02-05-1934: Thomas Ewing III’s Letter to Barbee.
Source: David Rankin Barbee Papers, Special Collections Division, Lauinger Library, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Thomas Ewing III was the son of General Thomas Ewing, Jr., one of Dr. Mudd's attorney's at the 1865 Lincoln assassination trial. David Rankin Barbee was a Southern historian interested in the Lincoln assassination. His research papers were donated to Georgetown University.
Attorney at Law
906 Chrysler Building
February 5, 1934
Mr. David Rankin Barbee,
4504 - 37th Street, N.W.,
Washington, D. C.
Dear Mr. Barbee:
I have received your letter of the 1st. Looking at Who's Who it occurs to me that you probably know my friend, Mr. George Fort Milton of Chattanooga, and that you may have met my brother, Hampton D. Ewing in Montgomery or Mobile. We have interests in Baldwin County, Alabama, which has led to his making many visits to both cities throughout the last thirty years.
My father defended Spangler and Dr. Mudd and assisted in the defense of Arnold. He was asked to take part in the defense of Mrs. Surratt but felt that it would be unfair to the other three to take over any other work before the Commission. He was asked also to help with the defense of Harold but told the poor boy's parents that it was useless to attempt any defense as the Commission was organized to convict and would inevitably convict their son.
While the Commission found all of the accused guilty they did not dare to hang Arnold or McLaughlin because of complete failure to connect them with anything Booth did during the month before he shot Lincoln. Spangler they could not but see was a poverty-stricken and densely ignorant man whom nobody would have trusted as a confederate. They seized all of his effects and father told them that the item most difficult for him to explain was a clean collar. They would have hanged Dr. Mudd had not the witnesses for the State, particularly the negroes, lied egregiously.
Father thought that Mrs. Surratt might have been saved from the gallows had her case been handled with more vigor and courage, but that the Commission and Judge Holt brow-beat and drove off Reverdy Johnson. I have seen a letter from my father to his father dated as I remember it July 7, 1865 - the day of the executions - saying that Mr. Johnson did not even come to Washington from Baltimore at that time. I think you will find this letter among the Thomas Ewing papers in the Division of Manuscripts of the Congressional Library.
This is the only thing that I recall that my father ever wrote about the trial after it was over.
I call your attention to two items which you might fail to find, viz:
1st. A paper read by General Henry L. Burnett, which is published in full in Kennedy's History of the Ohio Society of New York, (1906). There is doubtless a copy of this book in the Congressional Library.
2nd. Arnold's Series of papers which appeared in the Baltimore American around the middle of December 1902. They were syndicated, how extensively, I do not know.
Needless to say I am greatly interested in what you have undertaken. The only other attempts that I know of are the contemporary letters of George Alfred Townsend, which he afterwards published in a book entitled “The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth”, (Dick & Fitzgerald) of which you will doubtless find a copy in the Congressional Library; and David Miller DeWitt's “Judicial Murder of Mary E. Surratt.”
Mr. DeWitt while preparing the book saw my father and afterwards complained to me that he showed very little interest. I never heard my father speak of the matter, but I can guess the reason. He wrote with great vehemence, not to say violence, and while father agreed with him that it was a judicial murder because the trial should never have been turned over to a military commission, he recognized the hideous crime and that the outburst of public anger which it occasioned swept men off their feet. Having done everything at the time that he could do to save those involved, he put out of his mind all bitterness he ever felt.
I will be in Washington all of Friday of this week, but shall be engaged on a matter that will occupy all day, with respect to which I must accommodate myself to the convenience of five or six other gentlemen. If, however, you would like to see me and arrange to do so, I shall leave here in time to see you at the Metropolitan Club about 8:30 on Thursday evening.
Yours very truly,
Thomas Ewing (Signed)