Women Civil War Soldiers: Digging up the Evidence

Tintype of one of the possible women Civil War soldiers.

Tintype of a Civil War soldier, courtesy of Shelby Harriel.

Historians are a bit like detectives. They sift through evidence, weigh it, and try to leave no stone unturned.

But when they publish their results, they’re a bit like lawyers. They need to be objective enough to gain the credibility of the judge and jury, but they are still advocating. They back up their historical observations with evidence and try to draw new conclusions.

In the following guest blog, historian Shelby Harriel uses the same analogy as a springboard into her research into women Civil War soldiers. Those female warriors were actually committing a crime. They also violated the norms of Victorian society. Because of that they covered their tracks and concealed their true identities. Sometimes the army even destroyed the evidence if they were caught.

That makes women Civil War soldiers hard to research. But their contributions to the war were invaluable; the research adds a new layer of understanding to Civil War history. Shelby Harriel is writing a book on women Civil War soldiers. I met her online, through her fascinating blog, Forbidden, Hidden, and Forgotten: Women Soldiers of the Civil War, and invited her to write a guest blog. You can read more about Shelby and her book below.

Here’s Shelby Harriel with her guest blog:

Shelby Harriel

Shelby Harriel, photo by Shellie Beauchamp, courtesy of Shelby Harrriel.

I was delighted to meet Ann Marie recently.  As bloggers, researchers, and writers, we share similar experiences.  We also share a love of history.  So I was extremely honored when she asked me to contribute a guest post.  Beyond the aesthetically pleasing nature of her blog, Ann Marie has some very interesting content among her writings, most of it dealing with true crime.  It made me think of how I, as a historian, am like a detective in my search for women soldiers of the American Civil War, 1861-1865.

The Suspects

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women disguised themselves as men and fought in the Civil War.  We’ll never know exactly how many there were.

The Crime

Victorian society was strictly defined.  Women were supposed to be passive and remain in the domestic sphere.  They were expected to create life, not take it.  Therefore, the government did not allow Victorian women to serve in the military.  War was the domain of men.

Clothing defined the genders.  Women did not wear pants.  Doing so resulted in imprisonment and/or a fine, not to mention the shame that discovery would bring themselves and their family.

So when women traded in their hoop skirts for army trousers, not only did they defy the morals and mores of the times, which was unacceptable behavior, they were also breaking the law.

It is difficult to think of these women Civil War soldiers as criminals, especially since many of them made the ultimate sacrifice and lie buried in graves right next to the men with whom they served.   But, by definition, women soldiers were committing a crime.  (And so were the hundreds of thousands of boys under 18 years old who lied about their age in order to fight.)

Arrested for wearing pants.

Arrested for wearing pants? You bet. During the Civil War, it was a crime in most states for women to wear men’s attire. Cincinnati Daily Press, January 6th, 1862.

The Crime Scene

Women are reported to have fought in every major battle of the American Civil War.  They were there from the beginning to the end.

The Motives of Women Civil War Soldiers

Why would these women risk their reputation and lives for a society that did not desire their service?  There were several reasons.  A majority of them enlisted in order to avoid being separated from a loved one.  Others were trying to escape an oppressive situation.  Economic factors drove some women.  Disguised as men working in masculine-only professions, they could make more money than they ever could in the few jobs available to Victorian women.  Patriotism motivated some women to enlist while others were simply seeking adventure, not unlike their male counterparts.  Love, fear, money, duty…motives common to any good mystery story.

The Witnesses

Civilians, common soldiers, high-ranking officers, and even well-known generals bore witness to women serving in the military during the Civil War.

The Evidence

Documentation is the backbone of any historian’s arguments.  The same goes for a criminal investigator. Without supporting evidence, there is no case.  And sometimes, acquiring this evidence and documentation is challenging.  Just like investigators of a criminal case, researchers who delve into the topic of women Civil War soldiers must overcome the obstacle of subterfuge.  In order to serve in the military, these women had to disguise themselves.  They cut their hair short, wore clothes that Victorians weren’t accustomed to seeing them wear, and assumed an alias.  (Some men did this, too….enlisted under an alias that is.) When discovered, some women soldiers not only told newspaper reporters the wrong male aliases they used, but they sometimes provided a false feminine name, if any at all.  Remember, it wasn’t that difficult for Victorians to assume a new identity.  They didn’t have birth certificates or forms of identification.

How does one find an individual who doesn’t want to be found?

Chasing phantom identities

Civil War tintype.

Civil War tintype, courtesy of Shelby Harriel.

Secondary sources

Before anyone may choose to venture into this realm themselves, I would suggest purchasing a box of hair color to hide the gray hair that will be infesting your head.  Eat chocolate.  And develop an exercise regimen to relieve the stress.  Eat more chocolate and understand that you’re not going to find all of the answers.

A good place to start an investigation is to read secondary sources.  But proceed with caution.  Both period and contemporary accounts may contain errors.  Some researchers can be careless.  On the other hand, it may not necessarily be the fault of the authors.  Most historians do the best they can with the evidence available to them at the time.  It is the job of subsequent generations of researchers to uncover new findings and advance the historical narrative.  And this is why it’s important to instill the love of history in young people. As archives continue to digitize more records, the more information people from all over the world will have access to.  This is exciting!

Genealogy

After scouring secondary sources for names, dates, regiments, etc., I enter the information in a genealogy website to see if I can discover the true name of the woman soldier, attempt to complete her story by finding out what happened to her after the war, or determine whether she existed at all.

Newspaper archives

I also like to search newspaper archives for period articles.  Again, the information may be wrong.  Names were sometimes spelled phonetically, and an incorrect unit may have been mistakenly recorded.  Furthermore, the woman soldier may have chosen to lead the reporter astray in order to protect the reputation of herself and her family.  Or the reporter may have chosen to take an otherwise true story and embellish it with exciting….and incorrect….details.  And some newspaper editors simply made up the story entirely.  They were trying to make a living by selling newspapers, after all.  I try to collect as many articles as I can about an individual woman soldier.  Even though all of them may contain the same basic information, one unique sentence in a single article can make the difference in piecing together the true story.

