May 31, 1865

Wednesday, May 31, 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 seated in the same manner as the day before.

The reading of the prior day’s testimony was completed shortly after 12 o’clock.[2]

Testimony began

Ernest Hartmann Richter, a cousin of George Atzerodt, testified that Atzerodt arrived at his home in Montgomery County, Maryland on Sunday, April 16th. Atzerodt remained at Richter’s home until being arrested on April 20th. According to Richter, his cousin acted quite normal during his time at his house, working in the garden and visiting neighbors. Atzerodt made no attempt to hide himself or get farther away. When the authorities came and captured Atzerodt, he was very willing to go with them showing no sign of refusing arrest. Richter also testified that Atzerodt was wearing an overcoat when he arrived at the farm.[3] Richter’s testimony about Atzerodt wearing a coat when he got to the farm was to show that the coat found in Atzerodt’s rented room at the Kirkwood House, likely did not belong to him.

William Doster, lawyer for George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell, then called several witnesses for Atzerodt but none were present. General David Hunter, the president of the commission, stated that if there were no witnesses, he would move to adjourn the court. Doster replied that while he had witnesses present in connection to Lewis Powell, he did not wish to call them yet. The lawyer explained that he wished to establish an insanity plea for Powell and that he desired to demonstrate this by showing evidence starting from Powell’s childhood. Doster had summoned friends and relatives of Powell’s but they lived so far away they had not arrived yet. Wanting to present his witnesses in a specific order, Doster stated he wished to wait before calling his witnesses for Powell. Thomas Ewing, lawyer for Dr. Mudd, Edman Spangler, and Samuel Arnold, interjected that some of his witnesses for Samuel Arnold were present and that he would be willing to proceed with his defense. General Hunter agreed.[4]

William Stockton Arnold, a brother of Samuel Arnold, was asked about his brother’s whereabouts in the month preceding the assassination. William stated that Samuel came to his home in Hookstown, a town located about six miles from Baltimore, on March 21st and stayed with him. The pair largely stayed in Hookstown except for a couple of trips to Baltimore to visit their father. On April 1st, after a being in Baltimore, William and Samuel traveled back to Hookstown where Samuel picked up a knife and a pistol he had been keeping there. He turned the gun over to William for safe keeping. That evening Samuel departed the area on his way to Fortress Monroe in Union occupied Virginia where he had found a job. The prosecution asked William many questions about these dates, trying to get him to make an error. Yet William held firm to his dates and competently answered how he knew when each event happened stating, “I can remember that long.” The prosecution showed Exhibit 65, the pistol that had been taken from Samuel at the time of his arrest, to William and asked him if it was the same one Samuel had left in William’s care. This also may have been a test to discredit William since the prosecution knew that the gun Samuel was arrested with could not have been the same one he left in Hookstown. Regardless, William passed the test stating that it was not the same pistol.[5] While William testified about visiting Baltimore with his brother on March 25th, he was not with Samuel the entire day. It was on this day that John Wilkes Booth sent word for Arnold to meet him at Barnum’s Hotel. While Samuel went to Barnum’s, Booth never showed up. That event is what caused Arnold, after arriving back in Hookstown, to write Exhibit 44 – his “Sam” letter to John Wilkes Booth chastising him for his behavior.

[Theodore] Frank Arnold, a brother of Samuel Arnold, testified that he generally resided at his father’s home in Baltimore. Frank stated that his brother Samuel was at his father’s house on the last two nights of March, 1865. Frank recounted that Samuel received a letter on Friday, March 31st from Mr. Wharton, the keeper of a store near Fortress Monroe, asking Samuel to come down. This was in reference to a letter Arnold had written Wharton earlier regarding possible employment. Frank testified that his brother Sam took a boat out of Baltimore heading toward Norfolk, Virginia on April 1st.[6]

The Arnold home in Hookstown

Jacob Smith, a farmer residing in Hookstown, testified that he believed he had seen Samuel Arnold “nearly everyday” from the “20th or 22nd of March up to near the 30th.” Smith’s farm adjoined the farm of Arnold’s brother, William. Smith made several visits to William’s farm and saw Arnold there and when the conspirator crossed over the farms heading somewhere else. The prosecution, in quizzing Smith about the exact days he saw Arnold, got Smith to admit that he did not keep any note of his interactions with Arnold and only fixed the dates now through an “indistinct recollection.”[7]

