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The Conspirator

Posted By - Fred L. Borch III
Jan 11, 2011 at 7:54pm | Filed Under “The Conspirator

“April 1865: Lincoln, Washington City, and the Civil War's End”

For Americans in both the North and South, April 1865 was an emotional rollercoaster: incredible happiness and shock, anger and fear. Those living in Washington City (as Washington D.C. was then known) were no different---they experienced the same emotional highs and lows.

As April 1865 began, both Northerners and Southerners were tired of war. It had been a long four years since the Confederates had fired on Fort Sumter and what both sides thought would be a short war had turned into a bitter struggle with much suffering. After all, the war had claimed some 620,000 lives --- 360,000 in the North and 260,000 in the South --- more than died in all U.S. wars from the American Revolution through the Korean War. In addition to these dead, thousands had been grievously wounded, and millions of dollars in property had been destroyed or lost to war.

This explains why, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865, there were wild celebrations in every Northern state. In Washington City, a predominantly Southern town before the Civil War but now very much a Federal stronghold with many troops wearing Union blue uniforms, the night skies were filled with fireworks. There were happy crowds in the street and the future looked brighter and safer. Yes, Confederate troops were still in the field in North Carolina and Texas, but Lee's surrender meant the war was over and the Union had been preserved!

Of course, few white Southerners were cheering Lee's defeat and the end of the Confederate States of America. On the other hand, many certainly felt relief that the fighting was over and peace was at hand.

Five days later, on April 14, 1865, these feelings of jubilation and joy in the North---and in Washington City---ended abruptly when John Wilkes Booth shot and killed Abraham Lincoln while the president was watching a play in Ford's Theater. While some Northerners and the vast of majority of Southerners may have wished Lincoln ill-will, all were shocked at this coldblooded murder---it was the first assassination of an American president. Many compared Lincoln's murder to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. After all, Honest Abe had saved the Union but had now paid the ultimate sacrifice for his love of country.

Besides shock and anger, there was fear. Many were afraid that Lincoln's murder might mean that the war was not over. Many prominent men in the government, including Vice President Andrew Johnson who soon moved to the White House as the new chief executive, were absolutely convinced that Lincoln's assassination was part of a larger Confederate conspiracy to decapitate the government. The Rebels had failed militarily and Robert E. Lee had surrendered. But was President Jefferson Davis and the devilish Rebels now trying to defeat the Union off the field of battle by decapitating the Union's leadership? After all, had not Secretary of State William Seward been brutally attacked and nearly killed in his home? Union General Ulysses S. Grant was supposed to have been in Ford's Theater with the Lincolns on April 14. Was he also an intended victim? Was Lincoln's assassination the beginning of a new type of war against the Union? Was the Civil War really over or was it instead moving into a new phase---which meant more bloodshed and more suffering. No one was sure in April 1865---it might be the end of the Civil War or the start of some new struggle.

As for Washington City --- life in America's capital city --- like life in America generally --- was very different from today. It was truly a different time and a different place.

In 1860, about 31 million Americans lived in the United States, including four million enslaved African-Americans. (Compare this number with America's population today of about 310 million in the 50 states). When one realizes that the South's population was only 9.5. million---of which nearly four million were African-Americans, the demographics are startling.

Living was very different, too. The median age in 1860 was 19.4 years --- half the population was older and half was younger. (Compare that age with today, where the median age in the United States is 36.7 years). Finally, white Americans in 1860 could expect to live to be 43.6 years old; no one kept statistics for African-Americans. (Compare that to today's Americans, who can expect to live to be 77.7 years old.)

So it was a very different America -- and a very different Washington City. The city had about 75,000 inhabitants in 1860 but grew tremendously during the Civil War as the Federal government expanded. While Washington D.C. today is a highly urban environment, it was quite rural when Mary Surratt and her fellow conspirators lived nearby. While gaslight was available in the City, most of the men and women living in the City used candles for light (electricity as a power source did not yet exist). Cooking was done on a wood-burning stove and wood kept the city's residents warm in the winter. In the summer, when temperatures could reach 100 degrees---in fact Washington in the summer of 1865 did see those temperatures---it was difficult to keep cool. Some Washingtonians abandoned their homes at night to sleep outside.

For African-Americans living in Washington, life was better than in many places. First of all, many of the city's black residents were free. This was because most Southern states prohibited freed African-Americans to remain in their home states---and so many of these newly freed men and women moved to Washington City. At the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, slavery was still legal in Washington City. But about 80 percent of the black people living in the City were free. Yet, even after Lincoln abolished slavery in Washington, racism and racial prejudice remained.