Primary sources

All investigators question the witnesses… or they’re supposed to.  Since all of the individuals involved in my realm of research have all passed on, it is necessary to acquire their testimony by investigating their letters and diaries.  I always feel as if I’m being rude by invading someone’s personal space, but at the end of the day, they’re not around to protest.  And these primary sources provide a wealth of all sorts of interesting information.  Again, one must proceed with caution.  Soldiers sometimes merely reported camp rumors and were not personally privy to the events they were writing about.  On the other hand, I have discovered information in a letter or diary that validated a newspaper article or was a completely new find.  One thing is for sure.  These missives are not tainted with political correctness! Other primary sources such as regimental histories, prison records, court martial transcriptions, and provost marshal documents also provide invaluable information.  Some of these particular records that I have examined have supported the claims of some women Civil War soldiers while debunking others.

Service records

Service records are the gold mine of military records.  One can learn all sorts of information from them:  when and where a soldier enlisted, a physical description, an antebellum occupation, when and where the soldier was mustered out, any prison records, some medical records, and any duty the soldier was assigned to.  To a lot of people, service records are the smoking gun.  According to some, if none can be found, this is enough to disprove a woman soldier’s service.  “If they don’t exist, you must omit!”  Ah, but a prosecutor doesn’t need the murder weapon or even a body to get a conviction.  In the case of women Civil War soldiers, a lack of service records does not necessarily equate to a lack of service.  For example, there is an account of a woman killed by an exploding shell during a particular battle. The story is supported by a future president of the United States, his future brother-in-law, who was a surgeon standing next to the soldier when she was killed, and several private soldiers who recorded the event in diaries and letters.  The surgeon provided enough details to narrow down a possible unit that the soldier belonged to.  So off I went to search for her service records.  Two months later, my aching eyes and I were unable to locate any.  Nor have I been unable to find any newspaper articles about the event.  Yet it happened.

Medical records

Muster roll card for one of the women Civil War soldiers.

Civil War muster roll card for “Charles Freeman,” a woman masquerading as a man. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s—1917, RG 94; public domain.

Here’s another example. Enter Exhibit A, carded medical record and discharge document for Mary Scaberry, alias “Charles Freeman,” of the 52nd Ohio Infantry.  Obviously, she served….until she went into the hospital with a fever and ultimately discharged for “sextual incompatibility” after her true identity was discovered.  In addition to this card, newspaper articles document her story as well.  But yet there are no service records for her.  Nor does she appear on the unit’s roster.  So what happened to her records?  It could be that they were inadvertently lost or destroyed over time.  Or officials could have deliberately expunged them.  Officers were often embarrassed and angry when a woman was discovered in their unit.  They had just been fooled after all.  Also, if a woman was hired as an officer’s servant or orderly, there wouldn’t be any service records because she wouldn’t have been mustered in.  Yet she would have worn a uniform and experienced the same trials with the rest of the members of the regiment.

As for Scaberry, just like her service records, her ultimate fate also remains a mystery at this time.  After she was discharged, she went home to Columbus, Ohio, only to be spurned by her father.  Seeking employment, she then made her way to Chicago where she encountered a guard at Camp Douglas who made fun of her.  She promptly beat him up which landed her in police court.  The judge felt sorry for her and released her.  She then vanished from history, rendering the tale of her life incomplete.

Women Civil War Soldiers: Tough Cases to Prove, But Valuable Contributions to History

As we have seen, researching women Civil War soldiers is much like any courtroom drama in film or text. The evidence is gathered, crime scene investigated, witnesses interviewed, and trials held.  However, unlike most crime stories, there is no dramatic final scene….no dramatic presentation of the final piece of evidence to deliver the coup de grace as it were. But just as in these crime stories, the process of bringing the truth to light is the ultimate goal. However, there is no jury to decide the fate of these women. It is up to all of us to help solve this century old “crime.” The book never closes on a murder and it is my hope that the book will never close on the gallant and mostly unknown deeds of these courageous women.

Thank you, Shelby!

Shelby Harriel giving a lecture.

Shelby Harriel giving a lecture dressed as a Confederate soldier. Photo by Tom George Davison, courtesy of Shelby Harriel.

About Shelby Harriel:

Shelby Harriel received her B.A. in History with a minor in mathematics in May 1997 and her M.Ed. with an emphasis in mathematics and history in 2005.  She earned both degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi.  Shelby has been teaching mathematics at Pearl River Community College since 2007.

While her career has always revolved around mathematics, Shelby actively pursues her passion for history through research, exchanging ideas, and speaking to the public.  For her efforts, Pearl River Community College bestowed upon her the Outstanding Humanities Instructor award in 2014.  She is also a member of the speaker bureau of the Mississippi Humanities Council.

Papers/Articles

“The Third Mississippi Infantry and Hancock County”

“A Different Look at the Yankee Invaders:  Two Women Disguised as Male Soldiers in Louisiana”

“A ‘Hole’ New Perspective:  A Woman Soldier at the Crater”

“Bully For Her:  Women Who Served Openly as Women”  

Shelby is currently writing a book on women soldiers of the Civil War, Forbidden, Hidden, and Forgotten: Women Soldiers of the Civil War.

You can follow Shelby on Facebook too, where you’ll receive updates about her book.

 

 

 

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Rape in the Civil War

An Interview with Author Kim Murphy

Crying woman. Both white and black women were victims of rape in the Civil War.

Crying woman. Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain.

 Every once in a while, a book comes along that shifts the tectonic plates in my understanding of history.

I used to practice law and was the prosecutor for parole revocation hearings in a ten-country region for Washington State. I’m familiar with elements of the crime of rape. I’m familiar with the questions defense attorneys pose about consent during cross-examination. You’re probably familiar with them too from crime films and books.

What the public never saw was the rape victims in my office when I prepared them for the hearings. They wept. They vented anger. And often, they oozed fear and frustration. It’s not easy to face your rapist in the courtroom, but it’s necessary if we want to send the rapist to prison. Without question, the hardest part of my job as a prosecutor was to lend courage to a frightened rape victim, to convince her to put her fears aside and take the witness stand for the public good.

I wasn’t always successful.

Nevertheless, once a victim agrees to testify, our modern criminal justice system takes a pretty good stab at sifting guilt from innocence, and I naively assumed that had always been the case in United States history. I never realized how much rape laws had changed over time.

