September 12, 2011: Barry Cauchon

I rarely post my own personal stories on my blog but in this case, I thought I’d make an exception.

Many people point out that I live in a world where death is a prominent feature. It is history after all, and most of the people I talk about are no longer alive. But there is something to be said about celebrating life and the wonders found around us everyday. My soul needs this and the balance it gives me in my life. And one way that I rejuvenate myself is in my interactions with nature and animals. Pets are great, but my real joy comes from observing, and on occasion, bonding with the birds and animals that live in the wild.

Recently I made a trip to my family cottage which is located about three hours northeast of Toronto, Canada. It is on protected government land where no hunting is allowed. We have owned this cottage for about 14 years and as part of our initial renovation, set up a deer feeding station. It has attracted a steady stream of local deer (some of which have been visiting us for over ten years), along with other creatures (raccoons, turkeys, geese, blue jays, squirrels and of course chipmunks).

A small deer named Dolly, the matriarch of a clan of about twelve deer, has always been braver than the others and occasionally has eaten out of our hands. During this recent visit, however, she was particularly trusting and friendly. Here are some photographs of me, my girl friend Christine and my brother Marty enjoying some quality time with Dolly and one of our crazy chipmunks.

It was definitely a ‘rejuvenating moment’.



Dolly and Barry. Dolly enjoys some cracked corn and peanuts. Her favorite treats are apples and watermelon.

Christine and Dolly bonding over some tasty cracked corn.

A reassuring pat on the head.

...and don't forget the chipmunks! They need their nourishment too!

Marty also has a treat for Dolly.


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September 11, 2011: Barry Cauchon













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August 18, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Dad is a huge Red Sox fan!

This is a personal note to my father, Dona Louis Cauchon who turns 80 years young today.  I love you Dad. You’ve brought joy to your friends and family for years and we look forward to many more happy times ahead.

For those of you who are curious, my father is as spry as ever. He’s a husband to my mother, Adrienne, a father of 8 kids and a grandfather to around 16 grandkids (I’ve lost count…sorry) The grandkids call him Pepere.

Dad is a former NASA engineer (during the Apollo years) and is currently writing a book. When it is done, I’ll interview him on An Awesometalk With!

His love of playing organized baseball/softball has always been strong in him.  It was only last year that he finally hung up his cleats, retiring from playing organized softball in his Senior’s League with his friends. And it was just a few years ago that he was pitching for our very competitive ‘A’ Level Slo-Pitch softball team called the Neighbour Hoods. He had an incredible knuckle ball that confounded many a batter. The Neighbour Hoods featured Dad, his six sons and a variety of other talented characters. Throughout 10 years of playing together in league play and tournaments, he gained great respect from his teammates and competitors alike. Many still keep in touch with him today. In his university days, he played baseball for UNH (University of New Hampshire). Today, he still enjoys playing in family pick up games and wiffle ball games at the cottage. And don’t even get me started on talking about the massive family reunions (we’ve got a lot of relatives and cousins) where we all look forward to the huge head-to-head international softball game between the Canadian Cauchons and the American Cauchons. Up until last year, the Canadian Cauchons had never lost (after all, we did play serious ball for many years). But last year was different. The American Cauchons kicked our asses. I’m sure that Dad is already planning his strategy to regain the title at the next reunion (his brother and sister play for the American Cauchons).

Dad was the big winner in the Family Reunion 2009 Olympics Costume contest.

Dad, you and Mom are the patriarch and matriarch, the souls and the glue that binds our family and friends together and have made our lives joyous over the years. We look forward to many many more. So enjoy your day and let’s get ready for our next big wiffle ball game up at the cottage in September . Everyone is ready and we will have a blast.

Happy Birthday, Pepere!


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August 03, 2011: Barry Cauchon

I just received this press release from my good friends Michael Aubrecht and Clint Ross. I hope you can take one of their tours and let me know here how it went. Have a great day.




COMING SEPT. 2011: All-Access Battlefield Tours for Wheelchair Travelers

Contact: Michael Aubrecht 540-845-2767,

Nestled on the banks of Virginia’s Rappahannock River is the historic town of Fredericksburg and the storied county of Spotsylvania. Four major Civil War battles took place in this area leaving behind acres of significant sites. Debuting in the fall of 2011, ALL-ACCESS BATTLEFIELD TOURS (LLC) is a new private tour service designed especially for wheelchair travelers who wish to fully explore and experience these hallowed grounds. AABT’s all-accessible individual or group tours take visitors, their families and friends directly to historical hotspots while moving at their own pace. In order to provide a safe and comfortable expedition, visitors have the option of being transferred to customized travel wheelchairs that feature special wheels and canopies. These rugged outdoor chairs, combined with portable ramps, enable visitors to traverse fields, trails and roads that are otherwise inaccessible. Each experience includes complete accessibility assistance and the highest quality tours, featuring a unique staff of experts made up of local historians, authors and preservationists. Founded by local Civil War historian and documentary film producer Michael Aubrecht, AABT is the area’s only tour service specifically catering to wheelchair travelers. Aubrecht explained the genesis of the business. He said, “I have a few friends in wheelchairs who are also history enthusiasts. Until recently, I had no idea how difficult it was for them to enjoy a battlefield-trekking experience. After some consideration, I decided to put together a special service that focused on them. I selected three or four locations at each battlefield that could be managed safely and then developed special tours that still present the whole story.” He added, “For example, our Fredericksburg Battlefield package includes a complete tour of the Sunken Road, Prospect Hill and the Slaughter Pen Farm. That’s a three-hour trek that is safe, comfortable and paced for wheelchair travelers and their families. We tell the whole story, even though we can’t get them to every hiking stop.” Grateful for all of the support that he has received, Aubrecht credits the generosity and help of others in establishing AABT. Mark Jones, a local wheelchair-bound historian, and his wife Christine provided their experience and expertise by testing out battlefield locations, consulting on the accessibly requirements and identifying safety concerns. Mark is also assisting Michael as a guide. Local historian and author John Cummings will be lending his expertise at the Spotsylvania Battlefield and Bill Oberst Jr., a friend of Aubrecht’s and the actor who played General William T. Sherman in the History Channel’s “Sherman’s March,” has accepted an invitation to act as the spokesperson for the organization. Other sponsors include Right Stripe Media LLC, the independent film company that produced the documentary “The Angel of Marye’s Heights,” and The National Civil War Life Foundation. The Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park Service approved AABT’s permit to conduct the specialized tours. “The good folks at the local National Park Service have always been a tremendous help to me in all my endeavors, from books – to films – and now this. They are the gold standard for battlefield tours and I am studying very hard to live up to their expectations.” He adds, “I don’t think I’ve researched like this since I wrote my last book. We are using NPS staff historian Frank O’Reilly’s outstanding title The Fredericksburg Campaign as the reference source for our presentations.” Troy Technologies, a travel wheelchair company based out of Los Angeles, generously donated two custom-made Pioneering Spirit Wheelchairs complete with the accessories required to make battlefield trekking on four wheels an enjoyable experience. “None of this could have happened if we didn’t have the proper accessibility gear,” Aubrecht said. “When I was starting to develop the concept, I sent petitions out to twelve wheelchair companies, asking for their support. Nathan Watkins, the president at Troy Technologies Inc. was the first to call me back.” He added, “I was immediately impressed by the durability and quality of their product line, as well as Nathan’s enthusiasm and willingness to help. Troy Technologies really came through for us and I look forward to sharing a long relationship with them. They are also dedicated to expanding the freedom and mobility of wheelchair travelers and we are truly kindred spirits. Many folks will want to use their own wheelchairs, and if they are suitable, they may. However, others may not have the proper equipment for traversing the fields, farms and roads associated with these tours. In that case we have these special chairs available for a very minimal rental fee that are safe and comfortable.” Portable ramps are also available to further enable touring comfort and mobility. All of AABT’s tour stops are fairly level, with minimal grades and are adjacent to parking. For a small fee to cover guides and operating costs, AABT is offering a primary three-hour wheelchair tour to Fredericksburg Battlefield, as well as optional trips to Chancellorsville, The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Battlefields. Stops among these choices include the Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery, Salem Church and Ellwood. Special site requests may be accommodated if safety permits. AABT guides meet and greet patrons on site, at their location (home or hotel), or at one of the Visitor Centers. Additional AABT plans are to offer special tours to the Wounded Warriors Project and find ways to benefit the Civil War Trust by bringing awareness to the importance of preserving battlefields. Thankful for the opportunity to share the past in the present, Aubrecht summed up the philosophy behind All-Access Battlefield Tours. He said, “Our goal is to make sure that visitors go where they want to go, see what they want to see, and experience what they want to experience.” All-Access Battlefield Tours officially opens for business on September 1, 2011 and will immediately begin booking weekend dates for the month of October. Tours will then run until mid-December, break for the winter season, and start up again in the spring. For more information, please visit, view AABT’s tour package brochure, or call 540-845-2767. For more information on Troy Technologies custom, travel-ready wheelchairs, visit their website at CONTACT BIO: Michael Aubrecht has been hiking Civil War battlefields ever since his parents surprised him with a weekend trip to Gettysburg at the age of 6. For the last 18+ years, he has lived here in Spotsylvania. Among Michael’s books are two regional titles: Historic Churches of Fredericksburg, Houses of the Holy and The Civil War in Spotsylvania, Confederate Campfires at the Crossroads. Michael has written dozens of historical articles for the area’s newspaper The Free Lance-Star and most recently, he co-wrote, appeared in, and produced the critically acclaimed documentary The Angel of Mary’s Heights. Michael is the vice-chairman of the locally-based National Civil War Life Foundation, He has provided the voiceovers for local Hometown History Quick-takes on AM1230 radio, lectured at nearby Mary Washington University, and given private tours on and off for the last 5 years.

