Edmund Spangler after his arrest, 1865
August 10, 1825|
York, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||February 7, 1875
Waldorf, Maryland, U.S.
Edmund Spangler (August 10, 1825 – February 7, 1875), also known as Edman, Edward, and Ned Spangler, was originally from York, Pennsylvania, but he spent the majority of his life in the Baltimore, Maryland area. Convicted of conspiracy in the Abraham Lincoln assassination, he was employed at Ford's Theatre at the time of Abraham Lincoln's murder.
 The conspiracy
During the Civil War, he came to Washington, D.C. and began working as a carpenter and scene shifter at Ford's Theatre. While working there, Spangler often slept on the premises itself, or in a stable behind the theater. He was acquainted with John Wilkes Booth, having worked for the Booth family earlier, and often took care of Booth's horse when the actor requested him to do so.
During the afternoon preceding Abraham Lincoln's assassination, on April 14, 1865, Spangler was asked by his employer, John T. Ford, to help prepare the State Box for the President's anticipated attendance that evening. It was alleged at the conspiracy trial that Spangler talked negatively about Lincoln while working in the box. He helped bring in furniture and remove the partition which converted the two boxes, numbers 7 and 8, into a single box. Later Booth showed up at the theatre and invited Spangler and other stagehands of Ford's out for a drink. Booth indicated to the employees that he might come back for the evening's performance.
At about 9:30 pm, Booth again appeared at the theatre. He dismounted in the alley to the rear of Ford's and shouted for Spangler. When Spangler came out, Booth asked him to hold the mare he had hired from the stables of James W. Pumphrey. Pumphrey had warned Booth that the horse was high spirited and she would break her halter if left unattended. Spangler explained he had work to do and asked Joseph Burroughs, another Ford's employee, to do so. Burroughs, whose nickname was "Peanut John" (or "Johnny Peanut"), agreed to hold the horse.
Immediately after the assassination, there was a lot of commotion backstage. Jake Rittersback, who also worked at Ford's, said he tried to chase after Booth, but that Spangler hit him in the face and said, "Don't say which way he went."
Spangler was arrested on April 17, 1865 and booked as an accomplice to John Wilkes Booth. He was tried along with the other alleged co-conspirators. Although the evidence against him was questionable, Spangler was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison. Along with Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold and Michael O'Laughlen, Spangler was sent to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas off Key West, Florida.
 After prison
In 1869, Spangler was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. Samuel Arnold’s father went to Fort Jefferson to take his son back home. Sam, his father, and Spangler traveled back to Baltimore together on the steamship Cuba. The Baltimore Sun of April 7, 1869 reported their arrival in the following story:
Return of Arnold and Spangler, the Dry Tortugas Prisoners.
Samuel B. Arnold and Edman Spangler, the prisoners recently released from the Dry Tortugas, under pardon of President Johnson, the former having been sentenced for life and the latter for six years, by the military commission that tried the assassination conspirators, reached this city yesterday. They came passengers on the steamship Cuba, from Key West. Arnold appears in rather delicate health, but Spangler is well, and both seem in good spirits. They are set free now, after three years and eight months in durance vile.
After their trial and sentence, they reached the Dry Tortugas with Dr. Mudd, their late fellow-prisoner, and O’Laughlen, who died during imprisonment, on the 24th of July, 1865, and were released on the 22rd of March 1869. Both Arnold and Spangler reply readily to the queries concerning their imprisonment and the treatment they received from the different commanders of the post.
During the season of the fearful rage of the yellow fever in 1867 at the fort, they state that after nearly all the troops had been attacked and either recovered or died. Dr. Mudd, who had so faithfully and advantageously labored among the sick, was taken down with the disease, and there being no medical man left fit for duty, was nursed solely by themselves, his only remaining companion, O’Laughlen, having previously died. During its prevalence there were thirty-seven deaths in that limited community, two of whom were prisoners and the balance officers and soldiers. They speak highly of the late Major Stone, who commanded at the time. His wife having died of the epidemic of which he had recovered, he carried his little child over to Key West, with the intention of sending it to his relatives in the North, and shortly after reaching there he was taken with a relapse and died. Their treatment depended much on the commander of the post, but after the season of yellow fever they fared much better than previously.
