The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators
Their Confinement and Execution, as Recorded in the Letterbook of John Frederick Hartranft
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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“Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history,” said Abraham Lincoln in his 1862 annual message to Congress. Lincoln warned that history would remember every detail of the “fiery trial,” the American Civil War. Lincoln was right. Recollections of events, decisions, and actions of participants during that...
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Amidst the history fever that engulfed the country at the time of the Civil War centennial in the 1960s, a major trove of priceless original wartime records came unexpectedly to light—but remained little known or appreciated, except by historians, amid the din of battle reenactments and other, noisier...
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The Letterbook of John Frederick Hartranft has found its way into the light, thanks to the persistence and dedication of National Archives staff members and partners. As indicated in the Preface, V. Chapman-Smith, Regional Administrator of the National Archives’ mid-Atlantic office, her archives...
I: THE STORY
1. John Frederick Hartranft
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The general who guarded—and some say coddled—the Abraham Lincoln assassination conspirators, but then coolly sent them to their death on the gallows, was born on December 16, 1830, in tiny New Hanover Township, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. John Frederick Hartranft grew up in the...
2. The Conspirators Are Cornered
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On April 26, 1865, just twelve days after Lincoln’s murder, a troop of Union cavalrymen cornered his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and Booth’s cohort, Davy Herold, at the farm of a Virginia planter. Following a bravado resistance, Booth was killed and Herold taken into custody. While Booth’s death brought...
3. Abandon All Hope
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On May 1, President Andrew Johnson issued an executive order directing that the persons charged with Lincoln’s murder stand trial before a specially convened military tribunal. In this same executive order, Johnson appointed John Frederick Hartranft as special provost marshal and military governor of the...
4. Inter Arma Silent Leges
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With the eight suspects in Lincoln’s murder in custody, the government was ready to proceed to trial. President Johnson’s establishment of a military tribunal to try the accused was not without precedent. During the four years of the Civil War, more than 4,270 tribunals had been held involving just over...
5. Let the Stain of Innocent Blood Be Removed from the Land
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Thus the final chapter of Hartranft’s exceptional military career was about to end with the hangman’s noose. It was the most unpleasant duty this brave soldier faced in his four years of service. But Hartranft was true to his calling and carried out his grim orders faithfully...
Afterword: Hartranft's Postwar Life
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Now officially a Republican, he was nominated for commonwealth auditor general in August 1865 (reportedly miffed that he did not vault immediately into contention for governor). That fall, Hartranft had more difficulty winning office than he had reckoned, barely eking out a victory in a strong Republican...
II: THE LETTER BOOK: Transcribed and Annotated
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Invariably, each of these clerks had his own individual, often quirky, style of recording messages, orders, and reports. As a result, variations in spelling, capitalization, and punctuation occur within the surviving documents. Believing that readers would best benefit from access to unaltered transcripts...
Rules of the Prison
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The guards will be selected from the best troops in the Department of Washington, and will be sent daily, at 9 a.m., with a Staff Officer to report to Bvt. Maj. Gen. Hartranft. They will be detailed for special service—and no one will be informed of the nature of their duties until Genl. Hartranft receives...
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I have the honor to report that I took charge of eight Prisoners in the cells of this prison, about [blank] o’clock on the 29th of April. I immediately swept out the cells and removed all nails from the walls and searched the persons of the prisoners, and took the articles mentioned and marked “A,” from their...
APPENDIX: Reproductions from the Letterbook
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Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2009