Posts from the ‘Obituaries’ Category

Mary Eugenia Surratt (1823-1865)

Convicted Lincoln assassination conspirator

Mary Surratt

Mary Eugenia Jenkins was born in Maryland in 1823. As an adolescent she attended a Catholic seminary for girls in Virginia, but at sixteen she married John Surratt, at least ten years her senior, and in 1840 settled with him in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In the early years of their marriage the Surratts prospered as a result of John’s success as a planter, which allowed him to expand his land holdings and open a general store and tavern, making up the core of the community that came to be known as Surrattsville (now Clinton). In 1854, a post office was even established in town, with John as its first postmaster. John’s earlier achievements were undermined, however, by his excessive drinking, which led to neglect of his farm and crops and a steady decline in his fortunes. In August 1862, John died. The Surratts’ eldest son Isaac (b. 1841), having taken a job as a pony-express rider in Mexico, left Mary Surratt alone to care for her two younger children, Anna (b. 1843) and John, Jr. (b. 1844).

Surratt struggled to manage what remained of the family’s holdings in Surrattsville, but she found it increasingly difficult, not least of all because John, Jr. showed so little interest in helping on the farm. By fall 1864, Mary Surratt had moved with John, Jr. and Anna to a house on H Street in Washington, D.C., which her husband had purchased in 1853 and which she converted into a boardinghouse. Happily for the Surratts, the boardinghouse did quite well, with a small number of steady boarders and the constant flow of more transient traffic through the federal capital during the war.

As early as 1863, John Surratt, Jr. – a loyal Southerner like his late father – began serving the Confederacy as a courier. In connection with this work, and with his college studies, John brought a number of people home to H Street, some of whom would later become entangled in the assassination conspiracy. In the spring of 1863, John introduced his mother to a school chum named Louis Weichmann, who took up residence in the Surratt boardinghouse in November 1864. By January 1865, John had met and become good friends with the ardent secessionist and actor John Wilkes Booth. Subsequently Booth was a regular visitor to H Street as well. German immigrant and assassination co-conspirator George Atzerodt also stayed at the boardinghouse for a few days in February 1865, until Mary Surratt evicted him for excessive drinking. Posting as a Baptist preacher, Lewis Powell – later found guilty of the 14 April attack on Secretary of State William H. Seward – lodged at the Surratt boardinghouse for three days in March.

Surratt Tavern in Clinton, Maryland (formerly Surrattsville)

It was not long after the shooting at Ford’s Theater that government investigators first descended on the boardinghouse. At approximately 2:30 on the morning of 15 April, several officials arrived and demanded to search the house in connection with the murder of the President. It appears that these men were looking for John, Jr., whom they believed at the time to have been the one to assault Seward. On the evening of the 17th, two detectives and two army officers returned, this time to arrest Mary Surratt and the rest of the people remaining in the house (Weichmann had slipped out on the 15th and was arrested that day; other boarders, disturbed by the crowds gathering around the house, had moved out on the 16th). Of the five who were arrested, all were women, with the exception of Lewis Powell, who arrived in disguise at the last, and for him most inopportune, moment. John Surratt, Jr., was nowhere to be found, and Booth had already escaped across the Potomac.

Mary Surratt and the others were questioned intensively at the headquarters of General Christopher Augur, commander of the Union troops in the capital, and the women were taken to the Old Capitol Prison, where they were incarcerated. Although the other women arrested with her (including Anna Surratt) were subsequently released, Mary Surratt was not. Instead, along with Atzerodt, Powell, and five others (Samuel Arnold, David Herold, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, Michael O’Laughlin, and Edward Spangler) Mary Surratt was charged in the conspiracy to assassinate the president and subjected to a trial by a military commission. The trial began on 11 May and ended on 28 June. All eight were found guilty in varying degrees, and on 5 July, when President Andrew Johnson issued his orders in connection with the commission’s verdict, four were sentenced to hang, Mary Surratt among them. Gallows for Surratt, Herold, Atzerodt, and Powell were swiftly constructed, and on 7 July 1865, despite all expectations that her sentence would be converted, Mary Surratt was executed.

The Assassination Conspirators Hang - from left: Mary E. Surratt, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, David Herold. Photo by Alexander Gardner.

The legitimacy of a military commission trying a case involving civilians, and the quality of both the investigation and the evidence supplied during the trial (particularly in her case) have continued to be matters of steady debate for well over a century. Doubts about Mary Surratt’s guilt were from the start exacerbated by her own unwavering claims – even to her priest – about her innocence. It does not help the cause of the prosecutors or the commission with its guilty verdict, or President Johnson with his determination to execute Surratt and the others as quickly as possible, that John Surratt, Jr., though finally captured and brought to trial in 1867, walked away free and lived until 1916.

