Posts Tagged With: Evidence

Cloak and Daggers: Cutting Through the Confusion of the Assassination Knives

In the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, the authorities (both federal and local) took up the task of hunting down and collecting conspirators and evidence. Lincoln’s own wartime policies gave investigators unprecedented power to arrest and confiscate persons and things relating to his assassination. While casting such a wide net did succeed in capturing the members of Booth’s inner circle, it also inundated the War Department with mountains of evidence. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton appointed three army officers; Colonel Henry Wells, Colonel Henry Olcott, and Lieutenant Colonel John Foster, to help manage and assess the ever increasing paraphernalia. In turn, they reported to Colonel Henry Burnett, who sifted through their materials to find the key evidence to be used in the trial of the conspirators.[1] The voluminous paper materials can be found in the edited book, The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence by William Edwards and Ed Steers, while the original documents can be viewed online (and for free) at This investigation, however, centers more on some of the collected artifacts found by the War Department: the knives.

During the initial round of evidence gathering, many edged weapons entered the War Department. A knife was collected from the home of a Ms. Mary Cook, a known Confederate sympathizer, who continually celebrated after the assassination and tore down the mourning crepe placed upon her abode.[2] Another knife was taken from a Sergeant Samuel Streett, an acquaintance of Michael O’Laughlen, who was accused of passing two women through his lines at Camp Stoneman on the night of April 14th.[3] A sword was removed from above the mantle at the home of Mary Surratt.[4] In addition to these unrelated weapons, the investigation also managed to acquire the weapons of the conspirators. A knife was found hidden underneath the sheets of a bed at the Kirkwood rented to George Atzerodt. Samuel Arnold was arrested with a knife. Knives belonging to both Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt were recovered on the streets of D.C. the morning after the assassination. Finally, the lead conspirator himself gave up a knife when he was shot in the Garrett’s barn. All of these knives, along with others not mentioned or as fervently documented, left the members of the War Department up to their knees in knives. Therefore, Colonel Burnett began his process of identifying the important items he would need in the trial of the conspirators.

In the end, Colonel Burnett would choose five knives to use in the trial. Four of those knives would be entered as exhibits for the trial, while one knife, Powell’s, was used merely for identification purposes. The handwritten exhibit list for the trial has the following knives listed:

“23. Knife (Atzerodt’s room Kirkwood House)”
“28. Booth’s knife”
“41. Atzerodt’s knife”
“62. Knife found at Mrs. Surratt’s house.”[5]

The selection of which knives to use as exhibits was done very skillfully. With the evidence before him, Burnett realized that, out of those involved in the actual assassination plot, the government’s case was weakest against George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt. Therefore, their blades were touted right along side that of the assassin’s.

During the trial, the first three knives were identified by their finders. Detective John Lee discovered the knife pictured above at Atzerodt’s room in the Kirkwood house. It was hidden, “between the sheets and the mattress.” [6] While found in his rented room and bed, the contents of Atzerodt’s “lost” statement indicate that the knife, along with the other contents found in the room, belonged to David Herold.[7] Further, the statement of Mrs. R. R. Jones (the wife of a bookkeeper at the Kirkwood) notes that, a little after ten o’clock on the night of the assassination, a man ran rapidly past her room, towards Atzerodt’s, and tried to open the door of a room “three different times”. Not being able to get in, the man ran back past her room and down the stairs.[8] This man is supposed to have been Davy Herold. He left his coat, knife, and pistol in Atzerodt’s room, and came to retrieve them for his flight south. Upon finding the room locked and empty, Davy assumed correctly that Atzerodt had lacked the courage to complete his task, and fled. This could explain why, at the Surratt Tavern later that night, Booth bragged to John Lloyd that, “we have assassinated the President and Secretary Seward.” He did not include the death of Vice President Johnson in his boast, as Davy had likely reported the locked and empty room. While the above scenario is just a theory, it is safe to say that the bulk of the contents in Atzerodt’s room at the Kirkwood were under the care of Davy Herold, including the bowie knife recovered. From this point on, the knife found by Detective Lee, probably belonging to Davy Herold, will be referred to as the “Kirkwood knife”. This will eliminate confusion between that knife, and the knife pictured below that Atzerodt himself tossed into the gutter after hearing the news of the successful assassination.

By the afternoon of July 7, 1865, all of the owners of the knives used in the trial were dead. The knives, along with the other pieces of physical evidence, were boxed up and stored. A year later, a request came in to the War Department from Secretary Seward’s former male nurse, Private George F. Robinson. Robinson was asking for a unique keepsake: he wanted the knife Lewis Powell used to stab him and three others. After being approved by Edwin Stanton, the knife was turned over to Robinson, the lone hero on that night of villainy, in July of 1866. Even though Powell’s knife was given to Robinson, this did not affect the four exhibit knives as Powell’s was not one of them. This fact is important to note. Much of the later confusion regarding the assassination knives comes from the assumption that the government retained possession of Powell’s knife. They did not. From 1866 to 1961 the knife was in the possession of the Robinson family. In 1961, the knife pictured below, along with other papers belonging to Private Robinson, were donated to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. The knife still resides there today. Many journalists and researchers would include Powell’s knife in the government’s holdings during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and all would be incorrect in this matter.