My introduction to 19th-century rape laws

Never realized, that is — until I read Kim Murphy’s I Had Rather Die: Rape in the Civil War. Murphy’s non-fiction book is not only a survey of rape in the Civil War but an eloquent testimony to prejudice. Prejudice against African Americans, prejudice against foreigners, and above all, prejudice against women. Prejudice that happened in the very location that’s supposed to be the most impartial place of all: the courtroom.

Kim Murphy joins us for an interview about rape in the Civil War. Watch out for the double standard she offers of a criminal soldier who holds a gun to two victims’ heads, a man’s and a woman’s. Look out for her discussion of Sir Matthew Hale and 19th-century rape laws. And take note of the age of consent. Those are things I never learned in law school. They shocked me to the core. And I think they will shock you too.

You can read more about Kim Murphy below.

If this post changes your understanding of the history of rape laws, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Welcome, Kim Murphy!

Kim Murphy presenting a lecture.

Kim Murphy presenting a lecture. Courtesy of Kim Murphy.

 What got you interested in the subject of rape in the Civil War?

While researching my Civil War fiction, I kept coming across the topic of rape. Some Civil War historians stated that it was uncommon or “rare.” Originally, I took them at their word, but the more I researched the war, I began to doubt their claim. I thought it was time the women involved had a voice, which is why I ended up writing I Had Rather Die: Rape in the Civil War. The title comes from a woman’s testimony during a court-martial. She said she’d rather die than to have been raped.

Some authors claim the Civil War was a “low-rape war.” Why has this view been so entrenched?

I think part of the view comes from the fact that few soldiers were executed for the crime of rape during the war. With rape being a capital crime during the 19th century, some historians have used that basis for their “low-rape war” belief. As time went on, the belief was repeated without any facts behind it. Some, I believe, also romanticized the war, claiming the soldiers from the Civil War practiced gentlemanly “self-restraint.” Such a belief ignores the problem we still deal with today, where most rapes are never reported.

What do the facts say?

A Civil War court martial.

A Civil War court martial, sketch by Alfred R. Waud, 1862. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division; no known restrictions on publication.

Researchers E. Susan Barber and Charles F. Ritter state that approximately 450 sexual crime cases were heard in Union courts-martial. I personally found over 400 accounts of molestation or rape in the Civil War for my database. Although most were court-martial cases, not all were. Some came from diaries, letters, newspapers, and the Official Records of the two armies. The latter sources show that many cases never made it to trial. The men who were actually charged with the crime rarely got more than a slap on the hand. Some of the sentences were ridiculous, such as their heads being shaved and their getting drummed out of their regiments.

As for the statistics of STD cases, the official report from the United States Surgeon General’s Office stated there were 109,397 cases of gonorrhea and 73,382 cases of syphilis among the U.S. white troops. This report doesn’t include black soldiers or the Confederates. If the Confederate records ever existed, I’m sure they were lost along with most of their other records at the end of the war. In any case, these statistics show that gentlemanly restraint was somewhat lacking.

Are you able to draw any broad conclusions based on the data for rape in the Civil War?

Of the rapes that were reported and went to court-martial, black soldiers frequently received harsher sentences than white soldiers. Of the white soldiers, foreign-born soldiers were more likely to receive harsher punishment. Nearly thirty soldiers were executed for rape or attempted rape. More than half were black, even though they made up 10% of the Union forces. Most of the white soldiers who received the death penalty were accused of other crimes in addition to rape.

As for the victims, conclusions are difficult to arrive at since most rapes are never reported. Those that went to court-martial, upper-class white women were believed more often than poor white women or black women. Poor white women and black women essentially had to prove their cases, since both were regarded as “promiscuous.”

Another factor that many don’t take into account is that during wartime, most reported rapes are during times of occupation. At other times, armies were on the move or engaging in combat. During these times, the authorities had difficulty finding enough officers for judges to hold a court-martial, and women who had been raped wouldn’t have known to whom or where to report the crime.

There are more recorded instances of Union rapists that Confederate rapists. Why is that?

Many of the Confederate records were lost during the retreat and burning of Richmond. Even though few records remain, however, similarities can be seen. Women had to prove they had been raped.

The most shocking thing about your book, at least for me, was the state of the rape laws in the 19th century. Why was a woman required to fight for her life before a court would consider it a rape?

Painting of Sir Matthew Hale.

Painting of Sir Matthew Hale, 1670, by John Michael Wright [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The rape laws for all of early America came from Sir Matthew Hale, an influential 17th-century English judge:

It is true that rape is a most detestable crime, and therefore ought severely and impartially to be punished with death; but it must be remembered, that it is an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, tho never so innocent.

His words echoed throughout courtrooms well into the late-20th century. Basically, his declaration laid the groundwork that women frequently lied about being raped, and it was very difficult for men to prove their innocence. At the time of the Civil War, chastity was regarded as a virtue, so a woman was expected to put up a fight in order to be believed. If she had no bruises or any kind of trauma to her body, she was regarded with suspicion and believed to have most likely given her consent.

An interesting side note: Sir Matthew Hale was also a judge for witchcraft trials. At least two women were hanged when he presided.

So if a man held a gun to a woman’s head and said he would kill her, and if the woman was scared to death and submitted, that would have counted as consent? And did that actually happen?

An unidentified African-American woman in the Civil War era. Both black and white women were victims of rape in the Civil War.

Unidentified African American Woman, United States, 1860-1870. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. No known restrictions on publication.

Yes to both questions. In one particular case, Private Ennis went to the home of Mary Harris in North Carolina. At gunpoint, he asked the women of the household if either would have sex with him. When they said no, he threatened them.

Mary said she was an “old woman with a heap of children.” The private turned to her daughter, Caroline. He took her to another room and locked the door behind them. At that point, he put his gun down, then raped her.

On the same day, Ennis had robbed another man at gunpoint, then attempted to rob another. The second man was also armed and turned Ennis in to the authorities.

At the court martial, Caroline was repeatedly badgered by Ennis in cross-examination. During the Civil War era, the accused often couldn’t afford an attorney, and there was no right to free representation during this time, so the defendants frequently represented themselves. As a result, a woman often faced intense questioning from her rapist.