Hey, where are you from?

June 13, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Public Viewing of Lincoln's Body (Harper's Weekly - May 06, 1865)

Hi all: Sorry to have been missing in action for so long. This month is a busy one for me schedule-wise.

In spite of that, I have been wanting to find out where some of my readers come from. So please, in the COMMENTS section below, please let me know who you are, where you live and what interests you about history. Tell me what kind of history intrigues you the most and if you have any connection to it through family or other avenues.

I look forward to reading about you.



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Out of Hiding – John Wilkes Booth and the Richmond Grays

May 10, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Last year on May 10th, 2010 Angela Smythe presented a paper here called Has He Been Hiding in Plain Sight? John Wilkes Booth and the Richmond Grays . It presented a very plausible case that several well-known photographs contained images of John Wilkes Booth. One year later, Angela has completed her work and followed up with this supplement “Out of Hiding – John Wilkes Booth and the Richmond Grays”. Here is Angela’s summary of the piece along with the posting I featured here under my feature State Your Case #3 last year.



Subject: “Out of Hiding – John Wilkes Booth and the Richmond Grays”

Author: Angela Smythe (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

In Asia Booth Clarke’s The Unlocked Book: A Memoir of John Wilkes Booth by his Sister, Asia wrote, “[h]e left Richmond and unsought enrolled himself as one of the party going to search for and capture John Brown … and I have been shown a picture of himself and others in their scout and sentinel dresses.”

Does Asia’s picture still exist?

“Has He Been Hiding in Plain Sight? John Wilkes Booth and the Richmond Grays” (“Hiding”) released on May 10, 2010, sought to determine if several ambrotypes of the Richmond Grays, a pre-Civil War Virginia militia group, taken during the John Brown deployment, might contain John Wilkes Booth and if one of them could be the picture which Asia saw.

“Hiding” examined five pictures and determined that one individual in three particular pictures (original media ambrotype, designated in “Hiding” as RG#1, RG#2 and RG#3), could be Asia’s picture. “Hiding” compared these ambrotypes with known images of Booth and documented Booth’s presence with the Richmond Grays at Charles Town during the John Brown militia deployment in 1859. “Hiding” concluded by suggesting the need for additional research into these pictures and facts pertaining to John Wilkes Booth’s participation in this deployment as a means of confirming his possible inclusion in these pictures.

This supplement continues where “Hiding” left off. It provides additional and newly discovered documentation on RG#1, RG#2 and RG#3, lending even further support to the theory proposed in “Hiding” that John Wilkes Booth could be present in these pictures, and that one of them could be the very one which his sister Asia saw and wrote about in her manuscript.

The results originally presented in “Hiding”, expanded upon by those now presented in this supplement, indeed suggest that after 150 years, the possibility of John Wilkes Booth being hidden amongst these Richmond Grays, is now finally “Out of Hiding”…

Link for “Out of Hiding” .
 May 10, 2010: Barry Cauchon

Subject: Has He Been Hiding in Plain Sight? John Wilkes Booth and the Richmond Grays
Author: Angela Smythe (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Proposition: To determine if several photos of the Richmond Grays, a pre-Civil War Virginia militia group, taken during the John Brown deployment, contain John Wilkes Booth. Angela Smythe has taken this subject and painstakingly researched it presenting a very viable case for you to consider. The investigation starts by examining the most likely and widely known group images taken at that time and place. Next the investigation  turns to those Richmond Grays who have been documented at Charles Town during the 1859 deployment and an assessment of the Charles Town pictures, including visual comparison to other known pictures of some of the participants. Finally, careful consideration is given to whether John Wilkes Booth could possibly be in one or more of these pictures.
NOTE: For reasons of copyright requirements, Angela’s article is hosted on a secured website. The link is listed below (see Hiding_In_Plain_Sight . I encourage you to comment on her work and give honest, fair feedback for her to consider. To do so, you will need to return to this site by clicking on the link at the bottom of her article. Once back here, you can then leave your comments in the Comments section at the bottom of the page.

For the past 10 years, I have supported the earth-orbiting Atmospheric Infrared Sounder Project (AIRS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Dr. Moustafa Chahine, our Science Team Leader is often asked about his opinion on climate change based on our satellite’s measurements, and he always replies that as an objective observer, he can only be a witness and his role is not, nor should it be, that of judge, jury, prosecutor or defense counsel. It is a wonderful explanation of what true research is all about, being a witness; and that is what I have tried to accomplish with “Hiding”.  I have written what I have seen.  It is up to the jury, the readers of “Hiding”, to determine for themselves if John Wilkes Booth has been hiding in plain sight.
Has He Been Hiding in Plain Sight?
John  Wilkes  Booth and the Richmond  Grays
In  November of 1859 John Wilkes Booth accompanied the Richmond Grays during  their militia deployment to Charles Town in the aftermath of John Brown’s Raid at  Harper’s Ferry. This fact was known even in  Booth’s own lifetime.  His participation and presence have long been verified by first-hand narratives  and confirming documentation.
In The Unlocked Book, Booth’s sister Asia recounts seeing a picture of him with others dressed in their uniforms during  the 1859 Charles Town militia deployment.  A tantalizing possibility  arises, one which  begs an  important question.  Does Asia’s  picture, or any others taken of Booth during this time, still exist?
For the answer to this question… (click the link below to see the full article with supporting photographs).



DISCLAIMER: A Little Touch of History does not endorse or challenge the validity of the content presented here. The theories are published here solely for the purpose of giving aspiring researchers a place to present. I will not be taking sides or giving any personal comments publicly on their subjects. The authors have confirmed that the work is their own, and in publishing it here, take sole responsibility for any claims made.


