May 19, 1865

Friday, May 19, 1865

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The court convened at 10 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, lawyers Frederick Aiken, John Clampitt, Walter Cox, William Doster, Thomas Ewing, and Frederick Stone.

Absent: Reverdy Johnson

Seating chart:

“The prisoners were brought into Court at the usual hour, (10 a.m.,) and placed as usual. The weather is cooler, and the window next the prisoners was closed at their request.”[2]

The reading of the prior session’s testimony began and lasted until about 1 o’clock.[3]

Testimony began

Bvt. Col. Joseph H. Taylor, an assistant adjutant general of the Department of Washington, was asked to identify Exhibit 7, the Vigenere table found among Booth’s belongings. Taylor testified that it was secured by Lt. Tyrrell and that he saw it on the night of April 14.[4]

Charles H. Rosch, a detective with the War Department, testified about making a search of Edman Spangler’s boarding house on April 17th. Rosch stated that he, along with two other detectives found a carpetbag belonging to Spangler and that inside the bag was a coil of rope, eighty-one feet in length.[5] The prosecution would later imply there was something nefarious about Spangler possessing a rope, trying to link it to the plot to abduct President Lincoln, but Spangler’s defense would show the rope to be an innocuous item.


In the midst of Detective Rosch’s testimony, the court took a recess for lunch. During this time the conspirators were returned to their cells. At 2 o’clock, the court reassembled and Charles Rosch resumed his testimony.[6]

Testimony resumed

Charles H. Rosch, described in the newspapers as being “a little deaf”[7], resumed his testimony and was asked to identify the coil of rope he had found among Spangler’s belongings.[8]

While it is not recorded in the official trial transcript, it is extremely likely that the coil of rope was entered into evidence as Exhibit 47 at this time.

William Eaton, a detective with the D.C. provost marshal, was recalled after testifying the day before. This time, Eaton briefly testified that he arrested Edman Spangler at his boardinghouse but did not search him.[9]

William E. Wallace, a member of the Baltimore police force, testified about arresting Michael O’Laughlen on April 17th. O’Laughlen was not at his normal residence but at the home of a friend of his. When Walter Cox, O’Laughlen’s lawyer, began cross-examining Wallace with the question, “Did the brother-in-law of the prisoner send for you, or go for you to arrest him?” the prosecution objected. There was a lengthy parlay between Cox and assistant Judge Advocate Bingham with Cox rightfully pointing out that the prosecution’s point in presenting this witness was to imply that O’Laughlen was avoiding arrest. However, Cox wished that the record be set straight that it was O’Laughlen who told his brother-in-law to tell the police where he could be found. Bingham, the prosecution’s attack dog, fought the admission of a third person’s declaration but, this time, was overruled and Cox was permitted to continue his questioning. Wallace testified that he had been led to O’Laughlen’s whereabouts by his brother-in-law and that O’Laughlen stated to Wallace he was innocent of any involvement in the assassination.[10]

James J. Gifford, the builder and lead carpenter of Ford’s Theatre, testified about the events inside Ford’s in the hours prior to the assassination of Lincoln. He spoke of seeing Henry Clay Ford and Tom Raybold decorating the box in preparation of the President’s visit. He testified about his own whereabouts during the play which saw him both in and out front of the theater. Gifford also testified about observing the box in the days after the assassination where he noticed and inspected the mortised hole that had been cut into the wall of the vestibule to hold Booth’s wooden brace. While Gifford helps us set the scene prior to the assassination, as a prosecution witness he didn’t really provide any valuable evidence. Instead Thomas Ewing, Edman Spangler’s lawyer, found Gifford to be a helpful defense witness during his cross-examination. Gifford testified that he had not seen Spangler in the President’s box at all during the day, that the wings of the stage were normally kept clear in order to allow the actors and actresses to pass through with ease, and that while he was present in front of the theater at different times during the play that Edman Spangler never was as he was too busy with his duties shifting scenes. This testimony helped to dispel many of the accusations against Spangler and his assumed involvement in the assassination.[11]

During Gifford’s testimony, he was asked to look at a plan of the theater. Gifford stated that while the drawing had a few minor mistakes, it was substantially correct. This plan of Ford’s Theatre was entered into evidence as Exhibit 48.

