The National Archives at Philadelphia

NRB Press Release
March 24, 2009

Newly Released Book Reveals New Details on the Lincoln Assassination

The National Archives' Philadelphia based Regional Archives announces the publication of new commissioned work by Lincoln scholars Harold Holzer and Edward Steers, Jr.

The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators: Their Confinement and Execution, as recorded in the Letterbook of John Frederick Hartranft, just published by Louisiana State University Press, is an edited version of Hartranft's handwritten, eye-witness diary. Hartanft was the Special Provost Marshall in charge of the Washington, D. C arsenal, which held the eight civilians charged with complicity in the Lincoln assassination. He describes in meticulous detail the day-to-day activities and decisions involving the prisoners.

"This book project is a unique opportunity for the National Archives to bring national attention to an important Pennsylvanian and, at the same time, reveal new details about the Lincoln assassination," says V. Chapman-Smith, Mid Atlantic Regional Administrator, who was appointed to the Pennsylvania Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission by Governor Edward Rendell. Two leading Lincoln scholars came together for this project. Harold Holzer is co-chair of the National Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and one of the nation's leading authorities on Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era. Edward Steers, Jr., a recognized authority on the Lincoln assassination, is well-known for his 2001 book, Blood on the Moon. Their combined expertise enlightens the details in this official federal record for the general reader.

The Foundation for the National Archives is helping to launch the book with a special public event featuring the two scholars and moderated by Presidential historian and Foundation board member Michael Beschloss at the National Archives' McGowen Theatre at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C on April 17th. The program is part of the National Archives' continuing commemoration of the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's birth. This year also marks the National Archives 75th Anniversary. A book signing will follow the program.

The publication project is also a collaboration with the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania State Archives. "We are so pleased that the National Archives decided to include the legacy of a great Pennsylvanian and native of the Philadelphia region in its Lincoln 200 commemoration," says John Meko, Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. "This project has uncovered important history about a man, who was a national figure, was a supporter of African American civil rights during the time of Octavius V. Catto, became governor of the Commonwealth, and was a candidate within the Republican Party for President and early Union League member. His portrait hangs in League's Club House." Founded in 1862 as a patriotic society to support the Union and the policies of President Abraham Lincoln, the Union League of Philadelphia laid the philosophical foundation of other Union Leagues across a nation torn by Civil War. The Philadelphia League also organized 10 regiments of Union troops for the War effort. In addition, the League was a leading advocate of the establishment of Federal Colored troops and its members successfully petitioned Secretary of War Stanton to establish the first federal regiments of U.S. Colored Troops, trained at Camp William Penn just outside of Philadelphia, Pa.

The Pennsylvania State Archives will host a book event with Edward Steers, Jr. in Harrisburg during Memorial Day weekend. "There are so many areas where Pennsylvanians were important to the national experience and this new publication helps to bring to light another important Civil War contribution, as well as attention to the other John Hartranft material in the State's collections", says David Haury, Pennsylvania State Archivist. A program of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Pennsylvania State Archives collects, preserves and makes available for study the permanently-valuable public records of the Commonwealth, with particular attention given to the records of state government. The State Archives also collects papers of private citizens and organizations relevant to Pennsylvania history. John Hartranft's personal papers and family photographs (Manuscript Groups 44 and 461) are among the State Archives private collections.

Background: On May 1, 1865, two weeks after Abraham Lincoln's assassination, President Andrew Johnson appointed General John Frederick Hartranft as Special Provost Marshall to command the Washington Arsenal military prison, which held eight civilians accused of complicity in the assassination and would also be the site for their trial. Hartranft was responsible for the most notorious prisoners in American history and kept a meticulously official detailed account of his duties. This fascinating National Archives record provides a remarkable glimpse behind the scenes of the assassination's aftermath and of the nation's history using military tribunals for civilians.

The handwritten letterbook, passed down through the Hartranft family, is held in the Pennsylvania State Archives, under an Affiliated Archives agreement with National Archives Mid Atlantic region in Philadelphia (NARA Record Group 393; National Archives Identifier 586119).

About the Authors: Edward Steers, Jr., is the author or editor of numerous books and articles on the life and death of Abraham Lincoln, including The Escape and Capture of John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated with Our Greatest President. He lives in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.

Harold Holzer is the author or coauthor of 31 books and 400 articles on the political culture of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era. In 2005, he received a Lincoln Prize for his book Lincoln at Cooper Union and performed "Lincoln Seen and Heard" with actor Sam Waterston, broadcast live on television from the White House. This past year, he was awarded our nation's highest honor in the humanities, the National Humanities Medal. Holzer lives in New York, where he is senior vice president for external affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

About the National Archives in Philadelphia: The National Archives Regional Archives is a nationwide system of public facilities for archival research and public programming, including exhibitions and K-12 education support. The system holds a wealth of original records that provide insight into American Civil War. In Philadelphia, the record series cover five Mid Atlantic States (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania). Records detailing military recruitment and service; armaments and logistics; enslavement and emancipation of African Americans are among the most heavily used records. Filed among the government's official correspondence and transactional accounts are many hidden treasures that further illuminate major events and extraordinary lives. Among recent discoveries in the Philadelphia regional archives are additional records on the Lincoln assassination. These and the Hartranft letterbook will be features in national teaching resources the Civil War 150th Anniversary, as well as for the remainder of the Lincoln Bicentennial year.

The Mid Atlantic Regional Administrator was appointed by Governor Edward G. Rendell to the Pennsylvania Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission to assist the state's commemoration of Lincoln and his legacy in Pennsylvania.

The Regional Archives is a certified research facility on the National Network to Freedom Heritage Trail and the Pennsylvania Quest for Freedom. It is located in the Robert Nix Federal Building, entrance on Chestnut between 9th and 10th in downtown Philadelphia. The Archives is open daily to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 pm and the second Saturday of each month from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Contact number: 215.606.0112.

On May 1, 2009, the Regional Archives will host the Quest for Freedom Live and Learn Weekend featuring Pennsylvania Humanities Scholar Dr. Robert F. Engs leading a public discussion of James McBride's critically acclaimed book, Song Yet Sung, a compelling novel about a runaway slave. This program is sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation.

The National Archives is the official archives of the American democracy, preserving the national heritage and documenting the rights and entitlements of the American people and actions of the national government. These archives are held in trust for the American people. National Archives facilities are open free to the public.

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For PRESS information, contact the National Archives Mid Atlantic at: 215.606.0102.

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