Posts from the ‘Lincoln’ Category

Copper thieves steal sword at Lincoln tomb

CHICAGO (AFP) — Thieves have snatched a copper sword from the burial site of president Abraham Lincoln, one of the most revered leaders in US history, local media reported.

Thieves have snatched a copper sword from the burial site of president Abraham Lincoln local media reported (AFP/File, Karen Bleier)

The roughly three-foot (90-centimeter) sword was brandished by the statue of a Civil War artillery officer at the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site, located in Springfield, Illinois.

The sword was broken off at the handle, The State Journal-Register reported Friday.

The theft was apparently the first since 1890, when the same sword was stolen from the statue, the newspaper said. At that time, the sword was made of bronze that largely came from melted-down Civil War cannons.

Four statue groupings are mounted on the terrace of Lincoln’s tomb, each representing the artillery, cavalry, infantry and navy during the bloody 1861-1865 conflict.

“We just cannot imagine why someone would even think about doing it, let alone climb up the steps and actually do it,” Illinois Historic Preservation Agency spokesman Dave Blanchette told Journal-Register.

Four flights of steps lead to the terrace, which features a cordon of 37 shields that each bear the name of a state that made up the Union when the site was originally built in 1869-1874.

The thieves probably went to work after the cemetery where Lincoln’s tomb is located closed for the day, according to Blanchette. He said plans were underway to repair the statue, which was left intact except for the sword.

The tomb, which features a 117 feet (36 meters) high obelisk atop a rectangular base, is made of mostly of granite. A fragment of the ancient Roman Servian Wall built in 578 BC and presented as a gift to Lincoln from the people of Rome is attached to the obelisk.

Lincoln was shot and killed by a Confederate sympathizer in April 1865, just days after southern military forces surrendered. He was 56.


Northampton Community College celebrates opening of Civil War exhibit

By Sara K. Satullo | The Express-Times 

A crowd quickly developed around Brian Alnutt as he guided visitors through the Civil War exhibit on loan toNorthampton Community College.

Alnutt is an assistant professor of history at the college and was acting as a docent during the grand opening of “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” in the college’s Kopecek Hall.

Northampton is one of 200 sites to be selected to host the free, traveling exhibit, which delves into how President Abraham Lincoln tackled the war’s constitutional and political challenges.

Abraham Lincoln in Illinois at the Lincoln Exhibit (Photo courtesy of the Express Times)

This is the only local showing of the exhibit, which was created by the National Constitution Center and the American Library Association Public Programs Office. It is funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant.

It runs until Dec. 13 and dovetails into Northampton’s yearlong educational programming around the Civil War.

Alnutt’s tour of the exhibit began with a small group of four or five people and quickly grew as visitors stopped to hear him share tidbits about Lincoln.

Before becoming president, Lincoln only served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, he said. Lincoln was not a national political figure but he’d spoken out against slavery so states seceded before his inauguration, Alnutt explained.

More slave states followed but not all seceded, he said, leading to some slave owners fighting against the Confederacy. The states that seceded initially hoped for a peaceful secession but Lincoln fought to preserve the union.

The exhibit explains Lincoln called the secessions undemocratic. If a minority group who lost an election could just break up the government, government by the people could never survive, Lincoln said.

It was only later that Lincoln decided to tackle slavery, Alnutt said, predicting that if the South had fallen quickly slavery may have survived. Alnutt noted that most other countries had abolished slavery by 1861.

“Lincoln” made an appearance at the event. James Hayney wowed a crowd of about 100 people in Lipkin Theater as he assumed the persona of Lincoln, down to the beard and stovepipe hat.

Earlier Thursday morning, a group of fourth- and fifth-graders from Fountain Hill Elementary School and kindergartners from the college’s child care center were treated to time with Hayney. Students clamored to have their photo taken with Lincoln, to shake his hand and even high-five.

Northampton sophomore Claire Mulicka, of Bethlehem, came to the event to earn extra credit for a class. She left touched by Lincoln’s speeches and his determination to finish the fight.

“I thought it was fantastic,” she said of Hayney’s performance.

Hayney, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Lincoln, never missed a beat as he talked about his life as the nation’s 16th president.

Lincoln would’ve retired from politics if not for Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas’ introduction of the Kansas Nebraska Act, which extended slavery into the new territories by repealing the Missouri Compromise, he said. Lincoln ran for the Senate twice and lost but he gained national recognition debating Douglas on slavery.

