The reason the history books don’t talk much about John Surratt is because his story sheds light on the real Lincoln assassination conspiracy. Surratt was John Wilkes Booth’s closest confident in a plot to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln and spirit him to Richmond to be held for ransom. This plan was supported and probably fomented by The Grey Ghost (Col. John Mosby), who controlled Northern Virgina and parts of Maryland during the Civil War. Large military operations like the kidnapping of a head-of-state run through chains-of-command, and captains like Booth report to colonels like Mosby who report to Supreme Commanders. The kidnap plan involved dozens of secret accomplices, as well as a large cavalry unit, which was massed near the border on the eve of its execution. But since Booth and Surratt were surrounded by double agents, the kidnapping was easily thwarted through a shift in the president’s itinerary. Yet instead of arresting the plotters as one might have expected, the War Department left them all in place.
Surratt fled the country when he learned the kidnap had suddenly turned to murder as he wanted no part of it. He hid first in Canada, then Ireland, then Italy, then Egypt, often seeking refuge inside Catholic churches. Initially, a large award had been issued for his capture and return dead-or-alive, but strangely, as soon as his trail was uncovered in Europe, Stanton rescinded the reward offer. Suddenly, the War Department seemed uninterested in Surratt, although his mother had been swiftly hanged. Eventually, Surratt was captured and brought back to Washington, where he was visited in jail by Charles Dunham posing as Sandford Conover, who offered him immunity if he committed perjury. Surratt declined the offer, went to trial, and the case ended with a hung jury.
Surratt never denied involvement in the kidnap plot, but despite employing every possible trick to convict him, the government was unable to connect Surratt with the murder. This was a civil trial, and not a military tribunal like the one his mother had faced and not so easily manipulated. After Surratt walked free, it opened some minds to the possibility of a cover-up, and some became angry learning that the first woman executed in American history might have been a patsy.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presided over a military tribunal investigating the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the first third of that trial documented horrific crimes fomented by the Confederate Secret Service, crimes of mass extermination involving arson, poisoning of public wells and distribution of smallpox-tainted blankets. The press covered the trial, but all coverage was subject to editing and censorship by Stanton. The North was easily whipped into a frenzy of paranoia. After five years of the worst violence in American history, the nation was already rocked by PTSD, but Lincoln’s murder and trial tweaked the public to new heights of distress.
One problem. It was all lies. A propaganda expert named Charles Dunham paid and coached the parade of witnesses, all in an effort to help convict Jefferson Davis of killing Lincoln (Rabbit Hole #1). Few today realize that tribunal found Davis guilty. Or that it took a hundred years to uncover Dunham’s real name and the extent of his Civil War propaganda ops. During the trial, he’d been known as Sanford Conover, just one of many aliases he employed.
President Andrew Johnson had been a victim of the propaganda, and placed in a paranoid frenzy that left him easily manipulated. But after Mary Surratt was hanged, and Johnson discovered most of the tribunal had wanted her spared, he got angry with Stanton and eventually fired him.
Stanton barricaded himself in his office and refused to step down, while his cohorts in Congress (Ben Wade and Thaddeus Stevens) launched an impeachment trial against Johnson, during which they presented evidence Johnson had been the mastermind behind Lincoln’s assassination (Rabbit Hole #2). Had Johnson been impeached, Senator Ben Wade would have become president. But Johnson survived by one vote and a Congressional investigation was launched by the House Judiciary Committee to investigate the original trial. It had a predetermined outcome (think Warren Commission or the 9/11 Commission) and could have easily covered up all the perjuries of the initial tribunal if not for a lonely Democrat on the committee, an idealistic youngster named Andy Rogers (left), who amazingly broke down many of the witnesses in front of the press. The head judge on Stanton’s tribunal became so distressed he claimed Conover had been planted by the Confederates to discredit him, an absurd allegation that didn’t fly with the public, so he wrote a widely-distributed pamphlet blaming everything on the Pope, playing up widespread anti-Catholic sentiments in the North (Rabbit Hole #3).
Of course, when publishing their report, the Committee found no problem with the tribunal, and now that trial is considered gospel even though the official story is rife with fabrications. Historians base most research on newspaper articles, not realizing how manipulated the press was. It’s like relying on Pravda to tell you what was going on inside the Soviet Union before it fell. Most modern debate on Lincoln’s assassination has been centered on the relatively inconsequential level of involvement of Dr. Samuel Mudd and Mary Surratt, both of whom were certainly aware of the kidnapping plot, but neither of whom were involved in the murder. It wasn’t until 1938 that an outsider was allowed access to the War Department records and even though the records were purged many times over the decades to remove incriminating evidence, there’s still more than enough to crack the case. And over the years, new information continues to come to light thanks to the army of citizen researchers.
