Newspaper from Jun. 8, 1865

Trial of the Assassins

  • Full Title

    Trial of the Assassins

  • Description

    This file is a newspaper entry, from Thursday, June 8, 1865, regarding the trial of the men and woman involved in the assassination of President Lincoln. This article contains direct statements from people involved, it also details the extent of the conspiracy and its members. Specifically, the involvement of confederate officials like Jefferson Davis. The article begins with statements made by Sandford Conover.

  • Transcription

    The Trial of the Assassins.
    The Complicity of Jeff. Davis in the Murder of President Lincoln—Extent of the Conspiracy Developed—The Reserved Testimony,
    Sandford Conover testified as follows—I am a native of New York; have resided in Canada since October last, was conscripted into the confederate army, and detailed to service in the war department of the confederacy, at Richmond, under James A. Sedden, Secretary of War. While in Canada, was intimately acquainted with G.N. Sanders, Jacob Thompson, Dr. Blackburn, Tucker, Wm. C. Cleary, Captain Castleman, Mr. Cameron, Porterfield, Captain Magruder, and others. I also know Clement C. Clay, and Gen. Carroll, of Tennessee. I knew Mr. Surrat, also, and J.W. Booth, and visited these gentlemen in Canada. Saw Surrat there on several occasions, last April, in Mr. Jacob Thompson’s room; also in company with George N. Sanders, ant other rebels in Canada. Surrat is about five feet nine or ten inches high, a fair complexioned man with light hair. I saw him about the 6th or 7th of April with Thompson, Sanders, and Booth. At that time he delivered to Thompson in his room in my presence, dispatches from Richmond, to Thompson, from Benjamin and from Jefferson Davis; the latter either a cipher dispatch or a letter. Benjamin was Secretary of State of the confederacy. Previous to this, Thompson conversed with me upon the subject of a plot to assassinate President Lincoln and his cabinet, of which I gave notice before the assassination, in the New York Tribune, the paper for which I corresponded. I had been invited by Mr. Thompson to participate in that enterprise. When Surrat delivered these dispatches from Davis, Thompson laid his hand upon the papers and said, referring to the assassination and the assent of the rebel authorities, “this makes the thing all right.” The dispatches spoke of the persons to be assassinated; Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Jonson, the Secretary of War, the Secretary of State, Judge Chase and General Grant. Mr. Thompson said on that occasion, or on the day before the interview, that the assassination proposed, would leave the Government of the United States entirely without a head; that there was no provision in the Constitution of the United States by which they could elect another President. Mr. Welles was also named, but Mr. Thompson said it was not worth while to kill him; he was of no consequence.
    My first interview with Thompson on this subject of the assassination was in the early part of last February, in Thompson’s room in St. Lawrence Hall, Montreal. He then spoke of a raid on Ogdensburg, New York. It was abandoned, but that was because the United States Government received information of it. He said that he would have to drop it for a time, but added, “We’ll catch them asleep yet,” and to me he said, “There is a better opportunity to immortalize yourself, and save your country, “Meaning the confederacy. I told them I was ready to do anything to save the county, and asked them what was to be done. He said, “Some of our boys are going to play a grand joke on Abe and Andy,” which he said was to kill them; his words were “remove them from office; and he said that the killing of a tyrant was not murder, that he had commissions for this work from the rebel authorities, and conferred one on, Booth, or would confer one; that everybody engaged in this enterprise would be commissioned, and if they escaped to Canada they could not be successfully claimed under the Extradition Treaty. I know that Thompson and others held these commissions in blank. They commissioned Bennett Young, the St. Albans raider. It was a blank commission filled up and conferred by Mr. Clay. As it came to them from Richmond it was only signed “James A Seddon, Secretary of War.” Mr. Thompson called me to examine these blanks to that I might testify to the genuineness of Seddon’s signature in the case of Bennett Young, before Judge Smith. The signature was genuine. In a subsequent conversation, after the first referred to in February, Thompson told me that Booth had been commissioned, and every man who would engage in it would be. I had a conversation with Wm. C. Cleary, on the day before, or the day of the assassination, at St. Lawrence Hall. We were speaking of the rejoicing in the States over the surrender of Lee and the capture of Richmond. Cleary said they would have the laugh on the other side of the mouth in a day or two. I think this was the day before the assassination. He knew I was in the secret of the conspiracy. It was to that he referred. The assassination was spoken of among us commonly as the weather.
