Lincoln assassination Rabbit Holes

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.

Killing Lincoln: the real story

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.”

Ben Wade is a key to the Lincoln assassination conspiracy

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.


Andrew Rogers is a key to the Lincoln assassination conspiracy

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!”

(Excerpted from Killing Lincoln: The Real Story, link below)

The Dahlgren affair is a key to the Lincoln assassination

Belle Isle, a 54-acre island in the James River, had been home to a nail factory, but since it was surrounded by rapids, it was deemed ideal as a holding pen for Union prisoners awaiting transfer home. A footbridge provided easy access to a nearby railway line. Belle Island was reserved for enlisted men; officers were incarcerated at Libby Prison.

Out of 2.75 million soldiers, over 400,000 were taken prisoner during the Civil War, some of them several times, and prison conditions were so harsh over 56,000 perished in captivity. The worst was Andersonville, where 39% who walked in, never walked out.
Belle Isle had no barracks and the flimsy tents were severely overcrowded once exchanges were scrapped. The War Department had decided returning Confederate soldiers to the front was keeping the rebellion fires burning, so they abruptly broke off the Dix-Hill cartel and halted all swaps in June of 1863, which caused the population at Belle Isle to swell immediately. The situation was compounded by the refusal of the Confederacy to accept one-to-one swaps involving blacks. During the winter of 1863-64, as many as 1,500 a week were perishing at Belle Isle.

In a New York Tribune article dated January 25th, 1864, Charles Dunham, posing as Sanford Conover, exposed a plot by the villianous Colonel George Margrave to capture and assassinate President Lincoln. In fact, the dastardly Colonel Margrave was a figment of Dunham’s imagination, as was the kidnap and possible assassination plot hinted at in his article. Conover promised additional details would be forthcoming very soon. That never happened as the article was a calculated psyop designed to inflame emotions.

The article raised significant alarm bells in Washington. Within days, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and President Abraham Lincoln were discussing plans for a raid into Richmond to release the thousands of prisoners at Belle Isle, a project initially suggested by Major General Benjamin F. Butler. Butler also wanted to destroy the Tredegar Iron Works and kidnap Jefferson Davis as part of the mission. Butler got approval for the raid and it was scheduled for February 7. However, the Confederates were warned ahead of time and Butler’s cavalry assault turned back before getting near Richmond.

A week later, Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick secured a private meeting with Lincoln, something allegedly arranged through the assistance of a Republican Senator. Nicknamed “Kill Cavalry” by his own troops, Kilpatrick was already legendary for mounting reckless frontal assaults. He had circumvented military protocol by seeking this private meeting. Aside from freeing Belle Isle and Libby prisons, Kilpatrick suggested severing Confederate lines of communication. Lincoln also wanted his recent amnesty proposal circulated behind enemy lines. Kilpatrick was directed to the War Department to work out details with Stanton. On February 16, Stanton approved the raid and its three objectives.

General Meade and the head of the Cavalry Corps. Major General Alfred Pleasonton went on record opposing the raid. Meade distanced himself in his written orders to Kilpatrick: “No detailed instructions are given you, since the plan of your operations has been proposed by you with the sanction of the President and Secretary of War.”

Ulric Dahlgren was an ambitious 21-year-old who’d recently lost a leg below the knee at the Battle of Gettysburg. His father was commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and close friends with Lincoln, which is why Dahlgren had advanced so rapidly to colonel, despite a total lack of command experience. However, when Dahlgren arrived at Kilpatrick’s seeking a job now that his leg had healed, he was offered command of the raiding party and given secret orders.

On March 2, Dahlgren was killed outside Richmond near King and Queen County Courthouse. William Littlepage, age 13, was rifling through his pockets, looking for valuables, when he discovered a packet of documents, which he dutifully handed over to the commander of the home guard, who forwarded the notebook and papers to Jefferson Davis. According to the documents, after freeing the Union prisoners, Ulric was to torch Richmond and assassinate Davis and his entire cabinet if possible. The fact Dahlgren had not destroyed these incriminating orders but allowed them to be captured was evidence of his lack of experience.

The documents were circulated to newspapers in hopes of winning sympathy and drawing a foreign power into an alliance with the Confederacy, as well as strengthening the Copperhead peace movement against Lincoln. Of course, the War Department immediately claimed the papers were forgeries, but that was undoubtedly a lie because they were written on official stationary, although strangely unsigned by any authority, probably due to the extreme nature of the mission. It’s not clear who dreamed up the assassination scheme, some believe it was Stanton on his own initiative. My theory is that Dunham had been Stanton’s secret agent all along, and that by seeding a false story of a Confederate assassination plot against Lincoln, Dunham opened the door for a similar plot against Davis.

The Dahlgren affair is likely what caused Colonel John S. Mosby to begin formulating a plan to kidnap Lincoln in revenge and swap him for all the Confederate prisoners in Union jails. For this delicate mission, Mosby would risk exposing his greatest asset in Washington. John Wilkes Booth was soon in motion on the kidnap plot, aided by the arrival of Mosby’s chief enforcer. But the kidnap was foiled, and the plot was twisted to murder by a powerful entity in New York City that wanted Lincoln removed. Is it worth mentioning that right after the war, Stanton shipped all Confederate archives to the War Department and specifically requested the Dahlgren documents be sent direct to his office? The documents have never been seen since.


