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

“An Awesometalk With” BETTY OWNSBEY, author of Alias Paine, the Lewis Powell biography

May 02, 2010: Barry Cauchon

LINK TO INTERVIEW: An Awesometalk With Betty Ownsbey 08-Mar-10

Running Time: 35:00

I am really pleased to present my interview with Betty Ownsbey, historian, researcher and author of ‘Alias Paine’, the biography of Lewis Powell, Lincoln assassination conspirator who was tried, found guilty and hanged on July 7, 1865.

Betty lives in Richmond, Virginia. I grew up in nearby Hampton, so I feel a connection to Betty as a fellow Viriginian. I found her to be charming, witty and passionate about the Lincoln assassination.  She is full of life and you will get pumped up just listening to her.

Our interview covered the following subjects:

  • Frustrations in research
  • The discovery of the Hartranft Letterbook
  • Lewis Powell, his family and history
  • Sharing and living history
  • Horses and the Civil War riding style and how it affected John Wilkes Booth escape from Ford’s Theatre

The red roan is the type of horse that David Herold rode during his escape with John Wilkes Booth. Herold's horse's name was Charlie.

  • Lewis Powell’s skull
  • Penny Dreadfuls

I hope you enjoy the interview.

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

HANGMAN CHRISTIAN RATH: INCOMPETENCE, COMPLICITY OR JUST COMMON PRACTICE

Captain Christian Rath - Chief executioner / hangman of the condemned Lincoln conspirators

Captain Christian Rath – Chief executioner / hangman of the condemned Lincoln conspirators

According to published reports from the day of the Lincoln conspirator hangings on July 7, 1865, at least two of the four executed did not die cleanly (immediately). In fact, David E. Herold suffered for as much as 5 minutes while Lewis Powell (aka Paine) took even longer. Did the hangman, Captain Christian Rath of the Seventeenth Michigan Infantry, First Division, Ninth Corps, do his best even though it resulted in a questionable outcome? Or did Rath know exactly what he was doing and spitefully adjusted the ropes improperly to ensure that the victims suffered harshly for their crimes!

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Preparations are made for the hanging of the Lincoln Conspirators on July 7, 1865.

One could argue that professional hangmen do not always make the correct decisions in carrying out their duties and as a result, the condemned can unintentionally experience agonizing deaths. In America, during the time of the Civil War, a “short drop” was used as the standard in hanging. This would involve a drop of 4 to 6 feet regardless of the height or weight of the criminal. England would later develop the “long drop”, where precise calculations of the criminal’s height and weight would be made to determine the appropriate distance of the drop. According to the article “Hanged by the Neck Until You Are Dead” at  http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/hanging.html  “A standard drop of 5 feet was used for the Lincoln conspirators despite significant weight variations”.

What factors can be attributed to Rath’s performance on the scaffold on that hot July day? Considering that 50% of the hangings appear to have been mishandled, it is easy to become suspicious about the results. The first question to ask is whether Rath was a competent or experienced hangman?  He was not. Only one other time was he scheduled to be the hangman at an execution but a last minute reprieve of the defendant relieved him of that responsibility.  So whether he was capable of performing this multiple hanging or not, the appearance of potential sabotage is raised.

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Apparently, George Atzerodt (right) and Mary Surratt (not shown) were the only two conspirators to die cleanly.

The second question is more ‘conspiracy based’ and hints at a more sinister motive. Could Rath have intentionally manipulated the event, shortening the ropes to the detriment of the victims? Given the mood of the day and the outright blood lust to avenge both Lincoln’s assassination and to punish the South for the war, it is plausible that this scenario is possible. Perhaps Rath, acting alone, or on orders from his commanders or government officials, ensured that some, if not all, of the conspirators experienced difficult deaths. In particular, Lewis Powell, who attacked Secretary of State William Seward, and David E. Herald, who accompanied Booth during their 12-day run from the authorities, suffered the most on the gallows.