Thank you.



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May 06, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Last month, Robert Redford’s feature film, The Conspirator was released in theaters across North America. Although many in the Lincoln Assassination Research community are quite pleased with the film, the one criticism that I’ve heard more than any other is that the actors did not resemble the characters they were hired to play.

So to have some fun with this, let’s play the game of Casting Agent. I’d like you to pick some historical characters from US history and cast an actor to play them in a future Presidential film. The actor can be living or dead but the only stipulation is that the actor has to look as much like the historical character as possible. Talent is not required.

Send your choices with pictures (of both the character and the actor) to my email at

I’ll start you off with a few choices of my own and post the best of your picks as they come in.

Have fun.

Here are two historical characters that you can start casting for. Or chose your own historical character and cast the actor that looks most like them.



600,000 HITS – Another Milestone

May 06, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Well, here we go again. A Little Touch of History has just passed 600,000 hits in just under 3 years of going up live. Thanks to everyone who have been so supportive of my blog.

I don’t know where I found this little gem on the web last year but I thought I’d share the laugh. Kudos to whatever creative person came up with this one.

If you have a hard time reading this, Abe says: “Going to the theater tonight with the missus…got private box seats baby”!

John Wilkes Booth: likes this.



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An Awesometalk With Kate Clifford Larson, PhD and Author

April 27, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Kate Clifford Larson, PhD

Click on the Link below:

Kate Clifford Larson INTERVIEW 5-Apr-11

Dr. Kate Clifford Larson is an historian, lecturer and award winning author who has written biographical books on two well known 19th century women. She earned a PhD in History from the University of New Hampshire and also holds a B.A. in Economics and History from Simmons College (1980); an M.B.A. from Northeastern University (1986); and an M.A. from Simmons College (1995).

“Bound For The Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of An American Hero” (Ballantine/One World 2004) is Kate’s first book and was the published version of her doctoral dissertation from the University of New Hampshire. It celebrates the life and memory of Harriet Tubman, American slave and Underground Railroad guide (actively participating in 13 trips to help free slaves from the south).

Kate hosts a great website on Harriet Tubman at:

“The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln” (Basic Books, June 2008) is Kate’s second book covering the life of Mary E. Surratt and her involvement in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. Where Mary Surratt is concerned, Kate is one of several experts who answer questions on a blog hosted by The American Film Company, the producer of the film The Conspirator (2011) directed by Robert Redford.

Currently, Kate is working on her third book, “Rosemary: An Interrupted Life,” a biography of Rosemary Kennedy, the severely mentally challenged sister of President John F. Kennedy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, release date late 2011). 

Kate and I first met at Logan Airport in Boston while I was traveling on my way to speak at the Surratt House Museum 2011 Conference in Maryland in mid-March 2011. What started out as a one hour lunch turned into almost a 3-1/2 hour discussion. We had a blast…and I almost missed my flight.

Kate has a warm, light-hearted and fun loving personality. You will truly enjoy our chat just as much as I did.




April 14 & 15 – Two Memorable Dates for Two Memorable Events

April 14, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Two significant events occurred on the dates of April 14 & 15. The first occurred in 1865 when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The second occurred 47 years later in 1912 when the RMS Titanic struck and iceberg and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean.


President Abraham Lincoln attended the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre on the night of Friday (Good Friday) April 14, 1865. The war had been over for less than a week and the President truly looked forward to enjoying an evening out. At about 10:15 pm, as the play was underway, John Wilkes Booth slipped into the Presidential box and shot the President.

Mortally wounded, Lincoln was carried across the street to the Petersen home where he lived for another few hours. At 7:22 a.m. on Saturday morning, April 15 he succumbed to his injury and died.

SINKING OF THE RMS TITANIC: 99 years ago today

The RMS Titanic, traveling on its maiden voyage from Europe to the United States, struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m on Sunday, April 14, 1912 and began taking on water. Soon the Captain and crew realized that there was no hope in saving the ship and she would eventually founder. At 2:20 a.m. on Monday, April 15, the ship sank. There were not enough life boats on board to save everyone and 1517 people died in the disaster.

Since I was a boy, the dates of April 14 and 15 have stayed with me due to these two tragic events and I make special note of them each year their anniversaries arrive.



THE CONSPIRATOR: A Film Review from a Researcher’s Point of View

April 11, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Robert Redford’s film “The Conspirator” hits theaters this Friday, April 15. The producers of the film (American Film Co.) were kind enough to allow me to visit the set for a couple of days in November 2009. I later had a chance to view the film at the World Premiere showing at the Toronto Film Festival. I posted a review of the film on September 18, 2010 on this blog and later published it in the spring edition of the Lincoln Herald. I am posting that review again here today.

I encourage you to see the film. For those of you who believe it is the story of Mary Surratt, the lone woman indicted with seven other defendants for their involvement in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, it is only partially that. This is the story of one of Mrs. Surratt’s lawyers, Frederick Aiken and his battle with the very one-sided military commission that tried her. Whether Mary Surratt was guilty or innocent is not resolved here and the debate goes on between researchers and historians as to the level of her involvement in the crime. In the end, Mary Surratt was found guilty and received the sentence of death which was carried out by hanging on July 7, 1865.



September 18, 2010: Barry Cauchon

Last week on September 11, I attended the world premiere of Robert Redford’s The Conspirator at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film tells the little-known story of the unjust military trial of Mary Surratt, one of eight people put on trial for conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln and other members of his cabinet.

Attending the gala was director Robert Redford, writer Jim Solomon and actors Robin Wright (Mary Surratt), James McAvoy (Frederick Aiken), Kevin Kline (Edwin Stanton), Justin Long (Nicholas Baker, Aiken’s life-long friend), Alexis Bledel (Sarah Weston, Aiken’s fiancee) and James Badge Dale (William Hamilton, another friend of Aiken).

I am not a movie critic so I won’t be writing this article with that as my motive. For this story, I am wearing two hats; one as a researcher who knows the subject matter and the other is to share my personal impressions of the film!

Rather than reviewing all the specifics of the film, I will direct you to any one of the 80+ online reviews of the film. Here is what one reporter wrote (Kirk Honeycutt: The Hollywood Reporter)

“So the film, seeking a distributor here, is very much a tough sell. It’s an admirable film, mixing history few people know with several real-life personalities well worth knowing. Unfortunately, viewers for such fare are older and less prone to line up on a first weekend. A distributor will need to roll this film out incrementally, looking for feature stories, reviews and word-of-mouth to entice history buffs and the curious into adult venues”.

Kirk Honeycutt makes a couple of factual mistakes in his report but the gist is fairly accurate. Here is the link to his story.

According to Kurt Graver of The American Film Company, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions has signed on as the distributor for the film and will release it sometime in the spring of 2011.

Generally speaking, the portrayal is factual, but there are parts that take bold stances where history may not fully support them, so I can imagine that some great debates will result. Here are three that will make you either clap or cringe!

— In her first scene, Mary Surratt is incarcerated in chains, forced to wear a 75-pound ball and chain on her ankles and a pair of Lilly Irons on her wrists. CRINGE…BUT VERY LIKELY. Senior officers and her own legal council (Clampitt) stated that Mary Surratt was never chained, restrained or manacled (except during her execution). However, numerous reports from newspapers and eyewitnesses in the very early days of her trial all state seeing Mrs. Surratt wearing ankle chains and/or Lilly Irons on her wrists. Interesting!

