An Awesometalk With STEVEN G. MILLER, expert on the hunt for John Wilkes Booth

August 01, 2010: Barry Cauchon

Steven G. Miller, expert on the hunt for John Wilkes Booth

An Awesometalk With Steven G. Miller

Duration: 42:28

Steven G. Miller knows more about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and the men who participated in it than most people in the world. He has been researching the subject for thirty years. However, if you try to call him an expert in the subject he frowns upon the title. There is just too much more to learn so an expert, he says, he is not!

Despite Steven’s objections, many of us believe that he is an expert and the best person to talk to regarding the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and what really happened in his final hours.

Steven is a gifted researcher, writer and historian. He has written numerous articles for magazines and periodicals and has one unpublished book about the eyewitness accounts taken from the Garrett farm the night John Wilkes Booth was captured and killed..

I’ve known Steve for about two years and he always has something amazing to share. He’s also a pretty humorous guy with a really dry wit.

Steve will be speaking for the sixth time at the Surratt Society Assassination Conference in Clinton, MD next March 19, 2011. For more details, go to the Surratt Society website at: www.surratt.org.

Enjoy.

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

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UPCOMING POSTINGS FOR ‘A LITTLE TOUCH OF HISTORY’

April 25, 2010: Barry Cauchon

Here is my proposed schedule for the next few weeks on “A Little Touch of History”.  Enjoy.

  • April 26 to 30STATE YOUR CASE (No. 2) – John Elliott: “When did Booth break his leg”?
  • May 1 — May birthdays for Lincoln Friends and Foes
  • May 2 to 8AN AWESOMETALK WITH Betty Ownsbey, author “Alias Paine”, the Lewis Powell biography 
  • May 9 — Open
  • May 10 to 14STATE YOUR CASE (No. 3) – Angela Smythe “Has He Been Hiding in Plain Sight? John Wilkes Booth and the Richmond Grays”
  • May 15 — Open
  • May 16 to 22AN AWESOMETALK WITH G.C. Rivera, the Unique and Surprising Mr. P.

Note: Schedule may change without notice.

On a separate note, I had planned to interview Gloria Swift, the museum curator at Ford’s Theatre. However, Laurie Verge has informed me that Gloria has now taken a position with Fort Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia. I met Gloria back in March and she is a wonderful person. I truly wish her well in her new posting at Fort Pulaski.

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

“An Awesometalk With” LAURIE VERGE, Director of the Surratt House Museum

April 18, 2010: Barry Cauchon

LINK TO INTERVIEW: An Awesometalk With LAURIE VERGE 14-Apr-10

Running Time: 24:57

I am very pleased to present my interview with Ms. Laurie Verge, Director of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland and senior volunteer for the Surratt Society. Our talk was recorded on April 14, 2010, the 145th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. For over a year Laurie and I have been trying to make this interview happen. So when I picked one of the busiest days of the year from her calendar, she was just masochistic enough to say “Let’s do it”!

For anyone who has been involved in Lincoln assassination research, then you will probably know Laurie’s name quite well. She is an organizer, a teacher, an enabler and a matchmaker all rolled into one. She can make things happen and my personal experience with her has been very gratifying. With regards to being a matchmaker, she has directed me, along with so many others, to research specialists in the field of Lincoln assassination research and now sends inquiries my way as well. What goes around, comes around and I’m very happy to help her whenever she calls. The research community is close and works well together. Laurie certainly acts as one of the main points of entry and you will not find a more cordial and helpful person when it comes to guiding you in the right direction.

Our interview covered the following subjects:

  • the Surratt House Museum and its history
  • Mary Surratt’s guilt or innocence
  • the Surratt Society and its function
  • High Profile Projects that the Surratt Society has been involved in.
  • the type of membership the Society attracts (she will dispel the long-held belief that this is a society of conspiracy theorists)
  • Laurie’s other interests

I hope you enjoy the interview.

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

GREAT UPCOMING INTERVIEWS FOR 2010 “AN AWESOMETALK WITH”

March 15, 2010: Barry Cauchon.

Hi all: I am pleased to announce a partial list of upcoming interviews planned for my 2010 series “An Awesometalk With”. Last year featured some wonderful interviews and this year will be no exception. Here are just a few of the folks who have agreed to share their thoughts with you on “An Awesometalk With”.

STEVEN G. MILLER, historian & Boston Corbett expert: Steven is considered to be one of the top experts in the world on the 16th New York Regiment and Sergeant Boston Corbett, the man who shot John Wilkes Booth. Steven’s interview was done some time ago but I only recently completed transcribing it (sorry for the delay Steve). Look for it here very soon. It has some great content and stories (interview completed, edited and awaiting approval).

MIKE KAUFFMAN, historian and author of American Brutus: Mike is one of the foremost Lincoln assassination experts in the world authoring numerous articles on the subject. He is most well-known work is American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. Within Lincoln assassination research circles, Mike is highly respected for his research capabilities and being able to find historical information that escape many of us. Mike will share his insights into how to research an old story in new ways and the many angles one can take to find new material.