Lincoln actually beat Douglas in 1860 to become president. Hayney spoke about the difficulties his Kentuckian wife Mary Todd faced as one of 16 children, whose family was split between the war’s two sides. The Eastern press tore his wife apart, calling her the mole in the White House, Hayney said.

The exhibit is open 1 to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.

Prior to being selected to host the exhibit, Northampton was planning events based on the theme of “The Meaning of Freedom: Civil War 1865 to Today.”

The yearlong events are funded through an endowment built with donations and a separate $800,000 National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant Northampton was awarded in 2008. The endowment is meant to annually fund humanities-focused educational programs surrounding a theme.



In Memory: Senator Edward Dickinson Baker (1811-1861)

Edward Baker was born in London, England. his family moved to the United States in 1815, and Baker spent the next ten years of his life in Philadelphia before his family moved to Indiana and then Illinois. While still a teenager, Baker studied law and was admitted to the Illinois bar at the age of nineteen. At twenty-four, Baker moved to Springfield, Illinois, where he became over the next seventeen years a prominent attorney and political figure. During his time in Springfield, Baker became close friends with another rising young lawyer, Abraham Lincoln. Abraham and Mary Lincoln named their second son after their close friend Baker.

Senator Edward D. Baker

In his early political life, Baker was a Whig, although he did not always follow the party line. At the age of twenty-six, Baker entered the Illinois legislature and served two terms in the lower house before moving to the state senate in 1840. In 1844 he defeated his good friend Lincoln for the district’s Whig nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives and won the election. While in the House beginning in 1845, Baker broke party ranks by supporting the expansionist policies of President James K. Polk.

At the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, Baker traveled from Washington to Illinois to raise a regiment. he became colonel of the regiment and took it to serve under Zachary Taylor in northern Mexico. Baker returned briefly to Congress at the end of 1846 and, wearing his uniform, urged the Congress to vote more funds for the maintenance of soldiers at the front.

Shortly after the beginning of 1847, Baker resigned his congressional seat and joined Winfield Scott’s Mexico City campaign. From April through September 1847, Baker fought in all the major battles of the war and commanded a brigade at one point.

After the Mexican-American War, Baker returned to Illinois, where he moved to another congressional district and was elected to Congress. In 1851 Baker left Congress and the following year moved to California. Baker’s Whig and then Republican affiliations meant that he would have little political future in heavily Democratic California. He became, however, a popular local attorney in San Francisco and, in spite of his politics, was much in demand as a public speaker.

His political future bleak in California, Baker accepted the invitation of Oregon Republicans to move to that state and run for the U.S. Senate in 1860. Baker did so and won the election. As senator-elect from Oregon and the only Republican senator from the West Coast, Baker made it a personal crusade to encourage those states, particularly California, to stay in the Union. Some people later credited him with saving the heavily Democratic state for the United States.

On his way to Washington after his visit to California, Baker stopped in Springfield to meet with President-elect Lincoln. Over the next several months, Baker made several stirring speeches urging support for the Union. He refused the offer of a brigadier general’s commission because any commission at the general rank would require him to resign his Senate seat. Therefore, when offered the colonelcy of the 71st Pennsylvania (sometimes referred to as the 1st California because of Baker’s ties to the West Coast), he accepted. Throughout the summer of 1861, Baker divided his time between training his regiment and serving in the U.S. Senate.

In August 1861, Baker commanded a brigade along the Potomac, though he remained at the rank of colonel. On 28 September 1861, Baker commanded his brigade at a skirmish near Munson’s Hill, Virginia. A week earlier he had been offered a major general’s commission but was apparently still considering it and had made no reply.

Colonel Edward D. Baker monument at Balls Bluff

On 21 October, Baker’s commander Brigadier General Charles P. Stone ordered Baker to demonstrate against Confederates across the Potomac near Poolesville. At Balls’ Bluff, without careful reconnaissance, baker moved across the river into a trap. He was killed, and most of his command were killed or captured. he had never replied to the offer of a major general’s commission.

The president deeply mourned the loss of his friend, but the most lasting impact of the debacle was the persecution of Charles Stone. Many blamed stone for the popular Baker’s death. That Stone was a Democrat did not help his cause. He was called before the Committee on the Conduct of the War and eventually arrested without charge. He was imprisoned for 189 days and never held an important command for the remainder of the war.

– David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler [Source: Heidler and Heidler, Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A political, social and military history. W.W. Norton & Co. 2002. pp. 161-162.]