— Some factions of the Roman Catholic Church, sympathetic to the Confederate cause, have a communication pipeline between Mary Surratt and her son, John, who is in hiding in Quebec, Canada. Mary’s own priest, Father Walter, is part of that conduit. CRINGE…BUT PLAUSIBLE! The country was split with allegiances during the Civil War and the Roman Catholic Church certainly had parishioners from both Union and Confederate families. What proof is available about this scenario is not known to me, but I find the idea very intriguing. (Interesting Fact: During the spring/summer of 1865, while escaping to Montreal, Quebec, John Surratt was taken in and hidden by Father Charles Boucher and than later by Father LaPierre, both Roman Catholic priests).

— After the military commission finds all eight conspirators guilty, the commission privately votes to give death sentences to Lewis Payne, David Herold and George Atzerodt. When it’s time to vote on the punishment for Mary Surratt, the vote for death is taken and a non-majority of only 3 or 4 hands out of nine are raised, resulting in a life sentence. (Note: a two-thirds majority or 6 out of 9 votes were needed for execution). Judge Holt reports the results to Edwin Stanton who states “Well, I guess we’ll just have to change their minds”. CRINGE, BUT AGAIN INTERESTING THEORY! There are no known reports on how the commission voted behind closed doors. Originally, Mary’s sentence was death. But five of the voting commission members wrote a letter to President Johnson asking for her sentence to be commuted to life. The film may misrepresent the facts a little bit but allows for this very interesting position to be tabled about whether Stanton had influence on the commission’s findings or not.


The opening fifteen minutes of the film are quite engaging and successfully set the stage with just enough detail to bring the uneducated viewer up to speed quickly. Frederick Aiken as the wounded war hero and lawyer, the assassination of Lincoln, Edwin Stanton’s power and control, the other acts of conspiracy against Seward and VP Johnson, Booth’s capture/death and the rounding up of the conspirators and their imprisonment.

At this point, my hopes are pretty high considering how well this complex part of the story has been simplified and told. The feel and mood are also dead on.

The next hour and a half moves into the courtroom and trial scenes. I’m sure it is very difficult to create a film and display high emotion when the majority of it is in a darkened and sullen courtroom, listening to exchanges and eyewitness accounts. So was the case here. Being that I was familiar with the subject matter, there were many details that I personally found interesting. For someone new to this story, the information may be a lot to take in and understand.

During the trial sequence, there are intermittent flashbacks and scenes shot outside of the courtroom. This helps to break up the trial and add details where needed. Still, some attendees at the premiere commented that the trial made the movie feel ‘flat, drawn out and stagnant on an emotional level’. Very few highs or lows in emotion are expressed during the trial other than the occasional heated exchange. It did seem to drag several times and become repetitive when the issue was made about the military commission being biased and focusing solely on getting guilty verdicts. “Okay, we got it after the first couple of times this point was made”. But the film repeats the action several more times to ensure it is not missed.

Two witnesses are used (Louis Weichmann and John Lloyd) and they do a good job in burying Mary’s chances of getting out of her situation.

Despite Mary’s objections, Aiken tries to make the trial about John Surratt so that he can shift the blame away from his client. From start to finish, Aiken does not accept Mary’s innocence (which was an interesting way to approach it). But he begins to fight for her when he sees how biased the commission is and railroading her and the others to a quick guilty verdict. With the law and constitution blatantly being ignored by the commission, he takes up her fight if only to prove that the law can’t be manipulated as the commission sees fit.

After almost 1-1/2 hours of courtroom drama, the commission adjourns.

The most exciting part of the movie could have been the last 10-15 minutes. The vote on Mary’s sentence is taken; Aiken races to get the Writ of Habeas Corpus, success and then failure when it is overturned, and the final march to the gallows. All this is covered in the last few minutes but it is rushed and appears as if the film makers ran out of time. What a shame because this really could have brought life back to the film after the slower-paced courtroom scenes.

The kicker for me is the scene where Aiken has just gotten the writ on the morning of the execution and is now in Mary’s cell with Father Walter and Anna. Aiken is telling them that the writ will get her a new trial and that she is safe for now. Aiken glances out the window and notices that the scaffold still has four nooses, not three. At that moment, General Hartranft walks into the cell and informs Mary that she must come along with him to prepare for her execution. Aiken argues that he’s just obtained the writ from Judge Wylie but is then told by Hartranft that it has been suspended by the President so Mary must hang! It is the perfect moment for some serious drama (strong music, volatile conversation, some genuine emotion). There is so little of it that the ending is almost anti-climactic. Within the next three minutes of film, Mary is marched to the gallows and hanged. I was left with the feeling of “What happened”! She’s given the bum’s rush out the door, led down row of Federal soldiers, up onto the gallows and executed. A lot more could have been done to save this part of the film and make it a more attractive film to general movie goers. As I said earlier, I’m not a movie critic and have come at this from someone educated in the subject matter. So I am probably showing my own bias here. In any case, in my opinion, more could have been done with the film’s finale.


A lot has been mentioned about the choice to hire Robin Wright to play Mary Surratt. I personally think she did a great job on the character. Wright portrays Mary as a devoted, unwavering mother, stoically facing her impending fate. She is assisted in interpreting the character by a great make up department, who gives Wright that familiar worn look and feel of Mary. Her youthful beauty is transformed into the comely, mother figure we have grown to know from the few photographs available.

James McAvoy plays Frederick Aiken, Mary Surratt’s reluctant lawyer. McAvoy plays the character of a strong war hero who truly believes Mary Surratt is guilty of the charges against her (and never really moves from that position). However, as the military commission manipulates the court proceedings to make the trial as one-sided as possible for the prosecution, he begins to fight the injustice of it and, in doing so, almost helps to save her life in the end. Although I am not a Frederick Aiken researcher, the historical character presented seems very plausible on many levels.

Kevin Kline plays Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Although the character of Stanton is presented as a fear monger and one-man despot, Kline does a great job with him. Researchers will either cringed at, or give praise to, some of the things Stanton does in this movie (depending on how you view him in history).

But for me, the actor who really steals the show has to be Tom Wilkinson as Reverdy Johnson. He is outstanding, playing Mary Surratt’s first lawyer who, after getting into a heated debate with the military commission over the constitutional legitimacy of the trial, removes himself in place of the younger, inexperienced Aiken. Mr. Wilkinson shows his talents in this film and gratefully appears throughout from start to finish.


Last November, John Elliott and I were invited down to the set of The Conspirator while filming in Savannah, GA. I attended the execution sequences and John attended the trial filming. Both of us played extras as Union soldiers. I am happy to say that John made it to the big screen and can easily be seen escorting Jonathan Groff (who plays Louis Weichmann) to the stand for the first time. Congrats John on your movie debut.

Jonathan Groff (Louis Weichmann) with John Elliott       Norman Reedus (Lewis Powell) with Barry Cauchon

 [Left photo: Jonathan Groff (Louis Weichmann) and John Elliott. Right photo: Norman Reedus (Lewis Powell) and Barry Cauchon. Nov-Dec, 2009]

For me, I am buried somewhere in the background during the hanging sequence. If I am there (and not on the cutting room floor) it will take a microscopic forensic examination of the film to find myself. But hey, that is what I do! LOL. I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame years ago when I was an extra in a film called “Murder at 1600”. I made it onto the big screen as a uniformed secret service agent. Ah, those were the days! Congratulations to you John. (By the way, I can see myself in the photo used at the beginning of this article….time to play Where’s Waldo).

Finally, I think if you have a working knowledge of this story you will get much more out of the film than if you are new to the subject. In any case, the film is sure to get people wondering about the ‘real story’ of the aftermath of the assassination and that is always a great thing for us in the research community. We love sharing our knowledge with you.

