Confederate Conspiracy The Saga of Caleb Quinn

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In fact, the men were plotting the kidnapping of President Lincoln. At about the same time, just blocks away, a powerfully built man forced his way into the home of the Secretary of State, William Seward, who was recovering from a carriage accident, and attacked him in his bed. They searched the house but left after finding no sign of Booth or John Surratt, who was suspected of the assault on Seward. By the late evening of April 17, however, military authorities had acquired more evidence. They again came to the boardinghouse.

This time, they took Mary and all those staying with her at the time into custody. Asked to identify him, Mary swore she had never seen him before. In fact, she had seen him several times: he was the Mr. Payne who had stayed at her house just a month before. By the time federal authorities caught and killed Booth in Virginia, Mary, Payne whose real name was Lewis Powell , and six others had been identified as his co-conspirators. While the evidence against Powell was ironclad, the cases against some of his codefendants were weaker, and it was decided to try the eight before a military commission which did not require a unanimous verdict to convict instead of in a civilian court.

The trial began in May The chief witnesses against Mary were her former boarder, Lewis Weichmann, and the tenant at her Maryland tavern, John Lloyd. They testified to two particularly damning incidents: on April 11, three days before the assassination, Weichmann had driven Mary to her tavern, ostensibly for Mary to meet with a man who owed her money. Worse, on the day of the assassination itself, Mary had received a visit from Booth.

Having heard that she was going to the tavern again, he had given her a package to hand to Lloyd, along with a message: have the guns ready, along with some whiskey, as they would be called for that very evening. Indeed, Booth and his companion, David Herold, did turn up at the tavern that evening and called for the guns and whiskey, as well as the package, which contained a field glass.

Also weighing against Mary was her suspicious claim not to have recognized Powell, who had stayed at her own house. Neither Lloyd nor Weichmann was an ideal witness, however. By all accounts, Lloyd was a heavy drinker who had been drunk when Mary saw him that fatal Good Friday, though how incapacitated he had been was debatable.

Weichmann, though sober and steady, was also compromised. He had been close friends with John Surratt and had got on well with another defendant, George Atzerodt. One witness claimed that he had shared War Department records with John Surratt and his Confederate friends, and John Surratt later insisted that Weichmann had wanted to join the conspiracy but was disqualified because he could neither ride a horse nor shoot a gun. Some believed that had Weichmann not testified so freely against his landlady, he would have been on trial himself.

Under the law at the time, criminal defendants in most American courts were not allowed to take the stand, so Mary, who under interrogation had vehemently denied knowing anything of the assassination, delivering messages about shooting irons, or recognizing Powell, had to rely on impeaching Weichmann and Lloyd. For all of their shortcomings, both witnesses proved enough to convince a majority of the commissioners that Mary Surratt was guilty of conspiring to murder the President.

Was she guilty?

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A pious Catholic who would not have wanted to have gone to her death with a lie on her lips, Mary went to the gallows insisting on her innocence, and Lewis Powell, who was certainly in a good position to know, claimed that Mary had not been complicit in the assassination, although he acknowledged that she might have known that something untoward was going on. John P.

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Brophy, a young man who was friendly with the Surratt family and Weichmann, became convinced that the latter had been coerced into giving false testimony. Weichmann himself would spend the rest of his life justifying his trial testimony and rather pathetically seeking praise for his actions. All in all, the evidence allows a case to be made by either the prosecution or the defense; indeed, the two most recent biographers of Mary, Elizabeth Steger Trindal and Kate Clifford Larson, reach diametrically opposed conclusions.

Passionately convinced after extensive research that her subject was wrongfully convicted, Campbell put forth her thesis with such vigor that the book is sometimes treated as a work of nonfiction rather than a historical novel. Unfortunately, the polemical element in this novel overshadows the characterization. Passive and listless, Mary makes a splendid martyr, but not a compelling heroine. As such, it makes for an engrossing, character-driven read. Starring Robin Wright as Mary and James McAvoy as her attorney, Frederick Aiken, the film is less concerned with her guilt or innocence than with the legality of the proceedings against her.

The film takes a number of liberties in making its points, such as giving Mary several courtroom outbursts — but it is thought-provoking and well acted. Two novels featuring Mary will be published in My own novel, Hanging Mary , to be published in March, is narrated by Mary and by her young boarder, Nora Fitzpatrick.



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