    Before that, Sanders asked me if I knew Both very well, and expressed some apprehension that Booth would make a fizzle of it, that he was desperate and reckless, and he was afraid the whole thing would be a failure. I communicated to the Tribune the intended raid on St. Albans and the proposed assassination of the President; but they refused to publish the letter. I did this in March last, as to the President’s assassination; also in February, I think; certainly before the 4th of March. Surratt delivered the dispatches in Thompson’s room four or five days before the assassination. The whole conversation showed that Surratt was one of the conspirators to take the President’s life. That was the substance of the conversation. It was also understood that there was plenty of money when there was any thing to be done. The conversation intimated that Surratt had, a very few days before, left Richmond—that he was “just from Richmond.”
    When I was in Canada, I was a correspondent for the Tribune, and received no compensation except from the Tribune. I have not received one cent from our own Government, nor the promise.
    They never supposed I was the correspondent for any paper; I only said I was seeking items. They supposed I was a rebel, and I was in their confidence. The proposed Ogdensburg raid was printed in the Tribune. I did not communicate this matter directly to the Government, for the reason that I supposed the communication in the Tribune would be seen by the Government officials, and I did not choose to have the information go to the Government directly from me. I requested Mr. Gay, of the Tribune, to give the information to the Government, and I believe he did so. I saw Surratt in Canada three or four days in succession in April last. I had conversation with him personally, about Richmond. I was introduced to him by Sanders. I was expected to participate with these rebels in the raid on Ogdensburg. I never received any pay from them for any services. I heard the capture of the President talked of in February. When Mr. Thompson first suggested the assassination to me, I asked him if it would meet the approbation of the government at Richmond; he said he thought it would, but he would know in a few days. This was clearly in February.
    Thompson did not say in April, when these dispatches were delivered, that this was the first approval they had received of this plot from Richmond, but I know of no others. I only inferred that that was the first approved. Thompson said in his conversation with me, that killing a tyrant in such a case was no murder, and asked me if I had read a letter called “Killing, no Murder,” addressed by Titus to Oliver Cromwell. This was in February. Mr. Hamlin was also named in February as one of the victims of this scheme. In April, the persons before named were mentioned, but Mr. Hamlin was omitted and Vice-President Johnson put in his place. I ran the blockade from Richmond. These commissions were all blank but the signature; they were to be given as a cover, so that in case of detection the parties employed could claim that they were rebel soldiers, and would therefore claim to be treated as prisoners of war. It was understood that they would be protected as such. Thompson said if the men who were engaged in this enterprise were detected and executed, the confederate government would retaliate; that it was no murder; only killing. I think Booth was specially commissioned for this purpose. I saw Booth in Canada in the latter part of October, with Sanders at Mr. Thompson’s, at the St. Lawrence Hall, where he was strutting about, dissipating and playing billiards. I have heard these men talk to the burning of New York, and other enterprises which they have under consideration ow.
    There was a proposition before the agents of these rebels in Canada to destroy the Croton Dam, by which the City of New York is supplied with water. It was supposed it would not only damage manufactories, but distress the people generally. Mr. Thompson remarked that there was plenty of force, and the city would be destroyed by a general conflagration, and, if they had thought of this sooner, they might have saved a great many necks. This was said a few weeks ago. Thompson, Sanders, Castleman and General Carroll were present. They had arms concealed, and a large number of men concealed in Chicago—some eight hundred—for the purpose of releasing the rebel prisoners there.
