Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 3 Num. 90

("Quid coniuratio est?")

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


In the Spring of 1865, the legality of military court martials for civilians was a case then pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. "It was apparent to Stanton and the other government officials in the cover-up that they must rush the military trial of the accused Booth conspirators before the high court ruled, for the judges seemed certain... to declare military tribunals illegal for civilians when civil courts were functioning [as they then were]." It was fairly obvious that constitutional guarantees of trial by jury would force such a ruling.

Accordingly, the government rushed to announce the formation of a special "Court of Military Justice" that would decide the fate of the accused Booth conspirators. "Bias was evident." A witticism of the time was that "The Court of Military Injustice has been organized to convict."

The defendants in the case faced several disadvantages. They were unable, at first, to obtain lawyers to represent them. There was no higher court to which they could appeal. All the prisoners were denied the most basic sanitary needs. "Technically, the prisoners were allowed visitors. Actually, they were denied even religious counselors... To see a prisoner, a pass had to be signed by [both] Stanton and Secretary of the Navy Welles. There were no visitors."

On April 23rd, jailers received the following instructions from Stanton: "The Secretary of War requests that the prisoners on board the ironclads belonging to this department, for better security against conversation, shall have a canvas bag put over the head of each and tied about the neck, with a hole for proper breathing and eating, but not seeing..."

"The bags were padded with one inch thick cotton. A ball of extra cotton padding covered the prisoners' eyes to cause painful pressure on the closed eye lids. Sight and sound were cut off, a mental torture that never ceased for the devices were to be worn 24 hours a day."

Dr. George Loring Porter, prison physician, complained to Stanton that "The constant pressure of those thickly padded hoods may induce insanity." [B.R. This seems to me like a type of constant sensory deprivation was being imposed on these civilian prisoners.]

Two of the prisoners turned state's evidence to save their lives. A detective who had been placed in the cell of a Louis Weichmann "...wrote out a statement that he claimed Weichmann had made in his sleep." Weichmann was ordered to sign the statement, "...or face prosecution as one of the conspirators."

"A Col. Foster demanded that John Lloyd -- Mrs. Surratt's drunken tenant at Surrattsville -- make a statement." This is the same Mr. Lloyd who earlier had been denied liquor and hung by his thumbs for 48 hours until he had given a previous "statement." Col. Foster gave the new "statement" to Lloyd and demanded that he sign it, explaining that the first statement was not "full enough."

Several witnesses with unsavory backgrounds were paid for offering pre-arranged testimony. For example, "Sanford Conover... was to claim he was a newspaper correspondent for the New York Tribune and had... learned of plots to burn certain Northern cities, to poison municipal water supplies, and to spread yellow fever in the North by use of 'infected clothing.'"

In a letter from Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt to Secretary of War Stanton, he states that each of the commission members believes the conspirators "are guilty beyond doubt." He further states, however, that the commission members feel that a trial is necessary so as to "follow the military method of hearing the evidence and following the code." But the Judge Advocate General assures Stanton that "the commission will not allow the conspirators' attorneys to impeach the testimony of [stooge witnesses] Conover, Merritt, or Montgomery in any manner whatever."

NDP chief Lafayette Baker assigned Lt. Col. Everton Conger to get statements from the various participants in the chase that had ended in Boyd's death. On May 2, 1865, Conger wrote to NDP chief Baker "I have directed each detective, officer and private soldier who took part in the pursuit, capture and death of Wilkes Booth [really Boyd] to prepare a written statement concerning those events and to submit the statements to myself... Some of the statements upon receipt I found wanting. I found it necessary to add to the narrative in some statements and to rewrite others."

Around this time NDP chief Baker also assigned Luther and Andrew Potter to renew their chase after John Wilkes Booth. Although by this time the trail had "gone cold," the Potter brothers were fortunate and picked up on a fresh trail at Orange Court House. From there they pushed on toward Stanardsville where Booth, Henson, and Booth's valet had all spent the night in a barn. "The detectives followed Booth's trail to Lydia where a widow told them the men had spent the night of Saturday, April 29, at her place." Unfortunately, from there the trail vanished.

"The preliminary proceedings of the trial began May 8, 1865, when official charges... were delivered to eight defendants: Herold, Atzerodt, Payne, Spangler, O'Laughlin, Arnold, Mrs. Surratt, and Dr. Mudd."

The defendants were to be tried by court martial. According to then Attorney General James Speed, the legal justification for the trial of these civilians by a military court was based on what began to be called "the Laws of War." Former Attorney General Edward Bates noted, "There is no such thing as the Laws of War." Yet American citizens were to be judged by this unwritten code. The authors declare that this "Common Law of War" was nothing more than a pretext "...for trampling upon every constitutional guarantee... of the citizen. There is no invention too monstrous, no punishment too cruel... [that cannot] find authority and sanction in such a common law."

