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(1889) United States Secret Service in the Late War

(1889) United States Secret Service in the Late War

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1889 - Brigadier General LaFayette Charles Baker, 1826-1868
1889 - Brigadier General LaFayette Charles Baker, 1826-1868

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Published by: Herbert Hillary Booker 2nd on Jun 16, 2010
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ATTEMPTED SUICIDE OF WIRZ.

My Connection with the

Imprisonment of Wirz and Jeff. Davis

Vigilance in Guard-

ing the Prisoner Mrs. Wirz visits her Husband He desires a Call The Inter-
view Attempted Suicide.

POOR Wirz, the German prisoner, keeper at Anderson-

yille, has a

place and a name in the

history of the American

conflict, imperishable as that of Jefferson Davis, and no more
and no less enviable. He is

only the

willing servant, in

war's cruelest work, of the master

spirit of the revolt, who

richly deserves the

disgracefuldoom of the wretched victimof

the

gallows, to whom no

mercy was extended. Not alone

by the

surviving victims of his

barbarity will Wirz be held

in remembrance, but

by all the

loyal people of the

land,

who watched with intense interest the

progress of his trial.

Soon as it became evident that the

testimony against this

disciple of Nero was sufficiently strong to convict him, there
were rebel emissaries who, fearing a confession from hia

lips, which would

implicate Jefferson Davis and others iq

the

guilt of his

crimes, desired and determined, if

possible,

to

bring the trial to a

speedy close. Wirz himself had

several times intimated

that, if

convicted, he would make a
statement of all the facts connected with his administration

of the Andersonville

prison, which would show conclusively
that he acted under the direct orders of Davis and General

Winder.

I had taken no

part in Wirz's

trial, most of the evidence

having been

procured by military officers then on

duty at

the South.

During the last

days of the

trial, Mrs. Wirz

appeared in

Washington, and desired an interview with her

husband. The

Secretary of War had directed the officer in

Command of the

prison to exercise the utmost caution in

MY VISIT TO WIRZ MRS. WIRZ.

395

respect to the

prisoner. It was feared that he would commit

suicide. Orders were issued not to allow

any interview to

be had with him under

any pretense whatever. He was to

be

kept entirely secluded from the other

prisoners, and

only

visited

by the

clergy and his counsel. Mrs. Wirz

applied to

me for

permission to see him. She claimed that she desired

only to administer to his comfort, as far as

possible, and had

no

objection to the interview taking place in the

presence of

an officer of the Government. Wirz sent me a

request to

visit

him, and

accordingly I

repaired to his

apartment in the

"Old Capitol." During the

conversation, he

expressed ear-
nest desire to see his wife, when I reminded him that the

orders of the

Secretary prohibited such interviews. His

anxiety was so

great, that I stated the

prisoner's request to

Mr. Stanton, who consented to a

meeting in

my presence,

with no communications in their own language between them.
He then

gave me the

following order:

WAR DEPARTMENT, ADJUTANT-GENERAL'S OFFICE,
WASHINGTON, Nmtmbor 9, 1865.

f

Major-General AUGUR, commanding Department of

Washington :

GENERAL Henry Wirz has sent a

request to General L. 0. Baker to visit

him. The Secretary of War desires that the

authority be

given General

Baker.

I

am, very respectfully, your obedient

servant,

E. D. TOWNSEND,

Assistant

Acting Adjutant-General.

With this document I

procured a

permit, and

requested

Mrs. Wirz to be at the

prison at four o'clock that

day. The

interview took

place, and I shall never

forget the first meet-

ing between Wirz and his wife. She exhibited the most

stoical

indifference, and

simply said,

"

How are

you, Wirz ?"

Instead of

embracing him, as would naturally have been

expected under the

circumstances, she sat down in a chair in

front of

him, and looked at the doomed man a moment, and

then

gave utterance to the most vindictive words against the

Government, in which he

joined. Instead of

talking of their

family affairs, the unfortunate

position in which Wirz was

placed, and the

probability of his execution, she took occa-

sion to denounce Colonel

Chipman, Judge-Advocate of the
commission before whom Wirz was being tried, and the wit-

^

396

'

UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE.

nesses as

perjurers, and in the most threatening manner defied

the Governmenc to

carry the

findings of the commission into

execution. This interview finally closed in their

making an

appointment for another.
The conduct of Wirz and his wife was to

my mind

very

suspicious. I did not conceive that such indifference was
natural under the circumstances, and determined to watch

their next interview very closely. It came in due time, and

was very similar to the first one. Mrs. Wirz sat in front of

her husband, and I took a

position where I could

casually

observe the movements of each. Mrs. Wirz took from her
hand a

glove, inside of which I noticed she had a small

package ; what it was I could not tell. The interview was

short, asbothwere conscious that I was observing everymove-

ment. At the third interview the same thing was

repeated.