Martha E. Murray, the proprietor of the Herndon House hotel, testified that Lewis Powell had rented a room at her establishment for two weeks ending on April 14th when he departed. Mrs. Murray was a bit hesitant in her identification of Powell on the witness stand, stating that he did not present the same appearance as before, but his features were familiar. Mrs. Murray did not have much to add, as she did not remember the name Powell registered under and stated that she never got a very good look at any of the people who came to visit him.[12]

The home of William Seward and his family in Washington, D.C.

William H. Bell, an African American servant of Secretary of State William Seward, testified about the events at the Secretary of State’s home on the evening of April 14th. Bell identified Lewis Powell as the man who arrived at the house, posing as a messenger from Dr. Verdi with medicine for the injured Secretary of State. Bell then narrated the particulars of the attack on Seward and his household and the subsequent escape of Powell on horseback. During his cross examination by Powell’s defense, Bell was asked about his identification of Powell in the early morning hours of April 18th.[13] The line of questioning from William Doster, Powell’s lawyer, regarding Bell’s identification of Powell was a desperate attempt to throw doubt that Powell was the one who attacked Seward. There was little Doster could do in Powell’s case and at this point he was working with an uncooperative client. Rather than portraying Bell as unreliable or motivated by reward money, Doster’s questions only strengthened the case that the authorities had the right man.

George Foster Robinson, the Union private who served as a nurse for Secretary of State William Seward, testified about Lewis Powell’s attack on the Seward household on April 14th. After Powell rushed into the Secretary’s room and stabbed at him, Robinson pulled him away. Powell grappled with him for a time and Robinson was stabbed in the forehead before Powell broke free and escaped. Robinson narrated the sequence of the attack and the wounds suffered by Secretary Seward. The witness was also asked about some of the objects associated with the attack including Powell’s knife, hat, and pistol. General Lew Wallace of the military commission asked that the hat be placed upon the head of Lewis Powell to make sure the hat fit the prisoner. It was deemed to fit him tightly enough.[14] See the newspaper descriptions for Lewis Powell below for more detail on this scene.

During Pvt. Robinson’s testimony the hat that Powell had worn and the gun that he had used to wound Frederick Seward were identified and entered into evidence as Exhibits 49 and 50, respectively.

Major Augustus H. Seward, son of Secretary of State William Seward, testified about the attack on his home. On April 14th, Augustus was sleeping in a different room of the Seward home when he was awakened by screams of his sister, Fanny. When he rushed to his father’s bedroom he found two men grappling with each other. Augustus testified that he forced one of the men out of his father’s bedroom door, suffering several blows to the head in the process. Augustus identified Lewis Powell as the man who attacked his father. Powell alleged called out, “I’m mad. I’m mad” as he fled the scene and when Augustus was called to identify Powell after the latter’s arrest, he had Powell repeat those words.[15] According to newspapers, “Major Augustus Seward seemed terribly frightened when he took the witness stand, and perceptibly trembly when asked to identify the prisoner Payne.”[16]

Richard C. Morgan, a detective with the War Department, testified about his arrest of Lewis Powell on the night of April 17th. Morgan had been sent by Gen. Olcott to assist in the arrests of Mary Surratt and everyone else at her boardinghouse for use as possible witnesses. While preparing to depart with the occupants, Lewis Powell, dressed as a laborer, arrived at the home. Morgan testified about his questioning of Powell and his subsequent arrest. Morgan also testified about the search of Mrs. Surratt’s boardinghouse that the detectives made and some of the objects they found including pictures of John Wilkes Booth and rebel leaders. Frederick Aiken, Mary Surratt’s lawyer, clumsily asked Morgan cross-examination questions regarding these photographs trying to portray the Surratts’ possession of such images as innocent. [17] Richard C. Morgan was later awarded $500 in reward money for the arrest of Lewis Powell.

During Detective Morgan’s testimony he was asked to identify the pickax Lewis Powell carried as part of his laborer garb. This pickax was entered into evidence as Exhibit 51.

Morgan also identified the collection of Confederate cards found in the Surratt boardinghouse. The figures of the photographs included Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, and General Beauregard. These cards were entered into evidence as Exhibit 52.