150 Years Ago: Battle of Ball’s Bluff Oct. 21, 1861

Ball’s Bluff was a small battle by the standards of the Civil War, but it had ramifications far beyond its size. It was only the second significant battle in the east, and received a great deal of attention in both North and South. Edward Baker, a senator from Oregon and close personal friend and political ally of President Lincoln, was killed during the battle and became a martyr to those who took a hard line against the Confederacy. Perhaps most importantly, the defeat spurred the creation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War by Congress; the Committee became a persecutor of those who were considered to be soft on defeating the Confederacy and destroying slavery.

George McClellan took command of Union forces around Washington, D.C., in the wake of the defeat at Bull Run in July 1861. He immediately set about training and improving the state of his army. As the good campaigning weather of fall 1861 passed, however, he began to feel pressure to advance on the Rebel forces just across the Potomac River from Washington. Probes and raids by Yankee forces over the Potomac combined intelligence gathering with training. On 19 October McClellan ordered General George McCall to conduct a reconnaissance toward the village of Dranesville, Virginia, covering a topographical survey of the area. McClellan alerted neighboring commander General Charles P. Stone of the movement and told him to keep a vigilant watch on the town of Leesburg; if the Rebels evacuated it, he could move in. A “light demonstration’ on Stone’s part would help move them on.

Stone moved one brigade to the Potomac opposite Leesburg. When an inexperienced scouting party crossed into Virginia during the night of 20 October, it mistook shadows for an unguarded Confederate camp. Stone ordered Colonel Charles Devens and 300 men to make a dawn attack. If no other Confederate forces were found, Devens was to stay on the Virginia side and conduct a further reconnaissance. When Devens found no camp, he pushed on to Leesburg, which he found empty of enemy troops. Devens requested reinforcements so that he could hold Leesburg.

When Stone ordered additional troops to join Devens, only three boats were available to ferry soldiers to the Virginia side and so movement was slow. Colonel Edward Baker was ordered to take command of the larger force, totaling 1,640 men. Baker was an inexperienced soldier, but he was also an old Illinois friend of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, in fact, had named his second son after Baker. After he had moved west, Baker was elected senator from Oregon. He had turned down a commission as brigadier general, because it would require his resignation from the Senate. An outspoken enemy of any who would compromise with the slaveholding South, he looked forward to an opportunity to prove his point in battle.

Baker ordered his men to form a line of battle in a clearing near the river. Immediately in the rear of his position was 100-foot Ball’s Bluff; a single narrow path led down to the Potomac. More experienced officers worried about a wooded ridge immediately in front of Baker’s line. Confederates on that height would be able to shoot down at the Union soldiers in the clearing below.

Actually, Confederate units under the command of Colonel Nathan “Shanks” Evans were slowly arriving on the battlefield and exchanging shots with the Yankees. At 3:00 p.m. the Confederates launched a general assault on the four regiments at Ball’s Bluff. Soon, Evans’s 1,600 Rebel soldiers in wooded cover were pouring shot into Baker’s forces in the open. For three and one-half hours, the Union soldiers held on. Baker was killed around 5:00 p.m. Unable to stand the fire and unable to retreat in an orderly manner, the Yankee formation began to crumble. Some leaped off the bluff in an attempt to reach the river, and many were killed or injured by the fall. Others climbed safely down Ball’s Bluff, but the few boats were swamped by the numbers trying to regain the Maryland side. As the Confederates fired down from the top of the bluff, boats sank and scores drowned in the river. By 7:00 p.m. the battle was virtually over and most Federal survivors were prisoners.

Union losses totaled 49 killed, 158 wounded, and 714 captured or wounded. Confederate casualties amounted to 33 killed, 115 wounded, and one man missing. The obvious disparity in losses was clear to all and trumpeted by the Confederates, while the defeat having occurred so near to Washington ensured that newspaper reporters would quickly spread the news to the rest of the country.

National Cemetery at Ball's Bluff

The effects were quickly felt in the north. For Lincoln, Baker’s death was a personal blow. When informed, Lincoln stood stunning and silent for several minutes. He walked slowly back to the executive mansion with bystanders noting tears rolling down his face. Baker was buried in a state funeral attended by the president, vice president, congressional leaders, and the Supreme Court. He immediately became a martyr to the cause of the Union, despite the fact that his inexperience had contributed to the disaster.