Yet new rabbit holes continue to appear with amazing frequency obviously designed to misdirect and confuse the researchers. And don’t you know, these rabbit holes often appear immediately after some new revelation? But if you avoid falling into the traps, and just deal with the primary documents of the period (most of which are available free online), it becomes clear Stanton, Wade and Stevens plotted Lincoln’s murder and then covered up their involvement.
On March 28, 1865, Generals Grant and Sherman invited President Abraham Lincoln to a meeting on the River Queen steamer to discuss the coming end of the Civil War. George Healy produced a painting of that conference (shown left) and titled it The Peacemakers. During this meeting, Lincoln undoubtedly expressed a desire for Southern forgiveness as he planned to allow rebels to return to their seats in Congress provided they signed the loyalty oath. Lincoln wanted to heal the nation from years of bloody war and he knew this mission required kindness and an end to brutality. But this attitude was in opposition to his leaders in Congress, Ben Wade and Thaddeus Stevens, who wanted to punish and pillage the South. Lincoln had just been elected to a second term and was making plans with his generals in the field, circumventing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who’d been ushered into his seat of power four years earlier through his friendship with Senator Wade.
In two weeks Lincoln was assassinated and Stanton took control of the nation through martial law, immediately issuing a blizzard of telegrams and orders, including one to General Sherman: “I FIND EVIDENCE THAT AN ASSASSIN IS ALSO ON YOUR TRACK, AND I BESEECH YOU TO BE MORE HEEDFUL THAN MR. LINCOLN WAS OF SUCH KNOWLEDGE.”
This telegram confirms Stanton’s awareness that a letter written by F. H. Morse of the London Consulate dated March 17th, 1865, had recently been brought to his attention by Secretary of State W. Seward. “I herewith enclose for your perusal two private letters received this week from “B,” my secret agent in France….He is a business agent of the rebels.” These letters claimed two fully-funded assassins had been dispatched from France, one to kill Seward and the other to kill Sherman.
Shortly after delivering these letters to the War Department, Seward was nearly killed in a carriage accident and gravely injured. He was bed-ridden when the actual assassination attempt was made nine days later. Despite clear warnings of danger, neither Lincoln nor Seward had been protected, and Seward only survived because Lewis Powell’s gun misfired and his knife failed to penetrate the metal brace that had been installed on Seward’s cheek and neck to hold his shattered jaw together. Don’t you find it odd Stanton never shared any knowledge of these letters with Lincoln? And that he lied to Sherman in his telegram, claiming Lincoln had ignored these warnings, when it was Stanton who had actually ignored them?
The night of the assassination, Lincoln had gone to the War Department requesting additional protection as he was having nightmares of his imminent death. Both Stanton and his primary aide Major Eckert are on record refusing to accompany Lincoln to Ford’s theater that night, as both claimed they had late work to do, although both seem to have gone home at their usual hour. Stanton should have been posting armed guards around Lincoln and Seward, but he didn’t.
On April 18, three days after Lincoln’s assassination, General Sherman accepted the surrender of General J.E. Johnston and his terms included a recognition of rights of rebel soldiers as soon as they deposited their arms in a Federal armory and signed the Union loyalty oath. In this matter, Sherman was following the wishes of the slain President. However, Stanton went into a rage when he learned of Sherman’s terms of surrender, and immediately planted stories in Northern papers accusing Sherman of treason. When these papers arrived at Sherman’s camp in North Carolina, his soldiers made a display of burning all copies. Anger among his rank and file was such that a few began to wonder if Sherman might not march to Washington and seize power from Stanton, who was defacto President as he dominated the weak-willed Andrew Johnson. It would take months before Johnson worked up the courage to fire Stanton, and when he finally did, Stanton barricaded himself in his office and launched an impeachment trial against Johnson in a bid to save his status.
This is just one of the dozens of damning threads of information that point to an inside job in Lincoln’s murder, so why is there a cottage industry of so-called experts refusing to allow any hint of Stanton’s involvement in this crime? I suspect it may be because if America realized the truth of Lincoln’s murder, they might also begin to question the murders of JFK, RFK and MLK because those were also inside jobs, and they all have similar cottage industries putting out disinfo to muddy the investigative waters.