In 1867, the trial of John H. Surratt, the escaped conspirator, began. The evidence boxes were reopened and many of the same witnesses from the initial conspiracy trial were recalled. The civil trial ended in a hung jury and Surratt was set free. About six months later, another trial was held and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln was relived in that court room as well. That trial also acquits its defendant, President Johnson, who narrowly avoided impeachment. The assassination evidence, now having been taken out, examined, and disorganized twice since the conspiracy trial, was boxed up and stored again. This time, the storage lasted quite awhile.

In 1880, Representative William Springer of Illinois was one of the first to try to claim some of the Lincoln assassination artifacts. He introduced House Resolution 178 on January 23, 1880 calling for, “certain books and mementos in possession of the government to be placed in Memorial Hall of the National Lincoln Monument at Springfield, IL.”[9] It was quickly passed in the House and a Chicago Times journalist reported that it “will no doubt pass the Senate in a few days. The articles called for by the resolution are now in the office of Judge Advocate General Drum, in the War Department, and upon the passage of the resolution will be shipped to Springfield.”[10] While the resolution was eventually passed in both the House and Senate, the annual reports from the National Lincoln Monument Association in 1882 reflect what little became of it: “Concerning relics to be sent from the War and State Departments to Memorial Hall, the only article received thus far is one copy of, ‘Tributes of the Nations to the memory of Abraham Lincoln,’ and is the only one that can be spared. Hon. W. M. Springer has been untiring in his efforts to have the provisions in the joint resolution complied with, but obstacles have presented themselves at various points, and the probability is that we will never receive half of what was ordered in that resolution.”[11] Despite a resolution from Congress, the artifacts and knives stayed in storage as they were deemed too important to let go of, at least for now.

In May of 1899, Judge Advocate General Guido Lieber, was in the mood to do some spring cleaning. Particularly, he wanted to be rid of the trial relics: “These relics are now in a locked cabinet, in a storeroom of this office, in the sub-basement. Very frequently visitors obtain permission to see them, but, owing to the storeroom being filled with files, there are no facilities for showing them, and it takes the time of an employee of this office from his official duties for the purpose.”[12] Lieber contacted the Smithsonian (then called the National Museum) and they were “very agreeable” to receive the relics. Lieber then received permission from the Secretary of War, Russell Alger, to transfer the relics under one condition: the artifacts would forever remain “subject to the control of the War Department.” The Smithsonian did not care for this condition and, during the confrontation that followed, the War Department decided that, “the law did not authorize even a temporary removal of the exhibits.”[13] Again the relics stayed in the Judge Advocate General’s office.

The exhibits of the assassination trials displayed for a reporter in 1908.

The artifacts would not be freed from their tomb until 1940, 75 years after the assassination. By this time the National Parks Service was in control of Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House, using the space to exhibit Osborn Oldroyd’s collection of Lincolniana. The official exchange happened on February 5, 1940 when the office of the Judge Advocate General transferred over their materials to the Lincoln Museum (Ford’s). In the list of artifacts, there are four knives mentioned:

“Dagger with which Booth attacked Major Rathbone, and which he carried in his hand as he fled across the stage.”
“Knife used by Payne in his attempt to assassinate Seward.”
“Two knives secured from the effects of the conspirators”[14]

Under the control of thirteen different Judge Advocate Generals, the identities of the knives became scrambled and confused. Powell’s knife was not in the government’s possession and therefore was not turned over to Ford’s. The four knives that Ford’s received are the same four listed in the trial exhibit list. While, at times, it seemed that they were going to be transferred elsewhere, they never left the JAG’s office and the number of assassination knives being held by the government remained unchanged since Robinson was granted Powell’s knife in 1866. Since 1940, the National Parks Service has been trying to sort through this mess of knives with varying degrees of success.

Of all of the knives, the NPS has consistently been correct with their identification of Atzerodt’s knife and the Kirkwood knife. This is partially owing to the fact that the 1940 inventory correctly, but vaguely, lists these two as “Two knives secured from the effects of the conspirators”. If you would visit Ford’s today, you would see Atzerodt’s knife (FOTH 3234) and the Kirkwood knife (FOTH 3231) on display and correctly identified. The main problem and confusion with the knives lies with the assassin’s blade.

At Ford’s there is the above pictured, ornately etched, double edged knife, manufactured by Manson Sheffield Co. of England. It is just less than 12 inches long with a textured bone handle. This beautiful knife has the words, “America”, “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”, and “Liberty and Independence” etched on the blade. Due to this, Ford’s refers to it as the Liberty knife along with its artifact number FOTH 3235. Most visitors, however, know it by another name: Booth’s knife. According to the tag underneath it, this, “horn-handled dagger was used by John Wilkes Booth to stab Major Rathbone after shooting Abraham Lincoln.” No doubt, many have seen the irony of such a patriotic knife helping to commit such an atrocious crime. It makes a poignant impact on those who have seen it. Unfortunately, it’s also a lie. This is not the knife Booth used to stab Major Rathbone. This knife was not recovered from Booth at Garrett’s barn. This knife did not even belong to John Wilkes Booth.

