tv The Civil War Edwin Stanton Lincolns Assassination Aftermath CSPAN April 9, 2018 3:11am-4:02am EDT
>> welcome back to our final speaker of the afternoon. for those of you who celebrate, happy st. patrick's day today. michelle and i am here with the abraham lincoln institute. our next speaker has been described by his enemies and -- this is irritable not actually about walter -- goodhearted, devoted, patriotic, duplicitous, aggressive, resilient, strong-willed, hateful, cruel, honest, unselfish, fearless, obsequious,
incorruptible. to abraham lincoln, this man was indispensable. was litany of adjectives not applied to our next speaker, walter star. i already ruined the punchline. rather to the subject of his latest biography, the always fascinating edwin stanton. walter only shares the qualities that made stanton sensible like diligence, persistence, and the ability to organize mountains of data. like stanton, walter stars background is in the law. graduating from harvard, walter joined a law firm that focused on international law and this became his specialty with an emphasis on legal work relating to asia. walters work went in a new direction in the early 2000 when he turned his attention to writing biographies of other notable lawyers in american history.
his biographer the of john jay 2005 to beed in followed by biographies of william seward and edwin stanton . he is currently working on a biography of salmon chase. i recently learned from walter that the library of congress was an important factor in his path to becoming the historian we welcome today. in theung lawyer pre-internet age, he researched state law questions in the law library from there he progressed to researching family history and local history. that led to visits to the main reading room, the manuscript division and the rare books and special collections division to research his biography of john jay. contact highed the up doing historic research to taking drugs. [laughter] >> honestly, he said mainlining
heroin but i do not think that was appropriate. just say no to drugs. in his own words there is no hope for the addict at that point. you are talking to the man who has taken the redeye flight from california and taken a taxi directly to the library of congress. we are grateful there is as yet no 12-step program took your walter star of his research addiction. rs,aking about lincoln's ma edwin stanton, please join me in welcoming walter star. thank you for that kind introduction. start on april 14, right here in ford's theater , but listening to some of the earlier speakers i thought i should go back before april 14. let's start on april 3, 1865.
a telegram arrives in the war department, a much smaller, more modest building. after four years, the union army has finally entered richmond. war flashes around the department building and the clarks run out into the streets shouting. inarge crowd has gathered front of the war department demanding a speech from stanton, the secretary of war. he stepped out overcome by emotion and he says friends and this greatzens, at --r of triumph, my heart is to almighty god for his deliverance of this nation. our thanks is due to the president, the army and navy, the gallant men who have risked their lives on the battlefield and drenched the soil with their
blood. henceforth our commiseration and our age should be given to the wounded and the suffering. let us humbly offer up our thanks to divine providence for care over us and beseech him that will you will guide and governess and -- guide and govern us in our duties hereafter as he has carried us to victory in the past and tedious to be humble in the midst of triumph, just in the hour of victory, and enable us to secure the foundations of that they haveo been in blood, so that may live forever and ever. echoes their of lincoln's second inaugural, you are right, this is stanton's second inaugural. this is a fairly sober speech.
i assure you that night in washington there was drinking and fireworks in celebration and that continued over the next few days with news that lee had surrendered and sherman was about to capture the last large confederate army. unrestrained of rejoicing in washington. on april 14, 1865, news someone had shot lincoln at ford's theater and that at the same time, someone had slashed and stabbed secretary of state steward -- werd inry of state se his home at lafayette square. indeed he had been with him an hour ago.
he had been injured in a carriage accident and was confined to his bed. stanton headed over and realize to his horror that it was true. someone had slashed the secretary of state about the face and neck and he had survived and was able to talk to stanton briefly. stanton went back downstairs and the two of them got into the carriage and came here to 10th street. so crowded with people exchanging whatever rumors and news they had that they had to get out of their carriage and walk. how they learned that lincoln was no longer here in ford's in that box there, that he had been carried across the street to the peterson house. they did learn, and so they
entered the peterson house and that is where my stanton book begins. burly man pushing his way through the crowd, up the staircase, into the peterson house, into the back bedroom where lincoln is lying .iagonally on a bed, dying stanton learned from the doctors within one minute that lincoln would never open his eyes. rather than go to the war department, he decided to stay put. he went into the next room, he sat down at a small table and went to work. to generalessage was grant, who was on a train headed north to see his family in new jersey. he said come back to washington. following up with a message saying take care of your personal security. messages to close the bridges, question those leaving washington, arrest suspicious persons.
