On November 1, 1864, Louis Weichmann moved into widow Mary Surratt’s boarding house, 604 H Street. Surratt’s son John was an important courier for the Confederacy who kept his mother and sister largely 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. 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.
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. It’s possible Dunham’s real employer, however, was the treacherous Jay Gould, soon the be the richest man on Wall Street.
Booth claimed in his diary he could return to Washington and clear his name. I believe he intended to reveal that a detachment of Union soldiers had been sent into Richmond for the purpose of assassinating Jefferson Davis. This unit had been sent by Stanton and Lincoln had been purposely kept in the dark.
Booth was also a bit unhinged over the hanging of his mentor John Yates Beal, despite the pleas of many prominent Washingtonians to spare the spook for his failed attempt to free the Confederates held prisoners-of-war in the North.
Also, John Parker, the guard who deserted his post was never punished and 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 (the alleged killer of Booth) was inexplicable, unless this is exactly what Stanton wanted: an unguarded President and dead assassin to tell no tales.
Abraham Lincoln became inflated almost beyond recognition through positive mythologizing very quickly, just as his foil John Wilkes Booth received quite the opposite treatment and morphed into a cartoon character from a cheap melodrama. Forgotten is the reality Booth was the original matinee idol, receiving up to 100 love letters a day, frequently followed home to his hotel by adoring groupies, and the first person in recorded history to have his clothes shredded by fans desiring a piece of him. Not exactly the raving lunatic that’s come down in history, eh? We’ll likely never know the full list of missions Captain Booth undertook for the South, or anything close, but we do know that smuggling precious quinine was a big part of that puzzle.
During the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of soldiers contracted malaria, and at the time, no one knew it was spread by mosquitoes. Produced from the bark of the South American cinchona tree, quinine was the only known cure for malaria, and it was very hard to procure in the South, where malaria was a much worse problem than in the North. By smuggling quinine through the lines, Booth saved thousands of lives and performed a noble service that could have gotten him hanged for treason had he been discovered.
Ella Star Turner made a huge spectacle on a Washington street car the day after the assassination. She was carrying a framed portrait of Booth and reportedly dove into the aisle, threatening suicide. Some say she ran the fanciest sporting house in Washington, but we’ll never know because she quickly vanished off the face of the earth, leaving one to wonder what she may have known. Another rumor stated Vice President Andrew Johnson had visited Turner’s bordello the night of the assassination. Two thousand suspected Booth accomplices were rounded up quickly and George B. Love was just one of them. He slit his throat with a penknife in the guardhouse at Fort Stephens and they later found a baggage claim made out to Turner in his pockets.
On July 11, 1866, Senator James H. Lane of Kansas shot himself. He was the leader of the Jayhawkers, and Quantrill’s bloody raid on Lawrence was really an attempt to assassinate him and avenge some of his raids on the South. Lane was a leader of the Radical Republicans, but after the assassination he switched his support to Andrew Johnson, which must have infuriated Stanton and Stevens.
On July 3, 1868, retired General Lafayette C. Baker died in Philadelphia. He was 44. An examination of his hair decades later revealed he may have suffered arsenic poisoning, and not died of meningitis as claimed. Baker had been thrown under the bus and fired by Stanton shortly after the conspiracy trial was concluded. He had a ghostwriter whip out a pulp-novel style autobiography strung together with newspaper accounts and Baker’s own mythologizing, a book that explosively revealed the existence of Booth’s diary for the first time. Baker long suspected Stanton had been involved, and he seeded some clues in his book, but made no direct accusations. Baker had initially requested three quarters of the reward, the equivalent of almost $2 million today. But he only got a measly $3,500 (or approximately $90,000) and felt massively cheated by Stanton.
In December 1869, Edwin Stanton died shortly after complaining of being haunted by Mary Surratt’s ghost. Caleb Cushing immediately claimed Stanton had slit his throat, same as his brother had done many years earlier, and there was a coverup in progress. Although the Senate had approved Stanton’s appointment to the Supreme Court, President Grant sat on the paperwork for weeks, letting him twist uncomfortably in the wind. Stanton had been rudely rebuffed from a seat on Grant’s cabinet, as he was now one of the most unpopular politicians in the nation. R. F. Harvey had been in charge of preparing his corpse for the casket. In 1903 a Baltimore newspaper story reportedly written by Harvey’s son stated “no human being ever succeeded in getting him to deny or confirm anything on the subject [of Stanton].” The death certificate (severe asthma attack) had been issued by Stanton’s close friend, Surgeon General Barnes.
