A few months after being released from imprisonment at Fort Jefferson, Florida, native Yorker Edman Spangler’s extensive statement of total innocence concerning the Lincoln assassination appeared in many newspapers. The first half of that statement is the basis of my recent York Sunday News column and it appears below:
Edman Spangler’s eloquent statement of innocence
Native Yorker Edman “Ned” Spangler served nearly four years imprisoned at Fort Jefferson for allegedly helping John Wilkes Booth escape from Ford’s Theater the night President Lincoln was shot. Spangler was believed by many to be innocent. Three months after being pardoned by President Johnson in March 1869, Spangler’s eloquent statement was published in newspapers nationwide. It reads, in part:
“Statement of Edman Spangler
I have deemed it due to truth to prepare for publication the following statement – at a time when I hope the temper of the people will give me a patient hearing – of my arrest, trial, and imprisonment, for alleged complicity in the plot to assassinate the late President Lincoln. I have suffered much, but I solemnly assert now, as I always have since I was arraigned for trial at the Washington Arsenal, that I am entirely innocent of any fore or after knowledge of the crime which John Wilkes Booth committed – save what I knew in common with everybody after it took place.
I further solemnly assert that John Wilkes Booth, or any other person, never mentioned to me any plot, or intimation of a plot, for the abduction or assassination of President Lincoln; that I did not know when Booth leaped from the box to the stage at the theatre, that he had shot Mr. Lincoln; and that I did not, in any way, so help me God, assist in his escape; and I further declare that I am entirely innocent of any and all charges made against me in that connection. I never knew either Surratt, Payne, Atzerodt, Arnold, or Herold, or any of the so-called conspirators, nor did I ever see any of them until they appeared in custody. While imprisoned with Atzerodt, Payne, and Herold, and after their trial was over, I was allowed a few minutes exercise in the prison yard. I heard the three unite in asserting Mrs. Surratt’s entire innocence, and acknowledge their own guilt, confining the crime, as they did, entirely to themselves, but implicating the witness, Weichmann, in knowledge of the original plot to abduct and with furnishing information from the Commissary of Prisoners Department, where Weichmann was a clerk.
I was arrested on the morning of the 16th of April, 1865, and with Ritterspaugh (also a scene shifter) taken to the police station on E street, between Ninth and Tenth. The sergeant, after questioning me closely, went with two policemen to search for Peanut John (the name of the boy who held Booth’s horse the night before) and made to accompany us to the headquarters of the police on Tenth street, where John and I were locked up, and Ritterspaugh was released. After four hours confinement I was released, and brought before judges Olin and Bingham, and told them of Booth bringing his horse to the theatre on the afternoon of the 14th of April (1865). After this investigation I said: “What is to be done with me?” and they replied: “We know where to find you when you are wanted.” and ordered my release. I returned to the theatre, where I remained until Saturday, when the soldiers took possession of it; but as the officer of the guard gave an attache and myself a pass to sleep there, we retired at 10 P.M., and at 1 A.M. a guard was placed over me, who remained until 9 A.M. Sunday morning, when I was released. I did not leave the theatre until Sunday evening, and on our return this attache (Carland by name) and myself were arrested by Detective Larner. Instead of taking us to the guard-house he said he would accompany me home to sleep there, but we all went to Police Headquarters on Tenth street, and when Carland asked if we were wanted, an officer sharply said “No.” I returned to the theatre that night, and remained the next day till I went to dinner, corner Seventh and G streets. That over I remained a few minutes, when Ritterspaugh (who worked at the theatre with me) came, and meeting me, said: “I have given my evidence, and would like now to get some of the reward.”
I walked out with Ritterspaugh for half an hour, and on returning to lie down left word that if anyone called for me to tell them that I was lying down. Two hours after I was called down stairs to see two gentlemen who had called for me. They said that I was wanted down street. On reaching the sidewalk they placed me in a hack and drove rapidly to Carroll Prison, where I was confined a week. Three days afterward, Detective, or Colonel, Baker came to my room, and questioned me about the sale of a horse and buggy (which belonged to Booth), and I told him all about it freely and readily. On the day following I was called into the office of the prison in order to be recognized by Sergeant Dye, who merely nodded his head as I entered and then he left. (Dye subsequently testified that he was sitting on the steps of the theatre just before Booth fired the shot, and to seeing mysterious persons about.)
I was allowed on the fourth day of my imprisonment to walk in the prison yard, but from that evening I was closely confined and guarded until the next Saturday at midnight when I was again taken to the office to see a detective, who said: “Come Spangler, I’ve some jewelry for you.” He handcuffed me with my arms behind my back, and guarding me to a hack, I was placed in it and driven to the navy yard, where my legs were manacled and a pair of Lillie handcuffs placed on my wrists. I was put in a boat and rowed to a monitor, where I was taken on board and thrown into a small, dirty, room, between two water closets, and on a bed of filthy life preservers and blankets, with two soldiers guarding the door. I was kept there for three days. I had been thus confined three days on the vessel when Captain Monroe came to me and said: “Spangler, I’ve something that must be told, but you must not be frightened. We have orders from the Secretary of War, who must be obeyed, to put a bag on your head.” Then two men came up and tied up my head so securely that I could not see daylight. I had plenty of food, but could not eat with my face so muffled up. True, there was a small hole in the bag near my mouth, but I could not reach that, as my hands were wedged down by the iron. At last, two kind-hearted soldiers took compassion on me, and while one watched the other fed me.
On Saturday night a man came to me and, after drawing the bag so tight as to nearly suffocate me, said to the guard, “Don’t let him go to sleep, as we will carry him out to hang him directly.” I heard them go up on the deck, where there was a great rattling of chains, and other noises; and while I was trying to imagine what was going on, and what they intended to do, I was dragged out by two men, who both pulled me at times in opposite directions. We, however, reached a boat, in which I was placed, and rowed a short distance, I could not say then where we stopped, for my face was still covered. After leaving the boat, I was forced to walk some distance, with the heavy irons still on my legs. I was then suddenly stopped, and made to ascend three or four flights of stairs; and as I stood at the top waiting, some one struck me a severe blow on the top of the head, which stunned and half threw me over, when I was pushed into a small room, where I remained in an unconscious condition for several hours. The next morning someone came with bread and coffee. I remained there several days, suffering torture from the bag or padded hood over my face. It was on Sunday when it was removed and I was shaven. It was then replaced.
Some hours after General Hartranft came and read to me several charges; that I was engaged in a plot to assassinate the President, and the day following I was carried into a military court and still hooded before all of its members. I remained but a short time, when I was returned to my cell for another night and day and then again presented in this court. Mr. Bingham, Assistant Judge-Advocate, read the charges against me, and asked if I had any objection to the court, and I replied “No,” and made my plea of “not guilty.” They then wished to know if I desired counsel, and, when I answered affirmatively, General Hunter, the president of the court, insisted that I should not be allowed counsel. He was, however, overruled, but it was several days before I was permitted legal aid, the court in the meantime taking evidence with closed doors. On every adjournment of the court, I was returned to my cell, and the closely-fitting hood placed over my head. This continued until June 10, 1865, when I was relieved from the torture of the bag, but my hands and limbs remained heavily manacled.”
On June 30 the Military Commission delivered the verdicts. Seven of the eight accused (Herold, Surratt, Powell and Atzerodt) were found guilty of conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln and sentenced to be hung. Three (O’Laughlen , Arnold and Mudd) were to serve life in prison. Spangler, pronounced guilty only of helping Booth escape, was sentenced to six years incarceration.