Lincoln Conspirators “Order of Execution” Death Warrant

July 09, 2010: Barry Cauchon 

General John F. Hartranft reads the Order of Execution (Death Warrant) to the four condemned Lincoln conspirators prior to their executions.

The condemned Lincoln conspirators were executed by hanging on July 07, 1865. The procedures used by the military in carrying out the sentences were quick and efficient, completing the initial task in just over twenty minutes. One fascinating aspect of this event is the document that was read publicly by General John F. Hartranft from the scaffold. It was the Order of Execution (sometimes referred to as the Death Warrant); a five-page hand-written document stating the charges against each of the four prisoners and the sentences of death that they received.  

After the conspirators and execution party had mounted the scaffold and settled in, General Hartranft read the Order. Below is an accurate transcript, in its entirety, of the Order of Execution. Read it out loud in a steady, methodical manner (much like General Hartranft did) and you will get a sense of the timing that it took for him to do so. You may experience an eery feeling when you repeat the exact words that the four conspirators heard just minutes before they were to die. 

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ORDER OF EXECUTION  

Page 1 of the Lincoln conspirators Order of Execution read by General Hartranft from the scaffold on July 7, 1865.

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War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, Washington, July 5, 1865.

To Major General W. S. Hancock, U.S. Volunteers, Commanding Middle Military Division, Washington D.C.

“Whereas, by the military commission appointed in paragraph A, Special Orders, No. 211, dated War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, Washington, May 6, 1865, and in paragraph 91, Special Order No 216, dated War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, Washington May 9, 1865, and of which Major General David Hunter, U.S. Volunteers is President, the following named persons were tried, and after mature consideration of the evidence adduced in their cases were found and sentenced as hereafter stated, as follows:

1st. David E. Herold

Finding“Of the specification. Guilty except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler, as to which part, thereof, Not Guilty.” 

“Of the charge – Guilty, except the words of the charge that he combined, confederated and conspired with Edward Spangler; as to which part of said charge; Not Guilty.

Sentence.“And the commission does therefore sentence him the said David E. Herold, to be hanged by the neck until he be dead, at such time and place as the President of the United States shall direct, two thirds of the members of the commission concurring therein.”

2d. George Atzerodt.
 
Finding.

“Of the specification Guilty, except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler: of this Not Guilty.”

Finding. “Of the charge, Guilty, except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler; of this not Guilty.”

Sentence.“And the commission does therefore sentence him, the said George A. Atzerodt, to be hung by the neck until he be dead at such time and place as the President of the United States shall direct, two thirds of the members of the commission concurring therein.”

3d. Lewis Payne.

Finding.“Of the specification, Guilty, except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler: of this Not Guilty.”“Of the charge Guilty, except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler; of this Not Guilty.”

Sentence.“And the commission does therefore sentence him, the said Lewis Payne, to be hung by the neck until he be dead at such time and place as the President of the United States shall direct, two thirds of the members of the commission concurring therein.” 

4th. Mary E. Surratt.

Finding. “Of the specification, Guilty, except as to receiving, entertaining, harboring, and concealing Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlin, and except as to combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler: of this Not Guilty.”“Of the charge Guilty, except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler; of this Not Guilty.”

Sentence.“And the commission does therefore sentence her the said Mary E. Surratt, to be hung by the neck until she be dead, at such time and place as the President of the United States shall direct, two thirds of the members of the commission concurring therein.”

And whereas, the President of the United States has approved the foregoing sentences in the following order, to wit:

Executive Mansion, “July 5th, 1865. “

The foregoing sentences in the cases of David E. Herold, G.A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, xx, xx, xx, Mary E. Surratt, xxx, are hereby approved, and it is ordered that the sentences in the cases of David E. Herold, G.A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, and Mary E. Surratt, be carried into execution by the proper military authority under the direction of the Secretary of War, on the seventh day of July 1865, between the hours of ten o’clock a.m. and two o’clock p.m. of that day. x x x x x x x ”

Andrew Johnson, “Presd.”

Therefore, you are hereby commanded to cause the foregoing sentences in the cases of David E. Herold, G.A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, and Mary E. Surratt, to be duly executed in accordance with the President’s order.

By command of the President of the United States.

(signed) E.D. Townsend, Asst. Adjt. Genl.