On November 12, 1875, ex-Senator Preston King tied a bag of bullets around his neck and jumped from the Christopher Street Ferry in New York. King had personally blocked Anna Surratt from an audience with President Johnson, which ended all hope of saving her mother, indicating this might be another death linked to Surratt’s ghost.
One of the more mysterious deaths was Louis Wiechmann, key witness against Mary Surratt, who was later rumored to have been gay and infatuated with the old school chum he’d betrayed, John Surratt. Wiechmann was put into “protective custody” and spent weeks traveling all over the northeast in the failed effort to bring Surratt to justice. He died on June 2, 1902, and according to Lloyd Lewis in Myths After Lincoln, the cause of death listed as “extreme nervousness.” Strangely, Wiechmann had recently signed a declaration stating: “This is to certify every word I gave in evidence at the assassination trial was absolutely true.”
No one knows what happened to John F. Parker, the guard who failed to protect the president. He returned to his post in the White House and was chastised once by Mrs. Lincoln. In 1868 he was dismissed for sleeping on a streetcar while on duty. Similarly, the fall-guy for Booth’s assassination, Boston Corbett, was admitted to a mental institution, escaped and slipped off the pages of history forever.
Edwin Booth did all he could to make amends for his brother’s misguided act, even to the point of paying to rebuild the barn on Garrett’s farm. But Edwin also kept a framed portrait of his younger brother on his nightstand in his bedroom at the Player’s Club on Gramercy Park in New York City. The day of Edwin’s funeral (June 9, 1893), Ford’s Theater, which had been converted to a War Department warehouse by Stanton, collapsed. Apparently too many files had been crammed into the rickety third floor and 22 clerks were killed, and 68 injured.
The War Department files on Lincoln’s assassination remained sealed until 1937 in the interest of national security.
An “honest” man in Washington D.C. is one who stays bought after being bought once, but now and then an anomaly slips through, threatening to blow the lid off the systemic corruption. Such an anomaly was Andrew Jackson Rogers, self-taught lawyer and Democratic Party member who served Congress representing New Jersey’s 4th district during the Civil War.
On January 10, 1866, the House passed a resolution requesting “grounds, facts, or accusations upon which Jefferson Davis, Clement C. Clay, Jr.,…[and others] are held in confinement.”
Months had passed since a military tribunal run by Judge Advocate Joseph Holt had pronounced Davis and his top aides guilty of plotting President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Yet Davis and others were still being held incommunicado in Virginia, and not being forced to come to Washington to undergo the punishment meted out to their alleged operatives who’d been hanged for supposedly following their orders.
The files on the conspiracy trial had been immediately sealed and not available for review by anyone in the interest of national security. A glaring problem, however, was the star witness in the tribunal, Sanford Conover (real name Charles Dunham) had since been exposed as a serial perjurer whose testimony on just about anything was probably available for the right fee. Now the House of Representatives was demanding to see the evidence used to convict Davis and hang four people.
Rather than play along with the government’s cover story and rubber stamp a committee report, Representative Rogers, the sole Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, decided to subject the witnesses to serious cross examination. Rogers probably did not realize behind the scenes, at least one witness was already getting cold feet, as revealed in a letter sent to Conover by “M.”
“That villain Campbell has divulged the whole arrangement to Davis’ friends and will, if possible be pushed before the committee. I have spent on to assist you in getting him sweet again, so that he will stand by his story, or else keep out of the way. It must be done at any cost. I am prepared with the needful. Old 279 and nr 8 were at headquarters the day before yesterday and are furious. We shall be rewarded if we save their bacon. It must be done …”.
Since the Washington addresses of Senators Thaddeus Stevens and Ben Wade correspond to those number codes, they should have been implicated in the plot the day this letter was uncovered. It was undoubtedly written by Richard Montgomery, another of the tribunal’s key witnesses and an admitted Confederate spy/Union double agent. Along with Edwin Stanton and Salmon Chase, Stevens and Wade represented the controlling core of the Radical Republican cabal running Washington during the Civil War.
The “villain Campbell” was William A. Campbell (real name either Joseph A. Hoare or Hoome) and attempts were made by Holt to either “get him in the traces again” or at least to make sure he was not called before the committee. Apparently Holt possessed information that would land Campbell in prison for ten years if made public. Campbell was quickly taken into “protective custody” and held some private conferences with Holt, in which he promised to stick to the official story, which is why he ended up testifying on May 8, 1866.
The best summary of Campbell’s testimony I’ve discovered was written by James W. Thompson for the CHAB, a revisionist non-profit historical society located in Belgium of all places: [Campbell] proceeded to admit that the testimony in his deposition was false, that Conover had prepared his testimony, and that he had memorized it and had repeated it to Holt. He admitted that he was guilty of perjury, and told the committee that he had been paid $500 by Holt, $100 by Conover, and had been given another $300 for traveling expenses. Both the committee and Holt’s entire apparatus of perjurers were thrown into consternation.