To explain this confusion, it is crucial to look back at the statements and testimonies of those who were with, and captured, Booth. After Davy Herold was caught at the Garrett’s he was transferred to the monitor, Montauk. Here, he gave a statement skillfully trying to conceal his guilt. Though much of Davy’s statement must be taken with a grain of salt, he does produce the following about his traveling companion’s act: “[Booth said] he struck him [Rathbone] in the stomach or belly with a knife. He said that was the knife (pointing to the one which had been shown to the prisoner).”[15] Davy is stating that the knife recovered from Booth at the Garrett’s is the same knife he used to stab Rathbone. While Davy commits to this, he makes no mention of any ornate etchings on the blade of the knife. In fact, Davy, Everton Conger, Luther B. Baker, John “Jack” Garrett, and Boston Corbett all make mention of Booth’s knife in statements and testimonies, but merely describe it as a “bowie knife”. No mention is made of any noteworthy markings on the blade. The term “bowie knife” was used to describe any large hunting knife usually with a crossbar. It is similar to how a derringer, originally the specific maker of the firearm, came to refer to any small pocket pistol.

It is not until the John Surratt trial that a notable description of Booth’s knife is made. Everton Conger gives the following testimony:

“Q: Will you state what articles you took from him?
A: …He had a large bowie-knife, or hunting knife, and a sheath.
Q: Do you know whose make that was?
A: No, sir; the knife has a name on it, but I do not know what it is.”

At this point Conger is going from memory. He has not seen any of the weapons, but recalls the knife had a name on it. He is then shown the weapons:

“(A bowie-knife and sheath and a compass were shown to witness, and identified by him as being taken from the body of Booth. A piece of map was also identified by witness as having been taken from Herold…”

Conger examines the knife and then later is asked how he can be sure it is the same one he recovered from Booth:

“Q: How do you identify the knife?
A: The knife has a spot of rust on it, about two-thirds the way from the hilt to the point, right where the bevel of the knife commences at the end.  It was said to be blood, but I have never thought it was myself.  It is the same shape and style of knife.
Q: Have you not seen other knives like it?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Have you not seen a great many like it?
A: No, sir; only a few.
Q: You put no marks on it?
A: No.  I have no means of identifying it except by the description I have given.
Q: You did not look at the name of the maker?
A: I do not know that the name of the maker is on it.  I have looked at it since and noticed the words “Rio Grand camp-knife” on it.  I have no means of identifying it except what I have stated, and my general recollection of the style of the knife”[16]

This blade does not bear any engravings or patriotic slogans. It is identified with the name “Rio Grand Camp Knife” and a “spot of rust” said to be blood. This testimony identifying Booth’s knife raises a question. Since Booth’s knife is not the Liberty knife, from where does the Liberty knife come from? This question can be answered by looking at the exhibit list from the conspiracy trial. The Atzerodt knife and the Kirkwood knife are identified and accounted for, so that leaves just two: “Booth’s knife” and “Knife found at Mrs. Surratt’s House”. Since, through Conger’s identification of the knife he helped take from Booth, we know that the Liberty knife is not Booth’s knife, it has to be the “Knife taken from Mrs. Surratt’s house”.

Aside from the description in the exhibit list and its corresponding tag from the JAG’s office, this Liberty knife from Mrs. Surratt’s is very elusive. The conclusion that this author has drawn, is that this knife was likely taken from Mrs. Surratt’s and never properly inventoried. This is not as unlikely as it seems. The Surratt boardinghouse was stripped of anything that could be used as evidence. In an inventory list dated April 24, 1865, the final item mentioned is a “Trunk and contents from Surratt House”. It is written in a different pen and lacks the numeration and specificity of the other items in that list.[17] In fact, the only record of what was in the trunk comes from its return to Anna Surratt on August 18, 1865. The receipt, noting the return of three pistol cases, a sword, one box of caps and other items, does not mention a knife. However it should not mention it because the knife, as an exhibit, would have been retained by the government.[18] While this is a theory, with the mounds of evidence procured during those days, a knife from Mrs. Surratt’s could have easily been overlooked and not inventoried. Therefore, the Liberty knife currently on display at Ford’s as Booth’s knife is not the assassin’s blade but likely an ornate knife recovered from Mrs. Surratt’s. It never belonged to the assassin, and, conceivably, it was never used to harm anyone.

What then, became of the assassin’s blade? According to the 1940 transfer list, four knives were turned over to Ford’s and yet only three are on display. Two of those are correctly identified, while the Liberty knife continues its impersonation of Booth’s knife. The current fate of Booth’s true knife is identical to what it was for over 75 years. Booth’s knife is in storage.

Stored as a generic “knife” with the rest of Ford’s overflow items, it is currently held in the National Parks Service Museum Resource Center in Landover, MD. There it sits, FOTH 3218, encased in protective foam, accompanied by its sheath. While the knife has been found, there is still a mystery to be solved.

Booth’s knife has not always been hidden away in storage. There was a time when it was displayed by Ford’s accurately as Booth’s knife. Books from the 1950s and 60s have pictures of the real, Rio Grand Camp knife, with a spot of rust on the blade, endorsed by the NPS as Booth’s. But suddenly, and inexplicably, it was replaced with the Liberty knife. With the worsening budget cuts the NPS has suffered over the years, the paperwork on the knives at Ford’s is disorganized and, most importantly, they lack a historian to sort it all out. No one seems to know why the knives were switched, but they all trust the unknown predecessor who did so. If the switch was made due to a mere clerical error, the knife doesn’t deserve to sit in storage for another 75 years. It is this author’s hope that this article will merit a re-examination of the knives and the evidence regarding their identification. Hopefully, Booth’s true knife will escape from storage once again and be restored to the Ford’s Theatre Museum.

