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The Lincoln Assassination and John Wilkes Booth: Was Booth a Double Agent?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Mike Griffith, Aug 3, 2018.

  1. Mike Griffith

    Mike Griffith Sergeant

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    From the time I began to study the Civil War, the traditional version of the Lincoln assassination never made sense to me. Why in the world would any genuine Confederate assassination conspiracy target Abraham Lincoln when it was well known that Lincoln wanted a lenient, conciliatory reconstruction? And why in the world would any Confederate in his right mind also try to kill William Seward, who supported lenient, conciliatory reconstruction and who had been an outspoken advocate of compromise before the war? Why would any genuine Confederate assassination conspiracy perform actions that would give the Radicals a golden excuse to impose a draconian reconstruction on the South? It has never made any sense to me.

    As I learned more about the Civil War, other questions about the Lincoln assassination occurred to me. Wouldn't a genuine Confederate conspiracy try to kill Edwin Stanton first and foremost? Wouldn't any rational Confederate conspiracy target the leading Radical Republicans in Congress, such as Benjamin Wade, Henry Wilson, Charles Sumner, and Thaddeus Stevens, men who were known for their hatred of the South and for their desire to brutalize and subjugate the South? These men would have been the top targets in any genuine Confederate assassination conspiracy.

    My first inkling that John Wilkes Booth was a double agent came in an article by Civil War scholar Clyde Wilson in which Wilson indicated that he suspected that Booth was a double agent. But Wilson said nothing else on the matter. When I read this, I thought, "What?! Well, that would explain a lot!"

    Not long after I read Wilson's intriguing statement, I became aware of the fine scholarship of Otto Eisenschiml, a scientist and Civil War scholar who wrote in the early 1900s. I read Eisenschiml's book Why Was Lincoln Murdered? which makes a strong circumstantial case that the conspiracy that killed Lincoln was not a Confederate conspiracy but a Radical Republican conspiracy led by Edwin Stanton. Eisenschiml also raises questions about Booth's true allegiance and suggests that he was in fact a double agent for the Union. Eisenschiml followed up Why Was Lincoln Murdered? with In the Shadow of Lincoln’s Death in which, among other things, he expands on some points made in the first book.

    Then, recently, I stumbled across two more books that present additional evidence that Booth was a double agent and that leading Radical Republicans were behind the assassination. The books are Theodore Roscoe’s Web of Conspiracy: The Complete Story of the Men Who Murdered President Lincoln and The Cosgrove Report: Being the Private Inquiry of a Pinkerton Detective into the Death of President Lincoln.

    Roscoe was a noted author and scholar in the mid-1900s. Among other things, he was commissioned by the U.S. Navy to write two histories of submarine and destroyer warfare in World War II: United States Submarine Operations in World War II (1949) and United States Destroyer Operations in World War II (1953), Roscoe’s Web of Conspiracy was published in 1959. It is arguably the most scholarly book ever written that posits a Radical Republican conspiracy in the Lincoln assassination. He discusses numerous actions by Stanton that seem to defy innocent explanation and that point to a deliberate attempt to conceal facts and spread disinformation about the assassination.

    The Cosgrove Report was edited by former CIA analyst George O’Toole. O’Toole edited a manuscript written by a private detective named Michael Croft, and Croft’s manuscript was based on a manuscript and other materials written and collected by Nicholas Cosgrove, a detective for the Pinkerton Detective Agency during and after the Civil War. The manuscript and materials were handed down to Croft by an attorney named Raymond Lawson, who was one of Cosgrove's grandchildren. O’Toole arranged for the book to be published in 1979 and was recently reprinted.

    One thing that is so fascinating about the book is that Cosgrove made some claims that seemed unlikely, if not fantastic, at the time and that were only verified much later. Cosgrove also provided numerous small details that Croft was able to corroborate through extensive research.