Henry W. Smith, a Major with the D.C. provost marshal, was in charge of the posse that arrested Mary Surratt and Lewis Powell late on the night of April 17th. Smith testified that, after Powell’s arrival at the boardinghouse, Mary was asked if she knew the man. According to Smith’s testimony, Mary Surratt raised her right hand and said “Before God, sir, I do not know this man and I have never seen him”. Like Richard Morgan before him, Major Smith was cross-examined by Frederick Aiken about the Confederate photographs and about his own opinion regarding whether he would recognize a person who had previously dressed in a genteel manner if the same man later was shown to him wearing the costume of a laborer. Aiken asked this question as a preemptive measure against future testimony that would show that Lewis Powell had stayed at the Surratt boardinghouse in the months prior to the assassination. Aiken’s questioning failed, however, as Smith emphatically believed he would still recognize a man he had met before. A similar gaffe was made on the part of the prosecution. Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt showed a coat to Major Smith and asked him if it was the coat Lewis Powell was wearing when he was arrested. Smith stated that it was. William Doster, Powell’s attorney, seized on this, having Smith repeat about three or four times that the coat he was presented with was the one Powell wore. It was then that the JAG realized his mistake and that the coat he had Smith identify was not the one Powell was wearing the night he was arrested, but the coat he had been wearing when he attacked Seward and afterwards shed. Holt then brought forth the correct coat and Smith admitted that his previous identification of the coat was mistaken.[18]

Near the end of Major Smith’s testimony he correctly identified the gray coat Lewis Powell was wearing when he was arrested. This coat was entered into evidence as Exhibit 55. Please note that the numbering system for the pieces of evidence gets a little confusing at this point. It appears that the articles of clothing related to Lewis Powell were given their evidence numbers ahead of time but they were not entered into evidence in sequential order.

Dr. Joseph K. Barnes, the Surgeon General of the Army, testified about caring for William Seward and his household after Lewis Powell’s attack. Barnes described the wounds Seward and Frederick Seward suffered at Lewis Powell’s hands.[19]

Thomas Price, an army baker stationed at Fort Bunker Hill, testified about finding a coat on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. on April 16th. Price was walking through the woods between Fort Bunker Hill and Fort Saratoga when he came across an abandoned coat. The coat was of a brown and white mixed color and had traces of blood on the right sleeve.[20] This coat was later identified as the outer coat worn by Lewis Powell when he attacked Secretary Seward and his household.

The coat Thomas Price found had previously been shown to Major Smith and it was either during his testimony or Price’s testimony that it was submitted into evidence as Exhibit 54.

Charles H. Rosch, a detective with the War Department, was recalled for the third time today. Rosch was present at the arrest of Lewis Powell at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse on April 17th. Rosch was asked to look at and identify the objects taken from Powell’s pockets when he was arrested. He also identified the boots Powell was wearing at the time.[21]

A package of articles found on Lewis Powell at his arrest was entered into evidence as Exhibit 56. The boots Powell wore during his arrest were entered into evidence as Exhibit 57.

Spencer M. Clark, the scandalous superintendent of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, testified about an examination he made on the boots Lewis Powell had been wearing at his arrest. Inside one of the boots was an ink mark covering up a name of some kind. Using acid, Clark removed this outer layer of ink revealing the letters “J W” and what he believed was the name “Booth”. Before the name “Booth” could be clearly seen, the acid ate away at the original ink of the name, rendering it unreadable.[22] Clark’s act of chemistry was to show Lewis Powell’s close association with John Wilkes Booth.

Edward Jordan, the Solicitor of the Treasury, testified about Spencer Clark’s examination of Lewis Powell’s boot. Jordan stated he was walking by Clark’s room when he was called in. Before being told anything about the proceedings, Jordan was asked to look at the boot and give his opinion of the name that had been partially revealed by acid. Jordan testified that he stated he thought the name on the boot was “J W Booth” before being told its connection to the assassination, thus supporting Clark’s conclusion.[23]

Samuel W. Marsh, a clerk in the Treasury department, testified that, like the prior two witnesses, Clark and Jordan, he had examined one of the boots worn by Lewis Powell. Without being told what to look for, Marsh stated that he made out the letters “J W B__th” on the inside of the boot.[24]

William H. Bell, Secretary of State William Seward’s servant, was recalled from having testified earlier in the day. It was decided to dress Lewis Powell up in the clothing he had been wearing on the night he attacked the Seward household so that Bell may, once again, positively identify him.[25] The Evening Star documented the scene:

“The proceedings of the court were here delayed by an order from Judge Advocate General Holt to remove the fetters from the hands of Payne, in order that he might put on both the coats already spoken of in the record. When Payne was unfettered he rose, and there was a hush through the court. Every eye was directed toward him, and mingled expressions of admiration and abhorrence could be distinctly heard – abhorrence at his real or supposed crime, and admiration for his fine physical development. His face, slightly flushed, and his lips curled with an involuntary smile, revealed the dimples in his cheeks to which the colored boy had alluded to in his previous testimony. He first put on the coat of Confederate gray, and over it drew the larger cream-colored one. The hat was then handed to him, and he put it on, and, turning toward the young negro, bent his dark-blue eyes searchingly upon him. Judge Holt then said to the boy: ‘Do you recognize him now?’ A. ‘Yes, sir; but he had a white collar on and looked quite nice, and he had one corner of that hat over one eye, turned down like. I tell you, his eyes looked pretty fiery.’ Here the boy shook his head as he added, ‘Oh, he knows me well enough.’ In spite of the solemn importance of the words, the homely positiveness of the boy evoked a laugh, to which Payne himself replied by a renewal of his old smile.”[26]

Pvt. George Foster Robinson, Secretary of State William Seward’s army nurse, was recalled having testified earlier in the day. Like Bell, Robinson was asked to look upon Lewis Powell in the clothes he was wearing the night of the attack. Robinson stated his belief that Powell was the same man he fought with that night.[27]

Jacob Rittersbach, a stagehand at Ford’s Theatre, testified about occupying the same boardinghouse where Edman Spangler took his meals. When authorities arrived on April 17, Rittersbach told them that Spangler did not sleep there but at the theater. Rittersbach testified that he turned over a valise that Spangler kept at the house, the only possession of his located there. Inside the valise was the rope that had already been entered into evidence.[28]

William M. Wermerskirch, a detective with the War Department, testified that he had been present at the arrest of Mary Surratt and Lewis Powell. Wermerskrich supported the testimony of Major Smith in saying that Mrs. Surratt denied knowing Lewis Powell when she was asked about her late night visitor. Powell, who was still dressed up in the clothing he had been wearing the night he attacked Secretary Seward, was told to remove his outer coat which he shed during his escape and the hat on his head was replaced with the shirt sleeve he had fashioned into a hat. Wermerskirch testified that his appearance then matched what it was when he was arrested, though the gaslights were dimmed that night making it hard for him to identify the coat Powell wore with certainty. The witness also testified about searching Mrs. Surratt’s house and some of the articles found there.[29]

During Captain Wermerskirch’s testimony, the piece of sleeve that Lewis Powell used as a makeshift hat was entered into evidence as Exhibit 53.

John W. Dempsey, a lieutenant in the Veteran Reserve Corps, was the commander of the guard detail for Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse after the household’s arrest. Dempsey testified that while searching the house he came across a framed image called “Morning, Noon, and Night”. A torn piece on the back of the frame piqued Dempsey’s curiosity. When he opened up the frame he found an image of John Wilkes Booth hidden behind the main image.[30]

The picture frame and the “Morning, Noon, and Night” image (pictured above) that hid the image of John Wilkes Booth were entered into evidence as Exhibit 57. Lewis Powell’s boots had already been given this exhibit number but the mistake was not realized. Later, the frame and picture were referred to as Exhibit 57a.

Louis J. Weichmann, a lodger at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse and former classmate of John Surratt’s, was recalled having previously testified on May 13, May 15, and twice the day before. Lewis Powell was once again dressed in the clothing he was wearing the night he was arrested. Weichmann was then asked whether he had ever seen Lewis Powell dressed in those clothes and Weichmann replied that Powell wore the same coat when he stayed at the Surratt boardinghouse. Weichmann was then shown a vest and identified it as the same vest Powell wore during his time at the house. William Doster, Powell’s attorney, asked Weichmann about the time period when Powell stayed at the home which Weichmann fixed as March 13 – 16. Weichmann also testified, over the objections from Doster, that he had expressed his suspicions about Powell to Captain Gleason at the War Department where Weichmann worked.[31]

Col. Henry H. Wells, the Provost Marshal for the Union defenses south of the Potomac, was recalled having previously testified on May 16. Wells testified about having custody of Lewis Powell between his arrest on April 17th and his transfer onto the ironclad. Wells collected all of Powell’s articles of clothing and was the one responsible for sending his boots over to the Treasury Department for examination. There were traces of blood on the ends of the sleeves of both Powell’s shirt and gray coat.[32]

A box containing Lewis Powell’s vest, pantaloons, white linen shirt, and undershirt missing a sleeve was entered into evidence as Exhibit 58. Unfortunately, all of the articles of clothing that were entered into evidence on this day in 1865 are lost to us today.

