Though John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Lincoln caused a virtual blockade of the entire Atlantic coast from Baltimore to Hampton Roads in Virginia, Secretary of War Stanton had not ordered closed the road to Port Tobacco which led to the Confederacy. This was the route the alleged assassin was expected to take to escape pursuers.
A Predetermined Military Trial
“[Confederate foreign agent Harry] Hotze must have regretted his lack of caution in commenting two years previously on Lincoln’s fear of assassination. For it was immediately charged that the shooting was part of a plot hatched by the Confederate Government headed by Jefferson Davis. [The] Stabbing and wounding of Secretary of State Seward and an attempt on Vice President Andrew Johnson the same night provided evidence of a widespread plot, and a Confederate courier, Johnny Surratt, was accused of a part in these connected activities.
Surratt was not captured, but his mother and a number of other persons were taken into custody, tried by a military court, and hanged. Booth was shot and killed by a special detail of pursuers dispatched from Washington by the War Department. Orders were issued for the arrest of Jefferson Davis and other members of the Confederate cabinet on like charges.
By waiting over one hundred years to write this history, one has the virtue of hindsight, as well as the disclosure of secret papers of the Lincoln administration which had been kept sealed by request of his heirs until certain persons named therein were dead.
It is difficult to understand why Lincoln’s family wished to protect those at whom the finger of suspicion would have pointed by disclosure of these papers after his murder.
For the papers indicated that the Lincoln Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, had prior knowledge of the reported plot of John Wilkes Booth and others at Mrs. Surratt’s boarding house in Washington, but had failed to either warn Lincoln or give him special protection.
It was obvious even to observers at the time that the real beneficiary, should the plot have succeeded in killing the Vice President and Secretary of State, also would have been next in line for the Presidency. Moreover, the Radical Republicans had refused to support Lincoln at the 1864 [Republican] Convention, and this was the faction supported by and supporting Stanton in the disputes following Johnson’s accession.
Immediately following Lincoln’s assassination, Stanton was in full control of the government through martial law, and was in charge of the trials of the so-called conspirators. While the hanging of so many persons without a civil trial did not arouse much comment abroad, the execution of Mrs. Surratt, because Booth had lodged at her house, was the subject of considerable discussion.
But the War Secretary refused [to not hang Mrs. Surratt] on grounds that the executions were necessary to avoid panic among the populace. This would indicate, of course, that the outcome of the military trial was predetermined.”
(Felix Senac: Sage of Felix Senac, Being the Legend and Biography of a Confederate Agent in Europe, Regina Rapier, 1972, excerpts pp. 182-183)