    The Dr. Blackburn charged at Nassan with importing yellow fever into his country, is the same person referred to by me as intimate with Thompson in Canada. I saw in company with him, G. N. Sanders, Louis Sanders, Castleman, Wm. C. Cleary, Porterfield, Captain Magruder, and a number o fother rebels of less note. Blackburn was recognized there as an agent of the confederate States, and so represented himself. In January last, Dr. Blackburn employed a person named Cameron to accompany him, for the purpose of introducing yellow fever into the Northern cities, to wit: the cities of New York, Philadelphia and Washington. He went from Montreal to Bermuda, about a year ago last fall, for the purpose of getting the clothing infected with yellow fever. I saw him after his return, in Canada, and heard Jacob Thompson and Wm. C. Cleary say that they favored his scheme, and were much interested in it. This was last January.
    About the same time it was proposed to destroy the Croton Dam, Dr. Blackburn proposed to poison the reservoirs and made a calculation of the amount of poisonous matter it would require to impregnate the water, so as to make an ordinary draught poisonous and deadly. We had the capacity of the reservoirs and the amount of water generally kept in the. Stryemine, arsenic, prussic acid, and a number of other things I do not remember were named. Mr. Thompson feared it would be impossible to collect so large a quantity of poisonous matter without suspicion, and leading to the detection. Thompson approbated the enterprise and discussed it freely. Mr. Cleary did the same; it was also spoken of by a Mr. Montrose A. Pallen, of Mississippi, and a person who had been a medical purveyor in the rebel army. John Cameron, who lived in Montreal, told me that he was offered a large compensation. I think Mr. Thompson was the money agent for all the other agents: I think they all drew on him for all the money they required. I know some of them did. When Thompson said it would be difficult to collect so much poison without detection, Pallen and others thought it could be managed in Europe. Pallen is a physician. I think I have heard Harris also mentioned in connection with the pestilence importation. I think he lived in Toronto. There were other parties in Montreal that Blackburn complied or endeavored to employ, but I do not remember their names.
    I saw Dr. Stewart Robinson, doctor of divinity, residing in Toronto; he edited a paper in Kentucky. I have seen him with Thompson and Blackburn, and he was present when some of the schemes were discussed he approved them. He said any thing that could be done under heaven would justify them under the circumstance. He appeared upon very intimate terms with Blackburn and Thompson. Three or four days after the assassination of the President, saw John H. Surrat in Canada with Perierfield, a Southern rebel, now declared a British subject by the Canadian Parliament. I learned, immediately afterward, that Surrat was suspected, was pursued and had decamped. I had a knowledge that Jeff. Davis was the head of the so-called confederated states, was called its President and had control of its civil administration. Gen. Carroll was present when Surratt brought the dispatches from Richmond, and when they were read by Thompson, I believe there were one or two others. Gen. Carroll, of Tennessee, then said he was more anxious that Mr. Johnson should be killed than anyone else. He said, “If the damned prick-louse was not killed by somebody” he would kill him himself. He referred to Vice President Johnson. His expression was a word of contempt for a tailor; it means a tailor’s louse. Booth was known in Canada by the nickname of “Pet.” I think I have heard Thompson so name him—certainly Cleary. Kennedy, who fired the City of New York, and was executed, was spoken of as having performed that deed by authority of the rebel government, under the direction of Thompson. This was communicated to me by Thompson himself, or in conversation in his presence. Thompson said Kennedy deserved to be hanged, and he was devilish glad he was hanged, for he was a stupid fellow, and had managed things very badly.
