May 11, 1865

Thursday, May 11, 1865

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Court opened at 11 o’clock.

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

Seating chart:

After the conclusion of yesterday’s session, General John Hartranft, the officer in charge of the conspirators at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary, received a communication from his superior, General Winfield Scott Hancock. Gen. Hancock had received word that Dr. Mudd was being given special treatment and wanted an explanation for this. Part of the special treatment consisted of how, over the last two court sessions, Dr. Mudd had been seated in front of the prisoners’ dock rather than in line with the others. Gen. Hartranft replied back that:

“On Tuesday [May 9], when the prisoners were taken into Court, Dr. Mudd and Mrs. Surratt happened to be the last prisoners brought in; the other six were taken into the prisoner’s dock and by seating the person in charge of each prisoner by his side, the room was all taken up. When the Dr. was brought in, he was placed on a chair just in front of the other prisoners and outside of the railing. Mrs. Surratt was also seated near him. To day [May 10] the prisoners were brought in and seated in the same manner, I thinking that it would be more convenient for the Court to have them seated the same each day…I disclaim all intention of granting to Dr. Mudd any privileges.”[1]

Even though Gen. Hartranft had thoroughly explained the reason Dr. Mudd had been seated outside of the prisoners’ dock during the first two days of the trial, it seems he decided to place Dr. Mudd onto the dock today in order to prevent others from feeling Dr. Mudd was being given special treatment. To accomplish this, Gen. Hartranft removed the guard closest to the grated window which shifted everyone down and provided a space for Dr. Mudd to sit at the end of the dock.

The order on the prisoners’ dock for this date consisted of, from left to right, Dr. Mudd, a guard, David Herold, a guard, Lewis Powell, a guard, Edman Spangler, a guard, Michael O’Laughlen, a guard, George Atzerodt, a guard, and Samuel Arnold right next to the window. Mrs. Surratt continued to sit outside of the prisoners’ dock for the time being.

The record of the prior day’s session was read and approved.

Two attorneys were presented and sworn in to represent Dr. Samuel A. Mudd. They consisted of:

Frederick Stone

Thomas Ewing, Jr.

Two other attorneys were presented and sworn in to represent Mary Surratt. They consisted of:

Frederick A. Aiken

John W. Clampitt

The remaining six conspirators had not yet found representation. In order to give the remaining conspirators more time to find counsel, the court adjourned early at 1:00 pm.


From General Kautz’ diary:

“The court met this morning but were not able to transact any business on account of the absence of Counsel.”[2]

Newspaper Descriptions

The D.C. newspaper, Evening Star, gave brief descriptions of some of the trial lawyers that were admitted on this day:

“Messrs. Aiken and Clampitt are well known here. The former graduated at Howard Law school several years since, and the latter graduated at Columbia College a few years ago with honor, taking one of the prize medals, we believe, for elocution. They each figured during the late Presidential campaign at the McClellan headquarters, (Parker’s Hall.)

Mr. Frederick Stone, of Port Tobacco, appeared as counsel for Dr. S. A. Mudd. Mr. Stone hails from Port Tobacco, Md., and is from an old and respectable family. He has practiced in the courts of the lower counties of Maryland for several years past and has considerable local reputation.”[3]

The following is a detailed description of the setting of the trial:

“Four-and-a-half street, leading to the place of trial of the conspirators, is strongly guarded from Pennsylvania avenue to the Penitentiary building. At the upper gate there is a strong guard, and a line of sentinels extends to the building, where is posted a strong guard of Veteran Reserves. At the east door there are a number of officers on duty, and through this is the entrance to the court room. On entering the wide hall those privileged with passes signed by the President of the Commission, General Hunter, are directed to a wide stairway which leads to the hall on the second floor, and from the small room in the northeast corner of the building. A new stairway has been thrown up at the northeast corner of the building to the court room, the door being a small one at the northeast set in a tongue and grooved casing. The stairway from the ground floor is covered with a matting, as well as the court room. As we proceed towards the court room we find at the foot of the stairway a sentinel who says not a word but motions us to proceed, and so on we find a sentry at every turn. In the second story room, from which rises the stairway to the court above, a number of officers are found at a table in the centre awaiting orders, while around the room are orderlies ready to gallop off with any summons or message from the court. Opposite to this room is another of like size for witnesses.

