On July 7, 1865, four people were hanged after being found guilty of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. While most of those hung on this date had no doubt been involved, one person's role remains controversial to this day. Here are 5 things you didn't know about the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators...
The Conspiracy Ring Was Larger Than History Books Often Let On Much of the historical educational material surrounding Lincoln's death focuses mainly on Booth, and then on five conspirators: Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell (also known as Lewis Payne), George Atzerodt, David Herold, and John Surratt, Jr. Yet the total number of people tried by that military commission included four others who were eventually imprisoned. After Lincoln's assassination, officials went after anyone who might have been involved, eventually rounding up a fairly large group whose involvement may or may not have been real. Edman Spangler, for example, faced testimony from witnesses who said he made derogatory remarks about Lincoln before the president arrived at the theater, but then cheered the president when he arrived; Spangler was also accused of preventing a witness from following Booth after the shooting. Dr. Samuel Mudd set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg when Booth was on the run shortly after the assassination and was convicted of conspiracy because he had met Booth before -- once.
Mary Surratt Was the First Woman Executed by the United States Government Much of the attention during and after the trial of the conspirators focused on Mary Surratt, the owner of the boarding house where Booth and his co-conspirators lived. Surratt and Booth were close, and witnesses talked about how Surratt had mentioned keeping rifles ready for the group. She was found guilty along with the others in the trial and sentenced to death, which was unheard of; in fact, Surratt was the first woman executed by the federal government. Many people went to bat for her, asking that she be imprisoned instead, with a number of members of the military commission who had heard the testimony during the trial sending a recommendation to the president that she not be executed. Then-President Johnson claimed he did not get that recommendation. There is speculation that Surratt's sentence and death were really being used as bait to get her son, who was also accused and who was in hiding, to give himself up.
Surratt's Role Is Still a Subject of Debate The extent of Surratt's role is still the subject of debate. She was close to Booth, and Booth and his co-conspirators lived at her boarding house for a long time. It's not known if she knew only about the initial kidnapping plots but not the assassination plans, or if she knew about everything. And how much of her trial was based on that attempt to get at her son is also unknown. Given Surratt's personal support of the South in the Civil War, much of the action against her could also have been driven by anti-South sentiment (and in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a couple of years later that her trial -- and her execution -- were illegal). Yet at the same time, there is speculation that surely she must have known something was up given how long this particular group was at her boarding house.
Despite a Confession, Her Son Was Not Convicted Mary Surratt’s son, John, was a Confederate agent and surely the conspirator closest to the ringleader-actor. But Surratt was in New York the night of April 14, and after news of the assassination reached him, he fled first for Canada, where a Catholic priest gave him refuge. Eventually identified and captured by American authorities, he was returned to the United States for a civilian trial in Washington, D.C. The jury deadlocked, and Surratt was set free in November 1868. Two years later, he embarked on a public lecture tour, detailing his role in Booth’s early scheme to kidnap Lincoln while denying knowledge of the assassination plot. Public uproar caused Surratt to cancel a second lecture, and he never spoke publicly again about his association with Booth. Surratt died in 1916 at the age of seventy-two.
The $100,000 Reward for the Capture of Booth and his Co-Conspirators was Divided Among 34 Men Five days after the assassination, Secretary of War Stanton oversaw the creation of a unprecedented wanted poster offering $50,000 for the capture of Booth, and $25,000 each for the apprehension of John Surratt and David Herold. Hundreds of people filed claims for the reward money, however, and there was much acrimony about how to divide up the reward. In the end, Congress awarded $15,000 to detective Everton Conger, $5,250 to Lieutenant Edward Doherty, $3,750 to investigator Lafayette Baker, $3,000 to Baker’s cousin, detective Luther Byron Baker, and $1,654 to each of the twenty-six cavalrymen. The remaining $5,000 was split among four other investigators.