1) Telegraph lines went dead for two hours immediately after Lincoln’s assassination. No investigation was ever conducted as to the cause.
Telephone lines in Washington DC went down for one hour immediately after JFK’s assassination. The excuse was overloaded lines, which certainly could be true, although no official investigation was ever conducted.
2) Booth shot Lincoln in a theater, and hid in a tobacco barn. The theater was then converted into a government warehouse, and the assassin assassinated before any trial took place.
Oswald allegedly shot JFK from a government warehouse, and fled to a theater. He would be assassinated before any trial took place.
3) Lincoln was shot in the head in front of his wife on a Friday in Ford’s Theater.
JFK was shot in the head in front of his wife on a Friday while riding in a Ford Lincoln.
4) The first theory floated after Lincoln was assassinated was the Confederacy was behind the plot.
The first theory floated after JFK was assassinated was the Communists were behind the plot.
5) After years of investigation, the official story continues to fall apart and strong evidence is emerging that Lincoln was killed by a conspiracy inside his own government.
After years of investigation, the official story continues to fall apart and strong evidence is emerging that JFK was killed by a conspiracy inside his own government.
Here’s a photo of Lucy Lambert Hale found on the body of John Wilkes Booth after his execution at Garrett’s farm and then hidden away for over 65 years. Booth had a reputation as a playboy who melted hearts wherever he went, which explains why he had photos of five different women on him when murdered, but “Bessie” Hale was his secret fiance, so she was easily the most important as a witness. And wouldn’t you know it, she was never be questioned, nor identified in her lifetime? Five photos were found on Booth, but only four names and pictures released: Fanny Brown, Alice Grey, Effie Germon, and Helen Western, all actresses I might add. For decades researchers would wonder about a mysterious Miss X, around whom many rumors circulated, but nothing known for sure.
Described as being somewhat “stout,” this is not the best photo of Hale, others reveal she was far cuter than this, and in 1865 she was celebrated as one of the most eligible belles in Washington, courted by a number of bachelors, including Robert Todd Lincoln, who’d just returned from Appomattox, where he’d witnessed General Lee’s surrender. Her father was one of the titans of the Radical Republican cabal and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Thaddeus Stevens at the time. He was Senator from New Hampshire. You just can’t imagine the amount of information a spook like Booth could have garnered from a close association with an insider like Hale.
The Hale family resided in the National Hotel, which may be why Booth took up residence there as well. The hotel was a few blocks from the White House and strategically located across the street from the only public telegraph office in town. The telegraph line was phone, internet and television of its day, a vital tool for a spook like Booth. Booth and his fiance had breakfast and dinner together on the day of the assassination. Senator Hale was appointed ambassador to Spain that very day, an appointment he may have sought to separate his daughter from a notorious Southern sympathizer and rake. Or he may have been warned to get his daughter away from Booth, who was already known to his own War Department as an agent in the Confederate secret service, reporting to Jacob Thompson in Canada, information provided by informant Louis Weichmann weeks ago.
Hale and Booth had already traded rings but wisely decided to keep their engagement a secret. In one letter from his mother, Booth seems to have indicated to her a sincere attachment to Hale, which would make this couple the Romeo and Juliet of the Civil War, although I cynically suspect Booth’s attentions were spook related. A few days earlier, Booth had scored a ticket in the VIP box for Lincoln’s second inauguration, a ticket given to him by his fiance through her father.
When people say you can’t keep conspiracies quiet, which is why they disbelieve the CIA killed JFK or the NSC plotted 9/11, I like to bring up Hales’s story. If you have real power to wield, you can keep almost anything quiet—for a time.
Hale was certainly seen by many dining with Booth that day, and even Todd Lincoln, who visited Hale that afternoon, must have been aware of her strong connection to Booth. Yet the lid was screwed on so tight, her picture would not be released until 1929, in a biography of Booth by Francis Wilson and even then she was identified only as “a Washington society woman.”
So most of what we know about this romance emerged much later through diaries and letters written long after the assassination. Hale was certainly a crucial witness who might have shed light on Booth’s motivations and accomplices, and every scullery maid who winked in Booth’s direction was caught up in the sweep of suspects, but Hale was never called to testify, but quickly hustled out of the country. To offset the gossip, her father published a notice in the local paper denying any connection between the two.
Before Hale departed for Spain, however, Booth’s body was brought back to Washington. A mysterious veiled woman came to view the corpse, threw herself upon it in tears, and snipped a lock of hair as a keepsake. (Apparently, this was popular at the time as Mary Todd Lincoln did the same thing after Lincoln died.) The lock was confiscated and destroyed as Stanton had strict orders against releasing any body parts. It’s now assumed that woman with the scissors was Hale. After breakfast with his sweetheart, Booth had gone to the nearby Metropolitan Hotel, where he had a meeting with the young head of B’nai B’rith, Simon Wolf, who was the lawyer of choice for defending Jewish blockade runners and black-market profiteers. Wolf would have a long and profitable career in Washington, becoming close with a half-dozen presidents.