John T. Ford, the owner of Ford’s Theatre, was called as a defense witness for his employee, Edman Spangler. Ford stated that Spangler had worked for him continuously for two years and recounted Spangler’s duties as a scene shifter and carpenter. According to Ford, Spangler was crucial to a successful performance and that he had little time to be away from his post when a play was going on. Thomas Ewing, Spangler’s lawyer, asked Ford who regulated and controlled the organization of the passageway through which Booth made his escape. Ford replied that it was the job of the stage manager and stage carpenter to keep the stage area organized, including the passage. The theater owner pointed out that Spangler’s duties during the play put him on the side of the stage opposite the passage. In addition, Ford testified that it was his standing order that the passage always be kept open and unobstructed. It was through this passage that the actors traveled to get to and from their dressing rooms and the green room and any obstruction would hinder the actors’ ability to make their entrances and exits. When asked about Spangler’s relationship with John Wilkes Booth, Ford replied that Spangler, “seemed to have a great admiration for Booth…Booth was a peculiarly fascinating man, and controlled the lower class of people, such as Spangler belonged to, I suppose more than ordinary men would.” Ford also noted that Booth was known for his physical prowess and that the leap he took from the Presidential box to the stage was not an unusual feat for the actor. Ford did not believe Booth would have needed any practice for the jump beforehand. When Thomas Ewing asked Ford whether Booth had tried to get him to employ the actor Samuel Knapp Chester at his theater, the prosecution objected. Chester had testified on the first day of the trial that Booth had tried to recruit him into his plot to abduct leaders of the Union government. Ewing stated that the point of his question about Chester was not to attack him, but corroborate him. “Booth,” Ewing stated, “while manipulating Chester to induce him to go into a conspiracy for the capture of the President, was actually at the same time endeavoring to induce Mr. Ford to employ Chester, in order that he might get him here to the theater and use him as an instrument.”[8] Chester, in his statement to the government after the assassination, stated that Booth told him his job would be to keep the back door of Ford’s Theatre open during the kidnapping of Lincoln.[9] Ewing wanted to show that Booth’s active attempt to get Chester employed at Ford’s Theatre, proved that he did not consider Edman Spangler to be a conspirator. The court, however, sustained the prosecution’s objection and the question regarding Chester was dropped. All of Ewing’s questions served a purpose in his defense for Spangler. By establishing Spangler’s importance backstage, Ewing countered the earlier testimony of Sgt. Joseph Dye, that a man matching Spangler’s description was seen outside of the front of Ford’s Theatre before the assassination. The question about the condition of passage Booth escaped out of was to counter the earlier testimony of William Withers, Ford’s orchestra leader, who had stated that it was openness of the passage that night was “unusual.” By having Ford testify about Booth’s personal magnetism and why Spangler would be willing to do odd jobs for the actor, Ewing also inadvertently helped Frederick Stone in his defense that David Herold was easily manipulated by Booth.


In the midst of John T. Ford’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 Ford’s testimony was resumed.[10]

Testimony resumed

John T. Ford, the owner of Ford’s Theatre, testified that Edman Spangler regularly spent the summer months, when the theater was closed down, in Baltimore. In Baltimore, Spangler was a fan of crabbing and fishing. Ford was presented with Exhibit 47, the coil of rope found in Spangler’s valise, and asked if it were the type of rope one might use for crabbing. Ford stated that while it was certainty possible, he felt it was quite a bit smaller than the ones normally used. At the time of the assassination, Ford was actually in Richmond, checking on family who had lived in the then fallen Confederate capital. During his testimony, Ford expressed that he generally spent his time in Baltimore, relegating the running of Ford’s Theatre to his brothers. He could not answer any questions about the condition of the locks on the theater boxes because he had not spent a considerable amount of time in Washington.[11]

James P. Ferguson, the proprietor of the Greenback Saloon on the north side of Ford’s Theatre, was recalled to the stand after previously testifying for the prosecution on May 15th. Ferguson was present inside Ford’s Theatre on April 14th and witnessed the assassination. Ewing asked Ferguson about the movements of Major Joseph Stewart, the first audience member to take to the stage after Booth shot the President. Ferguson testified that while the man he supposed to have been Stewart took the stage fairly quickly, he did not chase after Booth for quite some time. Rather than rushing straight for the back, Stewart was distracted by the cries of Clara Harris in the box and the words of Laura Keene who appeared on the stage. According to Ferguson’s recollections, it was about “two or three minutes” after Booth had escaped out the back of Ford’s Theatre that the man he assumed to be Stewart followed him.[12] When Major Stewart testified on May 20th for the prosecution, he had shakily identified Spangler as being present right by the rear door of the theater when he rushed out after Booth. Ewing sought to use Ferguson’s testimony to cast doubt on the time frame of Stewart’s testimony.

