June 16, 1865

Friday, June 16, 1865

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Proceedings

The court convened at 11 o’clock.[1]

Present: Eight members of the military commission, the eight conspirators, Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, Assistant Judge Advocates Bingham and Burnett, the recorders of the court, lawyers Frederick Aiken, John Clampitt, Walter Cox, and William Doster.

Absent: Col. Charles Tompkins of the commission, Reverdy Johnson, Thomas Ewing, and Frederick Stone.

Seating chart:

The prisoners were seated in the same manner as the day before.

Due to the absence of Col. Charles Tompkins, one of the nine commissioners, Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt read to the court the part of law concerning military commissions and the absence of members. The law stated that testimony could go on in the absence of a commissioner, but that the missed proceedings would have to be read over to the absent member upon their return. General Hunter, the president of the commission, asked Holt if he had been officially informed that Col. Tompkins was indisposed. Holt replied that he had not and so an orderly was sent to Col. Tompkins’ residence. Hunter believed it was possible that Tompkins thought the court was meeting at noon today and that the colonel may show up by then. For the next hour the court was at a standstill waiting for either Col. Tompkins to show up or for the orderly who had been dispatched to his home to return.[2]

During this time, different members of the court entertained and chatted with Joshua Hill, a former Representative from Georgia who was visiting the courtroom on this date. Hill, “held a conversation of some length with Judge Holt.”[3]

At 12 o’clock, Col. Tompkins still had not made an appearance so the reading of the prior session’s testimony began. The reading of the testimony lasted until 12:30 when it was decided by Gen. Hunter that prosecution’s testimony would go on without Col. Tompkins.[4]

Testimony began

Robert Purdy, a self-described Union scout and detective, was called by the prosecution in regards to Exhibit 76, the “Lon” letter addressed to J.W.B. at the National Hotel. This letter appeared to be written by an unknown conspirator named Lon to Booth and alluded to other conspirators ready to assist in a coded plot.

The letter was the subject of an intense conversation on June 13th when a newspaper article announced that the letter was a forgery created by Purdy and Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt assured the court that the matter was under investigation. Holt now asked Purdy under oath if he wrote or commissioned another person to write the letter. Purdy denied having written it. Holt than asked Purdy about the names contained in the letter with Purdy replying he believed he knew some of the individuals including the Lon who purportedly authored it. Purdy stated that there was a man named Leonidas F. McAleer who went by the name of Lon.

According to Purdy, McAleer had falsely accused him of assaulting a girl when he searched her looking for contraband mail. Purdy stated McAleer went to Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Kelley in Cumberland, MD regarding the accusation in an attempt to get Purdy into trouble. Purdy also identified that McAleer had a servant named Tom and that his father-in-law was named French, constituting two of the other names in the letter. During cross-examination, Walter Cox, the lawyer who had brought the accusation of forgery to the court’s attention, asked Purdy if he had been charged with having written the letter. Purdy replied that he had. Cox asked if Purdy had been arrested on the charge of forgery. Purdy replied that he could not tell if he had been arrested for that but that he had been under arrest for four or five days.[5]

The testimony of Robert Purdy and the continued support of the Lon letter by the prosecution is a big black mark on the credibility of Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt. On June 4th, two days after the Lon letter was first admitted into evidence, an investigation was already underway regarding its contents with Leonidas McAleer being arrested and questioned. McAleer denied having anything to do with the letter and accused Robert Purdy of having fabricated the letter himself, which partially explained the fact that it bore a May 8th postmark from Cumberland, MD where Purdy resided at the time. A military officer named Major Henry A. Myers investigated the case and concluded that the Lon letter was a forgery created by Robert Purdy as a way enacting revenge against McAleer for reporting him for rape.

In addition to Myers’ report, Holt had also sent fellow judge advocate from the Bureau of Military Justice named Major Edgar W. Dennis to Cumberland to investigate. Maj. Dennis completely supported Maj. Myers’ findings. Maj. Dennis compared the Lon letter to three letters written by Leonidas McAleer and found that the handwriting did not match. Rather, Maj. Dennis found that Robert Purdy’s handwriting very nearly matched the Lon letter and that the paper used for the Lon letter was the same kind that was issued at the hospital in Cumberland where Robert Purdy was making his home. Holt had received Maj. Myers’ report calling the Lon letter a forgery by Robert Purdy on June 8th. Maj. Dennis, who supported Maj. Myer’s conclusions, had arrived back in Washington on June 12th, the day before Walter Cox brought the matter to the court’s attention. It seems incredibly hard to believe that Holt was unaware of the conclusions drawn by these two officers, one of whom he had sent out specifically to investigate this matter, when the letter was discussed on June 13th. It is even more unlikely that Holt was still in the dark when he called Robert Purdy, who was still under arrest for the forgery, to the stand on this day.

