Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 3 Num. 83

("Quid coniuratio est?")

The Lincoln Conspiracy
By David Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier, Jr.


According to the authors, Booth's plan after having carried out the abduction of Lincoln was to go to Europe. They state that Booth had arranged for extensive bank credits in England and France.

Yet as Booth's desperation grew, the original kidnapping plot gradually became an assassination plot.

On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, workers began preparing the "Presidential Box" at Ford's theatre because they had received word that Lincoln would be attending the theatre that night. To get to the Presidential Box, one needed to pass into a single small antechamber whose entrance would be constantly guarded.

Booth had learned that the President would be attending the theatre. According to an unpublished, voluntary statement by Booth's friend, Michael O'Laughlin, Booth met O'Laughlin in front of Ford's Theatre at about 7:45 pm that evening. Booth was upset. O'Laughlin quotes him as saying, "Everything's gone wrong! The major sent word that he would not be here... The major with the President has refused to go through with it... Everyone wants to call it off again. I refuse. It must be done tonight!"

That morning, there had been a cabinet meeting at the White House. At that meeting, Stanton had again argued for the Radical Republicans plan of "reconstruction." At the meeting, Stanton again pushed for this plan which favored that the "...South be treated as a conquered nation and ruled by military occupation."

However, as already noted, Lincoln opposed this plan for harsh treatment of the former Confederacy. What is more, Lincoln's political strength was at a high point. "He had kept his pledge to keep the Union intact. He had freed the slaves. To date, he had won everything for which he had fought." Lincoln would be a powerful opponent to the hopes for a postwar pillaging of the South.

That evening, one of Lincoln's bodyguards, John Parker, was late in arriving. Nonetheless, the President allowed William Crook, another of his bodyguards, to go home without waiting for Parker's arrival. As Crook was leaving, Lincoln said to him, "Good-bye, Crook." According to Crook this was unusual in that Lincoln had heretofore always said "Good night, Crook."

At about this time, in the early evening of April 14, 1865, while Lincoln was preparing to leave with his wife for Ford's Theatre, his death was already being reported in scattered parts of the country:

*** In St. Joseph, Minnesota, located over 80 miles from the nearest telegraph, the news was circulating that the President had been murdered.

*** That morning, residents of Booth's hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire, "were speaking in the past tense of Lincoln's assassination, discussing the event as if it had already happened."

*** At 2:30 pm, a writer on the Middletown, New York Whig Press asserted that he had been informed that the President had been shot.

*** The Newburgh Journal confirmed the reports in the Whig Press regarding Lincoln's having been shot.

Thus, from 12 to 4 hours before the actual assassination, it was already being reported.

One of Lincoln's bodyguards, John Parker, arrived at Ford's Theatre before Lincoln and checked out the lobby, the stairs to the "dress circle," and the presidential box. The Lincoln party, consisting of Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln, Maj. R. Rathbone, and his fiancee, Miss Clara Harris, arrived at the theatre after the play, "Our American Cousin" had already begun. They were accompanied by Lincoln's personal aide, Charles Forbes.

After the presidential party had been seated in the presidential box, guard John Parker commenced to stand guard at his assigned post. However, after a short while, Parker moved from there to an empty seat at the front of the gallery from which spot he could watch the play. Lincoln's back was now totally unguarded.

But Parker soon grew bored with the play. He went downstairs to the lobby, went outside, and walked up to the presidential carriage. Inside, the driver was sleeping. Parker woke the driver and asked him if he would like to join him for a beer at the nearby Taltavul's Star Saloon. The driver accepted the invitation. "As the two men passed through the theatre doors on their way to... [the saloon], they saw [presidential aid] Forbes who had left the presidential party alone in the box. Forbes joined Parker and Burns [the driver] at the bar."

As the play progressed, Parker, Forbes, and Burns enjoyed their beers in the saloon. Booth entered the theatre, climbed the stairs, and entered the presidential box. "Booth took a quick step from the antechamber, crossed the three or four feet to the President's back, and quickly extended the pistol. Lincoln started to turn his head to the left. The derringer's explosion ripped through the laughter."

"The assailant dropped his pistol and sprang toward the box railing. Rathbone thought he heard someone cry, 'Freedom!' Booth cried, 'Sic semper tyrannis!' Thus always to tyrants."

Major Rathbone jumped up and grappled with Booth. Booth made a slash with a large knife towards the major's chest. Rathbone deflected the blow with his left arm and was badly cut between the elbow and the shoulder.

"Booth vaulted over the railing to the stage apron a dozen feet below... [Upon landing, he found that] the fall had snapped his [Booth's] left tibia about two inches above the ankle." Nonetheless, Booth was able to stagger towards the backstage exit, mount a horse, and ride off.

Doctors in the audience examined the President's wound and pronounced it fatal. "The President's eyes showed evidence of brain damage. The bullet had gone in the left side of the head, behind the ear near the top of the spine. There was no exit wound."

"Fingers, thrust into the wound, could not touch the bullet. From the patient's slightly protruding right eye, the doctors correctly concluded the 44 caliber ball had entered behind the left ear and lodged in the brain just behind the right eye."

At Secretary of State Seward's home there had also been an assassination attempt. At the Seward mansion, five people had been attacked. Among those attacked was the Secretary of State. The assailant "...sprang upon the defenseless secretary in the bed. The knife... [ripped] Seward's right cheek, the right side of his throat, and [slashed] deeply under the left ear. So much blood spurted, it seemed his throat must have been cut."