As we all rose to

go to the door

leading to the

hall, Wirz

walking first, Mrs. Wirz next, and

myself at the rear, she

for the first time

approached him, when they embraced and

put their

lips up to kiss each other. I watched the motion,

and

perceived that she was conveying something from her

mouth to his. I

sprang forward in an instant, caught him
by the throat, and threw him on the floor. He raised a

pill

from his throat, brought it within his

teeth, crushed it and

spit out. I

picked it

up and found it to be a small round

piece of

strychnine inclosed in a

piece of oiled silk.

Upon

this

discovery I informed Mrs. Wirz that she could have no
more interviews with her husband. She was compelled,

therefore, to leave him to his fate.

My next

step was to

inform the Assistant

Secretary of War and

Judge Holt of the

singular occurrence. I also showed to the former the

strych-

nine

pill. On the

day of the

prisoner's execution, I related

fche

poison scene to a

reporter of a New York

paper. It was

given to the

public by him. The

copperhead press imme

diately opened their

artillery of

abuse, making me the

target

of bitterest attack. The whole statement was

pronounced a

fabrication, while it was verified

entirely byLouis Skade, the

counsel of

Wirz, and

by Mrs. Wirz. It is a

fact, which should

mak the

loyal men of the land reflect

deeply, that these
reckless detractors of the administration of Mr. Lincoln, and

all whoaided him in

checking the insane revolt, who defended

CHANGE OF TONE REBEL

HATE.^

397

>the vilest actors in the drama of rebellion, are

to-day the

friends of Mr. Johnson and his

"policy." No reflective

patriotic mind can exclude the doubt whether the infamous

keeper of the Andersonville

prison pen would have been

executed at all had the merited fate been

delayed a few

months

longer, until the

change in the tone of the Presi-

dential

feeling toward rebels, whom he had so

warmly
condemned and warned that their treason must be made
"odious" for all

coming time. It is more sad and

stinging
to know this, for those of us who necessarily were familiar

with the character and deeds of the brutal servants of Davis
and his counselors and commanders. I could narrate hor-

rors which would stir the

indignation of the coolest

loyal

heart, that were

openly or

silently approved by the Con-

federate Government ; and

yet we are asked to be charitable

and

conciliatory toward men who hated with the venom of
a Nero our slain President and our

"boys in

blue," and

have

only changed from

power to wreak their

vengeance to
weakness that can do no more than nurse a disarmed dis-

loyalty. If it is

true, in the words of the

song, that John

Brown's soul is

marching on ! it is

equally a

reality that the

souls of Booth and Wirz are still

marching stealthily on

through the streets of the cities and over the

plantation plains

of the

"sunny South."

ACTUAL BURIAL-PLACE OF BOOTH.

In

compliance with a

promise made in the

Prospectus of this

work, as well

as to

gratify public curiosity, and, if

possible, forever

put at rest the

many

absurd and foolish rumors in circulation

concerning the final

disposition of

the remains of the

assassin, J. Wilkes

Booth, I submit the following facts :

In order to establish the

identity of the body of the assassin beyond al

question, the

Secretary of War directed me to summon a number of witnesses

residing in the city of

Washington, who had

previously known the murderer.

Some two years previous to the assassination of the

President, Booth had had

a tumor or carbuncle cut from his neck by a

surgeon. On inquiry, I ascer-

tained that Dr. May, a well-known and

very skillful

surgeon, of

twenty-five

years' practice in

Washington, had

performed the

operation.

Accordingly I called on Dr.

May, who, before

seeing the

body, minutely

described the exact

locality of the tumor, the nature and date of the

opera-

tion, &c. After being sworn, he

pointed to the scar on the neck, which waa

398

^JTNITKD STATES SECRET SERVICE.

then

plainly visible. Five other witnesses were examined, all of whom had
known the assassin intimately for

years. The various

newspaper accounts,

referring to the mutilation of Booth's body, are

equally absurd. General

Barnes, Surgeon-General U. S. A., was on board the

gun-boat where the

post-mortein examination was held, with his assistants. General Barnes cut
from Booth's neck about two inches of the

spinal column

through which the

ball had passed ; this

piece of

bone, which is now on exhibition in the Gov-

ernment Medical Museum, in

Washington, is the only relic of the assassin's

body above

ground, and this is the only mutilation of the remains that ever

occurred. Immediately after the conclusion of the examination, the

Secretary

of War gave orders as to the

disposition of the

body, which had become very

offensive, owing to the condition in which it had remained after death

; the

leg, broken in

jumping from the box to the

stage, was much discolored and

swollen, the blood from the wound having saturated his

under-clothing.

With the assistance of Lieut. L. B.

Baker, I took the

body from the

gun-boat

direct to the old

Penitentiary, adjoining the Arsenal

grounds. The building

had not been used as a

prison for some years previously. The Ordnance

Department had tilled the

ground-floor cells with fixed ammunition one of

the

largest of these cells was selected as the

burial-place of Booth the ammu-

nition was

removed, a

large flat stone lifted from its

place, and a rude

grave

dug ; the

body was

dropped in, the

grave filled

up, the stone

replaced, and

there rests to this hour all that remained of John Wilkes Booth.

t

'"'

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LIBRARY

Los

Angeles
This book is DUE on the last date

stamped below.

s-Mi OCT 29 196E

7-4

7955

Form L9-Series 444

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