LAURIE VERGE, Director, Surratt House Museum: Laurie has been the Director of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, MD since 1983. Anyone who has ever studied the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (from students, authors, film makers and scholars) knows Laurie, and has probably been helped by her at some point over the years. Laurie is a true matchmaker, directing the folks ‘with questions’ to the people who have ‘the answers’. She has been a tremendous supporter of mine and I’m very excited about introducing Laurie to you soon.

GLORIA SWIFT, Museum Curator, Ford’s Theatre, Washington D.C.: When Gloria phoned me recently and we had a chance to talk, I realized then that we had very similar approaches to history. Gloria has been an interpretive park ranger and curator with the National Park Service, working at such sites as Gettysburg National Military Park, Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park, and Monocacy National Battlefield. Currently she is the Museum Curator at Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site.

DR. EDWARD STEERS, JR., historian and author: Ed Steers is one of the most respected giants in the field of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, authoring ten books on the subject. But Mr. Steers’ interest in history goes beyond the assassination. He is fascinated with WWII and has just released his second WWII book, this one called “We’ll Meet Again: A Story of Love and Intrigue in the Midst of War”. He also has a keen interest in some of the great hoaxes perpetrated on the world, including the highly publicized Hitler Diaries (interview posted March 15, 2010).

BETTY J. OWNSBEY, biographer and expert on Lewis Powell, Lincoln assassination conspirator: Betty is the author of “Alias Paine”, the biography of Lewis Powell. She tells me that she loves talking up a storm on Powell and the assassination, as well as on British and American history. I also know that, like me, she is a fan of banjo music and has a collection of old and traditional recordings. Betty has been a huge supporter of the book that John Elliott and I are writing and her submissions and knowledge base have been immeasurable (interview completed and currently being edited).

JOHN ELLIOTT, my writing partner and expert on the Old Arsenal Penitentiary architectural history: I can truly pat myself on my own back when I think about how lucky I was in choosing John to partner with to write our book on the conspirators and what happened to them inside the walls of the Old Arsenal Penitentiary. John is an encyclopedia on the assassination and all the peripheral history that surrounds the event. Like me, his real interest in the assassination started as a young student, when he took his first trip to Ford’s Theatre and the Peterson House in Washington. It was the event that started both of our life-long interests in the Lincoln assassination and the happenings at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary.

So not a bad starting point for 2010. And there are more interviews to come. I just wanted to share the names of the experts who have already agreed to chat with me. I’m sure you will enjoy them all as each gets a chance to share their unique backgrounds and interests.

Best.

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com




THE WASHINGTON D.C. ARSENAL PENITENTIARY (Part 1 of 3)

July 2, 2009: Barry Cauchon

The Lincoln conspirators are prepared for execution at the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary on July 7, 1865.

The Lincoln conspirators are prepared for execution at the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary on July 7, 1865.

July 7, 2009 will mark the 144th anniversary of the hangings of the Lincoln conspirators at the Washington D.C. Arsenal Penitentiary. Over the past few months, I’ve had the privelege to converse, exchange ideas and share research with my now good friend John Elliott from San Antonio, Texas. John has been working hard at pulling together a history of the Arsenal Penitentiary from before, during and after the period that the trial and executions occurred.

Today, the penitentiary no longer exists except for one structure, referred to as Building 20 (or Grant Hall) which is all that remains from the east end of the structure. It was on the third floor of this part of the penitentiary that the conspirators’ trial took place.

The land that Building 20 now stands on is located at Fort Lesley McNair, a restricted military installation. Due to the events of 9/11 in 2001 and the security changes that resulted from that event, Fort McNair is no longer open to the public. However, John has gained access on two occasions (all legally I assure you) and not only photographed the site but conversed with several people involved in the current project to restore the building (inclusive of the trial room). It’s a fascinating project and I’ve really enjoyed hearing about the plans they have scheduled for the building.

Since most of us will not have an opportunity to see this historical site without military access to the Fort, let me share with you this three-part series that John has compiled starting with Part 1: The Pre-Trial Period (1831-1862). Enjoy.

Best

Barry

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THE WASHINGTON D.C. ARSENAL PENITENTIARY

A History of the Prison Where the Conspirators of the Lincoln Assassination Were Tried and Hanged

Part 1: The Pre-Trial Period (1831-1862)

Old Arsenal Penitentiary Shot 1865

On April 27th, 1865, after being examined and identified as the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, the body of John Wilkes Booth was transferred from the USS Montauk to the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary. Under orders of strict secrecy, his body was buried 10 feet deep in a storage room at the prison. The storage room was located behind an iron door just 5 to 6 feet away from the Warden’s quarters. Booth’s corpse would remain on the arsenal grounds for the next 4 years. Thus began the penitentiary’s storied history and its connection with the Lincoln assassination conspiracy.

Thirty four years earlier, the D.C. Penitentiary opened its cell doors for the first time when Thomas Williams began serving a one year prison sentence for stealing a $6.00 barrel of flour. Upon entering his prison cell, Williams was issued a Bible, two blankets and a coarse sheet. He was also given the following rules to abide:

  1. You shall be industrious and labor diligently in silence.
  2. You shall not attempt to escape.
  3. You shall not quarrel, converse, laugh, dance, whistle, sing, jump, nor look at nor speak to visitors.
  4. You shall not use tobacco.
  5. You shall not write or receive letters.
  6. You shall respect officers and be clean in person and dress.
  7. You shall not destroy or impair property.

