For the Want of a Nail–The Battle of Franklin

On November 30, 1864, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, The Battle of Franklin, was fought a few miles south of Nashville, Tennessee.  Although the Battle of Nashville followed a few weeks later, Franklin was in fact the Confederacy’s last hurrah, the last moment when they still had a glimmer of hope of turning the war around.  To understand what happened, however, we need to go back a few weeks, when Confederate General John Bell Hood finally moved to invade Tennessee.

Hood hoped to take Nashville, destroy the Union Army there and force General Sherman to turn around and chase after him; after that, who knew–Louisville, the Ohio Valley and beyond.  Perhaps under a brilliant tactician like Stonewall Jackson, this grand strategy might have had a solid chance of succeeding.  But Hood was no Stonewall; Lee’s right arm had died at Chancellorsville.  After much delay and disorganization, Hood began to move North.

Sherman, however, refused to play Hood’s game and gave responsiblity for stopping him to General George Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland.  Thomas was in fact one of the South’s greatest generals–save for the fact that he sided with the Union.  A Virginian by birth, he chose his nation over his state and fought ably and well throughout the war.  But Thomas needed time to gather his troops together behind Fortress Nashville, with its multiple forts and redoubts.  In turn, Thomas turned to General Schofield, assigned two infantry and a cavalry corps to his command and ordered him to hold back Hood as long as possible.

It is not generally appreciated to this day the difficulty under which General Schofield labored.  Hood was nothing if not aggressive and he saw in Schofield’s small army (in effect the reconstituted Army of the Ohio, although it was technically part of the Army of the Cumberland) an opportunity to defeat the Yankees piecemeal.  Schofield, for his part, needed to both keep his army from being cut off and yet hold Hood back as long as possible–no easy task.

Gathering the IV and XXIII Corps near Pulaski, Tennessee, Schofield first raced to beat Hood to Columbia, Tennessee on the north side of the Duck River.  For several days he entrenched there as Hood brought his army up and then sought to outflank Schofield and cut off his line of retreat.  Even after his position had become untenable, Thomas continued to badger Schofield to hold onto the bridgehead over the Duck River at Columbia.

As Hood crossed the Duck River upstream of Schofield, the Union general dispatched a lone brigade to “observe” Hood.  Ambrose Bierce was with present with Post’s brigade  observing that day: “As a member of Colonel Post’s staff, I was naturally favored with a good view of the performance…a right pretty spectacle it would have been to one whom it did not concern.”

In fact it did concern Bierce and the rest of Post’s brigade quite a bit as they were too small a force to prevent Hood’s crossing and could easily have been overwhelmed.  Watching the Confederate army march past them was nerveracking, “but the unending column of gray and steel gave us no more attention than if we had been a crowd of farmer-folk.”

Apparently, it was also unnerving for Hood to see the Yankees watching his army cross over the Duck River.  He dispatched a large part of his force to guard his left flank while the remainder of the army marched straight on to Springhill, which lay along the main road north.  Historians have criticized John Bell Hood for being reckless; if anything, he may have been too cautious; his dispatch of a force to guard his flank was not unreasonable, but it well may have cost him ultimate success.

Schofield’s rear guard was still holding Columbia even as his advance guard raced to Springhill to keep Hood from cutting them off.  It was a very near thing.  Schofield’s force just barely beat off the repeated Rebel attacks on November 29.  Much ink has been spent on the Confederate mistakes made at Springhill.  Hood blamed his subordinates and his subordinates blamed their commander.  In the end, however, the Confederate Army of Tennessee blocked the Union advance (or retreat) to Nashville.

Even though Schofield’s force repulsed Hood’s advance guard, by nightfall the entire Rebel army was sitting astride the road to Nashville.  On the morrow, Hood reasonably  believed he would either destroy the Yankee army or force it to surrender.  But something strange happened; the next morning Hood awoke to find the Yankees had disappeared in the night!  Furious, Hood fumed and fussed and cursed and blamed everyone but himself.