he summoned folks from ford's across the street to the peterson house because he wanted to question witnesses while their memory was still fresh. you was a lawyer, he knew the value of questioning witnesses right away. when his aides cannot keep up with the question and answers in long hand, he said find me someone who can take shorthand. soon a crippled clark found himself -- a crippled clerk found himself sitting next to the secretary of war taking shorthand notes. series also sent out a of what we would call press releases, telegrams addressed to the general in new york city which were disseminated immediately to the nation's newspapers. let me read the first few lines of the first of those messages, sent at about 1:00 in the morning on april 15. "this evening at about 9:30
p.m., at ford's theater, while sitting in his private box with mrs. lincoln and major wrath burn, was shot by an assassin who approached the president. upon thesin leaped stage brandishing a large dagger or night and made his escape to the rear of the theater. the pistol ball entered the back of the president's head and penetrated nearly through the head. the wound is mortal. the president has been insensible ever since it was inflicted and is now dying." those of you who are lincoln assassination buffs will have noted a couple minor errors in what i read compared to what happened. i will not reveal them now. overall, the message goes on to talk about seward and seward's son. detailed,mazingly amazingly accurate description
of the events in ford's and at the seward house written within a couple hours of those events. in another of these press and a few hours later, stanton reported that a letter found in boots trunk at the trunk at theooth's the murder was planned before the fourth of march that was abandoned because an accomplice backed out before richmond could be heard from. away,efore lincoln passed stanton was focused on what would become his obsession -- proving that john wilkes booth was not just a man man, proving that he was paid and working for the confederate government. early the next morning, stanton was in the back bedroom as lincoln died. stanton supposedly said, right after lincoln's death, "now he
belongs to the ages." i say supposedly because i do not think stanton said that. there were detailed accounts written about lincoln's last hours and last minutes and death right after the assassination. some of them appeared in the newspapers, some of them were in private letters, including a long letter by james tanner. of those accounts mention stanton saying anything right after lincoln died. what they describe is how lincoln's pastor let everyone in prayer and then people dispersed. those words first appear in print in 1890, when lincoln's areetaries hay and nikolay publishing their biography of lincoln. -- i'm not 100% sure he did not say it. hay was there, it is possible.
i think if stanton had said anything so memorable, it would have somehow survived in print before 1890. of 1865,k to april stanton was incredibly busy in the days and weeks that followed the assassination organizing the funeral in washington, d.c. organizing the route for the funeral change that would take -- the funeral train that would take lincoln's remains back to the sacred ground of springfield. organizing the manhunt, the investigation into this complicated plot to assassinate not only lincoln but also johnson and perhaps stanton and grant. on april 20, stanton spent part of the day drafting what is one of the most famous things from the lincoln assassination, the poster offering awards for the
capture of john wilkes booth and his colleagues. the stain of innocent blood be removed from the land by the arrest and punishment of the murderers." a draft of that and stanton's own hands is in the archives of the new york historical society. in washington is the record of the investigation, such as the record exists, and that shows that stanton directed the investigation. there is a note in stanton's hand directing his aides to collate the evidence about the horses that were used by john wilkes booth and his colleague the-- his colleague powell, man who stabbed stewart -- who said -- who stabbed seward. there were rumors all of the country that john wilkes booth was here. chicago,te is from
that john wilkes booth was in a brothel dressed as a woman amidst the prostitutes. he cannot disregard it. stanton said a message to military authorities in chicago to go to the brothels and check it out. yes, there were clues pointing to what we know as the escape route, which you can take if you take the tour. there were clues pointing every other direction, and moreover he had another problem, that is that he and no ideas where jefferson davis was and he was hunting for jefferson davis as well. is reports were that dave intended to reunite with the rebel army and to die fighting in mexico or texas or some such place. the 26th ofntil april that two detectives showed up at stanton's house to report that they had got john wilkes booth. -- they described
for stanton how booth had been located at ad been barn and surrounded, how his colleague surrendered, there was a shot and then there was another shot. one of the federal shoulder -- one of the federal soldiers shot booth. booth was shot but he lingered a while on the porch of the farmhouse and then died. they brought the objects they had taken from boots body including a diary -- from booth's body. he looked at the mall and gave them back to the detective. he gave orders that the body should be taken to a secure place and there should be a medical and dental examination. he wanted to be 100% sure that this was john wilkes booth. booth was dead and his colleagues were in prison, more precisely on prison ships anchored in the potomac river. stanton now turned his attention to the military commission that would try the john wilkes booth conspiracy is -- conspirators.