Despite the fact eight designated patsies were on trial, and Lincoln not yet buried, Stanton ordered Washington draped in patriotic bunting and requested the two largest armies parade through the city in a victory celebration. The Army of the Potomac marched first. The parade took seven hours and the cavalry alone stretched for seven miles. The next day it was Sherman’s turn. His soldiers were different. They did not have such splendid uniforms. Many were barefoot. They had not done any parading in months. Yet they far out-dazzled the Army of the Potomac with their discipline and energy, and Sherman became the hero of the parade. But when he arrived at the parade stand, where President Johnson and General Grant were seated, he dismounted and made a public display of refusing to shake hands with Stanton. There’s no doubt Sherman was aware of machinations going on at the trial, as his brother-in-law Tom Ewing had been appointed to defend Dr. Samuel Mudd and two others, and was doing a terrific job of shredding the government’s case against them. Ewing managed to save his clients from the gallows, and they all would soon be pardoned by President Johnson once Stanton was disgraced and the impeachment failed. Sherman refused all offers to become President as he considered Washington one of the most corrupt places on earth, and said given a choice between the White House or a prison cell, he’d choose the latter.
“The Big Parade” by Thomas Fleming is a riveting account of these events in a few thousand words, and you can read it here: http://184.108.40.206/content/big-parade
William Seward was the front-runner for the Presidency and had garnered many more votes than the relatively unknown Abraham Lincoln on the first ballot, but Lincoln ended up becoming the compromise candidate the newly formed Republican party settled on. Yet, after Lincoln won the nomination, he appointed Seward his Secretary of State and the two obviously had tremendous respect for each other, and Seward supported Lincoln’s second term, even though party founder Salmon Chase and his Radical Republican cohorts did not. During the war, Seward managed a vast network of spies throughout Europe to thwart the South’s attempts to draw any foreign powers into the conflict on their side.
John Bigelow was one of Seward’s spies in France and in March he began sending Seward alarming letters involving an assassination plot against Seward, who many in Europe considered the real power in Washington and defacto President. Bigelow had penetrated the pro-slavery Sons of Liberty secret society and discovered a Texan named Johnston had been dispatched from France by steamer on an assassination mission. Seward took the warning letters to the War Department and showed them to Edwin Stanton. Lincoln was in Richmond at the time, which had just fallen, and dangerously walking the streets without protection. Seward wanted Stanton to alert Lincoln of the assassination plot and have him put under constant guard.
However, Seward was seriously injured in a carriage accident that next afternoon, and Stanton never shared the warnings with Lincoln after the President returned from Richmond to check on Seward’s condition. Considering the amount of detail in Bigelow’s three letters, it seems inexplicable Seward and Lincoln were not put under round-the-clock protection. In a few days, Lincoln would be assassinated, and Seward would only survive thanks to a metal brace that had been installed to hold his shattered jaw in place.
The failure of the War Department to act on these very specific warnings is evidence Lincoln’s assassination was an inside job, sanctioned by Stanton, Wade and Stevens, who were resisting Lincoln and Seward’s plans to forgive the South. They wanted to allow the Confederates to retake their seats in Congress, something that would have pushed Wade and Stevens out of their perch of power.
Since I didn’t investigate this case until recently, I was surprised at how transparent the Lincoln assassination conspiracy has become over the years. Bill O’Reilly ignored every modern development to write a cover-up fantasy supporting the official story Booth was insane and the War Department had no idea what he was up to. In fact, Booth was surrounded by double agents, a list that included Louis Weichmann, James Donaldson and the beautiful Kate Brown, known as “The French Lady.”
The biggest issue with solving this case is the amount of noise and disinfo that’s been manufactured to hold back realization it was an inside job. There’s a cottage industry of researchers who will attack any suggestion Edwin Stanton was involved, even though the evidence against Stanton is overwhelming.
Periodically, new documents have been produced to bolster one side or another, yet few discuss how many of these are forgeries. Often, when a breakthrough takes place, the scoop is tied to a nasty piece of disinfo, a commonly used counterintelligence booby-trap for discrediting real information. I find this technique in play not just with Lincoln, but with JFK and 9/11.
I often found Roger Norton’s forum a valuable source of research material over the past few months, and there are obviously a number of dedicated researchers contributing to that site. However, I also noticed organized resistance to any inference of an inside job, and that makes me suspicious to say the least.
The single most important document to surface in the last fifty years is the original confession of George Atzerodt. At first, I assumed this to be a forgery like so many other documents involving the case, and I did not study it closely for many months. Today, I accept it as a real document, which means we have the Surratt Society to thank for its exposure, even though the current director is a cheerleader against the inside job theory.