Nonetheless, the political establishment was intent on discovering darker motives for the disaster. Although many regular officers blamed Baker, Republicans who favored a hard war policy and the destruction of slavery blamed McClellan and Stone. On 20 December, Congress created the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Representatives from both the Senate and the House of Representatives thus formed a permanent committee to inquire into and investigate how the war was being directed. Investigations were conducted in secret, and the committee was soon persecuting those suspected of having Southern sympathies.

Their first victim was General Charles P. Stone. Witnesses denounced Stone, alleging that he secretly communicated with unnamed Southerners and returned runaway slaves to their owners. He was also blamed for failing to reinforce Baker at Ball’s Bluff. The Committee took their findings to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who ordered Stone relieved of command and arrested on 8 February 1862. Stone was never tried, but enough testimony was released to the newspapers to paint him as a traitor. Stone was released from prison in August 1862, and though he served again, his military career was virtually at an end. Stone’s experience remained an example and warning to Union commanders throughout the remainder of the war.

– Tim J. Watts

[Source: Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History. W.W. Norton & Co. 2002. pp. 167-169]

Additional Links:

The U.S. Army has a detailed look at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff that was published previously as Ball’s Bluff: An Overview and is now on line. You can find that here.

The Civil War Trust has a webpage dedicated to the Battle of Ball’s Bluff with additional resources, including recent efforts to preserve the historic battlefield from development encroachment. You and find their Ball’s Bluff page here.

The Balls’ Bluff National Cemetery contains 25 burial plots containing the remains of 54 soldiers. Only one, plot #13, is identified as James Allen, a soldier from the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority began its Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Restoration program in 2004, to restore the park’s appearance to what it looked like in 1861. You can find more information about those efforts here.

You can read a brief biography of Senator-Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker here.

For further reading:

Farwell, Byron. Ball’s Bluff: A small Battle and Its Long Shadow (1990).

Grimsley, Mark. “The Definition of Disaster.” Civil War Times Illustrated (1989).

Holien, Kim Bernard. Battle at Ball’s Bluff (1985).

Stears, Stephen W. “The Ordeal of General Stone.” MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History (1995).

Tap, Bruce. Over Lincoln’s Shoulder: The Committee on the Conduct of the War (1998).

Spielberg to film ‘Lincoln’ scenes in Richmond

By BOB LEWIS, Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. – The Capitol of Virginia, onetime seat of the Confederacy, is being converted for a few weeks more in keeping with how it looked at the close of the Civil War — for filming scenes from Steve Spielberg’s major production, Lincoln.

Bronze statue of Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln, Westfield NY.

Spielberg and members of his production company were guests Monday night of Gov. Bob McDonnell at Virginia’s Executive Mansion, just a few hundred feet from the state Capitol.

On the grounds of the 200-year-old seat of Virginia government, the grass is going without mowing in spots for some weeks to give it a more natural appearance at the request of the filmmakers. Lincoln visited Richmond after the fall of the Confederacy in 1865, shortly before his assassination.
Rita McClenny, head of the Virginia Film Office, said Spielberg’s moviemakers will be filming on Capitol Square in Richmond and other locations including Petersburg this fall through December. The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln.

Richmond’s urban area and the Capitol complex in particular have served as the set for movies many times before. The Capitol’s South Lawn and the South Portico, which were initially designed by Thomas Jefferson, doubled as the White House exterior in Dave. The interior doubled as the interior of the U.S. Capitol for the film “The Contender.”

It also was a stand-in for official Washington in the films “G.I. Jane,” “First Kid” and The Jackal. Its building interiors also served as the gloomy environs for Hannibal. And the region assumed an 18th century look for HBO’s miniseries John Adams.

Spielberg’s credits, among many others, include “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Schindler’s List,” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

Gettysburg Address text

On this date 148 years ago, the final battle, forever known as Pickett’s Charge, occurred at Gettysburg, Pa. Even though the speech was not given until November 1863, it is still important, during this Civil War Sesquicentennial, to take a moment to reflect upon the meaning of these important words:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground.

Bronze statue of Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln, Westfield NY.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Lincoln Assassination: New research unravels old myths

A historiography by Jeffrey S. Williams

The Northern States were celebrating the end of the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. shortly after 10 p.m. on April 14, 1865. When the president passed away at 7:22 a.m. the next morning, the celebration abruptly stopped and the nation mourned the passing of its wartime leader.