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  • brian123
    10/13/2011 at 3:56pm



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  • jhoskins33
    09/08/2011 at 8:45pm


    I would like to see a movie on the July 30th, 1866 Riot in New Orleans. Everything that had taken place before the event points at Andrew Johnson. After the death of Abraham Lincoln, President Johnson reversed everything that the Union and President Lincoln fought for in the Civil War. He granted amnesty to ex-confederates and allowed Southern States to place the "black codes" which were just another of enslaving the colored race.
    A movie based on or around these events would and could be entertaining and also informative. Most Americans only know about the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln but nothing on the Reconstruction Period. Its a period that I believe Americans need to learn about and the importance of the period.

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  • AStudentofHistory
    06/28/2011 at 9:41am


    In the 1950s scholars published a series of books called Great Thinkers of the Western World. The aim of the series is the promotion of the liberal to make better human beings as a result of educational polishing. No time period was in more need of growth and development of the human capacity than Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. Yet, at the Civil War's end the efforts undertaken to make the USA a more perfect union by fostering free public schools amongst the emancipated was condemned as "uppity" or "insolence." The Freedmen's Bureau and their efforts to improve the country by improving the downtrodden was beleaguered and instigated by the men who fielded an Army against the sovereignty of this nation. It was the South who in the main were against egalitarian policies. Sure, all was not a bed roses in the North, but no one could assail the fact that the "REDEMPTION" of the Lost Cause was the raison de etre of why Reconstructioin failed. Surely every Black person elected to office was not incompetent-even if a few were (many more politicians today are incompetent by their inability to work together for the betterment of our society). Its as if we have not learned the lessons from the Great Rebellion that we should. That A More Perfect will take the efforts of everyone for everyone.

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  • nasfell
    06/07/2011 at 5:11pm


    The death of Lincoln was a turning point for the history of our Country...the South didn't realize the friend they had in the President...indeed the south would have had a much different history if President Lincoln had lived. However it appears that it was the will of this country to not have that good fortune...
    Again look at the politics at the time...the south was to be punished..they caused the war and the north was determine to exact it's price...
    In 1870, Robert E Lee asked for forgiveness from the US government for resigning and leaving the Union Army...he was denied...why? He become a commander and leader for the Southern cause, however if the war was truely over why could he not be forgiven...again this war causes strong feelings..
    The War between the States lasted 4 years in battle and a 150 years in after thought!!!...

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  • RickS
    04/29/2011 at 2:41pm


    The Aftermath of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

    "Confusion and mystery still surround the shooting of Abraham Lincoln, and we probably will never know all the facts......One thing is for sure his murder was part of a larger conspiracy."

    The words have appeared through the years on brochures and pamphlets issued by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology & the United States Army Medical Museum [better known as the National Museum of Health & Medicine]. Their origin comes from a formerly separate, General Biographical Research, file. In 1996, the GBR file was added to the Otis Historical Archives [named after George Alexander Otis, Major and Surgeon, who served as Curator of the Army Medical Museum], specifically OHA 233, as part of the Medical Ephemera Collection, Series III: biographical files. articles, correspondence, photographs, and manuscripts on or by people significant in medical history or connected to the Museum. Labeled “Lincoln, Assassination Conspiracy”, its story is as strange as some of the specimens stored at the “Old” Army Medical Museum itself.

    Within the Otis Historical Archives [OHA] & Anatomical Collections [AC], are found the following items of interest for those involved in the investigation of the assassination:

    OHA 108 Joseph K. Barnes Collection

    OHA 118 Booth Newspaper Clippings

    OHA 217 “Death of Abraham Lincoln” by Hermann Faber at request of Dr. Barnes

    OHA 233 Medical Ephemera Collection

    OHA 360 Winter Medical Illustration Collection

    AC 18 Presidential and Presidential Assassin Material including injured parts of John Wilkes Booth;

    Some noteworthy sample reports as regards the Lincoln Tragedy, Personal Recollections of the War of the Rebellion, as follows:

    The most melancholy mission assigned to Doctors [Army Surgeons] Woodward [Joseph Janvier] and Curtis [Edward] was that of doing the autopsy upon the body of President Lincoln, who died at 7:20 a.m., 15 April 1865. The pathologists were summoned to the White House at nine a.m. to perform the grievous task of finding and removing the bullet fired into Mr. Lincoln's head by the assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Woodward's laconic technical report, addressed to The Surgeon General [Joseph K. Barnes] gives no hint of the emotional tension under which he must have labored. After describing the bloodshot condition of the eyes and lids, and the condition of the wound and surrounding tissue, swollen with blood, he traces the course of the bullet, which entered through the occipital bone about an inch to the left of the median line, and just above the left lateral sinus, which it opened. It then penetrated the duramater [the outer sheath covering the brain], passed through the left posterior lobe of the cerebrum, entered the left lateral ventricle, and lodged in the white matter of the cerebrum just above the anterior portion of the left corpus striatum where it was found. The ventricles of the brain were full of clotted blood. A thick clot beneath the duramater coated the right cerebral lobe. There was a smaller clot under the duramater of the left side. But little blood was found at the base of the brain. Both orbital plates of the frontal bone were fractured, and the fragments pushed up toward the brain. The dura mater over these fractures was uninjured. The orbits were gorged with blood”. This account taken from a true copy of the original, certified by Maj. George A. Otis, in the collection of the Medical Museum.

    A more colorful and emotion-packed account has been left by Dr. Curtis, who wrote: “Eleven o'clock comes; the two designated pathologists are ushered into what was the bedchamber of the deceased, a room furnished in simplest style. There sit in solemn silence some officers in uniform and some civilians, while the Surgeon General paces nervously to and fro beside another silent occupant of the chamber, a shrouded figure, cold and motionless, lying outstretched upon two boards laid across trestles. The shroud is laid back, and see! A smooth clear skin fitting cleanly over well-rounded muscles, sinewy and strong. Next see at the back of the head, low down and a little to the left, a small round blackened wound, such as is made by a pistol-shot at close range. There is no counter-opening, so the missile has lodged and must now be found. The part is lifted from its seat, when suddenly, from out a cruel vent that traverses it from end to end, through these very fingers there slips a something hard — slips and falls with a metal's mocking clatter into a basin set beneath. The search is satisfied; a little pellet of lead”. So impressed was Dr. Curtis with the historical interest attached to the autopsy on the martyred President, that when he found some drops of the blood of the President upon his cuffs, Mrs. Curtis cut them off and saved them. Ultimately, they were presented to the Medical Museum where they may be seen today, along with a tiny sliver of bone which evidently had been driven into Mr. Lincoln's brain by the bullet and had adhered to the surgical instrument used by Dr. Curtis. [Note: From the bloodstains on the cuffs preserved by Mrs. Curtis, Col. Joseph H. Akeroyd, MSC, U.S. Army was able to type President Lincoln's blood as Type A].

    The pictorial resources of the Museum were also called upon in the search for the President's assassin and his accomplices. "During the month of April," says a report of 1 July 1865 from Dr. Otis to The Surgeon General, "there were printed 1,500 photographs of the assassins of the President, for the assistance of the officers of justice.” Presumably, these photographic prints were used to illustrate the reward posters of the War Department, dated 20 April 1865. This poster is illustrated with a familiar pose of Booth, but the picture of David E. Herold is that of a schoolboy, while the one supposed to represent John H. Surratt is of some other individual entirely. Later, after the conspirators had been captured, tried, and executed, the War Department revised the photo-graphic part of the poster, changing the Booth picture to another pose, the picture of Herold to one made after his capture, and the Surratt picture to one of Surratt made after his capture and return to the United States. The poster exhibited at the Medical Museum is one of the revised edition. In addition, after the examination of the cervical vertebrae and section of the spinal cord of the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, the specimens were removed from the body, officially identified as that of Booth, on 29 April 1865; and show the course of a conoidal bullet through the third, fourth, and fifth cervical vertebrae and the perforated spinal cord, all of which are now on exhibition in the Museum.

    Another connection between the Museum and the events surrounding the death of President Lincoln was the preparation by Hermann Faber, medical artist at the Museum, of the earliest and most accurate sketch of the scene at the deathbed of the President. Mr. Faber, a German artist enlisted as a hospital steward and assigned to the work of what would now be called medical illustration, entered the Petersen house, in which Mr. Lincoln had died, immediately after the removal of the body. Nothing had been disturbed, and the sketch made was approved for accuracy by Surgeon General Barnes, who had been one of the physicians attending the President and who was present at his death. The original of the sketch is among the exhibits at the Medical Museum and was presented on 30 January 1933, by Erwin F. Faber, son of Hermann Faber, to the Army Medical Museum [Letter on file in historical records of AFIP].

