May 24, 1865

Wednesday, May 24, 1865

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The court did not convene on this day, the second day of the Grand Review of the Armies. The decision to adjourn until Thursday had been decided the day before when possible witnesses had been unable to make their way to the trial room.


Henry Kyd Douglas was a former Major in the Confederate army who had served on the staff of General Edward Johnson. Though paroled at the end of the war, Douglas had been arrested in May of 1865 for having been seen wearing his Confederate uniform in public. He was sentenced to two months in prison at Fort Delaware. On his transport to Fort Delaware, however, Douglas was first taken to Washington. He arrived in D.C. on the morning of May 24 when General Sherman and his army were marching in the Grand Review. In his later memoirs, entitled I Rode with Stonewall, Douglas described how his guard, “permitted me to go to a restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue to get a long drawn out breakfast, that he might view the parade.”[1] At about noon, Douglas was taken to the Old Arsenal Penitentiary, where the trial of the conspirators was taking place.[2] General Hartranft informed Douglas that he had been brought to Washington due to the testimony of Henry Von Steinaecker, the former Union and Confederate soldier who was the very first witness at the conspiracy trial. Von Steinaecker had testified that, in 1863, he had seen John Wilkes Booth among the lines of Stonewall’s Brigade in Virginia discussing the proposed assassination of Lincoln. As a member of Edward Johnson’s staff, Hartranft explained, Douglas may be called to testify about his involvement in the plot. “General Johnson, Heinricks, myself, and others were sent for and taken to the Penitentiary, semi-witnesses, semi-accused,” Douglas wrote.[3] While he would eventually take the stand to counter von Steinaecker’s accusations on May 30th, in the interim, Douglas was kept at the Arsenal. Rather than being placed in a cell of the prison, like the conspirators, Douglas was put in one of the two small rooms just off of the main court room. During a trial day, prospective witnesses were seated in this room waiting to be called to the stand. Douglas described his place of confinement as, “a comfortable room,”[4] which he was only required to occupy at night. “I was treated as a guest by [General Hartranft’s staff] at their table and in daily intercourse. I walked about as I pleased within the limits of the prison, and being in citizen’s clothes no one know me.”[5]

General Kautz recalled the daily drudgery of the commission in his later memoirs:

“The Court met usually as a rule at ten in the morning, and ^usually^ sat until after six P.M. usually taking a recess about noon for lunch which the Secretary of War had served for us in adjoining room to save time and the necessity of our going back to the city. Ambulances were supplied by the Q.M. Dept. to take us to and from the Court room to our rooms. This was the dayily programme. The weather soon became very warm and the confinement was very trying on account of the number of visitors that were permitted by pass to visit the Court room, preventing the fine circulation of the air. We worked very faithfully and there was little leisure, often sitting until near seven o’clock in the evening, and rarely adjourning before six, except when no work could be done for want of witnesses which happened occasionally.”[6]

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[1] Henry Kyd Douglas, I Rode with Stonewall (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1961), 324.
[2] 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), 105.
[3] Douglas, Stonewall, 325.
[4] Ibid., 324.
[5] Ibid., 325.
[6] August V. Kautz, Reminiscences of the Civil War (Unpublished manuscript: Library of Congress, August V. Kautz Papers), 22.

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  1. Pingback: The Trial Today: May 24 | BoothieBarn

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