it was controversial, but it was an easy decision for stan to use a military commission rather than a civil court to try the murderers. were dozens ofe military commissions in progress at that moment, trying man on charges of attempted arson in new york city or attempted sabotage. if military commissions could be used to try those offenses, surely, stanton thought, a military commission was the proper way to try those who had attempted, who had indeed killed the military leader of the united states in the military capital of the united states. his ownprepared, in hand, the procedures for that military commission. they are at the new york historical society. he required the defense lawyers take the so-called ironclad oath
that they had neither supported nor aided the rebellion in any way. he wrote that no reporters but the official reporter should be admitted in the courtroom and as the trial started it started behind closed doors. this led to a firestorm of protest in the newspapers. the new york world referral to mr. stanton's star chamber and the new york tribune, usually supportive of the administration , wrote that there was a curious old document in existence known as the constitution of the united states. sinceibune continued that it appeared that no copy of this document was in washington, it's then quotes certain sections, including the section that guarantees criminals trial by jury. stanton relented somewhat.
he opened the door of the military commission to selected newspaper reporters and thus the remainder of the trial, which went on for quite a while, was reported in detail in the newspapers. one of the hundreds of witnesses who testified that one of the was at stanton's house on the night before the murders asking questions about stanton and his habits. this and other evidence suggested that stanton was not only conducting the investigation, he was conducting an investigation into his own attempted murder as well as the murder of lincoln and the attempted murder of seward. there were eight defendants ranging from lewis powell, the man who had slashed seward, to marry saran who had -- to mary surratt who ran the boarding house where john wilkes booth had stayed.
stanton trying to prove not only the guilt of those eight defendants but to prove that they were working for richmond. in my view, this was a mistake. he should have waited to try to prove the richmond/booth connection and tilly and more evidence from richmond, canada -- connection until she had more evidence from richmond, canada. the commission convicted all of the defendants and sentenced four of them to die. five members of the commission wrote a petition to president johnson recommending that mary of her age account and sex, not be executed. the sentences were not announced immediately in the newspapers because the prosecutor had to present the proposed findings
and sentences to president johnson. johnson was ill. it took a couple of days. on the fifth of july, johnson finally had the meeting. menater years, the two fought, and their allies fought, down to this day historians fight about whether johnson was showed the petition regarding mary surratt. i will take a pass on that one. whether he did or not show the petition. we know that johnson confirmed the sentences, they were announce the next day, the sixth of july, to take effect on the following day, the seventh of july, the four convicted defendants were executed on that day at about noon. endschapter of my book
with the grim picture of the four bodies hanging from the gallows on that day. stanton himself only lived four more years. he died in december of 1869, just after being nominated and confirmed to the supreme court, a position he was never able to fill. dead, weeks after he was some newspapers were claiming that stanton had died by his own hand rather than bear the torture which was his own to bear from the execution of mary surratt. the longer version of this story appeared a few years later in lack servantn's b was shaving stanton and then turned to see the razor slide across stan's throat. romantic stuff. -- dramatic stuff.
octor wrote a long newspaper article listing all the people who were present that stanton died of congestive heart failure. former found stanton's servant and got affidavits from them about the circumstances of stanton's death, particularly that there were no/marks around his neck. published book was entitled "why was lincoln murdered?" and the answer to that was simple -- stanton wanted him dead. book, stantonhe wanted lincoln out of the way because the two disagreed about reconstruction, and with lincoln gone stan could impose his own ideas.
