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Author Topic: Frederick Stone comments on Powell  (Read 1890 times)
Steven G. Miller
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« on: June 30, 2012, 10:07:26 PM »

I found this curious little article recently and don't recall seeing it before. It also raises the question: just how many War Dept. employees, lawyers, detectives, reporters and others we allowed access to the prisoners in their cells?

“A Few Facts about the Assassin Payne,” SYRACUSE DAILY STANDARD, June 23, 1869.

(Washington Correspondence of the Chicago Tribune)

Some time ago a friend introduced me to Frederick Stone of Port Tobacco, {Indian Potopaca} on the lower Potomac, who was counsel to Dr. Mudd, the surgeon to John Wilkes Booth. Stone is now member of Congress from the Fifth District of Maryland, and is a modest, semi-literary lawyer. He went in his professional capacity to see Payne or Powell, the attempted assassin of Wm. H. Seward, and returned to my introducer with this statement:

“That fellow is the most extraordinary and irredeemable ruffian in Christendom. He is built like a gigantic savage, and wants to die with promptitude.

“He said to me ; ‘I don’t want a trial. I deserve to be hanged, and expected it. I don’t want to be led out into court every day, with chains on my legs and a daily hurrah. I meant to kill that old Seward, and how I failed I can’t imagine. I believe I was right in trying to kill him, and all I regret is that I didn’t kill him. First I went at his with my knife, and then with my pistol butt. If I had possessed anything else, I should have finished him."

Stone asked him the extent and nature of the conspiracy.

“It was a plan to carry off Lincoln and give him up to the Confederates,” said Payne; “but when that failed, Booth, who was the only one in earnest, proposed to kill Lincoln and all the Cabinet. All the rest backed out and scattered like a lot of beggars. We never heard of Surratt, of Arnold, of any of them again. I told Booth that I would go in with him, and he preferred to killed Lincoln, while I was set upon Seward. If Atzerodt and Harold were in the matter they were mere hangers-on. I deserve to be killed and so does Booth. The rest were women and babies.”
« Last Edit: July 01, 2012, 07:37:39 AM by Steven G. Miller » Logged
Randal
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« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2012, 03:52:49 AM »

Fasinating. IF Powell actually said those things to Stone, it merely bolsters my contention that Powell was a thug. But another part of me see's the statement from Stone was recalled years later, making it in my opinion,  not very credible.
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Steven G. Miller
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« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2012, 07:37:17 AM »

I'm of two minds about this: first, it was in 1869, not twenty years later. Because of this there may be less of the Old Memory Syndrome at work and it may be less changed by recollection. Second, it is second hand (at best) and may have been spun by the "introducer" (oops. I see a typo I have to clean up in my transcription)

Kauffman said that Stone was involved in the kidnap plot. Is this another example of his efforts to keep an eye on what the government was able to find out about the plotters identity?
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Steven G. Miller
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« Reply #3 on: July 01, 2012, 08:00:13 AM »

Another comment, if I may. I'm always fascinated about some of the stories that made it into old papers. Some were "spot on" as the Brits say and some were obviously mistaken, but more often than not I have to shake my head in a mixture of doubt and uncertainty about whether the stories were accurate, confused or made up entirely.

Case in point: this snippet from the CORNING (NY) JOURNAL of March 10, 1870. It's also about Powell:

"The assassin Payne's corpse was removed from the Washington Arsenal recently by his friends and taken to parts unknown."

Wouldn't it be fascinating to get to the bottom of this story? 
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BoothBuff
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« Reply #4 on: July 01, 2012, 04:56:28 PM »

     Neat find. Powell's take on his fellow conspirators is interesting. "Women and babies". It sounds accurate, but who knows. That guy had testosterone to spare and if Booth had two more Powell's, this story would read a lot differently.
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John Watson
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« Reply #5 on: July 02, 2012, 10:22:16 AM »

I deserve to be killed and so does Booth. The rest were women and babies.”

Spoken like a true "man's man."  Actually, of all the conspirators, young Powell was the best of the bunch - the perfect assassin, trained in warfare, both feared and respected by his military peers, totally committed to whatever mission he was given and willing to risk his life to carry it out.  He needed only someone in command to issue the order.  Like the lieutenant who delivered the message to Garcia, Powell never asked why or how - he simply did it.  Powell respected any man he considered his superior, especially if they wore a uniform.  Though not a military man, Booth represented superiorty and power to Powell.  He saw Booth as his "captain" and the assignment to kill Seward as a military command.  True to form, Powell allowed nothing to stop him from carrying out that command.  He fought his way through three men to get to his target, his failure to kill owing not to lack of courage and daring, but to a broken pistol and a steel brace.  Chained and hooded in captivity, he still respected the rank and uniform of authority, enough even to open up a little to one Maj. Eckert.  (In truth, Thomas Eckert was nothing but a stooge for Stanton and hardly worthy of Powell's respect.)  His last words on earth, spoken from the scaffold to the man who hanged him, sums it all up:  "You know best Captain."
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Randal
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« Reply #6 on: July 02, 2012, 12:15:48 PM »