I promise if you look deeply into this case, the cover-up will become obvious, and reading my book Killing Lincoln: The Real Story is a good place to start the adventure. My book is a concise over-view of overlooked details, all of which point to an inside job. Strange how no established press has exposed this information yet.
It’s sad to consider the entire hoodwink could have easily been blown sky-high when Steven Spielberg produced his Lincoln film recently, and you can find clues in that film. But Lincoln’s final hours were glossed over, including his request for additional security that night and his premonitions of the assassination. Both Lincoln and his wife were highly psychic, and the immense powers of the presidency may have lifted those powers even higher.
Since Thaddeus Stevens played a major role in the plot against Lincoln, it’s tragic Spielberg held Stevens up for adoration (while only hinting at his corruption). Stevens believed the ends justify the means, and seeking vengeance against the South was high on his to-do list. In the film, Mary Todd dresses Stevens down, not realizing the plot to assassinate her husband is already in full swing.
The reason John W. Booth accepted the hit was because he knew the “New York crowd” was going to have Lincoln killed and it was only a matter of time. And he also knew this crew had agents embedded deep inside the corridors of power in Washington, people who would aid the assassination. I don’t know what he was offered, or whether he took the hit to avenge the recent hanging of a Confederate spy he knew well, and I don’t know who actually pitched the deal to him, but there can be no doubt he was merely a pawn in their game, and must have realized this toward the end of his life.
Which is why every attempt by Booth to leave a statement about what really happened was destroyed, just like every attempt by Lee H. Oswald to leave a written statement with the FBI and Dallas police was destroyed. So open your eyes and do some research. And when you’re done, spread the news from every mountain top: Lincoln’s murder was an inside job.
I conducted my own investigation into the assassination of Abraham Lincoln after viewing Robert Redford’s, The Conspirator, a film that documents how a kangaroo military court sent an innocent Mary Surratt to the gallows to cover up the real assassination plot. It’s obvious she was railroaded if you just read the transcripts of the trial, but why?
When I told some people what I was doing, many asked if I’d read Bill O’Reilly’s recent book on the subject. I had no idea he’d written the book, much less that it had become a huge bestseller and launched a franchise of similar historical assassination books.
But after a month of research using mostly original documents from the era, I had to check out Killing Lincoln. It took me about 20 minutes to speed read the book because this is territory I know quite well at this point, so I was skimming major points of evidence, looking for rabbit holes and wanting to see which crucial characters were addressed and which left out entirely.
Unfortunately, O’Reilly pretty much faithfully follows the official cover story Booth was a lunatic operating with a small band of conspirators. His book didn’t cover the trials, so he doesn’t reveal the government’s case was based on proven perjuries.
You can’t analyze the assassination with any degree of success unless you study the role of Sanford Conover (real name Charles Dunham), the double agent and newspaper reporter who groomed the witnesses for the original trial. Another important figure left out of most books is Simon Wolf, of B’nai B’rith, who was close to John Wilkes Booth and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. We know Wolf held a private meeting with Booth the day of the assassination at the National Hotel because many years later, Wolf wrote about this meeting in his memoirs, and seems to have told some lies while doing so, so what was Wolf covering up?
O’Reilly invents a lot of details and pretends to know people’s inner thoughts, but never figured out the alleged assassination attempts on Vice President Johnson, General Grant and Edwin Stanton were all invented for the trial, and there’s not a shred of evidence anyone was supposed to be killed that night except Lincoln and William Seward, which makes total sense since they were the only ones pushing for Southern forgiveness. Lincoln wanted to pardon the South and allow them back into Congress after the war, something that greatly upset the radical Republican cabal that had captured Congress and actually put Lincoln into power. But Lincoln was drifting off the course set by his party leaders, and that’s why he was murdered.
I just published my own book in time for the 150th anniversary: Killing Lincoln: The Real Story, because O’Reilly never gets close to the truth.
The key suspects in this case are Edwin Stanton, Thaddeus Stevens, Salmon Chase and Ben Wade, and I’ve uncovered forensic evidence from the period that links them to the plot. Funny how Stevens and Wade never get a mention in O’Reilly’s book, even though they held a meeting with other leaders of the radicals in Congress the day after the assassination during which Stevens referred to Lincoln’s death as a “godsend.”
