Stanton and Sherman

On March 28, 1865, Generals Grant and Sherman invited President Abraham Lincoln to a meeting on the River Queen steamer to discuss the coming end of the Civil War. George Healy produced a painting of that conference (shown left) and titled it The Peacemakers. During this meeting, Lincoln undoubtedly expressed a desire for Southern forgiveness as he planned to allow rebels to return to their seats in Congress provided they signed the loyalty oath. Lincoln wanted to heal the nation from years of bloody war and he knew this mission required kindness and an end to brutality. But this attitude was in opposition to his leaders in Congress, Ben Wade and Thaddeus Stevens, who wanted to punish and pillage the South. Lincoln had just been elected to a second term and was making plans with his generals in the field, circumventing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who’d been ushered into his seat of power four years earlier through his friendship with Senator Wade.

In two weeks Lincoln was assassinated and Stanton took control of the nation through martial law, immediately issuing a blizzard of telegrams and orders, including one to General Sherman: “I FIND EVIDENCE THAT AN ASSASSIN IS ALSO ON YOUR TRACK, AND I BESEECH YOU TO BE MORE HEEDFUL THAN MR. LINCOLN WAS OF SUCH KNOWLEDGE.”
This telegram confirms Stanton’s awareness that a letter written by F. H. Morse of the London Consulate dated March 17th, 1865, had recently been brought to his attention by Secretary of State W. Seward.
“I herewith enclose for your perusal two private letters received this week from “B,” my secret agent in France….He is a business agent of the rebels.” These letters claimed two fully-funded assassins had been dispatched from France, one to kill Seward and the other to kill Sherman.

Shortly after delivering these letters to the War Department, Seward was nearly killed in a carriage accident and gravely injured. He was bed-ridden when the actual assassination attempt was made nine days later. Despite clear warnings of danger, neither Lincoln nor Seward had been protected, and Seward only survived because Lewis Powell’s gun misfired and his knife failed to penetrate the metal brace that had been installed on Seward’s cheek and neck to hold his shattered jaw together. Don’t you find it odd Stanton never shared any knowledge of these letters with Lincoln? And that he lied to Sherman in his telegram, claiming Lincoln had ignored these warnings, when it was Stanton who had actually ignored them?

The night of the assassination, Lincoln had gone to the War Department requesting additional protection as he was having nightmares of his imminent death. Both Stanton and his primary aide Major Eckert are on record refusing to accompany Lincoln to Ford’s theater that night, as both claimed they had late work to do, although both seem to have gone home at their usual hour. Stanton should have been posting armed guards around Lincoln and Seward, but he didn’t.

On April 18, three days after Lincoln’s assassination, General Sherman accepted the surrender of General J.E. Johnston and his terms included a recognition of rights of rebel soldiers as soon as they deposited their arms in a Federal armory and signed the Union loyalty oath. In this matter, Sherman was following the wishes of the slain President. However, Stanton went into a rage when he learned of Sherman’s terms of surrender, and immediately planted stories in Northern papers accusing Sherman of treason. When these papers arrived at Sherman’s camp in North Carolina, his soldiers made a display of burning all copies. Anger among his rank and file was such that a few began to wonder if Sherman might not march to Washington and seize power from Stanton, who was defacto President as he dominated the weak-willed Andrew Johnson. It would take months before Johnson worked up the courage to fire Stanton, and when he finally did, Stanton barricaded himself in his office and launched an impeachment trial against Johnson in a bid to save his status.

This is just one of the dozens of damning threads of information that point to an inside job in Lincoln’s murder, so why is there a cottage industry of so-called experts refusing to allow any hint of Stanton’s involvement in this crime? I suspect it may be because if America realized the truth of Lincoln’s murder, they might also begin to question the murders of JFK, RFK and MLK because those were also inside jobs, and they all have similar cottage industries putting out disinfo to muddy the investigative waters.