But after the assassination, Wolf wrote the strangest story in his autobiography, claiming he’d bumped into Booth by accident and only had a drink with him to avoid seeming rude. They’d both been involved in amateur theater in Ohio, but now Booth was a famous professional actor, while Wolf was fairly new in town. The strange part, however, was that Booth allegedly told Wolf Lucy had just broken off their engagement that morning. Wolf speculated Booth killed Lincoln partially out of lover’s despair. Yet Wolf was never called to testify, and never interrogated, even though 2,000 suspects were rounded up and put in jail immediately after the assassination. Booth’s own brother was held for two months before being released. Strange Wolf escaped the dragnet. The other thing I find suspicious is not a single book about the assassination mentions Wolf or the account he gives of meeting Booth that day.
Did Wolf lie in his autobiography? More credible accounts claim Lucy had told Booth she planned to return from Spain in one year and marry him with or without her parent’s consent. After the conspiracy trial, she wrote Edwin Booth, claiming she would have married his brother on the steps of the gallows if necessary, so strong was her love for Booth.
Hale returned from Spain four years later and eventually married her first sweetheart from New Hampshire. She gave birth to one child at the advanced age of 43, but never mentioned Booth again.
HC: Learning that Lincoln was to attend Laura Keene’s acclaimed performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 14, Booth—himself a well-known actor at the time—masterminded the simultaneous assassination of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. By murdering the president and two of his possible successors, Booth and his co-conspirators hoped to throw the U.S. government into disarray. Zero proof has ever emerged that anyone but Lincoln and Seward were targeted by Booth’s plot. The military tribunal claimed assassination attempts were also planned for Johnson, Grant and Stanton, and a different person found guilty of each of those non-attempts, so if you buy the Johnson hit, you must include a Stanton hit and a Grant hit, but it’s far more likely Johnson was designed to be a suspect, not a victim, and the alleged attack on Stanton was invented to steer suspicion away from him, since he was in charge of protecting the president, and had obviously failed miserably in that mission. There was no motive for the South to kill Lincoln and Seward as they were in a minority wishing to go easy on the South. The assassination only created more trauma for a nation rocked from the bloodiest war in American history. Additionally, Booth only knew Lincoln would visit a theater that night, and not which one, which is why he purchased the box next to the presidential box in the alternative, a purchase disguised by having the manager of his billiard parlor purchase the box for him. And if it were a plot to remove successors, then Ben Wade should have been the target, not Seward.
HC: At 10:15, Booth slipped into the box and fired his .44-caliber single-shot derringer into the back of Lincoln’s head. After stabbing Rathbone, who immediately rushed at him, in the shoulder, Booth leapt onto the stage and shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (“Thus ever to tyrants!”–the Virginia state motto). At first, the crowd interpreted the unfolding drama as part of the production, but a scream from the first lady told them otherwise. Although Booth broke his leg in the fall, he managed to leave the theater and escape from Washington on horseback.
According to his diary, Booth shouted those words before leaping to the stage, and it was his spur catching in the bunting that caused his fall, although his leg may have been broken later, when his horse fell. The Navy Yard bridge was closed at night, but Booth gave his real name and was allowed to pass. A suspicious employee from the stable whose horse Booth had just stolen was following close behind, but the guard strangely did not allow him to pursue a suspected horse thief. Later on, the War Department claimed no effort was made to chase Booth because they believed an imposter had given his name at the bridge as a ruse, but that still doesn’t explain why this man was allowed to cross unimpeded, and not held for questioning, or why the search was concentrated to the north side of town, as if Booth were headed for Canada and not Virginia.
HC: Vice President Andrew Johnson, members of Lincoln’s cabinet and several of the president’s closest friends stood vigil by Lincoln’s bedside until he was officially pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. The first lady lay on a bed in an adjoining room with her eldest son Robert at her side, overwhelmed with shock and grief.
Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase did not wish to attend the death watch and went back to sleep when awoken and informed Lincoln was dying. Chase woke at his usual time and then walked to the house where Lincoln lay dying. Upon hearing the president still lived, he screwed his face and walked away. Later portraits commissioned by the government show Chase standing dutifully by Lincoln’s side as he died, a room he never entered.
HC: News of the president’s death traveled quickly, and by the end of the day flags across the country flew at half-mast, businesses were closed and people who had recently rejoiced at the end of the Civil War now reeled from Lincoln’s shocking assassination. News would have traveled faster had the telegraph lines not gone down immediately after the assassination. The lines stayed strangely dead for over two hours before inexplicably they began functioning. No investigation of this mysterious gap would ever be conducted, yet it prevented the news from reaching the morning papers in New York.
HC: On April 26, Union troops surrounded the Virginia farmhouse where Booth and Herold were hiding out and set fire to it, hoping to flush the fugitives out. Herold surrendered but Booth remained inside. As the blaze intensified, a sergeant shot Booth in the neck, allegedly because the assassin had raised his gun as if to shoot. Carried out of the building alive, he lingered for three hours before gazing at his hands and uttering his last words: “Useless, useless.”
After 11 days of the greatest manhunt in history, 25 soldiers were sent to Booth’s exact location in Virginia. Supposedly an anonymous black youth stopped by the War Department to deliver the information, although his name was not recorded. The fire was not set until after Herold surrendered and had not caught hold when the single shot rang out. The only person in the barn with Booth at the time was Everton Conger, who remains the most likely suspect in shooting Booth, although Conger’s initial words were “Booth shot himself,” yet his initial report claimed Booth was shot attempting an escape.