Taken altogether, the obviously fictitious nature of the Lon letter and Holt’s continued support of it despite all the contrary evidence, shows how desperate the prosecution was to find connections between Booth’s plot and other, unnamed, parties. As concluded by the late Prof. Joseph George, Jr., the desire to connect John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators to a much larger conspiracy involving the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and others not known, caused Judge Advocate General Holt to, “use tainted evidence to gain his ends.”  The Lon letter and Robert Purdy’s testimony demonstrate that the quest for retribution for Lincoln’s death, “took precedence over [Holt’s] duties to the law.”[6]

Daniel S. Eastwood, the assistant manager of the Ontario Bank of Montreal, was called to the stand to answer questions about Jacob Thompson’s bank account. Thompson was a Confederate official connected with the Confederate Secret Service in Canada and his bank book had been previously entered into evidence showing funds of over $600,000 at one point. Eastwood recalled that a large amount of Thompson’s deposits came from bills of exchange drawn from Confederate agents in Liverpool, England. Eastwood was then presented with a bank requisition and the corresponding draft for a withdrawal of $25,000 from Thompson’s account. The draft was made payable to Benjamin Wood, a United States Congressman from New York who was also the editor of a notoriously pro-Southern newspaper. Eastwood explained that Thompson had crossed off Benjamin Wood’s name and replaced it with Eastwood’s as it was common for the Confederate agent to make checks payable to employees of the bank to make it harder to track where the money was going. During cross-examination, Eastwood was asked if he knew John Wilkes Booth. Eastwood said that he had been made aware that Booth had made an account with his bank and that he likely would have been the one to assist him in this, but he had no memory of the interaction. Eastwood stated that he had no knowledge of Booth having any financial interactions with Jacob Thompson.[7]

The bank requisition form and the draft for $25,000 from Jacob Thompson’s bank account to Benjamin Wood via Daniel Eastwood were entered into evidence as Exhibits 93 and 94.

George Wilkes, a New York newspaper editor, was shown Exhibit 94, the draft for $25,000 from Jacob Thompson’s account. Wilkes stated that he was familiar with the handwriting of his fellow newspaper editor, Benjamin Wood. Wilkes testified that he believed the signature on the back of the draft well matched Benjamin Wood’s handwriting.[8]

Abraham D. Russell, the city judge of New York City, testified that he was well acquainted with the handwriting of U.S. Congressman Benjamin Wood, having received frequent letters from him. Russell looked that the draft for $25,000 bearing Wood’s signature and gave his strong opinion that it was authentic. [9] The testimonies of Eastwood, Wilkes and Russell were partly to show the vast funds available to the Confederate Secret Service in order to carry out clandestine activities that may have included Lincoln’s assassination, but were also intended to sully the reputation of Congressman Wood who had long been considered a traitor for his overt Southern sympathies during the war. In truth, none of the witnesses who testified on this day had any real connection to John Wilkes Booth and his plot.

Break

After the conclusion of Russell’s testimony, the court took its one hour recess for lunch. They were still awaiting word regarding the absent Col. Tompkins in hopes that his arrival would allow John Clampitt to proceed with the reading of Reverdy Johnson’s argument against the jurisdiction of the court. During this break all of the conspirators were returned to their cells. At 2 o’clock, the court reassembled with the absent lawyer Frederick Stone having appeared but not Col. Tompkins.[10]

After the court reassembled, Judge Advocate General Holt presented a certificate he had received from Dr. Basil Norris via the dispatched orderly. The note attested that Col. Tompkins was ill with “cholera morbus” (i.e. a stomach virus) and was unable to leave his bed. Dr. Norris wrote his opinion that Tompkins would be unable to tend to his duties in the court before Monday, June 19th.[11] If any of the defense’s closing argument were read today, as was originally planned, they would have to be read over again when Tompkins returned. Rather than waste time having the defense present twice, it was recommended by Holt that the court adjourn until June 19th when Col. Tompkins would be recovered and present.