They received a telegram on the 9th of March, informing them of their pardon, and Spangler says it appeared to him that from that time until the 21st, when Arnold’s father reached there with the pardons, he gained in flesh every hour. Arnold was employed as a clerk at headquarters and Spangler as a carpenter, and both at times were compelled to work very hard.
After their release they left the Tortugas in a government sailing vessel and went over to Key West, where they remained several days, awaiting the arrival of the Cuba, and were treated in the kindest manner by the citizens.
On the terrible ordeal of the trial, under the circumstances by which they were surrounded, it is not to be supposed they would delight to dwell. Spangler says that from the torture he endured he was mostly unconscious of the proceedings in the case, and often knew nothing of what was going on around him. When the padded hood was placed upon his head in prison, covering over his eyes and tightened about his neck and chest, with manacles already on both hands and feet, he was told it was by order of Secretary Stanton, the subordinate thus excusing himself for his action. After arriving at the fort, and up to the time of his release, Spangler avers that the sense of his entire innocence only made his chains more galling, whilst at the same time it often kept him from utter despair. Both Arnold and Spangler speak of the kindness and attention they received on board the Cuba from Capt. Dukehart, his officers and passengers, who generally were disposed to make them comfortable.
After arriving back home, Spangler went to work at the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore for his old boss John T. Ford, the former owner of Ford's Theater where Lincoln was shot. When the Holliday Street Theatre burned down in 1873, Spangler traveled to Dr. Mudd's farm. The two men had become friends in prison. Dr. and Mrs. Mudd took Spangler in and gave him 5 acres (20,000 m2) of land to farm. Spangler performed carpentry chores in the neighborhood. However, Spangler was not in the best of health and died of tuberculosis on February 7, 1875. He was buried in a graveyard connected with St. Peter's Church which was about two miles (3 km) from Dr. Mudd's home. The records of St. Peter's also show that Spangler was baptized before he died on February 7. A grave marker was placed on his grave site in 1983.
Shortly after Spangler's death, Samuel Mudd found a statement in Spangler's tool chest. It was a brief description of Spangler's relationship with John Wilkes Booth. In it, he said he never heard Booth speak of politics, hatred of Lincoln, or Southern pride. He said he heard the shot when it was fired in the theater and that a man he didn't immediately recognize as Booth run across the stage. He totally denied aiding Booth in any manner whatsoever.
Here is Spangler's statement:
I was born in York County, Pennsylvania, and am about forty-three years of age, I am a house carpenter by trade, and became acquainted with J. Wilkes Booth when a boy. I worked for his father in building a cottage in Harford County, Maryland, in 1854.
Since A. D. 1853, I have done carpenter work for the different theaters in the cities of Baltimore and Washington, to wit: The Holliday Street Theater and the Front Street Theater of Baltimore, and Ford's Theater in the City of Washington. I have acted also as scene shifter in all the above named theaters, and had a favorable opportunity to become acquainted with the different actors. I have acted as scene shifter in Ford's Theater, ever since it was first opened up, to the night of the assassination of President Lincoln.
During the winter of A. D. 1862 and 1863, J. Wilkes Booth played a star engagement at Ford's Theater for two weeks. At that time I saw him and conversed with him quite frequently. After completing his engagement he left Washington and I did not see him again until the winters of A. D. 1864 and 1865. I then saw him at various times in and about Ford's Theater. Booth had free access to the theater at all times, and made himself very familiar with all persons connected with it. He had a stable in the rear of the theater where he kept his horses. A boy, Joseph Burroughs, commonly called 'Peanut John,' took care of them whenever Booth was absent from the city. I looked after his horses, which I did at his request, and saw that they were properly cared for. Booth promised to pay me for my trouble, but he never did. I frequently had the horses exercised, during Booth's absence from the city, by 'Peanut John,' walking them up and down the alley. 'Peanut John' kept the key to the stable in the theater, hanging upon a nail behind the small door, which opened into the alley at the rear of the theater.