The D.C. Penitentiary was built during an era of prison reformation. In the early 1800s, society no longer felt that corporal punishment would reform criminals or provide an effective deterrent to crime. Instead, religion, productive work and discipline would be the tools used to accomplish rehabilitation while providing a means to offset the cost of confinement. As a result, Congress allocated funds to construct Washington D.C.’s third prison. Unlike the other two (Old Capital Prison and Alexandria Jailhouse) which were built as temporary holding cells until one could be brought to trial, the new penitentiary would focus on rehabilitating inmates into becoming productive citizens.

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix

One person who was committed to seeing the D.C. Penitentiary and all its reform initiatives succeed was the famous humanitarian Dorothea Dix. She donated $100.00 of her own money to the penitentiary library. This was the equivalent of about $2500.00 in today’s (2009) economy.

Charles Bulfinch

Charles Bulfinch

Charles Bulfinch

Charles Bulfinch, the architect of the Capital building was selected by President John Quincy Adams to design the new penitentiary. Its location was ideally suited to transport prisoners and supplies by water rather than laboring through city streets. The D.C. Penitentiary was situated just north of the main arsenal buildings on a small peninsula known as Green Leaf Point. Total funds appropriated to build the penitentiary were set at $140,000.00.

D.C. Penitentiary Plan

 Old Arsenal Penitentiary Plan

In “Fort Lesley McNair and the Lincoln Conspirators”, Lincoln historian Michael Kauffman provides the following description of the D.C. Penitentiary:

The original penitentiary consisted of a twenty-foot wall enclosing a three-hundred foot yard and three buildings.  The largest of these buildings was a cellblock containing 160 cells.  It was flanked on the southwest and southeast corners by two identical buildings which were the administrative offices and the prison hospital, respectively.  These three buildings made up the entire prison until the growing number of inmates forced the expansion of facilities.

The central building measured 120 by 50 feet, and from outside it appeared to be a three-story building. But actually, the outer walls formed a shell that enclosed an inner cellblock structure.  The cells themselves were arranged in four tiers, and each was divided into two ranges of twenty cells each.

Charles Bulfinch's sketch of the penitentiary.

Charles Bulfinch’s sketch of the penitentiary.

Walkways ran lengthwise along both sides of each range and led to stairways at the east and west ends of the cellblock. Each cell measured 7′ by 3 ½′ by 7′ with solid masonry walls eighteen inches thick. Their iron doors opened alternately to the north and south to prevent the prisoners from communicating with each other.

Originally, the top tier of cells was to be used for the women inmates, but this plan was soon abandoned. Two ninety foot extensions were added to the east and west ends of the cellblock, and one half of the eastern extension became the new women’s ward. The other half became the deputy warden’s quarters.  

With the completion of the new extensions, the building measured 300 feet by 50 feet, with two 25 foot sections along the south wall, 120 feet apart. The extreme ends of the building could be entered from outside the penitentiary, and all of the sections were connected by a series of hallways and iron doors.

Inside view of Arsenal Penitentiary

Inside view of Arsenal Penitentiary

The far west section was considered the main visitor’s entrance to the prison and this is where the warden had his office and living quarters. This section consisted of four rooms on each of its three floors. On the first floor, an iron door led to a large storeroom immediately to the east. This room was also part of the western extension and joined the main cellblock at its east wall. Directly above the storeroom was the prison chapel, and a new prison hospital was established on the third floor of this section.

Entering the cellblock’s south hallway from the storeroom, one could pass straight through to the eastern extension. Here another iron door led to the women’s cellblock. This section’s 64 cells were designed and arranged much the same as those of the men’s cellblock, but they were twice as large as the older cells.

Adjoining the women’s cellblock was the deputy warden’s quarters, a part of which was originally used for the prison laundry. This was the far eastern section of the penitentiary, and it also consisted of three floors. It differed from its western counterpart only in that it did not have four rooms on its third floor. A T-shaped hallway had been altered on this floor, which left the two northern rooms undivided. Thus, the northern half of the third floor consisted of one large room which measured about 40 feet by 27 feet.

Expansion of the prison was completed in the mid-1830s when a wash house and a shoe factory were built on the grounds to occupy the prisoner’s time.

  Arsenal wood sketch

For 31 years, the D.C. Penitentiary operated with mostly failed results. The shoe factory built to make the prison self sufficient never made a profit. According to the prison staff, inmates were seen as too lazy and incompetent to properly use the tools they were given. In addition, no continuity in the workshops could be achieved because of inmates being brought in and being released. The average prison sentence for 90 percent of the inmates was less than two years. In an effort to increase the prison population and improve the labor production, the penitentiary opened its doors to non-district prisoners in 1850. It would not be enough. The penitentiary, despite its noble efforts at prison reformation, was soon to be closed.

