The Trial of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

Members of the Military Commission for the trial of Lincoln Conspirators.

Left to Right: Judge Joseph Holt, Gen. Robert S. Foster, Col. H. L. Burnett, Col. C. R. Clendemin

Source: Library of Congress

The military commission that tried and convicted the Lincoln conspirators

Standing, left to right,: Brig. Gen. Thomas M. Harris, Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace, Maj. Gen. August V. Kautz, and Henry L. Burnett; seated, left to right: Lt. Col. David R. Clendenin, Col. C.H. Tompkins, Brig. Gen. Albion P. Howe, Brig. Gen. James Ekin, Maj. Gen. David Hunter, Brig. Gen. Robert S. Foster, John A. Bingham, and Brig. Gen. Joseph Holt.

Source: Library of Congress

Photographer: Alexander Gardner

Rope used to hang the Abraham Lincoln conspirators. Artifact in the museum collection, National Park Service, Ford's Theatre National Historic Site

Source: Library of Congress

Photographer: Carol M. Highsmith

Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865. By April 26, the United States government had captured eight individuals that would stand trial for the President's murder. John Wilkes Booth was dead. And John Surratt could not be found. The trial began on May 12, 1865, eleven days after President Andrew Johnson issued an order that the conspirators would go before a military tribunal, and not be tried in a public court. This decision was later justified by Attorney General James Speed. In short, the tribunal was allowed due to the state of country at the time. With Civil war still underway, the District under martial law, and most of the city protected by Federal soldiers, the government's argument was easily defended at the time. Trying the conspirators in this way gave the government more power and authority, ensuring a quick judgement and punishment of the people that killed Lincoln.

The conspirators set to stand trial were David Herold, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, Mary Surratt, Ned Spangler, Samuel Arnold, Michael O'Laughlen, and Dr. Samuel Mudd. On May 9, all the prisoner's were read the charges against them. They were staying in separate cells in the old Arsenal Penitentiary, located inside Fort McNair, where the Anacostia and Potomac rivers met. Until then, the prison had been close for nearly three years. Secretary Stanton reopened just to hold the Lincoln assassination conspirators.

General John Hantranft was put in charge of the prisoners and he and his men saw that the conspirators were fed and able to meet with their legal representation. Most of the conspirators 

Coffins and open graves ready for the conspirators' bodies at right of scaffold

Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Photographer: Alexander Gardner

Other Pages You May Be Interested In:

The Assassination Plot

Read the details of John Wilkes Booth's plan and actions of the consipirators on assassination day.

Booth's Escape

The details of Booth's escape and route into Virginia

The Presidential State Box

See the box specially prepared for Lincoln and his guests.

Lincoln's Funeral

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Titled: Uncle Sam's Menagerie

Issued in the wake of Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, the print conveys some of the Northern hostility toward the conspirators, whom the public associated with former president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis. Uncle Sam or Brother Jonathan stands before a cage in which a hyena with the bonneted head of Jefferson Davis claws at a skull. Davis's neck is in a noose, which will begin to tighten as a man at right turns the crank of a gallows. The bonnet on Davis's head alludes to the circumstances of his recent capture. (See "The Chas-ed "Old Lady" of the C.S.A.," no. 1865-11.) Below, a man grinds out the song "Yankee Doodle" on a hand organ. Above, the Lincoln conspirators are portrayed as "Gallow's Bird's," with their heads in nooses. From left to right they are: Michael O'Laughlin, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Lewis Payne, Mary Elizabeth Surratt, Samuel Arnold, Edman Spangler, and Dr. Samuel Mudd. Uncle Sam points his stick at a skull "Booth," on which sits a black crow.

Source: Library of Congress

Adjusting the ropes for hanging the conspirators

Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Photographer: Alexander Gardner

Hanging hooded bodies of the four conspirators; crowd departing

Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Photographer: Alexander Gardner

Hanging bodies of the conspirators; guards only in yard

Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Photographer: Alexander Gardner

Execution of the conspirators: scaffold in use and crowd in the yard, seen from the roof of the Arsenal

Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Photographer: Alexander Gardner

O'Neill, Thomas. Col. John F. Hartranft's quick step. Lee & Walker, Philadelphia, 1862. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress

Gen. John F. Hartranft and staff, responsible for securing the conspirators at the Arsenal

Left to right: Capt. R.A. Watts, Lt. Col. George W. Frederick, Lt. Col. William H.H. McCall, Lt. D.H. Geissinger, Gen. Hartranft, Asst. Surg. George L. Porter, Col. L.A. Dodd, Capt. Christian Rath

The Trial of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

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