– Elizabeth D. Leonard [Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, pages 1909-1910]

For further reading:

Bryan, George S. The Great American Myth: The True Story of Lincoln’s Murder (1990).

Busch, Francis X. Enemies of the State (1954).

DeWitt, David M. The Judicial Murder of Mary E. Surratt (1895; reprint, 1970).

Eisenschiml, Otto. Why Was Lincoln Murdered? (1937).

Moore, Guy W. The Case of Mrs. Surratt: Her Controversial Trial and Execution (1954).

Trindal, Mary E., and Elizabeth S. Mary Surratt: An American Tragedy (1996).

Turner, Thomas Reed. Beware the People Weeping: Public Opinion and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1982).


On this day: April 26, 1865 – JOHN WILKES BOOTH KILLED!

“Useless, Useless” actor declares as he gives up ghost at dawn.  

Harpers Weekly May 20, 1865 recounts the capturing and killing of John Wilkes Booth ending the 12-day chase for Lincoln's assassin.

The Account of the Officer in Charge

On April 24, 1865, Lieutenant Edward Doherty sits on a bench across from the White House conversing with another officer. The arrival of a messenger interrupts the conversation. The messenger carries orders directing Doherty to lead a squad of cavalry to Virginia to search for Booth and Herold. Scouring the countryside around the Rappahoneck River, Doherty is told the two fugitives were last seen at a farm owned by Richard Garrett. Doherty leads his squad to the farm arriving in the early morning hours of April 26.

“I dismounted, and knocked loudly at the front door. Old Mr. Garrett came out. I seized him, and asked him where the men were who had gone to the woods when the cavalry passed the previous afternoon. While I was speaking with him some of the men had entered the house to search it. Soon one of the soldiers sang out, ‘O Lieutenant! I have a man here I found in the corn-crib.’ It was young Garrett, and I demanded the whereabouts of the fugitives. He replied, ‘In the barn.’ Leaving a few men around the house, we proceeded in the direction of the barn, which we surrounded. I kicked on the door of the barn several times without receiving a reply. Meantime another son of the Garrett’s had been captured. The barn was secured with a padlock, and young Garrett carried the key. I unlocked the door, and again summoned the inmates of the building to surrender.

John Wilkes Booth

“After some delay Booth said, ‘For whom do you take me?’

“I replied, ‘It doesn’t make any difference. Come out.’

“He said, ‘I am a cripple and alone.’

“I said, ‘I know who is with you, and you had better surrender.’

“He replied, ‘I may be taken by my friends, but not by my foes.’

“I said, ‘If you don’t come out, I’ll burn the building.’ I directed a corporal to pile up some hay in a crack in the wall of the barn and set the building on fire.

“As the corporal was picking up the hay and brush Booth said, ‘If you come back here I will put a bullet through you.’

“I then motioned to the corporal to desist, and decided to wait for daylight and then to enter the barn by both doors and over power the assassins.

“Booth then said in a drawling voice. ‘Oh Captain! There is a man here who wants to surrender awful bad.’

“I replied, ‘You had better follow his example and come out.’

“His answer was, ‘No, I have not made up my mind; but draw your men up fifty paces off and give me a chance for my life.’

“I told him I had not come to fight; that I had fifty men, and could take him.

“Then he said, ‘Well, my brave boys, prepare me a stretcher, and place another stain on our glorious banner.’

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

“At this moment Herold reached the door. I asked him to hand out his arms; he replied that he had none. I told him I knew exactly what weapons he had. Booth replied, ‘I own all the arms, and may have to use them on you, gentlemen.’ I then said to Herold, ‘Let me see your hands.’ He put them through the partly opened door and I seized him by the wrists. I handed him over to a non-commissioned officer. Just at this moment I heard a shot, and thought Booth had shot himself. Throwing open the door, I saw that the straw and hay behind Booth were on fire. He was half-turning towards it.

“He had a crutch, and he held a carbine in his hand. I rushed into the burning barn, followed by my men, and as he was falling caught him under the arms and pulled him out of the barn. The burning building becoming too hot, I had him carried to the veranda of Garrett’s house.