Ennis never denied what happened but claimed that Caroline “yielded from fear of death.” He was found not guilty for rape, but guilty on the robbery charges, even though the man offered no resistance during the robbery.

And the age of consent was ten? Are there cases of girls that young who got raped and were deemed to have consented?

The age of consent was ten in most states. Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana, and Iowa set the age at twelve. Arkansas established the age to coincide with a girl’s first period, which tended to be several years later than modern girls.

If the case went to trial, a girl of ten was more likely to be believed than an adolescent or an adult. Many girls’ ages, especially slaves, were not given in the records, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how old some were. So yes, I’ve come across records where young girls were raped and said to have consented. When young girls were involved, the soldiers were found guilty more often, but the girls were still frequently asked questions during the testimony as to whether they had contributed to the act.

In one case of a ten-year-old girl, she was raped at gunpoint. A doctor confirmed she had been raped and feared she might die from blood loss. Yet, at court-martial, she was asked questions that indicated she might have tempted her rapist by touching him. The private was found guilty on several charges in addition to rape and was sentenced to be shot, but most of the charges, including rape, were dropped on a technicality because the locality where the rape had taken place wasn’t listed. In the end, the private escaped to Canada.

What has been the scholarly reaction to your book?

I’ve received a couple of excellent reviews, including one from Choice, but the Civil War historians have pretty much ignored the book. I have a feeling they find the topic of rape in the Civil War uncomfortable.

Thank you, Kim!

Kim Murphy's book, I Would Rather Die: Rape in the Civil War.

Kim Murphy’s book, I Would Rather Die: Rape in the Civil War. Book cover image courtesy of Kim Murphy.

 About Kim Murphy:

Award-winning author Kim Murphy has written historical and historical-fantasy fiction. Her published articles consist of a wide range of subjects, from seizures in the Belgian sheepdog to various topics of the 17th and 19th centuries. From her research for her fiction, Kim learned that historians incorrectly assumed rape was rare during the Civil War. Seven years of researching and writing went into her only nonfiction title to date, I Had Rather Die: Rape in the Civil War. The title was taken from a rape survivor’s testimony during a court-martial case. Her Civil War ghost stories, Whispers from the Grave and Whispers Through Time, have won several awards, including ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, an IPPY (Independent Publisher Book awards), as well a nomination for RT Reviewer’s Choice award.

Kim Murphy maintains a website at www.kimmurphy.net.

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Jack the Strangler: Guest Post by Author Brian Forschner

Investigation of the Jack the Strangler cases started with a clue in a coffin.

Investigation of the Jack the Strangler cases started with a clue in a coffin. (c) Kzenon, via Shutterstock, with permission.

Not long after Jack the Ripper terrorized Whitechapel, another serial murderer stalked Ohio. The press dubbed this new killer “Jack the Strangler.”

When a University of Dayton criminal justice instructor discovered his great-aunt was one of the strangler’s victims, his curiosity drove him to the archives. Blowing the dust off old newspaper reports revealed a few surprises. Not only did this case receive international media attention, his family also became intricately involved in the investigation because his great-grandmother found a clue in her daughter’s coffin.

Brian Forschner joins us today to tell us how he discovered the case and to introduce his new book, Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders.

Discovery in the cemetery

Brian Forschner in the cemetery.

Brian Forschner in the cemetery. Courtesy of Brian Forschner.

I’m not sure what possessed me to take a lunch break that day, maybe it was having taught three intro courses to freshmen in the University of Dayton Criminal Justice Program. I decided to go across the street to the Woodland Cemetery (the Wright Brothers are buried there) and have a sandwich. Knowing I had some relatives buried there, I stopped by the office and rifled through the card catalogue. Under “Forschner” I found grandparents and great grandparents but found an outlier, a 15-year-old Mary Forschner who died on January 23, 1909. I immediately thought “There must be other Forschners in the area. I’ve never heard of her.” Within days I obtained her death certificate and, under “cause of death,” found “strangulation by the hand.” More stunningly, she was my grandfather’s sister. I saw him often when I was growing up! She was never mentioned.

Brian Forschner discovers the “Jack the Strangler” cases

I began searching newspapers around the date she died. I was astounded to find her face filling the front page of newspapers around the country. Not only that, but crime reporters were tying her death to that of several other women, which the New York Times had apparently named the “Jack the Strangler Murders.” Over a period of four years I read hundreds of newspaper articles and editorials in papers around the U.S. with references to some in Europe, searched death certificates, autopsies, and trial records where available. I read the newspapers out at least 9 months after each death to see if the murders were solved. They were all cold cases, police records long destroyed. I had to write a book on this, possibly a series of short stories since these cases had been cold for over 100 years.

Mary Forschner was a victim of Jack the Strangler.

Dayton newspaper article about Mary Forschner’s murder. Public domain.

Hundreds of crime reporters asking different questions from different standpoints gave me snippets of information about the girls and their cases, enabling me to piece together their personalities. I wanted to tell their stories, as telling their stories would be a way to grant them some justice and show that they were just that, young girls murdered and raped, never allowed to grow up, long forgotten, families forever shamed and socially victimized. My training had been in philosophy and logic at the undergraduate level and human behavior and psychology at the doctoral level. I had been a probation officer and operated a group of halfway houses for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Ohio Department of Corrections, so I felt reasonably well armed to use one of the primary forensic techniques of the time, what some have referred to as “circumstantial logic.” Without eyewitnesses or confessions (forensics was in its infancy), would a reasonable person, given a preponderance of circumstantial evidence, be prepared to convict? This forensic thinking was buttressed by a perfect storm of the literature and press of the time, which painted a picture of the typical criminal, namely as a ruffian or animal, much like Poe did in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”(an orangutan did it!). This view was supported by the quintessential cold case of all time, Jack the Ripper, and, a disciple of Poe’s, Conan Doyle. Doyle showed that even an untrained individual like Sherlock Holmes could solve mysteries by using simple logic and determination. After all, solving crimes was “elementary.”

Clue in the coffin

Author Brian Forschner wrote a book about the Jack the Strangler cases.

