Guard Duty at the Execution of Lincoln’s Assassination Conspirators

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Alexander Gardner’s famed photo of the public hanging

One of the newly discovered Civil War soldiers in the extended family was Andrew Jacob Sturtz — of the family of Susanna (Gaumer) Sturtz Baughman — who served in 6th U.S. Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Company A. He was a carpenter who had migrated from Adamsville, OH to Hazel Dell, IL, and stood 5 feet, 8½ inches tall, with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair

Andrew and his fellow soldiers of the 6th U.S. Infantry were assigned to guard duty at the the Washington Arsenal on the excessively hot July 7, 1865, the fateful day when the four co-conspirators convicted in President Lincoln’s assassination were executed by hanging — Mary Surratt, George Atzerodt, David Herold and Lewis Powell.

While standing at attention in the heat, Andrew fainted, possibly suffering a sunstroke. He “fell near me,” wrote fellow soldier R.E. Holloway. “I thought he was dead but found upon opening his collar that he was still alive.” He was carried into a tent or shack to recover and then was treated at a camp hospital. Wrote another soldier, William Ross: “I was standing near and helped to carry him into his tent and helped to take care of him afterward and after that his eye sight failed him so that he could not see to wright his Letters or Read….”

This famous image, courtesy of the Library of Congress, was made by famed photographer Alexander Gardner using wet glass collodion technology in use at the time. It shows the bodies of the conspirators dangling at the end of their nooses, having been dropped from the scaffold platform, surrounded by soldiers and spectators who are beginning to depart the scene. A crack in the glass plate is noticeable in the lower left-hand corner.

This was not Jacob’s first wartime ailment. A few months earlier, wile on duty at Camp Stoneman, MD on or about May 15, 1865, he was on the sick list but was ordered out to gather wood for a cooking fire. He was pulling a sapling out of the ground when he slipped and may have fallen. Apparently the same day, while driving a mule-drawn wagon, the team bolted and ran away, upsetting the wagon and throwing Andrew underneath, catching his leg in the hub and fracturing his leg from the knee to the foot. He was sent to a hospital, but when seeing other patients there suffering from smallpox, he panicked and crawled out. Somehow he found a crutch and “hobbled back to his company,” he said. He was treated by a Quaker physician and took on light duty as company cook.

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