Campbell was the first to fold, but not the last. A shady physician named Dr. Merritt admitted receiving the biggest bribe: $6,000 for his testimony. Mr. Snevel initially claimed he’d gotten a mere $375, although a newspaper reporter would discover Snevel had gotten an additional $1,000. Rogers established that five witnesses had used false names, including Conover, his wife and his sister-in-law.
Instead of arresting Conover as ringleader of this scam, however, he was mysteriously sent back to New York City accompanied by a sergeant-at-arms of the committee for the purpose of finding more witnesses. Immediately after arrival, he eluded the guard and disappeared.
Stanton’s good friend Representative George S. Boutwell wrote the majority report, ignoring the exposed perjuries and bribes of the witnesses who’d melted under Rogers’ cross-examination. Boutwell’s foregone conclusion was that Davis had been privy to the plot and Confederate documents would reveal this in time, although he admitted no hard evidence had yet emerged. Meanwhile, Rogers was given less than 48 hours to digest the court transcripts, depositions and documents in order to compose a blistering dissenting opinion.
Boutwell had done everything possible to conceal these incriminating documents and wanted them burned, and Rogers’ report carried no weight, but it did help catapult Judge Advocate Holt into a state of “intense personal excitement” such that Holt began demanding a court of inquiry to clear his name, a demand ignored by Stanton since it would have just opened up more wormholes in their flimsy and entirely imaginary case.
But too much damage had been done by the Rogers report because President Andrew Johnson finally was made aware that the majority of officers who’d sat on the tribunal remained unconvinced of Mary Surratt’s guilt and had all signed a petition requesting presidential clemency, a petition never shown to Johnson until long after Surratt swung from the gallows. Johnson was so infuriated he demanded Stanton’s resignation and Stanton responded by barricading himself in his office and launching an impeachment case against Johnson, a case built partially on the premise Johnson was the true instigator of the Lincoln assassination. It was an epic battle Stanton would lose by one vote, and that finally signaled the end of his once powerful and incredibly corrupt political career.
Only a handful of scholars have shown any interest in this Congressional investigation, which sheds so much light on the plot, and the Lincoln assassination is clouded by faithful allegiance to the official story, despite the fact military tribunals for civilians would soon be declared fraudulent and illegal by the U.S. courts. Unfortunately, that was 17 months after civilian Surratt was hanged by one.
“The cool turpitude of the whole crew sickened me with shame,” wrote Rogers in his dissenting statement, “and made me sorrow over the fact that such people could claim the name American.”
Coda: In closing his penetrating analysis of this incident, James W. Thompson wrote: “I might add that it still galls me to this day when I reflect that it was this vicious scoundrel Stanton who is the man responsible for the slogan which appears on all our American coins and paper money—In God We Trust. If there was ever a worse hypocrite, I don’t know his name!”
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.
Michael W. Kauffman is widely recognized as THE authority on the Lincoln assassination, and he’s a regular consultant to the History Channel and other media giants. Ten years ago, Kauffman published American Brutus, the most in-depth analysis of the movements of John Wilkes Booth just prior to and after the assassination.
Kauffman did an exhaustive amount of research, and was careful to deal only with primary sources from the period. The biggest stumbling blocks to an investigation are the many conflicting and contradictory elements. Any historian can pick a thesis and collect a book’s worth of material to support it, provided contradictions from more reliable sources are ignored.
Kauffman makes it clear from the outset he trusts Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and quotes liberally from newspaper reports that could have been sculpted by Stanton. He also dismisses the “conspiracy theories.”
The first theory to emerge involved Vice President Johnson, and Stanton may have encouraged that suspicion before promoting Jefferson Davis as the true instigator. Little known today is that Davis was declared guilty before the military tribunal even took place. And that tribunal did find Davis guilty at a time Davis was being held incommunicado in a jail in Virginia.
Strange Stanton did not wish Davis to attend his own trial, despite so much of the testimony being directed against him and his operatives in Canada. Plots to burn down New York City and spread Yellow Fever to civilians were unveiled, although much of the testimony was proven false and had been paid for. This revelation was something of an accident and occurred because some trial testimony was leaked to the press. Had they been able to keep the tribunal testimony secret, as Stanton wanted, the innocence of Mary Surratt would not have come to light so quickly. Her death destroyed Stanton’s political career and made him the most unpopular man in the country after it was exposed he engineered the first female execution in American history. And wouldn’t you know it, she was innocent. That left a really sour taste all across America, so much so that President Grant denied Stanton a position in his cabinet and refused to sign his elevation to the Supreme Court, sitting on it for weeks.
