June 1, 1865

Thursday, June 1, 1865

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On April 25, 1865, in the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, newly sworn in President Andrew Johnson made a proclamation appointing a national day of humiliation and mourning. His proclamation stated, in part:

“In order to mitigate that grief on earth which can only be assuaged by communion with the Father in Heaven, and in compliance with the wishes of Senators and Representatives in Congress, communicated to me by a resolution adopted at the national capital, I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, do hereby appoint Thursday, the 25th day of May next, to be observed, wherever in the United States the flag of the country may be respected, as a day of humiliation and mourning, and recommend my fellow-citizens then to assemble in their respective places of worship, there to unite in solemn service to Almighty God in memory of the good man who has been removed, so that all shall be occupied at the same time in contemplation of his virtues and sorrow for his sudden and violent end.”[1]

While Johnson originally set May 25th for this national day of mourning, it was later pointed out to him that May 25th was a Christian holiday known as Ascension Day. Not wanting the day of mourning to interfere with this celebratory Christian observance, Johnson issued a revised proclamation on April 29th changing the date for the day of mourning:

“I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, do hereby suggest, that the religious services, recommended as aforesaid, should be postponed until Thursday the first day of June next.”[2]

As a result of these proclamations, the court did not meet today and, instead, observed the national day of prayer and reflection.

Newspaper Descriptions

Since the court did not meet today, there was no new newspaper descriptions of the court or the conspirators. The following article, featuring the impressions of a visitor to the court, was published May 30th, but did not detail which day the author visited.

“The Conspirators

A Personal Description of the Assassins on Trial at Washington

The most graphic personal description yet given of the conspirators on trial at Washington, appears in the New York Methodist of this week, written by Rev. Dr. B. H. Nadal, one of the editors of that paper. He says of

Mrs Surratt.

We begin with Mrs. Surratt, who presents herself in the light of a mother, if not to the bloody plot itself, at least to the ‘beasts of Ephesus’ now on trial. Her house in Washington was the meeting place of the horrid crew, and her own son a partner with her and the rest of them in the conspiracy. She, it will be remembered, on the day of the murder, drove out to Surrattsville with what she graphically described as ‘the shooting irons,’ for which Booth and Herold called in their flight down the western peninsula of Maryland. She played the tigress in nursing the purpose of the assassins until it was fully ready for the deed; and when she was arrested in the small hours of the night, in her own house, asked permission to kneel and say her prayers before being marched away by the officers. She actually did kneel, and no doubt repeated her ‘Hail Mary.’ But will the reader pause and take a view of this woman? She sits there, in the corner, the first in the row of criminals, a position of honor to which both her age and her intelligence entitle her. The reader at first finds a veil, a thin one, between him and the object of his scrutiny. Wait a moment; this witness is called on to identify her, and her face must be uncovered. She is modest and reluctant, but justice is stern, and her shyness must give way. There, now, you see the face perfectly; and, between us, it is a fine one. Indeed, if there were nothing the matter, and we were called on at this distance of ten feet, to give an opinion, we should pronounce her, for a woman of her age, handsome. She is tall and large, without being fat, weighing perhaps a hundred and eighty pounds. Her hair, seen in the shade of her bonnet, reveals no gray, and is a beautiful dark brown, well polished with the brush. Her face, as befits such a form, is road, but not coarse – just the reverse. It is fair, the cheek slightly tinged by the interest of the circumstances; and her eye is bright, clear, calm, resolute, but not unkind. Her expression, for the several hours she was under our eye, was that of deeply sombre gentleness, which still bore a look of having been partly produced by the will, and for the occasion. Immersed as she is in crime, she does not forget a woman’s art. She is doing her best to make a favorable impression, by dress and aspect, upon her judges. She was the very person to mould the material which fell into her hands. She no doubt ruled them like a queen. But the court, fortunately, is made of quite another metal.


Next to this mother of conspirators sits Herold, a poor, doltish-looking youth, just past his majority. He is small, with a peaked mouth, a nose slightly hooked, a sprinkle of moustache, a wandering, twinkling eye, a narrow forehead, with protruding brows, and a general expression of mingled fun and silliness. He strikes you as a fellow such as Booth would have had about him to laugh at his jokes, to do his chores, and to be his man Friday generally.


