Booth’s Revenge Chapter Fifty-Five

Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape. Baker saves Booth’s life at Garrett’s farm. Anna Surratt pleads for her mother’s life. Johnson grants a reprieve, but it arrives too late. Stanton plots Johnson’s impeachment. Whitman tells Gabby all the news from Washington. Someone threatens a key witness in a corn field.
Ward Hill Lamon decided after the hangings in the summer of 1865 that the best course he could take would be to continue in his duties as Marshal for the District of Columbia. He intended to go about his ordinary chores while discreetly probing the dealings of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, whom he considered the linchpin in the entire conspiracy.
Weeks passed into months without progress in his investigation. The deaths of Preston King in New York and James Lane in Kansas did not pass without his notice. Local coroners declared both had been suicides, but Lamon had his doubts, remembering the roles they played in blocking Mrs. Surratt’s reprieve. He also learned that Louis Weichmann left his government job to live in Indiana. Obtaining Weichmann’s new address, Lamon sent letters, asking to speak with to him. Weichmann never replied to any of the letters; in fact, the last one returned with “Refused” scrawled across it.
The man writes like a damned schoolboy. He’s scared to death.
Meanwhile Lamon searched all the local newspapers for political developments. By late August, four different mid-term conventions met to select candidates for the House of Representatives. Delegates at one convention urged Johnson to fire Secretary of War Stanton, while participants at other conventions called for the president’s impeachment. In fact, impeachment was the central issue in congressional elections around the country.
When Johnson announced plans to go on a speaking tour in the fall, Lamon’s first instinct was to offer his services as a personal bodyguard. Johnson’s traveling companion was William Seward, who had sufficiently recovered from his knife wounds to continue his duties as Secretary of State.
Seward was too weak to defend Johnson against any attack.
After many nights of late drinking, Lamon dissuaded himself from making the offer. As long as Stanton obsessed over impeachment, Lamon knew Johnson’s life was not in danger. Stanton’s faction carried enough seats in the November mid-term elections to maintain its lead in the House.
Lamon spent the week before Christmas ensconced in one of his favorite taverns in Washington City reading newspapers. He sighed as he considered the ongoing battles between Congress and the President on one piece of legislation after another. The new session began in December of 1866, and the House passed a bill giving Black men in the District of Columbia the right to vote. Representatives then passed the Tenure of Office Bill.
That bill looks tame enough but it could raise a lot of hell. Thaddeus Stevens had a hand in it.
The tenure bill stated the President couldn’t fire a member of his cabinet without permission of Congress. Another bill called for Johnson’s impeachment if the President did fire anyone.
The New Year will only bring more presidential vetoes and more congressional overrides.
“Excuse me.” A soft voice of easy manner interrupted Lamon’s thoughts. “Are you not Marshal of the District of Columbia Ward Hill Lamon?”
“Yes, I am.” He wrinkled his brow trying to make out the figure of the man standing over him. He was older than Lamon, somewhat shorter and less stout, and his shoulders sloped in such a way to render his presence benign.
“I thought so.” The man smiled through his full gray beard. “I’m Walt Whitman. You visited my home in Brooklyn last year. You spoke to my mother and my dear friend Gabby Zook.”
Lamon’s eyes widened and he stood to shake Whitman’s hand. “An honor, sir. I’ve been trying to make your acquaintance for some time. Every time I go to the Office of Indian Affairs I’m told you’re away for a few days.”
“Yes, I don’t make a good employee, it seems. But they have a good nature and overlook my shortcomings.”
“Please, have a seat.”
“Thank you.”
“Would you like ale?”
“Another hot tea would be pleasant,” Whitman said as he sat. I’ve witnessed in my family what alcohol can do to one’s constitution, but I do enjoy the company of men who enjoy their liquor.”
Lamon ordered another tea for Whitman and a large pewter mug of ale for himself. After taking a deep gulp, he leaned back and smiled. “So, do you agree with your mother’s assessment that Gabby Zook is insane?”
“Insane is a complicated word.” Whitman furrowed his brow. “I’ve observed insanity first hand in my own family. My colleagues in journalism have called me insane. Mr. Gabby has an extremely high degree of anxiety. Such anxiety cannot be created merely from the wild imagination of an insane man but rather from harsh, stark reality.”
Lamon nodded. “I agree with you.” After another draught, he leaned forward so no one standing nearby in the noisy tavern might eavesdrop. “I’ve proof—well, eyewitness testimony for whatever that’s worth—that Gabby Zook, President Lincoln and his wife were held captive in the Executive Mansion basement.”
“And a private Adam Christy attended to their needs,” Whitman added. “Mr. Gabby thought he heard Christy murder the butler in the middle of the night. He also said an intimidating short man with red hair killed the private. Mr. Gabby fears the man might kill him.”
“So he told you the same stories. Do you think you could convince him to tell President Johnson what he knows?”
Whitman shook his head. “I’m a gentle man, Mr. Lamon. Mr. Gabby feels secure around me and opens his heart to me. You and President Johnson, on the other hand, are rough, crude men. You scare him.” He put down his cup and rose. “Thank you so much for the refreshment.” Patting Lamon on the shoulder, he added, “I’ll do all in my power to convince Mr. Gabby to trust you. Have patience. Our Captain must be avenged.”
“Our Captain?” Lamon was confused. “Who’s our Captain?”
“Our Captain,” Whitman repeated. “Mr. Lincoln, dear sir. We must avenge our Captain.”

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