I have some questions for Kauffman after speed-reading his book, which I admit contains a wealth of insight and never-before-published details. And the first question is: Where is Simon Wolf?
Wolf admits meeting Booth the morning of the assassination, and apparently Booth told him (and no one else) that his proposal of marriage to the daughter of a United States Senator had been rebuffed. Wolf speculated this rejection drove him to murder Lincoln.
Strange no mention of this unexpected rejection appears in his notebook, which Booth composed while on the run. Also, the fiance reported no such announcement, although their engagement was a secret.
Booth’s secret fiance was also being courted by Lincoln’s son, a detail strangely left out of many history books. If the deed were done over remorse of Lucy Lambert “Bessie” Hale’s rejection, it would seem a duel with Robert Todd Lincoln, Booth’s rival for Hale’s affections, might have been a more appropriate response. Breaking up an engagement was certainly a dueling matter for a Southern gentleman like Booth.
A more accurate version, however, is that Bessie was being moved with her family to Spain, where her father was being posted as ambassador, and she promised to return to marry Booth in one year, so there was not a breaking-off of the secret engagement, unless Booth did it on his own initiative. And keep in mind, Booth is a spook and Bessie’s dad inside the Radical Republican cabal running Washington, so his affections for her could have all been part of his spook activities. Perhaps her father sensed this, or, of course, he could have been told this very fact by his friend Stanton. When did Senator Hale discover the man courting his daughter was a notorious Southern spy? Because this information was known inside the War Department for weeks prior to the assassination. I suspect Hale’s sudden appointment to Spain might have been triggered by a desire to get his daughter out-of-town so she’d not be implicated in the nasty business to follow.
But why is the connection between Booth and Wolf ignored by almost every historian?
Edwin Stanton was a devoted Freemason of the elite Scottish Rite, which means on Tuesday nights he was likely found doing ceremonies with his fellow masters of the craft at the glorious temple in Washington. I suspect Stanton was not a very spiritual person, however, but someone who recognized Masonry as a means to advance his career.
I also suspect Simon Wolf may have been a Mason, although his identity as the head of B’nai B’rith in Washington DC is well-documented. Like the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Ku Klux Klan and The Church of Latter Day Saints, the International Order of B’nai B’rith has some masonic elements in its origins, and was likely founded by Jewish masons. Masonry is an incredibly complex world, with many subsets and splinter groups. But the fact that Christians, Jews and Muslims were all welcome and everything spoken inside the temple was confidential made masonry an ideal venue for conducting conspiracy, which is why lodges were so often penetrated by spooks from various secret societies. Also, keep in mind that most researchers today consider B’nai B’rith’s ADL little more than a spook-infested propaganda arm for the Mossad, so you can see how these intelligence connections were wired into the secret society systems from their origins.
Lafayette C. Baker may have been corrupt and ruthless, but he was also good at his job, and he arrested Wolf in Philadelphia, where he’d traveled to meet with a Southern refuge who’d hired his services as a lawyer. Wolf did many similar missions in the service of fellow Jews. But Baker charged him as an enemy agent because of his leadership in B’nai B’rith, which Baker considered, “a disloyal organization which has its ramifications in the South, and…helping traitors.” The fact remains many Jews during this period sympathized with the South and found employment as blockade runners and black-market profiteers, and Wolf was their primary attorney of choice. In fact, General Grant at one point declared his own pogrom against all Jews, an order quickly rescinded by Lincoln, no doubt after a visit from the young Simon Wolf, who seemed to have some powerful connections.
But before those connections were known, Baker had Wolf tossed in Carroll Street Prison, where he could have remained for the war’s duration, except Wolf convinced another official Stanton would exonerate him. Stanton went into a rage when told Wolf had been placed into prison, and lashed out at Baker. Even though Baker worked for Stanton, the two obviously never trusted each other, and Baker would soon be demoted for spying on Stanton and shipped out-of-town, only to be recalled immediately after Lincoln’s assassination to head the investigation. It appears he was moved out-of-town so as not to bump into the operation.
What Baker didn’t know was that when Wolf had arrived from Ohio, he’d gone straight to Stanton’s office, where he presented a letter of introduction written by Stanton’s former business partner, Colonel George W. McCook. According to Wolf, “After reading the letter, the Secretary, looking over his glasses with a look as determined as all of his acts were, said to me, ‘Young man, if what Colonel McCook says is true, you have no business in the Department; get outside; and if it isn’t true, I have no use for imbeciles.'” (Presidents I Have Known by Simon Wolf, 1918, http://archive.org/stream/presidentsihavek00wolfrich/presidentsihavek00wolfrich_djvu.txt).