[B.R. And of course, as noted previously, the war was already over.]

At 10 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday, May 9, the eight prisoners were led into the court and asked if they wished to employ counsel. All eight defendants replied that they wished to be represented by counsel. They were given until 10 a.m. the following morning to obtain the services of an attorney.

"At 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, May 10, the trial officially began. The defendants had had only two days' notice of the charges against them. The prosecution had been preparing its case for weeks. Not all the prisoners had been able to obtain counsel."

That morning, the prisoners were officially arraigned and the charges of "treason and murder" were read against them. All eight entered a plea of "not guilty." The defendants were told that they had the right to an attorney, "...but they must supply such counsel; the government would not." When asked, many lawyers refused to represent the accused.

Because the defendants obtained counsel and became acquainted with the charges at the last minute (or, in the case of Edward Spangler, not until three days into the trial), "In each case, arguments for the defense had to be formulated on the spot."

After weeks of cramped confinement in the humid courtroom, the testimony concluded on June 28. "The military commission met in secret session to deliberate on the testimony."

As people had time to reflect on the use of court martial for civilians, reaction against it began to grow. "Orville H. Browning, former Illinois senator and Lincoln's very close friend, declared: 'This commission is without authority, and its proceedings void. The execution of these persons will be murder.'"

There was also some curiousity about the backgrounds of some of the government's stooge witnesses. "It would be some time before the truth came out... [that one of the witnesses was] a New York burglar with a long police record... and that Conover, alias James Watson Wallace, was a Charles Dunham who had secretly coached government witnesses on fictitious testimony for which they were paid. Conover would later go to prison for perjury."

On June 30th the tribunal reached a verdict. The official court record stated, "David E. Herold, Lewis Payne, Mrs. Surratt and George A. Atzerodt are to be hung tomorrow by proper military authorities. Dr. Mudd, Arnold and O'Laughlin are to be imprisoned for life, and Spangler for six years, all at hard labor, in the Albany Penitentiary."

Outside the prison walls, a crowd of citizens responded to the verdict of the military tribunal with angry shouts of "judicial murder."

On Friday, July 7, David E. Herold, Lewis Payne, Mrs. Surratt and George A. Atzerodt were scheduled to be hung shortly after 1 p.m. The day was hot and humid. As 1 p.m. approached, Mrs. Surratt was helped to her feet from the chair she had been allowed to sit in just outside her cell. She called to her priest, a Rev. Walter. Her final words to the priest were, "I am innocent." The Rev. Walter later declared, "They were the last confession of an innocent woman."

The prisoners climbed the traditional 13 steps of the scaffold. Four ropes were adjusted about the four necks. At the command of a Col. Rath, the supporting timbers "...moved forward. A dull thump -- wood sounded against wood. The two support posts fell away. The double traps overhead swung downward."

"It was 1:26 p.m., one of the darkest moments in American history."

"Before Mrs. Surratt's body was removed from the gallows, people outside the prison were chanting, 'Judicial murder!'"

The remaining four "conspirators," Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O'Laughlin, and Edward Spangler, had a reassignment of prison. Because NDP chief Baker, Stanton and others feared that these remaining prisoners might yet be pardoned or allowed to talk in the Albany penitentiary, they were now ordered to be confined at hard labor in the military prison at Dry Tortugas, Florida.

"Secretary of the Navy Welles said Stanton had persuaded [President Andrew] Johnson to move the prisoners that far away where mosquitos and fever were likely to silence the four."

The remaining prisoners were accordingly transferred to the prison at Dry Tortugas. After they had been there awhile, "Smallpox spread through the prison, and the victims were placed close to the dungeon shared by Dr. Mudd, Spangler, Arnold, and O'Laughlin. Arnold wrote, 'It was done for the express purpose of innoculating us with this fearful and loathesome malady.'"

NDP chief Lafayette Baker and the Potter brothers remained on the trail of the real John Wilkes Booth, who they knew to be alive. On May 2nd, they picked up Booth's trail in Lydia. A boy led them to a cave where Booth, Henson, and Booth's valet Henry Johnson had hid. From there, they followed Booth to Linville. In Linville, a farmer named Louis Pence recognized a picture of Booth as being that of one of three men who had stayed overnight at his farm. The farmer said that he had taken the three to Harper's Ferry. Baker and the Potter brothers guessed that Booth must be heading for his farm at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. But Booth was not at his farm and the trail turned cold. Baker and the Potter brothers returned to Washington.

Shortly after the trial of the "conspirators," a key witness, "...Louis Weichmann unburdened himself to John P. Brophy, a professor at Gonzaga college... Brophy signed an affidavit, which he took to the White House to seek perjury charges against Weichmann." Brophy was barred from seeing the President, so he next went to a newspaper. "But the editor refused to print the professor's affidavit on the grounds it was 'too strong.'"