Marching north in hot pursuit, Hood had but one idea in his mind: attack!  By late on the afternoon of November 30, The Army of Tennessee was lined up as on a parade–all except for their artillery train and cavalry.  As he got the bulk of his force across the Harpeth River north of Franklin, Schofield’s rear-guard dug in south of the city.  Schofield gave his rear guard orders to withdraw by six pm if they were not attacked.  Around 4:30 pm the Confederates attacked the entrenched rear-guard.

By the fall of 1864, the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland were the best of enemies.  They had fought one another from Kentucky to Georgia and back again and each army full well knew the measure of the other.  Both sides knew better than to launch a frontal assault against an entrenched foe.  The Federals had learned that lesson well at Kennesaw Mountain earlier in the year.  But Hood ordered his army to march across a barren plain in full sight of a well entrenched enemy.  Everyone in the Army of Tennessee knew it was folly–all except General Hood, their commander.

Actually, Schofield feared the Rebel cavalry fording the Harpeth River and cutting off his line of retreat far more than an infantry frontal assault.  But Hood could think of but one thing: attack the enemy to his front.   All subtlety of manuever or outflanking tactics were lost on Hood.  In the end the Battle of Franklin was as bloody as it was unnecessary; Hood could have destroyed Schofield had he trusted his cavalry to do its job.  Yet, due to the gallantry of his officers and men, the initial assault on the Union line came very near to succeeding.  However, by nine that night, thousands were dead on both sides; the Yankees could afford to lose them; Hood could not.  He lost five of his best generals and some twenty regimental commanders, plus thousands of others killed or maimed.

Hood was in possession of the  battlefield of Franklin and claimed victory; yet still many counted it as a defeat for him.  Hood himself described the campaign as “A Forlorn Hope” which in military terms meant it was an intentional sacrifice.  General Thomas deserves credit as the victor of the Battle of Nashville, although the man who defeated General Hood on the road to Nashville was his old West Point schoolmate Schofield.  While historians still debate the issue, in the end perhaps it was Hood who defeated Hood.

For more about the Battle of Franklin and its aftermath, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and also Ghost and Haunts of Tennessee.

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Lincoln Assassination Plots, Part 3: The One That Got Away and the Man Who Never Was

john-wilkes-booth-death-2
John Wilkes Booth’s death as presented to the American public. Does this version of Booth tell the truth?

In exploring the darker corners of the history of the Lincoln assassination, inevitably one come up against the issue of whether John Wilkes Booth was brought to justice in a tobacco barn in Northern Virginia as the official version says.

According to the accepted account of events, a patrol of the Fifth New York Cavalry tracked Booth and his co-conspirator Herold to an outbuilding on the Garrett Farm in northern Virginia.  Trapped, the Yankee cavalrymen told the two conspirators to come out. David Herold surrendered but allegedly Booth refused and tried to fight it out.  Being a tobacco barn, there were wide openings between the slats and a Federal cavalryman, Boston Corbett, shot the suspect visible inside.  The barn was also set on fire and a fatally wounded man, assumed to be Booth was dragged out of the burning barn, dying on the front porch of the farmhouse.

All this is according to the accepted narrative  of events.  There is a problem with this standard account.  When Herold surrendered, he was asked who else was in the barn with him, instead of saying “Booth” he told the Federals, “a man named Boyd.”

Did the Yankees, in their eagerness to put an end to the assassin of Lincoln, kill the wrong man?  And if so, then what happened to Booth?

Needless to say, the thread of evidence regarding Booth and his possible escape is long and tangled, and there are those more diligent than I who have followed it in greater depth. In researching Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, I investigated much of this primary research for my chapters on the Lincoln Assassins.  The earliest printed reference that I could uncover was an article dating to January of 1877; originally published in the Pittsburg Leader and shortly thereafter re-published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.  Entitled, “Wilkes Booth” it is tellingly subtitled “The Annual Story of His Reappearance in the Flesh”–implying that this is not the first account of Booth’s escape and survival.