the book argued mainly through questions. why did that first message not mention john wilkes booth by name? why did stanton deny lincoln a stronger garden ford's theater? why did stanton not give strict orders that booth was to be captured and not killed? is it possible that stanton wanted booth dead so booth could not tell his tale, pointing toward stanton's own role? you get the general drift of it. serious historians were not impressed. book,d not mention this but for the fact that in a sense this argument that stanton had a role in the assassination is alive and well. in a 2011 book by bill o'reilly -- andtin duque guard
they resurrect the argument, using the same insinuation method. they suggest at one point that that if both lincoln and johnson were killed, that stanton himself could become president. that is nonsense. in placef succession provided that the order was president, vice president, the president pro tempore of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives. the secretary of war is not on the list. if there had been an election, everyone would have said there is no chance for stanton given all the things he has done to make them unpopular would be a candidate for president.
that book, as some of you may recall, i am sure the ford's people know, there was a controversy about whether that book should be stocked in the bookstore at the ford's theater and the park service decided not to stock it, viewing it as not sufficiently serious. [applause] that is an appropriate point to applaud because i will end and field questions. seward questions, stanton questions, assassination questions, whatever you would like to ask about. [applause] yes.r: >> in your book you go over a lot of the times he had disagreements with various generals. he had an opinion about everybody. he particularly had problems with william sherman in regards to atlanta, there was an issue where sherman issued an order
about recruiting black laborers who were working with sherman's army. did stanton have an issue with sherman and did they have to have a meeting, or you have stanton going back to president lincoln, how many times was that occurring over the war and how to that complicate things? otherwise it became clear that sherman was probably not falling what the law was. as secretary of war, he has relations with all of the major generals and those range from reasonably warm in the case of grant to atrocious in the case of mcclellan. sherman is somewhere in the middle. things,ical, tactical stanton and sherman see i die. ye, and sherman
is grateful for the support the war department provides to him for the march from atlanta to the sea and the restocking in savanna and the march north end of the carolinas. the issue upon which stanton and sherman disagree is black soldiers. , from the time of the emancipation proclamation, even before the emancipation proclamation is keen to recruit blacks into the army and sherman will have none of it. areman believes that blacks not ready to be soldiers in his army and he pretty much succeeds ensuringay through in that blacks are not part of his army. this is the issue, the main issue, there are other issues that lead stanton in early 1865 to get on a boat and go down to
h and see sherman face-to-face to talk about this. of them agree two on what becomes sherman's most famous wartime's document, the special order number 15, which reserves the sea islands for blacks and says no whites can enter this space other than those with army passes. sherman liked it because it was going to keep the black refugees , who from his perspective were clogging the road, near it,nnah, and stanton liked as did his philanthropic friends in the north because it created a temporary experiment in black self-government. -sherman relationship is the most complicated because it is neither black nor white.
they get along well on some issues and not on this issue. >> a similar question. i noticed in the museum there was a single guard in the box. was shot,resident that guard was out getting a drink. was he ever identified and punished and was he ever tied in with the possible conspiracy with booth? walter: i do not know the answer to that. i think he was identified for sure. by the end of the investigation, they are the names of almost everyone who was here in the theater. whether he was punished for by ourtion of duty, standards, the security around lincoln was ridiculously lax. stanton did talk with lincoln about this from time to time.
the president said if somebody wants me dead they will kill me. it was not just that night was not security -- it just that night that the security around the president all the it was lax time, you could walk into the white house. written two interesting books which i have read, first about seward and stanton.t the heart of your stanton book, you do not get into today, but that is his service during the lincoln administration and all that he did on recruitment and direction of the army, the organization of the bureaucracy, i think you have great insight
in your book about what he did. in your book about seward referred to him as the indispensable man. it occurs to me, having read both books, that of the two, who could have replaced stanton, who could have done what he did in the way he did to lead lincoln's department of war? walter: midway through the stanton book, as i was thinking a little title, i felt like the man who published the complete book of running, and when it came time to publish the sequel, he thought about what you would call it. at some point in 186418 65, someone asked him that question and he said if i 1865, -- in 1864 or
because his health was bad, he said there were other men who could do what i was able to do. ldt was considered by lincoln as a potential secretary of war but i do not think he would have as effective as theton was in organizing war department, in organizing the army, in organizing the the northerng manpower and industrial advantages to bear steadily in fighting and reducing the south. i am not sure there were, as stanton claimed, 100 men in the north you could do the job as well as he did. i think it is a small number who could have accomplished what he did in the war department. into stanton came lincoln's cabinet he was a war democrat.