Booth usually rode out on horseback every afternoon and evening, but seldom remained out later than eight or nine o'clock. He always went and returned alone. I never knew of his riding out on horseback and staying out all night, or of any person coming to the stable with him, or calling there for him. He had two horses at the stable, only a short time. He brought them there some time in the month of December. A man called George and myself repaired and fixed the stable for him. I usually saddled the horse for him when 'Peanut John' was absent. About the first of March Booth brought another horse and a buggy and harness to the stable, but in what manner I do not know; after that he used to ride out with his horse and buggy, and I frequently harnessed them up for him. I never saw any person ride out with him or return with him from these rides.
On the Monday evening previous to the assassination, Booth requested me to sell the horse, harness, and buggy, as he said he should leave the city soon. I took them the next morning to the horse market, and had them put up at auction, with the instruction not to sell unless they would net two hundred and sixty dollars; this was in accordance with Booth's orders to me. As no person bid sufficient to make them net that amount, they were not sold, and I took them back to the stable. I informed Booth of the result that same evening in front of the theater. He replied that he must then try and have them sold at private sale, and asked me if I would help him. I replied, 'Yes.' This was about six o'clock in the evening, and the conversation took place in the presence of John F. Sleichman and others. The next day I sold them for two hundred and sixty dollars. The purchaser accompanied me to the theater. Booth was not in, and the money was paid to James J. Gifford, who receipted for it. I did not see Booth to speak to him, after the sale, until the evening of the assassination.
Upon the afternoon of April 14 I was told by 'Peanut John' that the President and General Grant were coming to the theater that night, and that I must take out the partition in the President's box. It was my business to do all such work. I was assisted in doing it by Rittespaugh and 'Peanut John.'
In the evening, between five and six o'clock, Booth came into the theater and asked me for a halter. I was very busy at work at the time on the stage preparatory to the evening performance, and Rittespaugh went upstairs and brought one down. I went out to the stable with Booth and put the halter upon the horse. I commenced to take off the saddle when Booth said, 'Never mind, I do not want it off, but let it and the bridle remain.' He afterward took the saddle off himself, locked the stable, and went back to the theater.
Booth, Maddox, 'Peanut John,' and myself immediately went out of the theater to the adjoining restaurant next door, and took a drink at Booth's expense. I then went immediately back to the theatre, and Rittespaugh and myself went to supper. I did not see Booth again until between nine and ten o'clock. About that time Deboney called to me, and said Booth wanted me to hold his horse as soon as I could be spared. I went to the back door and Booth was standing in the alley holding a horse by the bridle rein, and requested me to hold it. I took the rein, but told him I could not remain, as Gifford was gone, and that all of the responsibility rested on me. Booth then passed into the theater. I called to Deboney to send 'Peanut John' to hold the horse. He came, and took the horse, and I went back to my proper place.
In about a half hour afterward I heard a shot fired, and immediately saw a man run across the stage. I saw him as he passed by the center door of the scenery, behind which I then stood; this door is usually termed the center chamber door. I did not recognize the man as he crossed the stage as being Booth. I then heard some one say that the President was shot. Immediately all was confusion. I shoved the scenes back as quickly as possible in order to clear the stage, as many were rushing upon it. I was very much frightened, as I heard persons halloo, "Burn the theater!" I did not see Booth pass out; my situation was such that I could not see any person pass out of the back door. The back door has a spring attached to it, and would not shut of its own accord. I usually slept in the theater, but I did not upon the night of the assassination; I was fearful the theater would be burned, and I slept in a carpenter's shop adjoining.
I never heard Booth express himself in favor of the rebellion, or opposed to the Government, or converse upon political subjects; and I have no recollection of his mentioning the name of President Lincoln in any connection whatever. I know nothing of the mortise hole said to be in the wall behind the door of the President's box, or of any wooden bar to fasten or hold the door being there, or of the lock being out of order. I did not notice any hole in the door. Gifford usually attended to the carpentering in the front part of the theater, while I did the work about the stage. Mr. Gifford was the boss carpenter, and I was under him.
(1) Who Killed Abraham Lincoln?: An investigation of North America's most famous ex-priest's assertion that the Roman Catholic Church was behind the assassination of America's greatest President, Paul Serup, (Salmova Press, 2008)