 

The lead sentence confirms this suspicion: “Ever since the assassination of President Lincoln there has existed a doubt in the minds of the citizens of the United States as to whether his assassin was ever captured ad killed….that the officials who reported his capture acted in a rather mysterious and altogether private manner in disposing of the alleged assassin.”  The article goes on to allege that “in the last ten years it has been asserted that John Wilkes Booth has been seen at various times in different parts of the globe.”

Now, in all fairness, the correspondent by the name of Mulhattan who penned this article, wrote under the nom de plume of “Orange Blossom,” and in the postwar era was renowned for his tall tales and fanciful accounts.  The skill of “Orange Blossom,” however, was in his ability to take a grain of truth and expand it into a plausible, but exaggerated story.  In this case, the reporter in question claimed to have actually met “John Wilkes,” who related that, after lying low abroad for several years, returned to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania.  Even if we acknowledge that “Orange Blossom” was indeed busy with the manure-shovel in 1877, that does not necessarily mean that his story is a complete fabrication, or that there were not previous, more credible, reports about Booth evading capture–as the headline implied.

As the article pointed out, even in 1865 there were numerous discrepancies to the official account.  The autopsy, hastily carried out on a gunboat in the middle of a river had revealed a man with “auburn hair”–yet we know Booth was dark-haired.  A man who was familiar with Booth was asked to identify Booth’s body and at first refused to do so! One gathers that, under official pressure, (perhaps even threat of himself being arrested) the witness reluctantly identified the body as Booth’s.

There was also some suspicious official behavior regarding the body’s disposition.

Knights of Golden Circle part of Booth Conspiacy
Bickley was head of the secret Secessionist group, Knights of the Golden Circle.  The flyer implies that the Knights were the real organizers of Lincoln’s assassination.

Flash forward to the twentieth century, to Monteagle, Tennessee, wherein is located The University of the SouthSewanee University.   For those unfamiliar with this august institution, it somewhat resembles Hogwart’s School of Harry Potter fame; the upperclassmen wear robes similar to Oxford and Cambridge (and Hogwart’s) and are referred to as “gownsmen.”  For many years a well-respected professor there, Arthur Ben Chitty, devoted much time and considerable resources tracking down the facts behind Booth’s alleged demise–and escape.  Professor Chitty uncovered a trail of legitimate evidence, including a signed marriage certificate.  Booth, according to Ben Chitty, apparently adopted the pseudonym “John St. Helen,” but when he married a Tennessee girl in 1872 under the false name, she insisted that they go back and have the marriage certificate filled out properly and the ceremony re-done and he signed the second certificate “Jno. W. Booth.”  Descendants of the girl he married testify that family tradition, long-held as a family secret, confirm that he was indeed the infamous assassin.

Another Booth researcher has developed another theory, however. This thesis holds that Booth adopted the name “John B. Wilkes” and indeed there is a paper trail for this possible Booth survivor.

Then too, we have that peculiar comments of the captured conspirator Herold about the man named “Boyd.”  Other investigators, pursuing this lead uncovered a Confederate officer named Captain James W. Boyd, of the Sixth Tennessee Infantry who did indeed have auburn hair like the corpse alleged to be Booth’s.  Captain Boyd was in prison as a prisoner of war, but shortly before the assassination was transferred to Washington on Secretary of War Stanton’s direct orders; here he disappears from history.  Was this indeed the Boyd the Federal cavalry killed?  Was he a double-agent for the Union, or simply a patsy set up to be killed in order to cover the escape of the real assassin and so cover up high-placed administration co-conspirators whom Booth might name?  Was, in fact, Boyd turned into “the man who never was” by Stanton?

There are other theories about what became of Booth, including the one where his body, allegedly mummified, traveled throughout the Midwest as a sideshow exhibit. The Mummy Known as “John” is a curious story in and of itself, but probably is the least credible of the tales of Booth’s notorious afterlife.

The deeper one delves into the Lincoln assassination, the more questions one uncovers and the fewer certain answers.  Clearly the truth is out there–but we may never know for sure.