Conflicting eyewitness accounts of nearly every major news story happen frequently and the Lincoln assassination is no exception. Historians still differ on several points surrounding the events of April 1865. Did Laura Keene enter the Presidential Box and cradle Lincoln’s head in her lap (Harbin, 1966)? What was Mary Surratt’s role in the conspiracy (Larson, 2008)? Yet the one thing that all historians seem to agree on is that the man who pulled the trigger at Ford’s Theater on that fateful night was actor John Wilkes Booth.

President Lincoln wasn’t even buried when the first myths about his assassination began to surface.

The first myth was perpetuated by John Wilkes Booth himself. When his effects were brought to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, following the assassin’s death on April 26, 1865, Booth’s personal diary was among the artifacts. He wrote, “I shouted Sic semper before I fired. In jumping broke my leg. I passed all his pickets, rode sixty miles that night, with the bone of my leg tearing the flesh at every jump” (Kauffman, 2004, p. 399). Eyewitnesses immediately corrected the record about when Booth yelled “Sic Semper Tyrannus,” noting that it happened after the shooter landed on the stage. Yet nobody made a reference to Booth breaking his leg at that time (Kauffman, 2004).

Michael W. Kauffman has studied the Lincoln assassination for three decades and believes that Booth’s broken leg didn’t occur at Ford’s Theater. In American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (2004), he writes:

John Wilkes Booth

Flying through the door to Baptist Alley, Booth thrust his left foot into a stirrup and almost leaped into the saddle. His movement startled the mare, and she pulled out from under him, leaving him twisting with the full weight of his body on that (supposedly broken) left leg. Peanuts Borrows and Major Joseph Stewart both saw Booth’s struggle to throw himself onto the horse, and neither reported anything that suggests he was in pain. Nor did Sergeant Cobb notice any discomfort when Booth approached him to cross the Navy Yard Bridge. Not until Booth reached the tavern in Surrattsville was he clearly suffering from a painful injury. He told John Lloyd that his horse had fallen on him, and he boasted of killing the president. Booth and Herold had switched horses by then. Sergeant Cobb and others were positive that Booth had ridden away on a bright bay mare, and everyone agreed that Herold was on a roan. But outside the city, everyone who encountered them remembered it the other way around. In light of Booth’s broken leg, the switch made perfect sense. An injured man would certainly have preferred the gentle steady gait of a horse like the one Herold had rented. From Lloyd’s to Mudd’s, Booth stayed on that horse, and Herold rode the mare, who was now noticeably lame, with a bad cut on her left front leg. Clearly, she had been involved in an accident. (pp. 273-274).

When the film The Conspirator was released in April 2011, after shooting President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth falls on the stage and clutches his leg. Even though Kauffman’s book has been on the market for seven years before the film’s release, the myth of Booth’s broken leg is still being perpetuated.

Early Writings

             The earliest writings of the Lincoln Assassination were newspaper headlines and official dispatches from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Because of the rapidly moving news cycle and the slow telegraph technology, the early facts about the simultaneous assassination attempt of Secretary of State William H. Seward were incorrect, as the preliminary reports suggested John H. Surratt Jr., was the Seward assailant, instead of Lewis Thornton Powell. It took days before the War Department and the newspapers got the basic facts correct (Kauffman, 2004).

The real story of the assassination and the conspiracy didn’t start coming out until the trial of the conspirators – Mary Surratt, George Atzerodt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlin, Samuel Arnold and Edman Spangler, commenced a month later.

In The Trial of the Assassins and Conspirators at Washington City, D.C., May and June 1865, for the murder of President Lincoln (1865), the complete and unredacted transcript of the trial’s proceedings were published by T.B. Peterson & Brothers, shortly after the execution of Surratt, Atzerodt, Powell and Herold on July 7, 1865. This coincided with the release of the U.S. Army’s heavily edited transcript, The Assassination of President Lincoln and the Trial of the Conspirators (1865), edited by Benn Pitman, the trial’s court reporter.

George Alfred Townsend, a veteran journalist during the Civil War, published the daily reports that he wrote for the New York Herald between April 17 and May 17, 1865, into one volume titled, The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth (1865). All three books are source documents for historians today.

Townsend wasn’t satisfied with his coverage. He continued to hunt down leads and acquire information about the assassination throughout the remainder of his life. In 1883, he tracked down his biggest lead when he identified the person responsible for hiding Booth and David Herold for one full week they were on the run. Until then, nobody knew what happened to the pair of fugitives except that anonymous person. After repeated attempts at communication, Thomas A. Jones finally came clean and told his story to Townsend after keeping it a secret for 18 years (Swanson, 2006).

