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 outreach@awesometalks.com 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).

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

GREAT UPCOMING INTERVIEWS FOR 2010 “AN AWESOMETALK WITH”

March 15, 2010: Barry Cauchon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best.

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com




LOOKING FOR HISTORY – CHECK YOUR GRAND PARENTS’ ATTICS

November 26, 2009: Barry Cauchon

LOOKING FOR CIVIL WAR DIARIES, LETTERS, PHOTOGRAPHS, ARTIFACTS AND KEEPSAKES for possible inclusion in our upcoming book and documentary about the Old Arsenal Penitentiary and the Lincoln Conspirators.

Example: Ed Isaacs family has been living in the northeastern United States for several hundred years. Last year Ed’s cousin Pam gave him the diary of his great-great grandfather George Dixon. George was a Civil War Union soldier who was stationed at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary in Washington DC during the incarceration, trial and eventual punishments of the Lincoln conspirators. Amongst other interesting notations found in the diary, George listed the cells used by the prisoners and the guards who watched over them on the last day or two leading up to the executions of four of the conspirators. Ed Isaacs contacted me awhile ago and shared George’s diary with me. We have become friends and are planning on including information about George Dixon and his diary in our upcoming book and documentary. Ed hopes that it will help celebrate his ancestor’s life and we are thrilled to do so. To read the story of George Dixon and his diary as presented by Ed Isaacs, please click on the following link  https://awesometalks.wordpress.com/an-awesometalk-with-ed-isaacs-owner-of-civil-war-diary-from-soldier-who-guarded-the-lincoln-conspirators/).

APPEAL FOR HIDDEN HISTORY: We are appealing to others out there who might have ancestors who were connected directly or indirectly to the Lincoln conspiracy, the Old Arsenal Penitentiary, Washington DC or other Civil War occurences that related to the events that took place between March and August of 1865 in Washington DC and other surrounding areas. Items such as personal diaries, letters, photographs, artifacts, keepsakes and other Civil War related items in your possession could contain valuable historical information of great significance presently unknown to the research community. We would love to include your finds, if historically relevent, in our book and documentary.

So check your attics, basements, the old shed out back, garages, farm houses, barns and even below the floor boards of your old home. Check with your family members about stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Those conversations may give you a clue as to where your ancestors may have been during the time of the Civil War and the Lincoln assassination and conspiracy. Even if you do not know whether you have something that is important, you should inform us anyway. A name of a buddy or commander found in a diary could be very important. A location mentioned is a possibility. A comment about contemporary events from the time of the assassination may be the perfect thing we are looking for.  You never know what might be important to our projects and the historical community in general. And if you do find something that doesn’t necessarily fit within our research, we will do our best to help direct you where you can go to get more information about your find.

We are looking for genuine historical articles from the time of President Lincoln’s assassination, funeral, conspiracy trial and prisons located in Washington DC (Old Arsenal Penitentiary, District Penitentiary, Washington Penitentiary, Old Capitol Prison, Carrol Annex and Carrol Branch Prison). Items related to the Navy Yards and the ironclad monitors USS Saugus and USS Montauk could all be important clues to help tell the story better. And don’t forget the potential connection to the Confederate Secret Service primarily run out of Montreal, Canada or Lafayette Baker who was the head of the Secret Service for the Union. All great possibilities where hidden history may lie.

WHAT THIS IS NOT

Regretably we are not offering to purchase your family relics or assign a price to them. That is not our specialty and we cannot offer expert advice on an artifact’s value short of its historical significance to the story. As mentioned before, we will do our best to help direct you towards those who might be able to assist you. But no guarantees of course.

If you have an item that you think might be of interest to us, please do not use the comment area below. Instead, write me directly at outreach@awesometalks.com and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Please describe the item (and include a picture if possible). If relevent, please explain why you think this may relate to our research.

As you can see from previous postings on this blog over the past 18 months, we have had a few really cool finds that I’ve been able to share with you. The George Dixon diary, Mr. P’s original fake ‘Lincoln in Death’ photo used in many Lincoln books published over the years and some genuinely great stories from family members from their ancestor’s past.

Give it a try. Everyone has treasures in their family. Share them.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

UPDATE ON OUR LINCOLN CONSPIRATOR BOOK PROJECT

SIGN UP NOW FOR OUR BOOK UPDATE MAILING LIST at outreach@awesometalks.com. Just put the word “BOOK” in the subject line and include your name and email address in the body. You’ll then be included in our next email update. Thank you. Barry.

The nooses of the Lincoln conspirators.

An image of the Lincoln conspirators' nooses taken from our upcoming book (title tbd).