Charles Dunham is a key to the Lincoln assassination

It’s tragic that no photo exists of Charles Dunham, aka San(d)ford Conover, whose career as a journalist, con-man, paid perjurer, and possible triple agent holds a place all its own in the parade of great spooks in history who dance through raindrops and come out dry as a bone. Apparently Dunham was dark and handsome and employed a facile tongue in all sorts of intricate intrigues. He was a Zelig of his time, appearing in the strangest places and always under a different identity. So you can understand why he seems to have had a strong aversion to cameras.

Only a few researchers would devote serious effort to peel this onion and unmask Dunham, most notably Joseph E. Missemer, David R. Barbee, James O. Hall, and Joseph George, Jr.

Carman Cumming wrote Devil’s Game, the only book devoted to Dunham, whose colorful exploits have yet to be fully exploited by the entertainment industry, something sure to happen eventually. I suspect this story is overlooked because it provides a window inside the Great Lincoln Conspiracy. The best I can do is a newspaper clipping that reports his presence in a Washington courtroom.

Dunham was a New York lawyer and possible dirty tricks operative for the Democratic party. When the war broke out, he was busy running a scam to collect money for a fictional Union regiment that never materialized. In April 1863, he obtained a Union military pass for traveling South, and soon found himself surrounded by a grinning contingent of Mosby’s Rangers on horseback, who turned him over to General John W. Winder, head of Confederate Counterintelligence. Dunham was immediately transferred to Castle Thunder, a former tobacco warehouse converted into a prison for suspected spies and traitors. But Dunham successfully charmed his jailers by telling them he wished to defect and raise a Confederate regiment through his connections in Baltimore, as he knew hundreds of Northerners like him ready to join the rebellion.

Unfortunately, after being released, he was soon re-captured in a heavily-guarded military zone, and his excuse for being there just before the summer assault was not believed, so Dunham was deported back to the North over his protests he would be hanged as a traitor upon arrival.

Funny how the first thing Dunham did on return was post a letter to Colonel Lafayette Baker, head of the Union Secret Services. Soon, he was back in New York and contributing regularly to three different newspapers, all under different bylines, although his primary identity had become that of Sandford Conover. But since he seldom signed his journalism, the one time his byline did appear, the typesetter left off the “d,” and since then, Dunham became known as Sanford Conover.

Dunham was a master of melodrama and wove some amazing tales. His favorite characters included the villainous Colonel George Margrave and Colonel Charles Dunham (yes, his alter-ego remained in Virginia and raised and led a Confederate regiment, although like most everything Dunham wrote, it was all a fabrication). Dunham would submit an explosive story for a Copperhead newspaper one day, and then attack that same article in a Union paper the next day, exposing his own lies. He pitted his fictional characters against each other in epic battles.

Dunham sent a letter to President Lincoln requesting permission to kidnap Jefferson Davis, and then wrote an editorial condemning an alleged plot to kidnap President Lincoln, a plan that didn’t exist yet, although it soon would take form under John Wilkes Booth and John Surratt. Dunham may have given Booth the idea, as Booth made several unexplained trips to New York before fomenting his plot, a plan that eventually turned to murder after the war was nearly over.

Dunham was a master at forging documents and signatures, and it doesn’t take much imagination to wonder if he might have invented a document indicating Lincoln was planning to capture and execute Jefferson Davis. Had someone like Booth been shown a document like that, he might have felt justified in serving Lincoln his own medicine. Booth did write a letter fully explaining his actions and motivations and had handed it to a fellow actor at Ford’s Theater the day of the assassination, requesting him to deliver it to a local newspaper. Big mistake. What happened next we’ll never know, but years later, that actor would finally come forward, now claiming he burned this crucial evidence in horror without showing it to anyone. More likely, he brought that letter to the War Department, where it was suppressed and maybe burned there, otherwise that letter should have come up for discussion during the trial of the conspirators. In his diary shortly before his death, Booth considered returning to Washington to clear his name, something he felt he could do. Booth was stunned to discover he was universally despised by all newspapers after the assassination. He had not achieved hero status from the Copperheads that he’d been expecting, and it crushed him.

Testifying as Sanford, Dunham made the case Davis was behind Lincoln’s assassination, a charge believed until he later appeared before the Judicial Committee in Congress, told similar stories and was convicted of perjury. Since those perjuries involved similar testimony he’d given earlier before the tribunal, one wonders why Dunham wasn’t charged in that more important case as well?

When John Surratt finally returned to stand trial, Dunham visited him and offered a deal: If Surratt agreed to implicate President Johnson in Lincoln’s assassination, he’d receive immunity and other rewards. The only person who could have possibly brokered that deal was Secretary of War Stanton.


A nest of spooks controlled the Lincoln investigation

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:

https://archive.org/details/vindicationofju3693holt
Later on, Holt would write another book about the assassination, but this one accused the Vatican of fomenting the plot.