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Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

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144th ANNIVERSARY OF THE LINCOLN CONSPIRATOR HANGINGS (JULY 7, 1865)

July 7, 2009: Barry  Cauchon

Today marks the 144th anniversary of the executions by hanging of four of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. The sentences were carried out at the Washington Arsenal Penitentary at about 1:26pm. Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell (alias Payne or Paine), David Herold and George Atzerodt had all been found guilty of their involvement in the conspiracy.  This not only involved the assassination of President Lincoln and the plans to murder several other key members of Lincoln’s administration, but also included their failed plans to kidnap President Lincoln in March of 1865.

CU - Execution Party (RTDW)(292)

The day was very hot (over 100 degrees) when the prisoners were marched out to the scaffold just after 1:00pm. After seating the four condemned in chairs on the platform, General Hartranft read the five-page Order of Execution (sometimes called the Death Warrant) which is reproduced here.

CU - Major Hartranft (RTDW)(12)

War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, Washington, July 5, 1865.

To Major General W. S. Hancock, U.S. Volunteers, Commanding Middle Military Division, Washington D.C.

“Whereas, by the military commission appointed in paragraph A, Special Orders, No. 211, dated War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, Washington, May 6, 1865, and in paragraph 91, Special Order No 216, dated War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, Washington May 9, 1865, and of which Major General David Hunter, U.S. Volunteers is President, the following named persons were tried, and after mature consideration of the evidence adduced in their cases were found and sentenced as hereafter stated, as follows:

1st. David E. Herold

Finding

“Of the specification. Guilty except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler, as to which part, thereof, Not Guilty.” 

“Of the charge – Guilty, except the words of the charge that he combined, confederated and conspired with Edward Spangler; as to which part of said charge; Not Guilty.

Sentence.

“And the commission does therefore sentence him the said David E. Herold, to be hanged by the neck until he be dead, at such time and place as the President of the United States shall direct, two thirds of the members of the commission concurring therein.”

2d. George Atzerodt.
 
Finding.

“Of the specification Guilty, except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler: of this Not Guilty.”Finding.

“Of the charge, Guilty, except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler; of this not Guilty.”

Sentence.

“And the commission does therefore sentence him, the said George A. Atzerodt, to be hung by the neck until he be dead at such time and place as the President of the United States shall direct, two thirds of the members of the commission concurring therein.”

3d. Lewis Payne.

Finding.

“Of the specification, Guilty, except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler: of this Not Guilty.”

“Of the charge Guilty, except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler; of this Not Guilty.”

Sentence.

“And the commission does therefore sentence him, the said Lewis Payne, to be hung by the neck until he be dead at such time and place as the President of the United States shall direct, two thirds of the members of the commission concurring therein.”

 4th. Mary E. Surratt.

Finding.

“Of the specification, Guilty, except as to receiving, entertaining, harboring, and concealing Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlin, and except as to combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler: of this Not Guilty.”

“Of the charge Guilty, except combining, confederating and conspiring with Edward Spangler; of this Not Guilty.”

Sentence.

“And the commission does therefore sentence her the said Mary E. Surratt, to be hung by the neck until she be dead, at such time and place as the President of the United States shall direct, two thirds of the members of the commission concurring therein.”

And whereas, the President of the United States has approved the foregoing sentences in the following order, to wit:

“Executive Mansion, “July 5th, 1865. “The foregoing sentences in the cases of David E. Herold, G.A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, xx, xx, xx, Mary E. Surratt, xxx, are hereby approved, and it is ordered that the sentences in the cases of David E. Herold, G.A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, and Mary E. Surratt, be carried into execution by the proper military authority under the direction of the Secretary of War, on the seventh day of July 1865, between the hours of ten o’clock a.m. and two o’clock p.m. of that day. x x x x x x x ” Andrew Johnson, “Presd.”

Therefore, you are hereby commanded to cause the foregoing sentences in the cases of David E. Herold, G.A. Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, and Mary E. Surratt, to be duly executed in accordance with the President’s order.

By command of the President of the United States.

(signed) E.D. Townsend, Asst. Adjt. Genl.

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After the reading of the Order of Execution was concluded, the ministers were allowed to speak and pray on behalf of their charges. Dr. Gillette spoke first on behalf of Lewis Powell, then Dr. Olds spoke on behalf of David Herold and finally Dr. J. S. Butler prayed on behalf of George Atzerodt.

Photo courtesy of Betty Ownsbey

Photo courtesy of Betty Ownsbey

People often wonder why Mrs. Surratt’s two priests did not speak publicly to the crowd. In the case of Father Walter, he was not allowed to.