Four of Booth’s co-conspirators were convicted for their part in the assassination and executed by hanging on July 7, 1865. They included David Herold and Mary Surratt, the first woman put to death by the federal government, whose boarding house had served as a meeting place for the would-be kidnappers. Not really. Booth seldom visited her house, and held his meetings at his hotel room or nearby restaurants or taverns. Four hours after the assassination, Stanton’s secret police arrived at the Surratt house as it had already been identified as the nest of the conspiracy, which wasn’t even true, but that story helped hang an innocent woman. Much testimony during the trial was later proven to be lies, and the chief witness against Mary Surratt, a War Department employee, later said he believed she was innocent.
Newspapers with inside stories concerning the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln sold out quick in the spring of 1865, both in America and Europe, although most articles were packed with outrageous fabrications designed to sell issues. Very quickly, manufacturing of fake evidence in this case became a cottage industry, as the gullible were easily led down a maze of rabbit holes, starting with Jefferson Davis, Andrew Johnson, Knights of the Golden Circle, The Vatican, and so it went through the decades, with inventive frauds appearing on a regular basis. Some of this muck may have been manufactured to obscure the real plot, but some was the work of con artists seeking fame, fortune and publicity. (The instant appearance of multiple rabbit holes would be repeated for JFK and 9/11.)
Not much is known about Dion Haco, the dime novelist who rushed out the first tabloid biography on Booth before the trial was over, a yellow-sheet published by Dawley’s New War Novels. The following year, Haco followed up with the even-more explosive The Private Journal and Diary of John H. Surratt. Strange a year later, when Surratt returned to face trial, he made no mention of this forgery, which claimed he was a made member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, an anti-Catholic organization. Although a military tribunal had hanged his mother, Surratt walked away a free man after the civil trial on the same charges. He gave two lectures afterwards, but left no diary nor journals. By this time, public opinion had shifted against accepting the tribunal that had found Surratt’s mom guilty because so many perjuries by government witnesses had come to light. Within a few decades, however, few would recall how corrupt that trial had really been.
The Lincoln assassination may be one of the most investigated murders in history, but it’s astonishing how much research is tainted by obvious forgeries. You can’t believe the amount of people who take Haco’s melodramatic novels as gospel truth.
William Henry Burr also wrote some early books on the assassination and they all pointed toward a Catholic conspiracy. Apparently, his key evidence was advance knowledge of the assassination in the tiny hamlet of St. Joseph, Minnesota, home to a college for the training of Jesuit priests. According to Burr, the news arrived two hours before the assassination! This rabbit hole would become one of the most well-traveled since John Surratt, his mother and childhood friend found guilty were all Catholics….forget the reality Booth was not, and Booth was the actual assassin, while the Catholics were just patsies.
On January 13, 1903, David E. George passed away in Enid, Oklahoma, allegedly confessing to his landlady he was John Wilkes Booth. Upon hearing this story, Finis L. Bates rushed to Enid from Texas because he’d known a man named John St. Helen, who also claimed to be Booth. Bates wanted to view the corpse while still at the undertakers, and once he did, he declared it was the same man he knew as John St. Helen. Meanwhile, the landlady recanted George’s death bed confession, but no matter, Bates paid to mummify the corpse so it could be put on public exhibition for an admission fee. The mummy was sold through the years to circus sideshows, and at various times held under bond, seized for debt, banned from exhibition, or kidnapped. And, of course, Bates wrote a crackpot book purporting to tell the real story of Booth’s escape.
There’s a strong current in history pulling scholars toward accepting official stories and staying within those parameters, and since that route usually yields the best book and film deals, not to mention professorships, serious historians often remain on this tack. But suddenly, in 1937, after gaining access to long-hidden War Department files, Otto Eisenschiml published the ground-breaking: Why Was Lincoln Murdered? The book painted a compelling portrait of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton as possibly the instigator of Lincoln’s murder and was written in an entertaining, novelistic style. To marshal his case, the author stretched the truth here and there, and some points were quickly refuted by mainstream historians, however, the bulk of his case emerged unscathed, and most second-generation Lincoln researchers were influenced in some way by Eisenschiml.
At this point, a circus tatoo man had gained possession of George’s mummy, and the success of Eisenschiml’s book ignited renewed interest in Lincoln conspiracies, so in 1937, the mummy suddenly earned over $100,000 in exhibition fees, five times what Booth made as an actor in his best year. Obviously, there was a lot of money to be made fabricating Booth stories, which is why we’ve had a steady parade of fakes and forgeries ever since.
Twenty years after Eisenschiml’s groundbreaking book, Theodore Roscoe followed up with the even more comprehensive The Web of Conspiracy, three times the length and packed with even more supporting documentation. In his foreword, Roscoe described the assassination’s legend as “a towering edifice of so-called history built on sand.” For two decades a parade of apologists defending the official record had nitpicked every exaggeration in Eisenschiml’s book, but when Roscoe came back with a mountain of additional evidence, the best they could do was ignore him and pretend the book was never published or just a meaningless rehash of Eisenschiml’s. When you crack a deep political conspiracy like Lincoln’s assassination, it’s like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Suddenly you can see where to fit the missing pieces. Conversely, when you bend over backwards inventing complex rationalizations (magic bullets, etc.), remaining pieces fail to fit and require additional complex rationalizations. When you arrive at the truth, however, it lights up like a Christmas tree and everything falls into place.
