Posts Tagged With: Execution

The Lincoln Assassination on this Day (August 22 – September 4)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

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The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (July 4 – July 31)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

This post is an especially long one, comprising of almost an entire month of tweets. It will take quite a long time to load.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

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The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (April 25 – May 8)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

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Categories: History, OTD | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (January 1 – January 31)

On the first of 2022, I started back up with my daily On This Day (OTD) tweets over on my Twitter account, @LinConspirators. While I know it’s not the same as more regular postings here on the blog of in-depth research, with my busy work, life, and family responsibilities it’s been hard to find time to really research. Hopefully these collective tidbits from the last month will be enough to appease you all.


Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

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The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (September 27 – October 3)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

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Categories: History, OTD | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Treason Chokers” and “Wooden Overcoats”: An Eyewitness Account of the Conspirators’ Execution

On July 7, 1865, four of the convicted conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln were put to death on the grounds of the Old Arsenal Penitentiary in Washington, D.C. The condemned prisoners consisted of Lewis Powell who had attacked and nearly fatally wounded Secretary of State William Seward, David Herold who had assisted and joined John Wilkes Booth on his ill fated escape after the shooting of the President, George Atzerodt who had been commissioned to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson but failed to make the attempt, and Mary Surratt the owner of a D.C. boardinghouse who assisted Booth by transporting field glasses to her Maryland tavern on the afternoon of the assassination.

The execution of these three men and one woman marked an ending in the country’s quest for vengeance after the death of the Chief Executive. Coming after a military trial which lasted for 8 weeks and heard from 347 witnesses, the end of the conspirators was well documented in the press of the day. Vivid descriptions of the hanging on that hot July afternoon were published in newspapers nationwide from Associated Press reporters and others on the scene.

But perhaps one of the most compelling accounts of that day’s events comes from one of the soldiers who was present at the Old Arsenal when the drops fell. This soldier’s name was William D. F. Landon. Originally a private with the 14th Indiana Infantry, he was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness and then transferred to the 1st U.S. Veteran Volunteers. In this way he was a member of General Winfield Scott Hancock’s corps with duty in and around Virginia and Washington. One thing that was unique about Sgt. Landon was his role as an unofficial field reporter for his local newspaper back in Indiana, The Weekly Vincennes Western Sun. Over the course of the war, Landon wrote many letters to the editor of the Western Sun documenting the life of a soldier along with the events and battles he took part in. He wrote all of these letters under the pen name of Prock, affording him a degree of anonymity to speak honestly about what he was witnessing.

From July through November of 1865 alone, Prock wrote a series of nine letters to the Sun about his experiences. Most notably is the letter he wrote on July 11, 1865 documenting his recent duty at the execution of the conspirators. This letter was published in the July 22, 1865 edition of The Weekly Vincennes Western Sun. If you would like to read Prock’s account in its original form, click here, otherwise what follows is a transcription made from the article.

This account provides us with a unique perspective on the execution of the conspirators written in a tone that is not to be found in any other descriptions of the event. There is a surprising amount of humor in what Prock writes. But it’s also an honest accounting, adding a degree of human realism to the otherwise stark proceedings.

“Camp First Regiment U.S. Veteran Vol.
Hancock’s Corps.
Near Washington, D.C., July 11, 1865

Dear Greene:

At 4 o’clock on the morning of the 7th inst. we marched with one day’s rations and “forty rounds” to the Arsenal, or Old penitentiary building, to take part in the “drop game.” As we filed into the enclosure and formed two sides of a square (the prison wall and the high brick parapet forming the other two) I observed first four graves and four “wooden overcoats;” then the scaffold, with two drops, and the four “treason chokers” swaying to and fro in the wind. I had not anticipated all this so soon, presuming the XEQtion would of course be a public one, and that having already marched five miles in a broiling July sun and through dense clouds of stifling dust, fancied our troubles but begun, and that we were to escort the wretches to some of the high and barren hilltops surrounding the city; we were all most agreeably disappointed and stood at ease, leaning on our well burnished arms and gazing with mere curiosity at the workmen putting the finishing touches to the “assassins’ derrick.” Guards being posted everywhere, we stacked arms and broke ranks. Some of the carpenters in the regiment lent a hand in adjusting beams and traces, occasionally tossing the boys a block that was sawn off, or a strip of scantling for a walking stick. A grand rush was always made for these by the “relic hunters of the Wilderness,” occasioning much amusement amongst the soldiery. In removing some caisson boxes, &c., from one part of the yard, a fatigue party captured a huge rat. He was immediately court-martialed, sentenced and (a miniature gallows being erected and a piece of fish line procured) hung – his carcass chucked into one of the pits near the coffins.

A piece of the conspirators’ gallows. From the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

The prison wall is at least eighteen feet high and shut out not only the view from the Potomac, but the “ten knot” breeze that was filling more than one white sail on the broad stream. Occasionally a circling puff whirling over the enclosure would stir up everything that was laying around loose, dust included, and cause the “human hawsers” to writhe as I have seen wounded snakes before now.

Some hundred citizens were admitted – not twenty-five of them but what were attached to either the “press gang” or detective’s force of Washington City. All these “roosters” carried umbrellas, and soon had them spread skywards. The sentinels took revenge by quietly punching their sharp glittering bayonets through the “silk Sibleys;” so, had it rained, many a chap would have wondered why his “round-house” leaked so badly.

Finally, everything was in readiness and “Time!” called. The soldiers stood to their arms and the four culprits appeared on the scene. The usual formula was gone through with, lasting perhaps twenty minutes, when the ropes were adjusted, the white caps pulled over their heads, and they were literally jerked into Eternity. I have an idea that from the time a fellow feels the rope coiling round his neck till he is “hood-winked” and actually “rubbed out” of existence, ye past presents the finest – aye, perhaps the most terrible – panorama he ever witnessed. I have no desire to see it (when my turn comes for “going under”) “roped in,” with a frame of bayonets and bronzed, unsympathising faces.

Life having been pronounced extinct by the U.S. surgeons present, the yard was cleared of all but members of our regiment or division by order of Major Gen. Hancock; a “detail” was then made to take down the bodies and bury them. The soldiers performing this task whacked off as much rope from each dangling quirl as they could reach, and, cutting it into small pieces, threw it among their comrades below. The scramble for the twine far exceeded that for the blocks and scraps of wood an hour or two before.

Pieces of the ropes used to hang the conspirators. From the collection of the Ford’s Theatre Museum.

Two men scuffling good humoredly for a “rope-relic,” rolled into one of the freshly dug graves, and before they could extricate themselves half a dozen shovel fulls of earth had been thrown upon them by laughing comrades.

The bodies were placed in the “wooden overcoats” just as they fell, with the exception that the fatal nooses were taken off – the white “death-hoods” were not removed. I noticed the rope in every instance had cut to the bone.

Mrs. Surratt died without a struggle, merely a clenching of the left hand. Payne or Powell was on the “drop” next in order. He took great pains to place his toes right on the edge – stood straight as an arrow – said nothing to the lookers-on – gave a slight shrug of the shoulders when the coil fell about his bare neck, but not a tremor of a nerve or winking of an eye could be noticed. He died, to use the slang term, “game to the last.” Harrold and Atzerott were both half dead with terror and the consciousness of their awful situation. Their knees knocked together as they bade each other “good bye.” There was but a single disturbance that I saw during the day. One of the 6th regiment, U.S. Veteran Volunteers, Hancock’s corps, attempting to pass the guard at the outer gate with an empty canteen for water, was halted, and some words passed, when the sergeant of the guard coming up drew his sabre and stabbed the unarmed soldier in the face, putting out his right eye and giving him a dangerous if not fatal wound. The sergeant and the guard on at this post are from the “Veteran Reserve or Invalid corps” (our boys call them the Diarrhea Corps,”) and no troops “in the field” are on good terms with these d—-d overbearing “Invalids and hospital bummers” – that’s what’s the matter. Well my item is not finished yet: a brother of the wounded man, hearing of the uncalled for and cowardly act, came up and put an ounce and a half of cold lead into the brain-pan of the “reserve sergeant,” killing him instantly, and then walked cooly on to see after his brother’s wounds. That’s the right kind of vengeance, for you! – he had heard that his brother was mortally wounded and was determined on revenge first – that is as it should be!