In 1862, citing a need for more storage space for the arsenal, Abraham Lincoln stated that the prison was “absolutely necessary” for military purposes. Lincoln ordered that the prison be turned over to the War Department and that the convicts be transferred to other prisons. Some inmates were sent to Albany, New York State Prison while others were transferred to the front lines. The Arsenal Penitentiary would never again serve as a prison until the spring of 1865.

End of Part 1

Sources:

Surratt Society: Laurie Verge and Joan Chaconas (Thanks for all the help!)
Michael Kauffman: Fort Lesley McNair and the Lincoln Conspirators
David K. Sullivan: Behind Prison Walls: The Operation of the District Penitentiary, 1831-1862
Phyllis I. McClellan: Silent Sentinel On The Potomac 

Mr. Lincoln In Enemy Territory? by Laurie Verge

April 21, 2009: Barry Cauchon

This afternoon I was having a nice discussion with Laurie Verge, the Director of the Surratt House Museum, when she told me about a recent visit the museum had by a large group of Lincolns, Mary Todd Lincolns and one General Ulysses S. Grant. I couldn’t picture this humorous event so I ask her if she could send me a picture. She did one better, Laurie directed me to Abraham Lincoln Online where she posted the following story. As well, the photos were all posted on Flickr  http://flickr.com/gp/pgparks/03YE97 of which some are reproduced here. All photos were taken by Cassi Hayden/M-NCPPC.

Laurie was kind enough to allow me to reprint her article and some of the photos. Thanks Laurie. I enjoyed them a lot.

Barry

That's a whole lot of Lincolns here!!!!!

That's a whole lot of Lincolns here!!!!!

 

Mr. Lincoln in Enemy Territory?  by Laurie Verge

After 144 years, has all been forgiven?

Today, April 17, 2009, fifty Mr. Lincoln presenters, several Mrs. Lincolns, and one General Grant, ventured into the heart of Southern Maryland, a hot bed of Confederate sympathies and espionage activities during the Civil War. Their target? A visit to historic Surratt House Museum, where guns, ammunition, and other supplies had been hidden in March of 1865 as part of an aborted kidnap plot against the president. These items ultimately brought Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, to the home within two hours of shooting Mr. Lincoln on April 14, 1865 – resulting ultimately in the arrest, trial, and execution of Mary Elizabeth Surratt and bringing about one of history’s mysteries: Did the lady deserve to die?

The Lincoln presenters are holding their annual convention at the Colony South Hotel in Clinton, (once Surrattsville) Maryland, just down the road from Surratt House. Costumed guides at the museum were quick to point out that, in 1860, Mr. Lincoln earned only one vote in the county. He did a little better in 1864. Throughout the war, Surratt House served as a stop on the Confederate underground route that ran from the Potomac River to the Union capital.

Today, both sides were very friendly; and the entourage of Brady photographers that followed the presidents all day captured many memorable pictures – including a group photo posed at the front door that stopped rush hour traffic on the road that runs past the museum.

Laurie Verge, Surratt House Museum

Photos by Cassi Hayden

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Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

“An Awesometalk With” Ed Isaacs, Owner of Civil War Diary from Soldier Who Guarded the Lincoln Conspirators

April 10, 2009: Barry Cauchon

Ed Isaacs holds the diary of his great great grandfather George E. Dixon.

Life has a way of blessing you when you least expect it. Call it karma, good luck or maybe even a genuine intervention by a higher power. I personally believe that things happen for a reason and so when this story began about two weeks ago, I can say that I was blessed again. A kind and humble gentleman by the name of Ed Isaacs, a retired fire fighter from Norwalk, Connecticut wrote to me saying that he had just come into possession of the diary of his great great grandfather, George E. Dixon. George was a Civil War sergeant in Company C of the 14th Regiment Veterans Corp; the regiment that was assigned to guard, and eventually take part in the executions of several of the Lincoln assassination conspirators in 1865. This was extremely exciting news for me as this is the focus of my current research.

Once Ed shared some of the contents of the diary with me, I knew I was seeing something that was never before on the public record.

The diary is the first known document found to list the names of the guards and their duties guarding the prisoners. It also adds another perspective to the story. It’s a first hand account, documented in the handwriting of the man who was actually there and participated in this famous historic event.

From a researcher’s point of view, George E. Dixon’s diary is a great find. And as you’ll read, Ed Isaacs’ efforts to share this as well as honor the members in his family tree are genuinely uplifting. I am happy and honored to share this story with you on his behalf. Enjoy.

Barry 

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B.Hey Ed. How are you? 

 

E. I’m good and ready to go! 

 

B.(laughing) Alright then, let me start by asking you where you live and what did you do for a living before you were retired?

E. The answer to that is I live in Norwalk, Connecticut. I just recently retired on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th of this year from the Norwalk Fire Department with nearly 32 years on the job.

B.Wow. 

E. Yup. It was a good career. I took good care of my family with that.

B. Let me ask you about two associations that you are affiliated with. You are a member of The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and a member and past president of The Sons of the American Revolution.

E. Yes I am.

B.What are those organizations and how do they serve their members?

