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.




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.



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




THE CONSPIRATOR world premiere in Toronto on September 11, 2010

September 9, 2010: Barry Cauchon

Hi all: On Saturday, September 11, 2010, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) will host a gala event for the world premiere of The Conspirator, Robert Redford’s new film about Mary Surratt, her trial and eventual hanging. Last November, I spent two days on the set (during the shooting of the hanging sequence) and John Elliott, my writing partner, spent two days participating in the trial sequence.

I live in Toronto and so will be attending the premiere and will review the film and gala evening. I speak with the producers of the film from time to time and so will plan to interview them some time in the future.

Look for this review sometime next week.

Have a great day.



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. 



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


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.

“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.




July 07, 1865 – Lincoln Conspirators Executed

July 07, 2010: Barry Cauchon

It was 145 years ago today that four of the eight conspirators tried for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln were marched to the gallows to carry out their sentences of execution.

This account is a simplified version of what occurred that day.

This image is from the front page of the March 21, 1896 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer (sent to me by Boston Corbett expert Steven G. Miller)

George Atzerodt, David Herold, Lewis Powell and Mary Surratt (the first woman to be executed by the United States Federal Government) had received the news of their sentences only 24 hours earlier and now, their time had come.

Just after 1:00pm, the four condemned were escorted from their cell block into the south yard of the Arsenal Penitentiary where they had been held since early May. Their trial had been conducted in a makeshift courtroom on the third floor of the east wing of the facility.

As they emerged from the penitentiary’s heavily fortified door, they were accompanied by twenty-two other people (military officers, soldiers, detectives and clergy). One by one the conspirators were assisted up the thirteen steps of the scaffold and seated. The executioner, Captain Christian Rath, placed Mary Surratt in the chair farthest to the left. He later stated that this was the traditional “place of honor” for a hanging. Next to Mrs. Surratt was Lewis Powell, the man who attempted to assassinate the Secretary of State, William H. Seward on the same night that the President was cut down. Next came David Herold, who accompanied John Wilkes Booth during his 12-day flight after the assassination. Herold gave himself up when he and Booth were cornered in the tobacco barn at the Garrett Farm. Finally, George Atzerodt was seated at the far right side of the scaffold. Atzerodt’s assignment had been to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, which he never even attempted, but was still convicted for his part in the conspiracy.

All four sat quietly while General John F. Hartranft read the Orders of Execution (the death warrant). Upon completing the reading, Lewis Powell’s minister stepped forward and  spoke on behalf of Powell, thanking the staff and soldiers who had guarded him for all their kindnesses and then said a prayer for Powell’s soul. Next came David Herold’s minister who did the same. George Atzerodt’s minister spoke last and repeated the process, thanking the staff and then praying for Atzerodt’s soul.

The two Catholic priests who accompanied Mary Surratt did not speak publicly and prayed with her quietly during this time.

After the last prayer had been said, there was nothing left to do but prepare the four for hanging. They were told to stand and were positioned on the traps that would be knocked out from under them in a few short minutes. Designated officers, detectives and the executioner bound their legs and arms with cloth strips, fitted the nooses around their necks and placed canvas hoods over their heads.

As soon as all were prepared, the assistants stepped back off of the traps, leaving only the four condemned standing and waiting. Quickly a signal was given and the traps were sprung. The four dropped. Two seemed to lose consciousness immediately and suffered little if any, while the other two remained conscious and ‘died hard’.

Thus brought to a close, the harshest punishments doled out by the military commission assigned to try the conspirators accused in the assassination of President Lincoln.

As many of you know, John Elliott (my writing and research partner) and I are preparing an in-depth study on the executions and the events that happened within the walls of the Arsenal Penitentiary. Our book is called “Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators”. It will be filled with photographs, illustrations, forensic and detailed analysis, architectural drawings, fascinating stories and a full review of the Alexander Gardner execution photographs.

We anticipate the book will be ready by the end of 2010.

If you wish to receive updated information on the book, please sign up on my update list by writing me at and put the word BOOK in the subject line. As well, visit our Facebook page at Inside the Walls (click on the icon at the upper right hand side of this page).



“The Angel of Marye’s Heights” documentary announcement

June 22, 2010: Barry Cauchon

Recently I recorded an interview with Clint Ross for my feature “An Awesometalk With”. Clint is the director of a documentary called “The Angel of Marye’s Heights”. This is the story of Richard Kirkland, a Confederate Civil War soldier, who through amazing bravery and kindness, put himself at personal risk to tend to injured Union soldiers wounded on the front lines at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Clint’s interview will be ready for release here in a couple of weeks and he will tell you about this awesome, little known story and the efforts to document the story on film.

In the meantime, a private showing of the finished piece was shown recently to rave reviews.

I first met Clint on the set of The Conspirator (Robert Redford’s new film about Mary Surratt, to be released later this year) where he was a Props Assistant. He took me under his wing and really made me feel welcomed while I was there. I learned about his project then and was fascinated by the story. You will be too. There are many untold stories from the Civil War that need to be brought to light and this is a wonderful example of one.

Here is part of an announcement that was just released by Clint and company.

It is with a great deal of excitement that we can announce “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” is finally completed and ready for its debut!   Last weekend we held a test-screening in Lexington, VA and the reviews were excellent. This story is resonating with people and the anticipation is growing thanks to the Press. This film will now be a permanent, daily show at the Civil War Life Museum in Fredericksburg and we are taking it on the road to round tables and universities.  The premiere will take place in Fredericksburg, VA on July 24. Exact details will be announced later next week. For updates, please visit’s blog.   This event will be hosted by the National Civil War Life Foundation as a prelude to their Richard Kirkland Seminar. All admissions and donations will go towards covering the film’s DVD production costs and festival fees. In addition to the film’s screening, we are hosting a post-show party for all in attendance with music, food and some surprises too.  Please spread the word to all who may have an interest. Thank you again for all of your efforts and support. We look forward to seeing you there!   Clint Ross & Michael Aubrecht.

Congratulations Clint and Michael. I can’t wait to see the film.




AS OF MAY 2012

Here are some May birthdays for Lincoln’s friends and foes. And perhaps a few who lived before, during or just after his time.

Mary Surratt – Lincoln conspirator. Born in May (or June), 1823. Age 189.

julia-tyler Julia  Gardiner Tyler, 2nd wife of President John Tyler and 1st lady of the United States (1844-45). Born May 4, 1820. Age 192.

marx-bio Karl Marx,  Communist philosopher. Born May 5, 1818. Age 194.

julia_ward_howe_2 Julia Ward Howe, writer of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ which was first published 1862. Born May 27, 1819. Age 193.

tchaikovsky Peter Il’yich Tchaikovsky, Russian Composer. Born May 7, 1840. Age 172.

john-brown-1-sized John Brown, abolitionist who led attack on Harper’s Ferry. Hanged in 1859. Born May, 9, 1800. Age 212.

picture-584 John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Abraham Lincoln. He witnessed John Browns hanging in 1859. Born May 10, 1838. Age 174.

250px-florence_nightingale_1920_reproduction Florence Nightingale, Italian nurse. May 12, 1820. Age 192.

picture-569 William Henry Seward, Secretary of State (1861-69). Born May 16, 1801. Age 211.

emerson12_cr Ralph Waldo Emerson, US writer. Born May 25, 1803. Age 209.

billhickok1867-2-500 James Butler ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok, American cowboy and scout. Born May 27, 1837. Age 175.

134-195_amexp-walt_whitman-web Walt Whitman, US Poet. Born May 31, 1819. Age 193.

Happy birthday ladies and gentlemen.

Also, I want to wish my daughter Madeleine a very Happy Birthday. Born May 15, 1992. Age 20. Love you kiddo!



NOTE: If you notice any errors (or mistakes in the age calculations) blame me, laugh, and then feel free to comment with the correct information.

“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.




August 4, 2009: Barry Cauchon.

John Elliott has completed his 2nd of 3 parts on the Washington D.C. Arsenal Penitentiary. This segment covers the period from 1865 to 1869 and discusses the trial, the executions, the aftermath and fate of the penitentiary.

Excellent job John.





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

Part 2: The Trial and Execution Period (1865-1869)   

One of the hoods worn by the Lincoln Conspirators

One of the hoods worn by the Lincoln Conspirators

Secretary of War Stanton

Secretary of War Stanton

Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the failed attempt to cripple the Union government, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton vowed to capture and punish those who carried out the heinous attacks.  It was widely believed that such a strike against the North was a calculated, military tactic by Jefferson Davis and the South to re-ignite the war against the Union.

Stanton initiated the aggressive pursuit of those involved in the conspiracy and ordered the arrest of hundreds of suspects and witnesses.  The investigation quickly led to the apprehension of several people with direct involvement in the plot. Six of these suspects: Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Ned Spangler, Mike O’Laughlen and Sam Arnold were captured and subsequently confined to Union Navy ships while the majority of the general detainees were held in the Old Capitol Prison and Carroll Annex.  Dr. Mudd and Mary Ann Surratt were held in the Old Capitol Prison but were considered prime suspects.


The Old Capitol Prison

The Old Capitol Prison

Union Navy Ship U.S.S. Saugus

Union Navy Ship U.S.S. of the monitor class ships that imprisoned some of the conspirator suspects.

In order to group the criminal defendants in one place and separate them from the rest of the detainees, Major Thomas Eckert suggested to Secretary Stanton that the old Arsenal Penitentiary be re-activated.  Major Eckert was the Telegraph Superintendent of the War Department and a trusted friend of President Lincoln. He was one of the many people who had declined the President’s invitation to attend the play “Our American Cousin” that tragic evening.

Major Thomas T. Eckert

Major Thomas T. Eckert

The Penitentiary had not been in use as a prison for three years.   Surrounded by water on three sides, it was considered to be one of the most secure and heavily guarded places in Washington D.C. 

Distant view of the D.C. Arsenal

Distant view of the Washington D.C. Arsenal

It had plenty of cells to accommodate the prisoners and even had a large enough room (on the 3rd floor of the former Deputy Warden’s quarters) to host the trial.  Security was extremely important because it was thought that the Southern forces may try to break the prisoners free or that northern loyalists may try to exact revenge on the conspirators.