    Cosgrove’s claims and conclusions were so explosive that the manuscript was written as a historical novel. The novel contains much fiction, but it also contains a great deal of fact. Croft spent years researching Cosgrove’s manuscript and produced an annotated version with a detailed foreword and afterword. The novel is interesting, but the notes and the foreword and afterword are the heart and meat of the book, since they present facts to support the novel.

    Croft presents the following facts:

    * Booth’s sister said that her brother stated that the abolitionist John Brown was an “inspired” man and the “grandest character of this century.” Such a view of Brown was unheard of among genuine Confederates (it was also a distinctly minority view among Northerners).

    * Booth’s sister also said that Booth told her that he could travel through Union lines because he received a pass signed by General Grant.

    * Booth’s older brothers, Edwin and Junius, were associated with none other than Lafayette Baker, one of Stanton’s henchmen. Junius reportedly became good friends with Baker before the war.

    Oh, yes, yes, yes, I know that “mainstream historians” have summarily dismissed Eisenschiml’s and Roscoe’s research, and they have scoffed at the idea that the Lincoln assassination conspiracy was anything but a Confederate conspiracy. I have read many of the “mainstream” reviews of the Eisenschiml and Roscoe books, and not one of them makes any substantive effort to address the evidence that Eisenschiml and Roscoe present; instead, they make a giant appeal to authority and stress that “no reputable historian” agrees with Eisenschiml and Roscoe. (Actually, Eisenschiml’s research team included a professional historian.)
     

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  3. Jimklag

    Jimklag Lt. Colonel Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    I have no idea whether Booth was a double-agent or not. I have seen speculation and what I call conspiracy theories, but never anything solid. It would make for a lot of fun if it was proven that he was.
     
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  4. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger 1st Lieutenant Silver Patron

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    I seem to remember reading that none of the people accused were allowed to speak at their trials in their own defence.

    Did they have an opportunity to speak from the gallows? Maybe somebody knows.
     
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  5. Jimklag

    Jimklag Lt. Colonel Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    Good question.
     
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  6. Zella

    Zella First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    There's a pretty good discussion about how very different legal procedure was back then in Michael Kauffman's book American Brutus. I went into it expecting that the defendants were railroaded, but having read the book, I think the trial was relatively fair (with some exceptions) by the standards of the time.

    According to this guy, testifying on one's own behalf at the time in a murder trial was only allowed in one state:
    https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2...al-for?keywords=rgn...;rgn=main;view=fulltext

    I think it's just another aspect of the trial that seems unreasonable by modern standards but would have been considered normal by 19th century standards.
     
  7. Zella

    Zella First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    @Cavalry Charger As for at the gallows, Kauffman notes some of them speaking. Powell thanked the minister for grabbing his hat when the wind took it, and he asked the minister to make comments on his behalf. Atzerodt also spoke to the crowd, so I don't think they were banned from speaking.
     
  8. shermans_march

    shermans_march First Sergeant

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    Got a problem with your theory.

    Booth decided to assassinate Abraham Lincoln after he heard the speech made on April 11th 1865 calling for limited black sufferage. The Radical Republicans had been calling for the end of slavery and for the enfranchisement of blacks. Why would they kill him for supporting something they wanted themselves?

    Booth also switched from kidnapping to assasination when he heard the speech and said that would be the last one Lincoln ever made.
     
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  9. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger 1st Lieutenant Silver Patron

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    Interesting article @Zella . Thanks for posting. It highlights the tensions at the time, and some of the reasoning, though questions were raised even then over the wisdom of a military over a civilian trial. According to the article, the conspirators own lawyers did not seem to think it was possible to raise an adequate defense on their behalf, so if that was the case it's unlikely those charged would have been able to raise one themselves in the circumstances. The later trial of John Surratt in a civilian court leads one to believe a different outcome may have been possible, but the immediate circumstances surrounding the assassination of Lincoln did not allow for that. The article both answers and raises questions in my mind.
     
