The public mind of the North from April through the summer of 1865 was one of vengeance, blood and death to the “rebels.” The South was roundly blamed for “treason” as well as the horrors of Andersonville, though it was Grant – with Lincoln’s approval – who refused Southern offers of food, medicines and medical care for Northern prisoners.
The War Secretary’s Government
“The secret papers of the Lincoln administration had been kept sealed at the 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 Lincoln’s 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 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 the Secretary of War – Stanton himself – who would have been next in line for the Presidency. Moreover, the Radical Republicans had refused to support Lincoln at the 1864 party convention, and this was the faction supported by and supporting Stanton in the disputes following Andrew 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.
It is revealed in official testimony that Mrs. Surratt was offered her life if her son would give himself up. An effort was made by high members of the US government, including members of Congress, to obtain a civil trial for her. But the War Secretary refused on grounds that the executions were necessary to avert panic among the populace. This would indicate, of course, that the outcome of the military trial was predetermined.
Newspapers in France and Mexico began to refer to the Washington government as the “murderers of Mrs. Surratt.” The North’s bitterness against her son, Johnny Surratt, was heightened by the rumor that he was one of the leaders in the Confederate raid on St. Albans, Vermont, from Canada. A reward of $50,000 was offered for his apprehension but was never collected.”
(The Saga of Felix Senac: Legend and Life of a Confederate Agent in Europe. Regina Rapier, Bulletin of Art & History, No. 1, 1972. pp. 182-183)