On April 28th, 1865 Secretary Stanton ordered the commanding officer of the Arsenal to prepare the prison building for its new inmates.  Prison cells in the female ward (these cells were twice as large as the men’s cells) were cleared and inspected.  Shuck mattresses were delivered to the cells and nails were taken out of the walls to ensure that the prisoners would not harm themselves or possibly others.

General John F. Hartranft

General John F. Hartranft

Andrew Johnson appointed 34 year old General John F. Hartranft to take command of the Arsenal Penitentiary.  He would serve as the provost marshal and military governor of the prison and would be responsible for the defense of the Arsenal as well as the supervision of every aspect of the prisoners’ daily lives.  He would make sure they were fed and cleaned and that no one would communicate with them unless authorized by written orders of Secretary of War Stanton.

Rules of the Prison

By May 4th, all eight of the suspects would be imprisoned at the Arsenal.  Gen. Hartranft was issued a list of rules to guide his governance. Four of the twenty-eight rules of governance were as follows:

1. The keys of the Military Prison will be kept by the Military Governor who will make a personal inspection of each prisoner at least twice every twenty four hours.

The first inspections began at 7 am and the second would usually occur at 8 pm.

2. A medical officer will be assigned to make a medical inspection daily with the Governor twice in twenty four hours.  The inspection will be made in the presence of the Governor and at the times he makes his inspections.

The two medical examinations may seem excessive until you examine the following rule –

3. No prisoner will be allowed to escape alive or to defeat the ends of justice by self destruction.

Dr. George L. Porter

Dr. George L. Porter

Dr. George L. Porter, the appointed army physician of the Arsenal, accompanied Gen. Hartranft and conducted physical examinations of each prisoner.  He was permitted only to ask or answer medical questions from the inmates.  No other communication was allowed.

Dr. Porter also holds the distinction as being one of the few people who saw John Wilkes Booth buried in the storage room of the Penitentiary on April 27th, 1865.

4. The prisoners are to be supplied with nothing but necessary food and water during their imprisonment unless by special order….and the Military Governor will be responsible for preventing any knives, spoons or other articles from going into the possession of any prisoner, wherewith he may attempt to escape or take his own life or injure his person.

The prisoners’ meals usually consisted of coffee or tea, bread and salted meat.  After finishing their meal, the bowl in which their beverage was served was removed.  No other items would be brought in to the cell.


The Courtroom Layout

Special modifications were made to the building in order to have the trial on the third floor.  The courtroom was located in the northeast corner of the prison.  According to various sources, the courtroom measured 40 feet by 27 feet in size. Michael Kauffman details the courtroom layout and modifications in “Fort McNair and the Lincoln Conspirators”:

A door  was cut through the wall between the courtroom and the women’s cells, where all of the prisoners were kept. This would allow the accused to reach the courtroom without having to pass through the public areas of the building’s lower floors. The courtroom itself was whitewashed and a raised platform with a wooden railing was constructed for the prisoners to sit on while the court was in session. Flat bars were placed over the windows and gas lighting was introduced into the room.

Courtroom Layout in the Arsenal Penitentiary

Courtroom Layout in the Arsenal Penitentiary

A staircase ran along the east wall and led to a doorway in the northeast corner of the room.  The courtroom had  two windows that faced north and two to the east.  The prisoners were kept in the same seating arrangements throughout the trial. Samuel Arnold was the closest defendant to a window and would often be seen staring out into the freedom of the Washington D.C. skies. Two doors on the south side of the wall led to adjacent rooms. The rooms were supplied with beds and chairs for witnesses, members of the legal teams and military commission.

 The platform that was built for the prisoners stretched along the west wall and led to a doorway that opened to the cell block.  Thirteen chairs were placed on the platform to accommodate seven prisoners and the six guards that sat alternately between them.

Courtroom Sketch

Courtroom Sketch

Mary Surratt and her counsel had their own table that was situated near the platform.  This special arrangement may have been due to the fact that she was having health issues and fell ill during the trial.  It was thought that her condition might improve if she was given more room to breathe.

General Hartranft wrote in his journal that “Mrs. Surratt became so ill that it was necessary to remove her from the courtroom”.  At one point, she was permitted to sit in one of the adjoining rooms in order to avoid the sweltering heat and uncomfortable conditions of the crowded trial room.

In the north side of the courtroom stood a large table for the members of the commission, and on the south side was an equally large table for spectators and reporters.  Between them was the witness stand, where the witnesses faced the commission to give their testimony. Smaller tables were provided for counsel and evidence.

image_b_2_7271  3-727

image_a_2_7273  image_b_3_727

Strict security measures were put in to place during the trial.  A different guard would be used to escort the heavily shackled and hooded prisoners to the courtroom each day. In order to preclude the conspirators from talking with each other, they were forced to wear canvas hoods on their way to the courtroom and in their cells — all except for Dr. Mudd and Mary Surratt.  They were never forced to wear hoods.

General Hartranft also saw to it that the inmates were never allowed to occupy adjacent cells. In order to prevent messages from being tapped out to each other through the walls, every other cell was left empty. Additionally, the prison guard detail was changed out on a daily basis to make sure that no single guard would guard the same prisoner more than once.

General Hartranft respectfully and dutifully fulfilled his obligations as Military Governor of the Arsenal.  This was not an assignment that he took with much enthusiasm.  Even his wife tried to talk him out of becoming known as a “hangman”.  Difficult as it was, General Hartranft could take pride that he was selected due to his outstanding achievements and excellent record as an obedient soldier.  Only the best officer could be counted on to take this role.

During the trial period, Gen. Hartranft showed compassion towards the prisoners’ well-being on separate occasions.  In June, he requested of his commanding officer that five of the six inmates who wore the canvas hoods, be allowed to take them off.  The only exception was Lewis Powell.  The hood didn’t seem to bother him as much as the others.

From Gen. Hartranft’s journal:

“The prisoners are suffering very much from their padded hoods, and I would respectfully request that they be removed from all the prisoners except 195 (Powell). This prisoner does not suffer as much as the others and there may be some necessity for his wearing it, but I do not think there is for any others.”

During that same month of June, Gen. Hartranft requested and was approved to remove the ball and chain attached to the limbs of prisoners Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt.  Powell had been observed by a Sentinel on duty, trying to place a weighted ball against his head in attempt to do damage to himself.

Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock

Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock

General Hartranft also saw to it that other requests were granted to the prisoners.  He made sure that they received chewing tobacco, writing paper and ink, clothing (including underclothing) and various food items.  All of these requests were granted at the permission of his commanding officer General Winfield Scott Hancock.

On July 7th, 1865, General Hartranft completed his duties by seeing to it that the Orders of Execution of four of the prisoners were carried out.  The four remaining prisoners (Mudd, Arnold, Spangler and O’Laughlen) would later be transferred to the Island of Dry Tortugas to serve their sentences. The bodies of the hanged conspirators were placed in pine boxes and buried in shallow graves next to the gallows.  In November of that same year, the body of Henry Wirz (tried by a military commission and executed at the Old Capitol Prison grounds) would join them. They would remain buried there for the next two years.

In September of 1867, John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators would be reunited. Secretary of War Stanton ordered that the Arsenal Penitentiary be demolished except for the eastern and western ends of the building.  The ends of the building were to be spared and converted to Officer’s quarters.  As a result of the new construction work, all of the conspirators’ bodies would be exhumed and moved to another building on the Arsenal grounds known as Warehouse 1.  A trench that measured eight by eighteen feet and six feet deep was dug for the bodies.  The bodies were examined and then placed in the trench in the following order (east to west): Booth, Surratt, Powell, Herold, Atzerodt and Wirz.

In February of 1869, Andrew Johnson ordered that the bodies be released to their families.  This final act closed the chapter on the Arsenal Penitentiary’s role in President Lincoln’s Assassination.

End of Part 2 of 3



Surratt Society: Laurie Verge and Joan Chaconas

Michael Kauffman: FortLesley McNair and the Lincoln Conspirators

Michael Kauffman: American Brutus

David K. Sullivan: Behind Prison Walls: The Operation of the District Penitentiary, 1831-1862

Phyllis I. McClellan: Silent Sentinel on the Potomac

Edward Steers Jr., and Harold Holzer: The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators – The Confinement and Execution, As Recorded In The Letterbook of John Frederick Hartranft





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


“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.


“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.

“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.”


“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.


“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.”


“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.


“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.”


“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.


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.



“An Awesometalk With” Andrew Jampoler, author of “The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight from the Gallows”

April 24, 2009: Barry Cauchon

Author Andrew Jampoler

Author Andrew Jampoler

Andrew C. A. Jampoler is a retired US Navy Captain who, amongst his many achievements, served in Vietnam, worked at the Pentagon, commanded a land-based maritime patrol aircraft squadron and a naval air station. He also flew Lockheed P-3 airplanes in search of Soviet submarines during the 1970s and 80s. After retiring from the Navy, he worked in the international aerospace industry and then moved on to become a full-time writer.

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Andy, the author of three books: The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight from the Gallows (2008); Sailors in the Holy Land: The 1848 American Expedition to the Dead Sea and the Search for Sodom and Gomorrah (2005) and the award-winning Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586 (2003). The latter was voted “Book of the Year” by the US Naval Institute Press in 2003.

Andy is a true storyteller, walking me through each of his three books as well as his current project Horrible Shipwreck (working title) which tells the tale of the wreck of the female convict ship Amphitrite in 1833.

He is a fascinating man with fascinating stories to share. I am very happy to bring you my interview with Andy Jampoler and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


B. It’s nice to speak with you Andy. I wanted to tell you that I’ve enjoyed our emails back and forth this week. Please let me welcome you to A Little Touch of History.

