February 09, 2009: Barry Cauchon.

On February 6, 2009, while preparing chapters 7 & 8 for my series on “The Lincoln Conspirator Execution Photos – A Study in Detail” I made a discovery. It seemed that the accepted order of the ten photographs of the event taken by Alexander Gardner was incorrect. If my observations are right, the order of the photos need to be revised.

Here is what I found out.

The Empty Scaffold

The Empty Scaffold

#1 – The Empty Scaffold was the first photo taken in the series. No one debates this placement.


THE ORDER CONFLICT – The next three photographs are the images where the order is in dispute.

Arrival at Scaffold (1)

Arrival at Scaffold (1)

#2 – Arrival at Scaffold (1) was the second photo taken. In James L. Swanson and Daniel R. Weinberg’s book, “Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution”, this photo is incorrectly placed. It is shown as being 3rd.


Reading the Death Warrant

#3 – Reading the Death Warrant shown in the Swanson / Weinberg book is listed as 4th.


The Ministers Pray (historically known as “Arrival at Scaffold”)(2)

#4 – The Ministers Pray (historically called Arrival at Scaffold)(2) is shown in the Swanson / Weinberg book as the 2nd photo taken.

Before I continue I just want to say that I have great respect for the book “Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution”. It really is a wonderful book and I can’t recommend it enough. However, the flaw in the order of photos #2, 3 & 4  should be clarified.

When the Swanson / Weinberg book was first published in 2001, they would not have had on-line access to the Library of Congress photos that are available today. And because of those high-rez images, we are now able to zoom in and see the details that the authors and other researchers may not have been privy to.

You can see all of the detailed images from photographs 2, 3 & 4 in my series “The Lincoln Conspirator Execution Photos – A Study in Detail”, Chapters 7, 8 & 9.

But briefly, here is what I saw and discovered when I zoomed in on the details.

Photo #2: Arrival at Scaffold: The execution party has just arrived and the scaffold is now crowded with 25 people. Things to note: a) Only three of the four prisoners have been seated so far. David Herold was just beginning to sit when the photo was taken. b) Only one umbrella has been opened to shield everyone from the hot sun. c) Everyone in the photo has their hats (or head coverings) on to protect them from the sun. d) General Hartranft holds the Death Warrant in his hand and is preparing himself to read it. The soldiers and staff near him are almost in the exact same position as they will be in the next photograph.

Photo #3: Reading of the Death Warrant:  As per the numerous eyewitness reports from newspapers and individuals at the execution, the reading of the Death Warrant came next in the proceedings. a) All four prisoners are now seated. b) Four umbrellas are open. c) Everyone still has their hat or head coverings on (except for one minister who is holding an umbrella). He previously wore his hat in Photo #2.  d) General Hartranft now reads the Death Warrant with his staff and soldiers surrounding him.

Photos #4: The Ministers Pray:  After the Death Warrant was read, Rev. Dr. Abram Dunn Gillette (Lewis Powell’s minister) stepped forward to publicly thank General Hartranft and his staff (on behalf of Lewis Powell) for their kind treatment during his imprisonment. Gillette and then two other ministers prayed publicly out loud for their charges. Corporal Wm. Coxshall, the soldier who stood below the scaffold (front left) reported that ““Umbrellas were raised above the woman and Hartranft, who read the warrants and findings. Then the clergy took over, talking what seemed to me interminably… ” a) Powell and Herold have had their hats removed. Atzerodt has had his white kerchief (or nightcap) removed and placed on the railing. This could be because the ministers have asked everyone to pray. b) Rev. Dr. Abram Dunn Gillette kneels to pray by Lewis Powell’s side. Mary Surratt’s two priests attend to her (Father Walter holds a cross to her lips and Father Wiget prays from his prayer book).

Arrival at Scaffold. a
Arrival at Scaffold. a) Only three of the four prisoners have been seated so far. David Herold was just beginning to sit when the photo was taken. b) Only one umbrella has been opened to shield everyone from the hot sun. c) Everyone in the photo has their hats (or head coverings) on to protect them from the sun. d) General Hartranft holds the Death Warrant in his hand and is preparing himself to read it. The soldiers and staff near him are almost in the exact same position as they will be in the next photograph.
Reading the Death Warrant

Reading the Death Warrant. a) All four prisoners are now seated. b) Four umbrellas are open. c) Everyone still has their hat or head coverings on (except for one minister who is holding an umbrella). He previously wore his hat in Photo #2. d) General Hartranft now reads the Death Warrant with his staff and soldiers surrounding him. 

