Monday, July 7, 2014


7/7/1865 - With most of the nation wanting payback beyond the death of John Wilkes Booth for the April 14th assassination of President Lincoln (scores of individuals are thrown in jail while the Federal authorities try to establish who was in on the plot, among them are Booth's actor brother Junius, theater owner John T. Ford, and James Pumphrey, the owner of the livery stable where Booth hired his escape horse), four co-conspirators deemed most guilty by a military tribunal (among its nine-member commission is the future author of Ben Hur, Major General Lew Wallace) appointed by President Andrew Johnson are executed at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.

                              The Assassination of President Lincoln - Currier and Ives 2.png
After a trial lasting seven weeks in which 366 witnesses testify, the condemned consist of Lewis Thornton Powell (also known by the name Lewis Paine, a 21-year-old former Confederate soldier that wounds five with a Bowie knife and the butt of his misfiring pistol trying to kill William Seward at the Secretary of State's home ... escaping the attack, he rushes into the night crying out, "I'm mad!  I'm mad!"), Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt (a 45-year-old widow that owned the boarding house where Booth stayed for months while planning Lincoln's murder), George Andreas Atzerodt (a 30-year-old drunk from Germany who is assigned the death of Vice-President Johnson, but instead, goes on a bender in the bar of the Kirkwood House, the hotel where Johnson is a resident), and David Edgar Herold (the 23-year-old guide that shows Paine the home in which to attack Seward, and then helps Booth out of the city after Lincoln's shooting, accompanying the killer until the pair are caught  in Virginia).
                                                         The Trial
           Lewis Payne.jpg Mary Surratt.jpg
                               Powell                                                Surratt
           George Atzerodt2.jpg David Herold retouched.jpg
                            Atzerodt                                               Herold
                                            The Surratt Boardinghouse

Supervised by one of the heroes of the Battle of Gettysburg, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, at 1:15 in the afternoon of a hot Washington, D.C. day (at noon the temperature is almost 94 degrees), before a crowd of over 1,000 (including Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner who scores a grand slam with Lincoln and his death, capturing the President's likeness seven times while he is alive, documenting the man's funeral, and taking the only shots of the execution of Booth's co-conspirators), the condemned prisoners, ankles and wrists bound by shackles, are led from their cells in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary on the grounds of Fort McNair and escorted by four members of Company F of the 14th Veteran Reserves up to the scaffold built for their execution.

                                            The Order of Execution is read

Built under the supervision of "Captain" Christian Rath (actually a colonel who preferred the lesser designation), who also fashions the nooses used (tested the night before by dropping bags of buckshot from a stout tree limb), the gallows of the guilty stands 12 feet high and is a hinged wooden structure of 20 square feet.


Shielded from the sun by black umbrellas, it takes roughly 15 minutes for the prisoners to be readied for their deaths ... as each of the condemned is ministered to by a member of the clergy (collapsing from the heat and the ghastliness of her situation, Surratt requires the support of two soldiers and her priests), the order of execution is read by General John F. Hartranft, and then the arms and legs of each individual are bound with strips of white cloth, Surratt's bonnet is removed, nooses are adjusted to necks, and white canvas bags are placed over the heads of the guilty (Surratt, proclaiming that she is in pain from too tight of bindings is sarcastically told by an officer on the scaffold, "Well, it won't hurt long!").

                                       Readying the principles

Ready for last words ... stepping forward on to the drop Surratt says, "Please don't let me fall" ... Herold is silent ... Atzerodt exclaims, "May we all meet in the other world.  God take me now" ... and Powell, told by Rath that he hopes he dies quick, makes a  final utterance of, "You know best, captain."  

                                         The drop moment

But the Captain really doesn't ... ten seconds after the drop is cleared of all but the four, Rath claps his hands twice and soldiers knock out the supports and the four fall into eternity ... though some go quicker than others.  Surratt and Herold have their necks snapped and go to their deaths instantly, but faulty placement of the nooses on Powell and Atzerodt cause the two men to linger several minutes before finally strangling to death ... jerking wildly trying to find an impossible purchase for their legs to the horror of the audience (twice Powell will contort his body into a sitting position at the end of his rope), Powell is the last to go.

                     L to R - Surratt, Powell, Herold, and Atzerodt

Last act, after all the hung are officially pronounced dead by a physician (they remain dangling for about 30 minutes and are finally cut down at 1:53 P.M. ... rope cut, Atzerodt drops to the ground with a loud thud ... the corporal responsible instantly and loudly reprimanded for the act, the other bodies are treated more delicately), the bodies are taken down, placed in pine boxes and buried in temporary graves next to the scaffold.

                                          Coffins and Graves

Mary Surratt is the first woman to be executed by the United States government.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


7/2/1881 - For the second time in America's history, the recipe of a madman, politics, and a handy weapon results in a president not completing his term of office ... the victim, the 20th President of the United States, former Union Civil War general James Abram Garfield, the assassin, mentally challenged Charles Julius Guiteau.