A. Hello Barry. It’s good to be here.
I was really dazzled by your site. It fascinated me. If you get a chance to read “The Last Lincoln Conspirator” you’ll see that one of the Gardner photographs is one of the illustrations in the book. Because they are such high quality, I zoomed in on the gallows. And I remember when I saw those at the Library of Congress I was just horrified by them. So when I saw your study it fascinated me. You’ve gone very far with those extraordinary photographs and I was very interested in what you’ve done.

B. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. It was a labor of love. I was very curious. After you’ve looked at the same photographs for hundreds of times, you want to look beyond the main images. And it was very interesting what I started to find within those pictures. I’m still studying the Rooftop View which I find to be the most intriguing of all the photographs because it has so much to see, especially beyond the prison rooftop overlooking the Washington DC cityscape of 1865.
You can clearly see the incomplete Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Institute. So now I’ve started to get my bearings because I’ve just discovered the US Treasury Building and, if I’m seeing it right, I think I can identify the White House as well. It’s been a lot of fun going through this process.

A. Well if that’s true you will have seen half of the principal buildings in the city of Washington. There weren’t that many and you’ve just mentioned about half of them.

B. The Library of Congress and the National Archives are terrific repositories for photographs, maps, documents and the like. Do you use both of those resources when writing your books?

A. I do…and I draw on them very heavily and they are enormously cooperative. The people at the National Archives are very welcoming and the material they have is extraordinary. If you have to use microfilm that is a little hard on the eyes frankly!

B. (laughing)

A. But they are very helpful. Their resources are stunning. And they, and the Library of Congress, compete to be cooperative. I’ve marveled at how helpful they are systematically.

All they get in exchange for their wonderful help is honorable mention in the front of the book. And what I’ve done in the last two books is… they have a speakers program at both places. In exchange for their cooperation I’ve participated in giving talks at both the National Archives and Library of Congress in compensation for their assistance. It gives me the opportunity to tell people how grateful I am for their help. I think both are great national treasures and it surprises me how helpful they can be.

B. You’ve written three books to date and are currently working on your fourth one right now. How is that going?

A. I’m approaching half way. It’s due at the publisher next summer which is to say, something like 15 months. I’ll be on time. Things are pretty much on schedule. I have a trip this summer to do some research that I cannot do here.

B. What is the subject of this book?

A. The working title is Horrible Shipwreck and it’s the story of a female convict ship in 1833. For the moment, it’s my consuming passion.

In late August, 1833 the convict transport Amphitrite sailed from Woolwich just east of London heading for New South Wales, heading for the convict colony in Australia. I begin the story by explaining the story to American readers the reason there was a convict colony in Australia. It goes back to the American Revolution. Until the Revolution convicted felons from Britain were shipped to the American colonies. As children, we learned that the colonies were full of what were called indentured servants. In fact for the most part these people were felons who were sent to the United States, pardoned as part of the process, but then sold into indentured service by the ship masters who had delivered them here. So it was an ideal solution for the British justice system. They got rid of their felons at no expense. They had no requirement to build a prison system which was something they weren’t interested in doing. There was no requirement even to pay for transportation. Well, when the Revolutionary War started, that outlet closed up. And suddenly Great Britain had no place to send their convicted criminals. And these people were convicted of all sorts of things. Small things, large things…mostly theft and robbery. But there was a desperate moment there in the late 1770’s when people tried to figure out “Well, what are we going to do with this tide of felons that are going to wash over society and overwhelm us if we can’t get rid of them anymore?” There was a great hunt started for a suitable convict colony. A number of efforts were made to find such places, for instance the West African coast and elsewhere. Quite rightly, and quickly, they concluded that that would be nothing but a death sentence. There was no place in West Africa where these people would survive.

B. Okay.

A. Then somebody remembered Cook’s expedition to Australia. And very quickly, without any further research, the decision was made in 1778 to launch the first fleet carrying about 1100 male and female convicts to start a new prison colony in Australia, in New South Wales at the time.

B. Andy, I’ve heard the stories of the criminal beginnings in Australia. At the time that this convict fleet sailed was Australia already colonized?

A. No. This is how it began. The program continued for many decades. Ultimately some 160,000 convicts from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales were shipped to Australia of which 20% to 25% were women. All along there was the intention that this would become a self-sustaining colony. Once again, Great Britain didn’t want to pay for this. In the case of Australia they had to pay for transportation. They had substantial upfront costs because there was no settled community into which these convicts could be integrated. So it began that way.

B. I see.

A. Well by 1833 they had been sending convicts to Australia for nearly 50 years and there had been no shipwreck. Not until the Amphitrite sails has any vessel been lost, although there have been a number of deaths from disease and other causes. There has been no vessel lost and no substantial loss of life other than some horrific fatalities aboard the second fleet due to maltreatment and things of that sort.

But Amphitrite sails from Woolrich and less than a week later she’s caught in a terrific channel storm along with hundreds of other vessels and is run aground outside the city of Boulogne-sur-Mer, the French channel coast. And in the course of roughly the next ten hours the ship is caught on the sands, she’s run aground deliberately but she’s caught on the sands and beaten to pieces by the storm surge, in plain sight of the city. Several efforts are made to alert the crew to what’s going to happen to them if they stay there and don’t leave the ship. Depending on what source you believe for a variety of reasons, the captain, the crew and his convicts are not permitted to leave and all but three die, all but three drown Saturday night, August 31, 1833. And when Sunday comes, the good citizens of Boulogne, about 6,000 of who are British expatriates, discover to their horror that bodies are washing up on the beach in dozens.

My book is the story of the ship, the shipwreck, the public outcry after the investigation the admiralty conducts, and what happened and why. And of course the fact that it’s women and children who were the largest numbers among the dead I think just kind of makes it more poignant and frankly a more marketable story for an American audience.

B. Absolutely. When you first mentioned it to me, I felt it was a story that will be quite appealing.

A. The early vessels that went to the convict colonies had both men and women aboard. That very quickly turned out to be impossible and unworkable. And consequently early on what happens is that all-female transports become the model. There is some financial advantage. They don’t have to put guards on them. The male transports are carrying security detachments because everybody’s afraid of mutiny. The female transports, the people conclude quite rightly, that there isn’t the threat of the ship being taken over by these women, so they are able to put more convicts aboard any given size vessel. So that continues until 1833 when the first of them, Amphitrite goes down in this horrific, highly public accident. All of this happens in clear sight of the beach front of the city of Boulogne right in front of the principal hotel in the city, which happens to be owned by a Brit.

Anyway, that story is due to the publisher next summer and I think it’s an interesting one.

B. Were there good resources available to you considering it was such a public tragedy?

A. The resources are quite good in some areas and I’m still exploring other areas. All the legal documents that resulted in the convictions of these women at trial are very complete. The court system in England, Ireland and Scotland ran much as it does today, on paper. And all of those papers are available so it’s possible to understand in great detail what these individual women were accused off, what they were convicted of, what they were sentenced to, and where and when. So the records there are quite good. The records about the ship are quite good too. There are several principal characters. The captain of the ship, there are some good records about him. I found his will for example which tells me about his family and his property and one thing or another. The surgeon superintendant aboard, the man who is actually in charge of the convicts, he is turning out to be the most difficult to research. And it’s one reason why I’m going to go to Edinburgh because he was a Scot and I think I’m going to have to press harder on some things there. I have an acquaintance in Scotland doing some research for me but I need more on a Dr. James Forrester and his wife. She was accused of being the reason why no boat was launched from the ship to take people ashore, because it is alleged that she refused to ride with common prostitutes in a boat.

The admiralty investigation was conducted by a Navy Captain named Henry Chads, about whom the documentation is very complete. His investigation is very well documented. And there was a woman on the beach, a Brit, Sarah Taylor Austin who played a very important role in the efforts to save the lives of these people. She’s an enormously colorful figure married to a well known failed British lawyer living in France at the time. And the biographical data on her is both fascinating and very good. And there were two Frenchmen who tried very hard to alert the crew to what was happening and to make sure they understood their danger. But the biographical information on them is adequate.

The newspaper coverage in English language papers and French language papers is very good. And especially the coverage stimulated by a British reporter named John Wilks Jr. who is the guy who essentially stirred up the public excitement by his reporting in the Times of London and in the London Standard. He’s an enormously colorful character. He was living in France because he had been ridden out of England as a result of a whole bunch of stock frauds that he traded.

B. (laughing).

A. And all that is very well documented too. So the answer is…the source material is certainly available to do a good job. And it’s my job to take that source material and do the best job that it’s possible to do.

B. I may have missed it but did the accident occur at night?

A. It occurred in late afternoon. During the course of the afternoon the captain found himself….in aviation you say, kind of “out of altitude and ideas and air speed all at the same time”. He had the same problem. He’s being driven on the French coast by a wind out of the northeast. His ship will not go into the wind such that he cannot get away from shore. So he makes the deliberate decision about mid-afternoon to drive her up onto a sandbar to anchor there. He then assumes that the tide will come in, the storm will abate, it will lift him up and he will be able to continue his voyage. What he doesn’t understand, and what the French fisherman at the port do understand, is that as the tide comes in, it will bring with it all the sand that washes around. And that he will be fixed on that bar as the water rises around him. And that the narrow channel that he’s in, he’s in the Pas de Calais, the Dover Strait, that focuses the wind, it focuses the waves and that essentially once he is on that bar his ship will be beaten apart as the tide comes in. They try to alert him to this. For whatever reason he discounts it and it’s exactly what happens. Over the course of the evening, let’s say between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am, Amphitrite is beaten apart and that is when the bodies start washing in.

B. So the captain initially beached his ship!

A. Yes. Exactly! He deliberately took her ashore and that’s not unheard of in those days.

B. So with was his knowledge base at the time, it was the thing to do?

A. Yeah, well he didn’t have any alternatives. He was being pushed ashore and the question was, was he going to manage it or was he just going to be driven sideways somewhere and broach and rollover and that would be the end of it.

B. I see. But the locals who knew the area knew that that was not the place to do it.

A. Two of them, one in a boat and one, incredibly, swimming, went out to his ship to tell him exactly what was happening. And depending on whose story you believe he rejected the advice, or ignored it or had such confidence in what he was doing that he just figured that he would ride it out.