In 1977, David Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier, Jr. published The Lincoln Conspiracy, which used a lot of material from Roscoe’s book, but added dubious evidence taken from transcripts provided by an unknown source acting through a lawyer as his agent. This person claimed to be a bastard descendent of Edwin Stanton and was offering to sell Booth’s missing diary pages, which identified the cabal behind the assassination. This source also claimed to have the letter Booth wanted delivered to the newspapers. In hindsight, I’d guess this was a clever intelligence operation designed to taint the story forever, and I file this effort under: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em—and throw in a ton of disinfo. And if that wasn’t enough, there was additional new material provided by a professor from Indiana State University named Ray Neff.
Neff claimed to have purchased a volume of Colburn’s United Service Magazine in 1957, a British military journal for professional soldiers. He soon discovered the book had notations in cipher in the margins, as well as the date: 2/5/68. In order to decipher the code, Neff claims to have taken the book to an unnamed cryptography expert. The first paragraph decoded went: “In new Rome, there walked three men, a Judas, a Brutus and a spy. Each planned he would be king when Abraham should die.” An invisible signature of Lafayette C. Baker was discovered on one page, and an analysis expert claimed it matched the real Baker’s signature.
Neff is obviously a fanatic researcher, and pursues documents from the era with enormous zeal, all of which are now archived at Indiana State University. Apparently, Neff sued the college for $90,000, but I found little information on that dispute. In fact, I find it odd I can’t locate a photo of Neff.
In a nutshell: the cipher messages stated Baker was being followed by professional spooks who wanted him dead. An enormous cabal had been working with Stanton, involving dozens of bankers, merchants, generals and government officials. However, only eight were supposedly intimately involved with the assassination, and those eight were not identified. Neff had a document from Baker’s archives proving he’d purchased a copy of Colburn’s. He had a hair analysis performed on Baker’s remains and announced he’d been poisoned with arsenic and did not die of meningitis as claimed. Eventually, Neff claimed to have discovered the arsenic had been laced in beer provided by Baker’s brother-in-law, a War Department employee.
Neff and an English co-writer eventually released their own book in 2003, Dark Union, which also claimed Booth escaped and died in India, that he’d been secretly married, and that James B. Boyd was the man shot in Garrett’s barn.
But that was 26 years after The Lincoln Conspiracy sold a million copies and became a major motion picture using the same information. But if you really peer deeply into this story, you’ll find fingers pointing in strange directions and dots lining up that don’t really connect, and while I’m sure Baker owned a copy of Colburn’s, I believe those ciphers were more likely added by someone else. In my opinion, all attempts to claim Booth wasn’t shot dead at Garrett’s farm are manufactured rabbit holes.
Today, few take Neff’s work seriously, but for a while, he did manage to grab the center of energy on Lincoln research, which was certainly unfortunate.
Belle Isle, a 54-acre island in the James River, had been home to a nail factory, but since it was surrounded by rapids, it was deemed ideal as a holding pen for Union prisoners awaiting transfer home. A footbridge provided easy access to a nearby railway line. Belle Island was reserved for enlisted men; officers were incarcerated at Libby Prison.
Out of 2.75 million soldiers, over 400,000 were taken prisoner during the Civil War, some of them several times, and prison conditions were so harsh over 56,000 perished in captivity. The worst was Andersonville, where 39% who walked in, never walked out.
Belle Isle had no barracks and the flimsy tents were severely overcrowded once exchanges were scrapped. The War Department had decided returning Confederate soldiers to the front was keeping the rebellion fires burning, so they abruptly broke off the Dix-Hill cartel and halted all swaps in June of 1863, which caused the population at Belle Isle to swell immediately. The situation was compounded by the refusal of the Confederacy to accept one-to-one swaps involving blacks. During the winter of 1863-64, as many as 1,500 a week were perishing at Belle Isle.
In a New YorkTribune article dated January 25th, 1864, Charles Dunham, posing as Sanford Conover, exposed a plot by the villianous Colonel George Margrave to capture and assassinate President Lincoln. In fact, the dastardly Colonel Margrave was a figment of Dunham’s imagination, as was the kidnap and possible assassination plot hinted at in his article. Conover promised additional details would be forthcoming very soon.
This article could not help but have raised significant alarm bells in Washington. Within days, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and President Abraham Lincoln were discussing plans for a raid into Richmond to release the thousands of prisoners at Belle Isle, a project initially suggested by Major General Benjamin F. Butler. Butler also wanted to destroy the Tredegar Iron Works and kidnap Jefferson Davis as part of the mission. Butler got approval for the raid and it was scheduled for February 7. However, the Confederates were warned ahead of time and Butler’s cavalry assault turned back before getting near Richmond.
A week later, Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick secured a private meeting with Lincoln, something allegedly arranged through the assistance of a Republican Senator. Nicknamed “Kill Cavalry” by his own troops, Kilpatrick was already legendary for mounting reckless frontal assaults. He had circumvented military protocol by seeking this private meeting. Aside from freeing Belle Isle and Libby prisons, Kilpatrick suggested severing Confederate lines of communication. Lincoln also wanted his recent amnesty proposal circulated behind enemy lines. Kilpatrick was directed to the War Department to work out details with Stanton. On February 16, Stanton approved the raid and its three objectives.
