Albion Howe—Honoring Lincoln

Brigadier General Albion P. Howe was one of nine Army general officers, along with twenty-five enlisted men, designated to the guard of honor that stood watch over President Abraham Lincoln’s remains and accompanied the body on the funeral train to its final resting place in Springfield, Illinois, from 21 April to 4 May 1865.

The members of the guard of honor were designated by order of the Secretary of War in General Orders, No. 72, issued from the War Department, Adjunct-General’s Office, on 20 April 1865:[2]

  • Brevet Brigadier-General E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant-General, to represent the Secretary of War.
  • Brevet Brigadier-General Charles Thomas, Assistant Quartermaster-General.*
  • Brigadier-General A. B. Eaton, Commissary-General of Subsistence.
  • Brevet Major-General J. G. Barnard, Lieutenant-Colonel of Engineers.
  • Brigadier-General G. D. Ramsay, Ordnance Department.
  • Brigadier-General A. P. Howe, Chief of Artillery.
  • Brevet Brigadier-General D.C. McCallum, Superintendent Military Railroads.
  • Major-General D. Hunter, United States Volunteers.
  • Brigadier-General J. C. Caldwell, United States Volunteers.
  • Twenty-five picked men, under a captain.
  • * Brevet Brigadier-General James A. Ekin, Quartermaster’s Department, United States Army, substituted.

The Secretary of the Navy also designated three officers in an order on the same date:[2]

  • Rear-Admiral Charles Henry Davis, Chief Bureau Navigation.
  • Captain William Rogers Taylor, United States Navy.
  • Major Thomas Y. Field, United States Marine Corps.

While numerous photos of the funeral exist, we have found none of the guard of honor.

Howe’s participation in the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination did not end there.

On 1 May 1865, by Executive Order, President Andrew Johnson appointed a military commission for the trial of eight persons implicated in the murder of President Abraham Lincoln, the attempted assassination of William Seward, and in an alleged conspiracy to assassinate other officers of the Federal Government.[3] The commission members were appointed by the President on 6 May 1865 in Executive Order—Special Orders: 211:[4]

  • Major-General David Hunter, U. S. Volunteers (President of the Commission).
  • Major-General Lewis Wallace, U. S. Volunteers.
  • Brevet Major-General August V. Kautz, U. S. Volunteers.
  • Brigadier-General Albion P. Howe, U. S. Volunteers.
  • Brigadier-General Robert S. Foster, U. S. Volunteers.
  • Brevet Brigadier-General Cyrus B. Comstock, U. S. Volunteers.
  • Brigadier-General Thomas M. Harris, U. S. Volunteers.
  • Brevet Colonel Horace Porter, Aide-de-camp (personal secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant).
  • Lieutenant Colonel David R. Clendenin, Eighth Illinois Cavalry.

On 9 May 1865, Comstock and Porter were relived from duty, and replaced by:[5]

  • Brevet Brigadier-General James A. Ekin, United States Volunteers.
  • Brevet Colonel C. H. Tompkins, United States Army.

The reason given for their replacement was that they were both senior aides to General Grant and since Grant was thought to have been a target for assassination, it would be improper for them to remain as judges. In reality, it appears that Comstock’s vocal opposition to trial by military commission instead of civilian court was the reason.

Among the nine members, note that three, Howe, Hunter, and Ekin, were also members of the guard of honor.

The trial was held from 9 May 1865 to 30 June 1865 in Washington.

During testimony on 30 May 1865, “Edward Johnson, formerly a general in the Confederate army, was called to the witness stand. Before Johnson could be sworn in, Brigadier General Albion Howe, the member of the military commission …, rose and submitted a motion that Johnson be ejected from the court and declared as an incompetent witness. Howe stated that Johnson had been trained and educated at the National Military Academy and that, after his time at West Point, he had been given a commission in the U.S. Army. Part of the requirements for getting a military commission was taking an oath of allegiance to the United States. Johnson took that oath and rendered his services as a U.S. Army officer. When the Civil War broke out, however, Johnson resigned from the U.S. army and joined the Confederacy. In 1861 then Captain Howe USA fought against then Colonel Johnson CSA at the Battle of Greenbrier River. Howe stated that Johnson’s hands were, “red with the blood of his loyal countrymen…in violation of his solemn oath as a man and his faith as an officer.”[19] Howe considered Johnson’s betrayal of his earlier oath as an officer evidence that Johnson could not be trusted to tell the truth under oath in this courtroom. Brevet Brigadier General James Ekin, one of the other members of the commission, rose and seconded Gen. Howe’s motion. … After further discussion, Gen. Howe replied that, based on the Judge Advocate General’s statement that Johnson was still legally considered to be a competent witness, he would withdraw his objection.”[6]

The eight defendants were found guilty and sentenced. Four defendants were sentenced to death by hanging, and were hanged on 7 July 1865:

  • David E. Herold, conspiracy and assisting John Wilkes Booth during his 12 days on the run.
  • George A. Atzerodt, conspiring with Booth.
  • Lewis Powell, alias Payne, conspiracy and the attempted assassination of Secretary of State William Seward.
  • Mary E. Surratt, conspiring with Booth, helping to facilitate his escape

After sentencing, but before the commission adjourned, there was discussion of recommending clemency for Mary Surratt in consideration of her sex and age. Five of the nine commissioners signed the recommendation. Howe did not. She was the first woman executed by the U.S. federal government.

The two assignments are said to indicate Howe had developed strong political connections among Republican power brokers, and Republican leadership felt he could be trusted.[7]

BGen Albion Parris Howe (1818–1897) is 4th cousin 7x removed of MKS in the Wetherbee branch.

[1] Library of Congress.
[2] “Official Arrangements for the Funeral of President Lincoln,” The American Presidency Project (
[3] President Andrew Johnson, “Executive Order,” 1 May 1865, The American Presidency Project (
[4] E. D. Townsend, by order of the President of the United States (Andrew Johnson), “Executive Order—Special Orders: 211,” 6 May 1865, The American Presidency Project (
[5] E. D. Townsend, by order of the President of the United States (Andrew Johnson), “Executive Order—Special Orders: 216,” 9 May 1865, The American Presidency Project (
[6] “The Conspiracy Trial: Day by Day,” 30 May 1865, (
[7] Bill Hyde, The Union Generals Speak: The Meade Hearings on the Battle of Gettysburg (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), P79; (