Booth’s real knife: FOTH 3218
Currently being held in Landover, MD

Dave Taylor examining Booth’s true knife in 2012.
Photographs by Jim Garrett.

[1] Edwards, W.C., & Steers, E. (2010). The Lincoln assassination, the evidence. (pp. xxii – xxiii).  Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

[2] Ibid, (p. 545).

[3] Ibid, (p. 1207).

[4] Ibid, (p. 1165).

[5] NARA. Trial exhibit list. Retrieved from website:

[6] Poore, B. P. (Ed.), (1865). The conspiracy trial for the murder of the president, and the attempt to overthrow the government by the assassination of its principal officers. Vol. 1. (pp. 66) Boston, MA: J. E. Tilton and Company.

[7] Steers, E. (1997). His name is still Mudd: The case against Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd. (p. 122). Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications.

[8] Edwards & Steers. (p. 758).

[9] U.S. House of Representatives. (1880). Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, being the second session of the forty-sixth congress, begun held at the city of Washington, December 1, 1879, in the one hundred and fourth year of the independence of the United States. (p. 297) Washington City, DC: Government Printing Office.

[10] (1880, January 31). Assassination relics: A description of some of the articles Congress will order sent to Springfield. The Cleveland Leader, p. 3.

[11] Power, J. C. (1884). Annual reports of the custodian to the executive committee of the national Lincoln monument association, reports for nine years, from 1875 to 1883 inclusive. (p. 35) Springfield, IL: H. W. Rokker.

[12] (1899, May 24). The Booth relics, they are to be transferred to the national museum. The Minneapolis Journal.

[13] (1904, December 18). The first photographs of the mementos of Lincoln’s assassin. The Washington Times, p. 5.

[14] Copy of a list from the Judge Advocate Generals’ office dated February 5, 1940 in the files of James O. Hall.  From the James O. Hall Research Center, Clinton, MD.

[15] Edwards & Steers. (p. 682)

[16] (1867) Trial of John H. Surratt in criminal court for the District of Columbia. Vol. 1. (p. 308) Washington City, DC: Government Printing Office.

[17] Edwards & Steers. (p. 1166).  The handwritten page is viewable here:

[18]Edwards & Steers. (p. 698).

Author’s note: A version of this article was originally published in the March 2012 issue of the Surratt Courier

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Newish News

Most of what follows is probably already known to those who regularly read this blog.  Nevertheless here’s some newish news on the Lincoln assassination front.

Booth reading the news

 1.  New Site

When it comes to learning about Abraham Lincoln’s life, there really is no better resource than the Abraham Lincoln Research Site run by Roger Norton.  The website at is actually composed of three equally valuable sections: the life of Abraham Lincoln, the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, and Lincoln’s assassination.  The proprietor of the site is Roger Norton, a retired Illinois social studies teacher.  His website is the top choice for students, both young and old, to learn about Lincoln.  In 2006, his site received the prestigious honor of being completely archived by the Library of Congress.  Just as the LOC archives and preserves movies and TV shows deemed culturally significant, Mr. Norton’s site was archived for all time due to its educational significance.  It is a very high honor for an individual’s site to achieve and speaks to the quality of Mr. Norton’s work.

Recently, Mr. Norton has expanded his website to now include a public forum.  The Lincoln Discussion Symposium is open to all who wish to discuss the many aspects of Abraham Lincoln.  It is a collaborative community where amateurs and experts alike can post questions and comments regarding our 16th President.  Due to the large amount of traffic Mr. Norton receives from students in the school setting, forum members are expected to be courteous and respectful in their remarks.  While it is still growing, the forum already houses a wonderful community of experts from the Lincoln community eager to answer questions and take part in discussions.  I, myself, am a member there and endorse it fully.  While my main interest lies in Lincoln’s assassination, the forum has already taught me so much that I didn’t know about the living Lincoln.  Membership is growing every day, so I invite you all to visit the Lincoln Discussion Symposium and join the wonderful community of learners.

2.  New Links

On the right side of the blog you might have noticed a list of “Links to Learn More”.  Here I have placed links to some of the best websites out there for Lincoln assassination material.  Hovering over each link will give you a short description of the site.  To this list, I have recently added two new links.  The first is the above mentioned Lincoln Discussion Symposium.  The second is the Facebook page for the Spirits of Tudor Hall.  The Tudor Hall estate was the Booth family homestead in Maryland.  The theatrical patriarch of the Booth clan, Junius Brutus bought the land when he and Mary Ann Holmes emigrated from England.  The Booth family originally lived in a log cabin on the property before Junius commissioned the building of the beautiful Tudor Hall manor house in the fall of 1851.  Sadly, Junius never got to live in the main house as he died while on tour on November 30th 1852.  The Booth family lived on the Tudor Hall property on and off from 1822 to 1858.  Nowadays, Tudor Hall is used as an office for the Harford County Center for the Arts.  It is also home to the Junius B. Booth Society.   The house is open on select weekends for public tours about the Booth family and the history of Tudor Hall.  The Spirits of Tudor Hall Facebook page advertises the house’s tour dates and times, along with highlighting wonderful pictures and articles on the Booth family (including some from here, Woot!).  If I was a member of Facebook, I would Share it/Like it/Poke it/Friend it/Hug it/High Five it, whatever it is that you young people do there.  One thing they are advertising on Tudor Hall’s behalf is the sale of a genuine brick from a Tudor Hall chimney.  While the bricks can’t be completely authenticated to when the Booths lived there, it’s still a relic you can own dating back to Edwin Booth’s lifetime.  Add the Spirits of Tudor Hall Facebook page to your favorites today.

