May 27, 1865

Saturday, May 27, 1865

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Proceedings

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 seated in the same manner as the day before.

The reading of the prior day’s proceedings was completed by court reporter Dennis F. Murphy at around 12 o’clock.[2]

Testimony began

George F. Edmunds, a Vermont lawyer and lawmaker, was called as a witness for the prosecution. Edmunds had taken part in the Canadian trial of the St. Albans raiders, a group of Confederate agents who robbed banks in St. Albans, Vermont on October 19, 1864. Edmunds testified that members of the Confederacy’s “Canadian Cabinet” of agents consisting of George Sanders, Clement Clay, William Clearly, and others appeared at the trial of the raiders. The raiders managed to avoid extradition to the United States as the Canadian trial established that they were Confederate soldiers acting under orders. During Edmunds’ testimony he identified a copy of one of the commissions a St. Albans raider had on him from the Confederate government.[3] This testimony had nothing to do with the conspirators on trial, but was likely meant to connect with the testimony of perjurer Sandford Conover who stated that Confederate agents in Canada had blank military commissions that they could give out to those who committed acts against the United States and escaped to Canada.

A copy of the Confederate military commission of Bennett Young, a member of the St. Albans raiders, was entered into evidence as Exhibit 71.

Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt then announced that, despite the prosecution’s earlier assertion that the government was done with its cases against the individual conspirators and would only call general conspiracy witnesses to the stand, he wished to call an additional witness against one of the conspirators. Thomas Ewing asked Holt which of the conspirators would be affected by the new testimony. At first Holt did not want to say but eventually shared that the testimony dealt with George Atzerodt. William Doster, George Atzerodt’s attorney, stated that it was his understanding that no additional testimony was to be brought out against his client but acquiesced to the introduction of this witness because he had not yet commenced with Atzerodt’s defense. The commission then approved Holt’s request to introduce another prosecution witness against Atzerodt.[4]

Col. William R. Nevins, a baker for the Union army, testified that he was at the Kirkwood House hotel on April 12th when he was stopped in the hotel’s corridor and asked by a stranger the location of Vice President Andrew Johnson’s room. Not knowing the exact number, Nevins pointed out that the room was on the left side of the hallway but then noted that the Vice President was, at that moment, in the dining room eating a meal. The stranger looked into the dining room and Nevins passed on. Nevins identified George Atzerodt as the man who inquired about the Vice President’s room.[5]

Betty Washington, an African American servant working on the farm of Dr. Samuel Mudd, was called as a defense witness by Frederick Stone. Washington stated that she had been working for Dr. Mudd since a little after Christmas of 1864. Washington was asked about Dr. Mudd’s whereabouts during her residence with the Mudds, especially about his movements in January of 1865. Washington stated that while she could not recall exact dates or specify months, Dr. Mudd was only absent from his home overnight on two occasions. She also testified about having seen David Herold at the house on April 15th, but her observance of him was only as he appeared to be riding away from the house that afternoon. Shown Exhibit 1, John Wilkes Booth’s picture, Betty Washington stated she never saw the actor at the Dr. Mudd house during her residence there.[6] The intent of Betty Washington’s testimony was to cast doubt on the testimony of Louis Weichmann who had testified that Dr. Mudd introduced John Wilkes Booth to John Surratt in January of 1865. Weichmann was mistaken about the date as the introduction occurred just before Christmas of 1864. Betty Washington’s testimony wasn’t all that helpful in this regard as she did recall Dr. Mudd visiting Washington twice in the winter months of 1865 even though none of these trips involved interactions with John Wilkes Booth. It is also important to note that Betty Washington did not start working for the Mudds until after Christmas and so she had no knowledge of Booth’s earlier visits to the Mudd farm in November and December of 1865.

Jeremiah T. Mudd, a second cousin of Dr. Mudd, was recalled to the stand after previously testifying the day before. Jeremiah was presented with the hotel register for the Pennsylvania House and asked to identify the handwriting of Dr. Mudd within it. Jeremiah did so, reiterating that he had accompanied Dr. Mudd into D.C. on December 23rd and that they had stayed in the Pennsylvania House. It was during this trip that Dr. Mudd introduced John Wilkes Booth to John Surratt but the prosecution was still convinced Weichmann’s testimony placing the introduction at around January 15th to be accurate. The remainder of Jeremiah’s testimony was largely related to a previous witness, Daniel J. Thomas. Daniel Thomas had previously testified on May 18th that Dr. Mudd had told him in March of 1865 that Lincoln and his cabinet were to be killed. Jeremiah testified at length about the poor reputation Daniel Thomas had in Charles County. This was countered by the prosecution with their own detailed questions about the loyalty of the region in general to the Union cause.[7]