In the end, it’s all conjecture but makes for an interesting discussion/debate. My personal belief is that the hangings were appropriately arranged based on the knowledge and standard of the day. Evidence shows that Rath very much respected Powell and had no ill will towards him. His hope that he would die quickly was genuine and I believe that he did everything he could to ensure that Powell’s hanging was quick and painless. Regrettably, the results did not work out that way. Please feel free to add your input and opinions.

I look forward to hearing from you on this subject.

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

NOTE: Below, is an excerpt from the article “Hanged by the Neck Until You Are Dead” found at http://www.geocities.com/trctl11/hanging.html which discusses the intricacies of hanging and the protocols involved. It is appropriate for this discussion.
 
How hanging causes death.
Hanging with no or insufficient drop typically produces death by strangulation (asphyxia) due to the weight of the person’s body pulling down on the noose, causing it to tighten and constrict the trachea (air passage) and applying pressure to the large blood vessels in the neck. The condemned person usually struggles for some time after suspension, due to the physical pain caused by the noose. It can take up to 3 minutes for the person to lapse into unconsciousness in this form of hanging, as the rope occludes the jugular veins and carotid arteries but the vertebrae protects the vertebral and spinal arteries which also supply blood to the brain. However, these arteries go outside the fourth vertebrae instead of inside it, which subjects them to blockage if the pressure on the neck is high enough (usually about 40-50 lbs. for a normal person) and this can cause the loss of consciousness in less than 15 seconds. Death can also come from sudden stoppage of the heart due to pressure on the carotid arteries which can cause a lethal carotid sinus reflex or from Vagal reflex (pressure on the Vagal nerve) which causes unconsciousness very quickly. This form of hanging is typical in suicides and it quite normal for the inquest to find that the victim died from heart failure rather than strangulation.
After suspension the face may become engorged and cyanosed (turned blue through lack of oxygen). The tongue may protrude and rippling movements of the body and limbs may occur which are usually attributed to nervous and muscular reflexes. There exist many pictures of actual hangings, both judicial and suicide, which seem to show that the person died quickly and quite peacefully.
In death, the body typically shows marks of suspension, e.g., bruising and rope marks on the neck and in some cases traces of urine, semen and feces. Male prisoners sometimes have penile erections and even ejaculate while hanging.
This form of asphyxial death is known, medically as anoxia, as the brain becomes starved of oxygen. Whole body death results usually within less than 20 minutes.

Where a measured drop is used, it takes between a quarter and a third of a second for a person to reach the end of the rope after the trap opens. The force produced by the prisoner’s body weight multiplied by the length of fall and the force of gravity, coupled with the position of the knot is designed to cause a virtually instant fracture-dislocation of the neck which leads to death by comatose asphyxia. Typically brain death will occur in around 3-6 minutes and whole body death within 5-15 minutes.
The cause of death is still asphyxia but the condemned person is deeply unconscious at the time due to dislocation of the cervical vertebrae and the crushing or separation of the spinal cord. The face may come engorged and then cyanosed and the tongue may protrude. Some slight movements of the limbs and body may occasionally occur and are attributed to spinal reflexes. The prisoner may urinate and/or defecate as their muscles relax. The heart can continue to beat for as long as 25 minutes after the drop.

Does the prisoner feel pain after the drop?
Obviously no one can be sure but it is generally held that if they do feel pain, it is only during the instant that their neck is broken.
The witnessed hangings of WestleyAllan Dodd (see above) in Washington and Billy Bailey in Delaware did not indicate any obvious signs of conscious suffering.
It is probable that many people blackout as they fall through the trap and are already unconscious before they reach the end of the drop.
However, according to Harold Hillman, a British physiologist who has studied executions, “the dangling person probably feels cervical pain, and suffers from an acute headache, as a result of the rope closing off the veins of the neck. It had been generally assumed that fracture-dislocation of the neck causes instantaneous loss of sensation. Sensory pathways from below the neck are ruptured, but the sensory signals from the skin above the noose and from the trigeminal nerve may continue to reach the brain until hypoxia blocks them”.
In the opinion of Dr. Cornelius Rosse, the chairman of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Washington School of Medicine, the belief that fracture of the spinal cord causes instantaneous death is wrong in all but a small fraction of cases.

END.

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

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