C. Dwight Hess, the stage manager of Grover’s Theater in D.C., testified that on April 13th, the day before the assassination of Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth visited his theater. The actor discussed the grand illumination planned for that night and then asked Hess if he was planning on inviting the President to Grover’s. Hess replied that he intended to invite the President to Grover’s the following night, April 14th. Booth was a frequent visitor to Grover’s Theater and knew the playhouse well. Hess supported the testimony of John T. Ford in stating that it was important for theaters to keep their passageways open and clear for the movement of their actors. When Thomas Ewing asked Hess to elaborate more on the layout of Grover’s Theater, Assistant Judge Advocate John Bingham objected that the question was immaterial. Ewing responded that he wished to draw a comparison between Ford’s Theatre and Grover’s Theater to explain that the layout of Ford’s was more conducive to Booth’s original plot to kidnap the President. That is why he mentioned to Samuel Knapp Chester that the abduction would happen there. Ewing hoped to show that it was the more preferred layout of Ford’s that caused Booth to pick it and not because of any particular assistance he was to find there. The commission, however, sustained Bingham’s objection, and Hess’ testimony came to a close.[13]

Henry M. James, a stagehand at Ford’s Theatre, testified that he was standing backstage at Ford’s preparing to pull off a scenery flat when the assassination occurred. Directly in front of James, on the other side of the stage behind a different piece of scenery was Edman Spangler ready to pull off his flat. James testified that neither he nor Spangler could see the President’s box from their positions. James also testified that did not see anyone standing near Spangler at the time of the shot. After the shot, James was stunned and motionless for a time and did not notice if Spangler moved away or remained at his position. James reiterated that Spangler was on the same side of the stage as the President’s box when the shot occurred. When asked about the passage through which Booth escaped, James stated that it was his and Spangler’s duty to keep it clear for the actors and that there was nothing unusual about its condition at the time of the assassination. James also recounted than when President Lincoln arrived at the theater that night, he saw Spangler applaud Lincoln loudly, “with his hands and feet.”[14]

Francis X. Dooley, a D.C. druggist, was called as a witness by William Doster. Dooley was shown Exhibits 19 and 20, a piece of licorice and a toothbrush found in George Atzerodt’s rented room at the Kirkwood House hotel. Doster asked Dooley if the mark on these items corresponded with his apothecary shop. Dooley replied that they did not.[15] Dooley’s testimony is one of the shortest in the trial and seemingly the most pointless. While Doster had been trying to prove that many of the items found in Atzerodt’s room actually belonged to Booth and Herold, it is unclear what connection he was trying to make with his questioning of Dooley regarding this piece of licorice and a toothbrush.

Henry Lowe Mudd, Jr., a brother of Dr. Mudd, was recalled after previously testifying on May 29th. Thomas Ewing asked Henry to clarify a point he had made during his earlier testimony when he called Dr. Mudd a tenant of their father. Henry replied that he had misspoken when he was being cross-examined by the prosecution. Dr. Mudd had never paid their father any money in order to live or work on his farm and thus was not a tenant in the legal sense. The prosecution then asked again who held the deed to Dr. Mudd’s land. Henry stated his belief that the land was Dr. Mudd’s, but was forced to begrudgingly admit that it was their father who held the deed to it.[16]

Dr. Charles W. Davis, a former next door neighbor of David Herold, testified that he had known Herold from the conspirator’s early days. When asked about Herold’s character, Dr. Davis stated his opinion that there was, “more of the boy and very little of the man,” about him. Dr. Davis believed that nature had not endowed Herold with as much intellect as the average person. Even though he had moved four or five blocks away from the Herolds about eight or ten years ago, Dr. Davis still saw David Herold often. Dr. Davis agreed that Herold was easily persuaded. The prosecution then asked Dr. Davis if he thought Herold had enough intellect to know that it was a crime to murder to conspire to murder. Dr. Davis replied that Herold undoubtedly knew the difference between right and wrong.[17]