Osborn H.I. Oldroyd, a captain in the 20th Ohio Volunteer Infantry who began collecting Lincoln memorabilia in 1860, opened a small museum at the Abraham Lincoln House in Springfield, Illinois, in 1884. A decade later, he moved the museum to the Petersen House in Washington, D.C., where Lincoln died. Oldroyd ran the Petersen House Museum for three decades before selling his collection to the United States Government, which made it the backbone of their current artifact collection at Ford’s Theater (McAndrew, 2008).

Eleven years after Jones told his story to Townsend, the 74-year old Jones visited the Petersen House, viewed the museum’s artifacts, and examined the room where the late President breathed his last. He then introduced himself to Oldroyd and said, “My name is Thomas A. Jones, and I am the man who cared for and fed Booth and Herold while they were in hiding, after committing the awful deed” (Swanson, 2006, p. 245). Jones died the next year.

Another source document surfaced with the publication of Benjamin Perley Poore’s, Perley’s Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis (1886), in which the newspaperman vividly recreated the scene in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War, including the Lincoln assassination; Lincoln’s state funeral; and trial of the conspirators; though he didn’t describe the actual hanging of the four conspirators – Surratt, Herold, Atzerodt and Powell. Nonetheless, his descriptions of the events continue to help modern historians paint an accurate picture of the people and places that existed at that time.

The Lincoln Centennial

            After the turn of the century, Finis L. Bates wrote, The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth (1907), a largely fabricated story about Booth escaping from the Garrett Farm and fleeing to Enid, Oklahoma. Bates was so convinced that his subject, John St. Helen, was indeed the fugitive assassin that when St. Helen died in 1903, the author took possession of the mummified remains and put them in a traveling display (Bates, 1907). This was the first propagated myth suggesting that Booth might have escaped. The book’s source was an alleged granddaughter of John Wilkes Booth, with no proof of her actual relation to the assassin.

The attention to Bates’s book caught the attention of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation. In a redacted January 10, 1923 letter, BOI Director William J. Burns wrote:

The escape route of John Wilkes Booth and David Herold after the April 14, 1865 assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

I have gone over with considerable interest the volume entitled “The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth” by Finis L. Bates of Memphis, Tennessee, submitted by you. The work contains very strong evidence in support of the old belief that Booth did escape and live many years after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. This Department has no means of verification other than historic works, as the original case was handled by the military authorities. Thank you for bringing this to my attention (BOI, 1923).

This work led to a lawsuit filed by descendents of John Wilkes Booth’s brother, Edwin, to exhume the assassin’s body from Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery for identification purposes hoping to put the myth to rest. After a four-day trial in May 1995, Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan denied the family’s petition (Wilner, 1996).

The Booth escape myth was propagated as recently as December 23, 2010, when the History Channel ran an hour-long special on Brad Meltzer’s Decoded. Despite numerous attempts by historians to rebut the story with evidence that existed in 1865, this is a story that won’t go away (Kauffman, 2004).

In February 1909, as the nation observed the 100th birthday of President Lincoln, an address was given to the New York Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. It was titled, Lincoln’s Last Hours, written and delivered by Dr. Charles A. Leale, the Army surgeon who attended to Lincoln at Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House. Leale claims that he was the one who, “pronounced my diagnosis and prognosis: ‘His wound is mortal; it is impossible for him to recover.’ This message was telegraphed all over the country” (Leale,, 1909, p. 6). Why did Leale wait for 44 years before recording his memories of that fateful night?

On April 17, 1865, a New York newspaper reporter called at my army tent. I invited him in, and expressed my desire to forget all the recent sad events, and to occupy my mind with the exacting present and plans for the future…Recently, several of our Companions expressed the conviction, that history now demands, and that it is my duty to give the detailed facts of President Lincoln’s death as I know them, and in compliance with their request, I this evening for the first time will read a paper on the subject (Leale, 1909, p. 1).

The Leale document is important because it gives historians a first-hand look at the medical care that the president received from the time he was shot until his death the following morning. It also gives historians and surgeons an opportunity to compare older brain trauma techniques with modern medicine.

Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, director of the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center, believes that Lincoln could have survived the shooting if today’s technology had been available. Through Leale’s description of Lincoln’s condition, Scalea and other brain surgeons have determined that the round tore a path through the left side of the brain but did not hit the brainsteam or cross the midline, and stopped before entering the frontal lobes. They concluded that it was a survivable wound by modern standards (Brown, 2007).