Truly Yours,
Prock”

In an odd twist of fate, it seems that Prock unknowingly predicted his own death when he wrote, “when my turn comes for ‘going under’” in this letter. One year after the conspirators’ execution, then Lt. William D. F. Landon completely disappeared while stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. While the army originally thought Lt. Landon may have just gone AWOL, he was never heard from again, not even among his friends and relations in Indiana. After an investigation by the army in 1867, it was concluded that Landon had met with an accident and died around July 8, 1866. According to a letter written by the Assistant Adjutant General to an inquiring Indiana congressman, “it is supposed that he was drowned while bathing in the Missouri river.” Seems like ol’ Prock went under the waves himself, almost a year to the day that he witnessed the conspirators bade their own final good byes.

Sources:
“Letter from ‘Prock’,” The Weekly Vincennes Western Sun (Vincennes, IN), July 22, 1865, 1.
“Prock’s Last Letters to the Vincennes Western Sun,” Indiana Magazine of History 35, no. 1 (1939): 76-94.
My thanks to Monique Howell at the Indiana State Library for directing me to the digitized copy of Prock’s letter in the Vincennes Western Sun.

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The Execution and Burial of Lewis Powell

Though I have already published a post today about the 155th anniversary of the execution of the four condemned conspirators in the death of Abraham Lincoln, I have another quick one to mark the occasion. Over the last three days I have been in Florida visiting sites connected to conspirator Lewis Powell. Someday in the near future, I will be publishing a very long post all about Lewis Powell’s early life and the post-assassination lives of his parents here in Florida complete with images I have taken during this trip. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you all a video I shot today at Lewis Powell’s grave in Geneva, Florida. In the video, I read accounts of the execution on this day and discuss the post-execution wanderings of Lewis Powell’s skull. I hope you enjoy it.

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The Testimony Regarding Mary Surratt

155 years ago on this day, four of the eight conspirators tried in the death of Abraham Lincoln ascended a hastily constructed set of gallows. Just one week earlier they had been convicted and sentenced to their death but had only learned about their fates the day before. The three men and one woman who climbed those stairs to meet their maker were Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt and Mary E. Surratt. When the drop fell right around 1:25 in the afternoon, Mrs. Surratt became the first woman executed by the federal government.

Over May and June of this year, I presented a day-by-day look at the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators that led to this execution. I tried to make sense of the military trial that saw different witnesses haphazardly take the stand against different conspirators one after another. Today, I’m releasing the first of eight helpful resources that organizes the trial not chronologically as we experienced before, but this time based on the testimony against each of the individual conspirators. Rather than having to look through the entirety of the trial to gain an understanding of the specific evidence against a single person, all of the relevant testimony regarding each conspirator has been organized into an easily accessible and hyperlinked table. For the anniversary of her execution, I have decided to start with the testimony regarding Mary Surratt. The text that follows this paragraph contains the same information that will always be found on a standalone page of the trial project called Mary Surratt Testimony and can be accessed by clicking the picture of Mrs. Surratt on The Trial homepage. The organized testimony regarding the other conspirators will be published over the next month.


The following table shows all of the testimony given at the Lincoln conspiracy trial concerning Mary Surratt. Clicking on any of the witnesses’ names will take you to their corresponding testimony in the chronological Trial project.

The default arrangement of the witnesses in the table is by Relevant Testimony. This organizes the witnesses based on what specific aspect of the conspirator’s case was discussed. In the case of Mary Surratt, I organized the testimony into seven categories, labeled A – G. Descriptions of what each category means can be found after the table. The tabs on the bottom of the table allow you to view the witnesses arranged by Date and Alphabetically by last name.

