Tag Archives: Andrew Johnson

The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War

December 9, 1861 – The U.S. Senate approved a measure creating a joint House-Senate military oversight committee whose investigative methods quickly proved controversial.

The recent Federal disaster at Ball’s Bluff had prompted many congressmen to push for creating some kind of a committee to investigate and hold someone responsible. Before such a committee had been formed, Congress sent messages to both Secretary of War Simon Cameron and General-in-Chief George B. McClellan “to ascertain who is responsible for the disastrous movement of our troops at Ball’s Bluff.” Both men similarly responded that “an inquiry on the subject of the resolution would, at this time, be injurious to the public service.” Forming a committee could be more effective in getting answers.

The day after Senate approval, the House of Representatives unanimously approved what became known as the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the Present War. This committee would “have power to send for persons and papers, and to sit during the recess of either house of Congress.” It consisted of three senators:

  • Republican Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio
  • Republican Zachariah Chandler of Michigan
  • Democrat Andrew Johnson of Tennessee

And four representatives:

  • Republican George Julian of Indiana
  • Republican Daniel Gooch of Massachusetts
  • Republican John Covode of Pennsylvania
  • Democrat Moses Odell of New York
Senator Benjamin Wade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Senator Benjamin Wade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Most Republicans on the committee identified themselves as Radicals, including committee chairman Wade. The Radicals distrusted McClellan, not only because he was a Democrat, but because he had not waged war against the Confederacy aggressively enough for them. Many Democrats denounced the committee as a “Jacobin” body intending to discredit military commanders who did not share their political views. Others praised the committee as a necessary organ to investigate widespread allegations of military incompetence, inefficiency, and corruption.

Committee members held secret hearings in the Capitol basement, divulging only selected portions of testimony to the press. Many witnesses were denied their basic constitutional rights, such as the right to legal counsel or to face accusers, and “evidence” was often based more on rumor than fact. The committee targeted several military commanders for removal more for their political beliefs than their performance in the field.

Nobody was beyond the committee’s reach, including President Lincoln himself. Lincoln had to testify in response to allegations that First Lady Mary Lincoln was “two thirds slavery and one third secesh” because she had several relatives in the Confederate army. Although Lincoln expressed relief that the members were “in a perfectly good mood,” Wade told him, “Mr. President, you are murdering your country by inches in consequence of the inactivity of the military and the want of a distinct policy in regard to slavery.”

This marked just the beginning of the committee’s reign as top inquisitor of the Federal war effort.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 65-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 100; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6883-94; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 108; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 89; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 425; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 147-48; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 362; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 188-89; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 80-81; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

The Crittenden-Johnson Resolution

July 25, 1861 – Congress approved a resolution defining the Federal government’s goals in the war.

The resolution had been initiated in the House of Representatives on July 22 by Congressman John J. Crittenden of Kentucky to define why the war was being prosecuted. The resolution consisted of two parts, or branches, which members voted on separately. The first branch stated:

“Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the southern States now in revolt against the constitutional government, and in arms around the capital.”

Members approved this branch by a vote of 121-2. The dissenters, Henry C. Burnett of Kentucky and John W. Reid of Missouri, later joined the Confederacy.

The second branch stated:

“That in this national emergency, Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not waged on their part in any spirit of oppression, or for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, or purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those (Confederate) States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.”

Members approved this branch by a vote of 119-2, with John F. Potter of Wisconsin and Albert G. Riddle of Ohio dissenting. This reflected President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural pledge to preserve the Union while not interfering with slavery where it already existed. Several Radical Republicans objected to the clause pledging non-interference with Confederate institutions (i.e., slavery) and many, such as Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, abstained from voting on the measure.

Three days later, the Senate approved the Crittenden Resolution, which became known as the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution with the sponsorship of Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee. The senators removed the House’s division between the resolution’s two “branches” and approved the measure by a vote of 30-5.

John J. Crittenden and Andrew Johnson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

John J. Crittenden and Andrew Johnson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The resolution sought to highlight the view of most Federal authorities that the southern states had launched an unlawful rebellion, and that the conflict would end as soon as those states stopped rebelling. It also served to unite northern political parties by assuring Democrats that Lincoln and the Republicans would not interfere with slavery while waging war.

Several Radical Republicans approved this resolution, even though they went against its rhetoric by working to use the war to abolish slavery. Three Radical senators voted against the resolution, and 24 Radicals in the House and Senate abstained. Anti-war Democrats and Confederate sympathizers argued that the resolution was illogical because it promised to restore sovereignty to the states while violating that sovereignty by invading those same states.