For more curious facts about the Lincoln conspirators see my Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War, with a section devoted to the Booth Conspiracy and Lincoln’s Assasinaton.
ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor, served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.

THANKSGIVING AND THE CIVIL WAR: A Civil War Christmas, Part 2

President Lincoln, the actual originator of Thanksgiving as a National Holiday.
President Lincoln, the actual originator of Thanksgiving as a National Holiday.

It is not generally appreciated, but Thanksgiving as we now know it began, not with the Pilgrims and still less with the Puritans, but during the four bitter years of the American Civil War.

The so-called First Thanksgiving of 1621, the standard fare of grade school celebrations, was by no means the first thanksgiving feast in America.  Jamestown had several thanksgivings prior to that and the Spaniards had them earlier still.  Moreover, there were other sporadic celebrations called thanksgiving all the way up to 1863, but these were generally more religious than secular in nature, and by no means national in scope.

Sarah Josepha Hale, Feminist and influential author and editor, persuaded Lincoln to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving.
Sarah Josepha Hale, Feminist and influential author and editor, persuaded Lincoln to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving.

In fact, it was only after a series of articles by Sarah Josepha Hale, a pioneering Feminist, crusading editor, and best-selling author.  It was to Ms. Hale that we owe–or have to blame–for the ever-popular nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Ms. Hale became Editor of the influential Godey’s Ladies Magazine, which was the major arbiter of women’s fashion during the 1860’s.  This magazine not only gave a number of struggling young women authors their start, but also featured works by established male authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Washington Irving.  While generally ignored by scholars of American Literature in the modern era, Godey’s was tremendously important in the development of early American literature.

Thanksgiving 1863, by Thomas Nast
Thanksgiving in 1863, as portrayed by Thomas Nast

Sarah actually began pressing for a national Day of Thanksgiving in 1846 and badgered five presidents in succession for the creation of it as a national holiday.  Finally Ms. Hale found a sympathetic ear in Abraham Lincoln.  Besides the persuasive lady’s letters and editorials, Lincoln saw the need for a national holiday as a unifying force in this time of division and disunion.  So Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November of 1863 as the first national Thanksgiving.  The war was dragging on and many homes were missing loved ones away at the front; but after Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Union capture of Chattanooga, Lincoln could at last see an end in sight.  Lincoln’s proclamation (actually drafted by Secretary of State William Seward) read as follows:

Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United   States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United   States the eighty-eighth.”

For a nation weary of war and longing for home and loved ones, Lincoln’s proclamation struck a chord which has resonated ever since.  Artist’s such as Thomas Nast and Winslow Homer easily turned out illustrations which struck to the heart of a nation at war yet earnestly desiring peace.

A Thanksgiving Ball held at Fort Pulaski in 1862 where Secesh Southern Belles danced with Yankee officers.
A Thanksgiving Ball held at Fort Pulaski in 1862, where Secesh Southern Belles danced with Yankee officers.  (Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly)

 

Christopher K. Coleman is author of two books on the Civil War: Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (Harper/Collins), and the The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer).  His latest effort, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, is now out and available from all the better books stores.  It is published by University of Tennessee Press.

 

 

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife. (Univ. of Tennessee Press) Ambrose Bierce is well know as a noted  American writer, satirist and cynic. Less well known is Bierce’s military career during the Civil War, where he fought with distinction in many of the major battles of the war. This book chronicles his wartime experiences in depth.

 

The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer, 2012)
The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer)

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). 

 

The Lincoln Assassination Plots Part 2: Unindicted Co-Conspirators?

TheAssassinationOfPresident  h. Lloyd print 1866
Lincoln’s Assassination on Good Friday of 1865. Where was his bodyguard when Booth entered the box? Mrs. Lincoln believed the guard was part of the conspiracy and was not afraid to say so. Yet his actions were never seriously investigated.

The known conspirators involved in the assassination of President Lincoln are a matter of record. Yet there has always been the suspicion among some historians that the plot ran deeper than what was revealed in the military tribunals held after Lincoln’s death.  How far did the Booth Conspiracy extend and who else were involved?