    In its first three years of life, the Museum had been housed in three different buildings and now, in its fourth year, Barnes and Otis were looking to move again to a perfect piece of real estate, but not without the approval of Secretary of War Stanton, who apparently objected to the concept at first according to Dr. Daniel S. Lamb, who was the pathologist of the Museum and affiliated with the Museum from the Civil War until World War 1."The Secretary of War had to be informed. He was told by General Barnes and said he would decide the matter and speak of it tomorrow. On the morrow about nine o'clock on his drive from his home to the War Office, he stopped at the Museum building, descended from his carriage, ran hastily through the Museum rooms, stamped his foot, growled ‘Ugh’, drove to his office, sent for Acting Surgeon General Barnes, and said sharply to him: ‘Are these lectures to be given in the evenings?' To an affirmative reply he growled: 'They will go to the theatre and neglect their duties. It shan't be.' And this was thought to be the end of a favorite plan for doing some good for the Medical Corps of the Army and for disseminating a more correct and general knowledge of Military Medicine and Surgery." However, Stanton, himself, had a change of heart and the rest, of course, is history. “The old Ford's theatre building in which President Lincoln was assassinated had been closed after the tragedy. Congress had authorized its use for purposes of the Museum and the Pension Records. The building had been altered and repaired and was nearly ready for occupancy and preparations were made to occupy it. Its old number was 454 Tenth Street, N.W., afterwards No. 511”.

    Its new quarters were in the building formerly occupied by Ford's Theater, on 10th Street, NW., where, on Good Friday of 1865, President Lincoln was shot. The building had been closed as a theater immediately after the assassination and had been in the possession of the Government since 8 July 1865. The purchase of the building "for the deposit and safekeeping of documentary papers relative to the soldiers of the army of the United States and of the Museum of the Medical and Surgical Department of the Army" was provided for by Act of Congress approved 6 April 1866, and on 7 May 1866, the building was assigned by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to The Surgeon General. Its interior fittings had been torn out and replaced with three floors, of which the upper floor was assigned to the Museum, the second floor to the surgical records of the Surgeon General's Office, and the ground floor to the Record and Pension Division of the same office. There had been an effort to fireproof the building by putting in brick floors resting on iron arches, sup- ported by columns of iron. Stairways between floors were also of iron. The building had a front of 71 feet on 10th Street, and a depth of 109 feet. Museum workshops and a chemical laboratory were housed in small wings on each side. Into this building, "the scene of the assassination of the lamented Lincoln," in the words of Dr. Woodward, the collections of the Museum were to be moved. "What nobler monument could the nation erect to his memory," the doctor asked, "than this sombre treasure house, devoted to the study of disease and injury, mutilation and death?" The movement of this "sombre treasure" from the building on H Street began on 12 November 1866, and continued until 8 December. The removal of the records, and that portion of the collection which had been housed at 180 Pennsylvania Avenue, followed between 11 December and the 21st of the month. On the 22cl, General Barnes advised the Quartermaster General's office that the former quarters had been vacated, and transmitted the keys. For the next 20 years, the life of the Museum was to be centered in the Ford's Theater building.

    From the beginning, the Museum had attracted an increasing number of visitors. Within a year of its establishment, its usefulness had been recognized by the civilian medical profession as well as by the military, and it was "weekly and almost daily" consulted by them. To the medical profession, there was added another class of visitors with a special interest. In Dr. John H. Brinton's phrase, "officers and soldiers who had lost a limb by amputation would come to look up its resting place, in some sense its last resting place." Then, too, as Dr. Brinton wrote, "the public came to see the bones, attracted by a new sensation." While the Museum was still at the H Street address, Curator Otis reported, more formally, "the number of visitors to the collection constantly increases." With the removal to the Ford's Theater building, and its tragic associations with the great appealing figure of Lincoln, [including but not limited to, of course, the bullet that ended President Lincoln's life, the instrument used to locate it, and bone fragments which adhered to it] the number of visitors mounted to such an extent that rules, approved by order of The Surgeon General and issued on 25 April 1867, were posted. Between mid-April of 1867 and the end of the year, some 6,000 persons, an average of about 25 for each day the Museum was open, had been registered in the visitor's book. Within the next 4 years, the number of visitors had trebled, 10 and the Museum had become established as one of the "sights" of Washington. When extra crowds came to the city, as upon the occasion of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's inauguration as President in 1869, the visiting hours were extended — opening at 9 a.m. and closing at 4 p.m.; and at his second inauguration, in 1873, from 8 a.m. until 4 p-m.

    In 1887, the building exclusively became a clerk's office for the War Department, when the medical departments moved out. The front part of the building collapsed on June 9, 1893, killing 22 clerks and injuring another 68. This led some people to believe that the former church turned theatre and storeroom was cursed. The building was repaired and used as a government warehouse until 1931. It languished unused until 1968. The theatre reopened on January 30, 1968, with a gala performance. The theatre was again renovated during the 2000s. The re-opening ceremony was on February 12, 2009, which commemorated Lincoln's 200th birthday. It has a current capacity of 661.