After arriving in Washington, Wolf swiftly became president of the Literary and Dramatic Society, which held meetings in a rented hall at 481 Ninth Street. This society also staged a production of Hamlet at Carusi’s to celebrate Shakespeare’s 300th birthday and Lincoln, Lord Lyons and Sir Edward Malet were specifically invited. Back when Wolf lived in Cleveland, he’d been involved in theatrical productions with both B.F. Peixotto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Booth. Cleveland was a stronghold for the Knights of the Golden Circle, a terrorist militia devoted to supporting the Southern cause who were the real muscle behind the Copperhead movement that opposed Lincoln in the North. Their numbers, however, were undoubtedly greatly exaggerated.
“I knew Booth well,” writes Wolf. “We had played on the amateur stage together in Cleveland, Ohio, and I had met him that very morning in front of the Metropolitan Hotel. He asked me to take a drink. He seemed very excited, and rather than decline and incur his enmity I went with him. It was the last time I ever saw Booth.”
You cannot understand history without a study of the secret societies operating at any given time. Since every known detail of that day is examined in Kauffman’s book in intricate detail, I have to wonder why Wolf never makes an appearance.
Meet Joseph Holt, a lawyer educated in Bardstown, Kentucky, who moved into the upper echelons of power under President James Buchanan, along with fellow Democrat, Edwin Stanton.
Holt was Secretary of War under Buchanan, a position Stanton would hold under Lincoln. War, it should be noted, is the greatest profit producer known to man, and Secretary of War is the key man deciding who profits most.
Recently, I watched Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, a film that reveals how Mary Surratt was railroaded onto the gallows by a kangaroo court after Lincoln’s assassination. The film encouraged me to peer deeper into the case, and I’ve been astounded by what I’ve uncovered in one week assembling primary documents available free online. Thanks to hundreds of citizen researchers, this case is probably the most heavily documented murder trial in history. In the late 1930s, a professor in Chicago published a book suggesting Stanton was involved in the assassination, and marshaled considerable evidence to support this claim, some of which has been disputed. But after watching Redford’s film, I became sympathetic to this theory, because it certainly was a kangaroo court.
Little known today is the fact public sentiment turned against Stanton and his tribunal after its key witness, Sandford Conover, was unveiled as a chronic perjurer. In fact, much of the eyewitness testimony at the trial appears manufactured and the chief investigator, Lafayette Baker, was notorious for manufacturing evidence and accepting bribes, while his boss Stanton had become quite expert at arranging convictions.
Conover was eventually unmasked as Charles Durham, a New York lawyer and double or possible triple agent who had been posted inside the Confederate War Department briefly and had posed as a journalist writing simultaneously for both sides. Historians are still trying to unravel all the various identities he created during the war.
Forgotten today is the fact Jefferson Davis and the heads of the Confederate Secret Service were proclaimed guilty of fomenting the assassination by President Andrew Johnson before the trial commenced. In response, they accused Johnson as being the instigator, as Johnson seems to have benefited most, and Booth had left his calling card at Johnson’s hotel before the assassination, a detail that convinced Mary Todd Lincoln of Johnson’s guilt. That theory conflicts with the allegation Johnson was slated for assassination along with Secretary of State Seward that night. Although the military tribunal sold that story to the nation, there remains zero evidence anyone ever intended to assassinate the Vice President.
Check out the trial transcript and I think you’ll be amazed at the obvious manipulations. The first third of the trial involved crimes fomented by Davis and the Confederate Secret Service located in Canada, and had nothing to do with the people on trial. Those poor saps were all fringe characters who had the misfortune of knowing John Wilkes Booth and being Southern sympathizers. Booth was dead, so there was little hope of moving up the chain to discover who financed the complex operation, and Booth was discovered with a large amount of cash. And Booth’s acquaintances were held in solitary confinement with hoods permanently placed over the heads so anything they might have known wasn’t going to leak out.
But once Conover was unmasked as a serial liar, the credibility of Holt’s military tribunal was put in doubt, and the fact neither Jefferson nor any Confederate officials were put on trial only supported the conclusion the trial had been rigged to hang patsies so real criminals could walk free.
Secret societies were very popular during the Civil War. Some, like the Knights of the Golden Circle, were masonic spin-offs possibly created by high-ranking masons who wanted to launch operations without casting shadows on their primary lodges. Albert Pike was the most powerful mason in America at the time, and although he was from Boston, Pike became a Confederate General and organized Indian raids on civilians during the war.