On November 1, 1864, Louis Weichmann moved into widow Mary Surratt’s boarding house, 604 H Street NW, Washington DC. Surratt’s son John was an important courier for the Confederacy who kept his mother and sister in the dark about his activities in order to shield them from culpability. Weichmann was an old friend of the family, an elementary school chum of John’s and a fellow Catholic.
Weichmann worked as a clerk at the War Department of Prisons and sat next to Daniel H.L. Gleason. After arriving at the boarding house, he immediately began telling Gleason the house was a nest of illegal activities. Of course, the possibility exists Weichmann was placed in the house as a confidential informant from the beginning, the results are the same either way. That fall Weichmann began informing on Surratt and his friend John Wilkes Booth.
On April 18, 1865, four days after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Gleason testified Weichmann informed him in March that “he was well-acquainted with some blockade runners, young fellows, not secessionists, who were out for money and excitement, who were currently involved in a new project that aroused his suspicion.” This message wormed its way up the chain-of-command and it soon came back down Weichmann should join this project, whatever it was. But in 1911, Gleason unloaded his conscience and confessed the real story: the War Department was made aware of John Wilkes Booth’s plot to kidnap Lincoln weeks before the assassination.
Since Stanton controlled the secret police, the army, the telegraph and the entire Washington DC police force, his power was absolute and once he discovered this plot, Booth was obviously at his mercy. At any time, Stanton could have arrested Booth and hanged him for treason, standard treatment for a Confederate spook like Booth, although Booth represented a high-profile celebrity trophy catch, and as such might expect special treatment.
So why wasn’t Booth arrested in March?
Even stranger, Stanton suddenly demoted his chief detective, moving the head of the National Detective Police to Manhattan, leaving the NDP headless for the crucial few weeks the assassination plot unfolded.
I believe Stanton sent a message to Booth through an intermediary, someone like Simon Wolf, a close friend of Booth’s who could be relied on for confidentiality, and that message could have gone something like: I know who you are and can have you arrested and hanged tomorrow. I can also hang your secret fiance Bessie Hale and your brother Edwin. On the other hand, you could take $10,000 and agree to assassinate Lincoln and Seward and tie this plot to Johnson. If you take the second option, I’ll insure you have time to escape. I’ll deny ever offering this deal.
Just a hint of the sort of buttons Stanton could have pushed and if he did push them, maybe you can see Booth in a different light? Booth’s entire famous family could have been implicated, not just his brother. And, of course, Booth would have done anything to protect Bessie from harm, being he was a true Southern gentleman. Stanton’s specialty was manufacturing evidence, and he had a entire crew led by Sanford Conover (real name Charles Dunham) for this purpose, so guilt or innocence never got in the way of his agenda.
This is the only scenario that makes any sense if you consider Booth claimed in his diary he could return to Washington and clear his name. Also, John Parker, the guard who deserted his post was never punished, went back to work inside the White House the next day. Knowing Stanton ripped-up most every Presidential pardon, this sudden overwhelming sense of forgiveness for both Parker and Boston Corbett was inexplicable, unless this is exactly what Stanton wanted to happen: and unguarded President and dead assassin to tell no tales.
Most of what we know about La Fayette Curry Baker is taken from his autobiography, and undoubtedly lies mixed with gross exaggerations, as Baker didn’t even write the book, but had it ghostwritten. When grilled about it on the stand, he wasn’t completely sure of its contents. Baker was undoubtedly one of the most corrupt officials in Washington so why would the truth cross his lips with any frequency? The fact he never read his autobiography is an indication he was not a learned fellow, although street-smart and schooled in the arts of spookdom.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton hand-picked Baker to run the goon squad, the National Detective Police (NDP), which had been under control of the Secretary of State until Stanton snatched it away. Stanton also snatched the telegraph lines around the same time.
Stanton soon became a law unto himself, and Baker, chief enforcer. Admittedly, Baker wasn’t good at administration, although he did like dressing in disguise and doing his own gumshoe work. Interrogating suspected spies (especially pretty female ones), and manifesting fake evidence were among his admitted specialties, talents that made him quite useful to Stanton.
Right before the assassination, this duo got into a tiff, reportedly because Stanton discovered Baker had put a tap on his private telegraph line, which could have been deployed to communicate with an entity in Manhattan (likely Jay Gould, soon to be the richest man in America). Stanton and his allies running Congress (Wade, Stevens) had control of the flow of information concerning the outcome of battles. After Lincoln won his second term, he wanted to forgive the South and let their old representatives return to Congress, which would have taken control away from the Radicals.