E. These are hereditary societies whose missions are to preserve the ideals our forefathers fought for during the Civil War and the American Revolution. I was the past president of The Roger Sherman Branch, Connecticut Society Sons of the American Revolution. I had three ancestors that were in the Revolutionary War and they were Amos Dixon, John Saunders and Samuel Brown Isaacs. And then I became a member of The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and my ancestors there of course were George E. Dixon and Edwin Lorenzo Tuttle who fought in the 5th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers and then he reenlisted into the 17th.

B.And the reason we are talking here today is because of your great great grandfather, George E. Dixon.  

 

Sergeant George E. Dixon.

Sergeant George E. Dixon wearing his medals which can be seen later in this article.

 

You contacted me by email back on March 23 and I’d like to read a portion of that note now.

“I recently acquired a diary that was my great-great grandfather’s. His name was George E. Dixon from Poundridge, NY. During the Civil War he was stationed in Washington, D.C. This is what his diary says,  

May 16, 1865: On guard at the old penitentiary over the Booth party conspirators.
I was in the court room during the day while the witness’s were being examined. I saw the bullet that killed the President, also the pistol and two carbines. Booth’s photograph and the boot that was cut open to take it from his broken leg by Dr. Mudd.

 July 7, 1865: On guard at the penitentiary. The execution of Surratt, Payne, Atzerodt + Herold.

 I hope you find this interesting”.

Well Ed (laughing) the first thing that I thought to myself was ‘DAH! Of course I’d find this interesting”. For me, this is great stuff. This is sort of what I specialize in and so I was dying to talk to you and I’m glad that we now have a rapport and are talking more and more about this.

E. And for me it was very interesting because I wasn’t really aware of any of that history. Maybe I mentioned that I have his obituary, “Civil War Veteran Claimed by Death”. Commenting on the execution, of which he was an eyewitness, he says in his diary,

 “The first two, having fainted, were carried to the gallows by the guards: the latter two walked calmly up and put their heads in the nooses.”

So of course, when I eventually got the diary this is what I expected to see. I’ve never seen this line in here yet! So, it could have been hearsay from his wife or a child. But the information I did find was pretty fantastic.

B.So that quote is actually not in the diary from what you can find so far! 

E. I have not found that quote. Nope. 

B.George lived to be quite old. And two things I’ll ask you to explain to everyone are ‘Who was George Dixon’ and ‘what was his history’?

E. George E. Dixon was 90 years old when he passed away. He was a Civil War Veteran who resided in Pound Ridge, New York. He was well known to the people of Stamford. He was the driver for an old mail and passenger stagecoach line for many years. He was born in Pound Ridge on December 2, 1834.

 

George E. Dixon's business card.

George E. Dixon's business card.

He attended the schools of that district. And on April 4, 1859, he married Sarah E. Birdsall, a native of Pound Ridge. After the Civil War broke out, he volunteered for the service of his country, joining the 6th Regiment New York Heavy Artillery. He was mustered in at Yonkers, and went to a training camp for three months. 

B.[NOTE: At this point in the interview I interrupted Ed with another question and we never got back to George E. Dixon’s history, so here is the rest of it before we pick up the interview again].

His military service states:

 He enlisted as a Private in the 172nd Infantry Regiment New York on September 6, 1862, at the age of 27. He was transferred into Company M, 6th Regiment New York Heavy Artillery on December 4, 1862. He was transferred on January 26, 1864 from Company M to Company A. He was wounded on June 20, 1864 at Petersburg, Virginia. He was transferred to Company M, 6th Regiment New York Heavy Artillery on January 19, 1865 and then transferred to Company C, 14th Regiment Veterans Reserve Corps January 19, 1865. On July 7, 1865, he was appointed Sergeant in Company C of the 14th Regiment of Veteran Reserve Corps to rank as such from the 1st day of July 1865. During the war, he was twice wounded in action and fought in the following battles: Manassas Gap, Mire Run, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Harris House, North Anna River, Totopopomoy, Cold Harbor, and Bethesda Church. In this last battle, he was wounded when the handle of a musket was shot off and later, at Petersburg, he was shot in the right arm. He was honorably discharge July 31, 1865. Just prior to his discharge, he was present to witness first hand, a chronicle of American History. During his final service in Washington, DC, he served as sergeant of the guard at the penitentiary in Washington where the persons implicated in the death of President Abraham Lincoln were kept and later was in charge of the guards at the execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Payne, George Atzerodt, and David Herold, who were involved in the assassination plot.

 Following the war, he returned to Pound Ridge where in 1868, he was given a contract of carrying mail between Stamford and Pound Ridge; a position which he held for 22 years. At first, he only carried the mail three times a week but, later, the number of trips was increased to six. When the rural routes were instituted, he continued carrying freight and passengers until 1916.

Ninety-year old George E. Dixon died on March 16, 1925; just 19 days shy of his 66th wedding anniversary (April 4, 1925). He was one of the oldest members of the Charles A. Hobbie Post #23 of the Grand Army of the Republic located in Stamford. At the time of his death, he was survived by four children – Charles L. of New York City, Mrs. Ada Isaacs of New Canaan, Myron A. of Stamford, and Wilbur of New Canaan: his wife, Sarah E., and 14 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.