Harry Clay Ford, the treasurer of Ford’s Theatre, testified that he had seen John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre at around noon on April 14th. Booth picked up a letter that had been delivered to the theater for him and then sat and read it outside on the theater step. During his time sitting outside of Ford’s, Booth learned the news that President Lincoln and General Grant were going to be attending the theater that night. Harry Ford stated that he did not know who specifically told Booth this news, but that it wasn’t him. Harry then testified about how he had worked to furnish and decorate the President’s box before that evening’s performance. According to Harry, Spangler did not do much in the box, merely furnished a hammer for Harry to use and helped to remove the partition that separated the two smaller boxes in order to create the large one of the President and his guests. After removing the partition, Spangler returned to his work on and behind the stage. While decorating the box Harry took no notice of the locks on the box doors nor any niche that may have been carved in the wall behind the vestibule door. He also claimed to have been ignorant of a peephole carved into the door of Box 7. During the performance in the evening, Harry never saw Spangler in the front of the house or outside of the theater. During cross-examination by the prosecution, Harry was asked about the other boxes, the ones not occupied by the President and his party. Harry stated that the other boxes were empty that night. The prosecution insinuated that others had made applications for those box seats but had been refused. Harry claimed he knew nothing about that and that no one had applied to him about the other boxes.[18]

William Withers, Jr., the orchestra leader of Ford’s Theatre, was recalled to the stand after previously testifying for the prosecution on May 15th. Thomas Ewing, Spangler’s lawyer, noted that Withers was previously unable to definitively state whether the door Booth escaped out of at Ford’s Theatre was open or closed when the assassin came to it. Withers now testified that, upon reflection, he was sure it was closed. Withers testified that after Booth slashed at him with his knife, the assassin rushed at the door, opened it, and then swung it closed behind him. Withers was also asked if he was at Ford’s Theatre at around noon on the 14th, the same time Booth was there reading his mail. The orchestra leader replied he was not certain but even if he was, he did not see Booth at that time.[19] Withers’ testimony countered the testimony of Major Stewart who was led by the prosecution to claim that Edman Spangler may have shut the door after Booth passed out.

James Reed “Dick” Ford, the business manager of Ford’s Theatre, testified that he had received word from a White House messenger at about 10:30 am on April 14th, that the President, the First Lady, General and Mrs. Grant were going to attend that evening’s performance. Dick wrote a notice advertising their appearance and sent it to the Evening Star and National Republican newspapers. He then went out to gather some flags to use as decoration for the President’s box. As he was returning to the theater he saw John Wilkes Booth who had just finished reading his mail. Thomas Ewing asked Dick if he ever had any conversations with Booth regarding the purchase of lands. Assistant Judge Advocate John Bingham objected to the question as being unrelated to the case. Ewing replied that the prosecution testimony from Louis Weichmann regarding his introduction to John Wilkes Booth through Dr. Mudd, had established the idea that Mudd was in contact with Booth due to Booth showing an interest in purchasing his farm. Several of Ewing’s other defense witnesses had testified about hearing Dr. Mudd express a desire to sell his land and no objections were made. Prosecution witness Joseph Simonds had demonstrated Booth’s interest in land dealings by testifying about his oil ventures. Ewing sought to use this witness in the same way by having Dick testify about Booth expressing his interest to buy a variety of land, possibly including land in Lower Maryland. Bingham countered that the defense’s other testimonies sought to prove negotiations in Charles County which was not objectionable but that this question was “an attempt to prove a talk, irrespective of time or place or anything else.” The commission sided with Bingham and sustained his objection.[20]