One powerful secret society was located in New York City, the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, created to protest the arrival of Irish, Italian and German immigrants into North America, especially Catholics. This movement become national and launched the powerful “Know Nothing” political party, so named because of the response members were instructed to give when questioned about the society. Thaddeus Stevens became an important member of that society.
Many conspiracy theories were floated right after the assassination, possibly by Stanton himself as he controlled the press in Washington. The official story was that Jefferson Davis had masterminded the plot in revenge for losing the war, but many were led to believe it was a Catholic conspiracy based on John Surratt and his mother being Catholic. Many intelligent Americans, however, probably suspected Stanton, since he was cited as the most unpopular man in the country by some newspapers. This theory would not re-emerge until the late 1930s.
After the hanging of Mary Surratt, the country was left with a sour taste since she was the first woman executed in American history and now it looked like she was set-up and innocent of all charges.
Holt became so dishonored by public sentiment he eventually published a pamphlet to clear his name in which he accused Jefferson Davis of fomenting a campaign to destroy his credibility by planting the spy Conover in his case. That document is available here:
Later on, Holt would write another book about the assassination, but this one accused the Vatican of fomenting the plot.
Lafayette Curry Baker deserves a larger place in the history books because he played a key role in the Great Lincoln Conspiracy. Baker was considered one of the most corrupt and ruthless officials in Washington D.C., and owed all his power and prestige to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.
Baker bounced around the country from New York to California before becoming a mercenary and bounty-hunting-hired-gun. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he volunteered to spy on the Richmond defenses for General Winfield Scott by posing as a photographer, and soon came to the attention of Stanton, an Ohio lawyer who’d suddenly been placed into the Cabinet position of Secretary of War at the war’s outbreak, an extremely fortuitous appointment since Stanton had no military experience and had just switched political parties because he sensed the winds of change were blowing and the Republicans were about to take control of the executive branch.
Quoting Nathaniel Weyl’s The Battle Against Disloyalty: “During the war years, General La Fayette Curry Baker was chief of the military Secret Service…Promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, Baker was clothed with almost limitless powers as special provost marshal of the War Department. In Washington, he used the methods that had proved so successful in his vigilante days, disregarding the process of law, habeas corpus, or any of the other constitutional frills…” Of Stanton, Weyl concluded: “The ultimate plans of Stanton cannot be fathomed, but the trend was totalitarian.”
Baker routinely made false arrests, planted fake evidence and solicited bribes. He was placed in charge of insuring the War Department got its full share of the war profiteering, and when he caught merchants cheating, demanded a slice of the action to allow them to stay in business. A Treasury Department official accused Baker of orchestrating “a reign of terror.”
Suddenly, however, Baker was accused of tapping Stanton’s military telegraph lines, was demoted and moved to New York City, and posted under an Assistant Secretary of War there. This all seems weird because Baker was accused of “spying” on Stanton, yet there was no hearing nor trial, just this sudden demotion.
But then just as suddenly, immediately after Lincoln was assassinated, Stanton ordered Baker to return to Washington to take charge of the investigation. Stanton himself was a suspect since he was in charge of the President’s protection and had personally placed a drunk on guard duty that night. Almost instantly suspects were rounded up and thrown into solitary with canvas hoods placed permanently over their heads to prevent any communication. At least one of them lost his mind after a week of wearing the hood. This runs against normal investigative technique, which is to isolate suspects and place double agents near them to draw information while posing as confidants.
After 11 days of the biggest manhunt in history, Baker suddenly dispatched a unit of the 16th Calvary to Virginia. The War Department was flooded with hundreds of reports of sightings in every state on the Eastern Coast, yet Baker somehow selected one particular lead to follow.
Booth’s diary never appeared at the trial, but much later when Baker wrote his book to cash in on his fame after being dismissed by Stanton, he mentioned the diary and was called before a Congressional committee, at which point Stanton was ordered to bring the diary to Congress. Baker examined the diary and claimed 18 leaves had been removed (at least 36 pages, if not 72). The diary had been shredded. Stanton claims to have removed nothing. But then much of the essential evidence of this case disappeared over time.
All this goes to show how deep the coverup runs because you won’t find many of these facts on the History Channel. In the 1930s, a chemistry professor tried to expose Stanton, but was dismissed although the serious questions he raised have never been adequately answered. A book was recently published about the case, American Brutus by Michael Kauffman, and it’s considered the “definitive last word” but strangely glosses over the conspiracy and refuses to peer deeply into the climate of corruption running through the War Department.
There was one fact on the History channel’s recent expose I found particularly intriguing. Kauffman admits Booth made several mysterious trips to New York City prior to the assassination, and no one has discovered any evidence of what those trips were about. (Sort of like Oswald’s bus ride into Mexico.)
