June 20, 1865

Tuesday, June 20, 1865

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Starting on this date, the prior medical recommendations by doctors George Porter and John Gray that the conspirators be given time outside in the open air officially went into effect. Between the hours of 8:30 am and 1:00 pm, each of the conspirators were led out into the prison yard individually for about a half hour of outdoors time.

The court convened at 2 o’clock.[1]

Present: All nine members of the military commission, the eight conspirators, Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, Assistant Judge Advocates Bingham and Burnett, the recorders of the court, lawyer Thomas Ewing.

Absent: Reverdy Johnson, Frederick Aiken, John Clampitt, Walter Cox, William Doster, and Frederick Stone.

Seating chart:

The male conspirators were seated in the same manner as the day before. However, Mrs. Surratt now occupied a seat within the doorway of the adjoining room:

“Mrs. Surratt, as on yesterday, was permitted, on account of indisposition, to occupy a seat in the passage between the court room and the witness room, for the benefit of fresh air.”[2]

This adjoining witness room had become Mrs. Suratt’s new cell since yesterday. For the remainder of the trial, she would be tended to in this room by her daughter Anna.

Arguments began

Thomas Ewing presented his closing arguments on behalf of his client, Edman Spangler. The argument can be read in full by clicking here or on the image above. Compared with the arguments that occurred yesterday, Ewing did the most detailed job thus far of going through and addressing the government’s case against Spangler piece by piece. It is likely due to the fact that, compared to most of the other conspirators, the government’s case against Spangler was the weakest. Ewing expertly weaved in his defense testimonies to counter the claims that had been made by the prosecution. Here is part of the Evening Star’s summation of Ewing’s argument.

“He first considered the character pf the accused, his relations to Booth, and Booth’s habits of resorting to the theater and fraternizing with the employees.

Mr. Ewing proceeded to detail the testimony of John T. Ford as to Spangler’s position at the theater; the fascinating influence of Booth over the lower classes; and the good nature and kindness of heart of Spangler.

There was not, Mr. Ewing urged the slightest indication in the evidence that Spangler ever met Booth except about the theater, or that he was in any manner implicated in Booth’s plans. Nothing appears in any of the evidence, except that of Dye and [Selecman] to show the slightest knowledge by Spangler of Booth’s guilty purposes.

…The rope found in Spangler’s carpet bag was just like 40 or 50 others about the theater, used as border rope. From the evidence it would appear that he had stowed it away for his fishing excursions as a crab line…

The testimony of [Selecman] as to Spangler saying, ‘Yes’ to Booth’s request to help him all he could at the time Booth rode up to the rear of the theatre, is positively contradicted by the testimony of the utility man, [DeBonay]…

Mr. Ewing then reviewed the testimony of Sergeant Joseph M. Dye, as to seeing a roughly dressed man in front of the theater with whom Booth whispered ere entering the theater, previous to shooting the President. Dye swears positively that the roughly dressed man wore a heavy black moustache. It is positively shown that Spangler wore no moustache on that night, and was never known to wear one. The fact, too, that Spangler could not have been absent to the front of the theatre for three quarters of an hour from his duties, was also conclusively shown.”[3]

“During the three days and nights intervening between assassination and the arrest, nothing was done by Spangler which did not indicate a conscious sense of innocence. He felt confident in the assertion that Booth had no accomplice [in the theater] – he did not need any…The counsel was confident that Booth needed no help but someone to hold his horse, which Peanut John did, and he opened and shut the door for himself.

…From the testimony as to Booth’s inquiries, it seems clear that the assassination of the President would have been attempted at Grover’s Theatre, had the President attended that house…

Mr. Ewing examined at length other parts of the testimony, and concluded by saying he could see in the evidence no suspicion as would induce a grand jury to present Spangler for trial, and he believed a candid review of the entire subject would leave in the minds of buy very few a reasonable doubt of his innocence.”[4]

At some point during Thomas Ewing’s closing arguments for Edman Spangler, William Doster, the lawyer for Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt, arrived at the courtroom. When Ewing concluded his remarks, Doster announced that he would be ready to give his own closing arguments about Powell tomorrow.

General Albion Howe, of the commission, demonstrated his frustration with the growing delays of the counsel. He stated that if the remaining arguments were not all presented tomorrow as scheduled, then they should be filed. “With these delays they might not get through till autumn.”