3.  New(ish) Books

I am happy to report that William Edwards’ book, The Lincoln Assassination – The Reward Files, is now available for purchase as an ebook through GoogleBooks.  Previously released as a book on CD-ROM, Mr.  Edwards has revamped his collection of primary source documents into a searchable ebook.  The Reward Files hold many details about the military’s search for Booth and contains firsthand accounts (like Samuel Arnold’s confession) not found in other sources.  This text along with The Evidence and the Court Transcripts, make up the trilogy of the government’s primary documents into the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Also, Ed Steers, the noted Lincoln author and co-author on The Evidence with William Edwards, has also just released an updated Kindle ebook version of his popular booklet, The Escape and Capture of John Wilkes Booth.  Mr. Steers originally posted the news of his revised book on the Lincoln Discussion Symposium.

Well, that’s all the newish news that’s fit to print.  Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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Samuel Arnold’s Confession

The following is Samuel Arnold’s full confession that he gave following his arrest on April 17th.  This account is copied from William Edwards’ book The Lincoln Assassination – The Rewards Files.  Mr. Edwards is the author behind the trilogy of primary sources regarding the assassination.  The Evidence, The Court Transcripts, and The Rewards Files, are all essential materials for those studying the assassination.  They contain the bulk of the government’s microfilmed records and are priceless to the researcher.  The Evidence can be bought as both a physical book (the Surratt House Museum offers the best value on this) and as a non-searchable ebook.  The Trial Transcript can be purchased as a searchable ebook.  The Rewards Files were previously released on a CD-ROM  (still available through the Surratt House Museum) and will shortly be released as an ebook through Google Books. EDIT: The book is now available for purchase here.

I have previously written my support of Edwards’ Trial Transcripts and I will certainly let you all know when The Reward Files are available for download.  In the meantime, Arnold’s confession provides some of the most reliable information about the original abduction conspiracy:

“To Whom it May Concern,

Know that I, Saml B. Arnold, about the latter part of August or first part of September 1864, was sent for by J. Wilkes Booth, who was a guest at Barnum Hotel, City of Baltimore Md. to come to see him. Had not seen the same J. Wilkes Booth since 1852, when we both were schoolmates together at St. Timothy’s Hall, President L. Van Bokelin then having said Hall as place of tuition. Reception warm calling for wine and cigars conversing a short time upon our former school boy days. We were interrupted by a knock at the door, when Michael O’Laughlen was ushered in. After a formal introduction, we sat sipping our wine, and then smoke a cigar. During smoking he having heard previously of my feelings or sentiments, he spoke in glowing terms of the confederacy and of the number of surplus prisoners in the hands of the United States, and then ensued the proposition by J. Wilkes Booth and which he J. Wilkes Booth thought could be accomplished viz; Kidnapping President Lincoln as he frequently went unguarded out to Soldiers Home, and he thought he could be picked up, carried to Richmond, and for his exchange produce the exchange (for the President) of all the prisoners in the Federal hands. He, J. Wilkes Booth the originator asked if we would enter into it. After the painting of the chance of success in such glowing colors, we consented viz; Michael O’Loughlin and myself. Secrecy bound not to divulge it to a living soul. Saw him no more. Yes I saw him again and then he J. Wilkes Booth left to arrange the business north. First to New York then to the Oil region, from there to Boston and finally to Canada. Was to be back in a month. Received a letter which I destroyed stating he was laid up with Eryeocippolis in the arm and as soon as he was able, he would be with us. Months rolled around, he did not make his appearance until some time in January. In his trunk he had two guns (maker unknown), cap cartridges which were placed in the gun stock (Spencer Rifle I think called) revolver, knife belts, cartridge boxes, cartridge caps, canteen, all fully fixed out which were to be used in case of pursuit, and two pairs handcuffs to handcuff the President. His trunk being so heavy he gave the pistols knives and handcuffs to Michael O’Laughlen and myself to have shipped or bring to Washington to which place he had gone. Bought horse buggy, wagon and harness leaving the team &c. to drive on to Washington. Started from Baltimore about twelve or one o’clock after having shipped the box containing the knives, handcuffs and pistols, arriving in Washington at seven or half past seven. Met him on the street as we were passing theater. We alighted, took a drink and he told us of the theater plan slightly, saying he would wait till we put the horse away and tell us more fully. He had previously as I now remember spoken of the chance in the theater if we could not succeed in the other at Soldiers Home. We went to theater that night, he J. Wilkes Booth telling us about the different back entrances and how feasible the plan was. He, J. Wilkes Booth, had rented a stable in rear of the theater having bought two horses down the country, one in stable behind theater and the other at livery. Met him next day went to breakfast together. He was always pressed with business with a man unknown and then only by name, John Surratt. Most of his Booth’s time was spent with him. We were left entirely in the dark. Michael O’Loughlen and myself rented a room in D Street 420 No. Obtained meals at Franklin House cor of 8th and D St. and there lived for nearly two months, seeing him perhaps three or four times per week and when seen always but a short time still pressing business aleays on hand viz. John Surratt.