General Meade and the head of the Cavalry Corps. Major General Alfred Pleasonton went on record opposing the raid. Meade distanced himself in his written orders to Kilpatrick: “No detailed instructions are given you, since the plan of your operations has been proposed by you with the sanction of the President and Secretary of War.”
Ulric Dahlgren was an ambitious 21-year-old who’d recently lost a leg below the knee at the Battle of Gettysburg. His father was commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and close friends with Lincoln, which is why Dahlgren had advanced so rapidly to colonel, despite a total lack of command experience. However, when Dahlgren arrived at Kilpatrick’s seeking a job now that his leg had healed, he was offered command of the raiding party and given secret orders.
On March 2, Dahlgren was killed outside Richmond near King and Queen County Courthouse. William Littlepage, age 13, was rifling through his pockets, looking for valuables, when he discovered a packet of documents, which he dutifully handed over to the commander of the home guard, who forwarded the notebook and papers to Jefferson Davis. According to the documents, after freeing the Union prisoners, Ulric was to torch Richmond and assassinate Davis and his entire cabinet if possible. The fact Dahlgren had not destroyed these incriminating orders but allowed them to be captured was evidence of his lack of experience.
The documents were circulated to newspapers in hopes of winning sympathy and drawing a foreign power into an alliance with the Confederacy, as well as strengthening the Copperhead peace movement against Lincoln. Of course, the War Department immediately claimed the papers were forgeries, but that was undoubtedly a lie because they were written on official stationary, although strangely unsigned by any authority, probably due to the extreme nature of the mission. It’s not clear who dreamed up the assassination scheme, some believe it was Stanton on his own initiative. My theory is that Dunham had been Stanton’s secret agent all along, and that by seeding a false story of a Confederate assassination plot against Lincoln, Dunham opened the door for a similar plot against Davis.
The Dahlgren affair is what undoubtedly sent John Wilkes Booth into motion on a plot to kidnap President Lincoln, a plan that shifted to murder after it was clear the war was lost. Is it worth mentioning that right after the war, Stanton shipped all Confederate archives to the War Department and specifically requested the Dahlgren documents be sent direct to his office? The documents have never been seen since.
During the Civil War, the Union’s secret services were known as the National Detective Police (NDP) and headquartered in the basement of the Treasury Department, but directed through the office of the Secretary of State. After a railroad detective thwarted an assassination attempt on his life, President Abraham Lincoln elevated the supremely competent Allan Pinkerton (left) to head the NDP.
But on Valentine’s Day 1862, Lincoln transferred all control of the secret police to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who apparently was awarded control because many innocents were languishing uncharged in Carroll Prison. Lincoln was hoping Stanton’s organizational skills might manifest a more speedy resolution for these unfortunates. This may have happened, but more important, Stanton demoted Pinkerton as NDP commander, and replaced him with the brutal and obviously-corrupt Layfayette C. Baker, who began a reign of terror in Washington, closing bordellos, raiding gambling houses, confiscating smuggled goods, closing grog shops, running multiple kick-back schemes. How much booty was put in Baker’s pocket and how much shared with Stanton will never be known.
Although precise statistics on civilian imprisonment were not recorded, it’s estimated 14,000 were imprisoned by the North during the Civil War. On September 24, 1862, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, installing martial law so civilians were subject to military tribunals in which officers acted as judge and jury while suspects were not allowed to testify in their own defense. Stanton became an expert at stage-managing the trials of those officers he felt were not sufficiently loyal, which left him with a iron grip on ones that remained, lest they incur his mighty wrath. Pretty soon, it became obvious General George B. McClellan was on Stanton’s shit list.
McClellan’s sabotage was necessary because Stanton feared McClellan might win the Presidency during the next election, a post Stanton wanted to keep for a Radical Republican (if not Lincoln then Salmon Chase), but McClellan seemed too damned popular to beat and needed to be removed from power. Although commanding general of the Union army, McClellan was also a peace candidate who favored legal solutions rather than a national blood bath. And like many commanders McClellan was reluctant to mount suicidal frontal assaults, something Ulysses S. Grant was not adverse to. In one of Grant’s more bloody battles 7,000 Union soldiers perished in the first hour.
Lincoln had a soft heart and could not turn down a mother’s request to save her son from a firing squad because he’d run like a jack rabbit during his first encounter with the terrible ceremonies of death. But Stanton always tore up those pardons, claiming they’d destroy the army’s morale. So Lincoln usually relented and let those boys be hung or shot by firing squad, although those deaths weighed heaviest on his soul.
Right after the assassination, Stanton seized all power and had 2,000 suspects thrown into prison, including the staff and owners of Ford’s Theater. He seized the theater and converted it into his own warehouse, but not before ordering a private command performance of Our American Cousin, on grounds the play might hold some clue to the assassination. I’m sure a few actors were a bit worried because they knew any of them could also be declared a suspect without warning as they all knew Booth.
Considering how heartless Stanton was, it’s difficult to understand why not a single person who aided Booth past Dr. Samuel Mudd’s house was ever charged or arrested (and there were many). Or why the President’s only guard who’d abandoned his post was never charged with negligence. Or why the leader of that patrol that brought Booth back dead was awarded $15,000 after his patrol killed the key witness to solving the crime. Or why the three key witnesses who were later convicted of perjury before Congress were never charged for similar lies told at the conspiracy trial. The only way any of this makes sense is if Stanton was covering up something.