Nevertheless, this became the only congressional declaration explaining why the Federal government was fighting the war. As such, it served as the only legal basis besides Lincoln’s executive actions, which political opponents argued infringed on the right of Congress, not the president, to make law.

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Sources

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15063; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 60-61; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6455; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 50; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 100-01; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 312; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 315; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361; Wikipedia: Crittenden Johnson Resolution; Woods, Jr., Thomas E., The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2004), p. 65-66

The Special Session of the 37th U.S. Congress: Legislation

July 24, 1861 – The House of Representatives began considering a new form of direct taxation. In addition, Congress retroactively endorsed President Lincoln’s executive orders and approved recruiting one million three-year volunteers. Meanwhile, the War Department reluctantly accepted some 30,000 two-year volunteers from various states.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction, circa 1861 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

U.S. Capitol Building under construction, circa 1861 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The predominantly Republican Congress opened debate on the loyalty of its members. The Senate approved measures expelling U.S. senators from Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Texas, along with one of the two senators from Tennessee. The House of Representatives approved the expulsion of Congressman John Clark of Missouri by a vote of 94-45. These measures were just a formality because those congressmen had already left to join the Confederacy.

The Senate retained the second senator from Tennessee–Andrew Johnson, who hailed from the predominantly Unionist region of eastern Tennessee. The Senate also seated two senators from “Unionist” Virginia who had been elected by the puppet legislature of the state’s northwestern counties. This legislature, elected by delegates to the Wheeling convention, declared allegiance to the U.S. and was recognized as legitimate by the Lincoln administration, despite its lack of support from most non-northwestern Virginians. The House of Representatives also admitted three congressmen elected by the Unionist Virginians.

To raise revenue for war, President Lincoln signed into law “An act to provide for the collection of duties on imports, and for other purposes.” This authorized the president to regulate trade with the Confederacy. Section 5 empowered Lincoln to allow trade with parts of Confederate states under Federal military occupation. This sanctioned the seizure of southern cotton for cotton-starved northern businesses. Section 9 authorized Federal courts to review claims on confiscated Confederate property.

Opponents of this law argued that it unconstitutionally regulated commerce within a state. Had the Lincoln administration considered the Confederacy to be a foreign nation, this bill could have been legally imposed under international law. However, Lincoln insisted that the Confederacy was merely a rebellious section of the U.S., and as such, under the Constitution the Federal government could not interfere with commerce within a state.

Lincoln also signed a bill into law authorizing a $250 million loan in bonds and treasury notes to the Federal government. According to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, this was needed to meet war expenditures, but it was not enough. The rest of the money needed to come from direct taxation.

The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, began consideration of a new kind of bill that provided for two forms of taxation: direct real estate taxes apportioned among the states based on population, and excise taxes on certain items such as liquor or bank notes. However, the bill met strong opposition from midwesterners, many of whom were farmers who would pay much more in real estate taxes than eastern merchants.

After rejecting several other proposals, committee members drafted a bill that would levy an income tax on individuals and corporations. This marked the first time that the Federal government drafted legislation to directly tax Americans, and many argued that it was unconstitutional. Proponents asserted that the revenue it would generate was badly needed during this wartime emergency.

Other major bills involved raising troops for the war. Lincoln signed two bills into law authorizing the recruitment of 500,000 volunteers each. The second bill offered each volunteer a $100-bonus if they served two years; this aimed to counter this month’s expiration of many 90-day enlistments. Another measure authorized the creation of military boards to inspect officers and remove those unqualified for command. Minimum criteria for competency were adopted, although some officers continued to be elected by their men or appointed by their home state governors.

Lincoln also endorsed confiscating “rebel” property without due process, improving the U.S. Marine Corps, creating the office of assistant secretary of the navy, and providing “for the temporary increase in the navy.” A law indemnified the states for war-related expenses. Another law defined what constituted conspiring to overthrow the Federal government and imposed penalties for such activity. The Republicans rejected bills proposing a peaceful settlement with the Confederacy.

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Sources

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17547-82; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 56-57; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 43-44, 50-51; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 93-96, 101-03; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 380; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 298, 322, 327, 348; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 98-99; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 62-69

The Tennessee Secession

June 8, 1861 – Tennessee voters approved the legislature’s measure (endorsed by Governor Isham G. Harris) to secede from the U.S. and join the Confederacy.

The Tennessee State Flag | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Tennessee State Flag | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The final popular vote was 104,913 to 47,238. Voters in the state’s western part, which held a slave population of 30 percent, approved secession by a 7-to-1 margin. But voters in the 30 mountainous counties of eastern Tennessee, where the slave population was eight percent, opposed secession by 2-to-1. Despite the eastern opposition, Tennessee became the 11th Confederate state.