he ever actually changes political affiliation to that of a republican as he continued to support lincoln? walter: no. he lived here in the district of columbia, where one cannot vote for president and political lines. he was not a registered democrat because that concept did not exist. inhink if you had asked him 1864, when he spends a great deal of time on the lincoln reelection campaign, are you still democrat, he would say yes. i'm a union loving democrat like andrew johnson, like thousands of other union loving democrats and i would support the union party. lincoln's second presidential campaign was not run as a "rep ublican," it was run as a union party candidate. this would've been stanton's
answer in the election of 1868, when he campaigned for grant against the democratic nominee, if he had been asked are you still democrat, he would've said i still believe those things i believed as a democrat but it is far more important to preserve the union and elect grant than to continue the policies of the -- of lincoln and elect grant. have read your new book, and i believe stanton and lincoln were together in some piece of litigation before the war and had some interaction. could you refresh my memory? actually -- is stanton and lincoln are both lawyers. they are both hired on the same side of a patent case. the patent case was originally set for trial in illinois. lincoln was hired as a local
expert, the guy who would tell you the judge's pet peeves, the case was then transferred to cincinnati. no one bothered to tell lincoln that he was not needed. so he showed up. .e know he was there his name is reported in the newspapers. stanton was there, they had some interaction. said, you can find it in dozens of books that stanton insulted lincoln at that time. stanton insulted a lot of people a lot of the time. it is quite possible that he did , but when you look at the sources for that proposition, there is no letter from lincoln to his wife saying i have never been so insulted in my life as i was by that edwin stanton. there are letters from edwin stanton to his then fiance and
soon-to-be wife describing what is going on and they do not even mention lincoln. they do not say anything like that contemptible lincoln. all of the sources are after both lincoln and stanton are long dead and they are of the nature of my uncle told me that -- i am not sure. they met in cincinnati, that they had that one brief period of work on that patent case together, yes they were there together. they did know one another. over here. i need to alternate. yes? stanton was in the cabinets of two other administrations, johnson and buchanan. what is important to know about his service in the buchanan cabinet?
after the election of lincoln, buchanan's cabinet starts to fall apart. needsds a lack -- he reliable democrats to fill short-term positions. --nds close friend jeremiah jeremiah black has been the attorney general and black says here is a reliable democrat, edwin stanton, make him the attorney general. in those days it does not take months for confirmation, it is instantaneous. i was looking forward to stanton as attorney general, i said there were going to be interesting legal opinions and issues that he wrestled with -- no. non-. -- none. he wrestles with the issue of fort sumter. tohanan was debating whether hand the keys of fort sumter over to the southerners.
the cabinet debated this issue at considerable length. it is reported in great detail in the newspapers and stanton, along with black, form the do not give in block of the buchanan cabinet. stanton reportedly told buchanan to his face that if he gave up fort sumter he would go down in american history with benedict arnold, another man who gave up another fort. he was not a man to mince words. his service in the buchanan cabinet is basically arguing buchanan out of things buchanan is thinking of doing and pushing buchanan. we forget that before the firingts that led to the on fort sumter, there was the star of the west, and which buchanan tried to get arms into fort sumter and stanton was in favor of that.
buchanan's spine is the short version of stanton service during the three months he serves as attorney general for buchanan. ofu refer to stanton's use military tribunals to try, convict, and execute the conspirators which happened in less than three months. was there ever a public outcry andthe use of a civil court any involvement in the supreme -- of the supreme court? walter: that was something -- you do a book like this, you do not make huge contributions to history but i thought that was a small contribution to history. i found a number of newspapers that criticized not only the fact that a trial would occur behind closed doors, but that it would be a military trial rather than a standard criminal trial in a civilian court.
