On this date, June 10th, in 1865, the Lincoln assassination conspirators received relief from their dreadful padded hoods.
From the early days of their incarceration, the bulk of the assassination conspirators were forced to wear hoods. Originally, the hoods were of made of canvas. All the main conspirators as we know them, excepting Dr. Mudd and Mary Surratt, had to wear these hoods. The hoods were placed on their heads in order to prevent communication among the conspirators while aboard the monitors and then continued while they were imprisoned in the Arsenal Penitentiary. On May 1st, Dr. George Porter, who was under the command of the prison’s superintendent, General Hartranft, made an examination of the prisoners and suggested that, “the hoods be paded.” Though it has been written that this recommendation was caused by the so called “suicide attempt” on the part of Lewis Powell, it is also possible that Dr. Porter was hoping a padded hood might be of better comfort to the prisoners. As it turns out, Dr. Porter’s order caused even more grief to the Lincoln assassination conspirators.
On May 8th, the padded hoods had been made and were placed on the conspirators. Sam Arnold remembered these hoods with distinct displeasure:
It fitted the head tightly, containing cotton pads, which were placed directly over the eyes and ears, having the tendency to push the eyeballs back in the sockets. One small aperture allowed about the nose through which to breathe, and one by which food could be served to the mouth, thence extending also from the crown of the head backwards to the neck. The cords were drawn as tight as the jailor in charge could pull them, causing the most excruciating pain and suffering, and then tied in such a manner around the neck that it was impossible to remove them.
A padded hood on display at the Quincy and Adams County Historical Society in Quincy, IL
When the conspirators were brought into the court room for the first time on May 9th, even the members of the military commission were taken aback at their torturous appearance. After observing the disgust of the commission, General Hartranft made sure, from that day forward, that the padded hoods were removed before the conspirators were brought into the trial room. Nevertheless, they were still required to wear the padded hoods when not in court.
As time passed, General Hartranft began to take pity on the suffering conspirators due to their padded hoods. On June 6th, Hartranft formally requested the padded hoods be removed from all the conspirators excepting Lewis Powell. This request was finally carried out on June 10th.
The removal of the hoods was a godsend to the conspirators and greatly benefited their quality of life. Less than a month later however, four of the conspirators would receive a new hood. The insides of these July 7th execution hoods would be the last view Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt would ever see.