Following Tennessee’s secession, Unionists gathered at Greeneville in the eastern part of the state to protest the move. Former political enemies joined forces in a common pro-U.S. cause, championing the non-slaveholding small farmers and business owners who resented the slaveholding aristocracy. Among these new friends were Democratic Senator Andrew Johnson and William G. Brownlow.

Johnson called the slaveholders a “cheap purse-proud set they are, not half as good as the man who earns his bread by the sweat of his brow.” “Parson” Brownlow, former Methodist clergyman and current editor of the Knoxville Whig, viciously attacked secessionists and declared that eastern Tennesseans “can never live in a Southern Confederacy and be made hewers of wood and drawers of water for a set of aristocrats and overbearing tyrants.”

Convention delegates proclaimed their allegiance to the U.S., but their rhetoric needed the backing of Federal military forces to truly be heard.

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Sources

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 49, 51; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 36, 38-39; Lindsey, David, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 745; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 83, 86-87; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 283-84, 304

Executing the Booth Conspirators

July 7, 1865 – Federal officials hanged four of the eight defendants accused of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

Execution of the four people condemned to death | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Execution of the four people condemned to death | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On May 1, President Andrew Johnson authorized creating a military commission to try eight people for allegedly conspiring with Booth: David Herold, George Atzerodt, Lewis Powell (or Paine), Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlin, Edward Spangler, Dr. Samuel Mudd, and Mary Surratt. Those arguing against the constitutionality of trying the defendants before a military court and not a civil court were overruled.[1]

The nine-man commission consisted of army officers loyal to the Republican Party. Only a majority of the members needed to find the defendants guilty for a conviction, where a civil court required a unanimous jury verdict. Punishments also tended to be more severe for those found guilty by military courts, as a two-thirds majority could impose a death sentence. Lincoln’s former attorney general, Edward Bates, declared, “If the offenders are done to death by that tribunal, however truly guilty, they will pass for martyrs for half the world.”[2]

Federal officials held the men in shackles in Washington’s Old Penitentiary with hoods over their heads when they were not in court. The hoods were padded to prevent the prisoners from hearing anything or ramming their heads into the walls. Small slits were cut for air and food. Officials did not require Mrs. Surratt to wear a hood, and they removed her shackles before bringing her into the courtroom. Federal authorities had never treated defendants so harshly in American history.[3]

Officials allowed the defendants to obtain legal counsel, but they could not consult with their lawyers except in the courtroom, with guards listening in. The commission prohibited the defendants from testifying on their own behalf. The prosecution sought to not only convict those accused, but also indict the Confederacy by attempting to present evidence that the Confederate government had a hand in Lincoln’s assassination. The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.[4]

The trial lasted seven weeks and included 371 supposed witnesses. While the prosecution could call anybody they wished to testify, the defense had to obtain the commission’s permission in advance before calling witnesses. Some prosecution witnesses were allowed to testify in secret, others were later found to have perjured themselves, with some even getting paid by Federal officials for their false testimony.[5]

Conspiracy trial | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Despite the dubious testimony, there was little doubt about the guilt of three men: Powell, Atzerodt, and Herold. Witnesses positively identified Powell as having attempted to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward. Authorities confirmed that Atzerodt had been at Vice President Johnson’s hotel, even though he failed to carry out the plan to kill Johnson. And Herold had escaped Washington with Booth and was with Booth when Federal troops killed him.[6]

Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlin had been involved in a past conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln, but no tangible evidence suggested that they helped assassinate him. “Ned” Spangler was accused of helping Booth escape Ford’s Theatre, but much testimony was circumstantial. Dr. Mudd had set Booth’s broken leg after Booth escaped Washington, and some witnesses asserted that Mudd knew Booth beforehand. Mrs. Surratt owned the boardinghouse where the conspirators, including her son John (who escaped prosecution by fleeing the country), supposedly hatched their plot.[7]

The military commission secretly met on June 29 to decide the defendants’ fate, and they announced their verdict the next day. All eight were found guilty of “treasonable conspiracy,” and they received varying sentences:

  • “Ned” Spangler received six years at hard labor in prison at Dry Tortugas, Florida
  • Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlin received life sentences at Dry Tortugas
  • David Herold, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt were “to be hanged by the neck until he (or she) be dead”[8]

