The Four Soldiers Beneath the Scaffold – The Lincoln Conspirator Executions

March 23, 2009: Barry Cauchon

Yesterday I received a great email from author, Mr. Frank Crawford who has written “PROUD TO SAY I AM A UNION SOLDIER (Heritage Books)”. Frank asked if I could give him more information about the four soldiers who stood beneath the scaffold and sprung the traps on the four Lincoln assassination conspirators. In particular, he was looking for the sources of the information that I had posted. Like Frank, I had initially found conflicting information on the names of these soldiers, so I really wanted to know as close to the truth as I could. Here is what I found out and how I came about that information. If you have any further information on this subject, please feel free to contribute. And please, state any sources that you get your information from. As always, history isn’t always straight forward and contradictory information is common. Enjoy the puzzle.

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The four soldiers responsible for springing the traps. William Coxshall (front left), Daniel E. Shoup, Joseph B. Haslett and George F. Taylor.

The four soldiers responsible for springing the traps. William Coxshall (front left), Daniel E. Shoup (rear left), Joseph B. Haslett and George F. Taylor. Other than Coxshall and Shoup, the other two soldiers in the photo have not been matched with their names.

I started researching this subject about three months ago when I was writing my series called “The Lincoln Conspirators Executions Photos: A Study in Detail” . Initially, the first names I found were published as follows:

Corporal William Coxshall
Private Joseph B. Hazlett
Private Daniel Sharpe
Private George F. Taylor

Two of these names (Hazlett and Sharpe) did not match other sources so I continued my search.

Although these men belonged to different regiments in the Union army during the war, at the time of the executions they all belonged to Company F, 14th Regiment, Veterans Reserve Corps. So my first step was to track down their military records. I searched the National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System website at http://www.civilwar.nps.gov/cwss/index.html. There, under Company F, I found their names and ranks although some were slightly different. According the the site, the names and ranks were taken from General Index Cards from soldiers’ records found in the National Archives. Here is how the NPS listed the names and ranks below.

Private William Coxshall
Private Joseph B. Haslett (Hazlett, Hazlitt or Haslitt)(they list all three other versions)
Private Daniel Shoupe (or Shoup)
Private George F. Taylor (but there were also George S. and George W. in the same company).

Seeing these differences, I looked for further confirmation to pin down the names and ranks.

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My next stop was to speak with Roger Norton, the webmaster of the Abraham Lincoln Research Site. He mentioned that on page 471 of Michael Kauffman’s book American Brutus, the names of the four men were listed as follows:

William Coxshall
David F. Shoup
Frank B. Haslett
George F. Taylor

Kauffman’s source:  Coxshall identified the other three in a story in the Milwaukee Free Press, January 31, 1914.
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Roger Norton recommended speaking to the folks at the Surratt Society, where many Lincoln experts and researchers share information. Laurie Verge of the Surratt Society and the director of the Surratt House Museum www.surratt.org was extremely helpful and sent me the following information based on my inquiry.

“The title “The Prop-Knockers” kept ringing in my head, and I realized that the late, great James O. Hall had done a very brief article for our monthly newsletter many moons ago on the subject of the four veterans who stood under the gallows. It was carried in the September 1986 issue.

It does not give much biographical detail, and Mr. Hall cites Roger Hunt (another of our members who is great at finding people, especially their graves) as helping him.

Here’s what he listed in a half-page article:

Soldiers were: Corp. William Coxshall. Co. F., 14th Veterans Reserve Corps. Born in England on July 10, 1843, he died at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, on April 21, 1922. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Beaver Dam.

Pvt. Daniel E. Shoup, Co. F., 14th Veterans Reserve Corps. He was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, on January 16, 1839, and he died at Connellsville, Pennsylvania, on February 22, 1913. He is buried in Hill Grove Cemetery, Connellsville.

Pvt. George F. Taylor, Co. F., 14th Veterans Reserve Corps. Born in West Gardiner, Maine, on August 11, 1835, he died at Farmingdale, Maine, on December 24, 1915. He is buried in Hallowell, Maine.

Corp. Joseph B. Haslett, Co. F., 14th Veterans Reserve Corps. He was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, on July 27, 1841, and died at Reading, Pennsylvania, on February 16, 1916. He is buried in Reading at the Charles Evans Cemetery.

So far as is known, Coxshall’s recollections are the only ones recorded.

Dr. Steve Archer found this account in an obscure book about actors and the theater (I can’t remember the title at this moment) while researching his definitive biography on Junius Brutus Booth, father of John Wilkes Booth.

Laurie sent this information out to a number of Lincoln researchers and Steven G. Miller, who specializes in the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and the soldiers involved in that chase, wrote back.

  • ************************************

Steven G. Miller wrote: “The book Laurie referred to is: Harlow Randall Hoyt, TOWN HALL TONIGHT. (New York: Bramhall House, 1955)”.