Bennett Gwynn, a land agent and resident of Prince George’s County, was recalled to the stand for the third day in a row. Gwynn was asked by Thomas Ewing, Dr. Mudd’s lawyer, if he had been present at Dr. Mudd’s farm during the summer of 1864. Gwynn replied that he had not been in the neighborhood of Dr. Mudd’s since November of 1861. He testified that in 1861, he and his brother had secreted themselves in the woods around the Dr. Mudd farm out of fear they were to be arrested. When Ewing asked Gwynn to elaborate on this, Assistant Judge Advocate Bingham objected saying that what occurred in 1861 was not in issue. Thomas Ewing replied that the prosecution had brought forth witnesses claiming to Gwynn and other men had been seen hiding out on the Mudd property in 1864. The point of this witness was to show that he was actually there in 1861 and not 1864, hence casting doubt on the accuracy of the prior witnesses. Bingham replied that the government had not brought any evidence regarding what occurred at the Mudd farm in 1861 and that it would therefore be improper for Gwynn to testify about that. Bingham stated that while Gwynn could testify about his whereabouts in 1864 to counter the earlier witnesses, he should testify about the events of 1861. The military commission seemed to have agreed with Bingham’s argument and sustained his objection.[8]

Break

In the midst of Bennett Gwynn’s testimony, the court decided to take its normal one hour recess for lunch. During this time all of the conspirators were returned to their cells. At 2 o’clock, the court reassembled and Gwynn’s testimony was resumed.[9]

Testimony resumed

Bennett Gwynn, a land agent and resident of Prince George’s County, continued his testimony. Thomas Ewing asked Gwynn if he and the party that was with him slept in the pines when they were on Dr. Mudd’s property. At first, Judge Advocate Bingham objected to this question, but he withdrew it.[10]  Ewing proceeded to ask Gwynn questions about his time being hidden by Dr. Mudd, with Gwynn admitting that Mudd provided him and the other men with meals and that they visited him at his house. When asked about John Surratt, another person mentioned by earlier witnesses as having hid out on the Mudd farm, Gwynn replied that he believed Surratt was at college at the time and that he had never seen Surratt in Charles County. During his testimony, Gwynn once again slipped in that his time hiding out in the pines occurred in August or early September of 1861 and not 1864. Surprisingly, Bingham did not object to this. During cross examination, Gwynn admitted that he feared arrest at that time because he had been a captain of a local militia that had been created, “to stand by the State in any disloyal position it might take against the Government,” during the secession crisis of 1860 – 1861.[11] While Thomas Ewing may have hoped Bennett Gwynn’s testimony would counter the claims made by some of the people formerly enslaved by Dr. Mudd about men being seen in the woods around the Mudd farm throughout the war, in the end Gwynn’s denial of the timeline of such events did not help much. Instead, Gwynn seems to have inadvertently supported the prosecution’s case by admitting that Mudd was known to harbor rebel sympathizers at one point. Gwynn even stated his belief that Dr. Mudd had been a member of one of the local militias who were created in the wake of the secession crisis, which hardly seemed beneficial to Dr. Mudd’s case.

Jeremiah Dyer, a former resident of Charles County and Dr. Mudd’s brother-in-law, testified about having known Dr. Mudd since the two were children. Thomas Ewing, Dr. Mudd’s lawyer, asked whether Dyer had ever had any conversations with Dr. Mudd regarding sending some of the doctor’s slaves south to the Confederacy. Dyer denied ever speaking with Dr. Mudd about the subject. Dyer also testified that he had never seen John Surratt in the vicinity of the Mudd farm. Ewing then asked Dyer about the incident of him and the Gwynn brothers hiding out in the pines around the Mudd farm. Dyer reiterated the testimony of Bennett Gwynn in saying that this event occurred in September of 1861 and not in 1864. Asked about the reputation of Daniel Thomas, Dyer stated that the public opinion in the region was that Thomas was not to be trusted. During cross-examination, the Judge Advocate questioned Dyer’s own loyalty, getting Dyer to admit that his sympathies were “with the rebels” during parts of the war.[12]