So after saying all this, what did I think of the film? I liked it a lot. Don’t let my disappointment in the ending sway you. As always, I want to see MORE rather than less. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the film when you get your chance to see it.



EXCITING NEW DISCOVERY: Who Gave the Signal to Spring the Traps?

March 19, 2011: Barry Cauchon

The executions of the four condemned Lincoln conspirators on July 7, 1865 were witnessed and told to the world through many sources. First person, eyewitness accounts taken from newspapers, private letters and people who participated in the event all shared vivid details of what occurred. In conjunction with these, photographers Alexander Gardner and his assistant Timothy O’Sullivan took ten graphic photographs of the proceedings from start to finish.

Over time, a conflict arose between what was reported in the first-person, eyewitness accounts and what was visually seen in the Gardner photographs. The eyewitness evidence did not match the visual evidence. For over a century, researchers, writers, filmmakers and documentarians have wrestled with this dilemma but have never successfully found an acceptable solution.

Through our research, John Elliott and I believe we have found the answer and are able to share it with you now. It is one of several discoveries we have made that will be found in our upcoming book Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators. We are very excited about solving this puzzle and although not earth-shattering, we humbly categorize it as a simple ‘historical adjustment’.

Who Gave the Signal to Spring the Traps? is the chapter from our book where we present the resolution to this long-standing conflict involving three simple questions: Who gave the signal to spring the traps, from what location was it given from and by what method was it delivered?

John and I held off sharing this information with you until we officially presented our findings at the Surratt Society & Surratt House Museum 2011 Conference, Lincoln Assassination: New Perspectives in Clinton, MD on March 19. This now being done, we hope you find the information interesting and look forward to hearing your feedback.

Who Gave the Signal to Spring the Traps

[Click on the link above to read the chapter].

If you wish to purchase the printed supplement of this discovery under the “A Peek Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators”, go to the following link.

No. 1: 2011 Supplement

No. 1: 2011 Supplement

Thank you.



Upcoming Interviews on An Awesometalk With…

March 9, 2011: Barry Cauchon

I am starting my spring preparations for new interviews for this season. Randal Berry did a great job in my last one.

Next week, I’ll be meeting with Kate Clifford Larson in Boston as I head down to Washington for the Surratt Society conference. Kate is an historian, Ph.D. and writer who teaches at  both Simmons College and Wheelock College in Boston. She is the author of  two books: The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln and Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero.

I hope to do an interview with Kate sometime in late March/early April.

Beyond that, I’ll be speaking with numerous people at the Surratt Society Conference and am sure I will gather some great folks to interview while there. Stay tuned for a list of upcoming ‘interviewees’ after my return.

If you have a unique story to share, I’m always happy to hear from you as well.


I am looking for students and teachers who would like to participate in An Awesometalk With. If you have an interesting story to tell or are involved in history (how do you teach it or do you know someone local who adds great value to your local history), I’d like to hear from you. As this blog is worldwide, I want to hear and share interesting history-based stories from around the world. You know your community better than anyone, so share it.

Suggested ideas: Teachers: Perhaps you have a unique way of teaching your students history or have a special class project that always works with your students. Perhaps you bring in guest speakers or take field trips. The idea here is to share your creative approaches with my readers (many of which are other teachers and students). Everyone has a story to tell. Let us hear yours.

Students: What interests you about history? What kind of class projects and teaching methods do you get the most enjoyment out of? How do you research? Do you have experts you can talk to?  What was the best project/historical subject you’ve ever studied? What is your favorite historical event or period to study? Tell me about a teacher or person that really inspires you and why.

Again, the key here is to share something different and unique with the followers of A Little Touch of History. If your story is chosen to be shared in An Awesometalk With, I will interview you in a recorded 5-10 minute segment and post it here for the world to see and hear.

Don’t be shy. Share your stories.

Please send your suggestions and stories to my email at





March 07, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Hi folks: It’s less than two weeks before John Elliott and I present our work at the Surratt Society and Surratt House Museum 2011 Conference: Lincoln Assassination: New Perspectives. We have been told that this is the largest attendance they have ever had in the 12 years that the conference has been run. Congratulations to all the wonderful people who have had a hand at pulling this together.

I am really looking forward to meeting old friends there as well as making a whole bunch of new ones. More than a few attendees who have written me have mentioned that they are going there just to see me speak. I am honored by their comments, thankful for their support and very happy that I have something that people want to hear. I will say that I am also very humbled by their response. I feel that I just “do what I do” and hope everyone enjoys it. But thank you for the support. I will try hard not to disappoint.

I am a team player and love working with others. Other than this blog that I do maintain on my own, the book, my research activities and conference talk have all been a collaboration. I always learn from the experiences and love sharing the information with you. 

Researching and pulling a book together is no easy task. Preparing for a conference might seem easier but in fact can be just as difficult. The main reason for this posting is to acknowledge all of the people who have supported me during my time in the limelight…even if this limelight was created by myself…LOL. Everyone listed below (and forgive me for missing any of you) has directly or indirectly supported me with their friendship, kindness, encouragement and valuable information and assistance. It was about time that I really said thank you to each and every one of them.


  • Andy Jampoler (author)
  • Angela Smythe
  • Arlene Berry
  • Ben Rizzuto
  • Betty Ownsbey (author)
  • Bill Richter (author)
  • Blaine V. Houmes, MD (book contributor)
  • Cal Johnson (stuntman)
  • Charlene Henderson
  • Christine Jackson
  • Clint Ross (documentarian)
  • Colleen MacDougall
  • Cynthia Stormcaller (Andersonville Guild)
  • Dan Grossman (
  • Daniel Weinberg (author)
  • Donna Stewart
  • Ed & Mary Beth Isaacs (two of my greatest supporters)
  • Ed Steers, Jr. (author)
  • Eileen Reilly
  • Frank Crawford
  • Frank J. Williams (retired Chief Justice of Rhode Island)
  • George Hauck
  • George Rivera
  • Gloria Swift (former curator of Ford’s Theatre)
  • Gregg Mastriforte
  • Harold Holzer (author)
  • Jim Cauchon
  • Jim Solomon (writer “The Conspirator”)
  • Joan Chaconas (Surratt Society)
  • John L. Howard, MS (pathologist)
  • Julia Cowdery (Surratt Society)
  • Karen Needles
  • Kathryn Coombs (in memoriam)
  • Kurt Graver (American Film Co.)
  • Laura F. Keyes
  • Laurie Verge (Surratt Society)
  • Melissa Jacobson (researcher)
  • Marty Cauchon
  • Michael Albrecht (historian/documentarian)
  • Michael Kauffman (author)
  • Mary Kauffman
  • Michael Todd Willoughby (Lord Willoughby)
  • Nikaela Zimmerman (Kansas State Historical Society)
  • Pamila Tift (in memoriam)
  • Pat Toms (President – Shannon Ulster Titanic Society, Ireland)
  • Randal Berry ( Lincoln-Assassination website
  • Richard Sloan (historian & researcher)
  • Rick Smith
  • Robert Krauss (historian/author)
  • Robert Redford (Director – “The Conspirator” – thanks for letting me visit your set)
  • Roger Norton ( Abraham Lincoln Research Site
  • Ronald Rietveld (historian)
  • Sandra Walia (Surratt Society)
  • Sebastiao Albano (Brazil)
  • Steven G. Miller (researcher / historian / author)
  • Susan K. Lemke (National Defense University)
  • Susan Proctor (Surratt Society)
  • Terry L. Alford, PhD (historian/author)
  • Tim Miller (President – Big Chief Entertainment)
  • Tom Schwartz, PhD (Illinois State Historian)
  • Web and Rob Stone (Producers – “The Conspirator”, American Film Co.)
  • All the great folks at the Library of Congress, National Archives, University of Chicago The Joseph Regenstein Library Special Collections, National Defense University Library, Ford’s Theatre, Andersonville Guild Drummer Boy Civil War Museum and the Surratt Society and Surratt House Museum.