In part I, we looked at some of the evidence that others may have been involved in the assassination conspiracy.  But there is one important witness whose testimony has not been heard from; that is the widow of the President herselfMary Todd Lincoln.

Mary Todd Lincoln was actually the first to speak out about those she believed were involved in a wider plot regarding her husband’s murder.  Despite, or perhaps because, of her accusations, those she accused never fell under official suspicion.

When an uninformed layman hears how Booth snuck into the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, the first thing that comes to mind is: why were there no guards present at the door to the box to guard the President? Well, there was indeed a guard assigned to protect the President–but he was mysteriously absent from his post at the time of the assasination.

Officer John Parker of the DC Police, was supposed to be on duty that night at Ford’s Theater, guarding the entrance to the balcony.  Supposedly, Parker had gone next door to the Star Saloon during intermission for some liquid refreshment; it is suspected he never returned from the bar to his post at the door to the box seat. By a strange coincidence, however, another man who was also in the saloon did go next door to Ford’s–John Wilkes Booth. Did the two men collude? What is known is that when Booth crept up there, the entranceway was unguarded and Booth easily obtained entry to the box seat.

Officials hauled in hundreds for questioning on the slightest hint of involvement in the Booth Plot–yet the negligent bodyguard got off scot-free.  But Mary, never one to hold her tongue, spoke out and accused him of complicity to his face.  Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, recalled the following confrontation between the president’s widow and Parker: “So you are on guard tonight,” Mrs. Lincoln yelled, “on guard in the White House after helping to murder the President!…..I shall always believe that you are guilty.”

Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln as President, yet he knew Booth from his days as Military Governor of Tennessee. Was he involved in the plot?

Mary’s accusing finger also pointed to someone higher up in the administration; none other than Vice-President Andrew Johnson.  Johnson was an odious character to start with, a man prone to public drunkenness and crude in his behavior.  Lincoln apparently chose him as a running mate for political reasons; he was a Southern loyalist, had been Military Governor of Tennessee and even late in the war Lincoln had hopes of luring many Southerners back into the Union fold.

King Andrew Johnson
“That miserable inebriate…had cognizance of my husband’s death” Mary Lincoln

Mary was blunt about it: “that, that miserable inebriate Johnson had cognizance of my husband’s death.  Why was that card of Booth’s found in his box–some acquaintance certainly existed.  I have been deeply impressed, with the harrowing thought that he had an understanding with the conspirators and they knew their man….As sure as you and I live, Johnson had some hand in all this.” –Mary Todd Lincoln, March 15, 1866.

In fact, when Johnson was Military Governor of Tennessee, John Wilkes Booth played Nashville and performed in a Wood’s Theater there.  During his stay Booth made the acquaintance of Johnson.  More than that, Booth cultivated his friendship.  It is known that besides carousing in the bars there, they shared the physical intimacy of two women, sisters, who were known to be of “loose virtue.”  Booth was considered quite handsome and had any number of women chasing after him; it is likely that Booth procured the services of one or more for Johnson.  Yet this connection of Johnson’s with Lincoln’s assassin was never properly investigated by the military tribunal that investigated the conspiracy.

Modern Historians have tended to accept the judgment of the Washington establishment of the day that Mary Todd Lincoln was “hysterical” and later that she was “crazy.”  She was hated by the Southern sympathizers in Washington (there were many) as a traitor to the South; and by northerners she was equally disliked because most of her family had sided with the Confederacy.  Mary was cultured and well-educated–more so than most of the male politicians of the day–and worse still, she was not afraid to speak her mind, something that women simply didn’t do in those days.  It very well may be that Mary Todd Lincoln had a better handle on who was behind her husband’s murder than all the “experts” did.

For more about the Booth conspirators and their post mortem existence, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War; for the events leading up to the assassination also see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). Uncanny true tales of the American Civil War.

 

 

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor, served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.

