.” I am not ashamed to say that I wept with him. The colored people feel it so deeply. Every face is sad. They realize that they have lost a friend. They are in the habit of calling him Uncle Sam, & they now speak of “Uncle Sam’s being killed,” of Uncle Sam’s being shot by secesh.”— I think every dwelling house in the city has more or less black upon it. I called on Mrs. Dogan & she repeated to me what the Mayor said. She is so indignant.— I went with Louisa J. to Grace Ch. Hos. & to L’Ouverture. They all feel so deeply. They cannot express their feelings any more than we can. We all feel that we have lost; personally have lost a friend. There is no consolation to offer. We all suffer alike.”

Washington Reacts to Lincoln’s Death

On the afternoon of April 16th, Ms. Wilbur was allowed to catch a train into D.C. She compares how the reaction of Lincoln’s death was different between the two cities:

“How differently W. looks from Alex. only part of the houses are draped. People are going to & fro. talking & laughing. The air seems full of treason.

… One house on the Avenue was illuminated as soon as the President was shot, Officers went to the house but as the occupants were only women they were not arrested. Too bad. They should not have stopped to think whether they were men or women. Numbers have been heard to say that they are glad, that Lincoln ought to have been shot years ago. & they have not been arrested either. They would’nt stand much chance in Alex.”

“Monday, Apr. 17th, 1865,

… The houses in Georgetown are very generally hung with black. All the cabins & shanties of the colored people are. It was a nice ride, & it is refreshing to see green fields. & flowers, & trees beginning to look green. We brought home violets, houstonia & azalias. F. & I took walk on Avenue as far as President’s House. The pillars are covered with black, Mounted guards at the street gates allow no one to enter the grounds. — It looks like a sepulcher

Before this black never meant anything to me. I believe in it on this occasion. 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.

Wilbur diary Seward not told of Lincoln's death

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…”

Viewing Lincoln’s Body in the White House

Julia Wilbur was one of the individuals who viewed Abraham Lincoln’s body as it lay in state in the White House:

“Tuesday, Apr. 18, 11 A.M.

We have taken a last look at the mortal remains of Abraham Lincoln.

The public will be admitted to day from half past 9 till 5 P.M.— Frances & I went shortly after 9. People were already waiting at the gates, & a line of 2 abreast was formed on the walk in front of the House & were to enter by the western gate. We were told that unless we fell into line we wd. not be likely to go in at all. So we placed our selves in the rear of several hundred people & waited for the time. This arrangement is very proper, for all is orderly & quiet & all; black & white have an equal chance. At 40 min. after 10 the gate was opened, Officers are placed all along the line. There are no black hangings until we reach the E. Room. We passed through the ante room, the hall & the Green room.

The windows of the East Room are draped with black berege[?]. The frames of the mirrors are draped with the same & the mirrors are covered with white berege, & all the gilding is shrouded in black. Chandelier also.

The catafalco is in the center of the room. It is 11 ft. high. 16 ft. deep & 10 ft. wide. The height of the base or step around the platform is 8 inches. The step is one foot in width, 2 ft. 6 in. higher is the surface upon which is placed the coffin, over this is a curved Canopy. The inside is lined with white satin fluted. The top is covered with the finest alpaca & festooned. The surface of the dais is covered with black broad cloth, bordered with heavy silk fringe. The Coffin is mahogany lined with lead & covered with black broad cloth, festooned & fastened with silver tacks, the edge has silver braid & tassels, each side has 4 massive handles & at the head & foot there are stars.

On the top is a row of silver tacks on each side. A silver plate encircled by a shield. The inside of the face lid is raised with white satin & trimmed with black & white braid & fastened in each corner with 4 silver stars. The rest of the Coffin is lined with box plaited satin. The pillow is of fine white silk.

The embalmed body is dressed in a full suit of black.

Wilbur diary Lincoln's face

His face is very white, but wears a natural expression. on the platform & surrounding the entire Coffin is a wreath of white flowers & evergreens.

We walked slowly through the room but were not allowed to stop a moment. If I cd. have stopped one minute! But the scene is one never to be forgotten although so hastily viewed.

The remains will be taken to the Capitol tomorrow. & remain there until the next morning. They are to be removed to Illinois.

When we came out on to the sidewalk the line of people extended to the corner near the State Dept. Colored people were mixed all the way through. & I heard nothing said that was out of place, all wore an air of seriousness. & no loud words were heard.

