FORT LESLEY J. MCNAIR, D.C. - The abrupt ending of the play "Our American Cousin" on April 14, 1865, marked the beginning of the most sensationalized real life drama in American history and politics— the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Grant Hall, located on the Fort McNair portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, is the building where the May through June 1865 military tribunal for the eight Lincoln assassination conspirators took place. This courtroom, located on the third floor of Grant Hall, opened its doors May 9, 2015 for an open house in observance of the trial's 150th anniversary.
Authors and Lincoln assassination experts Michael W. Kauffman and John E. Elliott provided briefings about the trial.
Guests visiting Grant Hall on the Fort McNair portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall fill the reconstructed courtroom where the Lincoln conspirators' military tribunal took place, during an open house May 9, 2015 on the 150th anniversary of the trial's start. (Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall PAO photo by Damien Salas)
Guests were first seated in the cramped courtroom and given an overview of the trial, then taken outside to the tennis courts, where four of the co-conspirators were hanged and originally buried. Four of the co-conspirators were sentenced to death at the trial June 30, 1865, in what was then known as the Washington Federal Penitentiary and hanged shortly after. They were Lewis Powell, David E. Herold, George A. Atzerodt and the first woman hanged by the federal government, Mary E. Surratt.
Michael O'Laughlen, Samuel Arnold and Dr. Samuel Mudd were given life terms and Edmund Spangler received a six-year sentence for their involvement in the conspiracy. In 1869 President Andrew Johnson pardoned Arnold, Mudd and Spangler. O'Laughlen died of yellow fever in 1867 while still in prison.
Though a tennis court now exists where the gallows were erected, Barry Cauchon, a specialist in forensic analysis of period photographs and one of the presenters for the day, marked the tennis court with blue tape and outlined the gravesites in red in the grass nearby to give the audience a better perspective of where the conspirators were hanged and buried.
John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor with Confederate sympathies, assassinated President Lincoln, but was killed April 26, 1865, during his apprehension before he could see a trial. His remains were originally buried just outside of the historic federal penitentiary building along 2nd Avenue on Fort McNair.
In February of 1869 President Andrew Johnson issued an order allowing the bodies to be released to their respective families.
A May 8 reception was held by JBM-HH Commander Col. Mike Henderson at the Fort McNair Officers Club in observance of the trial. The U.S. Army Band String Quartet performed for guests, while they mingled during the reception in the Crystal Ballroom, across the street from Grant Hall. Kauffman, Elliott, Cauchon and author and presenter Betty J. Owensby provided a special presentation about the trial for guests.
“Today is historically significant, as the nine-member military commission first met on this date May 8 in 1865,” said Henderson in opening remarks. “This observance will give us all the opportunity to learn in more detail about and reflect on what happened here 150 years ago.”
By Damien Salas, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall
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