June 1, 2009: Barry Cauchon

CU - Mary Surratt seated (lt)(AAS1)(64)

I wanted to let everyone who has been following my blog for the past year know that it has been a very successful venture. One of the most successful postings I produced was the 15-chapter series called The Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos: A Study in Detail.

I have been working on formatting this study into a book version for several months and am glad to report that I have reached the point where I must regrettably remove the content from this blog and begin finalizing the document for print. The final version of this will grow from 15 chapters to about 20-25 chapters as I have lots of other tidbits that I want to add.

But to not cut people off entirely from the study, you still have access to Chapters 1 to 5 on line here so you can get a feel for how the overall project was produced. I’m sorry if it is like reading a story and then having to stop right when it’s getting good but regrettably, it is a necessary step I’ve had to take.

When appropriate I will report on how you can obtain a copy of this book if you wish. If you want to write to me and get on my mailing list, I’ll be happy to give you updates as I have them available.

In the meantime, I am working in conjunction with Mr. John Elliott to bring you a new series on Fort Lesley McNair and the Old Arsenal Penitentiary. John is from San Antonio, Texas and we have been working on some research concerning the Fort and the buildings that are directly connected with the historic hangings which took place in 1865.  We’ll report on the anticipated restoration of the 3rd floor room in Building 20 that originally held the trial of the Lincoln conspirators. And perhaps even tell you the story of the mysterious Lady in Black that has appeared in the building for years.

Copy of Wash DC 1861 Washington Arsenal 1

US Arsenal in Washington DC with the Old Arsenal Penitentiary (the location of the Lincoln conspirators trial and executions). Map circa 1861.


Thank you all for your interest in my blog. I hope this series is as interesting to you as the last one was.



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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Barry,

    Nice job ! I do have something that is confusing to me. The map of where womens cells are located in the Arsenal building is showing directly south from the gallows. We know the prisoners were in Women’s cells. Why do I read from some news accounts that the prisoners on the way to the gallows walked past their coffins and could almost touch them. (which were north of the gallows). Did they force them walk around the front of the gallows and come in from the north to the back steps? Thanks History4ume !

    • Hi History4ume! Thanks for commenting. It is amazing how many people are confused by the orientation of the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary. When I first began my study, I can proudly say that I was one of them. Your observations about the map of the prison found in John Elliot’s article posted on my blog called “The Washington D.C. Arsenal Penitentiary: Part 1 of 3” doesn’t seem right based on some historical accounts. I should be able to help clarify some of the discrepencies now.
      1. The orientation of the penitentiary plan shown in Part 1 of 3 is not drawn with the NORTH being at the top. In fact, the top of the plan is SOUTH. The large brick wall behind the gallows (shown on the left of the plan is to the EAST. Therefore, the women’s cells were to the North of the gallows. The exit from the building where the prisoners were led was also to the North of the gallows. The location of the dug graves was to the South of the gallows.
      2. I only know of one historical account that claims the prisoners walked passed their own graves. If there were more, I am not aware of them. Surprisingly, the one I know of came from one of the four soldiers who stood underneath the scaffold and assisted in springing the traps. William Coxshall, in an interview with the Milwaukee Free Press on February 1, 1914 (I have a copy of the article from which I quote here), stated the following: “As soon as we were in our places, flags were run up, the soldiers about the walls stood at attention, a little gate behind the scaffold opened, and the condemned appeared”… “With the exception of Payne, all were on the verge of collapse. They had to walk beside the open graves in order to reach the gallows steps, and they could gaze down into the holes and touch the rude pine boxes that were to be their coffins…” This is startling information considering the source. But little to no evidence backs up Coxshall’s statements. At the time of the article, Coxshall was 70 years old. He was 22 when the execution took place. 48 years after the fact.
      I truly believe that William Coxshall believed his version of the events that took place on July 7, 1865 but the photographic evidence and the other eyewitness accounts do not match his version. As well, there are several other memories he describes in the article which are clearly incorrect which helps to cast further doubt on his recollections. No ‘little gate behind the scaffold’ can be seen in the photos from the event. But even if we give Coxshall the benefit of the doubt and say it is there, the location conflicts with his memory of the event. He states that “They had to walk beside the open graves in order to reach the gallows steps, and they could gaze down into the holes and touch the rude pine boxes that were to be their coffins…” Regrettably, this cannot be if the “little gate behind the scaffold” was used because the graves were to the south of the scaffold and ‘this little gate’ would have had to have been even further to the south instead of behind the scaffold. So something in Coxshall’s description is either completely wrong, or fancifully written.
      In any case, most accounts indicate that the prisoners exited from the doorway just to the northside of the scaffold. Wood engravings of the event show this to be the case.
      To summarize, the scaffold faced west toward the Potomac River. The women’s cells in the penitentiary was north of the scaffold. The large brick wall where the soldiers are standing on is East of the scaffold and the graves are to the South of the scaffold.
      I hope this helps to clarify your queries.

  2. Barry,

    Thank you ! What would be nice in your book is an overlay of the Penitentiary as it was in 1865 over todays Google map. If I did this is the map URL of Fort McNair. Thanks History4ume,-95.677068&sspn=27.284961,56.513672&ie=UTF8&t=h&ll=38.86687,-77.016724&spn=0.003266,0.006899&z=17

  3. I visited the courtroom this summer which is under renovation. IT is truly an amazing yet haunting site.

    Richard Cobb

    • Thanks Richard. Yes it is an interesting place for sure. Did you get inside the building or just see it from the outside? They are restricting people from entering due to it being a construction site.


      • I was lucky to have a friend in the military who was able to get me inside the actual courtroom while the work crews were on a lunch break.

  4. I am going the FT McNair this weekend, Oct 9, 2011. Does an overlay exist of the old prison, that can be overlaid on the current site?

    • Hey Tom: I’m sorry that I didn’t get back to you before now. For some reason, my notices were not being forwarded to me by WordPress over the last two weeks so I came back to quite a few postings here that need to be addressed. For our book, we have overlaid the footprint of the old prison on an aerial view of the grounds of modern day Fort McNair. If you write to me at and give me your address, I can send you a copy of one version that we created.
      I’m sorry I missed this posting before you went to the site.

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