June 17, 1865

Saturday, June 17, 1865

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The court did not meet on this day due to the continued illness of commissioner Col. Tompkins.

Maj. Thomas Eckert of the War Department visited the Old Arsenal Penitentiary on this date with Dr. John P. Gray of the Utica Lunatic Asylum. Lewis Powell was removed from his cell and taken into one of the side rooms of the court where he was examined and questioned by Dr. Gray from noon until 3:40.[1]

On the same date, it was noticed by one of the prison guards that Edman Spangler was showing signs that his mind was wandering. Dr. George Porter, the army physician assigned to the prison, recommended Spangler be taken out of his cell and permitted some fresh air for an hour. Dr. Gray and Thomas Eckert both examined Spangler during his time in the prison yard. In the end, Dr. Porter wrote a recommendation that all the conspirators be taken out into the open air once a day and be supplied with reading material.[2]

On the next day, Sunday, June 18th, Dr. Gray and Dr. Porter examined each of the conspirators and Dr. Gray agreed with Porter’s prescription of outdoor time and reading material. In addition, Dr. Gray recommended chews of tobacco and a small box be given to each male conspirator, the latter to be used as a seat. Dr. Gray recommended that Mrs. Surratt be given an armchair. All of the conspirators except for Mrs. Surratt and David Herold were taken into the prison yard for up to an hour on this date. Mrs. Surratt and Herold did not go outside because they had visitors for most of the day. Anna Surratt visited her mother from 11:00 am to 5:30 pm while Jane and Kate Herold visited with their brother from 3 to 6 o’clock in the court room.[3]


General William Doster, lawyer to Powell and Atzerodt, in a later memoir recalled his opinion about conspirator David Herold:

“The prisoner Herold was the most reckless and boyish of the party and seemed considerably pleased by the attention he attracted. He was frequently calling one or the other of the counsel to him to make suggestions that were puerile. When the defense of Mrs. Surratt appeared to be making out a tolerable case in her behalf, by showing the real character of the witnesses against her, he appeared jealous of her good luck and said: ‘That old lady is as deep in as any of us.’”[4]

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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), 125.
[2] Hartranft, Letterbook, 125.
[3] Ibid., 126.
[4] William E. Doster, Lincoln and Episodes of the Civil War (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915), 276 – 277.


3 thoughts on “June 17, 1865

  1. Pingback: The Trial Today: June 17 | BoothieBarn

  2. Carol Van Gilst

    What was Spangler doing/saying that led the guard to notice “his mind was wandering”? I have not seen that term when reading historic documents; is it a euphemism for insanity or maybe just (as we’d say today) “acting weird”?

    • Carol,
      Unfortunately we don’t have any more detail regarding Spangler’s specific actions. In his letterbook, Gen. Hartranft merely writes, “The prisoner Spangler showed indications yesterday that his mind was wandering. I sent for Dr. Porter, the Med. Inspector who advised that he be taken into the open air.” Like you, I wish we had more information about Spangler’s behavior and what caused Hartranft to draw his conclusion that his, “mind was wandering”.

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