 

The Lincoln Assassination Plots, Part 1

Part 1: Conspirators, Indicted and Unindicted

In The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, I document President Lincoln’s fatalism, as well as several incidents that led him to believe he would not survive alive his term of office.  That much is historical fact.  Whether or not Lincoln did indeed experience genuine presentiments of his own death–and whether these dreams, portents, prophecies and other unexplained portents surrounding his life and death were truly supernatural is not susceptible to proof.  However, we do know that Lincoln possessed ample evidence that his life was in immanent danger on numerous occasions throughout his presidency.  John Wilkes Booth’s conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln was only the last and most successful of several threats to Lincoln’s life.

THE BALTIMORE PLOT

As Lincoln was on his way to Washington to be inaugurated in February of 1861, for example, a plot was uncovered to murder the President as he traveled through Maryland.  It was well known that the city of Baltimore was a hotbed of Secessionism.

The Baltimore Riots
Baltimore was a hotbed of disloyalty and Secessionist sentiment in early 1861, as demonstrated by the Baltimore Riots, when a mob, partly composed of local militia, attacked Federal volunteers passing through town.

To foil the assassins, the President Elect was snuck through Baltimore in disguise. Unfortunately, the anti-Lincoln press had a field day with this fact and the anti-Lincoln press to ridicule him mercilessly.  As a result, Lincoln resolved never to shrink from the threat of assassination again.

LINCOLN IN DISGUISE FLEEING ASSASSINS harpers l
Lincoln was ridiculed by the northern press for passing through Baltimore in disguise (Harpers)

Here Lincoln’s fatalism came into play.  For the remainder of his presidency, Lincoln’s attitude was that if it was his time to die, nothing could prevent it; if it was not, then no plot could possibly succeed.    Lincoln believed he would not die before he had accomplished the mission he was foreordained to carry out.

Although there were several instances when his life was in danger during the war, he ignored those threats.  Because these plots were not successful and the conspirators essentially escaped, details of them remain murky.

Of course, our main interest is with the one plot that did succeed.  Who were involved in the Booth plot? How far up in the Confederacy did it go?  Were members of the Lincoln Administration involved and why?

The accepted version of the Booth Conspiracy is that all members of the assassination ring were apprehended and brought to justice save one—Mrs. Surratt’s son.  John Surratt did indeed flee to Europe, where he spent some years as a member of the Swiss Guards, the Pope’s bodyguard, and eventually returned to the United States without suffering either death or imprisonment.  Were there others involved; and if so, who were they?

It has long been believed that there were conspirators who may have escaped justice–including, perhaps, the chief conspirator himself.

Immediately after his capture by Union forces, Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy was accused by the Republican administration that followed the death of   Lincoln of complicity in the assassination plot.  However, there was no paper trail leading to Davis being implicated in the plot.  The truth died with John Wilkes Booth on a farm in northern Virginia–perhaps–so no formal charges were ever brought against Davis.

Just because there was no hard evidence of the Booth Plot going higher up in the Rebel government, it does not follow that the Confederate government was not involved in the conspiracy.  Then, as now, governments used “plausible deniability” when conducting black operations which they knew the public might condemn.  Jefferson Davis may well have been unaware of the Booth Conspiracy; but the Confederate Secret Service was aware of it on a certain level, and perhaps even involved in its planning and execution. Unfortunately, when Richmond fell to the Yankees, the most sensitive documents of the Confederate espionage apparatus went up in flames.  Some documents were destroyed deliberately, others fell prey to the chaos of the abandonment of the city and in the subsequent Yankee occupation.

Yet there are hints that Confederate Intelligence was involved and that Booth was not the “lone assassin” historians portray him as.  It is known that Booth traveled to Canada and made contact there with Confederate spies.  There was an active Rebel covert network operating along the Canadian border and while there Booth received money to further his clandestine activities on behalf of the Confederacy.

The accepted line traditionally has been that the Confederate spy ring in Canada was just humoring an independent operator and simply gave him money in the hopes he might do a bit of mischief on his own.  Believe that if you will; but again bear in mind we are dealing with a clandestine organization where incriminating documents would have been foolish to leave behind.

