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Elmira Prison Camp OnLine Library –

Submitted Information - Union Index - Union Officer Listing
Secretary Edwin M. Stanton

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Edwin Stanton was born in Steubenville, Ohio, to devout Methodist parents. Beginning in childhood, he suffered from asthma for the rest of his life. After graduating from Kenyon College in 1833, he studied law under a judge. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1835, but had to wait several months until his 21st birthday before he could begin to practice. He developed a very successful legal career in Ohio, then Pittsburgh, and finally Washington, D. C.

While in Ohio, Stanton became active in the local antislavery society and was elected Prosecuting Attorney of Harrison county as a Democrat. In 1857, he was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Jeremiah Black to represent the federal government in California land cases. Two years later, he was one of the lead attorneys on the defense team of Congressman Daniel Sickles, who stood accused of murdering his wife’s lover. Stanton and his colleagues convinced the jury to acquit Sickles on the grounds of temporary insanity, marking one of the earliest uses of that plea.

After the 1860 presidential election, Stanton gave up a lucrative law practice to become Attorney General in the lame-duck presidential administration of James Buchanan. He advised Buchanan to act forcefully against the South, but when the president did not, Stanton clandestinely keep the Republicans, particularly William Henry Seward, informed about White House policy decisions.

In 1862, President Lincoln decided to remove the corrupt and ineffective Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, by appointing him Minister to Russia. Seward and Salmon Chase successfully lobbied the President to name Stanton as his new Secretary of War. He once again gave up a prosperous law practice to enter public service. He proved to be a strong and effective cabinet officer, instituting practices to rid the War Department of waste and corruption. Immediately Stanton went to work cleaning the graft and favoritism of state contacts from the War Department. He required bids for all contracts to be in writing and with competitive bidding with loyal suppliers. One of the first important changes he made was to have the telegraph office moved to the War Department where he would know the news from the battlefield before anyone else. Even Lincoln had to go to the War office to get the news.

With allegations that Stanton failed to provide adequate medical care and sufficient weapons for the Armies, Stanton enemies pressed for his removal from the cabinet in the summer of 1862.

One of the issues Stanton refused to commit himself to was the fate of the Negroes. In his heart he agreed with the only member of the cabinet who though that the Negro question should not be avoided. The radial republican Chase insisted that it was senseless to combat a rebellion while upholding the evil that had caused it. Stanton again played a duel role while he sided with Chase he had to side with the majority North opinion if he were to get the needed supplies and men he needed. Winning the war was the single most important cause to Stanton as well as for Lincoln and this common desire bonded the two men close.

On July 17, 1862 Lincoln signed into the law a second Confiscation Act which declared all fugitive, captured and abandoned slaves free and the act allowed the president to employ the Negroes in the suppression of the rebellion. Stanton recommended using Negro troops as fighting men but Lincoln did not think the time was right. So without the knowledge of the president Stanton allowed Union General David Hunter to arm Negroes on the agreement that Hunter would take the responsibility if questioned by Congress. Which he was and he did. Stanton went so far in denying knowledge of Hunter’s actions that he would not authorize pay for the black soldiers

Lincoln reconsidered the need for enlistment of black troops in the Union Army in January 1863, as a military necessity and the logical consequence of emancipation. The issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the allowance of Negro troops wiped out the major differences between Lincoln and Stanton. Negroes rushed to the join the Union Army in such force that Stanton had to create the Bureau pf Colored Troops in the war department. The secretary of war fixed the salaries of the colored troops at ten dollars a month with three dollars paid in clothing. The same white soldiers were paid thirteen dollars and clothing.

Congress provided for a national draft in March of 1863. The conscription act was be administered by a military office, a Provost Marshal General of the Army, a separate bureau of the War Department. Unsuccessfully Stanton protested one feature of the enrollment act of 1863. It was not appealed until a year later. The act provided men to obtain an exemption for the draft by paying three hundred dollars commutation or furnishing a substitute.

The draft riots of July in New York were mildly condoned by Governor Seymour. He justified his attitude towards the riots and his opposition to the conscription act on the grounds it was unconstitutional. Lincoln said he could not wait for the Supreme Court to decide the legality of the act, the war needed men.

With the fall elections rapidly approaching the Republicans were worried about the slow progress of the war and the internal strife within the Cabinet since the resignation of the Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase had been accepted. Many people felt that if Lincoln were to replace his Secretary of War he would improve his chances at re-election. Lincoln in order to satisfy the radical republicans still hurting at Chase’s dismissal sacrificed Post master Montgomery Blair, Stanton’s enemy in the cabinet. The radicals concluded that Lincoln was their lone hope. The Democrats nominated General McClellan. Their platform called for immediate cessation of the war and a negotiated peace on the ‘basis of the Federal Union of the States’. Lincoln with his new vice presidential running mate Governor Andrew Johnson of Tennessee won decisively with 2,203,831 votes to McClellan’s 1,797,019.

With the fall of Richmond Stanton tended his resignation as he had told Chase he would do as soon as Richmond fell and Lee surrendered. Lincoln refused and Stanton reluctantly agreed to stay on for awhile longer, although he longed for a long rest after the numerous illnesses he had suffered during the last year of the war.

When Salmon P Chase was Secretary of the Treasury he had been accused of being lax in the way he handled the cotton permits which allowed some trading with the south to keep the cotton mills in the north active. The capture of a Confederate blockade runner in 1864 threatened to discredit Chase who had just been appointed Chief Justice and Lincoln would have suffered from the scandal; Chase’s son-in-law Senator William Sprague of Rhode Island was implicated in a scheme of running guns through though Texas were they were exchanged for cotton for Sprague’s cotton mill back in Cranston, Rhode Island. The act if true would have been treason. Stanton for the sake of his party, Lincoln and his friend Chase, hushed the matter and the damning evidence disappeared from the War Department.

When Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney died in October 1864, Stanton wanted to be named as his replacement. Lincoln believed, though, that he was more important to the Union cause as Secretary of War, so the President appointed Salmon P. Chase, instead. Both Lincoln and Grant feared another secretary of war might upset the victories that the North was having. Upon the assassination of Lincoln, Stanton uttered the memorable line, "Now he belongs to the ages."

In 1863 Stanton recruited Lafayette Baker as his replacement for Allan Pinkerton, head of the Union Intelligence Service. Baker was given the job as head of the National Detective Police (NDP), an undercover, anti-subversive, spy organization. One of his successes was the capture of the Confederate spy, Belle Boyd. Later Baker was accused of conducting a brutal interrogation and despite the inhuman treatment Boyd refused to confess and she was released in 1863.

Baker was also suspected of being guilty of corruption. He went after people making profits from illegal business activities. It was claimed he arrested and jailed those who refused to share their illegal gains with him. Baker was eventually caught tapping telegraph lines between Nashville and Stanton's office. Baker was demoted and sent to New York and placed under the control of Charles Dan, the Assistant Secretary of War.

As the organizer of internal security, Edwin M. Stanton was blamed for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on 14th April 1865. Stanton immediately summoned Lafayette Baker, head of the National Detective Police (NDP) to Washington with the telegraphic appeal: "Come here immediately and see if you can find the murderer of the President." Baker arrived on 16th April and his first act was to send his agents into Maryland to pick up what information they could about the people involved in the assassination.

Stanton was convinced the murder of Lincoln was part of a conspiracy , ‘planned and set on foot by rebels under pretense of a avenging the rebel cause'. Abandoning his plans to retire, Stanton was in control of the government. The Army was under his control, the new President Andrew Johnson was unsure of himself and Congress was not in session.

Carrying on the business of still securing a peace, Lincoln's death was not far from Stanton's mind. He helped arranged the funeral details.

While Sherman and Stanton were feuding over what the attitude of the government should be towards the conquered South and the rights that the government should accord the Negro, government agents swept down upon the Surratt boardinghouse and arrest everyone in the place. Arrested for knocking on the door of the boardinghouse while the Government troops were there was Lewis Payne. Arrested on suspicion he proved to be the man who had attacked Seward.

Also arrested later in other places were co-conspirators Samuel Arnold and Michael O'Laughlin. George Atzerodt had failed to carry out his assignment to assassinate Andrew Johnson, he was arrest as was Edmund Spangler a scene changer at Ford Theater. Dr. Samuel Madd who treated John Wilkes Booth broken leg.

Stanton ordered Payne, O'Laughlin Spangler and Atzerodt to be held below desk on the monitor Montauk. The other men were held in the hold of the monitor Saugus. Mrs. Surratt was held at the Carroll Annex of the Old Capital Prison. The men prisoners all had an iron ball attached to his leg by a heavy chair and wore handcuffs joined by an iron bar. Canvas bag hoods with a hole cut in it for the men to eat and breathe, tied around his neck. They were not allowed to see. Stanton promised to have the bags removed when physicians attending the men complained the hoods might drive them insane. Stanton also promised to allow the prisoners might have daily exercise and reading material, but none of the Secretary of War's promises were ever kept.

On April 20, Stanton offered a $50,000 reward for the capture of John Wilkes Booth and an additional reward of $25,000 for the capture of Herold and John Surratt.

Six days later on April 26, Stanton was awakened with the news that Booth had been killed. Shot, contrary to orders, in a burning barn by a cavalry officer Sergeant Boston Corbett. Herold was also captured at the Port Conway Virginia barn. He accompanied Booth's body back to Washington.

The body of the assassin was buried in a secret unmarked grave beneath the floor of the Washington arsenal which at one time served as a federal penitentiary.

President Andrew Johnson still convinced that high-placed Confederate officials had been involved in the plot offered a reward of $100,000 for the capture of Jefferson Davis.

On June 30 1865, a military commission found all the prisoners guilty of conspiring with the Confederates to murder Lincoln, Johnson, Seward and Grant. Payne, Herold Atzerodt, and Mrs. Surrett were sentenced to hang They were sentenced to be executed on July 7, 1865. O'Laughlin, and Dr. Mudd were sentenced to hard labor for life and Spangler received six years.

Stanton evaluated the new president as a man of vigorous physique and moral courage. The man from Tennessee had dared defy the secessionist of his state and spoke out for the Union.

It was Stanton who was at the center of the battle to impeach and remove President Andrew Johnson from office. After Lincoln’s assassination, Stanton had continued to serve as Johnson’s Secretary of War. However, he became vehemently opposed to Johnson’s lenient Reconstruction policies, and consequently worked with Republican Congressmen to implement Radical Reconstruction in the South. After first suspending Stanton in August 1867, Johnson fired the Secretary in February 1868. Stanton refused to leave office, claiming job protection under the Tenure of Office Act. He locked himself in the War Department until the Senate voted against the President’s removal.

Stanton resigned in May 1868 and returned to his private practice. His wish to sit on the Supreme Court appeared to be fulfilled when President Grant appointed him and the Senate confirmed him on the same day, 20 December 1868. He died, however, four days later in Washington, D.C.