Michael O’Laughlen and myself drove out occasionally the horse liveried at Nailor’s Stable drove always (but once) in the city and Georgetown. The once excepted across Eastern Branch Bridge when we went upwards of five miles and returned I suppose. That was the only time I ever went over the Bridge. How often J. Wilkes Booth crossed I cannot state, but from his own words often. Thus was Michael O’Laughlens time spent and mine for the most part down at Ruhlman’s Hotel and Lichau House on Pennsylvania and Louisiana Avenues in drinking and amusements with other Baltimoreans besides ourselves congregating there all of whom knew nothing of our business but selling oil stock. Oil stock was the blind for them as well as my family. During the latter part of March while standing on Ruhlman’s and Lichau’s porch between 11 & 12 o’clock PM a young man name unknown, as I cannot remember names, about 5 feet 5 or 6 inches high thick set, long nose, sharp chin, wide cheek, small eye, I think grey, dark hair, and well dressed, color don’t remember, said called Michael O’Laughlen aside and said J. Wilkes Booth wish to see us both at Gaither’s Saloon on Avenue. I was there for the first time introduced to him, but forgot his name. We walked up together, Michael O’Laughlen, this unknown and myself were ushered into the presence of J. Wilkes Booth who introduced me to John Surratt, Atzerodt (alias Port Tobacco) (alias) Mosby making in all seven persons. J. Wilkes Booth had stated to Michael O’Laughlen to bring me up in good humor (still always in the dark). Then commenced the plan. Each had his part to perform. First I was to rush in the box and seize the President whilst Atzerodt “alias” Port Tobacco and J. Wilkes Booth were to handcuff him and lower him on the stage whilst Mosby was to catch him and hold him until we all got down. Surratt and unknown to be on the other side of Bridge to facilitate escape, afterwards changed to Mosby and Booth to catch him in box throw him down to me on stage, O’Laughlen and unknown to put gas out. Surratt, Atzerodt “alias” Port Tobacco to be on the other side of Bridge. I was opposed to the whole proceeding, said it could not be done or accomplished if even which was of itself an impossibility to get him out of the box and to the Bridge. We would be stopped by sentinel. Shoot the sentinel says Booth. I said that would not do for if an alarm was given then the whole thing was up. As for me I wanted a shadow of a chance. M. O’Laughlen wanted to argue the same thing, whereupon J. Wilkes Booth remarked, you find fault with everything concerned about it. I said no I wanted to have a chance and I intended to have it, that he could be the leader of the party but not my executioner. Whereupon J. Wilkes Booth remarked in a stern commanding and angry voice, do you know you are liable to be shot your oath.[sic] I told him the plan a basis had been changed and a compact broken, on the part of one is broken by all. If you feel inclined to shoot me you have no further to go. I shall defend myself. This if I remember arightly was on a Thursday or a Friday night. When I said Gentlemen if this is not accomplished this week I forever withdraw from it. Staid up till about 6 or 7 o’clock AM Friday or Saturday and then to bed, remained indoors till twelve. I arose and went to get my breakfast. M. O’Laughlen and myself room together both arose at the same time and were always together in a measure. About two or three o’clock J. Wilkes Booth called at Lichau House to see O’Laughlen. What passed I know not. I told him I wanted to see him. Says he speak out. Well John what I said last night I mean if not done this week I withdraw. Went to bed about 7 ½ o’clock PM. Next day twas to be accomplished on the 7th Street road, it failed. Sunday I staid in Washington and Monday or Tuesday I returned to the city of Baltimore and thence to Hookstown. J. Wilkes Booth in meantime went to New York and returned during week, Saturday I think. Said he wished to see me on very urgent business. Father sent for me. I came from country and he had gone to Washington, whereupon I wrote him the letter published. Richmond authorities as far as I know knew nothing of the conspiracy. The letter was written after my return to country, after finding he could not wait to see me in Baltimore. During week I came in City again. Met M. O’Laughlen who asked me to go to Washington to finally arrange his affairs. I went in the morning Friday, returning same day. Cut loose forever from it. Received a letter J. H. Wharton at Fort Monroe giving me employment; went to country got my clothing and Saturday first day of April left Baltimore for Fort Monroe at which place I have remained, never corresponding with Booth or seeing him from above named date to the present writing. The groundwork was to kidnap the President without any violence none other were included therein. He never to me said he would kill him, further than this I know nothing and am innocent of having taken any part whatever in the dark deed committed.