Special thanks go out to my writing partner and friend, John E. Elliott, without whose help and support, none of this would have been possible.

And finally, to all the students, followers and readers of my blog who have added so much to make it shine. I can never thank you enough.



An Awesometalk With RANDAL BERRY, author and webmaster of

February 10, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Randal Berry, Lincoln assassination expert, researcher, webmaster and now author, points to an audio book version of Mike Kauffman's American Brutus.

CLICK TO LISTEN TO INTERVIEW: An Awesometalk With Randal Berry 3-Feb-2011
I’d like to introduce you to Randal Berry. He is not only a friend of mine but also an extremely knowledgable man on the subject of the Lincoln Assassination.

On February 03, 2011, I recorded a great interview with Randal. In it we discuss his “Lincoln-Assassination” website and his first published booklet. The booklet called “Shall We Gather At The River” is an edited and annotated work originally written by Richard M. Smoot, a character little known to the general public, but who was a willing participant in the Lincoln assassination story.

In part one of the interview Randal and I talk about his website

Many people who are fascinated by the Lincoln assassination do not realize how truly vast the subject is. There are hundreds of characters involved, numerous locations referenced, the North, the South, the Union, the Confederacy, plots, schemes, life and death, heroes and villains, scapegoats and turncoats. To educate yourself in this subject could literally take years. Wouldn’t it be great if you could go to a place where many of the seasoned experts on the subject visited often and share their years of experience and research! Well, Randal Berry has created such a place. It is his website at Authors, researchers, experts, students and just everyday people interested in learning more about the subject, regularly visit here and exchange information. Articles, book reviews, references and other great features are all there. However, it is the Discussion Board which many people favor. It is a wonderful part of Randal’s site where you can communicate one-on-one with top Lincoln assassination experts. For the newcomer, it may seem a little intimidating, but rest assured, these experts are excited to share their knowledge with you and help educate you in the details beyond the ‘big picture’.

In part two, we talk about Randal’s Richard Smoot booklet, “Shall We Gather At The River”.

Smoot was a Confederate sympathizer who sold his boat to members of John Wilkes Booth’s conspiracy team when they planned to kidnap President Lincoln in early 1865. The boat would have been used to transport President Lincoln across the Potomac River into Virginia, in one of the first legs of a journey to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Their plan was to hold Lincoln hostage and exchange him for freeing imprisoned Confederate soldiers held in Federal prisons.

The booklet will be available for purchase on February 17, 2011 from two locations: Price is $16.50 + $3.00 shipping/handling from either of the following two locations.

1. Randal’s website, under the Classified / Want Ads section. Send check or money order to:

Randal Berry
P.O. Box 191866
Little Rock, AR 72219

2. Surratt House Museum Gift Shop

Purchases may be made by mail or phone. Send check or money order payable to “Surratt House Gift Shop” to the SURRATT HOUSE MUSEUM, 9118 Brandywine Road, Clinton MD 20735. Phone orders with VISA or MasterCard may be made by calling (301) 868-1121. Maryland residents must add 6% sales tax. Postage is $3 for the first book ordered and $1 for each additional book in the same order unless otherwise specified in the Mail Order List. All proceeds benefit the museum.

I hope you enjoy our chat. I encourage you to visit to learn more about the Lincoln assassination from the ‘best of the best’.



500,000 HITS … WOW … My readers are AWESOME!

January 29, 2011: Barry Cauchon

My good friends Ed and Mary Beth Isaacs have been tracking the progress of my blog hit counter over the past few days as they anxiously waited for it to reach the 500,000 hit mark. Because I have been so busy at work, I haven’t been able to keep an eye on it myself and they were gracious enough to offer. I can’t thank them enough.  At 8:59 p.m. last night on Friday, January 28, 2011, the momentous occasion occurred.

Half a million people have clicked their mouses at least once on this blog since May of  2008 and all I can say is “Wow. I’m touched. I’m amazed. I’m humbled.

For those of you who personally know me, you will understand that I speak from the heart when I say, “I really am overwhelmed”! I started writing this little blog about three years ago just to share my love of history with others. I had no motive other than to see if I could connect with similar-minded individuals and students who were interested in the same subjects as I. I had no idea where this would take me. Yes folks, this is the “feel good” story of the year, so read on…lol.

In the course of this blog’s life, I have met researchers, writers, scholars, historians, museum curators, war veterans, authors, film makers, directors, actors, legislators, politicians, history buffs, teachers and students… just to name a few. However, I have also met, and have been befriended by, many wonderful people just wanting to offer their personal family stories to me. Some have become good friends. My life has been enriched by them and the experiences they’ve allowed me to share in. Their persistent and unfaltering encouragement has also kept me moving forward on my projects when there were days I felt like I didn’t have anything left to give. For that, I am truly blessed.

This year, two important things will occur for me. John Elliott (my writing partner) and I will complete and publish our book on the Arsenal Penitentiary called “Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators. As well, we will present our work publicly for the first time to our peers and conference attendees at the Surratt Society 12th Annual Assassination Conference in March. I will meet many of my new-found friends at the conference (some of whom I’ve never had the pleasure to meet in person). I am truly looking forward to it.

After those two milestones are met, I have other goals that I hope to begin working on in the latter half of 2011.

The first will be to get back to posting new articles on this blog. As many of you have noticed, 2010 and 2011 really saw a decline in my output. That is because writing a book, and working for a living, took a lot of my limited time. So expect to see new articles, and perhaps, even a change in how I present the work, sometime after March when things should start to free up a bit. I may even refresh the look of the blog…just thinking out loud here.

The second will be to start working with students and educational institutions again. I love speaking to students and sharing historically based information that is not always found in the curriculum. This year I want to visit more schools and meet more students and their teachers. I suppose it is my way of ‘giving back’ but I also enjoy the experience very much. Education is very important to me. If I can play a small part in helping even one student succeed, then I plan to make that a priority in my goals of the future.

Again, thank you all for your support and friendship. I look forward to moving ahead in the coming months and sharing more interesting history with you.



“The Angel of Marye’s Heights” DVD — NOW AVAILABLE

January 25, 2011: Barry Cauchon

My good friend Clint Ross and Michael Aubrecht of Red Stripe Media have just announced that their wonderful documentary “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” is now available on DVD and can be purchased online. If you do not know the story of “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” go to this link to listen to a live interview I did with Clint Ross, the director of the film.

It’s a great story and Clint and Michael did a fantastic job in bringing it to the public’s attention.

I’ve seen the film and endorse it fully. Once you’ve seen the film, please write here and share your comments on what you thought.



Get “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” on DVD For Immediate Release (January 25, 2011):

It is with great pleasure that Right Stripe Media announces the immediate availability of “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” on DVD. This long-anticipated release commemorates the beginning of the Sesquicentennial (150th) of the American Civil War. In addition to the 30-minute documentary, 7 additional Bonus Features (1+ hour) are included: Dramatic Mercy-Scene, Richard Warren’s “Portrayal of a Hero” Monologue, “Living History” with Kathleen Warren, Cast and Crew Outtakes and Behind the Scenes Slideshow with Will White’s ‘Fredericksburg 1862’ title song, Director and Producer Premiere Comments and Scans of Richard Kirkland Letters.

This Widescreen DVD is now available for purchase online for $12 (+ shipping) at

*Bulk-discounts available. Vendor and Media inquiries email For more information, visit the film’s official website at (Please feel free to blog, repost, or share this information.)