As the city grew hysterical over the news of the assassination attempts, rumors of all sorts spread. Amidst all the uproar, Booth "galloped toward the Navy Yard Bridge which crossed the Eastern Branch of the Potomac. The further shore was Maryland. Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic were to the east. Richmond was 100 miles south.

Shortly after Lincoln was shot, L.A. Gobright, an Associated Press representative in Washington, put a short bulletin out over the commercial telegraph saying that the President had been shot. "The AP man filed a second telegram... The morning edition of the New York Tribune read, 'Our Washington agent orders the dispatch about the president stopped. Nothing is said about the truth or falsity of that dispatch.'"

"Before details of the night of terror could be flashed from Washington to morning newspapers, the commercial telegraph went dead... Within 15 minutes after the murder, the wires were severed entirely around the city, excepting only a secret wire for government use..."

The authors state that this destruction of telegraph service could only have been accomplished by someone who was an expert about the telegraph. "Only someone familiar with telegraphy, working inside the main terminal area, could have so effectively sabotaged the news wire."

After having been shot, the dying Lincoln had been taken across the street to a boardinghouse owned by William Peterson. In the back parlor of the house, Secretary of War [B.R. They now call this cabinet post the Secretary of "Defense"] Stanton set up a temporary seat of government. "Here, virtually a dictator, Stanton took control of the situation and the nation."

Stanton began issuing orders to close escape routes out of the city. Eventually, the only road not closed by Stanton was the road leading south from Washington to Port Tobacco. "Booth's act had caused a virtual blockade of the whole Atlantic coast from Baltimore to Hampton Roads, Virginia, yet the assassin slipped through because the closings had been piecemeal, beginning in the least likely direction and moving slowly toward the route Booth was most likely to have taken."

"In all wires issued from the War Department during the night of April 14, this route [south from Washington to Port Tobacco] was not once mentioned...[Yet] it was the one obvious route that should have been instantly and tightly closed."

In the back parlor of the Peterson house, statements by witnesses to the shooting were taken. James Tanner, a Union corporal who knew shorthand, recorded these statements. In Tanner's words, "Within fifteen minutes, I had testimony enough to hang Wilkes Booth." Yet Stanton sent no messages to the newspapers or to the military leaders identifying Booth as the assassin.

By this time, Booth was well south of Washington and headed east toward Benedict's Landing where a ship of British registry, flying Canadian colors, was waiting for two "crewmen." A second ship of British registry, also flying the Canadian flag, was waiting at Port Tobacco.

For Rebel turncoat Captain James William Boyd, the murder of Lincoln was not good news. "Booth's shot wrecked his plan to kidnap Lincoln on behalf of the Northern speculators. If his name became involved in the Booth plot, Boyd was in great danger." Boyd decided to flee. He packed his gear and headed for Maryland.

"About 6 a.m. Saturday morning, White House guard John Parker, who had vacated his post and allowed the President to be shot, showed up at the Washington police station with Lizzie Williams, a drunken streetwalker, in custody. She was released by the precinct captain."

{ Sources used for this section include, but are not limited }

{ to the following:                                             }
{                                                               }
{ Bishop, Jim, The Day Lincoln Was Shot (Harper & Brothers,   }
{   New York, 1955)                                             }
{                                                               }
{ Dewitt, David M., The Assassination of Lincoln and Its       }
{   Expiation (MacMillan Co., New York, 1909)                  }
{                                                               }
{ Eisenschiml, Otto, Why Was Lincoln Murdered? (Little,       }
{   Brown, and Co., Boston, 1937)                               }
{                                                               }
{ Eisenschiml, Otto, In the Shadow of Lincoln's Death         }
{   (Wilfred Funk, Inc., New York, 1940)                        }
{                                                               }
{ Existing Pages of the John Wilkes Booth Diary on display at   }
{   Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, Washington, D.C.     }
{                                                               }
{ Ferguson, W.J., I Saw Booth Shoot Lincoln (Houghton         }
{   Mifflin, Boston, 1930)                                      }
{                                                               }
{ Gerry, Margarita Spalding, Through Five Administrations:     }
{   Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook (Harper and      }
{   Brothers, New York, 1907)                                   }
{                                                               }
{ Roscoe, Theodore, The Web of Conspiracy (Prentice-Hall,     }
{   Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1959)                                 }
{                                                               }
{ Shelton, Vaughan, Mask for Treason: The Lincoln Murder       }
{   Trial (Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA, 1965)              }
{                                                               }
{ Unpublished Voluntary Statement of Michael O'Laughlin, April  }
{   27, 1865, originally in the Benn Pittman Collection,        }
{   Cincinnati, OH  Ray A. Neff Collection                      }
{                                                               }

{ Weichmann, Louis J., A True History of the Assassination of } { Abraham Lincoln and of the Conspiracy of 1865, ed. Floyd } { E. Risvold, (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1975) }

[ be continued...]

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Aperi os tuum muto, et causis omnium filiorum qui pertranseunt. Aperi os tuum, decerne quod justum est, et judica inopem et pauperem. -- Liber Proverbiorum XXXI: 8-9

Brian Francis Redman "The Big C"

Coming to you from Illinois -- "The Land of Skolnick"