The Ministers Pray

The Ministers Pray. a) Powell and Herold have had their hats removed. Atzerodt has had his white kerchief (or nightcap) removed and placed on the railing. This could be because the ministers have asked everyone to pray. b) Rev. Abram Dunn Gillette kneels to pray by Lewis Powell’s side. Mary Surratt’s two priests attend to her (Father Walter holds a cross to her lips and Father Wiget prays from his prayer book).

To look at all of the details from these, and the other photos from this series, see Chapter 1 under this link.——————————————————————————————-If you are interested in reading interviews from several historians, scholars and performers, take a look at the links below.

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17 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. nice pictures really, i liked.

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  4. Very interesting site and information. I am doing some research on Winfield Scott Hancock and I hear conflicting reports over whether he was actually present at the executions. Ken Burns’ Civil War series puts him there and cites him as the one to give the order to drop the platform, but no where else have I been able to find corroborating evidence. I think I may have found him in the picture taken after the assassins have been hanged, but I am not sure. I was wondering if you had found him in any of the other pictures and in what capacity was he involved in the execution. Thanks, and keep up the good work!!

    • Hi Pete: Yes, General Hancock is actually photographed on the scaffold in at least two shots taken by Alexander Gardner just before the hanging. Hancock was in charge of the whole affair from the trial to the executions. And although it was the duty of General Hartranft to carry out the executions that day, Hancock was present and on the scaffold. Go to Chapter 6 in my series The Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos: A Study in Detail and you can see him there standing behind General Hartranft. I hope this helps.

    • Hi Pete: One item I forgot to mention was about General Hancock giving the order to spring the traps. I’ve spoken to several Lincoln researchers about this very subject and most do not mention Hancock as playing a role in the hanging. Witnesses and newspaper reports mention either executioner Capt. Christian Rath or General Hartranft as being responsible for signaling the soldiers below the platform. My take on it can be found in Chapter 10 in an article called “Who Signaled for the Traps to be Sprung”? Unfortunately, I’ve had to restrict access to that page due to the book I am publishing. However, here is an excerpt from that chapter for your consideration.


      “There are many conflicting reports in the history books indicating who and how the signal was given to spring the traps at 1:26pm on July 7, 1865. At random, I picked five books from my own library that cover the conspirator executions. All five use information obtained from either newspaper reports or eyewitness accounts. One claimed that General Hartranft clapped his hands three times while another pointed at Christian Rath, also clapping three times. Two others indicated that Christian Rath silently waved his hand for the signal. And the last stated that ‘an officer’ waved his hand.

      So which version is correct, if any? The truth may be lost to history, but depending which reference you believe will determine your answer.

      I’d like to propose a logical opinion of my own, but remind you that it carries no conclusive evidence to support it.

      Logic tells me that as executioner, Captain Rath would have had the official duty to take the conspirators lives. After all, that is the executioner’s purpose and responsibility. Also, it is well-documented that earlier in the day it was Rath, and not General Hartranft, or any other officer, who instructed and repeatedly ran the soldiers through the paces of the execution procedure. These soldiers would have followed the orders as dictated by Captain Rath to avoid any confusion at the critical moment. Therefore, logic dictates that Rath would have given the signal to the soldiers. As I said, it’s logical, but does it solve the whole story? We’ll see shortly.

      Regarding the type of signal given is not as easily determined. One could state that Rath, not wanting to cause the condemned any more duress than they were already suffering, probably did not clap his hands 3 times. It would have been cruel for the prisoners to stand there and actually hear that countdown signal. On the other hand, Rath is seen in Gardner’s photographs as being in the center of the scaffold and away from any of the railings. So visual contact with the men below would have probably been impossible. So did Rath clap his hands 3 times after all?

      MY BELIEF:

      After studying the photographs, and reading as many books, newspaper reports and personal memoirs as I could find, I believe that there is a logical answer to this puzzle.

      First of all, the 3-clap description is found in only a scarce few, but certainly not all, of the newspapers published about the event. Some of these newspapers took their stories from other newspapers and didn’t even have their own reporters present at the executions. So unsubstantiated ‘word of mouth’ potential falsehoods had already begun even back then. The report of a 3-clap signal was probably a fabrication on the part of a reporter to help add drama to his story. This approach was commonplace with the writing styles of the day. Dramatic prose was used as if you were reading a novel. By adding sensationalism to their written descriptions, the papers could sell more. For this reason, and the fact that 3-claps was not reported consistently, I believe that the 3-clap signal was more fanciful than real”.