Published in: on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at '9:58 am'  Comments (2)  
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Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators Book Update 29-Dec-2010

Barry Cauchon: December 29, 2010:

Hi all: I want to update you on the progress of John Elliott and my book “Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators”, but first, a little business to attend to.

First of all, thanks to everyone who has complimented me about my blog. Although I haven’t had much opportunity to write recently, it is very rewarding to know that you are enjoying the content that is here.  And thank you for understanding why I’ve restricted access to the 15-chapters on the Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos: A Study in Detail. This is the precursor to our book and some of the content no longer is valid. So for now, I need to keep it inaccessible until the book is released and the content updated.

Secondly, thanks to everyone who has signed up for the Inside the Walls Book Update List. The list grows everyday and we are so happy that you are anxiously, and patiently, waiting for it. If you want to be on the list and have not signed up yet, please email me at, write “BOOK” in the subject line and leave your email (and name if you like). I will add you to the list. The last update was sent out in October, 2010 so if you are on the list already and haven’t heard from us, you have not missed anything.

Finally, thanks to the folks who have visited and joined us as friends on our Facebook page “Inside the Walls”.  We love hearing from you. To get there easily, go to the top of my home page and click on the Facebook link at the upper right hand side.


1. When will the book be released? John and I had hoped to have it ready and published by March, 2011 but that is not going to happen. We both have run into busy ‘real work’ situations and our paying jobs have taken center stage. Our new anticipated release date is now sometime this summer 2011. We are going to self-publish the first edition and then see how it goes after that.

2. Are you planning on releasing any of your research before the book comes out? As a matter of fact, YES! John and I have been invited to speak on March 19, 2011 at the Surratt Society & Surratt House Museum’s 2011 Conference – Lincoln Assassination: New Perspectives. We will present our research publicly for the first time on that date. For more information on the conference, please follow this link:

3. Is there anything we can see regarding your presentation or the book’s content? As part of our conference offering, we are planning to produce a printed supplement (specifically made for the conference) which will both highlight our live presentation and give a very good synopsis of the content in our upcoming book. Although details are not completed yet, it is very likely that we will offer it to the public after the conference. Costs and other details are still pending.

4. Have you had good support from the Lincoln Assassination Research community regarding your book? John and I are overwhelmed by the great support we’ve had from fellow researchers, authors, supporters, friends and others. The book will not only include our own research but will have written articles by Steven G. Miller and Dr. Blaine Houmes (who are both speaking at the Surratt Society Conference this year). As well, we have been given some amazing photographs and research specifically related to our subject. I won’t name names at this time for fear that I will forget someone, but there have been many and we can’t thank them enough (but certainly will in the book).

5. Have you received any endorsements yet? Yes we have. I believe we have 5 or 6 to date. I can also confirm that our Forward has been written by Frank J. Williams, Chief Justice (Ret.) of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island; Former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Military Commission Review for Appeals for those detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and the Chairman of the Lincoln Forum. Not bad, eh!

6. Who designed the cover? John and I worked through numerous versions of the cover design until we decided upon the one above. The initial concept was John’s and I did the final graphic layout for it. The photo on the cover shows a brick wall with a ghosted image of a prisoner’s wrists restrained in Lilly Irons (sometimes called Lilly Bars). The photograph of the bricks is from the wall that surrounds Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington D.C.  Fort McNair is the site of the former Arsenal Penitentiary where the conspirators were incarcerated, tried and for some, hanged. When the penitentiary was demolished in 1867, these bricks were stored and later reused to build the wall that currently surrounds the site.

The image of the Lilly Irons is taken from an Alexander Gardner photograph of conspirator Edman Spangler, who was held at the penitentiary.

The main idea of the cover design was to give you a sense that something ominous was occurring behind, or Inside the Walls, inducing the reader to investigate further.

7. How is the book laid out? Assuming we don’t change our direction at this late date, the book is broken up into several parts. Part I is the back story. Part II covers an in-depth look at the Arsenal Penitentiary and some of the events that occurred there right up to the morning of the executions on July 7, 1865. It will also feature the events and stories (some surprising) told by the people who witnessed them. As well, the chapters in Part II will analyze the architecture, the cells and prisoner locations, and some of the people themselves. Part III will cover the executions of the four condemned conspirators including a detailed forensic analysis of the Alexander Gardner execution photographs. The book will end with the stories of the fates of the remaining four conspirators and other ‘persons of interest’.

We are excited to share our work and are working hard to complete it for you.




Pamila Dixon Tift

December 6, 2010: Barry Cauchon

It is with heavy heart that I write to inform you that the world lost a lovely lady today. Pamila Dixon Tift passed away just after 9:00am this morning after battling years of cancer. Pam was a friend to me, this blog and a huge supporter of our book project “Inside the Walls”. Pam was the original owner of the Dixon Diary (the diary of George E. Dixon, who recorded his Civil War adventures including his time at the Arsenal Penitentiary during the Lincoln conspirator trial, incarceration and executions). That diary helped launch the writing of John Elliott and my book. Pam’s cousin, Ed Isaacs was instrumental in finding me and graciously sharing its content along with George’s family history. He graciously brought me into his family fold, introduced me to Pam and his wife Mary Beth. And we have all become good friends. Ed did one of my first interviews on An Awesometalks With on this blog. And it all started with Pam sharing the diary with Ed and letting him run with it.

If you have spent any time on our Inside the Walls Facebook page, you would have seen many postings from Pam and Ed. Both have been regular contributors to it and have always cheered us on by sending happy thoughts and messages. As I mentioned, Ed is a personal friend of mine now and I’m feeling for him tonight as he deals with Pam’s loss.

Although some of you may find this a little sad, Ed and I want to share the last email that Pam sent to him just four days ago (December 2). Pam may have sensed her time was coming. Along with this email below, she sent Ed a package relating to their ancestor George. It is a poignant and fitting tribute to their family. Pam sent a unique chess set and asked Ed for one small favor. I still laugh when I read the line where she scolds Ed by saying “DO NOT pick a pawn”. True Pamila.

Pam had a great sense of humor, and although the last paragraph is painful to read, her sign off is classic &  funny Pam. You were one of a kind. I will miss you a lot.

December 2, 2010

Dear Ed.

I saw the set and was instantly seeing it on display with so many of your Civil War things. Most of all I want you to pick one piece and name it George E Dixon. DO NOT pick a pawn. Set up a display and take pictures. Send a pic to me and to Barry. Maybe, ha-ha, you could convince him to put the photo in his book.
I am headed to Portland to see my lung doctor. Maybe he can get this COPD under control.
Love you and Mary Beth,
Crazy cousin Pam

God bless you Pam.


Published in: on Monday, December 6, 2010 at '8:45 pm'  Comments (7)  
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An Awesometalk With: Dona Cauchon, ex-NASA Apollo Project Engineer

November 8, 2010: Barry Cauchon.

Dona Cauchon (ex-NASA Apollo Project engineer)

About two years ago I approached my father, Dona Cauchon (pronounced Doe-Nah) to see if I could interview him for this blog. You see, my father spent ten years working for NASA at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia during the exciting days of the Apollo program and the race to put a man on the moon. I was lucky enough to grow up in this atmosphere, surrounded by stories of rockets and sending men to the moon. It was a very exciting time.

When I asked my father about doing the interview, he did not feel comfortable recording it live but did the next best thing by writing out his NASA bio for me. I am happy to share it with you today.

Currently, my father is retired and living with my mother Adrienne in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Their eight kids (that’s right, I said eight) all live in the area with their respective families. At last count I believe there are 16 grand kids in total.