John L. DeBonay, a prompter and actor at Ford’s Theatre, testified that when John Wilkes Booth rode up to the back door of Ford’s during the performance on April 14th the actor called to him. Booth told DeBonay to go and fetch Spangler to hold his horse. DeBonay went over to Spangler and told him that Mr. Booth wanted him. Booth entered the theater not long after and asked if he could get across the back of the stage. DeBonay told him there was no space in the back during this scene so Booth took the trap door and cross the stage from below. Shortly thereafter, Spangler told DeBonay to get Peanut John to hold the horse because he had scenery to move. DeBonay did as he was told and Spangler returned to his post. Thomas Ewing then asked DeBonay about the gentleman who climbed onto the stage in pursuit after Booth jumped down from the President’s box. This man was Major Joseph Stewart, who had shakily testified that Spangler was near the back door of Ford’s and may have shut it after Booth exited. Ewing was trying to get DeBonay to testify like James Ferguson, that a long period of time had elapsed before Stewart gave chase to Booth thus negating some of his testimony. When Ewing asked DeBonay if Booth had time to exit the theater before Stewart got on stage, DeBonay stated that he did not know. When Ewing pressed further for DeBonay’s opinion, the prosecution objected and Ewing waived the question. In the end, DeBonay would only state that his opinion that Stewart got onto the stage two or three seconds after Booth rushed off into the passage leading to the door.[21]

James J. Gifford, the builder and head carpenter at Ford’s Theatre, was recalled to the stand after previously testifying on May 19th. He was asked if he had any interactions with stagehand Jacob Rittersbach while the two men were both imprisoned as witnesses in the Old Capitol Prison. Gifford stated he had been approached by Rittersbach and that the stagehand said he had not told the authorities all that he knew. Rittersbach asked Gifford if he thought it were possible to amend his statement. Gifford told him he assumed that would be fine and recommended that Rittersbach state the truth of what he knew to the authorities. When asked about the particulars of Rittersbach’s incomplete statement, Gifford testified that he did not know as Rittersbach did not tell him any details. This contradicted the testimony of Rittersbach from the day before when he claimed to have told Gifford that Spangler had slapped him across the face and said, “Don’t say which way he went!” after the assassination. Gifford was also shown Exhibit 47, the coil of rope found in Spangler’s valise. Gifford shared the Spangler was a fan of crabbing and that this rope could be used for such a purpose. However, during cross examination, Gifford admitted that the rope was not then in a condition to be used for crabbing. Gifford testified that he had seen John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre when the actor came to get his mail on April 14th. However, other than Booth giving Gifford a bow, the two men did not converse.[22]

William Doster, likely motivated by his lack of witnesses earlier in the day, presented an application to the court on behalf of his clients George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell. He requested that compulsory measures be taken to ensure that several of his witnesses appear in court. Assistant Judge Advocate Henry Burnett stated that summons had been served to many of the requested witnesses who lived in and around Washington, but that not enough time had passed to guarantee those residing in Virginia and Florida had received them. Burnett requested that Doster wait until the court had evidence that all the parties had actually received their summons before requesting these compulsory measures. Burnett stated his belief that by Friday he should be able to have an accounting of the summonses. Doster waived his application for the time being. [23]

Dr. Samuel A. H. McKim, a D.C. police surgeon, testified that he had known David Herold very well for the past 6 years. McKim gave his opinion that Herold was a “very light, trivial, unreliable boy, in mind about eleven year of age.” McKim stated that he would never have allowed him to deliver of a prescription of his for fear Herold would tamper it if he felt like paying a joke on someone.[24] While portraying Herold as nothing more than a boy was part of Frederick Stone’s defense to explain why he followed Booth, hearing that he could not be trusted with medicine must have been amusing to David Herold, who had made his living as a druggist clerk.

After McKim’s testimony, there were no other defense witnesses in attendance. The court adjourned at around 5 o’clock.[25] Due to the next day, June 1st, having been designated a “national day of humiliation and mourning” by President Andrew Johnson, the court would not reconvene until Friday, June 2nd.


From General Kautz’ diary:

“I had the usual duty on the commission to attend to, and my usual ride in the evening. The weather was very warm, and the Court room crowded. Nothing of note transpired. Tomorrow being a the [sic] day of humiliation and prayer we adjourned over till Friday.”[26]

Newspaper Descriptions

Mrs. Surratt

“Mrs. Surratt kept her customary presences in the corner, but was very watchful of the proceedings of the court.”[27]

Lewis Powell

“The prisoner Payne today, for the first time, almost appeared to belong to our common humanity. His bearing has been throughout most remarkable. He nearly always sits belt upright, entirely unmoved either by anything said or done in the room, and never speaking to his counsel – not bold and defiant, but composed, indifferent, and self-possessed. Who is this man? Has he any friends? Where did he come from? What is his real name? Those questions have been asked a thousand times without avail. Today he actually asked that three witnesses might be called in his favor. A lady and a doctor living at Warrenton, Va., and a minister of the Gospel, living in Florida. In the conversation that ensued, his counsel also said that he had sent Payne’s brother to bring the witnesses from Warrenton. During the proceedings, Payne leaned forward in his seat with his face alternately white and flushed and drew a long breath of relief when it was announced that the witnesses would be summoned.”[28]