Mudd escaped a death sentence by one vote. Five of the nine commission members wrote to President Johnson requesting that he commute Mrs. Surratt’s sentence to life imprisonment due to “her sex and age.” Johnson refused and authorized the executions to take place on July 7. Mrs. Surratt’s lawyers tried obtaining a writ of habeas corpus to save their client’s life. On the morning of the scheduled executions, Johnson suspended the right of habeas corpus “in cases such as this.”[9]

Shortly after 1:30 p.m. on the oppressively hot afternoon of July 7, the four convicted conspirators hanged in the courtyard of Washington’s Old Arsenal Building. Mrs. Surratt became the first woman in American history to be executed by Federal officials. O’Laughlin died in prison in 1867, while President Johnson pardoned Mudd, Arnold, and Spangler in 1869.[10]

The conduct of the trial and the harsh sentencing of the Booth conspirators has received much criticism by legal critics ever since. Questions remain about the extent of some of the alleged conspirators’ guilt, if any. And in Ex Parte Milligan (1866), the Supreme Court ruled that military courts could not try defendants where civilian courts existed.[11]

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[1] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 684-85

[2] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139-40; Law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html; Steers, Edward, Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (University Press of Kentucky, 2001)

[3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 21762-21772

[4] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140; Law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688

[5] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140, 148-50; Law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 688

[6] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 151; Law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html

[7] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 151; Law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html

[8] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 158; Law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 693

[9] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 158-59; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 21762-82; Law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html

[10] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 158-59; Law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html; Linder, D., “Biography of Mary Surratt, Lincoln Assassination Conspirator” (University of Missouri-Kansas City, retrieved 10 Dec 2006); Swanson, James, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer (Harper Collins, 2006)

[11] Law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html; Steers, Edward, Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (University Press of Kentucky, 2001)

Jefferson Davis Reaches Georgia

May 5, 1865 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his dwindling government-in-exile reached Sandersville, Georgia in their southward flight to avoid Federal capture.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: gettysburgdaily.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: gettysburgdaily.com

As May began, Davis and his party reached Cokesbury, South Carolina. Unbeknownst to them, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation declaring that Davis and other Confederate officials were responsible for assassinating Abraham Lincoln. Despite no evidence linking Davis to the crime, Johnson offered a $100,000 reward for Davis’s capture.[1]

The Davis group arrived at Abbeville, South Carolina on the afternoon of the 2nd, where guards turned over the Confederate treasury to Davis and his cabinet. In addition, cabinet officials received instructions to destroy most official government papers to prevent Federals from confiscating and using the documents against them. At 4 p.m., Davis held a “council of war” with Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, General Braxton Bragg, and five brigade commanders.[2]

At the council, Davis announced: “It is time that we adopt some definite plan upon which the further prosecution of our struggle shall be conducted. I have summoned you for consultation. I feel that I ought to do nothing now without the advice of my military chiefs.” Davis’s idea to continue the fight—supported by Breckinridge—astounded the military commanders. The top two Confederate field generals, Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, had already surrendered, and Richard Taylor was about to surrender all Confederate forces in Alabama and Mississippi. To the remaining military leaders, further resistance seemed futile.[3]

The commanders explained to Davis that the people were exhausted and impoverished. Prolonging the war “would be a cruel injustice to the people of the South,” and even worse for the soldiers because “if they persisted in a conflict so hopeless they would be treated as brigands and would forfeit all chance of returning to their homes.” They unanimously declared they would not risk their families to wage a guerrilla war to sustain a government-in-exile. They agreed to use their troops to help Davis get to Mexico, but nothing more.[4]

Davis listened, then rose and said, “Then all is indeed lost.” He stumbled, but Breckinridge braced him as he left the room. After Davis left, Breckinridge and the military leaders began planning to get Davis across the Mississippi River and out of the country.[5]

Later on the 2nd, Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory resigned, citing “the dependent conditions of a helpless family.” The next day, Secretary of State Judah Benjamin also left the Davis party, which reached Washington, Georgia by day’s end. Davis agreed that Benjamin should try escaping from the U.S. by way of the Caribbean, get to Europe, and appeal for foreign aid.[6]

Davis held a cabinet meeting on May 4 and explained his reluctance to disband the government since the Confederate Constitution did not authorize him to do so. Before leaving the group, Stephen Mallory offered to have a boat take Davis up the Indian River to Cuba or the Bahamas. Davis declined, stating he would not leave the Confederacy as long as soldiers continued fighting for it.[7]

On the 5th, Davis and Breckinridge separated, and Davis took a small cavalry escort with him as he continued southward. By this time, Federals were scouring the countryside in search of the Confederate president, and Johnson’s proclamation reached Federal troops in nearby Macon, Georgia: “One hundred thousand dollars Reward in Gold will be paid to any person or persons who will apprehend and deliver JEFFERSON DAVIS to any of the military authorities of the United States. Several millions of specie reported to be with him will become the property of the captors…”[8]