MY DAYS AT NASA (1962 – 1972)

by Dona Cauchon

In the spring of 1962, I was completing my final term toward a Masters Degree in Engineering Mechanics at Northeastern University in Boston.  The courses were sponsored by Bell Labs of North Andover, Massachusetts, with whom I was employed at the time.  This co-op program was intended to advance the education of the company’s engineers with the hope that they might become better contributors to the development of its products in the future.  At Northeastern, I majored in Heat Transfer.

One of my good friends, John McElman, was also participating in the co-op program.  His major was Structures (the bending and buckling of columns and plate).  Neither Heat Transfer nor Structures, however, commanded a whole lot of attention at Bell Labs, a company that specialized in communications.  It was within that realization that the two of us began to look afield for other career opportunities.  As it turned out at the time, the fledgling United States space program was just getting started with the commissioning of a new agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to undertake the task of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely by the end of the decade (1970), the challenge set out by then President John Kennedy.

Suddenly the fields of Heat Transfer and Structures took on whole new meaning!   NASA embarked on a nationwide recruiting program for engineers, especially those with graduate degrees. John McElman and I interviewed with them at Northeastern in that spring of 1962, accepted their offer of employment a month later, and on Memorial Day weekend traveled to Hampton, Virginia, to buy houses for our families. We returned to receive the congratulations of Bell Labs at a festive dinner for its graduates, gave our notice the next day, and arrived in Hampton on July 1st to begin work at NASA’s Langley Research Center the next Monday. I’ve always had a pang or two of guilt about leaving Bell the way we did.

John McElman joined a structural research department with NASA and went on to earn his PhD from Virginia Tech under NASA sponsorship.  But he had a yearning to teach and in 1967 returned to Massachusetts to teach in his field at Merrimack College.  Dr. McElman became Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Merrimack around 1980.  He died around 1990; he was in his mid-fifties.)

I took one additional graduate course after arriving at NASA…a calculus-based gem called Laplace Transforms.  When I finished, I knew that my days of formal education were behind me. 

As it was, I joined a special group investigating reentry heating.  Our flight research program was known as Project Fire and our objective was to establish by flight experiments the heating that would be encountered by the Project Apollo capsule entering the Earth’s atmosphere at lunar return velocities.  The program would involve the simulation of that Earth entry using a 1/3-size model of the Apollo capsule.  The simulated velocity would be achieved by launching a two-stage rocket from Cape Kennedy (then called Cape Canaveral) comprising an Atlas Rocket booster with an X-259 solid rocket upper stage.  The trajectories of these two stages would be aligned in such a way that the velocities of each would be added together to simulate lunar return velocity.  The booster would take the X-259 second stage with the attached capsule above the atmosphere…after separation from the Atlas, the X-259 would orient itself to plunge back into the Earth’s atmosphere…and the Apollo-shaped capsule would then separate from the spent X-259 and plummet to its eventual incineration in the South Atlantic Ocean off Ascension Island near Africa.  Before it incinerated, however, it would telemeter back all the onboard measurements to enable the investigators to establish the heating data.

Project Fire Heat Tunnel Test at Langley Research Center in 1962

Project Fire had two launches, the first in the spring of 1964 and the second in the spring of 1965.  The results confirmed the theoretical calculations and were the only two experimental flights to confirm the integrity of the heat shield design for the Apollo return capsule.


NASA Facts: Two Atlas missiles with ABL X-259 upper stages. These Atlas X-259 flights were launched from Cape Canaveral Pad 12 in the NASA Flight Investigation of reentry Environment [FIRE] program. Both flights were successful. The first flight occurred on April 14, 1964 and the second on May 22, 1965.

1964 April 14 – . 21:42 GMT – . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas D. LV Configuration: Atlas D 263D.

  • FIRE 1 – . Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Apogee: 837 km (520 mi). FIRE was a subscale model of the Apollo capsule used to verify the spacecraft’s hypersonic flight and thermal characteristics. An Atlas D launch vehicle lifted a Project Fire spacecraft from Cape Kennedy in the first test of the heat that would be encountered by a spacecraft reentering the atmosphere at lunar-return velocity. During the spacecraft’s fall toward earth, a solid-fuel Antares II rocket behind the payload fired for 30 seconds, increasing the descent speed to 40,501 kilometers (25,166 miles) per hour. Instruments in the spacecraft radioed temperature data to the ground. The spacecraft exterior reached an estimated temperature of 11,400 K (20,000 degrees F). About 32 minutes after launch, the spacecraft impacted into the Atlantic Ocean. The mission, sponsored by Langley Research Center, provided reentry heating measurements needed to evaluate heatshield materials and information on the communications blackout during reentry.

1965 May 22 – . 21:55 GMT – . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas D. LV Configuration: Atlas D 264D.

  • FIRE 2 – . Nation: USA. Agency: USAF. Apogee: 817 km (507 mi). Suborbital reentry heating experiment using the FIRE subscale Apollo capsule. An Atlas D booster propelled the instrumented probe, called a “flying thermometer,” into a ballistic trajectory over 805 km (500 mi) high. After 26 minutes of flight, when the spacecraft began its descent, a solid-fueled Antares rocket accelerated its fall. The probe entered the atmosphere at a speed of 40,877 km (25,400 mph) and generated temperatures of about 11,206K (20,000 degrees F). Data on heating were transmitted to ground stations throughout the descent. Thirty-two minutes after the launch – and but six minutes after the Antares was fired – the device impacted in the Atlantic about 8,256 km (5,130 mi) southeast of the Cape.
  • Fire 2 launched 22-May-1965


By 1967, most of the research in support of the Apollo Program had been completed and many NASA engineers moved to other challenges within the agency.  I joined a group that was pulling together experiments for the first Mars lander…I believe it was called Viking.  Companies and universities were competing to get their experiment(s) onboard.  The lander was so weight-limited that only one in twenty or thirty proposals could be accepted.  I spent one year with the experiment evaluation team.  As it turned out, that version of Viking ended up endlessly delayed and I moved on to other things.

My last four years with NASA were spent in the area known as Earth Resources, the science of using remote imagery from orbiting spacecraft to study Planet Earth.  This involved working with a host of other federal and state agencies and research schools and embraced the fields of geology, forestry, agriculture and oceanography among others.  A shortcoming of the NASA program in Earth Resources was the lack of resolution in its imagery.  The military had systems far superior to NASA’s but would not permit their use for our research.  The military had an outstanding joke in this regard that showed a Russian imaging expert looking over some of its high-resolution pictures of the United States.  In one picture, an American serviceman is shown holding a sign that read, “If you can read this, you’re where we were ten years ago”.  Needless to say, NASA’s frustration in this area was more than evident.

In an effort to help overcome the image resolution problem, I introduced a concept called “nesting” which would hopefully allow for making NASA’s space imagery more useful by providing a link between it and airplane imagery.  This would be done by taking images from high-altitude balloons so to provide a continuous, vertical “signature” of Earth targets for evaluation.  Helicopter imagery was also included to take the process right to the ground.  One experiment was aimed at a survey of Chesapeake Bay wetlands to inventory the various plant species.  Two balloon flights were flown from NASA’s Wallops Island Station.  While good imagery was obtained by both the balloons and helicopters, keeping the free-flying balloons over targets was too difficult to provide meaningful results.

NASA Balloon Survey

(File sourced by Marie Cauchon)

My career with NASA ended on June 30th, 1972, ten years to the day after I had joined them.  The most rewarding aspect of my time with the agency was the absolute freedom to pursue ideas and most times to get the support to carry them as far as you could.

Dona Cauchon

A Saturn V rocket carries a crew of three astronauts to the moon. The heat shield did its job during the entire Apollo program.


Have a great day.