B. How incredible…

A. In fact what they told him is exactly what happened. The next morning his ship was in 10 or 12 great big pieces washed up on the beach. As I recall sixty-three bodies were found, his was not among them. They never found his body.

B. Did anyone survive?

A. Three of the crew members were the only survivors. The bosun and a couple of the youngsters on the crew were the only survivors. Everybody else, 133 drowned in the storm.

B. Were the women chained or in cells?

A. No, they were not restrained. Originally, as the scenario unfolded, they were put below in the prison space in the hold. But during the course of the storm, either the deck split, the poop broke up or the hatches burst because at the end, the women were out on the deck and washed over the side and drowned.

B. This is going to be a great book. It’s a story that, as I hear you tell it to me, I’m quite fascinated by. I know you said you have a deadline next year but what is the release date?

A. Well, it’s the same publisher and they typically take between ten and twelve months to go from when you deliver the manuscript to when the bound book comes out of the printer. And they really move pretty fast. That’s good time for the process that the manuscript goes through. My guess is that it will be in spring 2011; maybe late spring 2011; early summer…something like that. It often depends on the publisher. They publish about 70 to 80 books a year. It kind of depends on where in their schedule they’re going to put it.

B. That is one book I really look forward to reading Andy. Let’s move on to your most recent release, your third book which came out just last October 2008.



A. That’s the one we met over, so to speak, and is called “The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight from the Gallows”. When I was researching my second book Sailors in the Holy Land” I read in the biography of the American consul in Malta that in 1866 he attempted to arrest one of Lincoln’s conspirators passing through Valletta.

B. Really! (laughing).

A. And I said to myself “Now that’s crazy. How could that possibly happen?”
And I put that idea aside until I finished “Sailors in the Holy Land’. Then I came back to it to try to find out who was this Lincoln conspirator passing through Valletta in 1866. And it turns out it was true. It was young John Surratt, son of Mary Surratt, the woman who you know better than most, who was hanged for her part in the conspiracy. John’s story is the story of the last Lincoln conspirator. The title focuses on the fact that he was the last to be arrested, the last to be tried and last, by many decades, to die. He lived until 1916. He died in the arms of his family, his wife Mary Victorine Hunter, the second cousin to Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote the words to the American national anthem, and his children.
So it’s the story of Surratt’s flight through Canada, through England, across France to Italy where he joined the Papal Zouaves, the army of Pope Pius IX where he hid out for eleven months. He was discovered there and arrested. He escaped arrest, that’s the story anyway. The reality is he was freed by his jailors. Fled overland to Naples and got on a ship. Passed through Malta and here’s where William Winthrop tried to arrest him and got all the way to Alexandria, Egypt before he was caught.
In Alexandria, he was caught, jailed and a navy vessel was sent to pick him up. On November 26, 1866 United States Ship Swatara sails for Washington with Surratt in chains in the corner of the Captain’s cabin. He will spend six weeks chained while being brought back for trial. The book takes him through his trial, through the subsequent legal proceedings in ‘67 and ‘68. He is quite astonishingly freed in 1868 and after unsuccessful careers successively as a teacher and public speaker; he ends up being an auditor for a steam ship line in Baltimore called the Old Bay Line operating steam vessels from Baltimore to Richmond and Baltimore to Norfolk. He will spend more than 50 years as the auditor for that company dying just a few years before WWI begins.

It’s another one of these odd things that not many people know about and when they hear about it they tend to be disbelieving…the idea that he did all these things all by himself in his 20s. He spent a year in the Pope’s army. He was arrested in Egypt of all places.

B. Andy, Who actually arrested John Surratt? During those days, I’m not quite sure what the protocol was and whether or not they issued an international warrant for him.

A. Well, it’s better than that. Surratt as he traveled through Canada and Britain and Malta was under the protection of British law. And it was very unlikely that he would have been arrested and extradited by the Brits. But when he arrived in Egypt he no longer had that protection. Egypt was a part of the Ottoman Empire. And the Ottoman Empire and the United States, several decades before, signed a treaty that provided that American citizens in the Ottoman Empire were subject to American law as executed by American diplomatic officials in the country. So when he stepped off the ship in Alexandria, he was met by the American Consul in Alexandria, Charles Hale, who simply arrested him. Hale asked that the Egyptians jail him until he could be extradited; he could be shipped back to Washington. He put him in an Egyptian jail for three weeks which must have been a real experience in 1866. And then when Swatara showed up the day after Christmas ’66 they loaded him on board and shipped him out. So he had unwittingly exposed himself to American law.

B. Now I have read one of Surratt’s published speeches from when he was doing his public speaking tour discussing his version of the events that transpired around the time of the Lincoln kidnapping plot and subsequent assassination. He must have been a good speaker because he comes off as being very ‘believable’ regarding what he told his audience about his involvement, which he claimed was fairly minimal. And yet what I find interesting is that historians generally believe that John Surratt was John Wilkes Booth right-hand man. What are your thoughts on this?

A. Well this is a complicated question. The prosecution at his trial tried to make the case that he was in Washington on Easter weekend, 1865 and participated directly in the assassination of the President. Surratt’s defense was the he was in Elmira, New York that weekend casing the Union prison holding Confederate prisoners of war in preparation for a possible prison break. And during the course of the trial, there were witnesses swearing to both sides of that. But the jury who heard that voted 8 to 4 to acquit him. The prosecution did a very bad job presenting their case. The defense did a good job presenting their case. And the New York Times finally concluded that regardless of where the members of the jury came from, and there were seven Southerners and five from the North on the jury, regardless of where you came from you could not have concluded that the prosecution had made a persuasive case. And in fact they didn’t. I personally, for what that’s worth, don’t think Surratt was in Washington. He clearly was Booth’s right hand man. He was his chief recruiter. But he was not in Washington, not in Maryland after the last day of March. I think that Booth’s decision making coalesced, came together, during the first two weeks of April. Remember they had that failed kidnapping plot in the middle of March.

B. Yes.

A. At the end of March Surratt goes to Richmond as a courier and he will spend all of April on a courier mission. And he will not be in Washington when the assassination of the President happens, when the assault on the Secretary of State happens, when the bungled plot to kill the Vice President happens and when the planned attempt on General Grant’s life never transpires because Grant takes a train out of town that day. And he’s nowhere to be seen.

I think in that fact Surratt was deeply involved with Booth’s plotting with respect to the kidnapping. I think the case has never been proven that he was aware of Booth’s assassination intentions. And I think it is more probable than not, that he was, in fact, in Elmira, NY when the assassination happened. I would even go farther than that. I would probably say that he was in fact there. I found that witnesses that identified him as being there very persuasive and at least half the prosecution witnesses that said he was in Washington were clearly lying for whatever reason.

B. Was there a reason why the prosecution decided to take that approach?

A. Poor judgment!

B. I guess (laughing)!

A. I think the prosecutor Carrington, the District Attorney, was just not a very smart man. He had the assistance of three other attorneys. The principal one was as civilian, Edwards Pierrepont, a New York attorney. And I think Pierrepont was a grandstanding, publicity hungry, a status conscious sort of guy who did just a very bad job putting the case together. Despite that fact, the judge George Fischer clearly believed in Surratt’s guilt and conducted the trial in such a way to make the prosecution’s case easier to present. He was so biased that even the newspapers were commenting on it. His charge to the jury for instance, at the end of that first trial, was outrageous.




Prosecutor Edwards Pierrepont

Prosecutor Edwards Pierrepont

B. I guess that’s a good point. Were there not two trials of John Surratt?

A. No. There was one trial. The subsequent legal proceeding never went to trial. There were three indictments altogether. The first one went to trial. The second one the grand jury signed and sent forward. The third one the grand jury refused to sign. But there were a year’s worth of legal proceedings that did not rise to the level of a trial under a new judge, Andrew Wiley. And it was the last of those proceedings at which Wiley dismissed the proceeding and set Surratt free.
And that’s the story of the last Lincoln conspirator. Kind of a neat story, I guess as much as anything, because people have never focused on young John Surratt and his epic escape. There’s a mid-western newspaper at the time that said “Compared to Surratt’s escape, John Wilkes Booth’s twelve days was just a highway man’s ride”!

B. (laughing)

A. Well, I mean that’s silly because Booth was just the giant figure of all this. But in fact, he was only on the road for twelve days and Surratt almost for two years (chuckling).

B. What was your second book about Andy?

A. The second book was called “Sailors in the Holy Land”. And it is the true story of the American Expedition to the Dead Sea in 1848. Another one of these odd bits of history when you say to yourself “Well why would the US Navy have any interest at all in the Dead Sea in the middle of the 19th century”?


B. It is a question mark (chuckling).

A. When I first heard about it I didn’t believe that. So drawing on my navy experience I said “Of all the salt water on the earth that is the least likely place for the US Navy to operate” but I was wrong! In fact, the spring and early summer of 1848 there were sailors in uniform under the American flag, under arms exploring the River Jordan and the Dead Sea and quite unexpectedly all but one of them returned alive. It was a great success. It ended up answering some interesting scientific questions about the peculiar body of water. Everybody knew there were some odd things about the Dead Sea they just weren’t quite sure why and it was all caught up in Old Testament and religious imagery and everything else. But that book came out of a lot of reading I did and when I came across Mark Kurlanski’s book called ‘Salt’ a paragraph that said something about the navy’s expedition in the Dead Sea. I said to myself “Well, when I get time I’m going to look into that ‘because I don’t believe it”.

B. It’s funny how just one word, or phrase, will trigger you to start looking into something.

A. That’s not the story of the first book. “Adak”, the story of the ditching Alfa Foxtrot 586” off the Siberian coast in 1978, that’s a story I kind of grew up with. None of us who flew that airplane believed that you could survive putting it down in open water under the conditions that Jerry Grigsby did and live through it.

B. I guess we should give a quick summary of what your history was which related to this flight. You were a flyer in the US Navy?

A. I was. I got in the Navy right out of school in 1962. I started flight training immediately. Got my wings the day President Kennedy was assassinated in ’63. On that same day, he was in Dallas shot by Oswald, I was at Corpus Christi listening to all that on the radio at the Navy Exchange at Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas.