After her brother was killed by Sgt. Boston Corbett, Asia Booth Clarke began to write her memoirs of growing up with John Wilkes Booth. Because of the public outrage over the assassination, Asia kept it to herself. Her work was not published until 1938. She solicited memories from her other brothers, Junius Jr., Edwin and Joseph. Edwin replied, “Think no more of him as your brother; he is dead to us now, as he soon must be to all the world, but imagine the boy you loved to be in that better part of his spirit, in another world” (Clarke, 1938, p. 92).

Modern Writings

            Samuel J. Seymour was a five-year boy when his godmother took him to the theater that night. When he died on April 13, 1956, one day before the 91st anniversary of the assassination, the last witness to the assassination was gone (McClarey, 2011).

Since the passing of Seymour and other witnesses, historians have taken a more objective look at the events of April 1865. The U.S. Government has opened its files to researchers, documents have been located in private collections and more attention has been given to deciphering the accuracy of information.

Michael W. Kauffman’s research has been instrumental in bringing new evidence to light. He has examined eyewitness testimony, government reports, transcripts of the conspirator trials, traced the route of Booth and Herold, including rowing a boat across the Potomac from the same location and in the same manner that the fugitives did. He purchased the rolls of microfilm from the National Archives that contain the 11,000 pages of the Lincoln Assassination Suspects file, and then built a custom database to sort and analyze all of his collected information.

The event-based system I designed was far different from the statistical models used by most historians, and it may actually be unique in the way it applies technology to the study of historical developments. Most important, it works. It brought to the fore new relationships among the plotters, unnoticed patterns in Booth’s behavior, and a fresh significance to events I once considered unimportant. All this has given me a clearer picture of the Booth conspiracy – including incidents no writer had previously noticed…By sorting events over time, I could see how one conspirator fades from the scene while another is shoved into his place. I got a sense of how much work and money went into the plot. I noticed how carefully choreographed the scheme really was. But most surprising of all, I learned how Booth managed to organize and run a dangerous plot – undetected – in the face of unprecedented government paranoia (Kauffman, 2004, pp. xiii-xiv).

It was this event-based system that allowed Kauffman to discover that Booth broke his leg in a riding accident after he crossed the Washington Navy Yard Bridge and before his arrival at the Surratt Tavern (Kauffman, 2004).

        In American Brutus (2004), Kauffman spells out Booth’s conspiracy plot in great detail. With dates of meetings and performances, Booths’ travel schedule, money transfers and conversations with people, Kauffman succeeds in outlining the conspiracy with great suspense. However, he gives us only a brief glimpse about the reasoning behind Booth’s plot, and does not fully follow the investigators who were on the trail of the assassin.

James L. Swanson spent nearly his whole life examining the life and death of Abraham Lincoln. Like Kauffman, his research is thorough and conclusions are concrete. While Swanson didn’t put together a significant database of information, he examined many of the same sources as Kauffman, plus looked closer at the newspaper articles from that time period. Swanson published, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer (2006), and picks up where Kauffman left off.

Swanson doesn’t spend much time on Booth’s background or his planning of the conspiracy plot. Swanson focuses on what happened April 14-26, 1865. He shows us what was going on with Booth and Herold during that time, along with the investigators who were examining leads, which eventually led to their apprehension. He also tells of the extreme difficulties that both the fugitives and the investigators faced during that time, and the overall result of Booth’s actions on American history.

          John Wilkes Booth did not get what he wanted. Yes, he did enjoy a singular success: he killed Abraham Lincoln. But in every other way, Booth was a failure. He did not prolong the Civil War, inspire the South to fight on, or overturn the verdict of the battlefield, or of free elections. Nor did he confound emancipation, resuscitate slavery, or save the dying antebellum civilization of the Old South. Booth failed to overthrow the federal government by assassinating its highest officials. Indeed, he failed to murder two of the three men he had marked for death on that “moody, tearful night.” He did not become an American hero, but he elevated Lincoln to the American pantheon. And, in his greatest failure, Booth did not survive the manhunt. His was not a suicide mission. He wanted desperately to live, to escape, to bask in the fame and glory he was sure would be his. He got his fame, but at the price of his life (Swanson, 2006, pp. 385-387).