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George and Sarah Birdsall Dixon on their 65th wedding anniversary.

George and Sarah Birdsall Dixon on their 65th wedding anniversary.

B. You sent me two pictures of George, one of him and his wife and the other being a family portrait. I guess these are both from their 65th wedding anniversary on April 4, 1924. Is that correct?

[Note: Just last Saturday, April 4, 2009 would have marked George and Sarah’s 150th wedding anniversary].

E. That’s correct. At their home which we referred to as “Charter Oak Place”. 

B.In the family photo, is there somebody there that you are directly related too? 

George and Sarah and their family on their 65th wedding anniversary

George and Sarah and their family on their 65th wedding anniversary

E. The young couple right behind Sarah and George were my grandparents. The young gentleman is Clarence Isaacs and his wife Muriel. It is very sad how things go because that picture was taken in April, 1924 and my father had just been born in February of that year. My grandmother, Muriel  died the following year at only 21 years old. My grandfather Clarence died at 30 years old in 1927. So they didn’t have a great long life, yet Clarence’s mother Ada, who’s standing right next to him, lived to 96 years old. That’s Ada Dixon Isaacs, my great grandmother.  

Muriel Isaacs, Clarence Isaacs and Ada Dixon

Muriel Isaacs, Clarence Isaacs and Ada Dixon

 

B.Well…I’d love to say that …

E. …you don’t know what tree you’re going to be in. Right!

B.Exactly (laughing).

E. Yup.

B.When did you first get interested in your great great grandfather? I know you have some items of his as well as his diary.

E. Well first, the items that I have, I didn’t have to worry about collecting, outside of the diary, because the items were already here. My father was a great collector. In my family, we save everything. I’vegot a bible from Samuel Brown Isaacs who was in the Revolutionary War and I’ve got a powder horn from Amos Dixon.

But the question is always asked “When did I get interested in it”? Like a lot of people would say “When your parent dies”. My dad was very interested in our family history. And of course when I lost him in 1990, I’d always remember as a young kid when I was 10, 12, 14 years old, the many weekends we would spend going to a cemetery, a library, a town hall or somewhere always looking for facts on family. And that’s what we did. And of course as I came up on sixteen years old, I’m looking at my watch saying “Dad, I got a date. I gotta get out of here”. I didn’t show as much interest then. But when I lost him it became one of the most important things in my life. Honoring my ancestors is honoring my father, Howard R. Isaacs.

 My family has a lot of history in this area.  Ralph Isaacs and Mary Rumsey Isaacs settled in Norwalk in 1725.  My family has not moved more than 20 miles in 284 years.

B.What are some of the items that you obtained from your father?

E. I have George E. Dixon’s certificate promoting him to Sergeant. I’ve got his pension paper. I’ve got original news articles about George and Sarah’s 65th wedding anniversary and of course the article on his death. I’ve got many photos including George with family members in front of his home “Charter Oak Place”. I’ve got a medal given to him for serving in the 6th Regt. New York Heavy Artillery, Army of the Potomac and his GAR [Grand Army of the Republic] medal. And now I have his diary!

 

 

George Dixon's Army of the Potomac and GAR medals

George Dixon's New York Volunteers Heavy Artillery Army of the Potomac and GAR medals

 

B.Well, let’s talk about the diary then (laughing)!

When you contacted me on March 23 you had only just received it a few days before on March 18, so you haven’t had it that long.

E. When it arrived at my house in the envelope I did not open it. I needed to relax in anticipation of what I would discover. I just put it downstairs in a safe place until Sunday the 22nd and that was the first time I opened it. I was just so relieved.

B.How long have you known of its existence?

E. I didn’t know if it still existed. All I had was just a copy of his obituary that said “…in his diary” and that one quote that I haven’t been able to find. But I didn’t know where that diary could be. So really, the story of how I got it is very interesting.

B.I’m sure. Can you tell us?

E. Before I retired, I was looking at family members’ histories and went on Ancestory.com. I started loading the names of different family members that I had, on it. I looked at photographs of George and Sarah and the extended family. One of my parents had put the names of the different family members on the back of the photos. So I just started looking at the different names and I found one, that was Floyd E. Dixon. I put Floyd E. Dixon into my family tree just looking to see who else would be searching for this particular Dixon and I found one that matched exactly. And then of course, I made a phone call to Maine to Pamila Dixon Tift and said, “Hi, I’m your cousin”. I started sending her a lot of information about our great great grandfather.  When I sent her a copy of George’s obituary talking about his diary, she called me back and said she had that diary.

B.(laughing).

E. Needless to say, I nearly fell out of my chair here. But I had to keep my wits about me. Through many emails and conversations over the next week or so I let her know that since I had everything else of his, and I’m only minutes from Pound Ridge where he lived; and I visited the home where he lived many times… that the diary needed to be here. I was very fortunate that she agreed with me.  

If anything else was interesting, she told me that she put it in the mail on March 16th and just by coincidence, I looked at his obituary again that night and noticed that March 16, 1925 was when he died. So everything has a meaning.

 

 

The Dixon gravestone.