Brian Forschner, with permission.

My editor loved the Jack the Strangler stories, but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to know who did it. It wasn’t until reading about the viewing of Mary Forschner in the parlor of my great-grandmother’s home, when in anguish she was helped to the casket and bent over to kiss Mary goodbye, that it came together. Great grandma immediately was shaken from her sobbing when she noticed that something was missing, something precious! She cried out to all present. Detectives in attendance rushed to the casket. They had missed it in their investigation.

“Aha,” I thought to myself! “How could I have missed it? The other four girls were the same MO, murdered and then raped, souvenirs had been taken, the crime was brazen, in full site of potential witnesses, a crime on the anniversary date of another crime, and I could trace all but one of the girls to the same bus stop.” Yet, it would not be until I came across an article written several years later about an arrest and conviction for an unrelated offense that I found the murderer/rapist.

My verdict is for you to judge. Read Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders. Get to know these girls, their stories, and the shame and disgrace their families endured. Tell me if you agree. A critical clue is in the clasped hand on the cover of the book, Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders © 2016 by Morgan James Publishers.

Brian Froschner's book about Jack the Strangler.

Cold Serial book cover, courtesy of Brian Forschner.

You can visit Brian Forschner’s website to learn more.

Have you ever discovered old family secrets like Brian Forschner did?

 

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No-Body Murder Cases: Proof Bristling with Pitfalls

No-body murder cases are the toughest to prosecute.

Blood is a common piece of forensic evidence in a no-body murder case. Photo from Pixabay.

Anatomy of a No-Body Murder Case

This was a prosecutor’s nightmare.

Jessica O’Grady’s made her last cell phone call to her friend Keri Peterson at 11:29 pm on May 10, 2006 in Omaha, Nebraska. The 19-year old was near her boyfriend’s home. At 11:48 pm, she called her boyfriend, and 45 minutes later texted Keri.

No one ever heard from Jessica again.

When Jessica didn’t return home to her roommates and pet cat, her friends consulted with each other and bombarded her cell phones with messages. Jessica never answered. Two days later, Jessica’s aunt checked in with Jessica’s mother, who had no explanation for the girl’s disappearance. Jessica’s uncle called the police. Concern mounted when she failed to show up for work, pick up her paycheck, and didn’t show for a softball game.

In the course of questioning all the people who’d recently been in contact with Jessica, the police paid a visit to the boyfriend. He allowed them to search his bedroom, and when the police flipped his mattress over, they found it drenched with damp blood. There was so much blood the police were certain someone had either died or was in critical medical condition. Luminol showed blood splatters around the room. Further examination showed the boyfriend had tried to cover them up with white paint. DNA testing later proved it was Jessica’s blood in the mattress and splattered around the room. And the boyfriend’s browsing history showed he was studying human arteries the day before Jessica disappeared.

The boyfriend, Chris Edwards, never admitted to doing anything to Jessica. He insisted the blood had a simple explanation: Jessica had her period. You can view a photo of the mattress by clicking here and scrolling down to March 28, 2008.

What do you think? Crime or natural causes?

But where was Jessica? Intensive search efforts failed to recover a body and Edwards remained tight-lipped. Identification of a murder weapon was uncertain.

The prosecutor had a tough decision to make. A no-body murder case is the hardest to prove. And the prosecutor has only one chance. The constitutional double jeopardy clause protects defendants from being tried more than once for the same crime, even if a body is found later. For that reason, many prosecutors prefer to wait for the discovery of a body.

Jessica’s case was once of those rare instances in which a prosecutor went forward with a no-body murder prosecution and secured a conviction. John Ferak’s recent book, Body of Proof, provides excellent background into Jessica’s case if you want to read more. The case became more complicated after the conviction because a detective was convicted of planting evidence in other cases.

Expert testimony can be crucial in a no-body murder case.

Expert testimony can be crucial. Photo from Pixabay.

Trying No-Body Murder Cases

I still remember learning about no-body murder cases in law school. The hard part is proving someone died without a body. A killing is an element of the crime of murder, and the best way to prove a killing is with a dead body. Without the body, there is always a chance the victim could turn up somewhere, alive.

Blood – lots of it – is the usual cornerstone of proof in a no-body murder case, our professor told us. You can couple that with expert medical testimony on how much blood loss would cause a death.

But how do you prove how much blood is in a mattress? Do you have to bore samples throughout the material to see how deep the material is saturated? In Jessica’s case, the defense tried pouring pig’s blood onto the same type of mattress to test how much blood the original mattress had, but getting the blood to saturate in the same pattern and to the same depth is an inexact science.

According to a new book on prosecuting no body murder cases, most evidence of the death fall into one or more of three categories: (1) forensic evidence, like blood loss, (2) a confession to a friend who snitches, and (3) confession to the police. And if it can pull together enough evidence, the prosecution often succeeds in obtaining a conviction. Prosecutor and author Ted DiBiase maintains a website listing 444 non-body murder trials in the USA as of June, 2015, and 80% of them were successful.

Abraham Lincoln successfully tried a no-body murder case.

Abraham Lincoln successfully tried a no-body murder case. Photo from Pixabay.

Abraham Lincoln Tried a No-Body Murder Case

Abraham Lincoln was without a doubt the most famous lawyer to have ever tried a no-body murder case. He and two other lawyers represented Archibald and William Taylor. They were charged with murdering another man.

Like Jessica, the victim had disappeared, and despite an intensive search, no body was found. The attorney general interrogated and plied the defendants’ brother for two days, who denied everything. But finally he gave in under pressure and said the defendants had confessed to the murder. He also offered a fourth category of evidence: eye witness testimony. He said he’d seen the defendants with a dead body. The prosecution thought it had an airtight case, even without a body.

But what Lincoln did next not only proved the pitfalls of any no-body murder case, it also showed the danger of an over-enthusiastic police interrogation leading to a false confession. Lincoln found the victim alive. A man named Myers arrived in Springfield, bringing the victim “in full life and proper person.” The victim suffered from amnesia and could not explain why he had left the defendants and disappeared. But dead he was not, and the judge dismissed the case.

Lincoln later published a short story about his no-body murder case, which might have made him the first true crime author in U.S. history. You can read his story here.