Eleanor Bloise, an African American resident of Charles County, Maryland, testified that on April 15th she witnessed Dr. Mudd ride past her house on the road to Bryantown accompanied by another gentleman. Bloise stated that after a while, she saw Dr. Mudd ride back up the road towards his farm but that he was unaccompanied. A few minutes after Dr. Mudd passed back up the road, Mrs. Bloise made her own way to Bryantown where she learned that Lincoln had been assassinated.[33] The man who accompanied Dr. Mudd towards Bryantown was David Herold.

Becky Briscoe, an African American resident of Charles County and the daughter of previous witness Eleanor Bloise, testified that she witnessed Dr. Mudd and another man ride towards Bryantown together on April 15th. From where Briscoe was located she saw the other man stop near a bridge about half a mile from Bryantown and then retreat back up the road a bit while Dr. Mudd continued into town. According to Briscoe, the other man stayed near a swampy run until Dr. Mudd returned, which was around a half an hour. The two men then rode together back up the road. Mrs. Briscoe traveled to Bryantown on her own shortly after Dr. Mudd and the man passed back up the road and it was there that she learned of Lincoln’s assassination.[34] Both Mrs. Bloise and Mrs. Briscoe testified that they did not hear who had assassinated the President at that time.

At the conclusion of Becky Briscoe’s testimony the commission adjourned at around 6:30 pm.[35] It was decided by the court to convene tomorrow at 11 o’clock instead of their normal 10 o’clock start time.


From General Kautz’ diary:

“It was wet and pleasant today there was no hot sun or dust. The commission met as usual and we continued our session until about seven o’clock. The prosecution is not yet through with.”[36]

Starting today, Mary Surratt’s senior counsel, Reverdy Johnson, no longer appeared in court and the task of defending her was left solely to lawyers Aiken and Clampitt. Johnson only worked on Mrs. Surratt’s case by writing a lengthy argument against the jurisdiction of the court which would be read in the closing days of the trial. William Doster, lawyer to Powell and Atzerodt, later recalled his opinion on Johnson’s retirement from the court:

“I cannot help believing that Johnson’s absence during the rest of the trial had a bad effect on his client’s cause, on account of the conclusion drawn by many, that he had given up her case.”[37]

Newspaper Descriptions

“At 2 p.m. the Court returned from its lunchroom well fortified for the further labors of the day. The newspaper men, who lunch on the smell of the Court’s dinner, came to their work again with rather hungry faces. Why can’t somebody start an eating stand at the Penitentiary building for use of reporters and others during these trials? The isolation of a set of men, who for no other crime than being connected with a daily paper, are held here eight or ten hours a day, a mile from an oyster or a cocktail is terrible to think of.”[38]

During the testimony of Edward Jordan:

“Are the gentlemen of the Treasury Department in the habit of receiving boots in connection with criminal trials? (The laughter that followed this question prevented the answer being heard at the Reporter’s desk, and we are obliged to leave the public uninformed as to the habits of the Treasury in this particular.)”[39]

Mrs. Surratt

“Mrs. Surratt sits with eyes closed much of the time, as on yesterday, and with a palm leaf fan in her hand, which she does not use.”[40]

“Mrs. Surratt sits in the same pensive attitude as heretofore.”[41]

“Mrs. Surratt appears very dejected, keeping herself heavily veiled. Her veil is not removed while she remains in the Court, except when she is directed to raise it for the purpose of identification, and then only a glimpse of her face can be obtained, as she quickly covers her face again, and holds a palm-leaf fan before her eyes to prevent observation, and at times she rests her head on the railing of the prisoner’s bar as if weeping.”[42]

“Mrs. Surratt unveiled her face for the first time since the trial opened to enable a witness to identify her. She is rather a good-looking woman of her age, but wears a jaded and despairing expression.”[43]