The resting place of George E. Dixon, Sarah Dixon and Ada Isaacs.

B.Yeah for sure! What an amazing story. It sounds like coincidence but perhaps it’s not. It goes deeper than that and was meant to be in your hands.

E. That’s exactly right.

B.When you first opened the diary did you focus on any one page after you looked through it?

E. The main one for me was of course the page we just talked about where he was an eyewitness in the courtroom when the witnesses were being examined. That one, and the other page that’s seems to be the one getting us all really excited, page 27, with the names of the guards and executioners. I didn’t have a clue what anything on this page meant, so I contacted you.

 

 

Page 27 from the Dixon diary.

Page 27 from the Dixon diary.

  

B.At first, when you sent me a photo of the page, we were debating whether the list of names was of guards or prisoners. Well it turned out that it was a list of guards from the 14th Regiment Veterans Corp.

 

A list of men from the 14th Regiment and the schedule of cells they were assigned to guard.

A list of men from the 14th Regiment and the schedule of cells they were assigned to guard.

 

But the names that really jumped out at me were the four at the bottom of the page [#15, 16, 17 & 18]. And those were the names of the four guards that stood under the scaffold and who were responsible for knocking the props out, or springing the traps.

 

Although spelt incorrectly, the names of the four soldiers who sprung the traps at the conspirator executions are

Although some of the names are spelt incorrectly, the names of the four soldiers who sprung the traps at the conspirator executions are in Dixon's list: William Coxshall, Joseph Haslett, George F. Taylor and Daniel F. Shoupe (Shoup).

[Ed later pointed out that on this same page George notes this very fact when he writes “The last four numbers were executioners. Sergt. G. E. Dixon, Co. C, 14th Reg”.]

  

 

The note that George penned indentifying the four men that sprung the traps at the execution.

The note that George penned indentifying the four men that sprung the traps at the execution.

I guess as we’ve talked a little bit further it sounded like George, at the time being a Sergeant, perhaps was in charge of scheduling some of his men to guard the prisoners, hence his list of guards names.

 

 

 

 

 

 

E. These names didn’t mean anything to me because even though I have my family here that I honor very much, I didn’t follow the history as much as I should. But now I’ve started looking into it more. As you know I’ve bought the book “American Brutus” by Michael Kauffman and I have just bought “The Trial” by Ed Steers Jr. That’s just about twice as many books as I’ve probably ever read in my life.

B.(laughing) Well the two authors you mentioned are both excellent in this field. The field of the assassination.

E. Oh yes. It’s very exciting.

B.On your behalf, I did approach some of these gentlemen who I correspond with and respect highly. And right off the bat we had a really good response from Michael Kauffman. I think his first response to me, before I passed it on to you, was “WOW”! So it really meant something to him as it related to his own research. I know that he is now working with you to further discover what other information is to be found in that list as well as in the other pages of the diary.

Michael is definitely excited about the project. I have had responses from other Lincoln experts. Some are quite busy right now. But eventually these folks will get back to you as their schedules free up.

E. I know for sure that this has to be exciting for some of them just like when you contacted me. If someone is going to give you his cell phone number you know that they are interested. To get the home phone number from Michael Kauffman or to hear from Laurie Verge, I mean that is very exciting and I’m very honored for George E. Dixon. I really am!

B.Laurie Verge is the Director of the Surratt House Museum and Surratt Society. She is quite interested in collecting whatever information she can on George, putting it into their files, so any future researchers have an opportunity to explore him and see how his life relates to perhaps the research that they are doing. It’s an exciting time, Ed!

E. It really is. When I retired on March 17, officially after the 18th, I wondered what I was going to do other than feet hitting the floor in the morning and going to get a cup of coffee. I’m still not that old but I plan on doing something down the road. But to have this happen, there isn’t a day right now where I don’t have something to do. I’m doing a newspaper interview tomorrow in George’s hometown of Pound Ridge at 10:00 o’clock. It’s all about honoring George and it’s a great thing. I’m really enjoying it.

B.Do you have children Ed?

E. I have a 19-1/2 year old daughter Emily and my son will be 18 in June and that is Christopher.

B.Do they find interest in this or are they sort of like how you were back when? They have their own life right now!

E. Just like me! (laughing).

B.(Laughing)

E. My wife is very good with this. She understands that not everyone is into this when you are a teenager. But everything is going to be put away safely and catalogued somehow so they’ll have things to look at and be proud of when they do show interest. My son is also a member of The Sons of the American Revolution. And in December of this past year I got my daughter into The Daughters of the American Revolution. So they are good to go. It is just a matter of what they want to do with their lives and their time. But they are good to go.

B.What’s your hope for yourself now that you are retired?

E. Now that I have the Dixon diary, I can see my first book. I can see myself going on some talking tours. Maybe do some schools. It would be very interesting once I figure out everything. It’s nice to say that you’ve got something but you want to make sure that you know what you are talking about. If I can put something together, I would enjoy it. I really would. It’s a nice thing and so many people are interested in the Civil War and of course the assassination of Lincoln. It’s a lot to go over. It really is a lot. 

