by Al Benson Jr.
The “trial” of Mary Surratt and the Lincoln conspirators is still something that is debated about even today. If you want to see some of the arguments, check out the Internet. I read several articles awhile back about the involvement of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the man who set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg. Mudd claimed he did not know Booth. He was still sent to the Dry Torgugas as a prisoner. Others have claimed that Mudd “was in it up to his eyeballs.” So the argument is anything but settled.
The question has arisen–was it even a legal trial or not? Reverdy Johnson, Mrs. Surratt’s first attorney, had contended that the military court that tried the conspirators was without proper authority to do so as long as the civil courts were sitting. This is something that was argued for nearly a century and I’ll bet you could get a heated debate about it still going in some quarters. In my opinion, Reverdy Johnson was correct. The war was over and the civil courts in the Union were all functioning and intact, so there was no reason to try this as a military case–unless it had been decided from on high that the real facts in this case should never be made public to the American people. We have already noted that Stanton wanted to make sure that Mrs. Surratt communicated with no one before she was hung. Great lengths were gone to in order to prevent that. It has also been contended in some circles that, had the trial taken place in a civil court, Mrs. Surratt would have been exonerated. You had a regime in Washington under Stanton and the revolutionary radicals in Congress that, basically, did whatever it wanted to–just like today. The Marxist regime currently in power does what it wants to. If Congress won’t pass Obama’s radical legislation he just writes an executive order and does an end run around the Congress while they sit there apparently stupified after he has presented them a fait accompli. Congress rails and complains about it–all for public consumption–because they know they will not fight it but they want to give the appearance of having done so–after all, there’s an election coming up next year.
Assistant Judge Advocate Bingham argued against this rationale and for what amounted to Stanton’s rationale for a military trial: the “rebellion” itself was considered to be a gigantic conspiracy, (a vast right-wing conspiracy?), with Jefferson Davis as the arch-conspirator. The official Washington line was that Lincoln, the Commander-in-Chief, had been assassinated by people directly connected to Jeff Davis and the Confederacy, and so on and so forth, blah, blah, blah. Current establishment “historians” are busily attempting to resurrect this 19th century attempt at political correctness. Many “historians” love a good myth parading as fact.
Theodore Roscoe in The Web of Conspiracy took note of historical opinion when he said: “By and large, history’s consensus is that Mrs. Surratt was not guilty as charged. Which is to say she knew nothing of the assassination plot and was in no way an active participant or intentional accessory. Did she carry messages from (John Wilkes) Booth to innkeeper Lloyd, and deliver to the Surratt tavern Booth’s binoculars? Possibly, even probably. But she could have done so in all innocence, merely to oblige Mr. Booth. And even if one assumes she suspected some underground project were afoot, nothing in the trial evidence proved she knew the project involved an assassination strike. A few historians concede she may have known about the abduction plot. On the surface of it, such knowledge seems likely.” In an article dealing with the authenticity of the Dahlgren Papers, historian Stephen Sears noted that: “…by the generally accepted rules of civilized warfare of the 1860s, the capture of an opposing head of state and his chief advisors was a legitimate wartime objective, and no doubt was discussed as openly in Richmond as it was in Washington. Assassination of civilian leaders, on the other hand, was regarded as beyond the pale.” At least it was for Southern leaders, as for some of the Yankees, influenced by the socialists from Europe, well, for some of them, the ends justified the means.
One of the two people chiefly responsible for testimony that was damaging to Mary Surratt was Louis Wiechmann, a government clerk who knew her son, John, and who lived at the Surratt boarding house. Lloyd Lewis, in The Assassination of Lincoln–History and Myth, wrote: “Except for two witnesses there was no case against Mrs. Surratt, but those two hanged her. One was John M. Lloyd…the other was a boarder in her own home, Louis J. Wiechmann.” There was a picture with one of the articles I read that spelled his name “Weichmann.” Note the two different spellings of the man’s last name. According to Roscoe: “Official records on Wiechmann are confusing. One might well believe them deliberately confused. In them his name is spelled at least five different ways. Dates are curiously juggled. Wiechmann’s testimony is garbled, vaguely worded, often contradictory.” And, on the other hand, Mrs. Surratt’s lawyers felt Wiechmann was way too glib and too ready to hang former associates. You have to wonder which one was the real Wiechmann, just as, according to some sources, you might have to wonder if the man in John Wilkes Booth’s grave is the real Booth.