“Mrs. Surratt, too, was forced to unveil, in order to be identified; and, as she looked calmly around, there was, for the first time since we have seen her, an expression of indifference to danger, a power to bear the agonies of such a scene without a tremor of the lip or a blanching of the cheek, that in the opinions of some who could only be the fruit of reckless guilt, while others saw in it but a mere actress’s self-possession; yet the woman who could act self-possession and fearless indifference at such a moment must possess it. Self-control is the first ingredient in all simulation. Whether her calm was real or whether it was affected, it still justified the expression of a spectator: ‘She has grit in her, even if she be guilty.’”[44]

“Mrs. Surratt at one time was requested to raise her vail to be identified, when her features revealed a florid and somewhat animated expression. She appears to be much bowed by the long and continued sessions, and the ceaseless stare if the sight-seers.”[45]

During Major Smith’s testimony:

“Q. You refer to Mrs. Surratt, the prisoner at the bar [Mrs. Surratt raised her veil]. A. Yes”[46]

During Captain Wermerskirch’s testimony:

“[Assistant Judge Advocate Bingham then requested that Mrs. Surratt be asked to unveil her face, which had the very natural effect of attracting to it the gaze of every spectator in the room; but, like Payne, she met the glance of the witness unmoved; and when he replied, ‘Yes, sir; that’s Mrs. Surratt,’ coolly and slowly replaced her veil before her face.]”[47]

“Mrs. Surratt, from being an almost disinterested listener, exhibited much anxiety while the evidence was being taken…The point counsel wished to develop was, that she fell on her knees and uttered a prayer just before leaving her house. Witness replied that Mrs. Surratt got down upon her knees, but as to her praying he did not hear anything of it before, and he certainly would have heard it had it occurred. This caused a suppressed laugh all over the room. The ire of the lady was evidently excited by this mark of doubt as to her piety, and she turned quickly around for a moment, and for an instant her veil was thrown aside, displaying a pair of flashing eyes, which bore no indication of being suffused with tears. The incident was a trifling one, but the spirit of the prisoner was displayed more strongly in this little action than at any other time since she has been on trial.”[48]

Lewis Powell

“Payne is not so readily distinguished, except by his height. He has the look of a desperate dare-devil, but not of a mean villain; and his florid complexion, smoothly shaven face and large clear eye make his appearance a shade more prepossessing than that of his fellows.”[49]

“Payne maintains a sullen dogged demeanor, displaying the most stolid indifference to the awful situation in which he is placed.”[50]

During Pvt. George Robinson’s first testimony:

“The only time during the trial that Payne changed countenance, was…when Sergeant Geo. F. Robinson took the witness stand. His face turned as red as a beat, but in a moment or so he wore the same placid countenance as before.”[53]

“The prisoner grew a little red in the face at the recital of the witness, particularly while he held in his hand the knife Payne used on the occasion, and gave a demonstration of the manner in which the assassin struck at the defenceless man as he lay upon his sick bed.”[54]

“[By request of the Court, Payne here stood up in the dock and the hat was placed on his head for purposes of identification. As this was done Payne smiled with a sort of grimace at the sort of figure he was making.]”[55]

“[Gen. Wallace requested that the hat produced might be tried on Payne. It was handed to Payne’s guard who placed it on his head to the evident amusement of Payne himself.] Gen. Wallace – Does it fit loosely? The Guard – No; it fits tight. Mr. Doster, [Payne’s counsel] – It is too small for him, I should say,” (laughter.)[56]

“[Payne was requested to put on the hat left at Mr. Seward’s, which he did with a smile]”[57]

During William Bell’s second testimony:

“The negro boy who attended the door that night also identified the prisoner with a degree of terror which was quite amusing. ‘Yes, that’s the man, that’s him, I know him.’ At which Payne smiled. ‘That’s him;’ added the witness, ‘don’t you see he knows me.’ At which Payne laughed, and the Court joined.”[58]

“[Payne] stood unmanacled and unmoved, like a young gladiator, fixing his haughty eye upon each witness, and smiling with an appearance of genuine mirth at the negro’s earnest manner.”[59]

“The novelty of being dressed up like a doll for the inspection of hundreds of eyes brought a blush and a grim smile over the features which the captured savage generally controls so completely.”[60]

“The prisoner seemed to enjoy the freedom of his arms keenly. His fingers taper and his hands are finely shaped, soft and white as a woman’s. When identified he would wrinkle his brow and bite his nails nervously.”[61]

During Captain Wermerskirch’s testimony:

“The sleeve of the woolen shirt which Payne had improvised into a skull cap…was put on Payne’s head and he was fully identified by the respective officers as the man who attempted to pass himself off as a laboring man when he was arrested by the detectives at Mrs. Surratt’s.”[51]

“The idea of Payne personating a Baptist minister at any time was so ludicrous that it brought a smile to the hardened criminal’s face, and the ingenious answer of the witness, that he was not a judge of Baptist ministers, caused a laugh over the whole room.”[52]

David Herold

“Herold has been induced to brush his hair and wash his face, and has less the aspect of an imbecile than he has worn heretofore. He appreciates as fully as any one the comical incidents which occasionally occur in the examination of witnesses and laughs at them heartily and with evident enjoyment.”[62]

George Atzerodt

“Spectators generally single out Atzerodt readily among the prisoners. His face is a terrible witness against him. A villainously low forehead, pinched up features, mean chin, sallow complexion, snaky eyes of greenish blue, nasty twisted mustache, head sunk into his shoulders and crouching figure make up the disagreeable presentment of George A. Atzerodt.”[63]

Dr. Mudd

“Dr. Mudd appears again in shirt-sleeves and with white handkerchief bound loosely about his neck. His full forehead gives him an air of some intelligence, but his small unpleasant eyes and thin compressed lips detract from the favorable impression created by his frontal developments.”[64]

“Dr. Mudd is also very blue, and staggered completely under the evidence that he was told of the murder of the President on the 15th, Saturday, and that Booth was the criminal.”[65]

Samuel Arnold

“Arnold [seems] rather indifferent, combing his hair with his hand and titrivating his new mustache.”[66]

Michael O’Laughlen

“O’Laughlin is the only one who did not take any interest in the trial, and while every eye was upon Payne during his identification, O’Laughlin never took his eyes up from the floor, and appears totally broken down in spirits, and evidently seems to consider his case hopeless.”[67]

“O’Laughlin appears much worn in body and mind, and his fears of the future show themselves plainly in his face.”[68]

Edman Spangler

“Spangler [seems] stupid”[69]

Wore a “dark-brown coat”.[70]


“Among those present this morning was Rear Admiral [Charles Henry] Davis.”[71]

“…[Republican newspaper publisher] Thurlow Weed…”[72]

“Among the spectators…were Mrs. [E.D.E.N.] Southworth, the novelist, and Mons. Leroy and DePond, of the French Legation.”[73]

“The Court room, to-day, was densely crowded with spectators during the time devoted to taking the testimony, and so great was the pressure of lookers-on that they invaded the front of the prisoner’s box, and Gen. Hunter was appealed to by the counsel for the prisoners to have a passage way opened for the counsel to communicate with their clients, and by direction of the General the spectators, among whom were a bevy of ladies, were ordered to fall back. Among the spectators, in addition to many ladies, were several officers of high rank in the army and navy.”[74]

“The number of spectators in the court room at this Penitentiary today was larger than at any time before, and some stop must be put to the issue of passes, or the trial will be seriously retarded and inconvenienced by the crowds of visitors. Many ladies were present this afternoon.”[75]

James A. Nelson, an auditor in the Treasurer’s office, appears to have attended the trial of the conspirators on this date. Years later, in 1909, Nelson was interviewed regarding his attendance at the trial. Nelson had lived in the Colorado Territory and knew of a man named Wood who had attempted to shoot the founder of the Rocky Mountain News. The name Wood was also one of the aliases Lewis Powell used during the conspiracy period. According to Nelson, Hiram P. Bennet, the congressman for the Colorado Territory, asked Nelson to go to the trial in order to see if he could positively identify the “Wood” on trial with the Wood who had caused havoc in Colorado. When Nelson saw Powell he knew that it was not the same man. Nelson recalled this story in the 1909 article along with some of his memories of attending the trial that day:

“Mudd sat with the most awful, most heart-breaking look upon his face, among the conspirators. He would rather have died than be among them, so he said – and he looked it. He had a splendid family and the horror of his position seemed to smite him to the earth. He could hardly hold up his head.”

“The rope with which the conspirators had planned to capture Lincoln when he was on his way to the soldiers’ home where he spent much of his time, was exhibited in the court room.”

“Payne, alias Wood, was made to put on the coat and hat in court, that he had worn when attempting to kill Secretary of States W. H. Seward…He was being held captive on a gunboat in a padded cell and made to wear a knitted sailor suit so that he could not do himself bodily injury. In that rig he was brought into the courtroom.”

