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    An eyewitness account of the execution of the Lincoln Conspirators

    [The Execution of the Conspirators] Canby Brainard Alrich Autograph Letter Signed "C.B. Alrich" on letterhead of Headquarters, Middle Military Division, 10 pages, 5" x 8", [Washington, D.C.], July 7, 1865, to his "Dear Brother" (Levi Alrich). Alrich, participant and witness, served as a private in Co. B, 71st Pennsylvania, and was on Gen. Winfield S. Hancock's staff at war's-end.

    In part: "...Today and yesterday have been eventful days in this city... Yesterday on my arrival at the office I was dispatched to the Arsenal with the orders for the execution of four of the conspirators viz. Mrs. Surratt, Payne, Atzerodt, and Herold. The order I presented in person to Brvt. Maj. Genl. Hartranft, comm'd'g at the Arsenal. You may think this unpleasant duty. Well, so it was but it had to be performed. Today I witnessed the execution." He notes arriving at the Arsenal at 11 A.M. but waiting an hour and a half in the office of the military storekeeper, then going "in the prison yard... [T]hrough the kindness of the officer in immediate charge I secured a seat in a building about 50 feet from the scaffold at a large window where I had a full view of the whole proceedings. One Regt. was formed in a three-sided square enclosing the scaffold, the fourth side was... the yard wall... about 25 feet high on the top of which... was a close line of soldiers. The scaffold was about 12 or 15 feet high made of rough pine timber, the four... nooses... all suspended from the same beam. About 1:15 P.M. the prisoners were brought out, mounted the scaffold, Mrs. Surratt appeared to lose all use of her limbs, and [was] literally carried by the arms from out the prison to her chair on the scaffold. Atzerodt & Herold were also supported on either side each by two men and used their legs in walking with great difficulty. Payne walked firmly from out his cell to... the scaffold. Mrs. Surratt sat on the right and... leaned her head against the breast of her priest, who held a cross in front of her and conversed in low tones. On Mrs. Surratt's left sat Payne... perfectly composed... On Payne's left was Herold. He trembled violently and seemed to have lost all expression of face, and was of an ashy whiteness. On Herold's left came Atzerodt. He trembled more violently yet than Herold."

    After prayers by their respective clergymen, and an expression of thanks on behalf of the condemned by Rev. Dr. Gillett for the "kindness always exhibited towards them" by the trial commissioners and those who had charge of them, at "exactly 1:30 P.M. the signal was given and the trap sprung and four mortals were launched into eternity, and their souls brought before their maker. Mrs. Surratt died almost without a struggle, the others struggled more or less. Atzerodt died the hardest... While the cap was over Atzerodt's head he said in a clear and distinct voice 'Gentlemen beware' and afterwards, not so plainly, 'Who is that goes before me.' They were all taken down in about 20 minutes." Noting that he has "written... in a hurry", he states that it "was 96 in the shade here today in one of the coolest buildings in the city." A postscript adds: "Do not mention to anyone that I carried the orders."

    Together with a copy, in Alrich's hand, of a letter to him from Asst. Adjutant Gen. E.D. Townsend, War Dept., Washington, 8 May 1865, sent "Thro' Maj. Gen. Hancock", provisionally approving Alrich for a Lieutenancy in Hancock's First Corps.

    Provenance: Charles Hamilton Galleries, New York.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2008
    20th Thursday
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