12 o’clock, Miss Moore has just come in. She succeeded in seeing the President, but was almost crushed in doing so. The pressure was immense. The Navy Yard Employees came in a body (about 2000) & they were allowed to go in. & the line of people on the side walk had to wait. There was some expressions of dissatisfaction. & some disturbance. They say the line now extends below the Treasury building.

Frances & I were fortunate in going as early as we did. There was no crowd & no pressure.

…Mr. Seward is no worse & Mr. F. Seward is improving

8 P.M. — warm. Went to Miss Flagler’s to dinner, & then walked down the Avenue to see the crowd at the gate waiting to go in & see the President. The Illinois delegation was pressing in & then the gate was shut, leaving on the outside one of the most democratic assemblages that I ever saw. There were not less than a half doz. Brig. Generals; & Majors, Colonels & Lieut. Cols. in abundance, & ladies with them all waiting for admittance. Some of these pushed through to the gate. Gen. Rawlins Chief of Gen. Grant’s staff was one of them. Some of them made two attempts & then gave it up. Oh, such tired looking people as stood in that column. but the gate was not opened again & the people began to disperse before I left. They looked so disappointed that I felt sorry for them. While standing there I saw a person pass who fixed my attention. I asked a soldier who it was. He said “Gen. Grant.” He walked leisurely on talking with a gentleman who accompanied him. I stepped along & walked by the side of Gen. Grant for several rods, but few persons on the side walk there. & I scrutinized him closely. He is only of medium size hair, beard & complexion all of the same color.

Wilbur diary describing Grant

An inferior looking person for a Lieut. Gen. of the U.S. armies! His hat was the worse for wear. & his entire dress had a dingy look. His shoulderstraps were much tarnished. & his 3 stars were not of the first magnitude as to brilliancy by any means. I am much gratified to have seen him. I did not expect to have such good luck.

…Dr. P. says he never saw such a pressure before. Women fainted, children screamed, & there was some rough talk & some abuse of cold . people, but not by the officers. Brigadiers & niggadears were all served alike. & this was worth seeing too.”

The Funeral Procession to the Capitol

Julia Wilbur witnessed and funeral procession for President Lincoln as his remains were taken to the Capitol:

“Washington D.C. 207 I Street.
Wednesday Apr. 19, 1865

A day to be remembered.
On the 19 of Apr. was shed the first blood in the Revolution.
On the 19th. of Apr. was shed the first blood in the Rebellion.
On the 19th. of April the remains of Abraham Lincoln were taken from the White House to the Capitol, to be removed thence to Springfield Illinois.

The funeral obsequies were the most remarkable that have ever occurred in this country It seemed a National tribute to departed worth. The procession was immense. & Penn. Av. from the War Dept. to the Capitol was occupied from curbstone to curbstone by the Military, &c. while the sidewalks were filled with spectators, also the windows & roofs of buildings.

… About 10 A.M. I went out with Mrs. F. around a few squares & by the White house, The various legations have displayed the flags of different nations. I have seen from the houses of the Ambassadors the Austrian, Brazilian, Spanish, Chilian, Russian, French, &c.

Upon the whole length of the Stone coping of the iron fence in front of the President’s house & war Dept. people were seated & all of 3/4 were Colored. It was a touching sight. As far as they could they had encircled the dwelling in which lay the remains of their murdered friend & such numbers of mournful faces I never saw before. Each one had done his or her best to make a respectable appearance.

When Frances got ready about 12 M. we went out.

Wilbur diary Wanted posters

(all about are posted notices, “$20,000 reward for the apprehension of the Murderer of the President.”)

We made our way to the bend in the St. just below the Treasury. where we could see the Avenue all the way to the Capitol. I obtained a seat on the curbstone & F. was just behind me. The sun shone very hot but otherwise it was as good a place as we could get.—The procession moved at 2 & was 1 ¾ hours in passing.

I have no heart to write any more to night. I feel crushed with a great misfortune. & this seems to be a general feeling. I have not seen a drunken person to day nor heard one unfriendly remark about the President.”

Viewing Lincoln’s Body in the Capitol

Ms. Wilbur once again viewed Lincoln’s remains, this time as he lay in state at the Capitol:

“207 I st. Apr. 20. 1865.

At half past 8 Mrs. Fish & I started for the Capitol. When we reached the east side a long column had already formed & we took our places in the rear but this was only for a moment. The Column lengthened rapidly & by the time we reached the steps, the rear of the Column extended to near the place where the Metro cars stop.

There were a large number of colored soldiers, artillerists, in the Column.

The pillars & the dome are draped & the Rotunda also. The large pictures are all covered with black, & the statues are shrouded in crape, except that of Washington who has simply a black scarf on it. There is no canopy over the platform on which the coffin is placed. The camellias are wilted, & it now seems like death.

