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Hanging Together: 1865

July 7, 1865. "Washington, D.C. Hanging hooded bodies of the four conspirators; crowd departing." Lincoln assassination conspirators Mary Surratt, Lewis Payne, David Herold and George Atzerodt shortly after their execution at Fort McNair. Wet plate glass negative by Alexander Gardner. View full size.

July 7, 1865. "Washington, D.C. Hanging hooded bodies of the four conspirators; crowd departing." Lincoln assassination conspirators Mary Surratt, Lewis Payne, David Herold and George Atzerodt shortly after their execution at Fort McNair. Wet plate glass negative by Alexander Gardner. View full size.


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I read that Mary Suratt died

I read that Mary Suratt died very cleanly, as she fell into the trap door hole after she rose from a chair placed on the scaffold for her on the order of the executioner. Someone held an umbrella over her since the sun was so hot, until the moment when she rose from the chair.

Lewis, witnesses said, moved his legs into a sitting position twice after he was hanging from the rope, so his neck was not broken as he dropped . He got what he deserved, I think, having done brutal things to Secretary Seward while trying to kill him (Seward survived).

Suratt aided the assassins in many ways, giving them shelter and a place to meet in her house in Washington, and providing supplies at her farm in Maryland as they tried to escape after killing Lincoln. The law applied the most serious offense of the cabal - murder of the President - to all the conspirators. She was involved with the conspirators from the beginning, even if she was not integral to the plot.

Dr. Mudd was an innocent bystander, most likely, and so was spared the gallows, but he did spend time in prison, serving selflessly to save many during outbreaks of disease in the prison. He was released to return to Maryland where he was a respected member of the community until his death.

Lewis Payne's cause of death

I have read that Lewis Payne's neck muscles were so strong that the fall did not break his neck and he died of asphyxiation. Looking at the picture, it appears to be true. So sad. I've always suspected that they weren't all guilty, primarily Mary Surratt. Dr. Mudd almost ended up hanging, too.

Christian "Wrath"

The Army officer in charge of the gallows construction and giving the signal to the soldiers to knock out the supports under the traps was Captain Christian Rath of the Seventeenth Michigan Infantry. He can be seen in several of the photographs in this series.

More discussion on these images here on Facebook.

I interviewed Rath's great-niece who lived in his household. He was haunted by nightmares of Mrs. Surratt's daughter asking why he had hanged her mother.

There are several theories as to young soldier's identity.


Capital punishment means never having to say, "You again"?

Oklahoma hanged four in 1909

When I first moved to Oklahoma forty years ago, I was befriended by a very elderly and sweet lady who was born in Ada in 1895. She remembered a public hanging of four men there when she was 14. She told me nobody was barred from attending, the entire town turned out, they sold food, drinks and balloons and even children and babies were spectators. Ada was a Wild West town with rustlers, crooks and con men and "criminals needed killing" (not my words but hers). She remembered it as a carnival atmosphere and the attitude was that they got what they deserved. Quite a departure from human rights in our civilized times.

Public Executions

There are people today who want to make all executions public. They are anti death penalty supporters who feel that if the general public sees someone put to death, no matter how mundane the execution, it may lead to its ultimate goal of banning the death penalty. My feelings are that life without possibility of parole is a worse fate.

Game, Set, Match

Yes, it is remarkable how fast they worked back in the day. My favorite example of speed in the not-so-distant past was the arrest, prosecution, conviction and execution of the fellow (Giuseppe Zangara) who tried to kill FDR in Miami. His shots were wide of the mark and he ended up mortally wounding Anton Cermak, who was standing next to President-Elect Roosevelt. The shooting happened February 15th 1933. He pled guilty almost immediately to four counts of attempted murder. Then Cermak dies after lingering in the hospital and Zangara is charged with murder. He pleads guilty to that charge too, and asks for the electric chair, and gets it after only 10 days of waiting on death row. March 20th, 1933 they light up Giuseppe in Old Sparky. 33 elapsed days. In by 9, out by 5!

Last surviving witness

of the assassination of President Lincoln appeared on "I've Got a Secret" back in 1956.

Ok this is weird

I too feel like Shorpy is spying on me. I was just tonight watching American Experience - The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and I looked up Mary Surratt online to find out more about her story. I even read about the photographer who took this picture on Wikipedia. Strange.

[Love your jammies. - Dave]

Last Words

"You can't hang me. I've got at least a dozen appeals left."

Grim Reaper

That beardless seargent facing the camera looks like Death himself, hollow eyesockets and all, posing for posterity. It's not hard to imagine a sickle in place of the bayonet.

Pot Shot

The two sergeants and the soldier in front of them have obviously turned around to see where the pot shot came from that shattered the glass just to their left.

In that order

The order is as given in the caption: Surratt, Payne, Herold, Atzerodt.

An excellent, if creepy, book on the event was published in 2009: "The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators: Their Confinement and Execution."

Family connection, sort of

My great-grandfather grew up in Bryanstown, Charles County, Maryland. One of his playmates was a son of Dr. Sam Mudd, a convicted co-conspirator who missed swinging with these people by one vote.

Many years later, my ancestor belonged to a fraternal organization in Baltimore. An applicant for membership to this group was asked if he had anything to add to what was already known about him. His reply was, "Yes. The United States of America murdered my mother, Mary Surratt."

I don't know if he was accepted or not, although Baltimore's Southern sympathies (her City Council spent the War in Fort McHenry without charges) were such that Mr. Surratt's views may have been a plus.

Mr. Surratt slipped out of Washington after the assassination. He was finally caught in Egypt many years later and brought back the the US for trial, where he was acquitted. By 1900 he had been a passenger agent for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company (Old Bay Line) for many years, which is about when my great-grandfather met him.

Their clothing

Besides Mary Surratt, who would be wearing the dress (presumably, and yes, it does it make her look fat).

Lewis Payne appears to be wearing the same outfit seen here.

David Herold seems to be the one on the far right, he's dressed in dark pants like the ones in his picture here.

That leaves George Atzerodt, who doesn't seem to have a photo here on Shorpy.

They didn't mess around back then, you were executed quickly, no time to change into something nice I guess.


I think Shorpy is spying on me as well. I just learned yesterday that woman hanging was a relative of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Only Word


Hanging Around

If this were today they'd still be on death row waiting.


There are a lot of people moving in that photo. This one young boy is stock still.

Four nooses

No waiting!

Notice the two Sergeants?

I can hear the one on the right saying, "Didja get the photo?"

Interesting timing

Is Shorpy spying on me? I'm reading Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell right now, so I've been reading about these very conspirators. Weird.

Also, this looks like a miniature almost. Much like many pics in the faux tilt shift fad that the kids are so into these days. Which is odd because Vowell's book covers feature miniatures. Hmmm.

Nice work, Shorpy.

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