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1865 July 15: Execution of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

July 15, 2015

This article was published in both The Polk County Press and The Prescott Journal on July 15, 1865.

The two photographs come from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.  They have many photographs of the conspirators—individual portraits of each conspirator, group photographs of the Military Commission, and images for each stage leading up to the execution.

Execution of the Assassins–
Four of the Conspirators Hung—
Particulars of the Final and Parting Scene.

WASHINGTON, July 7th, 1865.

All condemned conspirators sentenced to be hanged today were executed.

Upon petition of Mary F. Surratt [sic] [Mary E. Surratt], through her counsel, Messrs. Aiken & Clarnpett, Judge Wylie¹, of the Supreme Court of this District, directed an issue of habeas corpeas to Gen. Hancock [Winfield S. Hancock], commanding him to produce in court at 10 o’clock this morning the body of Mary E. Surratt, with cause and day of detention.

The wait was served on Gen. Hancock at the Metropolitan Hotel, at 8 o’clock this morning, by U. S. Marshal Gooding.  He immediately consulted with the Attorney General and the Secretary of War.  At 10:30 the General had not obeyed the writ.  This fact was brought to the notice of the Court by her counsel and the Judge said he had not power to serve the writ.

Early to-day guards were placed all round the arsenal grounds to prevent the intrusion of persons to the scene of execution, none being admitted except those previously supplied with tickets by Gen. Hancock.

The relatives of Mrs. Surratt and Harrold [sic] [David E. Herold] spent several hours with them during the forenoon, and they were also attended by their spiritual advisers, as were also Payne [aka Lewis Powell] and Atzerot [sic] [George A. Atzerodt].

A few minutes after 1 o’clock the outer prison door was opened and Mrs. Surratt was supported on her way to the gallows by military officers; next followed Atzerot [sic], Harold [sic] and Payne accompanied by a guard and their respective ministers of the Gospel.  Front seats were provided for them on the platform in the following order:  Mrs. Surratt, Payne, Harrold [sic] and Atzerot [sic]; the officers entrusted with the execution and the ministers occupying intermediate positions.  Major Gen. Hartraff [sic: John F. Hartranft], who has been from the commencement, in charge of proceedings, came forward and read the orders of the War Department, already published, approving the sentence, and ordering the penalty of death to be inflicted.

A heavy guard was stationed on while below the soldiers were formed on two sides of a square.  Perhaps seveal [sic] hundred civilians were present anxious spectators of the scene.

One of the priests attendant on Mrs. Suraatt [sic] repeated a short prayer, to which Payne expressed in the name of the latter his sincere thanks to Gen. Hartruff [sic] and the officers and soldiers who had charge of him for their personal kindness.

They had not uttered an unkind word nor an unpleasant look or gesture but seemed to compassionate his misfortune.  The minister then uttered a short prayer, asking for Payne the forgiveness of all his sins and a passage out of this world into the joys of heaven.

The minister who attended Harrold [sic] also returned thanks for the kind treatment of the prisoners, and offered a prayer that God would receive his soul.  Harrold [sic] was affected to tears.

The minister who attended Atzerht [sic] returned thanks for him to Gen. Hartruff [sic] and other officials for kind attention, and then invoked the mercy of God upon the prisoners.  The condemned were then required to rise from their seats when the chairs were removed.

They were now all on the drops; their hands were fastened behind them, their legs bandaged above and below the knees, and white caps placed on their heads.  Atzerot [sic] while being prepared for the execution, exclaimed, “gentlemen, farewell; take care, and good-bye, gentleman now before me.”  One of the clergymen standing near exclaimed, “May we all meet in the other world.”

Adjusting the ropes for hanging the conspirators, from the Library of Congress

“Adjusting the ropes for hanging the conspirators,” from the Library of Congress²

As soon as the ropes were put around their necks Mrs. Surratt’s being the last one adjusted, the section of the platform on which they had been standing fell and the culprits were hanging several feet from the ground.

Mrs. Turratt [sic: Surratt] and Payne scarcely moved a muscle.  Atzerot [sic] exhibited some twitching, but Harrold [sic] showed more nervous sensibility than any of the others.

The bodies hung until life was extinct and were afterwards given over for burial; the rough coffins being ready at hand for that purpose.

“Hanging Hooded bodies of the four conspirators; crowd departing,” from the Library of Congress³

[These last two paragraphs only appeared in The Prescott Journal.]

The arrangements for the execution were perfect.  Maj. Gen. Hancock was present throughout the proceedings.

It is said Payne made a statement last night in behalf of Mrs. Surratt, exonerating her from complicity, and that another person subscribed to an affidavit impeaching the testimony of an important witness against her.

1.  Andrew Wylie (1814-1905) was appointed as Associate Justice on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by President Abraham Lincoln on March 18, 1863.
2.  “Washington, D.C. Adjusting the ropes for hanging the conspirators,” Alexander Gardner, photographer, from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
3.  “Washington, D.C. Hanging hooded bodies of the four conspirators; crowd departing,” Alexander Gardner, photographer, from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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