B.Well it’s a great part of our history and the Dixon clan has been a part of it for decades, for centuries. And you must carry on the tradition.

E. Exactly. There you go.

B.Well Ed, this has been great. And you and I will obviously be talking well beyond this interview. I think there is a lot more to look into and as we start to pick it apart and figure out which way to go, I’m glad you’re taking me for the ride.

E. I feel I’m honored to have you ask me these questions. I’m very excited. And as I’m sitting here looking at my computer now I see this picture of Harold Holzer, the eminent Lincoln scholar and Civil War expert. And thinking that you’re interviewing me, and you’ve interviewed him and some of these other guests, I’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill.

B.(laughing).

E. I’m floating on a cloud right now.

B.I have to thank Harold because he was my first interview. He actually contacted me when I was searching out some information for another gentleman who had written me. He is a gracious man and always very generous with his time, and I will always be grateful to him for that. 

E. You have a great website. And of course as you already know, the short article that you put on there about me yesterday, I’ve already sent out to many of my friends (laughing).

B.Ah yes…the TEASER!!! (laughing).

E. You’ve got a lot more followers now, I tell you!

B.Thank you. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you Ed.

E. Again, I’m just very excited and very honored.

B.You’re a good man Ed and I’ve enjoyed learning about you, your family and George E. Dixon. Thanks again.

E. Thank you.

END

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

UPCOMING STORIES ON ‘A LITTLE TOUCH OF HISTORY’

Updated April 06, 2009: Barry Cauchon

Here is what I am currently working on for A Little Touch of History.

A: “The Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos: A Study in Detail”. is now posted. Click on the following link to start at Chapter 1 to read the whole series.

B. “An Awesometalk With” 2nd Lieutenant George Hauck, 8th Air Force Group, World War II, Prisoner of War. I have posted my interview with Mr. George Hauck  (March 31, 2009) who was an airman during World War II. While returning from a bombing raid over Germany in 1944, his plane was shot down and he was taken prisoner. George is a very charismatic man and our talk was extremely enjoyable. You will enjoy his story and his openess about his experiences.

C. “An Awesometalk With” Andrew Jampoler, author. Andy is a retired US Navy Captain who has written three books and is working on his fourth. I completed this fascinating interview with Andy on March 26 and you won’t want to miss the stories he had to tell. Andy’s first three books are “Adak, the Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586”, “Sailors in the Holy Land: the 1848 American Expedition to the Dead Sea and the Search for Sodom and Gomorrah” and “The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight from the Gallows”. Currently his fourth book, in progress, is called “Horrible Shipwreck”, the wreck of the female convict transport “Amphitrite” in September, 1833. I was riveted as I listened to Andy’s description about all four books and his life in the military. Look for this AWESOME TALK sometime in April, 2009.

D. “An Awesometalk With” Steven G. Miller, Lincoln Expert specializing in the hunt for Booth and his capture at Garrett’s farm. Steven was also an expert witness in the 1993 court case to exhume Booth’s body in Baltimore. My conversations with Steven have been fascinating and he is a wealth of information. If you have been following some of my postings, Steve has contributed to some of my stories (look for his reposted article called “Who Was The Boy At the Hanging”.  Steve has a lot to share and you won’t be disappointed. The interview was recorded on April 4 and will be published sometime in May/09.
.
E. “An Awesometalk With “Laurie Verge, Director of the Surratt House Museum”. Laurie has been very helpful to me and our plan is to do our interview during the week of April 6 to 10.
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F. The History of the Construction of the Washington Monument – In progress.

G. What’s In A Picture? A Look Beyond the Main Subject – The plan is to study a series of photographs over time and look beyond the main subject. The first one I will review Alexander Gardner’s Rooftop View of the Lincoln conspirator executions from the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary on July 7, 1865.  My focus in this photograph will be the Washington DC cityscape seen above and behind the roof top.

Enjoy.

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

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Current interviews posted on ‘A Little Touch of History’.

“An Awesometalk With” HAROLD HOLZER, Lincoln Scholar (posted on November 10, 2008)

 “An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian (posted on December 08, 2008)

“An Awesometalk With” ROGER NORTON, Webmaster of the ‘Abraham Lincoln Research Site’ (posted on December 30, 2008
“An Awesometalk With” LAURA FRANCES KEYES, Mary Todd Lincoln performer (posted on January 26, 2009)  
“An Awesometalk With” ROBERT KRAUSS, 509th Composite Group Historian (posted on December 16, 2008)

 

The Four Soldiers Beneath the Scaffold – The Lincoln Conspirator Executions

March 23, 2009: Barry Cauchon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kauffman’s source:  Coxshall identified the other three in a story in the Milwaukee Free Press, January 31, 1914.
  • ************************************

Roger Norton recommended speaking to the folks at the Surratt Society, where many Lincoln experts and researchers share information. Laurie Verge of the Surratt Society and the director of the Surratt House Museum www.surratt.org was extremely helpful and sent me the following information based on my inquiry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Town Hall Tonight by Harlow R. Hoyt (c1955)

Town Hall Tonight by Harlow R. Hoyt (c1955)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best
Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

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

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