Father Walter, who strongly believed in Mary Surratt’s innocence, became so outspoken over the military’s decision to hang Mrs. Surratt, that he was given an ultimatum from Secretary of War Stanton’s office. It gave him what we would call today “a gag order”, stating that if he wished to be on the scaffold with Mrs. Surratt, he would cease his verbal attacks and rabble rousing publicly. This included that he would not be allowed to speak on the scaffold. Swallowing his anger for the time being, he agreed to this and was present with her at her time of need. Neither Father Walter and Father Wiget spoke that day.

However, after the hangings, Father Walter went on the attack again, this time gaining valuable allies that would eventually help in forcing Secretary of War Stanton to resign during the political upheaval that involved impeachment proceedings against President Johnson.

Here are the three prayers that were spoken that day as recorded by the New York Times and published July 8, 1865.

Dr. Gillette’s prayer:
The prisoner, Lewis Thornton Powell, known as Payne, requests me on this occasion, to say for him, that he thanks, publicly and sincerely thanks, General Hartranft, all the officers and soldiers who had charge of him, and all persons who have ministered to his wants, for their unwavering kindness to him in this trying hour. Not an unkind word nor an ill feeling act has been made toward him. Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, we pray thee to permit us to commit this soul into thy hands, not for any claim we have to make it in ourselves, but depending as we do upon the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant, O Heavenly Father, we beseech thee that his spirit may be accorded an easy passage out of the world, and, if consistent with thy purposes of mercy, and thou delightest in mercy, receive him. This we humbly ask, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Redeemer. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Olds’ prayer:
David E. Herrold, who is here about to undergo the extreme penalty of offended law, desires me to say that he hopes your prayers my be offered up to the Most High God for him; that he forgives all who may at any time have wronged him, and asks of all forgiveness for all, the wrong or supposed wrong he has done unto them, that he thanks the officers who have had charge of him during his confinement in prison for their deeds of kindness toward him, he hopes that he dies in charity with all the world and is convinced that his soul is in the hands of God. Amen.

Rev. Dr. J. S. Butler’s prayer:
George A. Atzeroth requests me thus publicly to return his unfeigned thanks to Gen. Hartranft, and all associated with him in this prison, for their uniform courtesy and kindness during his imprisonment. And now, George A. Atzeroth, may God have mercy upon you. The ways of the transgressor is hard. The wages of sin is death; but if we freely confess our sins, God will in mercy pardon them. Christ came into the world to save sinners—even the chief of sinners. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. The blood of the blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ, cleanseth from all sin. You profess to have thus believed to have peace in your heart; and may God be with you in this hour of trial and suffering; and may you be enabled so to commend your soul to the Creator of it that you may have peace in this last moment of life. The Lord God Almighty, Father of Mercy, have mercy upon you, and receive you into His heavenly keeping. Lord God, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon this man. Lord God, Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son, have mercy upon him and grant him thy peace. Amen.

After the prayers had ended, there was nothing left to do but carry out the sentences. The four prisoners were commanded to stand and moved onto the hinged platforms. Although already wearing wrist and ankle irons, their bodies were tied with strips of canvas to secure their limbs. The nooses were adjusted around their necks and white canvas hoods were placed over their heads.

CU - David Herold and George Atzerodt (ATR)(40)

CU - Lewis Powell (ATR)(15)

At this point the soldiers, ministers and other men on the scaffold stepped back and on a signal that probably came from executioner Captain Christian Rath, the two vertical posts holding up the traps were knock out by soldiers below the scaffold. This sprung the traps and the four condemned conspirators dropped. Mary Surratt and George Atzerodt are reported to have shown little to no movement and were presumed to be unconscious. However, David Herold and Lewis Powell did not lose consciousness and for the next few minutes painfully struggled in vain until mercifully, they too lost consciousness.

CU - Scaffold (RTV)(47)

After about 20 minutes or so, doctors checked each body for signs of life and finding none, pronounced the prisoners dead. The bodies would remain hanging for a few minutes more before being ordered taken down. Once cut down, the bodies were laid on their pine coffins and checked by the doctors again to determine whether any of the prisoners had broken their necks and if there were any other signs of trauma. Once recorded, the bodies were placed in their coffins with their hoods still in place and then buried in the graves that had been dug  just to the right of the scaffold.

CU - Pine Gun Boxes & Pre-Dug Graves (TPB)(596)

All of this occurred 144 years ago today, on the very hot and early afternoon of Friday, July 7, 1865.

Best

Barry