Keep in mind, no one was allowed to see the cipher messages telegraphed from the front lines except Major Thomas T. Eckert and Stanton. If they were working together on war profiteering scams, they were in a unique and powerful position to control the flow of all information.
It’s tragic that no photo exists of Charles Dunham, aka San(d)ford Conover, whose career as a journalist, con-man, paid perjurer, and possible triple agent holds a place all its own in the parade of great spooks in history who dance through raindrops and come out dry as a bone. Apparently Dunham was dark and handsome and employed a facile tongue in all sorts of intricate intrigues. He was a Zelig of his time, appearing in the strangest places and always under a different identity. So you can understand why he seems to have had a strong aversion to cameras.
Only a few researchers would devote serious effort to peel this onion and unmask Dunham, most notably Joseph E. Missemer, David R. Barbee, James O. Hall, and Joseph George, Jr.
Carman Cumming wrote Devil’s Game, the only book devoted to Dunham, whose colorful exploits have yet to be fully exploited by the entertainment industry, something sure to happen eventually. I suspect this story is overlooked because it provides a window inside the Great Lincoln Conspiracy. The best I can do is a newspaper clipping that reports his presence in a Washington courtroom.
Dunham was a New York lawyer and possible dirty tricks operative for the Democratic party. When the war broke out, he was busy running a scam to collect money for a fictional Union regiment that never materialized. In April 1863, he obtained a Union military pass for traveling South, and soon found himself surrounded by a grinning contingent of Mosby’s Rangers on horseback, who turned him over to General John W. Winder, head of Confederate Counterintelligence. Dunham was immediately transferred to Castle Thunder, a former tobacco warehouse converted into a prison for suspected spies and traitors. But Dunham successfully charmed his jailers by telling them he wished to defect and raise a Confederate regiment through his connections in Baltimore, as he knew hundreds of Northerners like him ready to join the rebellion.
Unfortunately, after being released, he was soon re-captured in a heavily-guarded military zone, and his excuse for being there just before the summer assault was not believed, so Dunham was deported back to the North over his protests he would be hanged as a traitor upon arrival.
Funny how the first thing Dunham did on return was post a letter to Colonel Lafayette Baker, head of the Union Secret Services. Soon, he was back in New York and contributing regularly to three different newspapers, all under different bylines, although his primary identity had become that of Sandford Conover. But since he seldom signed his journalism, the one time his byline did appear, the typesetter left off the “d,” and since then, Dunham became known as Sanford Conover.
Dunham was a master of melodrama and wove some amazing tales. His favorite characters included the villainous Colonel George Margrave and Colonel Charles Dunham (yes, his alter-ego remained in Virginia and raised and led a Confederate regiment, although like most everything Dunham wrote, it was all a fabrication). Dunham would submit an explosive story for a Copperhead newspaper one day, and then attack that same article in a Union paper the next day, exposing his own lies. He pitted his fictional characters against each other in epic battles.
Dunham sent a letter to President Lincoln requesting permission to kidnap Jefferson Davis, and then wrote an editorial condemning an alleged plot to kidnap President Lincoln, a plan that didn’t exist yet, although it soon would take form under John Wilkes Booth and John Surratt. Dunham may have given Booth the idea, as Booth made several unexplained trips to New York before fomenting his plot, a plan that eventually turned to murder after the war was nearly over.
Dunham was a master at forging documents and signatures, and it doesn’t take much imagination to wonder if he might have invented a document indicating Lincoln was planning to capture and execute Jefferson Davis. Had someone like Booth been shown a document like that, he might have felt justified in serving Lincoln his own medicine. Booth did write a letter fully explaining his actions and motivations and had handed it to a fellow actor at Ford’s Theater the day of the assassination, requesting him to deliver it to a local newspaper. Big mistake. What happened next we’ll never know, but years later, that actor would finally come forward, now claiming he burned this crucial evidence in horror without showing it to anyone. More likely, he brought that letter to the War Department, where it was suppressed and maybe burned there, otherwise that letter should have come up for discussion during the trial of the conspirators. In his diary shortly before his death, Booth considered returning to Washington to clear his name, something he felt he could do. Booth was stunned to discover he was universally despised by all newspapers after the assassination. He had not achieved hero status from the Copperheads that he’d been expecting, and it crushed him.
Testifying as Sanford, Dunham made the case Davis was behind Lincoln’s assassination, a charge believed until he later appeared before the Judicial Committee in Congress, told similar stories and was convicted of perjury. Since those perjuries involved similar testimony he’d given earlier before the tribunal, one wonders why Dunham wasn’t charged in that more important case as well?
When John Surratt finally returned to stand trial, Dunham visited him and offered a deal: If Surratt agreed to implicate President Johnson in Lincoln’s assassination, he’d receive immunity and other rewards. The only person who could have possibly brokered that deal was Secretary of War Stanton.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a short, pudgy, nearsighted man who suffered from chronic asthma and sported a long, perfumed beard, was universally rude to just about everyone he came into contact with, including President Lincoln, whom he obviously considered his intellectual inferior. Stanton was an intense workaholic and one of the most gifted lawyers of his day. After two years of college, he’d passed the bar in Ohio and quickly made a name for himself as an effective attorney.