Despite the fact eight designated patsies were on trial, and Lincoln not yet buried, Stanton ordered Washington draped in patriotic bunting and requested the two largest armies parade through the city in a victory celebration. The Army of the Potomac marched first. The parade took seven hours and the cavalry alone stretched for seven miles. The next day it was Sherman’s turn. His soldiers were different. They did not have such splendid uniforms. Many were barefoot. They had not done any parading in months. Yet they far out-dazzled the Army of the Potomac with their discipline and energy, and Sherman became the hero of the parade. But when he arrived at the parade stand, where President Johnson and General Grant were seated, he dismounted and made a public display of refusing to shake hands with Stanton. There’s no doubt Sherman was aware of machinations going on at the trial, as his brother-in-law Tom Ewing had been appointed to defend Dr. Samuel Mudd and two others, and was doing a terrific job of shredding the government’s case against them. Ewing managed to save his clients from the gallows, and they all would soon be pardoned by President Johnson once Stanton was disgraced and the impeachment failed. Sherman refused all offers to become President as he considered Washington one of the most corrupt places on earth, and said given a choice between the White House or a prison cell, he’d choose the latter.

“The Big Parade” by Thomas Fleming is a riveting account of these events in a few thousand words, and you can read it here: http://54.201.12.217/content/big-parade

Warnings Against the Assassination

William Seward was the front-runner for the Presidency and had garnered many more votes than the relatively unknown Abraham Lincoln on the first ballot, but Lincoln ended up becoming the compromise candidate the newly formed Republican party settled on. Yet, after Lincoln won the nomination, he appointed Seward his Secretary of State and the two obviously had tremendous respect for each other, and Seward supported Lincoln’s second term, even though party founder Salmon Chase and his Radical Republican cohorts did not. During the war, Seward managed a vast network of spies throughout Europe to thwart the South’s attempts to draw any foreign powers into the conflict on their side.

John Bigelow was one of Seward’s spies in France and in March he began sending Seward alarming letters involving an assassination plot against Seward, who many in Europe considered the real power in Washington and defacto President. Bigelow had penetrated the pro-slavery Sons of Liberty secret society and discovered a Texan named Johnston had been dispatched from France by steamer on an assassination mission. Seward took the warning letters to the War Department and showed them to Edwin Stanton. Lincoln was in Richmond at the time, which had just fallen, and dangerously walking the streets without protection. Seward wanted Stanton to alert Lincoln of the assassination plot and have him put under constant guard.

However, Seward was seriously injured in a carriage accident that next afternoon, and Stanton never shared the warnings with Lincoln after the President returned from Richmond to check on Seward’s condition. Considering the amount of detail in Bigelow’s three letters, it seems inexplicable Seward and Lincoln were not put under round-the-clock protection. In a few days, Lincoln would be assassinated, and Seward would only survive thanks to a metal brace that had been installed to hold his shattered jaw in place.

The failure of the War Department to act on these very specific warnings is evidence Lincoln’s assassination was an inside job, sanctioned by Stanton, Wade and Stevens, who were resisting Lincoln and Seward’s plans to forgive the South. They wanted to allow the Confederates to retake their seats in Congress, something that would have pushed Wade and Stevens out of their perch of power.

History Channel Lincoln assassination distortions

1378662-wilk3HC: Learning that Lincoln was to attend Laura Keene’s acclaimed performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 14, Booth—himself a well-known actor at the time—masterminded the simultaneous assassination of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. By murdering the president and two of his possible successors, Booth and his co-conspirators hoped to throw the U.S. government into disarray.
Zero proof has ever emerged that anyone but Lincoln and Seward were targeted by Booth’s plot. The military tribunal claimed assassination attempts were also planned for Johnson, Grant and Stanton, and a different person found guilty of each of those non-attempts, so if you buy the Johnson hit, you must include a Stanton hit and a Grant hit, but it’s far more likely Johnson was designed to be a suspect, not a victim, and the alleged attack on Stanton was invented to steer suspicion away from him, since he was in charge of protecting the president, and had obviously failed miserably in that mission. There was no motive for the South to kill Lincoln and Seward as they were in a minority wishing to go easy on the South. The assassination only created more trauma for a nation rocked from the bloodiest war in American history. Additionally, Booth only knew Lincoln would visit a theater that night, and not which one, which is why he purchased the box next to the presidential box in the alternative, a purchase disguised by having the manager of his billiard parlor purchase the box for him. And if it were a plot to remove successors, then Ben Wade should have been the target, not Seward.