    References & Sources:
    The Army Medical Museum in Washington by Louis Bagger: (pp. 294-297) in Appletons' Journal: a magazine of general literature. Volume 9, Issue 206. 1873. New York. D. Appleton and Co.

    Last Professional Service of the War pp. 54-65, 7 October 1908 by Edward Curtis, Brevet Major, Late U.S.A.

    A History of the United States Army Medical Museum 1862 to 1917 compiled from Official Records by Dr. Daniel S. Lamb

    The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology: 1862-1962, published in Medical Annals of the District of Columbia, vol. XXXI, no. 10, October 1962; Colonel Frank M. Townsend, USAF, MC

    The Role of the Old Army Medical Museum in the Development of Pathology, by Maj. Gen. James P. Cooney; Guest Editorial by Dr. Townsend, from Military Medicine, April 1963

    The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology - Its First Century 1862-1962 by Robert Selph Henry, A.B., LL.B., Litt.D. OFFICE OF THE SURGEON GENERAL. DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY. 1964 Includes two lectures; 1st by Col. Hugh R. Gilmore, Jr., "it is doubtful if modern medical practice could have saved Lincoln's life” and 2nd by Lt. Col. George J. Hayes, M.C., Chief of Neurological Service, said “that even with the best of modern medical service, the President would have had no more than a 50-50 chance of survival, and even if he had survived, he would probably have been completely paralyzed on the right side and possibly unable to talk” at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on 25 May 1960 [Medical Aspects of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln reported in the Washington Post of 05/25/1960]

    Guide to Collections at the National Museum of Health & Medicine. Michael Rhode & Kathleen Stocker, Archivists & Editors. © AFIP 2009; within OHA 54 Museum Records & Historical Collections Records [includes Helen Purtle’s article from 1958, Lincoln Memorabilia in the Museum, wherein Ms. Purtle discusses interestingly the various Lincoln items in the Museum, and gives an account of the acquisition of each one, which was mostly by gift.

    TUESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2011


    With the Pathology Institute closing in the spring, there's no official requirement to do an annual report this year, but I feel that people should be able to find out what we did. Annual Reports for the time I have run the Archives, 1989-2009 are available on the Museum's website.

    Michael Rhode, Chief Archivist

    2010 was the last year of almost-normal life in the Archives, although BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] planning began to take a large amount of time. A significant amount of time was also spent in planning for the BRAC move of the Museum, and the new storage systems that will be needed. Computerized cataloguing on the collection has continued on both the collection and item level. Cataloguing of new material coming into the museum was done for the General Medical Products Information Collection, Medical Ephemera, New Contributed photographs, Audiovisual Collection, AFIP Historical Files, WRAMC Historical Collection and other artificial collections. Implementation of a comprehensive computer catalogue for the entire Museum continued with data from the archives added to KE Software’s EMU database. New cataloguing is now done directly into EMU, unless a traditional archival-style finding aid is done. Tens of thousands of records were created or modified for the Archives after the initial data load, and in 2011, all of the IMC records and images will be added into the database. The Archives has a significant presence on the Internet including the Guide to the Collections of the Museum on the museum website which remains the main way researchers begin to use the archives..

    A Repository for Bottled Monsters, an unofficial blog for the museum, continues to attract a worldwide audience. The notice about sharing the Civil War images was first posted to the blog and picked up from there. Since January 19, 2010, transcriptions of a ‘Letter of the Day’ from the Archives files have been posted to the blog with only July 4th not having a letter found for it. Books and documents scanned by IMC were uploaded to the free Internet Archive, where they are available for downloading. Titles uploaded included a score of scans of the Museum’s nineteenth century logbooks and the three 1866 printed Catalogues of the Museum. Rhode served on the AFIP's Institutional Review Board and HIPPA committees as well as Museum committees including the Admin group, the collections committee and the database committee.

    “The National Museum of Health and Medicine’s History as Seen through Its Archives” Michael Rhode, Society of American Archivists


    In accordance with Base Realignment and Closure, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology will disestablish by September 2011.

    New Location: The Joint Pathology Center (JPC) 606 Stephen Sitter Avenue Silver Spring, MD 20910.

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Fred L. Borch III

U.S. Army (Ret.) Historian

Colonel Fred L. Borch (Ret.) is the Regimental Historian and Archivist for the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps - one of only two full-time legal historians in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Fred served 25 years as a military lawyer in the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps. His areas of... More

Fred L. Borch III

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