The plan of escape was place Mr. Lincoln in the buggy purchased for that purpose, cross Eastern Branch Bridge, Surratt and Atzerodt “alias” Port Tobacco to pilot them to where a boat was concealed, turn horses loose, place the President in the boat and cross the Potomac to Virginia Shore and thence to make our way to Richmond. Surratt knew the route and was to act as pilot.

A box painted black like unto a sword box was sent to Booth from Hotel by a Porter there, to our room. Next day transferred in wagon, O’Laughlen acting pilot to some place. I was not present. After giving box to driver went to Georgetown and O’Laughlen had the full charge of it. M. O’Laughlen said he took it to a Mr. Heard and from thence the unknown carried it to his house, took guns out and carried them to Peedee. This latter clause Booth told me.

Saml. B. Arnold

Baltimore April 18th 1865

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The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts

I have previously written about the wonderful resource tool that is, The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence by William Edwards and Ed Steers. William Edwards went through and painstakingly transcribed the bulk of the National Archives’ record group M599, the government’s collected evidence after Lincoln’s assassination. With editorial annotations by Ed Steers, the book is the best tool for researching the Lincoln assassination primary sources. When used in conjunction with to view the documents themselves, the book becomes of even greater value.

While I could sing the accolades of The Evidence for hours, this post is actually about a new and equally wonderful resource by William Edwards, The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts.

Now I know what you are thinking, “I already have a copy of the conspiracy trial. Why would I buy another one?” It is true that there are many editions and reprints of the conspiracy trial out there. There were three different versions of the trial (Pitman, Poore, and Peterson) and each have been reprinted many times over the years. Even William Edwards’ partner on The Evidence, Ed Steers, released his own reprint of the Pitman edition of the trial. However, as valuable as all of these versions are, William’s new eBook is better. Let me tell you why:

1. This transcription is the most accurate. This transcription was made straight from the microfilmed images of the court’s official copy of each day’s trial proceedings. The words and testimonies have not been summarized or altered in anyway. The words presented are exactly as they were written by the court’s team of stenographers in 1865.

2. This transcription is the most complete. While publisher Benjamin Perley Poore’s editions of the trial are equally accurate since they were taken from the same source material, they are also incomplete. His fourth and final volume of the trial transcript was never released due to a lack of public interest and low sales of the other volumes. Poore’s editions, therefore, are missing the testimonies of around twenty witnesses. In addition, Poore’s versions lack the closing arguments made by the prosecution and defense attorneys. These missing testimonies and closing arguments are found, in full, in this account.

3. This digitized version of the trial employs four different finding aids and is searchable. This digitized version of the trial makes reading and researching easy. Any part of the trial can be found based on section, NARA reel number, date of testimony, or witness name. Also, by pressing Ctrl+F while reading, you can do a search for any keyword in the entire trial.

Ultimately, if you are looking for a version of the conspiracy trial to purchase, look no further. If you already have a copy of the trial, you also need to get this version. For researching, there is no better version of the trial out there.

Buy it from Google Books today. You won’t regret it.

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Researching with Primary Sources

When we want to learn more about the Lincoln assassination, the first place we all start is with the books.  American Brutus by Michael Kauffman, Blood on the Moon by Edward Steers, and Manhunt by James Swanson, seem to be the top three choices for those starting off.  While many other wonderful books have been written on the subject, these three provide the most up to date research and findings about the assassination.  What makes these books the best modern writings on the subject, is their use of primary sources.  The chapter notes in American Brutus, for example, are filled with new discoveries and sources ignored or unknown to previous writers.  That is why, when looking to do research into the Lincoln assassination, it is crucial to use primary sources.  Ten years ago, this would have meant a visit to the National Archives to look through rolls of microfilm.  Today, however, some of the best primary sources have been published as standalone books or digitized.  This post explores using two such resources in tandem to aid in researching and learning about our great American drama.

One source that is absolutely necessary for any serious research into the assassination is, The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence by William Edwards and Edward Steers.  This book contains practically all of the paper materials involved with the investigation of Lincoln’s murder.  The 1400 page book is filled with witness statements about nearly every aspect of the assassination.  William Edwards transcribed the book one microfilmed page at a time from the original evidence files in the National Archives.  Then, teamed with Edward Steers, they indexed, categorized and annotated the piece.  The sheer work involved in making this book is astounding, and we all owe the authors a sincere thank you for producing it.  While the size of the book increases the price tag (it can be bought cheap for $99 through the Surratt House Museum), it is worth every penny for the convenience and treasures that lay inside.  My copy of The Evidence, sits right next to my computer within arm’s reach, and I reference it practically every day.  The Evidence is not only vastly helpful because it saves me a trip to D.C. to look at microfilm, but it also has an index, allowing me to quickly and easily find the material I am looking for.

Another great resource to find the same materials is through the website,  Previously known as until a recent merger with, Fold3 provides millions of digitized historical documents.  Their partnerships with institutions like the Library of Congress and the National Archives, have allowed them to digitize and present pieces of history to a wider audience than ever before.  Most beneficial for our interest are the Lincoln Assassination Papers hosted by them.  Fold3 has digitized all of the microfilmed pages included in The Evidence and more.  Even better, while most of the site requires a paid membership to view and save images of the documents, the Lincoln Assassination Papers are free to view and (with a free account) free to save.  While Fold3 is a wonderful way to look at the images of the documents themselves, the pages have not been transcribed in any way.  Individual members can go through and annotate and transcribe names and places, but a full digital transcription of these hand-written documents seems unlikely to ever happen.  That is where The Evidence book comes in.