While the bulk of the historical attention has been on John Wilkes Booth since 1865, two other conspirators had their biographies recently published. Alias Paine: Lewis Thornton Powell, the Mystery Man of the Lincoln Conspiracy (1993), was published by B.J. Ownsbey; and The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln (2008) was published by Dr. Kate Clifford Larson.

The first part of Larson’s work was a disappointment. A careful reading of Kauffman’s and Swanson’s works, both of which were source documents for The Assassin’s Accomplice, would have corrected some of basic historical inaccuracies, including the Booth claim of breaking his leg at Ford’s Theater. However, she spends more than half of the book discussing the trial of the conspirators, the rules of evidence, brief profiles of the attorneys involved, the sentencing, plea for the writ of habeas corpus, and the hanging of the guilty, which more than makes up for the inadequacies in the beginning.

As a testament to Larson’s professionalism, she admits that she went into the project with preconceived notions of Mary Surratt’s innocence but was swayed by the evidence she uncovered during the trial and in her further research.

Today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the evidence cannot be ignored. Mary Surratt did indeed keep “the nest that hatched the egg.” She could have chosen not to help Booth, but she decided to assist him in whatever way she could. In providing a warm home, private encouragement, and material support to Abraham Lincoln’s murderer, she offered more than most of Booth’s other supporters. For that, Mary Surratt lost her life and must forever be remembered as the assassin’s accomplice (Larson, 2008, p. 230).

What influenced John Wilkes Booth enough to commit his heinous act? Nora Titone believes that it was a bitter rivalry between John Wilkes and his brother, Edwin, following the death of their father, the famed actor Junius Brutus Booth, that led to the assassination.

          In My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth that Led to an American Tragedy (2010), Titone examines the relationship between the two brothers and draws some astonishing conclusions. She compares the careers of the two brothers and discovers that John Wilkes was always jealous of the success and accolades that Edwin received during his career, while Edwin dismissed his younger brother as undisciplined.

Since the assassination, historians have wondered why Secretary of State William H. Seward was a target for assassination while other cabinet members were not. She points out that Secretary Seward invited Edwin Booth to a private dinner on March 11, 1864, which was the beginning of a long friendship between the two men (Titone, 2010).

She also discusses Edwin’s plan for the three acting brothers to have separate territories in the country before the war. Junius Jr., who was already acting in the western United States, would continue to act west of the Mississippi River; Edwin would hold on to the lucrative Northeast; while John Wilkes was relegated to the southern and Midwestern states that were not as profitable. With John Wilkes touring in the south, he sympathized with them (Titone, 2010).

The history I tell is, in large measure, a theatrical history. For three generations, the Booths lived their lives on, and in the shadow of, the stage. To re-create their particular world, it was necessary to gather thousands of pages of primary sources from archives of nineteenth-century American theater history. Reminiscences of the famous clan abound, penned by fellow actors, by legions of journalists, by multitudes of contemporaries and friends. Most important, however, this narrative draws from over one hundred years’ worth of private letters, diaries, memoirs, account books, documents, and journals written by the Booths themselves, as well as from the family’s huge collection of playbills, paintings, statues, photographs, theatrical costumes, dramatic reviews, and stage props. My first debt is to librarians, curators, and archivists who guided me on a five-year search through this rich voluminous record (Titone, 2010, p. 457).

Titone gives us a fresh look at an event that has been well documented and heavily researched. Further investigation into some of the events, like the Seward dinner and the 1863 Draft Riots in New York City that had the entire Booth family, including Edwin and John Wilkes, hiding in fear for their lives, would, perhaps, give us a better indication of the reasons behind the assassination (Titone, 2010).

The Future

            Even though nearly a century and a half has passed since the assassination of President Lincoln, historians like Kauffman, Swanson, Larson and Titone are only now scratching the surface in telling the story objectively.

The Conspirator Movie Poster

However,  little has been written about the involvement of other conspirators like John H. Surratt Jr., who was in Elmira, New York, when Lincoln was killed; George Atzerodt, who failed in his attempt to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson; and David Herold, who spent 12 days in hiding with John Wilkes Booth. Other than Dr. Samuel Mudd, little has been written about the lives of Edman Spangler, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlin (Kauffman, 2004).

With the release of The Conspirator, questions have been raised about the life of Frederick A. Aiken, Mary Surratt’s attorney. Other minor characters, like Thomas A. Jones, who hid Booth and Herold for seven days while they were fugitives from justice, along with certain myths that continue to be propagated today, are also worthy of further research.


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