Excellent summary John!
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Gene C
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« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2012, 11:10:55 AM »

John,

That's an interesting assesment of Eckert.  What do you base that on?
I always had a decent impression of Eckert based on the favorable portayal in "Lincoln in the Telegraph Office"
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« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2012, 03:50:49 PM »

     I'd like to hear that, too. Eckert, in a hot argument with Stanton, threatened to resign. As he did so, Lincoln entered the room and brought the nasty exchange to a halt. I don't see Eckert as anybody's stooge.
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« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2012, 05:13:42 PM »

I think what he meant was, Stanton played him like a stooge. Eckert knew he didn't have any say-so with Stanton, and Stanton knew it. Eckert was "frustrated" and threatened to resign, with Lincoln saving his job by understanding his "frustrations" with Stanton.
IMO.
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Steven G. Miller
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« Reply #10 on: July 05, 2012, 06:48:17 PM »

The original article was published in the Chicago Tribune. I finally got a chance to look up the original in the on-line Trib archive. The piece was in a column by George Alfred Townsend (Gath) in one of his Washington reports. The article was "A New Fact About the Assassin Payne," CHICAGO TRIBUNE, June 12, 1869. There were no additional details worth reporting.
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John Watson
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« Reply #11 on: July 10, 2012, 02:59:26 PM »

     I'd like to hear that, too. Eckert, in a hot argument with Stanton, threatened to resign. As he did so, Lincoln entered the room and brought the nasty exchange to a halt. I don't see Eckert as anybody's stooge.

Sorry for the delay in responding; we've been without cable for five days!  Reference to Eckert not being worthy of Powell’s respect was strictly my personal assessment of Eckert’s character based on the following:  (1)  Military telegraphers were civilian employees attached to the Quartermaster's Department.  A few supervisors, such as Eckert, received commissions but were not subject to any military authority, answerable only to the Secretary of War.  In other words, he wasn’t a soldier, as Powell likely assumed.  (2)  Though he was good at his job, Eckert couldn’t be trusted.  While with McClellan's army, he had a history of leaking high-level military dispatches to the Press and withholding important messages from various officers, includiing McClellan and conceivably Stanton, apparently on his own initiative.  When Stanton learned of this (Eckert of course denied everything), instead of firing his subordinate he promoted Eckert to Major and transferred him to the War Department, where Eckert could review and manipulate all military messages, not just those coming through a single General – all under the watchful eye of Stanton of course.  Thanks to Bates, we know of at least two occasions where Eckert concealed important dispatches intended for Lincoln himself.   (3)  Finally, on the only known occasion where President Lincoln actually asked for a bodyguard, both Stanton and Eckert turned him down – flat.  Stanton’s motives for this have been examined by his critics and apologists, with no clear answer.  But it’s obvious to me that Eckert refused Lincoln’s personal invite out of fear – not of any assassin, but of Stanton.  Stanton “owned” Eckert and used him for his own ends.  Eckert went along with it and was well rewarded for his loyalty to Stanton.  In turn, Eckert rewarded those who worked under him with nice jobs after the war, including his one-time assistant, David Bates.

The story of the heated argument with Stanton and Lincoln and others sticking up for Eckert, as reported by Bates, just dosen't ring true.  First of all, Eckert is the only source for this story which should sound warning bells.  The investigation leading to McClellan's demand for Eckert's dismissal, occurred before Eckert came to the War Department, and it's doubtful Lincoln had ever heard of Eckert at that time.  And another supposed defender of Eckert, his supervisor Sanford, had himself mutilated a dispatch from McClellan to Stanton, during the Seven Days Battles.  All in all, another example of Eckert puffing himself up and rewriting history through a trusting and gullible friend.
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John Watson
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« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2012, 03:13:50 PM »

John,

That's an interesting assesment of Eckert.  What do you base that on?
I always had a decent impression of Eckert based on the favorable portayal in "Lincoln in the Telegraph Office"

Hi Gene!  Please see my response to BoothBuff below.  After the war, through Stanton's efforts, Eckert became general manager, then president and eventually Chairman of the Board of Western Union, where he rewarded his former subordinates in the War Department telegraph office - including David Bates - with lucrative jobs.
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Gene C
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« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2012, 05:38:11 PM »

Thanks John,  good explaination

Anyone...how credible is Fredrick Stone?
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The more you know, the more you think the less you know, because you know that you don't know.  The less you know the more you think the more you know, because you don't know that you don't know. 
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