Davis and his escorts continued moving, catching up with the wagon train of Davis’s wife Varina and their children near Dublin, Georgia on May 7. They separated again the next day, but then Davis joined his wife and children once more after hearing rumors of marauders attacking travelers. The joint group made camp around 5 p.m. on May 9 near Irwinville, Georgia, about 70 miles from the Florida state line and 120 miles from the Gulf Coast. Davis planned to continue on before dawn, unaware that two regiments of Federal cavalry were quickly closing in on the camp from opposite directions.[9]

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[1] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 684-85; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Location 60190-92

[2] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 685; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Location 60190-92

[3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Location 21179-99; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Location 60190-92

[4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Location 21179-99; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18-24; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Location 60190-92

[5] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Location 21179-99; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Location 60190-92

[6] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Location 21209-29; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 685; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Location 60190-92

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Location 21219-29; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Location 60190-92

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Location 21228-58; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Location 60190-92

[9] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Location 21248-68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 686; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Locations 60190-92

The Lincoln Conspiracy Trial

May 1, 1865 – President Andrew Johnson appointed “nine competent military officers” to form a commission and try suspects accused of conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Those seeking retribution for Lincoln’s murder disregarded the questionable constitutionality of Johnson’s order.

Federal authorities had apprehended and imprisoned seven men and one woman for allegedly taking part in the plot to kill the president: David Herold, George Atzerodt, Samuel Arnold, Lewis Paine, Michael O’Laughlin, Edward “Ned” Spangler, Dr. Samuel Mudd, and Mrs. Mary Surratt.[1]

All those accused were civilians, and under the Constitution they could not be tried by a military tribunal where civilian courts functioned, which was the case in the District of Columbia. But Johnson cited the opinion of Attorney General James Speed, who stated that the alleged conspirators may have violated the rules of war if they had worked with the Confederate government to assassinate the U.S. commander-in-chief during wartime. If the defendants had acted as “public enemies,” they “ought to be tried before a military tribunal” rather than in a civilian court.[2]

Many, including Lincoln’s former Attorney General Edward Bates objected to a military trial. Bates said, “If the offenders are done to death by that tribunal, however truly guilty, they will pass for martyrs for half the world.” But the intense outrage and grief surrounding Lincoln’s death muted those who criticized Johnson’s decision as unconstitutionally depriving the defendants of their right to face a jury of their peers. Rules governing military tribunals often called for less stringent evidence and more severe punishment than in civil courts. Moreover, while civil courts required a unanimous decision to convict, military tribunals needed only a two-thirds majority among the nine commissioners.[3]

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton carried out Johnson’s order by naming acting Adjutant General Edward D. Townsend to select the commission members. On May 6, Townsend selected all Republicans, with Major General David Hunter named commission president. Judge advocate was Stanton’s friend Brigadier General Joseph Holt, who had previously prosecuted civilians suspected of “disloyalty” and had been widely accused of despotism.[4]

Guards placed thick canvas hoods lined with cotton on the prisoners, who could not see or hear anything around them. Only two small slits in the hoods allowed them to breathe and eat. The prisoners also remained shackled throughout their incarceration.[5]

Hoods worn by the Lincoln conspirators | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hoods worn by the Lincoln conspirators | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The military commission first convened on May 8 in a newly created courtroom on the third floor of the Old Penitentiary in Washington. The tribunal consisted of Generals David Hunter (first officer), August Kautz, Albion Howe, James Ekin, David Clendenin, Lewis Wallace, Robert Foster, T.M. Harris, and Colonel C.H. Tomkins. Judge Advocate Joseph Holt served as both chief prosecutor and legal advisor to the commission. Radical Republican John A. Bingham and H.L. Burnett also served on the prosecution team.[6]

On the evening of May 9, General John Hantranft visited each prisoner’s cell to present the charges against them. The prisoners had not yet been allowed legal counsel. Hantranft later wrote: “I had the hood (of each prisoner) removed, entered the cell alone with a lantern, delivered the copy, and allowed them time to read it, and in several instances, by request read the copy to them, before replacing the hood.”[7]

The next day, the prisoners pleaded “not guilty.” The trial began shortly afterward.[8]

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[1] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 684-85

[2] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140-58

[3] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139-40; http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html

[4] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139-40; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 686

[5] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140-58; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 21762-21772; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 686

[6] http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html

[7] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140-58; http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/lincolnaccount.html

[8] Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140-58