B. No kidding. Wow. You heard that live!

A. Oh yeah.I went to my first squadron. It was a P-3 squadron of Lockheed Turbo Props that the Navy used and was just buying. They were brand new airplanes for ocean surveillance, maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare. I flew that airplane in three squadrons, on the East coast, the West coast and most places where there is salt water. There are places in the South Pacific and South Atlantic I didn’t get because the Soviets didn’t send their submarines there.

Lockheed P-3 "Orian"

Lockheed P-3 often called the Orion

B. Was there a reason it had to be salt water?

A. Well we were looking for submarines.

B. Oh I see.

A. Anywhere there was salt water that the Soviet Navy operated submarines in, the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. All those places we spent a fair amount of time working over making sure we knew where they were and what they were up to.

B. That was a pretty volatile time right around then too!

A. Well, it was an exciting time. The Soviets were building what was demonstrably the world’s biggest submarine fleet. Certainly the most threatening aspect of their naval force was that fleet. And we were working very hard, along with the Royal Navy and other friends and allies, to understand what they were doing, where they were doing it and how well they were doing what they tried to do.

I was fortunate that the ‘70s and ‘80s, we were very, very good at what we did. It was the golden age of air anti-sub warfare and I had a lot of fun with it. My last squadron was one which I commanded from California in Moffett Field in ’76 to ’78 and then returned to Moffett Field to command the air station in the early 1980s. In ’86 I retired. I tell people that I spent the next 15 years learning to be a capitalist. And it’s true. In the naval service you’re not dealing with making the payroll or selling the product or any of that. So for the next something years I did. And that worked out well enough that about ten years ago it became possible for me to write full time.

B. I understand that you worked in the Pentagon as well. When did that occur?

A. I worked in the Pentagon a number of times. It got to the point that I was going back and forth from the squadron to the Pentagon. At first I was on the staff of Chief of Naval Operations, both on his staff and personal staff. I next ended up on the staff of the Secretary of Defense, on his personal staff. And the last job was, again on the Navy staff in the Plans, Policy and Operations Office of the Navy Staff in the mid ‘80s. I may be one of the few people who enjoyed every assignment I had in the Pentagon. It’s traditional that people complain about it. I found it enormously interesting. I thought that the people I worked with were smart, dedicated and trying to do a good job and I thought it was a useful thing to do.

B. I want to get back to your first book, but mentioning the Pentagon, 9/11 comes to mind and I want to know what your feelings are on that and if you knew some folks in there.

A. No, that was far enough away from me. I’d worked in those offices. I knew the geography. I have a pretty good idea what it would have been like inside of that building at the time. By the time that happened, the people who were inside were a generation behind me. My sympathy, my horror and my unhappiness was generic rather than specific.

B. What years were you in the Pentagon?

A. The first Pentagon assignment was ’70 to about ’74 doing different jobs. I was back there during most of the Carter administration through the late ‘70s, early 80’s working for Secretary Brown. I was back there again ’85 and ’86 on the Navy Staff. Altogether about nine years or so! Seems like a long time in one building. But there were four different jobs, very different people and all of them I thought were worth doing.
Beyond that, I spent a year in Vietnam and a bunch of time flying airplanes. I did some time at school and some graduate work for a couple of years.

B. Were you in Washington in ’83 or had you already gone to California at that time?

A. No, I think I was already in California. I was at Moffett Field then for Moffett Field’s 50th Anniversary. The air station was built as a WPA project during the depression and its 50th anniversary we celebrated in ’83 with a spectacular 3-day weekend and air show and carried on vitally. So I remember that date pretty clearly. I still have two bottles of wine in the house with labels from Mirasou Vineyards celebrating Moffett Fields 50th anniversary. My guess is that stuff would just taste awful.

B. There’s probably some serious vinegar in there (laughing).

A. I think it could peel paint (laughing).

B. (laughing)

A. But the bottles are beautiful and it’s a nice memory.

B. That’s terrific. What was the plane that you flew that related to the Adak story?



A. It was the same airplane, the Lockheed P-3. It’s really called the Orion. It was a four engine, land based turboprop, 127,000 lbs when we started and ended up being about 132,000 pound airplane with four turboprop engines altogether about 17,000 horsepower. Just a great airplane! Full of expensive equipment and normally carrying a crew of between ten and twelve.

B. Now you had mentioned before that this plane was not meant to float.

A. Yeah, think for a moment. This is not a seaplane. This was originally an airliner. It’s designed for pressurized cruising at altitude. It doesn’t have a keel; it doesn’t have any of the kinds of things that make a seaplane into a seaplane. And it’s what makes the landing of the US Air aircraft in the Hudson River so stunning. The idea that he could that and survive it and get everybody out…I mean that’s an authentic miracle.

B. I understand. Wow.

A. For the same reason when Lieutenant Commander Jerry Grigsby in end of October, ’78 put his airplane down into the open Pacific in thirty foot seas, the idea that it would hold together at all, long enough for people to get out of it, is just amazing. It took extraordinary skill and frankly a fair amount of good luck too.

B. How long was that plane in the water?

A. It sank in about two minutes. The survivors’ stories vary between two to four minutes. Your sense of time is really skewed under those kinds of stresses. But they hit the water, broke up just behind the cockpit and just in front of the tail and sank very quickly. Before it went down, 14 of the 15 men aboard had time to get out. And 13 out of those 14 managed to get into a raft. Tragically, the pilot Jerry Grigsby did not. He got into the water, he was swimming towards the raft but he was never able to catch it. Under the wind and the waves at the time there was nothing the guys in the raft could do. And Jerry drifted off to sea and he was lost at sea.

B. This was a storm that took the plane down?

A. That part of the North Pacific around the Aleutians has some of the nastiest flying weather or for that matter steaming weather in the world. It’s very very tough because that very cold dry air comes off of Siberia and hits the relatively warm moist air of the Bering Sea and it just spins up storms that are just ferocious. Those storms come tracking down through the Gulf of Alaska and tear up the North Pacific and Jerry had the misfortune of being operating right on edge of that such that when he went to put Alfa Foxtrot 586 down in the water he was facing 25-30 foot seas.

B. Now he put it down for what reasons?

A. He had a problem with the No. 1 propeller. It translated itself into four separate engine fires. The first two engine fires he could put out. The aircraft has fire extinguisher systems that will put out two fires on any one side. The third fire blew out. When the fourth one flared up, he realized that he was out of options, a little bit like the captain of Amphitrite. He’d run out of options and had to do something decisive and what Jerry did was, before the wing burned off and killed them all, he put the plane into the water. And everything flowed from there.

B. Did this happen right when the storm hit?

A. No. There had been a storm out there the whole time. They were going out from Adak for a flight that was scheduled to be 9 hours. That weather was there and stayed in the Aleutians for the next couple of days. As a matter a fact while the search and rescue flights were being flown looking for them the weather moved down the Aleutian chain, from west to east, and progressively closed the Air Force base and the Navy bases and things like that, tremendously complicating the conduct of the search and rescue missions.

B. Although Jerry Grigsby didn’t make it, how many men were in the life raft at this point?

A. There are now thirteen in the raft at about two or three o’clock Thursday afternoon. Thirteen of them have made it into two rafts. There are nine guys in a seven-man raft and four men in a twelve-man raft.

B. Are they lashed together?

A. The rafts blow apart. After just a few minutes they blow a couple of miles apart and they don’t see each other. Over the course of the next twelve hours three of the young men in the nine-man raft die of exposure. And it’s pretty clear that the rest of them had just a few hours to live. Meanwhile, there is a frantic effort to rescue them. And that effort includes an appeal from Washington to Moscow for assistance because there are no American flag vessels or US Navy ships in the North Pacific around them. It turns out there is a Soviet fishing trawler, the Mys SInyavin. Mys SInyavin is directed by the Soviet Fisheries Ministry to turn around and sail to the wreck site. And she is led to the rafts by a US Coast Guard airplane that has been flying on top of the rafts.

B. Oh, so they know where they are?

A. They know exactly where they were. They just can’t get them out of the water. And the water is going to kill them. The nearest Coast Guard cutter is 2-1/2 days away. It’s a Coast Guard cutter, also out of Adak, Alaska, Hamilton class cutter, and she’s not going to get there until Saturday morning. This is now Thursday night. So the Mys SInyavin turns around, heads back to the wreck site and manages in the middle of the night to collect the ten living men, who are hours from death at most, and the three bodies. They will spend a week in the Soviet Union in two hospitals, one in Kamchatka, the Kamchatka Peninsula and one on the Soviet mainland. And then quite remarkably and quite surprisingly they are released. And they are home Saturday, nine days after they hit the water with the three bodies of the young crewmembers who died. So the story is about a ten day story. What makes it exciting is that the sources on that were very very good. I have in fact, among other things, the tape recordings of the emergency radio transmissions between the aircraft and the ground in 1978. And when you listen to them it is breathtaking. One of the young crewmembers, the tactical coordinator, is talking to Elmendorf radio and at 200 feet above the water, he is telling Elmendorf that, okay, they are going in. They’ve stretched this out as long as they can. He’s sitting at a window. His station has a window. He’s sitting above the water, looking at these horrific waves, the horrific wind, telling them that they have 15 of them aboard, that they’ve got life rafts, that they’re all wearing survival suits. And his voice is so calm and so collected that he sounds like a sports announcer watching a ballgame. You would think that there would be something in his voice that would tell you he thinks he was going die because he had every reason to believe he was. And it’s not. The kid’s just out of college. It’s just an extraordinary demonstration of professionalism and coolness that, every time I hear that transmission, and I’ve probably heard it 150 times, I marvel at it.

B. I assume that when you do a book tour you play that tape during your talk. It must be breathtaking for folks who hear that.