    James B. Merritt testified—I am a physician, and have been in Canada about a year: in October and November last, was in Toronto: met George Young there, a rebel from Kentucky. Young said to me, “We have something of much more importance than any raids.” He told me it was determined that “Old Abe” should never be inaugurated; that they had plenty of friends in Washington and called Mr. Lincoln a “damned old tyrant.” I afterwards saw George N. Sanders and Colonel Steel together. Col. Steel said, “the damned old tyrant never will serve another term, if he is elected.” Sanders said at the same time, “he would keep himself mighty close if he did serve another term.” In Montreal, in February last, I heard Sanders name a number of persons ready and willing to remove the President, Vice President, the Cabinet, and some of the leading General of the United States; and he added that there were lots of money to accomplish this purpose, meaning the assassination of these persons. He then read a letter, which he said he had received from the president of our confederacy, meaning Jefferson Davis, and which letter justified him in making any arrangements that he could, to accomplish such object.
    There was a meeting at that time of these rebels, and a latter was read to them, the substance of which was, that if the Southerners in the Canadas and in the States were willing to be governed by such a tyrant as Lincoln he (Davis) did not wish to recognize them as friends, and that he approved of the proposition to assassinate him. Col. Steel read the letter, also Captain Scott, George Young, and Hill, all rebels. This meeting was about the middle of last February. At the meeting, Sanders named some of the persons who were to accomplish the assassination, and among them he named J. W. Booth, whom I had seen in Montreal, in October. He also named George Harper, Charles Caldwell, Randall and Harrison. Harrold went by the name of Harrison. I heard Surratt’s name also mentioned, and Harrold. There was a person named whom they called “Plug Tobacco.” I saw Harrold in Toronto—Sanders said Booth was heart and soul in this matter: he was a cousin to Beale, who was hanged in New York. He added that if they could dispose of Lincoln it would be an easy matter to dispose of Mr. Johnson in some of his drunken revelries; that if they could dispose of the President, Vice President and Cabinet, and that if Mr. Seward could be disposed of, it would satisfy the people of the North, and that a peace could be obtained: that they had endeavored to bring about a war with England, but Mr. Seward, through his energy and sagacity, had thwarted their efforts, and for that reason they wanted to get rid of him.
    On the 5th or the 6th of April last I met Harper, who said that they were going to the States to “kick up the damndest row such as has never been heard of:” he added that if I did not hear of the death of Old Abe, the Vice President, and of Gen. Dix in less than ten days, I might put him down as a damned fool. That was on the 5th of April. He mentioned the name of Booth as one of their friends there; he said they had a plenty of friends in Washington, and that fifteen or twenty were going. He had started to go to Washington as early as the 8th, together with the others. I communicated this fact on the 10th of April to a justice of the peace, named Davidson, who, after the assassination, communicated it to the Government. Harper returned to Canada after the assassination. I had a conversation with C. C. Clay in Toronto, in February last; he spoke of the letter of Davis which Sanders had exhibited; he seemed to understand the character of the letter perfectly, and said he thought the end would justify the means. Surratt was pointed out to me in Toronto, last February, I think. I saw Booth there two or three more times, and sat at table with him once, at the St. Lawrence with Sanders, Scott, and Steele; they were conversing with Booth, and drinking wine with him at Sanders’ expense. I saw Harrold in Canada, in February.
    Richard Montgomery testified—I knew Jacob Thompson, Clement C. Clay, whom I have met in Canada a number of times since the summer of 1864 up to this time: also George N. Sanders, J. P. Holcombe, Beverly Tucker, W. C. Cleary, Harrington, Hicks, and others under fictitious names. Thompson had several names, one was Cranson. Clay was Hold, and Lacy and Tracy. Jacob Thompson said he had friends of the confederacy all over the Northern States, willing to go to any lengths, and that he could, at any times, have the tyrant Lincoln, and any of his advisers, put out of the way: that his friends would not consider it a crime, and that it would be done for the cause of the confederacy. In January, 1865, Thompson said, at Montreal, that a proposition had been made to him to rid the world of the tyrants Lincoln, Stanton, Grant and some others; that he knew the men who made it were bold, daring men, able to execute anything they undertake; that he was in favor of the proposition, last deferred his answer until he had consulted his government, at Richmond: that he was only waiting their approval. He thought it would be a blessing to the people, both North and South, to have them (the tyrants) killed.