We were not allowed to pause a moment but I observed all that I could in passing through.

Wilbur diary viewing Lincoln

He lies in solemn silence & thousands of sincere mourners will take a last look at the features of Abraham Lincoln today.

Several officers, a guard of honor I suppose, are seated near the coffin, & numerous guards are stationed all about. A great man has gone from us. & a nation feels the loss.

I purchased several pictures of the President, also Seward’s. Then went to Mrs. Coleman’s. She called at Mrs. Slade’s with me. Mrs. Slade is employed at the White House. & knows a good deal of its inner life. Mrs. Slade & Mrs. Keckley have been with Mrs. Lincoln nearly all the time since the murder, not as servants but as friends. Both colored women; & Mrs. Lincoln said she chose them because her husband was appreciated by the colored race; they (the colored people) understood him, Miss Josephine Slade gave me a piece of a white rosette worn by one of the pallbearers.

Since 10 o clock it has rained. How uncomfortable it will be for the people at the Capitol who are waiting to go in.

…It is now after 4 & I cannot set myself to work. I feel that a great calamity has befallen us, me, which has unfitted me for ordinary occupations.

…Evening

I have read an account of the transactions of yesterday in the Chronicle, “No monarch ever had such a funeral, It was not so elaborate or ornate as the pageant of Henry VIII. of Eng. or the return of Napoleon to France, but it was the proudest tribute ever paid to the memory of an American President. The suddenness & manner of his death intensified the National sorrow & called forth a burst of popular gratitude without parallel. It was a lovely day, The air was filled with perfumes & harmonies of spring. Crowds had come from all the States. The Govt . was typified in Andrew Johnson, The Army represented by Grant & his staff, the Navy by Farragut & his sea-lions, the Judiciary by Chase & his associates; the Cabinet, the Congress, the Deptmts, the freedmen, the released prisoners, the penitent rebels (?), the Clergy, the professions, the People, the base of the mighty Pyramid.” The colored societies appeared remarkably well, & a Colored regiment from the front reached 7th. St. at 2 o ’clock, wheeled into the avenue & headed the procession from thence to the Capitol. Eminently fit & proper as this was, the papers make no mention of it.”

Missing the Train

Julia Wilbur had hoped to be present when Lincoln’s funeral train departed D.C. for its long journey to Springfield, but did not make it there in time:

“Friday, Apr. 21st 1865,

This morning Frances & I went to the Depot, but the funeral train had left a few minutes before we got there.”


Julia Wilbur would continue to occasionally mention, small tidbits surrounding the national mourning for Lincoln. She would visit Philadelphia in late April and discuss the buildings in mourning there. She documented Lincoln’s arrival in his home state of Illinois based on the newspapers’ reporting the event. However, the bulk of Ms. Wilbur’s firsthand experiences in mourning Lincoln had passed when Lincoln’s body left D.C..

Julia Wilbur’s interactions with the assassination conspirators, however, had only just begun. Click to read about Julia Wilbur and the Saga of the Assassination Conspirators.

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

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An Assassination Vacation in the Midwest

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

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

Boston Corbett's Dugout 7-8-2015

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

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A Military Tribunal Observance

Hello fellow history enthusiasts,

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

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

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

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

Fort McNair Event Program 5-8-15

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

Mike Kauffman Fort McNair 5-8-15

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

John Elliott Fort McNair 5-8-15

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

Barry Cauchon Fort McNair 5-8-15

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

Betty Ownesby Fort McNair 5-8-15

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

Barry Cauchon Execution Site 5-8-15

(Barry demonstrating the height of the gallows).

Barry Cauchon Shoe Factory 5-8-15

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

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

Dave Taylor Execution Site 5-8-15

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

Kate Ramirez Execution Site 5-8-15

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

Kate Ramirez Shoe Factory 5-8-15

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

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

Surratt Grave Marker 5-9-15

Powell Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

Herold Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

Atzerodt Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

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

Grant Hall with Grave Markers 5-9-15

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

Grant Hall Stairs Marker 5-9-15

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

Grant Hall Prison Door 5-9-15

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

Grant Hall Gallows and Wall Markers 5-9-15

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

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

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

Grant Hall Shoe Factory Marker 2 5-9-15

(And vice versa).

Execution Site from Trial Room 5-9-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Kauffman Kate Ramirez Grant Hall 5-9-15

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

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

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

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

Fort McNair Event 5-8-15

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

Grant Hall Past and Present

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

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

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