Much has been written about the evening of Friday 14 April 1865, when John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater. Now, on Footnote, you can see some of the original records of the trial, including copies of the Daily National Intelligencer which reported verbatim every question and every answer given during the ensuing court-martial of eight of the co-conspirators. Even whether the trial itself should have been conducted by a military tribunal or civilian court is debatable.
The plan was initially to kidnap Pres. Lincoln and hold him in exchange for the release of Confederate soldiers. When that failed (and apparently the new plan was not completely revealed to some of the players until the last minute), Booth decided to assign various people to assassinate not only Pres. Lincoln, but Vice-Pres. Andrew Johnson, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and Secretary of State William H. Seward, believing that the Constitution did not allow for the election of a new president under those circumstances and therefore the Union would fall in the ensuing chaos.
To summarize the plot, we have made available brief biographies of some of the key players. John Wilkes Booth and Pres. Lincoln have been pretty much covered, but the eight who were tried are covered in Story Pages here at Footnote. Most were from the South; many had owned slaves and some of them had fought in the Confederate army. All were Southern sympathizers who wanted to see the North fall. There is no mention of any of them being married except Mary, who was a widow, and possibly Edmund Spangler. Some were Roman Catholic and many people at the time thought this was a Catholic conspiracy. We credit Wikepedia with much of the information but other sources, such as Footnote, censuses and other online sites, were also used in compiling the biographies. Some of the photos were contributed by a member of Footnote.
Four were hung (including the first woman hung by order of the federal court) - Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell tried under the surname Paine, David Herold and George Atzerodt. Four (Dr Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Edmund Spangler and Michael O'Laughlen) were sentenced to imprisonment at Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida. O'Laughlen died there of yellow fever; the other three were pardoned and released in 1869 by Pres. Andrew Johnson.
Read the testimonies of witnesses and prisoners, and judge for yourself. Was this conspiracy to behead the government much broader-based than just the handful of men (and one woman) who did the deed? Find out more about the people themselves, their beliefs, and opinions others had of them. While not all of the 16 rolls of microfilm that document the "trial of the century" are online yet, you can check back as they will all become available within the next few months.
Along with events of those days in 1865, read what happened to those who survived, and see the attachments which will take you into the actual records. If you click on the arrow by the image (if it says "1 of 3" etc), the remainder of the images will appear. If you click on one of the images, you will be taken to the source or filmstrip which that image is part of, and you can then go forward or back as you please. It's a fascinating study!