He was a Democrat and Lincoln’s principle opponent in President Buchanan’s cabinet, and referred to Lincoln as a “backwoods baboon,” an assessment shared by his friend General McClellan, whom Stanton would soon remove from power for reasons unknown. Stanton continued to insult Lincoln behind his back, while ingratiating himself with the President, and moved into a summer cottage near Lincoln and even though his second wife Ellen could not abide the presence of Mary Todd Lincoln, Stanton made sure his son played with the young Tad Lincoln in order to bind the families together.
In 1833, after a young girl died from cholera in the same boarding house he lived in and been buried immediately, Stanton dug up her body as he did not believe she was dead. In 1841, when his own daughter Lucy died, he had that grave exhumed as well and moved her coffin into his bedroom for two years before allowing it back into the ground. When his first wife passed in 1844, he often dressed the corpse and decorated it with fancy jewels, as if they were about to go out on the town together. Eventually the corpse was buried and Stanton wandered through the house muttering, “Where is Mary?” When his brother later slashed his throat in a successful suicide, Stanton took off into the woods and had to be led back home. (Twenty Days, Castle Press, 1965)
Doesn’t this sound like a psychotic in action? And why has Stanton been portrayed as a folk saint when even his allies in the Cabinet considered him duplicitous, conspiratorial and ruthless?
Much has been made of the fact Stanton declared martial law, seized all power, and spent the last night of Lincoln’s life barking out orders incessantly that covered every possible contingency. No one seems to have considered the possibility Stanton had spent days anticipating this moment, which is why he was so cool while others around him stood paralyzed with shock.
Around 7:22 AM, the second Lincoln was declared dead, Stanton extended his arm and placed his top hat on his head for a second and then removed it. An eyewitness would remark this queer display seemed an impromptu coronation of sorts. But the strangest thing of all: Stanton ordered the rocking chair Lincoln had occupied when murdered moved to his office.
Imagine someone has died and you want a keepsake. Don’t you think it a somewhat odd to select the chair they were sitting in when a bullet blew through their brains?
I imagine in moments of great elation or perhaps even despair, Stanton might rock in that chair to sooth his soul by celebrating whatever stroke of luck engineered him onto the throne of power.
But any celebration would be short-lived, as Stanton would swiftly lose all political power, his seat in the Cabinet, his secret police force, and transform into one of the most despised people in the country.
Stanton’s designs on the Presidency vanished forever, and he died four years after Lincoln under somewhat mysterious circumstances.
Meanwhile, Lincoln’s son reportedly later burned evidence linking Stanton to the crime, as he could never accept the thought this man who treated him so graciously could have possibly been involved in such a devious plot against his father.
Captain J.W. Booth of the Confederate Secret Service resided in room 228 at the National Hotel in Washington, which just happened to be the same residence as the War Department censor because the city’s only public telegraph office was directly across the street.
For six months Booth had been involved in a grand scheme to kidnap President Lincoln so he could be taken to Richmond in chains for a victory parade and then ransomed, but with the war almost over, that plot had suddenly become meaningless.
John Surratt, Booth’s primary courier, was working closely with Booth on this grand mission-impossible adventure, and so were dozens of others. Their primary accomplices, however, represented a motley crew of misfits and the mentally challenged, with one cold-blooded killer.
After a mule kick disfigured his jaw, Lewis Powell volunteered for the Confederate Army at age 17. He became such a devoted killer, he carried the skull of one of his victims as an ashtray. After many battles, Powell was wounded and captured, taken to a concentration camp and escaped with the help of the Confederate Secret Service in Maryland. He joined Mosby’s Rangers, where he became known as “Lewis the Terrible.” Although the official story is that Powell deserted this guerrilla force and decided to move to Baltimore to pursue a new life, in truth, he was more likely just moved into undercover operations, and the biggest at the time involved the Lincoln kidnapping, a plot led by Booth. In January of 1895, they met for the first time, and Booth enlisted Powell in the plot. From that point on, Powell always referred to Booth as “Captain,” and would show no hesitation following any command.
Booth and Surratt differed on the best plan of action, as Booth felt the kidnapping could take place at Ford’s Theater because the back exit offered an escape into a maze of alleys. Booth’s attention to spook-craft was amazing, and he probably got the idea of drilling a peephole in the door to the presidential box, as well as needing an improvised door-jam to prevent anyone from entering the hall leading to the box, all important details that would become employed for Lincoln’s assassination.
Surratt insisted the attempt needed to be done outside the city, where they weren’t surrounded by police and soldiers in all directions. This plot involved many changes of horses, as well as sabotage in their wake to slow pursuit—an entire squad devoted to felling tress and blowing bridges. Of course, the plot was immediately revealed to the War Department by one of its secret agents, Louis Weichman, an old schoolmate of John Surratt, and War Department employee, who abruptly moved into the boarding house, and started acting like a rebel. He begged to become an active participant in the kidnapping, but Surratt told him not possible since Weichman could neither ride nor shoot, while Surratt and Booth were expert at both. Weichman would eventually become the key witness against Surratt’s mother, but would later recant the testimony and insist she was innocent, and then recant the recant in writing right before his death.
