Contrary to the impression given by the Robert Redford movie, The Conspirator (2011), the general population of the North was not united in frenzied blood lust against Mary Surratt, Louis Paine, and the other “conspirators” charged with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Some newspaper editors “violently attacked” the use of a military tribunal to try civilians Paine, Surratt, et al. “When Colonel William E. Doster, who had acted as defense attorney for the prisoners Paine and Atzerodt, left the arsenal grounds on July 7  immediately after the executions, he noted that a large crowd of citizens was gathered before the gates shouting, ‘judicial murder.'” (Shelton, Vaughan. Mask For Treason: The Lincoln Murder Trial. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1965)
Redford’s movie also gives the erroneous impression that John Surratt, son of Mary Surratt, was hiding in the woods somewhat in the vicinity of the trial of the “conspirators.” John Surratt in fact immediately fled to Canada after Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865. “He reached Montreal on April 17, 1865. He then went to St. Liboire, where a Catholic priest, Father Charles Boucher, gave him sanctuary. Surratt remained there while his mother was arrested, tried and hanged for conspiracy.” (“John Surratt”, Wikipedia, March 2, 2013)
Redford’s movie offers only the briefest allusion to the hooding of the prisoners. One scene only shows the male prisoners removing their hoods at the trial. (Mary Surratt did not have to wear a hood.) Chapter XVI of Otto Eisenschiml’s book, “Why Was Lincoln Murdered?”, is titled “Stanton Invents a Novel Torture.” On April 23, 1865, a “peculiar order” was issued by Edwin Stanton: For “better security” the male prisoners were to have a canvas bag put over the head of each and tied around the neck, with a hole for proper breathing and eating, but not seeing.
There is some talk lately about solitary confinement of prisoners being “cruel and unusual punishment.” But at least such prisoners do not have a canvas bag tied over their face! Later, when the trial of the “conspirators” began, “a new and differently constructed hood was prepared for the prisoners. It was of a still more fiendish pattern than the one formerly used. It fitted the head tightly and contained cotton pads placed directly over the eyes and ears. These pads pushed the eyeballs far back into their sockets.” (Eisenschiml, op. cit.)
It is understandable perhaps that Redford omits details on what happened to three of the men directly involved in the execution of Mary Surratt. After all, it’s a movie and everything cannot be squeezed into 2-or-so hours. Shelton (op. cit.) however mentions that the three men all soon “committed suicide.” (That is in quotes because sometimes “suicide” is not really suicide but disguised murder.) General David Hunter, president of the military commission, “committed suicide.” A footnote further adds that “Preston King of New York and General James Henry Lane of Kansas prevented Anna Surratt [daughter of Mary Surratt] from seeing President Johnson to appeal for clemency for her mother the day of the executions. King drowned himself in the Hudson River on November 13, 1865. Lane cut his throat on July 11, 1866.”
Redford’s movie, “The Conspirators”, pleads the case of Mary Surratt, executed by hanging on July 7, 1865. But when will we see a film pleading the case of Louis Paine, also executed that day? The correct spelling is “Louis Paine” for the man hung by his neck until dead on July 7, 1865, in Vaughan Shelton’s account (op. cit.)
Edwin Stanton, War Department chief for the Union, was second in power only to President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln did what he could to counter-balance Stanton’s development of “a Gestapo-like secret service headed by the notorious detective Lafayette C. Baker…” (Shelton, op. cit.)
Those who professionally study the trial of the “conspirators” usually rely upon official transcripts. Yet the daily proceedings of the trial were also taken down in shorthand by reporters and later published in book form. “In addition, the original records of the proceedings, preserved in the files of the War Department, are kept in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.” Shelton compared the official transcripts upon which many historians have relied with these other transcripts and this “led to some very surprising discoveries.”
From the dust jacket front cover of Vaughan Shelton’s book: “…altered Trial records concealed the high officials who sent Booth to kill Lincoln…” The official transcript, in other words, has been doctored, at least in Shelton’s opinion.
Louis Paine is the “mystery man.” He is erroneously identified by some as “Lewis Powell.” But Louis Paine was not Lewis Powell, although such a man – a different man than Paine – did exist and “played a leading part in the bloody events of Good Friday, April 14, 1865. But he [Powell] vanished that same night and never reappeared under his own name, though he evidently lived for many years afterward.” (Shelton, op. cit.)