“When I saw the picture in The Post the other day of the old courtroom, I saw the place where I sat, and it brought it back to my mind as clearly as if it had happened yesterday.”[76]

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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), 100.
[2] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[3] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[4] William C. Edwards, ed., The Lincoln Assassination – The Court Transcripts (Self-published: Google Books, 2012), 351 – 352.
[5] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 352 – 353.
[6] The World (New York, NY), May 20, 1865, 1.
[7] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[8] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 353.
[9] Ibid., 354.
[10] Ibid., 354 – 356.
[11] Ibid., 356 – 364.
[12] Ibid., 364 – 365.
[13] Ibid., 365 – 371.
[14] Ibid., 371 – 374.
[15] Ibid., 374 – 376.
[16] Daily Constitutional Union (Washington, D.C.), May 20, 1865, 1.
[17] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 376 – 380.
[18] Ibid., 380 – 385.
[19] Ibid., 385 – 386.
[20] Ibid., 386 – 387.
[21] Ibid., 387 – 388.
[22] Ibid., 388 – 390.
[23] Ibid., 390 – 391.
[24] Ibid., 391 – 392.
[25] Ibid., 392 – 393.
[26] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 20, 1865, 1.
[27] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 393.
[28] Ibid., 393 – 394.
[29] Ibid., 394 – 399.
[30] Ibid., 399 – 401.
[31] Ibid., 401 – 402.
[32] Ibid., 402 – 404.
[33] Ibid., 404 – 407.
[34] Ibid., 407 – 410.
[35] Hartranft, Letterbook, 100.
[36] August V. Kautz, May 19, 1865 diary entry (Unpublished diary: Library of Congress, August V. Kautz Papers).
[37] William E. Doster, Lincoln and Episodes of the Civil War (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915), 264.
[38] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[39] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 20, 1865, 8.
[40] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[41] Daily Constitutional Union (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[42] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 20, 1865, 4.
[43] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), May 20, 1865, 1.
[44] Daily Morning Chronicle (Washington, D.C.) May 20, 1865, 1.
[45] The World (New York, NY), May 20, 1865, 1.
[46] New-York Tribune (New York, NY), May 20, 1865, 1.
[47] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 20, 1865, 1.
[48] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 20, 1865, 4.
[49] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[50] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 20, 1865, 4.
[51] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 20, 1865, 4.
[52] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 20, 1865, 4.
[53] Daily Constitutional Union (Washington, D.C.), May 20, 1865, 1.
[54] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 20, 1865, 4.
[55] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[56] New-York Tribune (New York, NY), May 20, 1865, 1.
[57] Daily Constitutional Union (Washington, D.C.), May 20, 1865, 1.
[58] New-York Tribune (New York, NY), May 20, 1865, 1.
[59] Daily Morning Chronicle (Washington, D.C.) May 20, 1865, 1.
[60] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), May 20, 1865, 1.
[61] New-York Tribune (New York, NY), May 20, 1865, 1.
[62] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), May 20, 1865, 1.
[63] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[64] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[65] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 20, 1865, 4.
[66] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[67] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 20, 1865, 4.
[68] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), May 20, 1865, 1.
[69] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[70] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[71] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), May 19, 1865, 2.
[72] The World (New York, NY), May 20, 1865, 1.
[73] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 20, 1865, 2.
[74] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 20, 1865, 4.
[75] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), May 20, 1865, 1.
[76] “James Nelson Witness at Trial of Conspirators,” Denver Post (Denver, CO), February 13, 1909, 8.
The drawing of the conspirators as they were seated on the prisoners’ dock on this day was created by artist and historian Jackie Roche.


5 thoughts on “May 19, 1865

  1. Pingback: The Trial Today: May 19 | BoothieBarn

  2. jett

    i read somewhere that some of the prisoners were not only shackled but had ball and chain attached to the leg irons, and guards had to carry the cannon ball weights. is it true that not all prisoners had the ball and chain or was every prisoner shackled ball and chain? maybe dave or another historian can chime in? thanks

    • You are correct. Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt were also forced to wear iron balls attached to their chains. Some of the descriptions of the conspirators entering the exiting the courtroom contain this detail.

  3. Pingback: Lincoln Assassination Ephemera |

  4. Pingback: Formerly Enslaved Voices in the Lincoln Assassination Trial |

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