“Payne is amusing himself by returning stare for stare of all given him so abundantly by the lady visitors.”[29]

George Atzerodt

“Doster, counsel for Atzerodt, stated that he intended to set up the plea of insanity, and had summoned friends and relations of Atzerodt, living thousands of miles away, who had not yet arrived.”[30]

Samuel Arnold

“Arnold pays little attention to the proceedings, occupying himself with gazing through the open window by which he stands.”[31]

Edman Spangler

“Spangler seems a little depressed by the evidence of yesterday.”[32]

“The bearing of the prisoners was much as usual, except that Spangler betrayed intense interest.”[33]


“The interest of the Washington public in the assassination trials seems on the increase. The court room was more crowded than ever before, and numerous persons who had passes were unable to secure admission. Women are in the majority among the spectators, and their conduct is not always dignified or ladylike.”[34]

“The court-room was excessively crowded this morning, making the atmosphere very warm and suffocating. Visitors continued to arrive during the morning, while the reporter was engaged in reading the minutes of the proceedings.”[35]

Edwin Booth, brother of J. Wilkes Booth, and Mr. Stuart, manager of Winter Garden Theater, New York, are among those present this morning. Mr. Booth is present as a witness. His likeness to his brother, J. Wilkes Booth, is quite noticeable, he having the same classical features and finely cut chin, but with a much more intellectual, gentle and thoughtful face than Wilkes Booth possessed.”[36]

“The actor Booth had been subpoenaed on behalf of these prisoners to show the influence his brother exerted over weaker minds. He came but said he knew less of his brother, probably, than any one — that he had had nothing to do with him for years… But that sort of evidence was not very much to the point and [he was] dismissed without examination”[37]

“The Conspirators’ Court was extremely dull to-day, there being none of the racy incident which has relieved the long sessions from day to day. The case begins to drag, even the spectators showing signs of weariness, though the rooms are more crowded as the end approaches.”[38]

“After [John T.] Ford had been examined he seated himself beside Ewing, counsel for Spangler, and aided him by suggestions while the examination of the two junior Fords was going on.”[39]

“The Court room was intensely hot, and crowded almost to suffocation with spectators, a majority of them ladies who keep up the reputation of their sex for curiosity. Among the spectators was Edwin Booth, the tragedian. Several members and ex-members of Congress were also present.”[40]

One of the visitors to the trial on this day was Rev. Edward P. Goodwin, the pastor from Columbus, Ohio who was in D.C. serving with the United States Christian Commission. He wrote a lengthy letter to his wife about his visit to the courtroom and his observations of the conspirators. In Goodwin’s original letter he abbreviated many of his words to save space. For ease of reading, the abbreviated words have been expanded:

“I have intimated to you that I had some thoughts of seeking admission to the court, where the persons are on trial who have been arrested for supposed participation. in, or acquaintance with, the bloody deed which bereft a nation of its honored and beloved Pres. Well, yesterday P.M. Mr. M. & wife and myself consummated our project. The place of trial is the old Washington Penitentiary away upon the extremity of the peninsula between the Potomac & what they call the “East Branch” and thus at extremest extreme of the South End of the city. We were admitted through the kindness of Col. [Henry L.] Burnett of Ohio, one of the Asst. Judge Advocates, with whom Mr. M. was quite well acquainted. We found the courtroom so much of it as is allowed to visitors thronged by all sorts of people—big people, little people, middling sized people; some with extensions and suffering from them—others without; of a different persuasion, & a little more at ease, but all as a general matter of observation quite red in the face, and not eager to make a long stay in the close air of an overcrowded courtroom, after getting the identity of the various prisoners established. The room itself is quite small—having within the railing barely space enough for the court and reporters, while outside of the railing was a space on one side of perhaps ten or twelve feet in width, & on the other of half that, & this all the standing territory allowed to visitors, except the few privileged ones who were provided with seats. If now you crowd this, get the thermometer up say to 75°, put close iron gratings across the few windows, and then distil 6 or 8 or more degrees of all imaginable perfumes, mush, otto of roses, night blooming cereus etc., you will have the conditions of our visit. I don’t wonder some of the ladies, of whom there were many present —they’re the curiosity mongers you know!—looked like kitchen girls, & disarranged their finery not a little by the haste with which they beat a retreat after a very brief experience of court inspection. But this isn’t what you want to know. Yes, but every sermon must have its introduction & this may go for mine.