November 26, 2009: Barry Cauchon

On a Saturday morning in September, 2009 I left a phone message for my future writing partner John Elliott to call me at my home. Upon his returned call, I explained that I had a proposition. John and I had been speaking and exchanging research for about 3 months prior to this call but were not working together at that time. My proposal was to combine our research and join forces to write a book together rather than just complete the one I had initially started a few months earlier. Each of our own areas of research could stand on their own and make good books independently. However, when combined, I felt that the final product would be so much more than the original concept. I was quite excited about the opportunity to do this merger and hoped John would feel the same way.

When John called back he immediately accepted the proposal and we have been working ever since to make our book a classic. From the start, our attitude has been to produce a book that we would be proud to have on our own bookshelves, but which doesn’t exist right now.

So far, our joint venture has proven itself to be ten-fold more than we imagined. So much so, that we’ve now attracted the interest of a prominent documentary maker to work with us in developing a proposal for a documentary. Hopefully we will have some good news to share with you on that subject very soon. But for now, it is safe to say that we are enjoying the research and our multiple projects and cannot wait to share the final results with you when appropriate.

If you are interested in being kept up-to-date about the book and documentary proposal, then please add your name and email address to our mailing list. To do so, just write to me at outreach@awesometalks.com, write BOOK in the subject line and include your name & email in the body. Your information will then be added to the list and you will receive updates as they are released.

IMPORTANT: Please be assured that I do not share my mailing lists with anyone and the sole purpose of this list is to keep you informed about these projects as per your request!!!!!

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

Mini Posting #2: William Coxshall’s Missing Digit

May 11, 2009: Barry Cauchon

For those of you who follow this blog, you’ll know that I have focused much of my research on the events and people involved in the executions of the four condemned Lincoln assassination conspirators. One of the four men who stood below the scaffold to help spring the traps on July 7, 1865 was a soldier named William Coxshall.

Alexander Gardner's photograph "Arrival at Scaffold" with William Coxshall beneath the gallows on the front left side.

Alexander Gardner's photograph "Arrival at Scaffold" with William Coxshall standing beneath the gallows on the front left side.

Did you know that Coxshall served with Company K, 37th Volunteer Infantry, Wisconsin and during the Battle of Petersburg was wounded, losing part of his left index finger?

It’s true. After recuperating from his injury, he was transferred to Company F, 14th Regiment Veterans Corp and  assigned to the Old Arsenal Penitentiary in Washington DC. Coxshall was one of four soldiers assigned to spring the traps of the gallows. Alexander Gardner’s photo “Arrival at Scaffold” captured Coxshall’s injury.  

Coxshall beneath the scaffold.

Coxshall beneath the scaffold.

William Coxshall's missing digit

William Coxshall and his missing digit

Best

Barry

THE LINCOLN CONSPIRATORS EXECUTION PHOTOS

November 6, 2008: Barry Cauchon.
The date was July 7, 1865. Alexander Gardner and his assistant Timothy O’Sullivan took a series of ten photographs using both a large format camera with collodion glass-plate negatives and a stereo camera (used to make 3D stereoscope pictures). This series of photographs are considered on of the first examples of photojournalism ever recorded.
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THE TEN GARDNER PHOTOS TAKEN OF THE LINCOLN CONSPIRATORS EXECUTIONS
 
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1. The Empty Scaffold – (large format) Reporters, soldiers and witnesses gather around the scaffold in 100 degree heat awaiting the execution party to arrive.
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2. Arrival on Scaffold  – (large format) The execution party, the prisoners and their guards, their ministers, etc. have arrived and gathered on the scaffold platform. The chief executioner was Captain Christian Rath. Three of the four conspirators have been seated. Only David Herold still remains standing.
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3. Reading the Death Warrant– (large format) General Hartranft reads the Order of Execution to the prisoners and assembled crowd.
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4. The Ministers Pray – (stereoscope) The execution party now listens to the ministers praying for the souls of the condemned. Reverend Abram Dunn Gillette is kneeling beside Lewis Powell.
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5. Adjusting the Ropes– (large format) The four conspirators are now standing (Mrs. Surratt is supported by two soldiers) and is being bound. A hood has already been placed over Lewis Powell’s head by Lafayette Baker’s detective John H. Roberts. The nooses are being fitted around the necks of David Herold and George Atzerodt.
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6. The Drop – (stereoscope) Gardner’s camera captures the moment just after the drop.
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All is Done (1) – (large format) The bodies remain hanging for about 25 minutes before being cut down.
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8. All is Done (2) – (stereoscope) The bodies remain hanging for about 25 minutes before being cut down.
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9. The Pine Boxes – (large format) The pine boxes are stacked around the temporary graves dug next to the scaffold.
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10. Rooftop View of Old Arsenal Yard and scaffold  – (large format). The bodies of the conspirators still hang from the scaffold.
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Best
Barry
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