Strangely, when Stanton discovered Baker’s tap, instead of firing him, Baker was moved to Manhattan. No doubt the head of the NDP office in New York, where Baker was moved to, was also involved in the conspiracy. Baker, however, was the odd man left out in the cold.
The Radical Republican cabal that had taken power in Washington viewed Lincoln as a novice and hick, and referred to him as “the ape” behind his back. Nothing like the saintly image we have today.
Precisely as the assassination plot went into action, Baker was demoted and moved to New York. Yet, a few weeks later, two days after the assassination, Stanton recalled Baker and reinstated him as NDP chief. Baker was considered the best detective on the force. No doubt Stanton was worried about the impression created by keeping him on the sidelines for the crime of the century. Using information gleaned from the army patrol that had visited Dr. Mudd’s home, Baker correctly pinpointed Booth’s location and sent a patrol led by a relative to retrieve him. At the last second, however, Stanton attached a civilian to the patrol, and he is the one who actually shot Booth in the barn.
When Baker got the news of Booth’s capture and death, he was elated since the equivalent of around $2.25 million in reward money was at stake and he expected to get the lion’s share. Baker bolted to Stanton’s home to give him the news. Stanton was an emotional man given to outbursts of rage and happiness, and Baker was curious what his reaction might be. At first, Baker did not tell Stanton Booth was dead, only captured, as he wished to judge the reaction. Surprisingly, upon hearing Booth was captured, Stanton registered nothing, but silently put one hand over his eyes while laying on his living room couch, remaining still as a statue until Baker told him Booth had not survived capture. Instead of becoming angry they could not move up the chain-of-command through torturing Booth, Stanton calmly rose and put on his coat for the trip to the office.
The story is revealing, and takes me back a few days to that initial meeting the duo had when Baker was recalled from New York and reinstated. Stanton spun his chair around and put his back to Baker. Baker assumed this was because Stanton was shedding tears over Lincoln’s death and did not wish to be seen in a moment of weakness. But knowing Stanton, it’s far more likely he turned around and feigned that moment, simply so Baker couldn’t look deeply into his eyes and read the guilt. Even though Baker was chief of the secret police, and involved in all sorts of nasty business, he remained on the outside of the assassination conspiracy as Stanton did not fully trust him.
After President Johnson went to war with Stanton and Thaddeus Stevens, and they mounted an impeachment campaign against him, word around Washington was the cabal had already decided Johnson had to go, and with manufactured evidence if necessary.
Just as they had invented the testimony that hanged Mary Surratt, they were already busy inventing evidence against Johnson. Under oath General Baker (he was promoted after Booth’s death) claimed to have seen letters between Johnson and Jefferson Davis, letters he promised to produce, but never did. Odd because forgery was not an issue for Baker.
To give an idea of the sort of shenanigans Baker fomented, he had a detective hire a prostitute to carry a pardon request to the White House. But when she arrived, Baker was waiting and nabbed her, claiming she was not of sufficient character to be in the White House. During the impeachment trial, this incident would be twisted to paint Johnson as a drunk who engaged prostitutes in the White House.
But it all backfired because Johnson survived his impeachment trial by one vote, meaning Stanton and Baker were both soon fired. Which is why Baker was forced to sign that publishing deal. He did put some clues in his book, however, and the most important had been to reveal the existence of Booth’s diary that had been captured at Garrett’s farm. Until then, the diary had never been revealed. This was an obvious case of obstruction, and Congress eventually forced Stanton to produce the diary so they could examine this curiosity, although when it finally arrived, many pages had been snipped out with a pair of scissors.
Baker received a pittance of the reward and became quite bitter later in life. Stanton and Stevens were both soon dead of natural causes and the head of Stanton’s telegraph operation would become the first CEO of Western Union, appointed by the owner, Jay Gould, who had profited immensely off uncanny Wall Street maneuvers involving Civil War battles. Almost as if he had advance knowledge.
You won’t find mention of Senator Benjamin Franklin Wade of Ohio in many Lincoln assassination books, an obvious oversight since he’s implicated in that plot through a letter discovered in Sanford Conover’s hotel room. (Sanford’s real name was Charles Dunham and he was a double-agent super-spook working for Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.) Conover ran the scandalous school for scoundrels that groomed the paid perjurers helping convict the designated patsies, a list that included Jefferson Davis and Mary Surratt.