Julia Dent Grant
Julia Grant also had presentiments of danger, as did her husband Ulysses.

THE UNKNOWN CONSPIRATOR

There is evidence that at least one member of the Booth ring escaped undetected.  Mrs. Grant—who, along with her husband, also believed in presentiments as the Lincolns did.  In her memoirs, Julia describes how on the day of Lincoln’s assassination she was being shadowed by suspicious men.  One of them may have been Booth himself; but the other she never could identify.  Julia relates how the unknown conspirator even followed her and the General that day to the train station when they left on vacation.

General Grant

For reasons unknown, this conspirator did not fulfill his mission of killing General Grant—surely a “high value” target in the Lincoln administration—but he did send the couple an anonymous note admitting he was detailed to kill them that day.  The note never became part of the official record of the Booth assassination, so we have only Julia Grant’s word for it.

But why would Mrs. Grant lie about such a thing in her memoirs?  We have first hand testimony, therefore, that at least one conspirator who escaped the Federal manhunt.  There may have been more.

For more about Lincoln and the Booth Conspiracies, go to The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.  Also dealing with the Late Unpleasantness is Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, an in depth look at the wartime experiences of a famous American author.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
True accounts of uncanny events and unsolved mysteries of the Civil War, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War is available at better book stores everywhere.
ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor, served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.

 

Abraham Lincoln and the Undiscovered Country

“DEATH, THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, FROM WHOSE BOURNE NO MAN RETURNS” —Shakespeare

 

Lincoln "cracked plate" photo
Abraham Lincoln was a complex, multi-faceted man. The common mis-perceptions of him have been carefully cultivated by his hagiographers

The Paranormal Presidency deals with Lincoln’s belief in and experience of the paranormal, and while but one aspect of this many faceted man, it is one which has hitherto been overlooked. 

To a large degree, how we perceive the Sixteenth President today is as much a reflection of his various biographer’s own biases and beliefs. as it is a reflection of the man himself and his life’s work.

If you peruse even a small fraction of the many biographies of Lincoln, you will find a quite voluminous literature on Lincoln as secular saint and devout Christian–despite the fact that he resisted joining any denomination until the very end of his life.

My book deals with his beliefs relating to his supernatural, irrational side; yet there is also a book out that argues that his love of mathematics caused him to be highly rational. Indeed, a good case can be made for Lincoln being, if not an outright atheist, at the very least a “free thinker” or skeptic, although the evidence is complex and subject to debate.

There is no doubt that Lincoln was personally opposed to slavery.  Yet Lincoln’s detractors can quote Lincoln directly, expressing things that by any modern standard would be considered overtly racist.

Lincoln has been portrayed as shy with women to the point one writer even theorized he was a homosexual; yet his former law partner gathered testimony that as a young man long, lanky Abe had several sexual encounters; even so, Herndon may well have suppressed even more explicit accounts of Lincoln’s sexual exploits as a young man.

The bottom line to all this is that the common biographical portrait of Abraham Lincoln, which has been heavily sanitized and sanctified, is almost certainly false.  He was a man–a great man–but one who had foibles and faults.  Some admirers have thought to protect his memory by suppressing those aspects of which they disapproved.  My view is similar to his law partner Herndon’s; that Lincoln’s character and accomplishments was great enough to endure the truth–the whole truth.  In following posts we shall explore several aspects of that truth.

One aspect of Lincoln’s character which runs like a golden strand through his life and career, was his fatalism.  From a very early age, Abraham believed that he was fated for greatness; but he also believed that he would not long live beyond achieving those great things.

To a large extent, death stalked Lincoln throughout his life and career; it informed all his actions and motivated him to strive to achieve his goals before he should be struck down. To what extent this fatalism was a self-fulfilling prophecy is a moot point. That he believed in his personal destiny is something which I document in depth in my book.

pp Lincoln and Cabinet Emancipation Proc.

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This new book for the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.