Mary Surratt was painted as the only living mastermind of the plot during the trial, even though she was only guilty of having a son who served as a Confederate courier. The only evidence against her was given by a clerk who worked for Stanton, and after the trial, this clerk was exposed as a Union double agent posing as a Confederate spy.
Other important facts never mentioned by the History Channel is that Booth was a Captain in the Confederate Secret Service, and that Edwin Stanton’s mentor, the man who funded his rise in politics, was the leader of the Knights of the Golden Circle.
I tinkered around conducting my own deep political research for years, but it wasn’t until I began the study of secret societies that I made any real headway. My big breakthrough was exploring connections between the Sicilian men-of-honor society and the Central Intelligence Agency, two secret societies that plotted to assassinate Fidel Castro. But after JFK called off that murder, the same team his CIA assembled to kill Castro ended up whacking Kennedy. If Congress ever holds a real investigation, this is the reality that will emerge, although I suppose the instigators will be long dead by then.
The masonic-influenced Knights of the Golden Circle was one of the more devious secret societies operating around the time of Lincoln’s assassination. Funny how almost nothing has been written about these Knights, although their existence was well-established before the Civil War. Apparently, the organization grew out of Southern Rights clubs in the South who lusted for more pro-slave territory. These societies financed ships that illegally abducted Africans after the slave trade was officially abolished in 1808. In 1844, the War with Mexico was championed in hopes that country would soon be carved-up into slave states, insuring the balance of power in Congress remained pro-slave.
In 1855, a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, named George Bickley organized the Southern Rights movement into the highly secretive Knights of the Golden Circle (K.G.C.), a volunteer militia initially formed for an invasion of Mexico. Eventually, tens of thousands joined, and many came from Northern states. A secret history of the society was written in 1861 and appeared a few years ago online here:
But three years after the Civil War commenced, the K.G.C. was exposed. Some were leading pro-slave “peace movements” while others were acting as spies and dirty tricks operatives for the Confederacy. The Army spent months investigating the K.G.C. and the Judge Advocate General eventually produced an exhaustive report titled: “The Order of American Knights”, alias “The Sons of Liberty:” A Western Conspiracy in Aid of the Southern Rebellion, published by the Union Congressional Committee, Washington D.C., 1864. Among other things, the report identified most of the state leaders in the North and claimed Clement L. Vallindigham was the society’s Supreme Commander. Vallindigham had been a member of Congress from Ohio but lost his seat through gerrymandering. On April 30, 1863, he was convicted by a military tribunal for making seditious statements in support of the Southern cause and sentenced to three years imprisonment. Instead, President Lincoln deported him to the Confederacy as an enemy alien. He became the real man without a country, and perhaps the model on which the fictional story was soon written.
You can read the Congressional report here:
Isn’t it odd that none of the recent Lincoln biographies or recent films mention K.G.C.?
In the 1930s an amateur historian and chemistry professor in Chicago put forth the theory that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was involved in the Lincoln assassination and played the crucial role in covering up the true origin of the plot.
After Lincoln’s death, Stanton seized all power in Washington D.C. and took charge of the investigation and ran a military court that swiftly hanged some minor players, most of whom were completely innocent. What nobody seems to mention, however, is that Stanton and Vallindigham were the closest of personal friends. Vallindigham, in fact, funded Stanton’s rise in politics. Booth’s induction into the K.G.C. has long been suspected, and Booth could have been receiving instructions from Vallindigham, who had one of the biggest axes to grind against Lincoln. But the ones who seem to have benefited most from the assassination were the leading Radical Republicans, who held the center of gravity on real power, and wanted Lincoln removed because he planned to go easy on the South.
The transcripts of the trial of the Lincoln assassination alleged conspirators are available online, or you can watch Robert Redford’s excellent film The Conspirator, which focuses on Mary Surratt, who was targeted as the chief patsy and swiftly hanged. Her son John was studying to be a Catholic priest but instead joined Confederate Secret Service and became one of the primary couriers for the Confederacy during the war. He was also involved in the plot to kidnap Lincoln, a plot that involved hundreds of Southern sympathizers and one that was certainly fomented by Colonel John Mosby (The Grey Ghost), although Surratt later claimed to have been acting on his own authority. But when the kidnap plan suddenly shifted to murder, Surratt fled and he remained in hiding for years.
Check out Surratt wearing his Papal Zouave uniform. He was such a devoted Catholic that he volunteered to defend the Papal States during the final years of their existence. Eighteen months after his mother was hanged, however, he was spotted in Egypt and escorted back to America to stand trial still wearing his Papal Zouave uniform. Fortunately, a law had just been passed forbidding further military courts from trying civilians. Because of this glitch, the government was unable to secure a conviction, and although Surratt freely admitted associations with Booth, he claimed no part of the murder, and the jury believed him.