HC: At 10:15, Booth slipped into the box and fired his .44-caliber single-shot derringer into the back of Lincoln’s head. After stabbing Rathbone, who immediately rushed at him, in the shoulder, Booth leapt onto the stage and shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (“Thus ever to tyrants!”–the Virginia state motto). At first, the crowd interpreted the unfolding drama as part of the production, but a scream from the first lady told them otherwise. Although Booth broke his leg in the fall, he managed to leave the theater and escape from Washington on horseback.

bridge
Navy Yard Bridge

According to his diary, Booth shouted those words before leaping to the stage, and it was his spur catching in the bunting that caused his fall, although his leg may have been broken later, when his horse fell. The Navy Yard bridge was closed at night, but Booth gave his real name and was allowed to pass. A suspicious employee from the stable whose horse Booth had just stolen was following close behind, but the guard strangely did not allow him to pursue a suspected horse thief. Later on, the War Department claimed no effort was made to chase Booth because they believed an imposter had given his name at the bridge as a ruse, but that still doesn’t explain why this man was allowed to cross unimpeded, and not held for questioning, or why the search was concentrated to the north side of town, as if Booth were headed for Canada and not Virginia.
HC: Vice President Andrew Johnson, members of Lincoln’s cabinet and several of the president’s closest friends stood vigil by Lincoln’s bedside until he was officially pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. The first lady lay on a bed in an adjoining room with her eldest son Robert at her side, overwhelmed with shock and grief.
240px-Mathew_Brady,_Portrait_of_Secretary_of_the_Treasury_Salmon_P._Chase,_officer_of_the_United_States_government_(1860–1865)
Salmon Chase

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase did not wish to attend the death watch and went back to sleep when awoken and informed Lincoln was dying. Chase woke at his usual time and then walked to the house where Lincoln lay dying. Upon hearing the president still lived, he screwed his face and walked away. Later portraits commissioned by the government show Chase standing dutifully by Lincoln’s side as he died, a room he never entered.
HC: News of the president’s death traveled quickly, and by the end of the day flags across the country flew at half-mast, businesses were closed and people who had recently rejoiced at the end of the Civil War now reeled from Lincoln’s shocking assassination.
News would have traveled faster had the telegraph lines not gone down immediately after the assassination. The lines stayed strangely dead for over two hours before inexplicably they began functioning. No investigation of this mysterious gap would ever be conducted, yet it prevented the news from reaching the morning papers in New York.
HC: On April 26, Union troops surrounded the Virginia farmhouse where Booth and Herold were hiding out and set fire to it, hoping to flush the fugitives out. Herold surrendered but Booth remained inside. As the blaze intensified, a sergeant shot Booth in the neck, allegedly because the assassin had raised his gun as if to shoot. Carried out of the building alive, he lingered for three hours before gazing at his hands and uttering his last words: “Useless, useless.”
Everton Conger (left)
Everton Conger (left)

After 11 days of the greatest manhunt in history, 25 soldiers were sent to Booth’s exact location in Virginia. Supposedly an anonymous black youth stopped by the War Department to deliver the information, although his name was not recorded. The fire was not set until after Herold surrendered and had not caught hold when the single shot rang out. The only person in the barn with Booth at the time was Everton Conger, who remains the most likely suspect in shooting Booth, although Conger’s initial words were “Booth shot himself,” yet his initial report claimed Booth was shot attempting an escape.
Four of Booth’s co-conspirators were convicted for their part in the assassination and executed by hanging on July 7, 1865. They included David Herold and Mary Surratt, the first woman put to death by the federal government, whose boarding house had served as a meeting place for the would-be kidnappers.
Not really. Booth seldom visited her house, and held his meetings at his hotel room or nearby restaurants or taverns. Four hours after the assassination, Stanton’s secret police arrived at the Surratt house as it had already been identified as the nest of the conspiracy, which wasn’t even true, but that story helped hang an innocent woman. Much testimony during the trial was later proven to be lies, and the chief witness against Mary Surratt, a War Department employee, later said he believed she was innocent.


Who was John Wilkes Booth?

John Wilkes Booth was only 27 years old when he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. History has portrayed him as a lunatic, and not the talented artist and super spook he obviously was. I think of him more like Johnny Depp meets James Bond.