A. I play that tape and play a number of sections from it. I begin with that because it’s just so arresting to hear that. And then I explain to people “Okay, this is what you heard. Now let’s listen to it again”. And as I say, every time I go through that I get a lump in my throat. Matt Gibbons is the guy whose voice that is. Matt lives on Half Moon Bay in California now. He works for a technology company called Novellus. You look at Matt today, he looks like…do you know the American cartoon character Elmer Fudd?

B. Yes (laughing).

A. Okay. Matt looks a little like Elmer Fudd. And what you don’t realize looking at Matt is here’s a guy of exquisite courage. I mean just extraordinary courage. And it’s all wrapped up in this quite ordinary body. Interestingly enough, I mentioned to you that Jerry Grigsby died. He was never able to swim to a raft. Two years later, Matt married Jerry’s widow. They live today, happily, more than thirty years later, in California where this is still a big part of their lives, this whole memory.

B. Have you met most or all of the survivors?

A. All of them. With one exception they all cooperated very generously while I was writing the book. One of them was in my squadron for a brief period of time. The navigator was in my squadron before he went to this squadron. And the guy who wrote the Navy investigation for this I knew. The commanding officer of the squadron was a contemporary of mine so I knew him too. So it was a story in the family and it was possible to tell it especially persuasively, especially convincingly because I had flown the airplane most of my life. I’d operated out of that part of Alaska. I had flown off the Soviet coast where they were flying. And I kind of understood a lot of what was going on there although I won’t pretend to you that I have any experienced anything remotely like what they went through which is just an extraordinary event.

B. That’s pretty amazing.

A. It’s a neat story.

B. And you’ve picked four rather amazing stories. I can’t wait to see what’s up your sleeve next, Andy.

A. I haven’t even begun to think about it. I’m deep in Amphitrite and her women. What I try to do is to always be working on a book and in the intervals around the edges of that, I generally write a periodical article each year. There has been one published in Naval History Magazine every year for the last, I don’t know how long. And they’re generally 5000-6000 word features on exciting adventures. The American expedition up the Congo [B. Note: This article was voted Feature of the Year by Naval History magazine in 2006]. The American expedition down the Amazon. Henry Eckford, an American ship designer in the 1830s, who ended up quite improbably running the shipyard for the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul. They’re stories that are odd and they’re interesting and it gives me a chance to take a midway break from working on the book to dip into something else for a couple of weeks and then refresh and revitalize until I get back into it.

B. When you retired from the Navy, what rank were you at?

A. I was a Captain.

B. And you also spent some time in Vietnam?

A. I spent a year in Vietnam on the MACV staff at Ton Son Nhut. My graduate degree was in Southeast Asian Politics. I’m a graduate of the School of International Affairs, because I expected to go to Vietnam, I concentrated on Southeast Asia.

So when I finished the degree program, as expected I ended up going to Vietnam and I spent a year in Psychological Operations. It was our mission to persuade the members of the North Vietnamese Army in the Republic of Vietnam to surrender and to persuade the members of the Viet Cong to rally to the government. And you can tell by the way the war came out how successful I was in that. Which is to say, not at all!

B. (laughing)

A. And I spent many years reflecting on that failure. And I finally concluded that you can’t get people to quit if they think they’re winning. And there is no reason why they thought that they weren’t winning, because they were. It was clear to them, and consequently all our persuasion, all our dropping of leaflets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, all our propaganda broadcasts, one thing and another we were doing. We were just going through the motions. We were having no effect whatsoever.

B. At the time, did you know that?

A. At the time, I suspected it but I didn’t know it, and I wasn’t going to quit trying. As you can tell, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. And it was very ill conceived, the effort we made. And we used to drop 12 or 13 million propaganda leaflets at a time. There must be parts of Laos today that you can still walk hip deep through propaganda leaflets assuming that they haven’t disintegrated into paper mache. And that effort was just silliness.

B. But at the time, it seemed to make sense (laughing)!

A. Well (laughing) Lord knows we were trying! One of the things we tried to do is we decided that people were not picking up leaflets because they’d get in trouble if they did.

B. Oh, okay.

A. So people said, “What would they pick up. They’d pick up money, wouldn’t they”? So there was a program where one side of the leaflet was printed with money. Printed as if it were a piaster or a North Vietnamese dong or something. So then we realized “Hey, that’s really dangerous”! You start that stuff then you encourage people to counterfeit your money and now all kinds of stuff unravel. So, we went from that to the idea of “Why don’t we print propaganda on tobacco leaves!”, because all these guys will pick up tobacco to make cigarettes to smoke. But you start trying to feed tobacco leaves through high speed printing presses…

B. (laughing loudly).

A. I want to tell you the mess you can make is just stupefying! Modern equipment or what was modern then, can’t handle something like that. So there are a lot of things we did that, that when I look back on, I say to myself “Gee that was silly!” But there are more important criticisms than what I’m saying.

B. These are the stories that the general public never hears (laughing). I don’t think they’re stories out of school. They’re just things that happened.

A. We set up a propaganda radio station in the Highlands of Pleiku and people started saying “Hey, wait a minute. Who’s going to hear this? There aren’t enough radios around.” So the decision was “Alright, let’s buy some really cheap radios, fix tuned to this station and just air drop them.” And then there was decision made that said “Okay, we have to make sure that there is no way that these radios can be traced back to us.” So a some expense, we had a bunch of radios made (little things about the size of a pack of cigarettes), we had a bunch of these things made and paid quite a bit of money to make sure that there was no component in the radio that identified its origin. You know, Made in…made here, or made there. And then we started scattering these things up and down Vietnam. Well, unless you believed in the Radio Fairy, there’s only one place these things could have come from…

B. (laughing)

A. …the United States! So the whole concept of dropping these mysterious radios that nobody knew where they came from was silly because everybody knew where they came from.

B. Considering the channel that they were locked in on…

A. There was one player in that part of the world with enough money to do that…

B. & A. (laughing).

A. Anyhow, I’ve had a lot of time to think back on this stuff. It was odd. Very odd. And more than odd it was in many respects, tragic.
I felt very strongly as a young man. One of the parts of the deal was if you were a commissioned officer in regular Navy, if there was a war going on you were honor bound to serve. And on the strength of that I’ve never regretted what I did but I have looked back with a certain amount of bemusement as to just how it all came out.

I hope that gives you a sense of maritime adventures that I’ve been working on and writing up and how it is I got from the rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586 to the trials and tribulations of John Harrison Surratt Jr. and finally to what tragically happened to the women aboard the convict transport Amphitrite off the beach of Bologne in 1833.

B. This has been fascinating history and I’m really thrilled that you shared it with us. It has been my pleasure to talk with you and share these great stories with my readers. Andy, thank you so much.

A. I’ve enjoyed meeting you over the ether. I’ve enjoyed talking to you and I appreciate your interest and attention.

B. Thank you.



I want to thank Andy for this interview and look forward to our continued conversations in the future.







“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.



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.


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.


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 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.


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).


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.


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.




The Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos: A Study in Detail

The 15-chapter series on The Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos: A Study in Detail is now completed and posted under the Pages section. To view, please click on the links below to view the chapters you wish to see.

Please be advised that the photographs and content, although historical, are graphic in detail and not intended for children.





February 09, 2009: Barry Cauchon.

On February 6, 2009, while preparing chapters 7 & 8 for my series on “The Lincoln Conspirator Execution Photos – A Study in Detail” I made a discovery. It seemed that the accepted order of the ten photographs of the event taken by Alexander Gardner was incorrect. If my observations are right, the order of the photos need to be revised.

Here is what I found out.

The Empty Scaffold

The Empty Scaffold

#1 – The Empty Scaffold was the first photo taken in the series. No one debates this placement.


THE ORDER CONFLICT – The next three photographs are the images where the order is in dispute.

Arrival at Scaffold (1)

Arrival at Scaffold (1)

#2 – Arrival at Scaffold (1) was the second photo taken. In James L. Swanson and Daniel R. Weinberg’s book, “Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution”, this photo is incorrectly placed. It is shown as being 3rd.


Reading the Death Warrant

#3 – Reading the Death Warrant shown in the Swanson / Weinberg book is listed as 4th.


The Ministers Pray (historically known as “Arrival at Scaffold”)(2)

#4 – The Ministers Pray (historically called Arrival at Scaffold)(2) is shown in the Swanson / Weinberg book as the 2nd photo taken.

Before I continue I just want to say that I have great respect for the book “Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution”. It really is a wonderful book and I can’t recommend it enough. However, the flaw in the order of photos #2, 3 & 4  should be clarified.

When the Swanson / Weinberg book was first published in 2001, they would not have had on-line access to the Library of Congress photos that are available today. And because of those high-rez images, we are now able to zoom in and see the details that the authors and other researchers may not have been privy to.

You can see all of the detailed images from photographs 2, 3 & 4 in my series “The Lincoln Conspirator Execution Photos – A Study in Detail”, Chapters 7, 8 & 9.

But briefly, here is what I saw and discovered when I zoomed in on the details.

Photo #2: Arrival at Scaffold: The execution party has just arrived and the scaffold is now crowded with 25 people. Things to note: a) Only three of the four prisoners have been seated so far. David Herold was just beginning to sit when the photo was taken. b) Only one umbrella has been opened to shield everyone from the hot sun. c) Everyone in the photo has their hats (or head coverings) on to protect them from the sun. d) General Hartranft holds the Death Warrant in his hand and is preparing himself to read it. The soldiers and staff near him are almost in the exact same position as they will be in the next photograph.

Photo #3: Reading of the Death Warrant:  As per the numerous eyewitness reports from newspapers and individuals at the execution, the reading of the Death Warrant came next in the proceedings. a) All four prisoners are now seated. b) Four umbrellas are open. c) Everyone still has their hat or head coverings on (except for one minister who is holding an umbrella). He previously wore his hat in Photo #2.  d) General Hartranft now reads the Death Warrant with his staff and soldiers surrounding him.