Mobile users: Due to the smaller screen size on mobile devices, you will likely have to scroll left and right on the table to see the Relevant Testimony column.

Relevant Testimony descriptions:

A. John Wilkes Booth and the other Conspirators’ Presence at Mrs. Surratt’s Boardinghouse

In establishing Mrs. Surratt’s connection to John Wilkes Booth’s plot, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Louis Weichmann, one of the lodgers at Surratt’s D.C. boardinghouse. Weichmann testified at length about the presence of Booth and some of the other conspirators at the boardinghouse and how Mrs. Surratt sometimes met with Booth when her son, John, was not at home. The defense tried to show that, as a boardinghouse owner and hospitable woman, Mrs. Surratt’s interactions with Booth and the others was nothing more than politeness.

B. Mrs. Surratt’s Trips to her Tavern in Surrattsville on April 11th and April 14th

The other key witness against Mary Surratt was the tenant of her tavern property in Maryland, John M. Lloyd. Lloyd testified about Mrs. Surratt traveling down to Southern Maryland on April 11th and telling him that weapons hidden at the tavern would be needed soon. On April 14th, the day of Lincoln’s assassination, Mary traveled to her tavern with a package she had been given by Booth. She gave that package to Lloyd and allegedly told him to, “have the shooting irons ready, a party will call for them tonight.” Mrs. Surratt’s defense brought evidence to show that Mrs. Surratt was attempting to settle some debts during this period of time and that was the reasons she made these journeys.

C. The Reputations of Louis Weichmann and John M. Lloyd

As the two key witnesses against Mrs. Surratt, the defense made a great effort to show the questionable reliability of Weichmann and Lloyd. Evidence was presented to suggest that Weichmann may have been disloyal (or even part of Booth’s plot), while Lloyd was portrayed as a drunk of dubious trustworthiness.

D. The Reputations of Defense Witnesses Joseph Knott and John Zadoc Jenkins

In the same way that the defense attacked the credibility of two prosecution witnesses, the prosecution spent a lot of time attacking the character and loyalty of two defense witnesses, one of whom was Mrs. Surratt’s brother.

E. Pictures of John Wilkes Booth and Confederate Generals Found in Mrs. Surratt’s Boardinghouse

During the manhunt for Booth, Mrs. Surratt’s house was searched multiple times and during one of these searches images of Confederate leaders and a hidden photograph of John Wilkes Booth was found in Mrs. Surratt’s room. The prosecution wanted to use this to show Mrs. Surratt’s disloyalty. The defense got Mrs. Surratt’s daughter, Anna, to testify that the photographs belonged to her.

F. The Arrest of Lewis Powell at the Surratt Boardinghouse

Conspirator Lewis Powell, who had attacked Secretary of State William Seward, had been arrested at the Surratt boardinghouse on April 17th, while detectives were there searching and making plans to take Mrs. Surratt and the rest of the household into custody. During this arrest, Mrs. Surratt denied ever having seen Powell before. It was later shown that Powell had stayed at the boardinghouse for a few days. The defense attempted to show that Mrs. Surratt suffered from bad eyesight in an attempt to explain her lack of identification.

G. Mrs. Surratt’s Loyalty and Christian Character

Mary Surratt’s defense called several individuals to testify about her reputation as a good, Christian woman and about times where she had demonstrated pro-Union attitudes. The purpose was to persuade the commissioners that Mrs. Surratt was not capable of being involved in such a plot as the assassination of Lincoln.

For the closing arguments in defense of Mary Surratt please click here.

Please remember that the Relevant Testimony descriptor is not meant to be definitive. In some instances, a witness might cover material from more than one category. For example, many of the witnesses were asked about Mary Surratt’s eyesight in the course of their other testimonies. Still, the attempt has been made to determine the most applicable category for each witness’s overall testimony.

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