Town Hall Tonight by Harlow R. Hoyt (c1955)

Town Hall Tonight by Harlow R. Hoyt (c1955)

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TOWN HALL TONIGHT is about the grassroots of American theater. The author, Harlow Randall Hoyt, was fascinated with theater and published the book in 1955. His work is still used as course material in many universities today. But the question as to why the article called “William Coxshall’s Recollections” is found in his book is strange and seemingly out of place.

Author Harlow Randall Hoyt included an article in his book Town Hall Tonight called William Coxshall Re

Author Harlow Randall Hoyt included an article in his book Town Hall Tonight called "William Coxshall's Recollections"

So I looked into it a little bit more and what I found out is really interesting. On the website http://www2.powercom.net/~dchs/Personalities.htm I discovered that Harlow Randall Hoyt was from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Lincoln researcher Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) also spent time in Beaver Dam. That in itself is a very interesting coincidence. And of course, the biggest coincidence of all is that William Coxshall (1843-1922) also lived in Beaver Dam and is buried there.

Lincoln expert Carl Sandburg spent time in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin which was the same town that Harlow Randall Hoyt and William Coxshall lived in.

Lincoln expert Carl Sandburg spent time in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin which was the same town that Harlow Hoyt and William Coxshall lived in.

So it is very likely that these men either crossed paths with each other in the early 1900s, or at least knew William Coxshall’s story from local sources.

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Michael Kauffman wrote me to confirm that two of the four men can be identified. Coxshall is front left and Shoup is rear left. Haslett and Taylor are both on the right but which one is which is still unknown. As well, the discrepency in rank is on my radar. According to the NPS records from the National Archives, all four men were Privates at the time of the executions. From the Gardner photos, none of the four seem to have stripes on their uniforms. Yet, two of the four are identified in the above research as Corporals. Could they have been promoted after the executions. It’s very possible.

If you find other sources for this information, please feel free to let me know. If I can, I’ll be happy to pass it along to the researchers who can see how well it fits into the current historical record.

Best
Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

Note: I want to thank Sandra Walia from the Surratt House Museum who also forwarded information to me which confirmed information in this article.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I wanted to thank you for the great research. I was wondering if the entire 14th VRC was present at the execution or only Company F. My GGrandfather was a member of Company E 14th VRC. As I said I was curious if the entire regimet was there?

    Stu

    • Hi Stu: Thanks for writing. To date, we have found a variety of regiments and companies present at the executions. There were hundreds of soldiers brought in to guard the penitentiary that day to protect against potential rescue operations being carried out. Only about 300 to 500 soldiers were inside the prison to witness the executions. The remaining hundreds were stationed around the grounds of the Arsenal (which was extensive).
      I can’t positively answer your question about Company E (as I have not come across any references to them do date) but that does not mean they were not there. The military records for this particular day are misplaced or hidden away in someone’s private collection. So piecing together the recollections, newspaper accounts, private letters and other sources have helped but it is certainly not conclusive. I can tell you that there were men from the 14th VCR from Companies C & F for sure. I’m going from memory, but I thought I remember seeing men from Company B as well, but I’d have to look that up. I will keep my eyes open for Company E and let you know if I find any references to them.
      Best
      Barry

  2. I am interested to know if Co. H, 14th Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps was there, as my ancestor John Lloyd was in it at that time. He was formerly in Co. I, 147th NY Infantry, from Oswego. This unit was at Gettysburg. He was wounded in a skirmish, June 2, 1864. Nov. 7, 1864 transferred to above Reserve. The way I know this is I found him at West Spring Creek, PA on Find-A-Grave and all it said on his grave stone was “John Lloyd, Co. I, NY 147th.”

    Thank you.

    • Hi Carolyn. Thanks for writing. Yes, the 14th Regiment VRC is known to have had men at the Arsenal during the time of the trial and executions. However, specific company information has been iffy. We know that there were men from Co. C & F. As well, there were many other regiments and companies on hand under the command of General Hancock (Hancock’s Corps!). Unfortunately, we have not come across a reference to men from Co. H being present that day, or participating at the Arsenal at any time during the trial and captivity of the prisoners. Please believe me, it doesn’t mean that they were not there, but the records that we have looked at to date have not mentioned them. It’s a large body of work to sort through to track down all the soldiers who were involved. It hasn’t been our focus as there is so much else we are concentrating on. But I’m sure the information is out there for find. We just have not had the time to find it all. Please let me know if you do come across that information as I would love to know.
      Best
      Barry

  3. Thanks for the help I am one of his relatives

    • Hi George: Thanks for writing me here. I am often contacted by family members of people from history. I am always very interested in hearing from family members and getting to know some of the stories that the family history tells. What is your connection to William Coxshall? Can you help me with your geneology and the family tree? I look forward to hearing from you. I will send this response to you from my email at outreach@awesometalks.com so you can contact me directly.
      Thanks again for your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
      Barry


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