Photos #4: The Ministers Pray:  After the Death Warrant was read, Rev. Dr. Abram Dunn Gillette (Lewis Powell’s minister) stepped forward to publicly thank General Hartranft and his staff (on behalf of Lewis Powell) for their kind treatment during his imprisonment. Gillette and then two other ministers prayed publicly out loud for their charges. Corporal Wm. Coxshall, the soldier who stood below the scaffold (front left) reported that ““Umbrellas were raised above the woman and Hartranft, who read the warrants and findings. Then the clergy took over, talking what seemed to me interminably… ” a) Powell and Herold have had their hats removed. Atzerodt has had his white kerchief (or nightcap) removed and placed on the railing. This could be because the ministers have asked everyone to pray. b) Rev. Dr. Abram Dunn Gillette kneels to pray by Lewis Powell’s side. Mary Surratt’s two priests attend to her (Father Walter holds a cross to her lips and Father Wiget prays from his prayer book).

Arrival at Scaffold. a
Arrival at Scaffold. a) Only three of the four prisoners have been seated so far. David Herold was just beginning to sit when the photo was taken. b) Only one umbrella has been opened to shield everyone from the hot sun. c) Everyone in the photo has their hats (or head coverings) on to protect them from the sun. d) General Hartranft holds the Death Warrant in his hand and is preparing himself to read it. The soldiers and staff near him are almost in the exact same position as they will be in the next photograph.
Reading the Death Warrant

Reading the Death Warrant. a) All four prisoners are now seated. b) Four umbrellas are open. c) Everyone still has their hat or head coverings on (except for one minister who is holding an umbrella). He previously wore his hat in Photo #2. d) General Hartranft now reads the Death Warrant with his staff and soldiers surrounding him. 

The Ministers Pray

The Ministers Pray. a) Powell and Herold have had their hats removed. Atzerodt has had his white kerchief (or nightcap) removed and placed on the railing. This could be because the ministers have asked everyone to pray. b) Rev. Abram Dunn Gillette kneels to pray by Lewis Powell’s side. Mary Surratt’s two priests attend to her (Father Walter holds a cross to her lips and Father Wiget prays from his prayer book).

To look at all of the details from these, and the other photos from this series, see Chapter 1 under this link.——————————————————————————————-If you are interested in reading interviews from several historians, scholars and performers, take a look at the links below.


January 12, 2009: Barry Cauchon

By today’s standards, the speed at which the government resolved the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 was unbelievably swift.

Let’s look at the time frame from the moment John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger to shoot the President at Ford’s Theatre on April 14 until the moment the trap was sprung to hang the four condemned conspirators on July 7. What you will find is that, from start to finish, the entire process took under three months, or exactly 83 days, 15 hours, 11 minutes.

That fact seems unfathomable when you consider that during this time period the following took place:

  • The President was shot, died of his wound and his body was sent on an extensive funeral train tour around the northeast United States before finally being buried in Springfield, Illinois.
  • John Wilkes Booth was tracked, cornered and killed in Virginia.
  • Hundreds of potential conspirators were questioned, detained, arrested and even imprisoned. All would be released with the exception of eight that would eventually stand trial for the conspiracy related to the crime.
  • The military trial of the eight conspirators was assembled, witnesses gathered and presented, verdicts reached and the convictions and sentences carried out.

Here is a breakdown of these events (all occurring in the spring/summer of 1865) and the timeframes associated with them.  Note: All times are approximate as very few ‘exact’ times are known for many of these events.

83 days, 15 hours, 11 minutes ‘or’ 2 months, 22 days, 15 hours, 11 minutes– The time it took from the moment Lincoln was shot at 10:15 pm on Friday, April 14 to the moment the traps were sprung to hang the four convicted conspirators on Friday, July 7 at 1:26 pm.

9 hours, 7 minutes – The time in which Lincoln remained alive from the moment he was shot at 10:15 pm on Friday, April 14 to the time he died at 7:22 am on Saturday, April 15.

11 days, 8 hours, 15 minutes – The time it took from the moment Lincoln was shot at 10:15 pm on Friday, April 14 to the time John Wilkes Booth died at around 7:00 am on Wednesday, April 26 after being shot in the neck at the Garrett farm by Sergeant Boston Corbett. 

13 days, 6 hours – The time it took for Lincoln’s Funeral Train to leave Washington DC at 8:00 am on Thursday, April 21, travel through 180 towns and cities while participating in eleven public viewings, and finally reach Springfield, Illinois where the President was buried on Wednesday, May 4 at around 2:00 pm.

72 days, 10 hours, 26 minutes ‘or’ 2 months, 11 days, 9 hours, 26 minutes – The amount of time David E. Herold had left to live after giving himself up on Wednesday, April 26 around 4:00am when cornered with John Wilkes Booth on the Garrett farm to the time Herold was hanged, along with three other conspirators at 1:26 pm on Friday, July 7.  Note: For those of you who are perfectionists, yes it is known that David Herold did not die quickly on the gallows and struggled for several minutes after the drop. Therefore several minutes are missing from the time listed above.

51 days ‘or’ 1 month, 20 days – The period of time that occurred from the start of the military conspiracy trial on May 9, to its completion on June 29.

24-1/2 days ‘or’ 3 weeks, 3-1/2 days – The time it took from the moment Abraham Lincoln was shot at 10:15 pm on Friday, April 14 to the first day the military conspiracy trial began on May 9.

3 days – The time it took from the night Abraham Lincoln was shot on Friday, April 14 to the arrests on April 17 of the first five conspirators who would be tried. Arrested on that day were Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, Michael O’Laughlin, Edman Spangler and Samuel Arnold. George Atzerodt was arrested on April 20, Dr. Samuel Mudd on April 24 and David E. Herold on April 26.

1 day – The time it took for the military commission to end the conspiracy trial on June 29 and reach verdicts for all eight conspirators on June 30. They agreed to the following sentences. Four conspirators were sentenced to hang (Surratt, Powell, Atzerodt and Herold), three were given life sentences (Mudd, O’Laughlin and Arnold) and one was given a six-year sentence (Spangler).

1 day – The amount of time it took Andrew Johnson to review and approve the conspirators sentences on July 5 to the time the conspirators first learned of their fates on July 6. At noon on that day, General John Hartranft visited each of the conspirators in their cells, where he read and hand-delivered the sentences personally.

1 day, 1 hour, 26 minutes – The amount of time it took from the moment General Hartranft informed the condemned prisoners of their fates at noon on July 6 to the moment the traps were sprung hanging the four convicted conspirators at 1:26 pm on July 7. The death warrants indicated that the executions needed to be enforced between 10 am and 2 pm on July 7. And as history shows, this order was carried out.





Here are some Lincoln related interviews that I recently conducted. Enjoy.



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


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

“An Awesometalk With” ROGER NORTON, Webmaster of the ‘Abraham Lincoln Research Site’

Welcome to another edition of “An Awesometalk With”. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Mr. Roger Norton, the creator and Webmaster of the Abraham Lincoln Research Site website. Mr. Norton contacted me in early December, 2008 in reference to an interview I did with Dr. Thomas Schwartz (see “An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian). It turns out that Dr. Schwartz was a former student of Mr. Norton’s. It’s a small world.


I can tell you that I genuinely felt honored by his email as I am a fan of Mr. Norton’s website. I believe it is one of the best sites on Abraham Lincoln online today.

As you will read, Mr. Norton considers his site ideal for students, teachers, families and the general public. It contains accurate and easy to understand information, and he genuinely enjoys sharing it with anyone interested in President Lincoln, his family and their times.

I hope you enjoy our chat.




NOTE: This interview was constructed from several written correspondence between Mr. Norton and myself over the course of several weeks.


December 30, 2008

BC: Welcome Mr. Norton. It’s nice to be able to share your thoughts with my readers today. I’d like to begin by asking how your website got started.

RN: I taught American history at Herrick Middle School in Downers Grove, Illinois, from 1966 – 1994. When I retired from teaching, I looked for a way of staying in education without being in a classroom. In 1996 I created a website on the Lincoln assassination. Within a short period of time, the site was enlarged with stories about Lincoln’s life. Then I added a site on Mary Todd Lincoln. The entire website was named the Abraham Lincoln Research Site, and I invited people to e-mail me with their questions concerning the 16th president, his assassination, and his family.

BC: It really is a wonderful research site. And being that it just celebrated its 12th birthday on December 29, 2008; I imagine that it is still going strong and is as popular as ever?

RN: After a few years, search engines began listing my Lincoln pages near the top, and the number of visitors rose dramatically. The site, which is currently composed of 87 different Lincoln-related topics, is averaging about 1.4 million visitors a year.

BC: Wow. I had no idea that you were generating those kinds of site visit numbers. That’s awesome!

RN: It will celebrate its 12 millionth visitor (since 1996) early in 2009. February is always the busiest month. The web pages have a counter at the bottom which is a link to the site’s statistics.

It’s my estimation that I have replied to over 40,000 Lincoln-related e-mails since 1996. About half of these e-mails come from students, and about 10 percent come from overseas. Lincoln is especially popular in Europe and India.

BC: I understand that you had to change you web address earlier this fall. Did you lose readership because of this? And what caused the problem?

RN: Barry, right now my visitors are WAY down from a year ago because one of my web servers quit the business on October 31, and I had to switch about 2/3 of my site to my other server (and thus have new URL’s). I have currently lost many of my good placements in Google, Yahoo, etc. Right now I am averaging about 1,564 visitors a day; a year ago in December it was about 3,100 a day. Over the next few weeks [the 2008 holiday season], the number will grow considerably lower because schools are not in session. Then it will pick up again in January.

BC: What a shame about your loss of search engine placement. I know that it takes a long time to build up that kind of placement and get into the upper listings with the major search engines.  

RN: I am hoping that I will regain my Google placements within the next several months, but I know it may be a year or more before my number of visitors returns to the levels it used to be before the URL changes. All my stats are at

BC: Mr. Norton, can you tell us a little bit about your personal history and how you first got interested in Lincoln?

RN: I was born September 19, 1943, in Oak Park, Illinois, and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School. I attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. I then attended Indiana University where I received a Master of Science in Education degree.

As a youngster growing up in Illinois my early interest in Abraham Lincoln came from the stories told by my grade school teachers. In the 1960’s I became particularly interested in Lincoln’s assassination with the publication of a book entitled “Twenty Days” by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr.