                 Garfield wears an informal frock coat suit and has one hand inserted into the front of the jacket. Charles J Guiteau.jpg
                     Garfield                                    Guiteau 

A failure as a college student, as a member of the utopian religious sect known as the Oneida Community (he will be nicknamed Charles Gitout for how much the inhabitants desire his company), at running a newspaper called the Oneida Theocrat, as a lawyer (he somehow manages to pass a Chicago bar exam), as an author (he plagiarizes almost an entire book by John Humphrey Noyes), as a town hall speaker on religious topics, as a political operative (he writes a speech called Garfield vs. Hancock, cropped from a speech called Grant vs. Hancock, that he believes is instrumental in Garfield's narrow victory in the presidential election of 1880), Guiteau finally snaps (no surprise to his family, who try to get him committed to an insane asylum in 1875 ... a place he belongs, but escapes from using an open window) when his efforts to receive a diplomatic post in either Vienna or Paris come to naught despite meetings with Garfield, Secretary of State, James G. Blaine, and various members of Congress and the Republican Party (no help at all to himself, jobless, he roams Washington D.C. for months looking for political support in the same slovenly outfit every day, the only clothes he owns).


Believing God has told him to kill Garfield, Guiteau borrows $15 and buys an ivory-handled .44 Webley British Bulldog revolver to accomplish his mission ... a selection made for the gun's power, and because Guiteau believes it will look nice in a museum exhibit about the assassination someday (and sure enough, in the early part of the 20th Century the weapon is put on display at the Smithsonian).  Armed and ready for mayhem, Guiteau then begins stalking his prey (not totally crazy, the assassin prepares for his adventure in murder by checking out the District of Columbia jail where he knows he will be held and writing a letter in advance of the deed to Commanding General of the United States Army, William Tecumseh Sherman, asking for mob protection during his incarceration) through the month of June (a real sweetheart, he decides to postpone the assassination once because Garfield is with his wife ... and he doesn't want to upset her seeing her husband's death ... though that is what ends up happening anyway with her at the dying president's bedside).

                                               British Bulldog

As the president is about to leave town for his summer vacation (and to give a speech at his alma mater, Williams College in Massachusetts), at 9:30 in the morning of 7/2/1881, Guiteau finds Garfield totally unprotected (despite the Lincoln assassination of 1865, presidents at the time did not use security details or bodyguards) in the waiting room at the Washington D.C. Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad and strikes.

                       Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Passenger Terminal, Washington, DC where U.S. President James A. Garfield was assassinated on July 2, 1881. 
                             Scene of the crime

Firing two shots at almost point-blank range into Garfield's back, the president throws his arms in the air and asks, "My God, what is that?" ... then he staggers forward and collapses, wounded with a bullet to the shoulder and one that lodges behind his pancreas.  Fleeing his accomplishment, Guiteau is arrested by a policeman as he attempts to make it outside to the cab he has waiting (the cop, Patrick Kearney, is so excited about the collar, that he forgets to relieve Guiteau of his weapon until they arrive at the police station ... and in his defense, he gets a little busy protecting the assassin from a mob looking to lynch Guiteau).


In shock and unconscious, Garfield is taken to the White House, where doctors do not expect him to make it through the night ... but he does, and then hope becomes that the president will survive his wounds ... and he might have, had all the doctors who examined him not used their unsanitarized hands and dirty instruments probing for the bullet that caused the pancreas wound (one doctor will puncture Garfield's liver searching for the bit of lead).  Fade to dark, in extreme agony, Garfield will go from weighing over 200 pounds to being a stickman of 135 at his death 11 weeks later ... official causes being committed to history as a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm brought on by blood poisoning and bronchial pneumonia ... he is 49 years old at his death (trying to make the president comfortable in the summer heat, a Navy engineer creates one of the world's first air conditioner's ... an air blower and filters installed over six tons of ice).

                        Lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda

At his trial, Guiteau puts on a show that displays his insanity ... frequently cursing and insulting the judge, witnesses, the prosecution, and even members of his own defense team, giving testimony in the form of epic poems, inquiring for a woman with a personal ad in the New York Herald, planning a lecture tour for after the trial, soliciting legal advice from random spectators, and throwing his hat in the ring for the 1884 presidential race.  Bed-bug nuts, he is deemed sane anyway, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death ... a sentence which is carried out on 6/30/1882 with an unsurvivable neck stretching.  Looney tunes to the end, Guiteau's last words are to recite a poem he has written entitled I am Going to the Lordy (a small sample so as to not ruin any nearing meals: I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad, I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad, I am going to the Lordy, Glory Hallelujah, Glory Hallelujah ... Bob Dylan he ain't!).  

                                    Political Cartoon of Guiteau - 1881

The maniac is 40 years old when he goes Lordy looking for eternity!