The court room is, as before stated, the northeast room of the third story, about forty by fifty feet, with four windows – two on the north side and two on the east – each heavily grated. At the west end of the room is the prisoners’ stand, raised about one foot from the floor, and surrounded by a plain railing about four feet high, extending nearly the whole width of the room, there being left at this end just enough space to admit of a heavy wooden door being set in the wall. This doorway has been lately cut through, and the door itself is of wood, thickly studded with bolts. This door leads into the prison where the accused are confined. On the south side are two doors, the one nearest the prison box being closed, while the one nearest the east wall opens into an adjoining room. The Court is seated around a long green-baize-covered table, on the north side of the room, General Hunter occupying the seat nearest the door, while at another table is seated the official reporters of the commission…The witness stand is in the center of the room, and is about one foot high, surrounded by a railing.

The Judge Advocate and Assistant Judge Advocate are seated at the end of the table occupied by the Court, while the counsel for the accused are seated at two or three tables in front of the prisoner’s box.

The walls of the room are plastered and whitewashed, and thus with the light thrown in by two windows to the north and the east, the room has a tolerably cheerful aspect by day; and gas fixtures have been liberally distributed to afford light should the Court sit at night, as it is expected may happen in the course of the trial. Two upright stoves, a water cooler, some exceedingly hard-bottomed chairs, a tier of benches against the wall, and a score of abundantly patronized spittoons, complete the furniture of the room.”[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), 89 – 92.
[2] August V. Kautz, May 9, 1865 diary entry (Unpublished diary: Library of Congress, August V. Kautz Papers).
[3] “The Counsel for the Conspirators,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 12, 1865.
[4] “The Assassination. Continuation of the Conspiracy Trials,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 15, 1865.
The drawing of the conspirators as they were seated on the prisoners’ dock on this day was created by artist and historian Jackie Roche.


7 thoughts on “May 11, 1865

  1. Pingback: The Trial Today: May 11 | BoothieBarn

  2. Graham

    John W. Clampitt was my great-great-great-grandfather William H. Clampitt’s first cousin. In a strange coincidence, William Clampitt married an Emily Clark, whose first cousin, John Sleeper Clarke was married to Asia Booth. They don’t call Baltimore Smalltimore for nothing! (Though John W. Clampitt grew up in DC.)

    • Fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Graham. I had no idea there was a distant connection between John Clampitt and John Sleeper Clarke.

  3. chiefden34gmailcom

    I like to pay attention to the minute details of such history. In that context I am wondering about three “facts”.
    1. Is it known who ratted out General Hartranft for placing Dr. Mudd in front of the prisoner’s dock? Someone who obviously did not like him. I wonder if Mrs. Surratt’s location was mentioned in that same complaint.
    2. The Evening Star account mentions that the courtroom was “covered in matting”. If accurate, I was not previously aware of that.
    3. Finally, the overhead drawing shows Mrs. Surratt at the far left end of the prisoner’s dock. I don’t believe there was room enough for her at that location. I don’t believe she was ever seated there. Other accounts/depictions mention her in a chair to the left of the grated door to the prison cells.

    • Dennis,

      Unfortunately all we have is Gen. Hartranft’s response to Gen. Hancock so we do not know who ratted on Hartranft. We do know that Gen. Hancock did visit the courtroom at a later date so it is possible he was there during the first two days, but we have no documentation for it. Mary Surratt would later be moved to be line with the other prisoners but we don’t have the reasoning behind it. My prediction is that someone, perhaps Hartranft himself, felt it was more appropriate for her to be with the others.
      2. During the open houses at Grant Hall we often joke about putting down crushed walnut matting as the descriptions state, but the noise of people walking around on it and crushing it would be loud.
      3. You are correct that the diagram is mistaken as to the exact layout of the prisoner’s dock in the courtroom. During these early days of the trial the dock was not long enough for everyone. However, some construction work was done on the dock in the evening of May 15th and it was extended across the length of the room. When that happened, Mary was seated at the far left end, separated by the other conspirators by a guard seated in front of the grated door. You will see this change as we go along. Regardless, the diagram I included from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper is inaccurate in regards to the prisoner’s dock, yet fairly accurate in all other respects.

  4. Graham Baldwin

    The space of the courtroom looks like it has been efficiently filled for the participants in the coming drama. However, the diagram doesn’t disclose where the spectators, albeit limited, would sit once the proceedings were opened to the public. At the east end? Any info on that topic?

    • As the trial went on and eventually opened up to the public, visitors swarmed to the courtroom taking up practically all available space. It was a crowded affair with visitors even being placed in from of the prisoner’s’ dock. On the day that Anna Surratt testified, there were so many ladies seated in front of Mrs. Surratt that Anna couldn’t even see her mother. The commissioners also had to put up a rope of sorts around their table to keep the public at arms length. The public really filled up all available space in the room leading to people fainting from heat and having to stand for so long.

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