My interest in the assassination led to my mock trial unit in the classroom.

BC: To clarify, as a teacher, you would have your own students perform the mock trial of the Lincoln conspirators as part of their curriculum?

RN: [Yes.] Each year in December I explained to my classes that we were going to reenact the trial following Lincoln’s assassination. I picked prosecution and defense attorneys before the winter vacation. Each attorney was given a copy of “The Day Lincoln Was Shot” by Jim Bishop. Additionally, the lawyers were given a list of their witnesses and told to prepare testimony for them. The lawyers were advised that the local library had a copy of Benn Pitman’s transcription of the original trial. The lawyers had the entire two-week vacation to prepare their case.

After vacation each class elected a judge, and I picked the witnesses and defendants through volunteers. The jury was thus composed of the shy students who preferred not to take part in the oral simulation. We tried only six defendants [rather than eight]; Michael O’Laughlen and Samuel Arnold were dropped as some eighth graders had problems getting a grasp on those characters. As my classes averaged about 33 students, many of the original witnesses were not used, and in some cases students were required to play more than one role.

After a few preparation days for the witnesses to learn the lines written by the attorneys, we started the trial. In contrast to the actual 1865 trial, the defendants were allowed to take the witness stand. I allowed the trial to go for around ten class periods. Then, after final statements, the jury was excused to vote on the six defendants. Oftentimes the verdicts were different from 1865, particularly in the cases of Mary Surratt and Samuel Mudd. However, the only times Lewis Powell was ever found innocent was when William Bell (William Seward’s butler) did a poor job of testifying.

BC: That is a fascinating school project Mr. Norton. I can’t imagine how beneficial it was for the students. Was this something that you developed yourself, and for how many years did you run this mock trial?

RN: No, when I started teaching another teacher on the staff was doing a mock trial unit, so the idea didn’t originate with me.  For several years I experimented with different trial simulations including the one that followed the Boston Massacre.  Eventually I decided the Lincoln conspiracy trial was my favorite, and over the last 24 years of my teaching career that’s the one that was done in my classroom.

BC:  You also mentioned that some of the outcomes were different from the actual trial. I am particularly interested in knowing what the outcome was for Dr. Mudd. Would you elaborate on that for us?


RN: The majority of time Dr. Mudd was found innocent.  But in those days books such as Dr. Edward Steers’ “His Name is Still Mudd” had not been published.  Most Mudd biographies were either neutral or sympathetic towards the doctor.  When my student lawyers researched the case they had trouble finding reasons he might be guilty.  Steers’ book opened a lot of eyes with its persuasive arguments about the doctor’s complicity with Booth.  I would recommend both Steers’ book and Michael Kauffman’s “American Brutus.”  Kauffman takes a different view than Steers, and readers can decide for themselves what they think of Mudd’s guilt or innocence.  Both authors present convincing arguments.  I exchange e-mails with both authors (both of whom have helped me with my website), so I will keep my personal opinion private.

BC: Returning to your current Abraham Lincoln Research Site, where do you produce and maintain it?

RN: I operate on a computer in our den which contains several bookcases holding about 350 books on Lincoln and family. In essence I am a “research librarian” who only deals with one topic. Questions from students are mainly related to research and help for homework. Questions from adults cover a myriad of topics ranging from clergymen seeking a Lincoln quote for a Sunday sermon to travelers wondering why there is a statue of Lincoln in Parliament Square.

BC: I like your site a lot, Mr. Norton, as I can see many people do. Is there a simple formula as to why that is?

RN: I believe the site’s appeal is due to the fact that it is written mainly for students, teachers, families and the general public. Lincoln scholars would find little new by reading my research; my goal has been to bring Lincoln and his legacy to students and the average American.

BC: In case my readers are unfamiliar with your website, I wanted to let them know that all your information is free. This is not a pay-per-view site.

RN: The Abraham Lincoln Research Site is a not-for-profit website. I operate it simply because I enjoy the subject matter and the ego satisfaction of helping people. It has been a truly wonderful retirement experience.

BC: It certainly has been beneficial to untold numbers of students and other researchers. You must be proud?

RN: Lincoln‘s life story is an inspiration for all Americans as his accomplishments and perseverance to succeed in life were phenomenal. The purpose of my website is to share his experiences and character with as many people as possible. I think this is especially important nowadays in a country that is deeply in need of positive role models.

BC: I couldn’t agree with you more Mr. Norton. I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts with my readers and look forward to speaking with you again in the future to see how you and your website are doing.

Thank you.


If you would like to visit Mr. Norton’s website please click on either of these attached link.

Abraham Lincoln Research Site 







Other posted interviews to date:


“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” Robert Krauss, 509th Composite Group Historian 

(posted on December 16, 2008) 




1. Did you know …that Abraham Lincoln’s bed was oversized to accommodate his lengthy body. The bed was 9′-0″ long and 9′-0″ high to the top of the headboard.

Lincoln's Bed

 2. Did you know …that, besides President Lincoln, Major Henry Reed Rathbone was not the only person to be attacked by John Wilkes Booth at the time of the assassination? It’s true! After Booth shot the President and lept from the box, he crossed the stage, turned right and ran down a narrow aisle that led to the rear door of the theatre. Unexpectedly, he bumped into William Withers, Jr. the orchestra leader, who was just coming off of a break. Booth slashed at Withers twice with his knife, cutting his coat and knocking him to the floor.  Upon exiting the building, Booth grabbed the reins of his horse from “Peanuts” Burroughs, hitting him with the butt end of his knife and knocking him to the ground. Booth then rode off, fleeing into the darkness.

Slashed coat of orchestra leader

Slashed coat of orchestra leader William Withers, Jr.

3. Did you know … the “dates of capture” for the 10 accused Lincoln assassination conspirators? If not, here they are now in order of their capture.

April 14, 1865 – Day 0 – Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre and Secretary of State Seward is attacked at his home by Lewis Powell while co-conspirator David E. Herold waits outside. Herold will later meet up with Booth as they try to escape into Virginia.

Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theatre

Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theatre

April 17, 1865 – Day 3[1] Lewis Powell and [2] Mary Surratt are arrested at Surratt’s boarding house. [3] Samuel Arnold, [4] Michael O’Laughlen and [5] Edman (Ned or Edward) Spangler are also arrested on this day.

April 20, 1865 – Day 6 – [6] George Atzerodt is arrested. On April 14, Atzerodt rented a room in the same hotel that Vice President Andrew Johnson was staying to make it easier for him to assassinate the VP. Atzerodt chickened out but was found to be in possession of weapons and property of John Wilkes Booth and was taken into custody.

April 24, 1865 – Day 10 – [7] Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who set Booth’s broken leg and allowed Booth and Herold to spend the night at his farm, is arrested.

April 26, 1865 – Day 12 – At the Garrett farm in Bowling Green, Virginia, [8] David E. Herold gives himself up when the barn he and Booth occupy is surrounded by Federal troops and set on fire. A short time later [9] John Wilkes Booth is shot and killed by Sergeant Boston Corbett.

November 27, 1866 – Day 592 (1 year, 7 months, 13 days)[10] John Surratt, the son of executed conspirator Mary Surratt, initially escaped capture by hiding in Canada and then fleeing to Europe. He is eventually captured in Alexandria, Egypt on November 27, 1866 and returned to the United States to stand trial. Due to a hung jury deadlocked at four “Guilty” and four “Not Guilty” votes, he is acquitted of the charges and released.




To see the entire series, click here “SUMMARY OF THE “DID YOU KNOW” ABRAHAM LINCOLN SERIES (Parts 1-15)”         



If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln, you should read these interviews by three Lincoln experts:


“An Awesometalk With” ROGER NORTON, Webmaster of the ‘Abraham Lincoln Research Site’ (posted on December 30, 2008)


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


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




Okay, here’s a good trivia question for you Lincoln Assassination experts … How old were the Lincoln Conspirators at the time of the assassination on April 14, 1865?

  John Wilkes Booth – was age 26 (just 2 weeks from his 27th birthday) – (Born May 10, 1838). After shooting President Lincoln, he was on the run for 12 days until April 26, 1865 when he was cornered in a barn at the Garrett barn in Bowling Green, Virginia. He was shot by Sargeant Boston Corbett, a Union soldier, and died a short time later.

  Mary Surratt – was age 42 – (Born May/June, 1823). Hung at the Old Arsenal Penitentary on July 7, 1865.

  Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Paine) – was age 21 – (Born April 22, 1844). Hung at the Old Arsenal Penitentary on July 7, 1865.

  David E. Herald – was age 23 – (Born June 16, 1842). Hung at the Old Arsenal Penitentary on July 7, 1865.

  George Atzerodt – was age 30 – (Born June 12 , 1835). Hung at the Old Arsenal Penitentary on July 7, 1865.

   Dr. Samuel A. Mudd – was age 31 – (Born December 20, 1833). Sentenced to life in prison but paroled by President Johnson in March, 1869. Died at age 49 of pneumonia and pleurisy on January 10, 1883.

  Michael O’Laughlen – was age 25 – (Born June, 1840). Sentenced to life in prison and died of yellow fever two years later in 1867.

  Samuel Arnold – was age 30 – (Born September 6, 1834). Sentenced to life in prison but was paroled by President Johnson in March, 1869. Died at age 72 of pulmonary tuburculosis (at that time called ‘galloping consumption’) on September 21, 1906.

   Edman Spangler – Was age 39 – (Born August 10, 1825). Sentenced to six years in prison but was paroled by President Johnson in March, 1869. Due to an extended time of poor health, he died at age 49 on February 7, 1875.

  John Surratt (Mary’s son) – was age 21 – (Born April 13, 1844). Escaped to Canada and then Europe. Caught and returned for trial in June 1867 but was acquitted with a hung jury. He died at age 72 of pneumonia on April, 21, 1916.

Thanks for playing. If you notice any errors (or mistakes in the age calculations) blame me, laugh, and then feel free to comment with the correct information.




If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln, you should read these interviews by two Lincoln experts:


“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)