Wade and Thaddeus Stevens were the real power in Washington, and Lincoln was just a useful tool. Wade engineered his buddy from Ohio (Edwin Stanton) as head of the War Department. Stanton became the key person in the assassination plot and cover-up. Lincoln was killed because he was vetoing Wade’s harsh plans for Reconstruction and wanted to go soft and easy on the South after the conflict was over. After becoming President, Andrew Johnson decided Lincoln had the right approach, so Stevens and Wade made moves to get rid of him, while slamming their reconstruction plans through Congress. Johnson’s impeachment failed by one vote. It wasn’t so much Congress thought Johnson innocent, but may have feared a reign-of-terror if Wade ascended to the throne, as he was President Pro Tempore and since there was no Vice President, that meant Wade would have become 18th President if the impeachment had been successful. Never has a man plotted so deviously to take ultimate power in Washington, and he got close enough to taste it. The actual impeachment was sparked by an attempt by Johnson to fire Stanton. To keep the Lincoln assassination conspiracy under wraps, it was essential to maintain control of the War Department’s secret files on the subject.
Wade and Thaddeus Stevens were united on their great contempt for Lincoln, feelings not-so-secretly shared by Stanton, Salmon Chase and Charles Sumner. This is the cabal that ran Washington during the war. Lincoln was their compromise candidate and his elevation to the presidency was a great surprise for most of the country, as many had never heard of him before the election. Lincoln was a last-minute solution based on a powerful anti-slavery speech he’d delivered in the Illinois House of Representatives. But the Radical Republican cabal soon decided Lincoln was a hick, an ape, a gorilla and grew tired of his profanity-laced stories, however entertaining others may have found them.
I think you can tell from the portrait above that Wade was a serious man and not to be trifled with. On May 22, 1856, Representative Preston Smith Brooks became infuriated by a hostile speech given by Senator Sumner of Massachusetts, Wade’s close associate. Sumner had been very proud of his inflammatory anti-slave speech, however, so proud he was preoccupied affixing stamps to copies of the transcript so it could be circulated amongst his home state, when Brooks suddenly crept onto the Senate floor and stood directly behind Sumner.
“Mister Sumner, I have read your speech with care and as much impartiality as possible, and I feel it is my duty to tell you that you have libeled my State and slandered a relative who is aged and absent, and I am come to punish you.”
With that statement, Brooks began viciously bashing Sumner on the head with his cane, immediately drawing blood. The dazed Sumner sought refuge under his desk, but Brooks pressed his advantage, and kept raining blows. Eventually Sumner broke free into the aisle, but Brooks was unrelenting and kept on until his victim was rendered unconscious. Brooks stopped at that point, but only because his cane had shattered into splinters, leaving only a golden nub in his hand. During this episode, the Senate seemed divided equally between those who wished Sumner spared, and those who would brook no interference with his punishment.
After the assault, Senator Robert Tombs made a speech in support of Brooks, at which point Wade vehemently responded by challenging any and all Southern Senators and Representatives to a duel. Tombs and the others wisely did not pick up this challenge, however, and Wade subsequently made a secret pact with Simon Cameron and Zachariah Chandler that any further aggression by Southerners in Congress would be countered with an instantaneous gauntlet toss.
Wade had the most radical views of all the Radical Republicans and supported voting rights for women and blacks. In a letter to Chandler regarding Lincoln, Wade wrote: “[his views] could only come of one born of poor white trash and educated in a slave State.”
When bloody war finally broke out, Wade was happy. He and six friends rented a carriage to watch the Battle of Bull Run near Washington, but when the Union line was overrun, Wade pulled out his pistol and joined in the fray. He was almost captured by Confederate soldiers.
Is it worth noting Wade was the Senator who convinced Lincoln to replace Simon Cameron with Stanton, even though Stanton was a Democrat and never supported Lincoln? I’m sure Wade’s assistance in this matter was not lost on Stanton, and they undoubtedly became very close during the war, and shared many agendas and plots, some no doubt involving the best strategies for neutralizing Lincoln and looting the South six-ways-to-Sunday.
There was no central intelligence during the Civil War, just a hodgepodge of competing spook units. Every army had its own spy system, as did every city’s police force. Ciphers were an ancient spook technology, handed down in spook world for generations. Aaron Burr had been an early master of the art, trained by His Majesty’s Secret Service, but the South had no one like him and the Confederates lost the cipher war.
Tapping telegraph lines was a constant endeavor, and that meant tapping both friend and foe, because things were really complicated due to the high volume of double agents. When the war broke out, everyone had three choices: join the rebellion, join the Union, or become a spook, which meant pretending to join one side while actually joining the other. This was not rocket science and spooks were soon strategically placed throughout both power structures. Keep in mind, the Congress and Cabinet were pretty much equally divided, and people who’d worked together as friends for decades, were instantly transformed into mortal enemies.