Since Stanton was head of the investigation and running the country under martial law at the time, one wonders why the K.G.C. and their offshoot “The Sons of Liberty” were never mentioned at the trial. Or why Booth was executed instead of being brought in for interrogation. Or why 18 leaves of Booth’s diary disappeared. I suspect those pages made mention of some of the real conspirators, possibly even Jay Gould. The reason the society and any real evidence was never discussed is obviously because Stanton was railroading patsies.
If I had to make a guess, I’d say the Civil War could have been fomented by European and American business interests that also funded the abolitionist movement from their headquarters in Boston and New York. The founder of Yale’s Order of Skull & Bones was a close associate and financier of terrorist John Brown, who sparked the insane violence. The Boner founder was also cousin to the heir of the American opium cartel, which meant his family was deeply involved in the shipping industry that had also profiteered immensely off slavery.
First the shipping merchants sold three million slaves to the South as plantation workers, and then a few decades later, told the South it was time to free the slaves. You can understand how that turn of events might upset some who’d invested millions in purchasing slaves. After the war, certain business interests wanted to pillage the South for exploitation, something Lincoln opposed. Killing Lincoln was not in the best interests of the South, but was in the best interest of certain profiteering schemes. After Lincoln’s death, Stanton engaged in a vicious power struggle with President Andrew Johnson, and lost.
There’s another thread to this saga involving Freemasonry. Albert Pike, the most powerful Mason in America, was from Boston, but moved to Arkansas during the war, where he became a general for the Confederacy and organized Native Americans to conduct terror raids on Northern civilians. Just as British and American officers met frequently during the Revolutionary War in Masonic lodges (and sometimes on the eve of battle), it’s safe to assume Masons on both sides of the Civil War held discussions in their temples throughout the war. Freemasonry has always been a refuge for spies, particularly the British sort. Immediately after Lincoln’s death, Pike went from hiding in Canada, to being awarded full masonic honors inside the White House by the deeply masonic President Andrew Johnson, who pardoned Pike for his war crimes and may have even helped erect the statue to him that still stands in Washington. Strange this statue seems untouchable considering Pike’s war crimes.
Consider Stanton was a devoted Freemason and the K.G.C. shows every sign of being a masonic spin-off. Also consider the one man brought in to testify against Mary Surratt was a clerk who worked for Stanton at the Department of War. Consider Stanton placed John Frederick Parker as the sole bodyguard for Lincoln that night even though Lincoln had been having nightmares about being assassinated for three nights running and expressed these fears to Stanton and requested additional protection, which was strangely refused. Since Parker had a reputation for visiting brothels, sleeping on duty and drinking heavily, he was an odd choice, unless incompetency was the object. Parker abandoned his post as expected and crossed the street for drink in a tavern. Inside, Booth was imbibing brandy, and would soon stroll across the street carrying a single shot derringer and knife. Consider that Stanton closed every bridge out of Washington immediately after the assassination, save one, which turned out to be the bridge used by Booth to escape. Consider Booth had the military pass code to cross the bridge. Consider the public telegraph lines in Washington went dead for two hours immediately after the assassination, leaving Stanton in control of the only working telegraph line in and out of the city.
Although all the films show Booth jumping to the stage and yelling “sic semper Tyrannis,” in his final diary entries Booth claimed to have shouted those words while firing the fatal bullet, before jumping to the stage.
When conducting operations, secret societies often manifest opposing systems by founding terror groups on both sides to capture the twin centers of gravity. Capturing the extremes allows them to place gatekeepers at strategic vantage points. Just as the abolitionist movement had deep pockets (plus the insane John Brown), a complimentary and similarly well-funded, pro-slavery movement was manifested with William Quantrill as their insane terrorist.
Vallandigham lost all influence after the war as ruling Democrats considered him a disruptive influence. On June 16, 1871, he was fatally shot while in conference with some attorneys, whose names have not gone down in history it seems. The story goes he was demonstrating how a former client once accidentally fatally shot himself.
In order to help others navigate these waters, it’s important not to get caught up in the hocus pocus elements of religion, which certainly includes the occult societies. Ceremonies are deployed to bond the group to secrecy, which is why when you are admitted into one of these societies, you typically give permission to be executed should you ever break your vow of silence. One wonders if Vallandigham broke that code.
“Whoever dares our cause reveal, shall test the strength of knightly steel; and when the torture proves too dull, we’ll scrape the brains from out his skull, and place a lamp within the shell, to light his soul from here to hell.” Knights of the Golden Circle oath.