What of the prisoners? This much preliminarily. They are, taken together, the most hang dog, villainous looking set of rascals one could wish to see. I don’t believe you could take an equal number of the penitentiary at Columbus without improving on their faces full fifty per cent. They occupy one side of the court room railed off for that purpose, are handcuffed, & have each a soldier as special guard, who sits next his prisoner during the session of court. Thus arranged, you perceive, there is a soldier between two prisoners, or rather a soldier by the side of every one with pistol ready at his hand. I should add that they all sit in a line directly facing the court, & the chief portion of the spectators. Their order beginning at the left, i.e., the left as the courts sits, is (1) Mrs. Surratt. (2) Herold. (3) Payne. (4) Atzerodt. (5) O’Laughlin. (6) Spangler. (7) Dr. Mudd. (8) Arnold.

Mrs. Surratt the She-Catiline of the whole affair, I could not contrive to see. Persons were standing nearly in front of her, & more than all her visor was closely down, her thick veil, and a palm leaf fan superadded being evidently designed to screen her from unpleasant inspections. Those however who have caught a glimpse of her, say she is rather pretty, dark hair, dark bright eyes and something of a flush upon her cheeks. Her age I can only guess at, but as she has a son grown up and implicated in the affair, I should judge she must be not less than 45, & very likely older.

Herold is a very boyish looking fellow, small face, pretty heavy black hair & dark eyes. He looks as if he had not a particle of mind, low, retreating forehead, vacant look—a fellow evidently to be made a tool of by any determined strong willed man like Booth. And you remember he was taken with Booth, coming out of a barn & surrendering before Booth was shot & being cursed by Booth for his cowardice.

Payne, is the villain of the lot, both by testimony & by look. You will recollect that he was positively identified by Major Seward & others as the man who attempted to kill Sec. Seward. He is a terrible looking fellow—sat yesterday in gray woolen shirt & pants & displayed thus a very fine physique. Is quite tall-broad shouldered, full chested, & in every way impressed me as a man of peculiar muscular activity & power. But his face— ugh! it said murder as plainly as the words. A very low brow, overhung with thick, black hair uncombed, unbrushed; darkish eyes with a snaky gleam, & showing the whites in a kind of glare as they turned; broad square face, coarse features, bulldog mouth with a snarl in the deep corners—& the whole bound up in a kind of hideous expression of ferocity underneath the apparent unconcern. Out of a thousand men I should be sure to pick him, if I wanted a tool who would cut a throat as readily as he would carve a chicken, & who once bent upon his purpose would be certain to accomplish it, if it cost a dozen lives.

Atzerodt looks like an idol, and that is about all that need be said about him. I never saw a face more utterly vacant or so without a single redeeming feature. No forehead, shaggy unkempt, dark hair hanging loosely over his face—staring, characterless eyes, a striking lack of mental & moral char, running through & giving express, to all his looks & actions. I forget whether he was to have assassinated President Johnson, or some other one.

O’Laughlin comes next, & is really the best looking one of the gang, so far as mere personal appearance goes. It is supposed that it fell to him to dispose of Sec. Stanton. He is a medium sized man, black-hair rather well cared for & inclined to curl & a fine black moustache. Nothing specially wicked about his eyes, or face, but an absence of any positively good qualities—was dressed in black or dark clothes, & a rather fast young man for his appearance.

Spangler, who seems to have been a kind of intimate & assistant of Booths, & who was a scene shifter at Fords theater, is a light haired, greyish eyed man—narrow face, smooth, but with a hang-doggish air about him that I didn’t like. He was to see that the way was clear for Booth to get out of the theatre after his bloody work was done.

Dr. Mudd is the man who set Booth’s leg & tinkered up a crutch for him, is the eldest of all. A man of 45 or more—sandy hair & whiskers, lightish watery, uncertain eyes, slightly bald —lacks marks of noble character, rather than stamped by any indicating special badness.