      I go on to say that…

      “A man (perhaps General Hartranft) positioned himself at the edge of the scaffold in site of the men below. At the critical time, Captain Rath silently signaled to this man who then signaled to the waiting soldiers. The traps were then sprung as planned. By using this logic, this might account for the various interpretations of how these different men were attributed with giving the final signal that day. Was it Rath, Hartranft (who was an officer) or both? Perhaps all the accounts are correct after all. It’s logical, but the truth will likely never be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt”.

      Pete, I don’ t know how much weight this carries, but after I wrote this I discussed the topic with several Lincoln researchers and they all agreed that Christian Rath would have been responsible for the executions but how the actual signal was given, there are too many conflicting stories to pinpoint who did it for sure. No one ever mentioned General Hancock as actually giving the signal so Ken Burns may have gotten it wrong or to be fair, his guess is as good as anyone’s.

  5. I have two questions for any one to answer

    1) I saw a rare photo in a friend of mine’s Blue/Gray magazine about 15 years ago of the four falling right after the soldiers knocked the polls under the scaffold. You can also see the two soldiers still holding the polls they used. I wonder why Mr Swanson never included it?

    2) Have the remains of both Booth and Herold’s horses ever been found?

    • Hi Mick: Well, those are interesting questions.
      The first is very interesting to me. To date, I am only aware of ten photos taken that day by Alexander Gardner. But it doesn’t mean there are not more out there. Just a few short years ago in the 1990s, the known photos at that time were only about 6-7. So some have surfaced since then. Weinberg and Swanson did a great job collecting the photos they could find on the executions and that led to my investigation of the series. The image you are referring to I am not familiar with so if anyone has an old copy of Blue & Gray, take a look for this photo in the mid-90s and see if you can find this image. The photo that is well known is called The Drop. It was taken moments after the traps were sprung. But the soldiers in this image have already moved away from the scaffold and are not holding the poles as you mentioned. So if the photo you saw does in fact show the two men still at their posts after the traps were sprung, you could certainly have identified the 11th photo known to exist in the series. The Drop was taken by Gardner’s Stereoscope camera that day. However, Gardner also had a full format camera he was using as well and an assistant photographer named Timothy O’Sullivan. It is very plausible that both could have taken a shot at the very important moment in the execution. There are other ‘events’ that occurred after the hangings (such as removing the bodies, their examination and finally their burial). Wood cuts have been made of all these events but no photographs have ever been identified. I believe that Gardner and O’Sullivan would have taken more photos than the just 10 known. Hopefully they will surface one day. And I’m hoping that this particular photo you mentioned does exist as it would be a wonderful addition to the series.

      Regarding the horses, I spoke with Laurie Verge at the Surratt Society and she tells me the following about the horses.

      “As for the horses: You have received an ages-old question posed by many researchers over the years and chuckled about by many Southern Marylanders. The standard story is that Herold and the overseer from Samuel Cox’s farm led the pair into Zekiah Swamp and shot them. Another version is that they led them into the swamp and cut their throats. The third version is that those horses lived out their lives on some farm in Charles County, Maryland.

      There had never been any report about remains being found. In those days, the buzzards would have made quick work of any part that didn’t sink into the muck of the swamp. However, just recently, I received a phone call from a resident of Charles County who had talked to an old-timer who owns a large farm at the head of the swamp. Reportedly, the old-timer has found pieces of a bridle and what appears to be an English stirrup on his property at the edge of the swamp. Personally, I think the saddles and gear would have been stripped from the horses before disposing of them, but maybe the extra weight would cause the carcasses to sink further into the mire. It’s really just another mystery associated with the Lincoln assassination”.


  6. Barry:

    Thank you for your quick and excellent response. You are correct, the horses we may never know about. Your answer is the most enlightening answer I have ever heard.

    As far as the photo goes, I am certain and 100% sure of what I saw in the Blue/Gray magazine. I would love for spmeone to locate it and put it on line. Let me add more detail to the picture. One clearly sees Private Coxshell to the left and his fellow private holding the poles after knocking out the poles underneath the scafold. Suratt is at 12 o’clock in the air and you can see a yellow streak by the rope (obvioulsly because of movement). Powell is at 1 ‘oclock and both Herold and Atzerodt are at 3 o’clock. It is a disturbing photo and the closest thing to a film.