Booth had been a dedicated spook working for the Confederate Secret Service since the start of the war, and undoubtedly fomented many missions in the service of the South, most involving life-saving quinine. Because he was a famous actor and well-off financially, Booth moved easily through the upper levels of society, which made him an ideal undercover agent.

Booth’s biggest operation, the one that was going to make him famous as a spook, was his plot to kidnap Lincoln so he could be ransomed. The North had ceased all prisoner swaps because former prisoners were immediately returning to the front to continue the fight. Kidnapping Lincoln had been seen as the best means of forcing those swaps to re-start. But as “total war” on civilians was waged by General Sherman, while secrect documents discovered of a Union plot to assassinate Jefferson Davis, and with the recent hanging of Booth’s greatest role model and friend, super spook John Yates Beall, one can see how it didn’t take much to move this man to murder. That plus all the brandy he was drinking at the time.

Dozens of people knew about the kidnap plot well in advance, although President Jefferson Davis was on record opposing it. Davis was not a vicious man and believed the chances of Lincoln resisting a kidnapping were too great, and Davis worried Lincoln might be killed during such an event, something he obviously was opposed to.

The kidnap plan failed not because the President of the Confederacy was opposed to it, however, but because the Union War Department got wind and changed Lincoln’s itinerary to avoid the trap. This was typical of Confederate operations as double agents were everywhere, which is why projects of this magnitude were nearly impossible to conceal. The informant who revealed the plot was Louis Weichmann.

However, around the time General Robert E. Lee surrendered, signaling the end of the war was at hand, Booth switched the kidnap plot to murder. Not only was Lincoln marked for death, but so was his closest Cabinet member, Secretary of State William H. Seward, one of his few true friends in the Cabinet. You might think Vice President Andrew Johnson, General Ulysses S. Grant, and even Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton were supposed to be assassinated that night, as that is the official cover story. However, a little research reveals those three supposed plots were invented during the trial, and the evidence produced manufactured by witnesses later exposed as perjurers. If anything, Booth was trying to lay the blame on Vice President Johnson by leading a trail to his door. There was no attempt on the Vice President or anyone else other than Seward and Lincoln, the duo who were united on the idea of total forgiveness for the South in hopes of binding the nation back together. And it’s somewhat suspicious neither Salmon Chase nor Thaddeus Stevens made any effort to visit Lincoln during his final hours.

At the same time Booth began contemplating the assassination, he began recording his inner thoughts in a leather-bound 1864 diary. It was an obsolete diary, leading me to believe Booth’s documentation of the events was not done casually, but was his attempt in his final days to hand down the truth of what had happened. Booth was not a murderer at heart and took no pleasure from the killing, although he did believe the South would honor him as a hero, a misjudgment on his part, at least for the majority, who were horrified by this pointless violence.

Consider Booth carried a one-shot derringer into Ford’s theater. Obviously, he was not expecting armed resistance. How did Booth know Lincoln would be left unguarded? After discharging his weapon, he jumped to the stage to make a getaway through back of the theater where his horse was waiting. But his spur snagged on the bunting of the Presidential box, causing Booth to fall and lose a spur in the process. According to his diary, he broke his leg, in a horse fall later during the escape. That broken leg is the only reason he got caught because he was awarded a massive head-start for unknown reasons. And the hunt for him was regularly impeded when it could have been accelerated.

All roads out of Washington were closed after the assassination except one, which just happened to be the route Booth took, and when he crossed the bridge out of Washington, he gave the guard his real name and was allowed to pass even though bridges were supposed to be closed to traffic at night as a security measure. Booth’s name and description would not go out for many hours, and the local telegraph line went strangely dead. But even the next day, the War Department acted like they didn’t know who the assassin was, when dozens of witnesses had already named him at police headquarters. When Booth’s picture was finally circulated, it may have been a photo of his brother Edwin because that misidentified photo later appeared in War Department files as Booth.