The decision to adjourn was agreed to by the commission, and the court closed shortly after 2 o’clock.[12]


Recollections

From General Kautz’ diary:

“The Court met this morning as usual, but Col. Tompkins being absent sick little business was transacted and the Commission adjourned over until Monday at ten…The weather continues warm and sultry.”[13]


Newspaper Descriptions

“The prisoners seem more thoughtful as the trial draws to a close.”[14]

Mrs. Surratt

“Mrs. Surratt still hides her guilty face with her fan and veil. She seems determined that the visitors at the court shall not be gratified by having a view of her face.”[15]

Lewis Powell

“Payne was dressed in his mixed gray shirt, and has the same horrid, unconcerned look.”[16]

“Payne, though his eye is quite as bold and fearless in its range of the court-room as ever, shows much less buoyancy of spirits in his general bearing.”[17]

David Herold

“The prisoners to-day seemed to be in a more thoughtful frame of mind, especially Harrold and Payne.”[18]

“Herold appeared this morning with his coat on.”[19]

“Even the frivolous Herold has lost his heretofore habitual simper.”[20]

Note: Today was David Herold’s 23rd birthday. Within a month, he would be dead.

George Atzerodt

“Atzerodt was also attired in a gray shirt and black vest. His countenance is noticed by all the visitors at the court.”[21]

Dr. Mudd

“Mudd appears about the same, and still wears his brown linen coat.”[22]

Samuel Arnold

“Arnold had on no coat, and occupies his usual seat next to the window. He occupies much of his time in gazing through the open window.”[23]

Michael O’Laughlen

“O’Laughlin and Spangler look miserable.”[24]

Edman Spangler

“Spangler, during a great portion of the time this morning, sat on the platform below the bench and had his face hid behind the rail.”[25]


Visitors

“A large number of visitors were present this morning, a majority of them, as usual, being ladies, who talks as loud and make as much noise as ever. Before the hour of recess every inch of standing room was occupied.”[26]

“The military commission was crowded to-day, in anticipation of the reading of Reverdy Johnson’s argument in behalf of Mrs. Surratt, but the curious throng were disappointed.”[27]

“Among the visitors to the court room this morning is Joshua Hill, ex-rebel from Georgia, who visits Washington in relation to getting the wheels of State legislation in motion again in Georgia. He was introduced to various members of the Court, and held a conversation of some length with Judge Holt.”[28]

“During the recess of the court two of Herold’s sisters entered the court-room and were shown to seats near their brother, at the railing of the dock.”[29]

While sisters of David Herold visited the courtroom fairly regularly, and three of them took the witness stand during the trial, the attendance of two sisters on this date likely came from their desire to see their brother on his birthday. David Herold turned 23 on this date.


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[1] 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), 124.
[2] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[3] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[4] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[5] William C. Edwards, ed., The Lincoln Assassination – The Court Transcripts (Self-published: Google Books, 2012), 1189 – 1193.
[6] Joseph George, Jr., “Subornation of Perjury at the Lincoln Conspiracy Trial? Joseph Holt, Robert Purdy, and the Lon Letter,” Civil War History 38, no. 3 (1992): 232 – 241.
[7] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 1193 – 1197.
[8] Ibid., 1197 – 1198.
[9] Ibid., 1198 – 1199.
[10] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[11] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 1189.
[12] Hartranft, Letterbook, 124.
[13] August V. Kautz, June 16, 1865 diary entry (Unpublished diary: Library of Congress, August V. Kautz Papers).
[14] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[15] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[16] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[17] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[18] The World (New York, NY), June 17, 1865, 5.
[19] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[20] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[21] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[22] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[23] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[24] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[25] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[26] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[27] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), June 17, 1865, 1.
[28] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
[29] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), June 16, 1865, 2.
The drawing of the conspirators as they were seated on the prisoners’ dock on this day was created by artist and historian Jackie Roche.

1 Comment

One thought on “June 16, 1865

  1. Pingback: The Trial Today: June 16 | BoothieBarn

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