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On the ninth day of May the Commission met but only to adjourn that the prisoners might employ counsel. On the same day, two of its members, General Cyrus B. Comstock and Colonel Horace Porter—names to be noted for what may have been a heroic refusal—were relieved from the duty of sitting upon the Commission, and two other officers substituted in their...
On the ninth day of May the Commission met but only to adjourn that the prisoners might employ counsel. On the same day, two of its members, General Cyrus B. Comstock and Colonel Horace Porter—names to be noted for what may have been a heroic refusal—were relieved from the duty of sitting upon the Commission, and two other officers substituted in their stead. So that Tuesday, May 10th, 1865—twenty-six days after the assassination, a period much too short for the intense excitement and wild desire for vengeance to subside—may properly be designated as the first session of the Court. On the early morning of that day—before daylight—Jefferson Davis had been captured, and was immediately conducted, not to Washington to stand trial for his alleged complicity in the assassination, but to Fort Monroe. On the next day Clement C. Clay, also, surrendered himself to the United States authorities, and was sent, not to Washington to meet the awful charge formulated against him, but to the same military fortress. The room in which the Commission met was in the northeast corner of the third story of the Old Penitentiary; a building standing in the U. S. Arsenal Grounds at the junction of the Potomac with the Eastern Branch, in a room on the ground floor of which the body of Booth had been secretly buried. Its windows were guarded by iron gratings, and it communicated with that part of the prison where the accused were now confined, by a door in the western wall. The male prisoners had been removed some days before from the Monitors to the Penitentiary, where Mrs. Surratt was already incarcerated, and each of them, including the lady, was now immured in a solitary cell under the surveillance of a special guard. Around a table near the eastern side of this room sat, resplendent in full uniform, the members of the Court. At the head as President was Major-General David Hunter—a stern, white-headed soldier, sixty-three years old; a fierce radical; the first officer to organize the slaves into battalions of war; the warm personal friend of Lincoln, at the head of whose corpse he had grimly sat as it rested from place to place on the triumphal progress to its burial, and from whose open grave he had hurried, in no very judicial humor to say the least, to take his seat among the Judges of the accused assassins. On his right sat Major-General Lew Wallace, a lawyer by profession; afterwards the President of the Court-Martial which tried and hung Henry Wirz; but now, by a sardonic freak of destiny, known to all the world as the tender teller of “Ben Hur, a Tale of the Christ.” To the right of General Wallace sat Brevet Brigadier-General James A. Ekin and Brevet Colonel Charles A. Tompkins; about whom the only thing remarkable is that they had stepped into the places of the two relieved officers, Colonel Tompkins being the only regular army officer on the Board. On the left of General Hunter sat, first, Brevet Major-General August V. Kautz, a native of Germany; next, Brigadier-General Robert S. Foster, who may or may not have been the “Colonel Foster” alluded to in the testimony of Lloyd quoted above, as threatening the witness and as afterwards being seen by him on the Commission—the presence of an officer, previously engaged by the Government in collecting testimony against the accused, as one of the judges to try him not being considered a violation of Military Justice. Next sat Brigadier-General Thomas Mealey Harris, a West Virginian, and the author of a book entitled “Calvinism Vindicated;” next, Brigadier-General Albion P. Howe, and last, Lieutenant-Colonel David R. Clendenin.
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