About this time, a House Judiciary Committee was formed. "Andrew J. Rogers, Congressman from New Jersey, filed a minority report of the Select Committee on the Assassination of Lincoln." Among the points made by the minority report of the Select Committee were that

*** "...the majority of the committee determined to throw in my way every possible impediment... Papers were put away from me, locked in boxes, hidden; and when I asked to see them, I was told... I could not."

*** "Secrecy has surrounded and shrouded, not to say protected, every step of these examinations, and even in the committee room I seemed to be acting with a sort of secret council of inquisition."

*** "There are two reports on this trial. One approved by... [Judge Advocate] Holt... and [the other] the Associated Press report." Rogers charged that the official court record of the assassination trial had been substantially "doctored" by Judge Advocate Holt.

By February of 1866, Lafayette Baker and Stanton had had a falling out and Baker was discharged from the U.S. Army and also from the NDP (i.e. Secret Service). In 1867, Baker published a book entitled "History of the U.S. Secret Service." In the book, Baker "...told about delivering Booth's diary to Stanton. The disclosure created a storm in the Congress. Why had it been kept secret? Why hadn't it been mentioned at the conspiracy trial of 1865?"

The diary was recovered from the War Department. However, a new sensation was caused when it was discovered that 18 pages of the Booth diary were missing. Former NDP chief Lafayette Baker exploded, "Who spoliated that book?" Baker later testified that "...In my opinion, there have been leaves torn out of that book since I saw it." (i.e. since he delivered the book to Stanton in 1865).

Why were pages torn out of Booth's diary? "The answer was that one or more persons didn't want those missing papers made public. The missing pages were not destroyed, although it would take more than a century before they would be discovered."


"If among those drawn into the whirlpool set up by so sudden a subversion of the current of human affairs, there were any suffered an unjust doom, their innocence should be made clear beyond question."

           -- David Miller Dewitt
              The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and its

"Historians, in developing the story of Lincoln's assassination, have encountered [baffling facts]. Why did General Grant suddenly alter his plans and decide not to go to Ford's Theater on the evening of Lincoln's assassination? Who, during that same night, tampered with the telegraph wires leading out of Washington? Why was the President's bodyguard at the playhouse, guilty of the grossest negligence, not punished nor even questioned?"

"Perhaps the most serious reproach against historical writers is not that they have left such questions unanswered, but that they have failed to ask them."

           -- Otto Eisenschiml
              Why Was Lincoln Murdered?

"The history of the controversial Conspiracy Trial of 1865 as most Americans know it is a textbook version pared down to a digestible nubbin. For history... has to be reduced to a fairly simple story which average students can understand and recite."

"[The] basic account, with some modifications, is the same one the engineers of the Conspiracy Trial set out to promulgate. In a way their success in planting [their version] on the pages of American history was a triumph in propaganda. For even before the trial began, the first gusts of a storm of protest were shaking the legend."

           -- Vaughan Shelton
              Mask for Treason: The Lincoln Murder Trial


"Many of the people who played roles in the Lincoln assassination, the conspiracy, and cover-up suffered ironic twists in their own lives."

"Col. Lafayette Baker threatened to expose those involved in the plot against Lincoln and attempts were made on his life to silence him." Eventually, Baker was killed. He died on July 3, 1868. By chemical analysis of a lock of Baker's hair, it has been shown that Baker was slowly killed by arsenic poisoning.

After the assassination of her husband, Mrs. Lincoln was in an extreme state of hysteria. She moved to Chicago with her son, Tad, and went into seclusion. In July of 1871, Tad became ill and died suddenly of "dropsy of the chest." Mrs. Lincoln's mental state deteriorated and she began to have "hallucinations" of being followed and feared for her life. Her remaining son, Robert, had her committed to an insane asylum. She was released after four months and moved to Europe. "In 1879, she suffered an accidental fall and returned to the States an invalid. She moved to Springfield to live. There she shut herself away in a darkened room, preferring candlelight to sunlight." Mrs. Lincoln died in July of 1882.

"Tragedy struck Maj. Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris [both with Lincoln at the moment of his assassination], who were married, had a family, and took up residence in Germany. Two nights before Christmas in 1883, Rathbone attempted to kill his children. When a nurse tried to intervene, he instead shot his wife to death and stabbed himself. Doctors saved his life, but he spent the rest of his years in a German asylum."

Sergeant Boston Corbett, the man who "admitted" that it was he who shot Booth, was a celebrity known throughout the country as "the man who shot Booth." In 1887, he obtained a job as doorman to the Kansas State Legislature. "One morning after the roll call, he appeared with revolvers in each hand and opened fire on the legislators..." He was committed to an insane asylum in Topeka, Kansas, but later escaped. From there he went to Texas and disappeared from public view.