down a lotism died once the doors were opened and the newspapers had something to report. there was criticism at the time of the decision to use a military commission. first avenue stanton this was not a hard issue. from the day he became -- four stanton this was not a hard issue. from the day he became his staff used military commissions to try offenses against the law of war. spying for the confederates, sabotaging railroad bridges, but some of them when you look at them you say that feels more political than a military crime. there were thousands of military on andions, not just near the battlefield, but in ohio, indiana, new york, massachusetts. trial ofme that the
the booth conspirators came up, it was easy for stand. i do not have any documents in which he is considering the pros and cons. a jury in the district of columbia? he does not want to present his case to a jury of southern sympathizing residents of the district of columbia. he wants to present his case to a panel of generals who he chose and to answer to him. >> are you familiar with, and how ridiculous are, the conspiracy theories. one i read claimed that the guy shot in the barn was not booth but somebody named boyd and that years later john wilkes booth was cited -- was sighted somewhere else. ,alter: i am slightly familiar because i mentioned in my talks,
stanton foresaw this. knew that 20 years, 100 years later, there would be such theories. he did everything he could with the body of john wilkes booth in order to prove that this was john wilkes booth. he not only had doctors examine the body, he had john wilkes look at theist teeth and say this is john wilkes booth. body, there was a tattoo, jwb. john wilkes booth was one of the most famous actors in america. when he walked into the theater, everyone would say that is john wilkes booth. impossible as almost that it was someone other than john wilkes booth whose body was shot at the barn and brought
here and ultimately buried on stands instructions. youractually do think comment about the drug addiction with the research is very funny and very appropriate. i do not want to make it; was inappropriate. andhe point, since stanton chase were such intimate friends in the 1840's, what trajectory of friendship to they have during the lincoln administration while they are serving together? says, if youchelle had asked stanton on the day he became a member of the lincoln cabinet, which of these people sitting around the table do you know, he would've said salmon chase. they had not been as close in the immediate run-up to the war. their politics had diverged dramatically. were close friends
they were both self identified democrats. stanton remains a democrat, chase he comes a liberty party, than a free soil, then a republican. during the war there is not a lot of personal interaction. there are a few details, a letter in which stanton writes that one of his children is going to be baptized and he would like chase to be the godfather. there are more numerous or testy letters in which chase is cast ties think stanton for -- is chastising stanton for spending money to rapidly and stanton is chastising chase for not providing money quickly enough to win the war. are -- i think they are two people who remember they were once friends and they have grown apart and if you weren't asked chase who are your
best friends in washington, he would not have included, during the lincoln years, stanton on that list. i am told i have time for one last question. walter, how are you doing? it was interesting you talked about the generals having to answer to stanton. one of the things i found interesting was how little the generals thought they had to answer to stanton or lincoln. if we tried to run wars today the way they ran wars then, it is insanity. lincoln and stanton would say do this and the generals would sit there. can you talk about that a little bit? walter: the prime example of this would be general george mcclellan in 1862.
lincoln issues a presidential order -- the army shall move on washington's birthday. nothing happens. then lincoln and stanton press mcclellan to press on towards richmond, to capture richmond. he does, inch by inch. theve that this morning, original virginia creeper, creeping toward richmond. , and mcclellan is a prime example of this. because they were in the newspapers every day, they had a certain political power themselves. they had political followers. they knew that they do not have to do everything washington ordered them to do. the means of communication were much more rudimentary than we have today. yes, there were telegraphs, but the telegram often went down and
some generals were not beyond saying the telegraph lines were down when they had simply received in order they did not want to pay attention to. it is not just mcclellan. sherman, with respect to the black troops disregarded it and he was quite confident in his relationship to grant and his relationship with his brother, senator john sherman, and his power base in ohio, that he was not going to be stacked. -- he was not going to be sacked. the generals in those days felt authoritylt much more to take telegrams from washington as advisory rather than as orders. i think i am done. we will have the panel of all six of us momentarily. [applause]
avid cameron testifies about global security. unfoldsn, where history daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events aroundington, d.c., and the country. c-span