Frank Washington, an African American servant of Dr. Mudd’s and husband of Betty Washington, testified that he had been working at the Mudd farm since 1864 where he was employed as a ploughman. Washington was asked a series of questions regarding any men hiding out on the Mudd farm during his residency with the Mudds. Washington stated he never saw any men in the woods near the house. Washington also stated his belief that the reputation of Mary Simms, one of the formerly enslaved women who testified against Dr. Mudd, was poor. In supporting this claim, Washington stated that another of Dr. Mudd’s former slaves, Rachel Spencer, had told him that, “It is not worth while to listen to Mary, she won’t tell the truth no how.” It should be noted that Rachel Spencer testified on May 25th and supported most of what Mary Simms had testified to regarding men passing through the farm and being assisted by Dr. Mudd. During his testimony, Washington was shown a picture of John Surratt and asked if he had ever seen him around the farm. Washington replied that he had not. During his testimony, Washington rarely expanded on his answers usually giving short replies of “Yes, sir” and “No, sir”. Questions had to be asked multiple times and sometimes he gave contradictory answers. When questioned about the day after the assassination when Booth and Herold arrived at the farm, Washington answered “no, sir” when asked if there were any horses in the stable that day. When later asked who fed Booth and Herold’s horses he responded, “I did.” When asked where he put the horses, Washington then replied, “In the stable,” and referred to them as “two stray horses that came there about daybreak.” Washington gave similarly convoluted responses to questions regarding his knowledge and familiarity with Bennett Gwynn and his brother.[13]

The photograph of John Surratt, Jr. that had been shown to Frank Washington was entered into evidence as Exhibit 72.

Baptist Washington, an African American carpenter, testified that, when he was enslaved, he was hired out to Dr. Mudd to do work on his farm. Washington stated that he worked on the Mudd farm from January to about August of 1864, working on the doctor’s house and stables. Washington stated he never saw anyone hiding out in the woods around the Mudd farm nor did he know of the men referred to by other witnesses who were said to have been aided by Dr. Mudd in 1864. Washington also stated that he believed Mary Simms, one of Dr. Mudd’s former slaves, to be untrustworthy.[14]

The fields of the Dr. Mudd farm

Albin J. Brooke, a former resident of Charles County, Maryland, testified that he had lived and worked as a ploughman on the Mudd farm from January to September of 1864. Brooke stated that during his time on the farm he had never seen any strangers or men hiding out in the woods. Though he was familiar with Bennett Gwynn and John Surratt, he claimed neither man came to the farm while he was there. Asked about John Wilkes Booth’s visits to the Mudd farm and the surrounding neighborhood, Brooke testified that he never met Booth because he had left the area for college before Booth came down to Southern Maryland.[15]

Baptist Washington, the African American carpenter, was recalled to the stand. Washington was shown Exhibit 72, the photograph of John Surratt, and asked if he had even seen him at the Mudd farm. Washington replied that he did not recollect ever seeing the pictured man at the farm.[16]

Jeremiah Dyer, a former resident of Charles County and Dr. Mudd’s brother-in-law, was recalled to the stand. He certified that Exhibit 72 was, indeed, a photograph of John Surratt, though he stated he had not seen Surratt for a year and a half or two years. Frederick Stone, Dr. Mudd’s lawyer, then asked Dyer about the roads between Washington, D.C. and Pope’s Creek, a place in Charles County on the Potomac River. He also asked about the location of Port Tobacco in Charles County and the relative location of Dr. Mudd’s farm compared to these points. Dyer stated that a man bound for the Potomac near Pope’s Creek or Port Tobacco would not normally travel by way of Dr. Mudd’s. Going by way of Dr. Mudd’s was “ten or twelve” miles out of the way. The prosecution then asked Dyer about his own knowledge of secret lines that passed through Charles County and across the Potomac into Virginia. Dyer stated he had no knowledge of any such routes.[17] Frederick Stone’s questions regarding the optimal route between D.C. and the Potomac are puzzling as they don’t seem to have a beneficial purpose for his client. Instead, Stone’s questions point out how Booth went quite a distance out of his way to get to Mudd’s farm after the assassination, which only seems to be reflect poorly on Mudd and claims of his total innocence.

Dr. William I. Boarman, a Charles County physician, testified that in the fall of 1864, he saw John Wilkes Booth at St. Mary’s Church near Bryantown. Dr. Boarman stated that a few days later he saw Booth in Bryantown and that the actor asked him if he had any land to sell. Dr. Boarman noted two tracts of land he was thinking about selling and then Booth asked about horses for sale. Booth seemed interested and told Dr. Boarman that he would be down in a couple of weeks to look at the land. Dr. Boarman testified that Dr. Mudd made mention to him that he was interested in selling off his land too. When the two talked after Booth had left the area, Dr. Mudd told Dr. Boarman that Booth had also promised to buy his land.[18] This testimony was important to the defense as it supported their case that Booth told everyone he encountered in Charles County, including Dr. Mudd, that he was only looking to buy some land in the region.