After Herold comes Payne, next to Mrs. Surratt the great character of the party. He is tall, straight, stout – the perfection of physical form. It would be hard to guess whether keen activity or muscular energy predominates in him; both seem to belong to him in equal proportion. His large head is thickly covered with black hair; his forehead is almost entirely wanting; his face has no beard; his neck is as immense as a bull’s, and yet smooth and fair; his lips thin and firm; his nose small; but his eye – the characteristic feature – reminds you of the man who said ‘Our name is legion,’ only you can see that the said legion has not entered. It is an eye of deliberately rolling fire – a pair of perdition-lighted torches; when they move they flash and glare, rather than look. This is not a mere reading of the man’s crime, already known, in his look; it is a reasonably sober description of the reality. As you look at his great form, sitting calmly erect and seemingly reckless, you think of a modern boxer or of a Roman gladiator. When you meet his eye you think of Lucifer; but when, in the light of that eye, you regard the whole face, you are reminded of Satan in the swine – a possessed brute. Nothing moves him; without looking defiant, he is imperturbed and perfectly at home. His nerves appear to have gone into muscle.


Next comes Atzrodt, short in person, almost without neck, dirty, cadaverous, dull, curly or tangle-haired, cowardly looking, and evidently a poor miserable Hack – a dupe.


The fifth man is O’Laughlin, a Baltimorean, as we learn. He is the best looking of the gang. He is small in person, with delicate features, a head of flaky, coal-black hair, and a fine moustache of the same color. His forehead is broad and striking, his fine black eye rests softly and humbly under delicately penciled brows, and his whole appearance impresses the beholder with the strangeness of his connection with the great crime. He must be young in crime, and the deformity of his soul has not pictured itself on his face.


Spangler, who appears to have been a sort of stable drudge for Booth and his horses, is the sixth in order. Like most of the other, his face lacks a forehead. Lavater amused himself with tracing the resemblance between human and brute faces. We have seen cows or oxen with countenance very much like that of poor Spangler. He looks the picture of distress.

Dr. Mudd.

Dr. Mudd is a native of Charles county, but looks like a Scotchman. His hair is yellow, his beard and moustache pale red, his complexion white, almost as whitest paper, his eyebrows Albino, his eyes signifying nothing, and his expression blank vacancy.


The last in the series is a poor youth by the name of Arnold, who has made a confession, not yet given to the public. He is rather a good-looking boy, with no special facial marks.

Such is the company now on trial for conspiracy to murder the President and other officers of our Government. Among them all, Mrs. Surratt alone gives proof of anything like mind. The rest were miserable tools of cunning and diabolical rebel leaders.”[3]


Despite the commission being adjourned for the day, there were still a couple of visitors. At 10:00 am, Major General Ethan Allen Hitchcock presented a pass to General Hartranft, the commander of the Old Arsenal Penitentiary. Hitchcock along with an unidentified “colored woman” were granted permission to see Lewis Powell. The conspirator was taken from his cell and escorted to the court room to meet with them.[4] While the identity of the African American woman who visited Lewis Powell is not known for certain, it’s possible that this visit related to an event Christian Rath, an officer on General Hartranft’s staff, recalled years later:

“One day General Hartranft said to me: ‘There is a colored woman here who comes from Florida and claims she knows Payne; and she says his name is Powell, and that his father is a Baptist minister there. I will seat her in the court-room, and you bring Payne up and perhaps we can identify him.’ When I took Payne upstairs, the old woman, who had been a slave, was sitting in the center of the room. As soon as she saw the prisoner, she ran to him, embracing him and calling him by endearing names. But he repulsed her, looked at her with a stolid look, and said: ‘I don’t know you, woman; go away.’ She wept and crooned over him, and there was no doubt in my mind that he really was Powell.”[5]

After his meeting with his visitors concluded, Lewis Powell was returned to his cell. In the afternoon, one of the guards on duty outside of Powell’s cell noticed him picking up the iron balls attached to his legs and “placing them against his head.” Fearful that Powell was contemplating an act of self–destruction, Gen. Hartranft had the balls unfastened from his shackles and removed from his cell. Hartranft also took it upon himself to remove the balls from George Atzerodt’s leg shackles as well.[6]

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[1] Henry J. Raymond, ed., Lincoln, His Life and Times, Vol II (Chicago: National Library Association, 1891), 792.
[2] George P. Sanger, ed., The Statutes at Large, Treaties and Proclamations of the United States of America from December 1863, to December 1865, Vol XIII (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1866), 756.
[3] Daily Morning Chronicle (Washington, D.C.), May 30, 1865, 4.
[4] John F. Hartranft, The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators: Their Confinement and Execution, as Recorded in the Letterbook of John Frederick Hartranft, ed. Edward Steers, Jr. and Harold Holzer (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2009), 112.
[5] John A. Gray, “The Fate of the Lincoln Conspirators: The Account of the Hanging, given by Lieutenant-Colonel Christian Rath, the Executioner,” McClure’s Magazine 37, Oct. (1911): 634.
[6] Hartranft, Letterbook, 112.

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  1. Pingback: The Trial Today: June 1 | BoothieBarn

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