Booth, Henson, and Henry Johnson (Booth's valet) spent several months on Booth's farm at Harpers Ferry. About November of 1865, they went to Pennsylvania, "where Booth reunited with former girlfriend Kate Scott, who was expecting Booth's child within a month." Kate Scott later signed a sworn affidavit that Booth was alive after the shooting at Garrett's farm and that he had visited her in Pennsylvania.

From Pennsylvania, the trio of Booth, Henson, and Johnson moved on to New York City. It is known that Booth went from there to Canada and later to England, where he married an Elizabeth Marshall Burnley and changed his name to John Byron Wilkes.

"Reports have him staying in England for some time, then going to India, where, some say, he died." But other reports say that he went on from India to California. "Another report claims that a man who died in 1900 in Enid, Oklahoma, on his deathbed stated he was John Wilkes Booth. This man was never buried. His body was mummified and still exists today [1977]."

Michael O'Laughlin died of yellow fever at the prison at Dry Tortugas, Florida. The efforts of Dr. Samuel Mudd to combat the epidemic of yellow fever at the prison eventually helped win the doctor a pardon in February of 1869. "Samuel Arnold and Ned Spangler were also released from the Dry Tortugas prison. Spangler, who was dying of tuberculosis, went home with Dr. Mudd, who cared for him until he died. Dr. Mudd died of pneumonia 18 years after Lincoln's assassination, while Arnold lived to old age."

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

{ to the following:                                             }
{                                                               }
{ Andrew Potter Papers, Ray A. Neff Collection, Marshall, IL    }
{                                                               }
{ Bishop, Jim, The Day Lincoln Was Shot (Harper & Brothers,   }
{   New York, 1955)                                             }
{                                                               }
{ Col. Everton Conger's Letter to Col. Lafayette C. Baker,      }
{   May 2, 1865. In the private collection of Stanton           }
{   descendants. Released in 1976 through the efforts of        }
{   Americana appraiser Joseph Lynch.                           }
{                                                               }

{ Col. Lafayette Baker's Letter to Edwin Stanton, undated. In } { the private collection of Stanton descendants. Released in }

{   1976 through the efforts of Americana appraiser, Joseph     }
{   Lynch.                                                      }
{                                                               }
{ DeWitt, David M., The Judicial Murder of Mary E. Surratt    }
{   (J. Murphy & Co., Baltimore, 1895)                          }
{                                                               }
{ 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)                        }
{                                                               }

{ Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt's Letter to Secretary of } { War Edwin M. Stanton, undated. In the private collection of } { Stanton descendants. Released in 1976 through the efforts }

{   of Americana appraiser Joseph Lynch.                        }
{                                                               }
{ Kate Scott Affidavit. Ray A. Neff Collection.                 }
{                                                               }

{ Kauffman, Michael W., Report to the President on the Case } { of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd., M.D. Richard A. Mudd Collection } { } { Kunhardt, Dorothy Meserve and Kunhardt, Philip B., Twenty }

{   Days  (Harper & Row, New York, 1965)                       }
{                                                               }
{ Mrs. Lafayette Baker's Diary for 1868. Ray A. Neff            }
{   Collection, Marshall, IL                                    }
{                                                               }
{ Poore, Ben Perley, The Conspiracy Trial for the Murder of    }
{   the President (J.E. Tilton Co., Boston, 1865)              }
{                                                               }

{ Report Relating to the Assassination of President Lincoln, } { House Reports, No. 104, 39th Congress, 1st Session, Vol. 1, }

{   July 1866                                                   }
{                                                               }
{ Shelton, Vaughan, Mask for Treason: The Lincoln Murder       }
{   Trial (Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA, 1965)              }
{                                                               }
{ Unpublished interview with Mrs. E.W. Nelson (David Herold's   }
{   sister) of Denver, Colorado, Aug. 22, 1873. Ray A. Neff     }
{   Corporation.                                                }
{                                                               }
{ Unpublished Voluntary Statement of Michael O'Laughlin, Apr.   }
{   27, 1865, originally in the Benn Pitman 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) }

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

To my knowledge, the book The Lincoln Conspiracy is no longer in print. A movie was made based on this book and released by (I think) Sunn Pictures -- I don't know if the movie is still being distributed.

It seems to me that the history of the united States took a drastic wrong turn after the Lincoln assassination. I think we have yet to get back on the road we were on. It is my hope that bringing to light the true facts regarding the assassination will be a first step in this process. To that end, I encourage you to distribute all parts of this series as widely as possible.

I encourage distribution of "Conspiracy Nation."

If you would like "Conspiracy Nation" sent to your e-mail address, send a message in the form "subscribe conspire My Name" to -- To cancel, send a message in the form "unsubscribe conspire" to but with absolutely nothing in the subject line of the message.
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"