Photo of the Garrett Farmhouse - courtesy of the National Park Service

“Booth received his death-shot in this manner. While I was taking Herold out of the barn one of the detectives went to the rear, and pulling out some protruding straw set fire to it. I had placed Sergeant Boston Corbett at a large crack in the side of the barn, and he, seeing by the igniting hay that Booth was leveling his carbine at either Herold or myself, fired, to disable him in the arm; but Booth making a sudden move, the aim erred, and the bullet struck Booth in the back of the head, about an inch below the spot where his shot had entered the head of Mr. Lincoln. Booth asked me by signs to raise his hands. I lifted them up and he gasped, ‘Useless, useless!’ We gave him brandy and water, but he could not swallow it. I sent to Port Royal for a physician, who could do nothing when he came, and at seven o’clock Booth breathed his last. He had on his person a diary, a large bowie knife, two pistols, a compass and a draft on Canada for 60 pounds.”

Clark, Champ. The Assassination: Death of the President (1987); Doherty, Edward P., Pursuit and Death of John Wilkes Booth, Century Magazine XXXIX (January, 1890); Kunhardt, Dorothy. Twenty Days (1965).

[Source: “The Death of John Wilkes Booth, 1865,” EyeWitness to History, (1997).]

In Memoriam Harold Small – LBG #30

Information courtesy of The Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides

Harold J. Small, 83, 45 Redding Lane, Gettysburg, died Friday morning, April 15, 2011 at his home, surrounded by his family.

Harold J. Small

He was born Jan. 7, 1928 in Gettysburg, the son of the late Jacob A. and Marie Redding Small. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Barbara Hankey Small.

Mr. Small was a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fairfield. Harold was a 1945 graduate of Gettysburg High School.  Following high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during World War II, earning the World War II Victory Medal and the American Theatre Medal.  During the Korean Conflict, Harold served another tour of duty aboard the USS Saipan.

Harold was a rural mail carrier for 27 years, retiring in 1983. He was also a Licensed Battlefield Guide at the Gettysburg National Military Park for 40 years. He was a member of the Gettysburg Fire Company and the veteran fireman’s Smoke Eaters Club; a 65-year member of the Albert J. Lentz American Legion Post 202 of Gettysburg; a member of the World War II Last Man’s Club; and a member of the Gettysburg Eagles. He was a former member of the Gettysburg Elks and the Gettysburg Moose. Harold enjoyed ringing the bell as a Salvation Army Volunteer. He also enjoyed golf and fancied himself as an avid duffer.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by four children, Robert “B.J.” Small and his fiancée, Needy Beigh of Enola; Cindy L. Small of Gettysburg; Nancy B. Notarangelo and her husband Mark of Harrisburg; Joyce A. Small of Biglerville; a granddaughter, Abby Dehoff of Harrisburg; a sister, Elizabeth Foltz of Carlisle; and a brother-in-law, Glenn Hankey of Gettysburg. He was predeceased by a granddaughter, Brandi Joy Small; a son-in-law, Gregory Coco; a brother, Wilbur Small; and a sister, Catherine Rudisill.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Monday, April 18 at 10:30 a.m. from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Fairfield, with Father Michael Massero celebrant. Interment will be in Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg.  There will be a viewing Sunday evening, April 17 at Monahan Funeral Home in Gettysburg, from 6 to 8 p.m. and on Monday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Fairfield, from 9:30 a.m. until the time of the Mass. Memorials can be made to Children’s Miracle Network, 611 St. Joseph Ave., Marshfield, WI 54449.

In Memory of …

April 15, 2011 Harold Small Badge #30
February 16, 2011 Samuel R. McHenry, Jr. Badge #79
February 6, 2011 Perry O. Pherson Badge #29
January 5, 2011 George E. Shealer Badge #121
January 23, 2010 Robert C. Mullen Badge #7
August 2, 2009 John Anthony “Tony” Brogan Badge #129
May 15, 2009 Suzanne Harbach Badge #6
January 1, 2009 Harmon Furney Badge #51
November 1, 2008 Eugene McVicker Badge #22
September 2007 Jack Wise Badge #133
August 6, 2007 John O’Brien Badge #109
April 21, 2007 Betty Weaver Badge #1
April 2, 2007 Maxine Hartlaub Badge #40
January 11, 2007 Louis Fischer Badge #49
February 7, 2007 Becky Lyons Assistant Guide Supervisor
December 15, 2006 Alan Crawford Badge #108
September 4, 2006 Paul Burkholder Badge #39
February 6, 2006 Druid Deitch Badge #94
July 5, 2005 Donna Migdalski Badge #60
April 24, 2005 Russell Cunningham Badge #2
February 14, 2005 Richard L. Fox Badge #19
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