George Booz, an African American resident of Charles County, testified that on the late afternoon of April 15th, he saw and spoke to Dr. Mudd as the doctor was riding from Bryantown back to his farm. Booz stated he lived on a piece of property owned by Dr. Mudd’s father and that Mudd often rode his horse down the farm lane rather than taking the main road to and from Bryantown. According to Booz, Dr. Mudd spoke a few words to him before continuing up the road. Booz stated that he did not see anyone else on the farm road or and main road during his interaction with Dr. Mudd.[19] The point of Booz’s testimony was to counter prior witness Becky Briscoe who claimed to have seen David Herold wait for Dr. Mudd outside of Bryantown.

Mrs. Mary Jane Simms, a resident of Charles County, testified that she had been living at the Mudd house for almost the entirety of 1864. Though familiar with Bennett Gwynn, his brothers, and John Surratt, Mrs. Simms stated she never saw any of those men at the Mudd farm in 1864. When asked about anyone staying in the woods or being fed from the house, Mrs. Simms stated, “There was never anyone there that I ever heard of.”[20] Mrs. Simms is not to be confused with Mary Simms, the woman who was formerly enslaved by Dr. Mudd and testified against him. It is interesting that Mrs. Simms claimed that there “was never anyone” out in the woods because census records show that she was living at the Mudd House in August of 1860. If Mrs. Simms kept her residence at the Mudd farm throughout the war, then she would have been present when Bennett Gwynn, his brothers, and Jeremiah Dyer hid out in the woods in 1861.

Augustus Spencer Howell, a former Confederate agent, testified that he had known Mrs. Surratt for a year and a half having met her when she was living at her tavern in Surrattsville and then having stayed in her D.C. boardinghouse for a time. Howell briefly gave testimony about Mrs. Surratt’s eyesight being poor before Frederick Aiken, one of Mary Surratt’s lawyers, asked him about his interactions with Louis Weichmann, one of the key government witnesses against Mrs. Surratt. Howell stated that, while he was staying in the boardinghouse, he taught Weichmann a cipher. He identified Exhibit 7, the Vigenère cipher found in John Wilkes Booth’s room, as the same kind he taught to Weichmann. Aiken then asked a series of questions about Howell’s conversation with Weichmann. Howell related that Weichmann expressed his desire to go to Richmond and find a position there because his sympathies were with the South. Howell said that Weichmann also made mention of the number of Confederate prisoners of war that the Union government held. Weichmann claimed his numbers to be accurate because he was a clerk in the War Department and had books on such things. When it was the prosecution’s time to question Howell, he was asked to reiterate his connections to the Surratts. When Howell was asked by assistant Judge Advocate Henry Burnett what his business had been for the last year and a half, Frederick Aiken objected to the question saying that the witness’ occupation had no bearing. Burnett countered that it was important to get a full accounting of the witness and his loyalty or disloyalty. Aiken replied that answering the question could incriminate the witness and he therefore could not be compelled to answer it. Burnett agreed that Howell could “claim protection” and refuse to answer if he felt it would incriminate himself. Rather than “claiming protection” Howell stated that he has had no particular occupation since leaving the Confederate army in July of 1862. When asked about his activities since that time, Howell was evasive stating he had, “been to Richmond occasionally.” What followed was a long and protracted questioning by assistant Judge Advocate Burnett about Howell’s travels to Richmond, his business there, his connection to Confederate agents, and his involvement in transporting dispatches and people between the Union and the Confederacy. While Howell denied the direct questions about him engaging in spying, he did document some of his movements between Virginia and Maryland with no real explanation of how he supported himself during this time. Howell claimed that out of the conspirators on trial he only knew Mrs. Surratt, George Atzerodt and Dr. Mudd. In the end, Howell all but explicitly admitted he had been a Confederate spy. When Burnett posed a question supposing that Weichmann may have spoken about having Confederate sympathies as a way of calling Howell out in order to turn him over to Union authorities, Howell replied, “If so, he did not succeed.”[21] Historian Michael Kauffman, in his book American Brutus, wrote that calling of Augustus Howell as a defense witness was “perhaps [Frederick] Aiken’s worst blunder… Howell was defiant, evasive, and inordinately proud of his opposition to the Yankees… Everyone in the room knew that Howell was a Confederate spy, and the fact that he was captured in Mary Surratt’s tavern could not have done much good for her defense”[22]

Captain Eli Edmunds, a naval captain in the United States Navy, briefly testified that he had seen conspirator David Herold in his home near the Navy Yard on February 20 and 21, 1865.[23] The reason for Captain Edmunds testimony was to discredit the perjured testimony of “Dr.” James Merritt who claimed to have seen Herold in Canada on that date in conversation with Confederate agents.