If you were sitting on a jury, what kind of evidence would convince you of a murder even if no body had been found?

Literature on point:

Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, vol. 1 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)

Tad DiBiase, No-Body Homicide Cases (CRC Press, 2014)

John Ferak, Body of Proof: Tainted Evidence in the Murder of Jessica O’Grady? (Evergreen, CO: Wildblue Press, 2015)

Abraham Lincoln, The Trailor Murder Mystery (public domain)

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New Discoveries about the Lincoln Assassination: Interview with Author Michael W. Kauffman

Michael W. Kauffman

Author Michael W. Kauffman (Owings) has written a book about John Wilks Booth and the Lincoln Assasination titled “American Brutus”. Photo by: J. Henson, courtesy of Michael Kauffman.

No, John Wilkes Booth did not break his leg jumping from the balcony after he shot Abraham Lincoln. He probably didn’t even hurt himself. At least not then.

New insights into the Lincoln assassination don’t necessarily require the discovery of documents hidden away in an attic. One researcher demolished the broken-leg-in-the-theater myth with a rather mundane tool: his computer. And his data analysis helped him sift out new facts about Booth’s plots as well.

Michael W. Kauffman, author of American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, actually jumped onto the Ford’s Theatre stage to prove his point. But the heart of his 30-year-long research was his computer. It facilitated daily and hourly analysis of the events to a depth that no other researcher has accomplished before.

Michael W. Kauffman joins us for an interview about one of the greatest crimes of American history. And some of his answers might surprise you.

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth; Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, public domain.

Ann Marie: One premise of your book is a new analysis of evidence with modern data analysis techniques. How did that provide new insights into the Lincoln assassination?

Michael Kauffman: The computer analysis made a world of difference in the way I thought of the assassination, and particularly in the way the plot developed. By keeping every event anchored to a particular time and place, I was able to get a much better idea of movements and connections among people. I learned to keep everything in context — not looking ahead or anywhere beyond a person’s field of vision at any given time. In this way, the conspiracy unfolded one day (and even one hour) at a time, just as it did in real life.

By selective filtering, I was able to find out who knew (or might know) what at any given time; what they couldn’t possibly know; and what previous events might have inspired or affected certain actions by Booth and the conspirators. In a second or two, I could sort out everything that happened, say, at the Surratt Tavern on a given day. I could also call up everything that happened there that involved a certain person or group of people. That’s how I found out that on March 18, when John Surratt, David Herold, and George Atzerodt were hiding the weapons at the tavern, they were almost caught by Atzerodt’s brother, John, who happened to be there at the same time.

Looking back, I was never able to find any account of the plot that actually laid out the conspiracy’s development in detail. Nobody had ever noticed that Booth formed a plot with Arnold and O’Laughlen, then formed a second plot with Surratt and the others. The first two conspirators knew nothing about the rest of them until they all got together at Gautier’s. That’s one reason it was such an explosive meeting. And putting things in a larger context, we can also see how Booth’s ostensible plan to capture Lincoln near the Soldiers’ Home grew into something entirely different right around January 18th. That’s when he moved Arnold and O’Laughlen to another location and started scouting around Ford’s Theatre. It’s no coincidence that the government resumed its exchange of prisoners at about that date as well. Booth no longer had an excuse for capturing Lincoln, but he never stopped plotting.

Having a computer track events was an enormous help because it wouldn’t let me omit anything unless I made a conscious decision to do so. That forced me to give some thought to even the smallest details, and I learned a lot from that exercise.

 

Lincoln Assassination

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by Gibson & Co., 1870; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, public domain.

How long have you been researching the Lincoln assassination?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in Abraham Lincoln, but my thoughts really never turned to the assassination until John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963. It was an electrifying event, and soon afterward I started to see comparisons with the death of Lincoln. That was fascinating, and I read as much as I could find on the topic from that point on. I visited the Lincoln Tomb in 1965 and was absolutely hooked. But probably the turning point was in November of 1969, when I read Jim Bishop’s book The Day Lincoln Was Shot. He laid out the story so clearly and vividly, I felt I knew everything there was to know about the topic. I was already compulsive about writing, and Bishop inspired me to try my hand at writing a full-scale book about the Lincoln assassination. I typed out a couple hundred pages, and was quite pleased with myself until I actually went back and read it from the beginning. It needed work, for sure, but I had become more interested in learning about the case than writing about it. I kept at it, and as soon as I turned 18, I moved to Washington to be near the sources. I assumed I could finish the book in about a year, but it actually took a bit longer than that; the publication date of American Brutus was 30 years to the day after my arrival in Washington.

The short answer: I got serious about research at the end of 1969, and have been at it ever since.

Lewis Powell, conspirator

Lewis Powell, by Alexander Gardner, 1865; Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, public domain.

The body of one conspirator went missing for over 100 years. How did that come about? And how was it discovered again?

I’ve always felt that history revolves around the people who took part in it. It’s really all about people, and if we get to know the characters in the story, we can go a long way to understanding how and why they acted as they did. As any genealogist can tell you, gravesites are often the key to unlocking a wealth of information, and I’ve gone to extremes to find and visit the final resting places of all those who figure in this drama.

To that end, I made quite a few trips to Geneva, Florida in search of information about Lewis Powell. This little hamlet is not far from Orlando, and it’s where Rev. George C. Powell and his family settled after the assassination. A few of us (Betty Ownsbey among them) always wondered whether Powell might be buried there. His body had been moved a few times after his execution, and was no longer accounted for. But my trips to Florida turned up very little, and nobody in the family would even talk to me.

It was about 18 years later, in early 1993, that I got a call from Stuart Speaker, a former park ranger from Ford’s Theatre. Stuart was then working as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian, and had just found a skull with an accession card that identified it as the cranium of a white male, Mr. P____ who was “hung” at Washington on July 7, 1865 for attempting to kill Secretary Seward.

Of course, I paid a visit the next morning, and stood face to face with Powell himself. There was no question in my mind about the identity. Powell had a strikingly asymmetrical jawline, having broken his jaw as a child, and the skull really did look like the man in the photos.