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  10. Zella

    Zella First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    The attorney thing is an interesting aspect of the trial, as is the question of whether they should have had a military trial. I've read some criticism from the time about the secrecy of the proceedings because of it being a military proceeding.

    Not all of the Lincoln trial attorneys were equally good (Mary Surratt's attorney was incompetent, from what I remember), but I was surprised that many of the appointed attorneys seem to have made a good faith effort to defend their clients. I agree, though, that it was probably not possible for them to get a completely fair trial, and a lot of the standard procedure at the time did seem to inherently favor the prosecution.

    According to Kauffman (page 355), civilian defendants were not entitled to an attorney, but those being tried in military cases were. But that rule could be fulfilled by having the prosecutor also be the defense attorney! :eek: So, just having an attorney that wasn't the prosecutor was a good start!

    The whole thing makes me glad I am not the defendant in a 19th century courtroom, for sure!
     
  11. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger 1st Lieutenant Silver Patron

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    You and me both! Not having an adequate defense means it would not be possible to draw out certain aspects of the case which could indeed point to a conspiracy, and I'm not saying there was one. But, it does lead to speculation and I think that's the issue here.
     
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  12. Mike Griffith

    Mike Griffith Sergeant

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    Indeed, even Mary Surratt was not allowed to testify in her own defense. Furthermore, Surratt was not even allowed to talk to her attorneys outside the presence of federal agents.

    Not only that, but the male conspirators were kept with special hoods over their heads.

    Stanton's rush to execute Surratt, on the basis of falsified evidence and his bogus charge that Jefferson Davis was behind the assassination plot naturally raise questions about his motives.

    Although it makes a few mistakes, Robert Redford's 2010 movie The Conspirator presents a lot of good information about the kangaroo nature of Surratt's trial.
     
  13. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    It could be true that Booth was a double agent, without the assassination being a Radical conspiracy. People could have thought J.W. Booth was helping their intelligence operations, without knowing he was going rogue with a crazy attempt to kill the President.
     
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  14. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger 1st Lieutenant Silver Patron

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    Stanton is a man that raises a lot of questions for me. Certainly in the context of the Lincoln assassination, but also prior to that in his role as Secretary of War. Extensive reading on my part is required to get a handle on him, and what it is about him that bothers me :confused:
     
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  15. Mike Griffith

    Mike Griffith Sergeant

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    Then one would need to explain Stanton's numerous actions that seem to defy innocent explanation, Booth's incredibly "lucky" escape, the strange shutdown of all commercial telegraph wires going out of DC, the rush to railroad Mary Surratt, the extremely odd treatment of the other conspirators, and the refusal of the War Department to release the assassination files for over 60 years, etc., etc.
     
  16. huskerblitz

    huskerblitz Captain

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    Rush to railroad Mary Surratt? There were a number of issues in regards to how the trial was conducted and errors in the defense strategy, but there is nothing that shows she did not know about either the conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln or to kill him. There is no way she was railroaded.
     
  17. Drew

    Drew Captain

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    "There is nothing that shows she did not know about..."

    It is my opinion that the trial was held before a Kangaroo Court. Your statement indicates a necessity that Surratt prove a negative, impossible before any, let alone a Kangaroo, bench.

    Not sure about @Mike Griffith 's theory, but it's worth mentioning the extreme closeness between U.S. Grant's staff officer, Adam Badeau and the Booth family. Food for thought...
     
  18. huskerblitz

    huskerblitz Captain

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    Just by evaluating the evidence, she knew and assisted the conspiracy. Regardless of the mode of the court, very little was offered in the way of showing her innocence that reached reasonable doubt standard.
     
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  19. Drew

    Drew Captain

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    There you go again. The burden is not on her to show her innocence, it's on prosecutors to show her guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Didn't happen.
     
  20. huskerblitz

    huskerblitz Captain

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    Apparently, it did happen, didn't it?
     
  21. 7th Mississippi Infantry

    7th Mississippi Infantry Colonel Forum Host

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