CIVIL WAR OP-ED: Remembering Mary Surratt: Marylander and Southerner

By Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, said:

“I love the Union and the Constitution, but I would rather leave the Union with the Constitution than remain in the Union without it.”

America had not yet celebrated her 85th birthday when the South seceded from the Union in the year of our Lord 1861. Secession was recognized as a God given right that was also exercised by the 13 American Colonies in their separation from Great Britain in 1776 to form the United States of America.


Some say America and the Constitution died a little with General Lee and the South at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia in April 1865.

The courtesy and respect shown by General Ulysses S. Grant and his men to General Robert E. Lee and his weary men at the surrender and Lincoln’s wish for a peaceful re-uniting of the North and South would be short lived. The President’s death would be replaced with a bitter hatred by some in the North toward the men and women of the former Confederate States of America.
It has been written that Maryland sided with the Union but the truth is….

The State Legislature of Maryland prepared to vote on secession in 1861 to join the Southern Confederacy but Federal troops were sent to squash their attempt. There is little doubt that many Marylanders resented this attack on their States rights and many were sympathetic to the cause of the South including the Surratt’s who owned a boarding house and tavern. The home to the Surratt’s would be named Surrattsville and today is Clinton.

Mary Surratt’s husband John H. Surratt died of a stroke while in Confederate service in 1862 and her son John, Jr. quit his studies at St. Charles College in July 1861 and became a courier for the Confederate Secret Service, moving messages, cash and contraband back and forth across enemy lines.

In 1864 Mary and her children John, Jr. and Anna moved into a townhouse in Washington, D.C.

The Reconstruction Era of 1865-1870 would forever change America.

July 7, 1865 was a dark day in America. On this day Mary Surratt, a Mother, Wife, Marylander, and Southerner would become the first woman to be executed by the United States Federal Government.

Mary Surratt was held at the Old Capitol Prison's annex and then at the Washington Arsenal. She was brought before a military commission on May 9, 1865, charged with conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln. Her lawyer was United States Senator Reverdy Johnson.

Mary Surratt’s daughter Anna Surratt pleaded for her Mother’s life to Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt but he refused to consider clemency. She also attempted several times to See President Andrew Johnson, but was not granted permission to see him.

Mary Surratt continued to assert his innocence and at noon on July 6th was told she would be hanged the next day. She wept controllably. She was joined by two Catholic Priests (Jacob Walter and B.F. Wiget) and her daughter Anna. Father Jacob would stay with her almost to her death.

On July 7, 1865, at 1:15 P.M., Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and George Atzerodt were escorted through the courtyard and up the steps to the gallows as more than a thousand people looked on. Mary Surratt was wearing a black bombazine dress, black bonnet and black veil and either because of weakness from her illness or fear or both she had to be supported by two soldiers and her priest. She declared she was innocent up to her death.

From the scaffold, Powell said, "Mrs. Surratt is innocent. She doesn't deserve to die with the rest of us.”
Was there a conspiracy against the South and those sympathetic to their cause or were these people guilty of the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln?

Dr. Samuel Mudd, an American Physician. was convicted and imprisoned for aiding and conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of Lincoln. He was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson and released from prison in 1869. His prison record however still stands and his conviction has never been overturned.


To learn more about Mary Surratt read: Mary Surratt: An American Tragedyby Elizabeth Trindal.


Johnson is a speaker, short story writer, author of book “When America stood for God, Family and Country” and Chairman of the National and Georgia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Confederate History and Heritage Month committee. http://www.facebook.com/ConfederateHeritageMonth

He lives at 1064 West Mill Drive, Kennesaw, Georgia 30152

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