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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter IX: The Executions

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A very fussy Dutchman tied him up and fanned him, and he wept forgetfully, but did not make a halt or absurd spectacle.

Atzerott was my ideal of a man to be hung--a dilution of Wallack's rendering of the last hours of Fagan, the Jew; a sort of sick man, quite garrulous and smitten, with his head thrown forward, muttering to the air, and a pallidness transparent through his dirt as he jabbered prayers and pleas confusedly, and looked in a complaining sort of way at the noose, as if not quite certain that it might not have designs upon him.

He wore a greyish coat, black vest, light pantaloons and slippers, and a white affair on his head, perhaps a handkerchief.

His spiritual adviser stood behind him, evidently disgusted with him.

Atzerott lost his life through too much gabbing. He could have had serious designs upon nothing greater than a chicken, but talked assassination with the silent and absolute Booth, until entrapped into conspiracy and the gallows, much against his calculation. This man was visited by his mother and a poor, ignorant woman with whom he cohabited. He was the picture of despair, and died ridiculously, whistling up his courage.

These were the dramatis personŠ, no more to be sketched, no more to be cross-examined, no more to be shackled, soon to be cold in their coffins.

They were, altogether, a motley and miserable set. Ravaillae might have looked well swinging in chains; Charlotte Corday is said to have died like an actress; Beale hung not without dignity, but these people, aspiring to overturn a nation, bore the appearance of a troop of ignorant folks, expiating the blood-shed of a brawl.

When General Hartrauft ceased reading there was momentary lull, broken only by the cadences of the priests.

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Then the Rev. Mr. Gillette addressed the spectators in a deep impressive tone. The prisoner, Lewis Thornton Powell, otherwise Payne, requested him to thus publicly and sincerely return his thanks to General Hartrauft, the other officers, the soldiers, and all persons who had charge of him and had attended him. Not one unkind word, look, or gesture, had been given to him by any one. Dr. Gillette then followed in a fervent prayer in behalf of the prisoner, during which Payne's eyes momentarily filled with tears, and he followed in the prayer with visible feeling.

Rev. Dr. Olds followed, saying in behalf of the prisoner, David E. Harold, that he tendered his forgiveness to all who had wronged him, and asked the forgiveness of all whom he had wronged. He gave his thanks to the officers and guards for kindnesses rendered him. He hoped that he had died in charity with all men and at peace with God. Dr. Olds concluded with a feeling prayer for the prisoner.

Rev. Dr. Butler then made a similar return of thanks on behalf of George A. Atzerott for kindness received from his guards and attendants, and concluded with an earnest invocation in behalf of the criminal, saying that the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin, and asking that God Almighty might have mercy upon this man.

The solemnity of this portion of the scene may be imagined, the several clergyman speaking in order the dying testament of their clients, and making the hot hours fresh with the soft harmonies of their benedictions.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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