At the conclusion of Cap. Edmunds’ testimony, the court adjourned at around 5 o’clock.[24]


Recollections

From General Kautz’ diary:

“Court met as usual. We did not make so much progress on the defence as we did on the prosecution. There is much more bickering now than before among the Counsel. We adjourned about half past five.”[25]


Newspaper Descriptions

“Frank Washington convulsed the court room with laughter at his droll answers, in which nearly all the prisoners joined.”[26]

Mrs. Surratt

“Mrs. Surratt has sufficiently rallied to-day to give some attention to the proceedings, and in turn one or the other of her blue eyes is seen taking a survey of the room from behind the shelter of her fan. She comes to the court room from her cell each day clad in street costume; bonnet veil, &c., but all of deep black.”[27]

“The prisoners show no change, and do not appear to be much depressed in spirits, except Mrs. Surratt, who betrays evidence of great objection.”[28]

Lewis Powell

“Payne, self-poised as ever, sits erect of with head thrown back against the wall.”[29]

David Herold

“Herold, to the same end, sits three-quartered”[30]

George Atzerodt

“Atzerodt rests himself by clasping his right knee”[31]

Dr. Mudd

“Mudd braces himself by slippered feet, planted against the dock-railing”[32]

Michael O’Laughlen

“O’Laughlin sits this morning with head bowed down upon his knees, as he did much of the time yesterday.”[33]

Edman Spangler

“Spangler and Arnold are also stooped forward, as it seeking a change of position for relief.”[34]


Visitors

“The attendance at the conspiracy trial on Saturday was less than on several proceeding days. Among the spectators was the Minister resident of Venezuela, who was introduced to the various members of the commission.”[35]

“The court room was not so crowded during the morning session as on yesterday, though a large number of persons, many of them ladies, occupied seats in the room.”[36]

“The disagreeable weather this morning causes a diminished attendance of spectators at the opening of the Court. Visitors have, however, learned to avoid the tedious programme of reading the previous day’s proceedings; and the great rush to the room is generally about mid-day, or about the time the reading is through with.”[37]

“The prisoners are placed each day in the same positions in their dock, and are thus more readily recognized by the spectators, many of whom bring with them published diagrams of the room.”[38]

“The number of spectators present, to-day and yesterday, was not so large as on the previous days, caused by the unpleasant weather prevailing for the last two days; or it may be that public interest in the trial is beginning to subside. Nearly every one who desired to do so has had an opportunity of seeing the prisoners, and curiosity in this respect being gratified, people care little about visiting the court-room a second time. Those, who from duty are compelled to be present, find it tedious and irksome, confined for nearly eight hours in the little, pent-up court-room, with its foul atmosphere; yet several ladies are in attendance, whose faces can be recognized from day to day as attentive listeners to the interminable repetition of the same story.”[39]


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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), 107.
[2] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[3] William C. Edwards, ed., The Lincoln Assassination – The Court Transcripts (Self-published: Google Books, 2012), 591 – 593.
[4] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 593.
[5] Ibid., 593 – 596.
[6] Ibid., 596 – 600.
[7] Ibid., 600 – 606.
[8] Ibid., 606 – 607.
[9] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[10] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[11] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 607 – 610.
[12] Ibid., 610 – 618.
[13] Ibid., 619 – 626.
[14] Ibid., 626 – 628.
[15] Ibid., 628 – 631.
[16] Ibid., 631.
[17] Ibid., 631 – 635.
[18] Ibid., 635 – 637.
[19] Ibid., 637 – 640.
[20] Ibid., 640 – 641.
[21] Ibid., 641 – 660.
[22] Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (New York: Random House, 2004), 357 – 358.
[23] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 660.
[24] Hartranft, Letterbook, 108.
[25] August V. Kautz, May 27, 1865 diary entry (Unpublished diary: Library of Congress, August V. Kautz Papers).
[26] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 29, 1865, 4.
[27] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[28] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 29, 1865, 4.
[29] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[30] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[31] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[32] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[33] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[34] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[35] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), May 29, 1865, 1.
[36] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[37] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[38] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 27, 1865, 2.
[39] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), May 29, 1865, 4.
The drawing of the conspirators as they were seated on the prisoners’ dock on this day was created by artist and historian Jackie Roche.

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One thought on “May 27, 1865

  1. Pingback: The Trial Today: May 27 | BoothieBarn

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