I still had the names and addresses of people in Florida, and I wasted no time in calling Lorraine Yarborough Whiting, the caretaker of the cemetery. She had been quite kind to me on my visits, and I knew that she was well acquainted with me and with the Powell relatives. I got a call back from the relatives in a matter of minutes.

The Smithsonian wanted to verify the identity, so they sent the skull to the FBI Lab, and I supplied them with ten different photos of Powell to help the process.  When the results were in, the family wrote and requested that the remains be returned to them for burial. To my surprise, the Smithsonian initially refused. Months went by, and they put forth all kinds of arguments for keeping the skull right where it was, but ultimately they sent it by Fed Ex to Powell’s next of kin, a great grand-niece.

Hanging the conspirators: the drop. Photo by Alexander Gardner, 1865; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, public domain

Hanging the conspirators: the drop. Photo by Alexander Gardner, 1865; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, public domain

You even participated Lewis Powell’s reburial….

[Lewis Powell’s great grand-niece] called and asked if I would come down for a service at the cemetery on July 7th. My wife and I were expecting a baby within two weeks, so the event was postponed until our daughter was old enough to travel. Finally, on November 11, the family got together with a few friends and heard a nice eulogy by Betty Ownsbey as Louis Powell was buried next to his mother. There were no uniforms, no Confederate flags, and no references to any of the horrors of April, 1865. It was quite dignified.

We never really figured out why the skull ended up at the Smithsonian. It was turned over to them by Alfred H. Gawler, a clerk at the Army Medical Museum. Apparently the museum had acquired it sometime after Powell’s last known resting place, Graceland Cemetery, was disbanded in the 1870s and 1880s. The body had been moved there from Holmead Cemetery when the latter was developed just a few years earlier. Notices had been put in the paper, but apparently the Powells didn’t often read the Washington Star at their home in Florida, so they never claimed the remains when the rest of Holmead’s residents were evicted. (The Washington Hilton occupies the site of the cemetery today.)  And Powell wouldn’t have been at Holmead in the first place if not for a public-spirited person or group who agreed to pay for burial there when the Washington Arsenal — site of the execution and first burial — was demolished in 1869. But records are sketchy and they sometimes contradict one another. We only know where Powell’s skull ended up. And what about the rest of him? It’s anybody’s guess. It might have been decomposed too badly to recover, and then again, the Medical Museum may have taken only what they had room to store. I don’t know.

The by-product of this was the discovery of new information from the Powell family, who shared their family treasures with Betty and me.

John Wilkes Booth leaps from the balcony in Ford's Theatre.

Booth leaps from the balcony; Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, public domain.

Your book makes a good argument that the story about Booth breaking his leg when he jumped from the balcony onto the stage at the theater is a myth. How did he really break his leg?

It’s never easy being the one to tear down a good story, and the Revenge of Old Glory was one of those cherished bits of folklore that really doesn’t want to die.

I gave tours of the Booth Escape Route for 30 years or so, and on one of those tours someone asked when the authorities first learned that Booth had broken his leg. I couldn’t say for certain, but I promised to get an answer. Surely, I thought, the people in the audience at Ford’s knew the assassin had hurt himself. He limped across the stage, and by some accounts, barely got out ahead of the pursuers. At least that’s how the story usually went. But as I mulled it over, it occurred to me that in all the notices that went out in the first week after the shooting, I never saw any reference to a possible injury. Everyone was desperate to catch Booth, and the government had published minutely detailed descriptions of him in the papers as well as circulars and handbills. There was no mention of a broken leg, or even a sprain.

Going back to the database, I was struck by the complete lack of evidence about a leg injury. Eyewitnesses said that Booth ran, darted, glided, bounded or hurried across the stage — but he didn’t limp. As he mounted his horse, left foot in the stirrup, the animal pulled out from under him, and it took a tremendous amount of strength and dexterity — all balanced on that one leg — to gain control and ride off. Maybe he was still too pumped up to notice the pain, but it was quite a while before he reached the Navy Yard Bridge, and the sergeant there saw no sign of agitation or agony. He let Booth cross.

It was not until Booth reached the Surratt Tavern that he really shows signs of having injured himself. From that point on, he would tell many people that his horse tripped and rolled over on him, breaking his leg. He never gave any other explanation, but finding himself accused of a cowardly act, he wrote a brief rebuttal in his pocket diary. This was a grossly exaggerated account of the shooting and escape, and almost everything in it has been dismissed out of hand. The only exception is the phrase “in jumping broke my leg.” This has been taken to mean that he broke his leg while jumping out of the box. I suppose that’s what Booth wanted people to think.

In the course of their investigation, authorities gathered statements from many people who had encountered Booth and David Herold in their flight. They paid little attention to the details, and even less where the getaway horses were concerned. But a few things stood out, and they’ve never been contradicted. First, Booth had rented a small bay mare with a very spirited disposition. A few people called attention to her high-strung qualities during the afternoon of April 14th, and Booth always dismissed concerns with a boast about his fine horsemanship. He rode that horse out of Baptist Alley that night, and six hours later, he arrived at Dr. Mudd’s on a different horse. Booth had switched horses with Herold, whose rented mount happened to be noted for its gentleness and ease in the saddle. When Mudd’s farmhands were asked to describe Herold’s horse, they said that it was lame. It had apparently tripped and rolled on its left side, and its shoulder was swollen. The horse limped.

Booth didn’t often tell the truth, but in the case of the broken leg, he seems to have gotten as close as he ever did. He undoubtedly pushed his horse a good deal, and at some point in the darkeness, the horse stumbled and rolled on its side. Booth’s fibula had snapped sideways just a couple of inches above the ankle. It is one of the most common equestrian injuries, but one that has never been associated with a jump from a high place.

As part of your research, you jumped from the balcony to the stage in the reconstructed Ford’s theater. What was that like? Did you hurt yourself?

I actually jumped from a 14-foot ladder on the stage, and it really was no big deal. I’ve spoken with a few actors who actually did make the same jump, and they also reported it was nothing to write home about. The only exception was Jack Lemmon, who made the leap (from a studio replica of the box) on live TV in 1955. Lemmon told me that it “hurt like hell,” but was only sprained.

Major Henry Rathbone

Major Henry Rathbone. Photo by Matthew Brady, Wikipedia, public domain.

