J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Mary Surratt”

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 10)

Mary Surratt

The only woman convicted and hung for the role she played during the War Between the States. 

mary-surratt

Mary Elizabeth Surratt became a widow at age 42, during the summer of 1862. Her husband left behind 287 acres in what is now Prince George’s County, Maryland. He had constructed a two-story house on the land that became known as Surrattsville. The house was converted into a tavern that served as a way station for the clandestine Confederate network. Mr. Surratt also left his wife a boarding house on H Street in Washington D.C. In October 1864, Mary and her three children permanently moved to that location and rented out the tavern to a man named John Lloyd.  

Over the course of the next few months, 541 H Street would become the focal point in what is considered to be one of the most influential crimes in American history. John Wilkes Booth, who frequented the Surratt home, hatched his original kidnapping conspiracy there. Other players who were involved included Mary’s son John, George Atzeroldt, who was supposed to assassinate Vice President Johnson, and Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Paine), who was responsible for the vicious attack on Secretary of State William Seward the night of April 14, 1865, (the same night that President Lincoln was assassinated). David Herold, who was a friend of John Surratt and John Wilkes Booth, rode with Booth following the assassination. He was later captured at Garrett’s Farm, where Booth was shot to death by Sergeant Boston Corbett, who was part of the 16th New York Cavalry that cornered the two men inside a barn. Also participating in the conspiracy were Samuel Arnold, who was an original plotter in the kidnapping scheme, Michael O’Laughlen, who was had been sent to kill Secretary of War Edwin Stanton but failed, and Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated Booth’s injuries after he escaped from Washington.  

Booth intended to kidnap President Lincoln in order to force the Union to surrender captured Confederates. His plans were solidified by March 1865, but were postponed for various reasons, and proved futile once General Lee surrendered on April 9. Mary Surratt traveled to her tavern on April 13, where she allegedly told her renter, John Lloyd, “to have the shooting irons ready; there will be some parties call for them.”  

Following the assassination, a woman whose niece worked for Mary contacted police, saying that suspicious men had been seen at Mary’s boarding house. Subsequently, everyone in the house, including Mary, was arrested. Before leaving, Mary was caught in a lie, denying that she knew Lewis Powell, who just happened to show up with a shovel, claiming that she required his services for digging a ditch.  

At the trial, several eyewitnesses testified to her involvement in the assassination scheme, including George Atzeroldt. Some claimed that they had seen Mary conversing with Booth, who gave her a wrapped package containing field glasses that she was to leave with her tenant, John Lloyd. Although her son escaped conviction because he was in New York at the time, Mary was not so lucky. Tried before a military commission, the conspirators were found guilty. Mary was one of four sentenced to death by hanging. No one believed she would actually be put to death because of her gender, but regardless of her lawyers’ issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, the federal judge’s order to have her delivered to his courtroom on the morning of her execution (which was ignored), and pleas from her daughter, Anna, President Johnson refused to commute Mary’s sentence. Two days before her execution, the judge advocate general delivered a plea for her clemency to President Johnson, who later claimed that he received no such request until after the hanging. 

Mary Surratt died in Washington’s Arsenal prison yard on July 7, 1865 with Lewis Powell, David Harold, and George Atzeroldt. As army personnel crowded into the yard to watch, the first woman to be executed by the U.S. government fell through the gallows’ trap doors alongside her co-conspirators. Whether she was actually guilty of the crimes she was accused of committing, or whether her sentence was unjustified and unfair, remains a topic of debate.  

A film directed by Robert Redford, entitled “The Conspirator,” tells the story of Mary Surratt, and is set for release in March 2011. If you have the opportunity, visit Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. In the basement is housed a unique museum containing descriptions and artifacts surrounding this inauspicious act. 

 

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Haunted Civil War Prisons

Since so much death surrounded Civil War prisons, it only makes sense that unsettled spirits still haunt these places. Thousands died, both North and South, from malnutrition, dysentery, and disease. We only have a few old reminders left, but in some places, there are other, more unworldly reminders as well.

One such place is, of course, Andersonville, Georgia, the site of the infamous prison camp. The suffering that took place within the barracks was immeasurable: men virtually starved to death, or died a slow, rotting death brought on by scurvy. They were forced to live in their own filth, eat raw birds and rats if they were lucky enough to catch any, and tolerate weather and overcrowded conditions. After the prison was finally closed, hauntings in the area began. It is said that some of the prison’s former inmates still wander the grounds, as does the ghost of Henry Wirz, Andersonville’s commandant. Some think that Wirz was wrongly accused and executed, so therefore, he still walks the road in search of retribution.

Another haunted prison is the Old Brick Capitol Prison. The prison was torn down in the 1920’s, and the U.S. Supreme Court building was erected on the site. But the ghosts still remain, although they were more prevalent when the Old Brick Capitol still stood. Ghosts that haunted the place included Henry Wirz, who was executed there, as was Mary Surratt, who some believe was innocent of conspiring in Lincoln’s assassination. She has appeared on the anniversary of her hanging. Moaning, weeping, and sighing echoed within its walls, as well as screams, cries, and phantom footsteps. Laughter and the sound of cell doors slamming, although the doors had been removed, also permeated the building.

Just outside of St. Louis in Alton, Illinois, strange sights and sounds occur where a Confederate penitentiary once stood. As in many prisons of the time, a small pox epidemic spread through the camp, killing thousands. A small portion of the prison’s wall amazingly still remains, as does an old building known as the “Blaske building.” Reportedly, strange things have occurred there, from apparitions appearing to doors slamming to things moving on their own inside the building. An eerie essence surrounds the area. Residual impressions have been seen by locals that resemble tattered Confederate prisoners.

Point Lookout, Maryland is also a famous prison that is said to be haunted. By the end of the war, over 4,000 prisoners had died there. Although the location is now a welcoming state park and recreation area, several buildings that housed the prison remain, and ghosts of Confederate soldiers still frequent it. Many visitors to the park have witnessed apparitions, as have the park rangers. Sounds of ghostly footsteps, slamming doors, and even snoring have been heard. Creepy voices have been recorded within the park, and it is a favorite place for seances and ghost hunters, because strange phenomena happens so frequently. Remarkably, the rangers keep a record of all the bizarre happenings that take place in the park, and hold a ghost tour every October.

“The Conspirator” Soon to be Released

The latest directorial effort by Robert Redford comes out on DVD in two weeks. On August 16, The Conspirator will become available. The film portrays the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the consecutive events that lead to the first woman in America being hanged.

Mary Surratt ran a boarding house in Washington D.C. While at her boarding house, her son, John, a Confederate secret agent, and an aspiring actor by the name of John Wilkes Booth, came up with a plot to kidnap the president. This plot never formulated, because the Civil War ended, so instead, the two men, along with several others, decided to murder him instead. In the end, four conspirators were hung, one of which was Mrs. Surratt. Although she claimed to be innocent, public outcry won out. As to how involved she really was will always remain a mystery.

Anniversary of Lincoln Assassination – “The Conspirator”

Today marks the anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The event was so shocking that this country still feels the repercussions from it. So much controversy swirled around for years following the assassination that many still wonder about details concerning the president’s murder.

Many people were involved in the assassination, headed by John Wilkes Booth, that took place only days after the Civil War ended. Some conspirators paid for their involvement with their lives, others were sentenced to life terms in prison, and some went free. All were effected in some way.

Mary Surratt was the first woman to be hung in this country. She ran the boarding house where Booth and other men involved were living. Some think she was a scapegoat. A new movie will be released this Friday, entitled “The Conspirator.” Directed by Robert Redford, it tells the story of this horribly tragic event.

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