Despite the biggest manhunt in history, Booth evaded capture for over a week, yet one afternoon, Lafayette C. Baker, recently reinstated head of the National Detective Police (NDP), sent a detail of soldiers after drawing a 10-mile diameter circle on a map of Virginia. Baker explained Booth could be found inside the circle and sent his cousin to fetch him with a squad of 25 soldiers. How he knew Booth’s precise location remains a mystery, but since there was the equivalent of a $2.25 million dead-or-alive reward at stake, few wanted to share credit for anything. At the last second, Everett Conger was attached to the unit, and carried instructions to bring back Booth’s diary. Conger ended up taking charge at the scene.

I suspect Stanton gave Everton Conger instructions to kill Booth, but that will never be known conclusively. It is somewhat strange he was awarded the lion’s share of the reward.

Despite being a key piece of evidence, Booth’s diary never appeared during the trial, or was even mentioned at all, though it would have exonerated some of the suspects who were hanged.

But  a year later, after Baker lost his cushy job at the War Department, he shopped an autobiography to some major publishers and found a ghost writer to pen the pot-boiler. This is when the country learned of Booth’s diary and pretty soon Congress was investigating. After Baker examined the diary in the presence of a Congressional committee, he claimed 18 leaves had been cut out, as if with a scissors.

Yet, even the pages left intact provided some interesting clues, the most important of which was probably:

“I am tempted to return to Washington to clear my name, which I am sure I can do.”

How was Booth intending to clear his name? Booth would never have committed murder for money, although he was carrying a large amount when he was captured, and it all disappeared naturally. However, he might have committed this deed if some powerful person(s) made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Or if that offer came from someone within the Confederate Secret Services.


The Conspirator: an overlooked film on Lincoln’s assassination

I just watched a film about the Lincoln assassination on Netflix. It’s a Robert Redford production that was released a couple of years ago, but it didn’t even hit my radar back then. But the film certainly strikes some timely chords today.

The Conspirator shows how Secretary of War Edwin Stanton completely controlled the investigation into Lincoln’s assassination, which concentrated only on finding minor characters on the fringe of the conspiracy, but did nothing to locate the actual figures in command of the situation. I’ve written earlier about the possible involvement of Albert Pike, a Confederate General, in Lincoln’s assassination. At some point, the possibility of a much larger conspiracy will have to be addressed. Pike, after all, was the most powerful Mason of his time. Lincoln was not a member of the Masons. But Edwin Stanton certainly was.

Today many people seem to think John Wilkes Booth acted alone because that’s the only way political assassinations in this country are spun—probably to protect the guilty—but, in fact, the plot also included an attack on Secretary of State William Seward. Some people think Seward was marked for death in order to engineer the line of succession, but at the time of the assassination, the Secretary of State was not even in that line, which, by the way, has been re-tooled several times over the years.

In the movie, the conspirators are tried by military tribunal and experience none of the rights of a civilian trial. The film adeptly shows how Stanton cared little for civil rights. His only concern was to get some people hanged and hanged quickly. After this sham trial, a law would be passed insuring the rights of every American citizen to due process and a fair trial—even in times of war. Unfortunately, those rights seem to have been rescinded by the Patriot Act.

Hopefully, someday our rights to a fair trial will be returned. I’m sure future generations will look upon the Patriot Act and everything that followed, including the current sham trial taking place in Guantanamo Bay, with horror. After railroading Mary Surratt onto the gallows, the government was unable to convict her son John in a civilian trial 16 months later after he was captured following an extensive manhunt. John had participated in a failed attempt to kidnap Lincoln with Booth and then fled the country after discovering the plan had switched to an assassination plot. If a civilian court could not find John Surratt guilty, it’s doubtful his mother would have ever been convicted in a legitimate trial.

There are many stories told that Booth escaped, though, and the others were just patsies, since some members of Booth’s famous family have always asserted Booth did not die in a fire in a barn outside Port Royal as the government asserts, but, instead, another’s charred body was substituted and Booth walked free. Booth’s dentist ID’d the teeth in those charred remains as being Booth’s and the corpse did have a broken ankle, which Booth may have suffered after jumping to the stage following the assassination, although his diary claimed that happened later, during the escape when his horse slipped and fell. The mysteries linger. But I believe it was Booth who died in the barn, and he was killed to prevent him from spilling the beans on who actually paid for the assassination. We just know it involved a New York element.