Arnold the last in this gallery of scoundrels & who has been identified as the author of the letter signed, ‘Sam’, & an accomplice of Booth, is quite young-looking—as indeed all are except Dr. Mudd—rather fair, blue-eyed I should say, though as the light shone I couldn’t see well, & may have erred as to others also— brownish hair tossed up loosely, rather regular features, & of a somewhat pensive cast when settled. But he was so restless, now leaning on the rail gazing at the court & witnesses, & now at the grate peering out, that I could not fix upon his exact expression. He wore neither coat nor vest, but had on a reddish, checked wollen shirt & dark pants.”[41]

Francis Blakeslee was a clerk in the Quartermaster’s department with had several connections with the Lincoln assassination story. On the day of Lincoln’s death he saw President and Mrs. Lincoln as they toured the Washington Navy Yard together. On May 2nd he met Boston Corbett at a Methodist meeting, heard firsthand about the death of Booth, and secured Corbett’s autograph.[42] And on May 31st, Blakeslee attended the trial of the conspirators in the company of James P. Young, a man who would take the witness stand on June 7th. Blakeslee wrote the following entry in his diary regarding the conspirators:

“I saw all of the prisoners – Mrs. Surratt, Payne, Atzerott, etc. Payne has a very bold expression and an eagle eye and can look almost any person out of countenance. Atzerott looks like a villain. Mrs. Surratt is very much broken down most of the time. All are manacled.”

In addition to observing the conspirators, Blakeslee brought an autograph book with him to the courtroom and passed it over the railing to the members of the commission. All nine commission members and the prosecution of Joseph Holt, Henry Burnett, and John Bingham signed Blakeslee’s autograph book.[43]

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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), 111.
[2] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 31, 1865, 2.
[3] William C. Edwards, ed., The Lincoln Assassination – The Court Transcripts (Self-published: Google Books, 2012), 767 – 768.
[4] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 768.
[5] Ibid., 768 – 773.
[6] Ibid., 773 – 774.
[7] Ibid., 774 – 775.
[8] Ibid., 775 – 780.
[9] William C. Edwards and Edward Steers, Jr., ed., The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 341.
[10] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 31, 1865, 2.
[11] Edwards, Court Transcripts, 780 – 782.
[12] Ibid., 782 – 783.
[13] Ibid., 783 – 786.
[14] Ibid., 786 – 788.
[15] Ibid., 788.
[16] Ibid., 788 – 789.
[17] Ibid., 789 – 790.
[18] Ibid., 790 – 799.
[19] Ibid., 799 – 800.
[20] Ibid., 800 – 805.
[21] Ibid., 805 – 807.
[22] Ibid., 807 – 810.
[23] Ibid., 811.
[24] Ibid., 811 – 812.
[25] Hartranft, Letterbook, 111.
[26] August V. Kautz, May 31, 1865 diary entry (Unpublished diary: Library of Congress, August V. Kautz Papers).
[27] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), June 1, 1865, 1.
[28] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), June 1, 1865, 1.
[29] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 31, 1865, 2.
[30] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), June 1, 1865, 1.
[31] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 31, 1865, 2.
[32] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 31, 1865, 2.
[33] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), June 1, 1865, 1.
[34] Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, MA), June 1, 1865, 1.
[35] Daily National Republican (Washington, D.C.), May 31, 1865, 2.
[36] Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), May 31, 1865, 2.
[37] William E. Doster, Lincoln and Episodes of the Civil War (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915), 275 – 276.
[38] New-York Tribune (New York, NY), June 1, 1865, 1.
[39] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), June 1, 1865, 4.
[40] The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), June 1, 1865, 4.
[41] Edward P. Goodwin to Mrs. E. P. Goodwin, June 1, 1865, in Concerning Mr. Lincoln, ed. Harry E. Pratt (Springfield, IL: The Abraham Lincoln Association, 1944), 135 – 139.
[42] Francis D. Blakeslee, Personal Recollections and Impressions of Abraham Lincoln (Gardena, CA: Spanish American Institute Press, 1927), 10.
[43] “Was at Trial of Lincoln Conspirators,” Binghamton Press (Binghamton, NY), April 10, 1909, Section 3, 6.
The drawing of the conspirators as they were seated on the prisoners’ dock on this day was created by artist and historian Jackie Roche.


2 thoughts on “May 31, 1865

  1. Pingback: The Trial Today: May 31 | BoothieBarn

  2. Pingback: Lincoln Assassination Ephemera |

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