And yet, Wiechmann may have testified as he did out of a certain amount of fear. Benjamin P. Thomas and Harold M. Hyman wrote in the standard work Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln’s Secretary of War that: “Weichmann, too, might very well have been accused of complicity in the plot, and two years later, at the trial of John Surratt, Lloyd not only contradicted some of the statements he had made at the conspiracy trial but admitted that he had been subjected to both promises and threats. That Weichmann was subjected to the same sort of intimidation by Stanton, in the private cross-examination seems likely from the statement made by John T. Ford, owner of the celebrated theater. Ford, imprisoned with Lloyd and Weichmann, became convinced from what they told him that Mrs. Surratt was innocent and that the two witnesses had been coerced.” Really? Would “our” government do such an underhanded thing? If they felt they had a good enough reason you better believe they would!
When Wiechmann testified at the trial of John Surratt in 1867 he said he had been “nervous” at the trial of the conspirators, and proceeded to contradict some of his former statements, “thereby putting Mrs. Surratt in a more favorable light.” It was, however, a tad bit late for that to do Mrs. Surratt any good. But Roscoe has noted that: “At the second trial, which in some respects amounted to a rehearing of Mrs. Surratt’s case, Louis Carland, a former customer at Ford’s Theater, testified that Weichmann had told him in 1865 that if he had been let alone…it would have been quite a different affair with Mrs. Surratt than it was” that his statements had been written out for him and that he had been threatened with prosecution as an accessory if he refused to swear to them. Wiechmann, when examined again, denied he ever made this confession, although he did admit talking with Mr. Carland. If this tale were false, one must wonder what Mr. Carland would have had to gain by telling it.
Roscoe also observed that: “John W. Clampitt, one of Mrs. Surratt’s lawyers, a number of years after the trial wrote that Weichmann, after testifying, had been stung with remorse because he had committed perjury in implicating Mrs. Surratt in Lincoln’s murder. Certain ‘authorities’ in the War Department had threatened to prosecute him as an accomplice in the conspiracy against Lincoln if he refused to offer testimony. Weichmann claimed, according to Clampitt, Holt had rejected the first statement Weichmann prepared with the remark that ‘it was not strong enough,’ whereupon, still under threat of prosecution, Weichmann had written a second and stronger statement, the substance of which he subsequently swore to on the witness stand. The man to whom Weichmann made this confession, wrote Clampitt, was refused permission to testify.” Almost sounds as if Wiechmann was indulged with a little “friendly persuasion” to make sure he said what the Judge Advocate and Mr. Stanton wanted him to say. And then, on his deathbed, Wiechmann signed a statement saying that all he had said at the original conspiracy trial was true after all. Will the real Louis Wiechmann (Weichmann) please stand up?
Judge Advocate Joseph Holt summed up the preconceived sentiment of the Yankee/Marxist government when he said: “There have not been enough Southern women hanged in this war.” Thus, the great compassion of the Yankee/Marxist mindset was put on display for all the world to see–and it is this same “compassion” that we still live with today–thanks to the Lincoln administration. That this is the identical mindset displayed by socialists and Communists, both in Mr. Lincoln’s government and in his rampaging armies, is one of the overriding factors that cause Donnie Kennedy and myself to write the book Lincoln’s Marxists. People need to become aware that this socialist, anti-Christ mindset is what the Lincoln administration gave us and that it has been passed down since then to us today. Now we have a Marxist in the White House that doesn’t even bother to deny his Marxism. Lincoln would be proud of him!