Ability to break codes got one promoted faster than anything in spook world, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton clearly had the best code-breakers on his side because they were constantly intercepting messages. On December 20, 1863, a ciphered telegraph message from the Confederate Secretary of Treasury to an engraver in New York City was cracked in a few hours and revealed the location of the printing press for Confederate paper money. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana supervised the confiscation and destruction of money and plates. The fact a New York engraver had been selected was just an indication New York was a hotbed for Democrats and Southern sympathizers, some of whom wanted to secede and join the rebellion. Cotton was North America’s biggest and most valuable export, and the price of cotton quickly rose from 10 cents a pound at the start of the war to a high of $1.89.
The South burned massive amounts of cotton in hopes of creating a cotton famine that would help force European countries into the conflict because their economies depended on cheap cotton. But Europe had been expecting supply issues, and had been stashing cotton, and would not require more cotton for years. A brisk smuggling trade developed between Nassau and Bermuda and the Confederate States. Ships arrived stuffed with cotton and departed stuffed with armaments. These voyages could reap a profit of 500 percent, so every $5 invested in raw cotton in Mississippi became $2,500 in British rifles in Virginia. There is simply no profit stream that can compete with war, which is why many on Wall Street remained so friendly with the South. War profiteering during the Civil War likely dwarfed anything made during Prohibition, which spawned a national crime organization, and although we have a decent scorecard on players in Prohibition, the Civil War profiteers remain largely uncelebrated.
Great Britain made a fortune selling armaments to the Confederates, and their rifles were vastly superior, nothing like the junk J.P. Morgan was selling the Union, although Morgan’s contracts were enforceable, his weapons were flawed and obsolete. By the end of the war Morgan and Jay Gould would rule Wall Street thanks to their successful profiteering. The difference was Morgan was an ally of the British bankers, while Gould yearned to be King Midas and tried to go up against them (and lost).
A ciphered message was discovered in a trunk in John Wilkes Booth’s hotel room after the assassination, and it matched the cipher being used by Jacob Thompson, head of Confederate Secret Service in Canada. But there were no messages from Thompson regarding any attempted assassination of Lincoln. Clearly, Booth was getting both money and assistance during the final weeks of his life, but it wasn’t coming from Richmond, where the kidnapping plot had been hatched. No, someone who knew about the kidnapping plot was suddenly putting up money for a hit, and this operation was manifesting at lightning speed.
The day after the assassination, Secretary of War Stanton sent a terse message to his former chief of detectives in New York City. Lafayette C. Baker had been in charge of Stanton’s Gestapo, the National Detective Police (NDP), but had recently been demoted and moved to New York after Stanton discovered him tapping the War Department telegraph line. Baker arrived the following day and was given zero information, despite all the clues found in Booth’s hotel room and the abandoned room at the Kirkwood, not to mention the investigations of the Surratt boarding house. Somehow, Stanton had already concluded this house was a center of gravity regarding the assassination, and Mary Surratt was about to be turned into Stanton’s chief patsy. But he shared none of this information with his former chief of detectives, and only revealed the suspect was John Wilkes Booth, so go find him.
That meeting happening on Sunday. Two days later, a letter arrived at the War Department: New York, April 14, 1865 Mr. Stanton Dear Sir: If you want me you had better send for me. J. Wilkes Booth P.S. What do you say?
This was the first of several letters written in Booth’s hand that arrived at the War Department over the next week, each one postmarked further north, an obvious attempt to convince the NDP Booth had escaped into Canada. I suspect John Surratt’s mission in this plot was to seed these letters into Canada, because that’s where Surratt ended up, and the first one was undoubtedly posted the same day as the assassination, although the stamp is smudged beyond recognition.
But Baker must have suspected this letter was also Booth’s clue to a possible secret connection between himself and Stanton, and Baker would become suspicious of Stanton’s motivations and actions over the next few days. And knowing Stanton, I’m sure those feelings of distrust were shared equally, if not magnified, on his end against his employee. After the JFK assassination a similarly cryptic letter would be discovered addressed to a Mr. Hunt and written in the hand of Lee Harvey Oswald. For years, many assumed it was a reference to CIA officer E. Howard Hunt, although late suspicion fell more toward the benefactor of the John Birch Society, H.L. Hunt.