The only others involved we know of for sure were David E. Herod, who worked as a drug store clerk and followed the famous rising-star Booth around like a puppy dog. Herod reportedly had a dimished IQ and acted 11 years old, which is why he’s usually described as a youngster. George “Andrew” Atzerodt was a German immigrant who’d recently been recruited because he had a rowboat on the Potomac, a boat needed for the escape. I call him Dirty Andy because he looks filthy in every photo. Atzerodt knew few details and was working for hire. He was a big-time drinker and and small-time blockade runner who was being put out-of-business by the end of the war.
On March 4, 1865, Lincoln was inaugurated for the second time on the steps of the Capitol and a photo by Alexander Gardner would later reveal Booth wearing a silk top hat in the VIP gallery, within spitting distance of the President as he took the oath of office. But in the front row of the peanut gallery on ground level nearest the President stand Powell, Atzerodt, Herold and possibly even Surratt disguised as a Union soldier.
This may have been another possible kidnap attempt that did not materialize. For whatever reason, shortly after this inauguration, Booth’s plan shifted to murder, although it’s not clear why. Lincoln had little fear of assassination during his first term because he believed any replacement would be worse on the South than himself. Yet right around this time, Lincoln began having premonitions of his imminent death, and seemed almost resigned to it.
Since the morning newspaper announced the President and General Grant would be attending a light comedy at Ford’s Theater that night, this news boded poorly since Grant’s presence would necessitate a higher level of security. Also, Grant was the national hero of the moment, and a rare sight in Washington, which meant all eyes would be on the box through much of the play.
The Metropolitan Hotel was just down the street from the National where Booth resided. On the morning of the assassination, Booth met with a prominent Jewish lawyer named Simon Wolf, head of B’nai B’rith. Wolf and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton were close as both were from Ohio.
Booth rented a horse for the day, and followed General Grant’s carriage as he suddenly departed town, almost as if to make sure the General was not going to disrupt his plans for the evening. The general and his wife were disturbed by the rider in black galloping alongside and staring into their coach.
Surratt had left town, likely because he didn’t want any part of Booth’s new operation, but also because he may have had a mission to seed letters from Booth back to the War Department to make it look like Booth was headed to Canada.
Four hours after the assassination, the first detectives on the case marched straight to Mary Surratt’s boarding house, which somehow had already been identified as the center of the conspiracy (though Booth had not even officially been announced a suspect yet). Meanwhile, the room Dirty Andy had checked into the previous day at the Kirkwood (and never occupied, as he already had a room at a different, cheaper hotel) was found stuffed with evidence implicating Booth, evidence that was initially strangely over-looked.
Meanwhile, although Booth was on the run for days, and assisted and aided by a dozen sympathizers along the way, only this little crew of misfits would end up hanged. And the cover-up might have worked, except Stanton tossed in Mary Surratt, and painted her as the evil den mother who hatched the plot. But the wheels on that hoax fell off, and knowledge Stanton railroaded an innocent woman onto the gallows destroyed his political career. He was dead within four years under somewhat mysterious circumstances.
A little-known fact about Stanton: he was found twice passed out at his desk and some speculated he’d acquired an addiction to opium. Perhaps, but his primary addiction was power. His first move as Secretary of War had been to move the telegraph into his office. His second move was getting control of the Union Gestapo, the National Detective Police (NDP).
In the first few weeks after the assassination, Stanton’s iron grip matched that of any fascist dictator in history, and though he fought tooth and nail to maintain this power, it would soon all be stripped away, and he died a broken man haunted by the ghost of Mary Surratt.
Both Lafayette Baker and his cousin Luther were not happy with the division of spoils following the execution of John Wilkes Booth. They had been expecting the lion’s share of money because the operation had been fomented by Lafayette and he initially put his cousin in charge of the detail. Lafayette initially put in a request for $75,000, so imagine his surprise when he only got $3,500.
Luther’s story was that Detective Everton Conger showed up and volunteered to accompany his expedition. Since Conger was the most experienced soldier, he soon assumed the command on his own initiative, which is why he was the first man to enter the tobacco-drying shed Booth was locked inside. Afterwards, everyone acted like Conger had been in charge all along.
Conger is the one who started a small fire on the side of the structure as a diversion before entering, but eyewitnesses claim his fire had not really caught hold when a shot rang out. Luther rushed in and immediately assumed Conger had shot Booth, but Conger initially claimed Booth had shot himself. But also upset was Lieutenant Edward Doherty, ranking officer in charge of the squad, although he seemed more peeved about not being called to testify at the trial, and wrote a complaint to his Colonel concerning that staggering omission, but since he believed Conger probably shot Booth, that perspective was not part of the script nor welcome in the court room.
The first official and signed and dated report handed in to the War Department claimed Boston Corbett shot Booth while he was attempting an escape.
The division of spoils was decided by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a man now considered by many researchers as a primary suspect in Lincoln’s death. I’d suggest that after Stanton learned Baker was sending a patrol on Booth’s trail, he asked well-seasoned Detective Conger to go along, and, in great confidence, promised Conger the lion’s share of the reward money provided Booth came back dead rather than alive.
The split probably turned both Bakers against Stanton, as Lafayette would soon be unemployed, looking for a publisher for his autobiography.