    On another note, thanks to your site, I finally have seen the close up of the scafold and Mary Suratt’s face. It is chilling to see her look of helplessness and fear. I understand the anger and the revolting feelings people had towards the conspirators, but I think Mary Suratt should have been spared. I know others will disagree and I respecvt that. I think one of histories biggest scumbags is Stanton who literally got away with murders and I hold hom responsible for his unjust way in which the trial was handled and in fact I believe he helped with President Lincoln’s demise.

    Thank you again and I hope to be a frequent guest.

    • Hi Mick: I am currently trying to run down that photo and I think I have a line on who wrote the article. Stay tuned. Your description of the photo is definitely different from any I’ve personally seen in the series of 10 so it is very likely that this would not make it a series of 11 but as I stated earlier, I believe there are more.
      You are so correct about the feeling you get when you see Mary Surratt’s face just a few minutes before she is to die. It is chilling. And then there is Stanton. He was definitely one of those characters who you love to hate. He had vengence in his heart and probably felt that he should have been President. Kind of similar to Dick Cheney! LOL.

  7. Barry:

    Has anyone been able to convert any of the execution photos to color? That would be extremely cool to see

    • Hi Mick: I can’t say I’ve ever seen that done and unfortunately is beyond my limited computer skills (lol). However, I can tell you that General Hartranft’s coat was blue as was Lewis Powell’s pants and shirt. As for the rest of the colors in the yard, the color of the brickwork could be obtained from buildings still standing at Fort McNair from the original penitentiary. Perhaps someone may be interested in giving it a try soon. Let me know if anyone cares to attempt doing this. I’d like to share the results with my readers.

  8. Hi Barry:

    It has been a while since I have emailed you. I have had a brainstorm and I may not be the first one who has ever suggested this to you. Your photo enhancements of the scaffold on the day of the execution as well as the enhancements of the reporters who covered the executions are so incredible that it brings me to this: Have you ever thought about using those same photo enhancement techniques and applying it to a few other historical photos that could answer many questions, such as the grassy knoll in Dallas on November 22, 1963 and the famous May 8, 1950 UFO photo taken McMinnfield, Oregon?

    • Hi Mick: Good to hear from you again. I definitely have that interest to look at other photos to see what can be spotted in them. Some issues become techical based on the resolution of the original photographs. You can manipulate images just so much before they start to become something they are not. I am careful about taking the resolution as far as I can without physically changing the photographs and what we see. If the picture is blurry, there are some software programs that can do some clean up of the images but at some point, the operator can go too far and actually change the details which are not really there. It’s an interesting process none the less. The more high rez the image is the better.
      Can you image if someone (perhaps me) spotted something in one of those photos that changed history. I could happen. LOL.
      I look forward to talking with you again soon.

  9. In watching the Robert Redford directed movie (forgive me the title eludes me) about the Sarratt trail. I noticed in the movie that her noose had fewer coils about the rope than the others. This was confirmed when I looked at the actual photos preceding the event. In a little general research about the “hangman’s noose” I found with a larger knot (more coils) increases the chance of breaking the neck of the condemned so that they do not inhumanly strangle.

    Question: Why would she have less coils about the rope? For a the dastardly reason of having her linger, or was it a traditional means with she being a woman, or just an oversite?

    • Hi Keith. Thanks for the great question. Surprisingly the answer is not technical at all. The hangman Christian Rath had been awake for almost 24 hours as he attempted to coordinate the building of the scaffold, training of the volunteers, etc. One of the last jobs he did was to make the nooses. Rath stated that the reason he only gave Mary Surratt’s noose five turns was because he got tired. It as the last of the nooses he made and he felt that five turns should do the trick. He also never believed that the government would hang the woman. Surprisingly, all the military men in charge (Generals Hartranft and Hancock) believed she would be pardoned. They even positioned riders on horseback at intersections from the White House to the Arsenal Penitentiary to deliver the pardon in case it was issued. As you know, that pardon never came.
      Many thanks Keith.

  10. I have recently discovered that my third-great-grandfather was likely present in the regiment of soldiers who were witnesses to the executions. In your research, have you uncovered anything about the regiment that was there?

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