Lincoln Conspirators July 7, 1865

On July 6, 1865 the convicted assassins of President Abraham Lincoln, Payne, David Herold, George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt, languish in their cells at the Washington Arsenal in Washington, DC. They have been sentenced to die, but they do not know when. At midday their uncertainty is dispelled as they are informed that the next day will be their last. The news is headlined in afternoon newspapers. Anna Suratt, the daughter of Mary Suratt, rushes to the White House to once again plead for her mother’s life. Once again she is rebuffed.

The following day, at 1:15, the four prisoners walk from their cells to the specially-built gallows in the Arsenal’s courtyard. The day is hot. From a cloudless sky the blistering sun mercilessly pushes the temperature to over 100 degrees. The condemned pass the four open graves and coffins that await their bodies. The wind tosses Lewis Payne’s hat across the yard. A spectator retrieves it but Payne signals he has no need of a hat anymore.

Most in the crowd including General Winfield Scott Hancock, the officer in charge of the executions, are confident that a reprieve from President Johnson will spare Mary Surratt. The hangman even leaves Mary’s noose incomplete so confident is he that it will not be used. Finally General Hancock reads the warrant and it is time. Still there is no reprieve for Mary Surratt. Soldiers tie the prisoners’ hands, bind their feet, and fit a white cloth hood over their heads. Hesitating, the soldier assigned to Mary Surratt asks “Her too?” General Hancock orders the soldier to proceed. The prisoners stand at the edge of the platform. At almost 2 PM, General Hancock claps his hands three times prompting the soldiers below to knock away the supporting timbers. The hinged leading edge of the platform falls, dropping the prisoners to oblivion.

References: Cottrell, John, Anatomy of an Assassination (1968); Weichmann, Louis J., A True History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Conspiracy of 1865 (1975).