You tell the sad story of Henry Rathbone and his fiancée, the two people sitting with the Lincolns in the balcony that fateful night. What happened to them after they married and moved to Germany?

The story of Henry and Clara is one of the most tragic episodes connected with the assassination. Henry retired from the army in 1867 and he married Clara the following day (if I remember correctly). They moved into a house on Jackson Place, across from the White House, and eventually had three children.

Henry had a restless spirit — perhaps boredom had set in, but just as likely, he was tormented by his memories of the assassination. At some point he and Clara decided to get away for a while, and they moved to Hannover, Germany. There, on the night of December 23rd, Henry went into a strange fit and Clara (who had seen this sort of thing before) yelled for their nanny to lock the children in their room. They heard screams and a gunshot, and after a period of silence, the nanny opened the door and found Henry and Clara in a heap on the floor. Clara was dead from a gunshot wound, and Henry was badly injured with a self-inflicted knife wound. It was as though he had re-enacted the assassination in some bizarre way.

Henry was taken to an asylum in the village of Hildesheim, where he lived out his days. He died in 1911.

As I always say, the list of Booth’s victims included many people, not just Lincoln and Seward. In the 1970s I contacted  a granddaughter of Henry and Clara, and she brought out some family treasures to show me. There were many reminders of those two tragedies, and it occurred to me that their lives came to be defined by what happened in Ford’s Theatre. They could never escape the feeling that they had survived, and that sense of guilt proved too much for Henry to bear. When I contacted Mrs. Hartley, she told me that nobody had ever asked about her grandparents, and she wasn’t even sure of what she might have from them. I couldn’t help thinking that for many years, nobody had dared to bring it up. It was just too unpleasant.

Has anyone ever researched the Rathbone case based on the German archives?

In the early 1990s I gave a bus tour and mentioned the fate of Major Rathbone. A woman on the bus was excited to hear it. She had grown up in Hildesheim, and her mother still lived there. Her mother enthusiastically dug out some old records and newspaper articles, and she translated them for me. Subsequently, much has been written about the Rathbones — most notably, a fine book called Worst Seat in the House, by Caleb Jenner Stephens. And, by the way, I can always recommend a work of fiction on the topic. I think that Thomas Mallon’s novel Henry and Clara is one of the finest books I’ve ever read.

Thanks so much, Mr. Kauffman, for your comments and all the work that went into your fascinating book.

 

Which part of Michael Kauffman’s research surprised you the most?

 

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The 1864 Gold Hoax and its Impact on Union Troops

Gold hoax involved a gold investment.

Morguefile free photos

Might one crime have influenced the course of the Civil War? Yes, according to one researcher. The 1864 Gold Hoax blew a cannon ball through Lincoln’s efforts to build up the Union troops. It also highlights one of the strangest coincidences in the war. And this week marks the hoax’s 151st anniversary.

Shocking News about the War Drove up the Gold Price

newsboy

Newsboy, ca. 1853. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, public domain

It all started on May 18, 1864. At that time, things were starting to look good for the North. Grant had just led the Army of the Potomac into Virginia and was pursuing Robert E. Lee. But two New York newspapers shocked readers with a press release from the White House. It painted a negative picture of the war in Virginia. Lincoln purportedly called for a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer in response to recent Union defeats. He also called for 400,000 extra troops, threatening a draft should the states not be able to raise their quota of volunteers.

The press release’s cannon ball first sailed through the stock market. Bad news often makes the market volatile, and this case was no different. Gold, one of the safest investments, shot up 8% overnight.

The Press Release was a Hoax

But one thing was amiss. Why had only two newspapers printed the story? Investigation quickly uncovered a hoax. The press release was a fraud, written to appear like an Associated Press release. But the Associated Press repudiated the release.

Red River Campaign, mentioned in the gold hoax.

Harper’s Weekly depiction of the Red River Campaign, described as a “disaster” in the fraudulent press release. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division; public domain.

Someone had delivered it to the papers at 4:00 a.m., between the departure of the night staff and the day staff. That left the night foreman to make the decision about whether to publish it. And the foremen for two papers were duped.

Now the cannon ball sailed into the federal administration. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton called it “a base and treasonable forgery.” He sent a dispatch the Associated Press to repudiate the forged executive announcement. President Lincoln was furious about the hoax, and in a controversial move, ordered the arrest of newspaper personnel and even closed down the Independent Telegraph Line. New York papers offered a thousand dollars for discovery of the culprit.

More Precisely, it was a Gold Hoax

Joseph Howard

Joseph Howard, Jr. Harper’s Weekly, 1864. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division; public domain.

Detectives quickly honed down on the offender. Joseph Howard, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, confessed. He had invested in gold and wrote the forged press release to drive the gold price up. And he knew the newspaper industry well enough to know that the early morning was a good time to send a fraudulent release.

Lincoln released Howard from prison less than three months later. And two months after the gold hoax, Lincoln did issue a proclamation calling for 500,000 volunteers.

The May 17 Coincidence

Much later, the discovery of a document signed May 17, 1864, the very same day as fake press release, brought more of the story to light. It was a presidential order for drafting 300,000 more troops. And it should have been made public May 18, the same day the gold hoax hit the papers.

Joseoph Howard

An artist’s sketch of Joseph Howard. By Alfred R. Waud, ca. 1864. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division; public domain.

Lincoln’s May 17 order is missing from the Official Records, and one historian has surmised that was due to the gold hoax. Howard had unknowingly preempted Lincoln’s authentic order, and Lincoln apparently waited two months for the furor to die down before issuing a new order.

But did the gold hoax cannon ball fly even further, impacting the outcome of the war? During the two-month period between the hoax and the new order, the Union army suffered a manpower shortage. General Grant was pleading for new troops. Had Joseph Howard never perpetrated the gold hoax, what difference would Lincoln’s extra 300,000 troops have made in May and June 1864? We will never know. That is one of the riddles of the Civil War.

Literature on point:

The Great Civil War Hoax

Webb Garrison, Creative Minds in Desparate Times: The Civil War’s Most Sensational Schemes and Plots (Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1997)

Abott A. Abott, The Life of Abraham Lincoln (New York: T. R. Dawley, 1864)

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