General Ekin was a bit more understanding and forgiving towards the defense lawyers giving his opinion that he was willing to grant all the time the counsel asked to prepare their arguments as the matter was of the upmost importance. General Hunter, President of the commission, agreed that the testimony was very voluminous.

Thomas Ewing, still having three more arguments to complete, noted that in Dr. Mudd’s case alone there was over 250 pages of evidence to go through. He stated it would be out of his power to complete Dr. Mudd’s case before Friday.

The court voted to grant the defense counsel an extension for the preparation and presentation of closing arguments.[5] After granting the extension, the court adjourned at around 4:30 pm.[6]


From General Kautz’ diary:

“The Commission met at 2 o’clock, and Mr. Ewing read the defence of Spangler. The Commission then adjourned to meet at twelve tomorrow.”[7]

Daniel H. Mowen was a member of the 12th Veterans Reserve Corps and, at times, was one of the men assigned guard duty over the conspirators. In his later years, Mowen wrote a memoir about his Civil War experience and included the following detail:

“…the 12th V.R.C. was taken to the Old Penitentiary to guard the prisoners who were confined there, and who were in the assassination plot. Here we continued to do duty by detail. Upon several occasions it fell to my lot to sit between Spangler and Dr. Mud [sic] during court hours, a non-commissioned officer being placed between the prisoners with instructions not to allow them to converse with anyone but their counsel. I had a good opportunity of seeing them all, except Mrs. Surratt, who was always heavily veiled when brought from her cell.”[8]

When it came to writing the closing arguments for his clients, Thomas Ewing utilized the assistance of his law partner, Orville Hickman Browning. Even though Browning was not an official attorney at the conspiracy trial, he still helped Ewing in the massive task of summing up the defense cases. In his daily diary, Browning recalled his small contributions to Ewing during the latter days of the trial:

“Tuesday June 13, 1865 …Then wrote 12 pages of foolscap for Genl Ewing to be incorporated in his defence of Arnold.

Tuesday June 20, 1865 …writing defence in Mudds case.

Wednesday June 21, 1865 …writing defence in Arnolds case”[9]

It appears that Browning was a bigger help to Ewing than his own co-counsel in Dr. Mudd’s case, Frederick Stone. Stone had not been seen in court since June 16th, even being absent from reading his own closing arguments for David Herold the day before. Stone would not re-appear in the court until June 27, four days after Ewing presented the closing arguments on their shared case of Dr. Mudd.

Newspaper Descriptions

Mrs. Surratt

“Mrs. Surratt, who was taken ill in the court room yesterday, was not sufficiently recovered today to resume her usual seat with the other prisoners.”[10]

“Mrs. Surratt appears completely broken down, and to-day was allowed to sit in an adjoin room, but in hearing of the proceedings.”[11]

“Mrs. Surratt was unwell again to-day, and was allowed a position between the court-room and the witness-room, where the ventilation was freer.”[12]

Edman Spangler

During Mr. Ewing’s defense of Spangler owning a coil of rope: “It should be remembered that the court had not required an explanation as to the equally suspicious and incongruous articles found in Spangler’s carpet bag, – the shirt collar and writing materials. [Laughter, in which the shirt-collarless Spangler joined.]”[13]

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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), 128.
[2] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 20, 1865, 2.
[3] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 20, 1865, 2.
[4] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 21, 1865, 1.
[5] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 21, 1865, 1.
[6] Hartranft, Letterbook, 128.
[7] August V. Kautz, June 20, 1865 diary entry (Unpublished diary: Library of Congress, August V. Kautz Papers).
[8] Daniel H. Mowan, Memoirs (Manuscript: Middletown Valley Historical Society).
[9] Orville Hickman Browning, The Diary of Orville Hickman Browning Vol II, 1865 – 1881 ed. James G. Randall (Springfield, IL: Illinois State Historical Library, 1933), 33 – 34.
[10] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), June 21, 1865, 1.
[11] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), June 21, 1865, 1.
[12] The World (New York, NY), June 21, 1865, 1.
[13] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 20, 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 20, 1865

  1. Pingback: The Testimony Regarding Edman Spangler | LincolnConspirators.com

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