There have been many times where I have found it to be helpful to see the original document that I found in The Evidence.  Unfortunately, the naming used on Fold3 does not match with the original reel and frame number cited in The Evidence.  That is why I created a key that allows me to use the citation in The Evidence to find the actual document on Fold3.  Here is that key:

Click to Enlarge

Looks confusing, huh?  Let me show you how to use it.

First, after you find the statement you want to see in The Evidence, you have to look for the reel and frame citation.  For example, this is the header and citation for a letter written by Richard Baynham Garrett:

This tells me that this letter is found on reel 7: frames 77 – 79.  Then we have to use the key I posted above.  I spilt the key up into three columns.  The first column gives the name that has for its different sections.  The second column gives the reel and frame numbers that correspond to that section.  The third column gives examples of frame numbers from The Evidence and matching page numbers on

So, the Garrett letter was located on reel 7 in The Evidence.  On Fold3, reel 7 is named “Unregistered letters received by Col. H. L. Burnett” so we’d choose that one to view.  Finding the correct page number is next.  If you would click on page 77 under the “Unregistered letters received by Col. H. L. Burnett” reel you would not find Richard Garrett’s letter but instead a letter from J. L. McPhail.  I have the following in my key under this reel:
25:44 (+19)
91:114 (+23)
This means that frame 25 in The Evidence is on page 44 on Fold3, and that frame 91 in The Evidence is on page 114 on Fold3.  After each I placed the differences between them.  Since I’m looking for frame 77 according to The Evidence, this is telling me that I need to add between 19 and 23 to find the correct page on Fold3.  You’ll still have to do a bit of searching to track down the exact page, but this should make it much easier.  Garrett’s letter can be found on page 99 on Fold3, a difference of 22 pages.

One important thing to note is that two of the reels, (Reel 1 and Reel 3) were digitized backwards.  The last page of the reel is page 1 in these ones.  For the Reel 1 (Letters AND Telegrams AND Register of Letters AND Record Book And Endorsement Book) this is alright because the telegrams have page numbers at the top that make it easy to follow.  Reel 3 is harder to navigate, but hopefully this key will give you some idea of where to start in it.

Used together, these two resources, The Evidence and, are a Boothie’s dream.  Publishing and digitizing these primary sources allows all Boothies to read, learn, and discover more than ever before.  As companies like Google, Fold3, and Ancestry continue on their digitalization efforts, more discoveries and insights about the Lincoln assassination will be found.

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To have Peace…

The following letter was received by the Department of the Secretary of State, on April 23rd, 1865:

“To the Honorable Secretary of State

Dear Sir,

In looking over some old papers yesterday my eye came in contact with the enclosed extract which under the existing state of affairs I thought was worthy of being pointed out to you especially as the state (Ala) is now in our possession and the authors of the proposition can be hunted out and brought to justice ever provided they are innocent of the murder.

I have the honor to be your Obt. Servant,
Henry L. Greiner”

Attached to this letter was this extract from the Selma Dispatch:

One Million Dollars Wanted, to have Peace by the 1st of March. – If the citizens of the Southern Confederacy will furnish me with the cash or good securities for the sum of one million dollars, I will cause the lives of Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward and Andrew Johnson to be taken by the first of March next.  This will give us peace, and satisfy the world that cruel tyrants can not live in the “land of  liberty.”  If this is not accomplished nothing will be claimed beyond the sum of fifty thousand dollars, in advance, which is supposed to be necessary to reach and slaughter the three villains.
I will give, myself, one thousand dollars towards this patriotic purpose.
Every one wishing to contribute will address box X, Cahaba, Alabama.  X.
December 1, 1864″

The author of this advertisement was George W. Gayle, a lawyer from Cahaba, Alabama.  Gayle ran this advertisement in the Selma Dispatch four or five times to express his, and his neighbors’, digust and hatred for the sixteenth president and his cabinet.  We can tell his threat was not a real one due to his million dollar fee.  Such a sum would be unobtainable in the war ravaged South.

While extravagant and crass, Gayle demonstrates the feeling that Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant.  This idea was shared by many others who watched a war between brothers rage on.  One man who shared this view was John Wilkes Booth.

Gayle’s violent expression of disgust against Lincoln would come back to haunt him.  After the government received the above note and newspaper clipping, Gayle was hunted down and arrested on May 24.  The 57-year-old lawyer had no real connection to John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln’s assassination,  but the government used him as a warning to all of those who spoke ill of the late President.  Not only was his advertisement and character involved in the Trial of the Conspirators in 1865, but, he was still trying to clear his name in court as of December, 1866.

The people of the Confederacy learned quickly from Mr. Gayle’s example.  Those who agreed with what Booth had done censored themselves to protect themselves.  Many only committed their approval in the form of diary and journal entries.  To learn more about the how Southerners viewed Lincoln’s assassination, I recommend the book, When the Bells Tolled for Lincoln: Southern Reaction to the Assassination by Carolyn L. Harrell.  This book is a wonderful look at how varied the perception of Lincoln’s death was across the Southern states.

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