    In the summer of 1864, I repeated what Mr. Thompson first told me to C. C. Clay, who said that he was really devoted to our cause, and ready to go any lengths, to do anything under the sun to have it. I have seen Payne, the prisoner, a number of times in Canada, about the Falls, in the summer of ’64, and also at the Queens Hotel in Toronto, Canada West, where I conversed with him. I had had an interview with Mr. Thompson; several others had sought and interview while I was closeted, and had been refused. On leaving Thompson’s room, I saw Payne in the passage way near the door, with Clement C. Clay, talking to him; Mr. Clay stopped me, and finished his conversation with this man in an undertone. When he left me, he said, “Wait for me, I will return.” He soon came back again and bade me good-bye, and asked where he could see me after a time. I told him and appointed a meeting. I spoke to this man Payne in Clay’s absence, and asked him who he was. He said, “Oh, I’m a Canadian.” Which was to say, I don’t wish you to ask me anything more.” I mentioned him to Clay when I met him after a time; Clay asked, “What did he say?” I told him, and Clay answered, “that’s so, he is a Canadian,” and laughed; he added, “We trust him.” “Canadian” is an expression for their friends: and his conduct was an indication that their intercourse was of a very confidential nature.
    I have been in Canada since the assassination: a few days after, I met Beverly Tucker at Montreal. He said “Mr. Lincoln deserved his death long ago; that it was a pity he did not die long ago,” and that it was too bad the boys had not been allowed to go where they wanted to. He referred to the men who were to assassinate him.
    I had a conversation with Wm. C. Cleary, and told him what Mr. Thompson said in January. He said that Booth was one of the parties to whom Thompson had referred; but he said also that it was too bad that the whole work had not been done, referring to the assassination—Cleary, who was a confident of Mr. Thompson, told me so. Thompson said Clearly was a close mouthed man. Clearly also said that “they had better look out, we have not done yet.” He remarked that they would never be conquered, would never give up. He also said that Booth had visited Thompson in the winter and in the summer. These parties knew they were suspected of the assassination a few days after, and were destroying a great many papers, so they told me.
    I acted as a Government detective in Canada, and assumed the name of James Thompson, though I never registered it, but always some other name. My whole object was to serve the Government. I saw this cipher (found among Booth’s effects” in Mr. Clay’s house, at St. Catherines in the summer of 1864. I carried dispatches from Canada to Gordonsville, and received a reply, which I carried back. I came through Washington each time, and delivered the dispatches to the United States Government; received the dispatch from Gordonsville from a man in the rebel state department, from their Secretary of State, I carried this paper to Thompson. All these persons, named Thompson, Clay, Cleary, etc., represented themselves in the service of the confederate government. Received this dispatch in October last. Clay claimed to represent the war department. They approved the burning of our Northern cities, and they represented themselves as having full powers from the rebel government act, without referring their projects to Richmond—Thompson and Clay both said so. The attempt to burn New York city I know they were engaged in, and went to Washington three days before it happened to communicate it. They approved also of the St. Albans raid. In regard to raiding, Mr. Clay had the funds; he said he had always plenty of money to pay for anything that was worth paying for. I know they deposited in different banks. Clay said not to tell Sanders what they entrusted to me; he said that he was a very good man to do their dirty work; that he associated with men they could not associate with; that he was very useful in that way. I inferred from Beverly Tucker’s words that they had delayed the assassination, waiting for the approval from Richmond.

    [Transcription by Larinda Agee, Berea Community Middle School]

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    Janesville Gazette. "Trial of the Assassins". Janesville Gazette. Remembering Lincoln. Web. Accessed May 26, 2024.