It’s only fitting during the Presidents’ Day celebration to highlight a Mossyrock connection to one of the greatest presidents who ever lived — Abraham Lincoln, who was born Feb. 12, 1809, in Kentucky.
Daniel Shaner, a Civil War veteran who later lived more than three decades in the Mossyrock area, served as bodyguard to President Lincoln. He was on patrol duty in Washington, D.C., April 14, 1865, when John Wilkes Booth shot the 16th president in the back of the head at 10:15 p.m. while in a box seat watching a performance of the play “Our American Cousin.” Lincoln, 56, was carried across the street to the Peterson House, where he remained in a coma for eight hours before dying at 7:22 in the morning April 15.
Shaner, who later served as bodyguard for Secretary of State William H. Seward, wrote down his recollections of that fateful April night. They are included in Mossyrock Memories, a book compiled by the Mossyrock Grange in 1976 in conjunction with the nation’s bicentennial, where Marie Gershick shared his life story.
Shaner was born May 18, 1845, in Eastbrook, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, to Daniel and Eliza Shaner. He told Edmond S. Meany — a University of Washington history professor who featured Shaner and his wife, Amanda, in a May 27, 1916, article on Living Pioneers of Washington — that he spent only nine months training in a log school so he “counts himself uneducated.”
When he was 16, he enlisted as a sharpshooter in Company I, Fifth Pennsylvania, lying about his age. He re-enlisted in Company E of the 100th Pennsylvania, which was known as “Roundheads.” He fought in the siege of Vicksburg during the summer of 1863, the Battle of Knoxville in the fall of that year, and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House May 12, 1864, where he was severely wounded. He left the hospital with a crippled leg and joined Company A, Ninth Regiment of the Veteran Relief Corps in Washington, D.C., composed of wounded veterans.
“I was on patrol duty in Washington, D.C., the night of April 14th, 1865, and had left Ford’s theatre at 10 p.m. with Sergeant Matthews’ patrol of 16 men for Lafayette Square barracks when I heard the long drum roll sounded to arms,” Shaner wrote. “Just a short way up Pennsylvania Avenue, the flash light wig-wagged the signals to load and man the guns, double guard all streets as the President had been shot. We returned at once and were back in four minutes.”
He recounted that Booth, using a Colt .38-caliber pistol, “shot Mr. Lincoln back of the right ear; the ball went through his head and came out at the left temple, two inches from his left eye.”
“He never spoke a word after being shot,” Shaner wrote. “He died just across the street from Ford’s Theatre where we took him. I have two pictures of the gun which Booth used.”
He listed the names of the people allowed into the room where Lincoln lay dying: Mrs. Mary (Todd) Lincoln, Wisconsin Gov. Leonard J. Farwell, Secretary of Treasury Hugh McCullough, Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles, West Virginia Gov. Daniel D.T. Farnsworth, Vice President Andrew Johnson, Judge William T. Otto, Speaker Schuyler Colfax, P.M. Gen. William Dennisen, Dr. Robert King Stone, Surgeon Charles Augustus Leale, Major John Hay, Robert Todd Lincoln, Senator Charles Sumner, Army Surgeon Charles Sabin Taft, Surgeon General Joseph Barnes, Dr. Crane, Secretary of the Interior John P. Usher, Major Gen. Henry Halleck, Rep. Phineas D. Gurley, Major Gen. George Auger, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Major Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs.
Shaner attended the funeral and helped track down the murderer, an actor and Confederate spy from Maryland, John Wilkes Booth, and his co-conspirators. (One of the eight convicted as co-conspirators, Mary Surratt, the first woman ever convicted to hang in the United States, was a shirttail relative of Kathleen Campbell of Centralia, but that’s a story for her to tell.) Booth died in Virginia after a gun battle with his pursuers April 26.
“John Wilkes Booth was one of the actors and brother of Edwin Booth, the owner of the theatre,” Shaner said. “We all knew him, and no one suspected him, and many thought the shooting part of the play. Booth had on a pair of heavy cavalry spurs and when he jumped down to the stage from the President’s box, his spur caught in a large American flag, causing him to break a bone in his ankle. He then left by the back door … crying as he left, ‘Sic temper tyrannus,’ meaning ‘Death to Tyrants.’
“He escaped on the horse up Seventh Street and across the Potomac River to Virginia, not far from Fredericksburg. He was cornered in a barn and would not surrender, so the barn was set on fire and a sergeant of a Michigan regiment shot Booth through the head just as he had shot poor Abe Lincoln. Booth lived from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m. and his dying words were ‘Tell my mother I died on the Confederacy.’ He was hauled 40 miles to Washington by mule team.
“I was at the U.S. arsenal and identified Booth with others of the guard,” Shaner continued. “Three surgeons from the warship lying in the Potomac River came and took his heart and brain back with them for examination. We took a stone pavement up and dug a grave and there we buried John Wilkes Booth inside the walls of the arsenal, but later on he was buried in a cemetery at Baltimore, Maryland.
On July 7, 1865, Shaner witnessed the executions by hanging of four people convicted in the plot to kill Lincoln — Lewis Powell, Mr. David Herold, George Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt.
“I saw the other conspirators hung at the same prison and stood guard over them,” he noted.
Three others were sentenced to life in prison, and one was given a six-year prison term.
“There was a great excitement in Washington,” Shaner recalled. “Martial law was proclaimed, and we had orders to shoot to kill if more than three people were together.”
Shaner noted a couple of facts not generally known, saying that after President Lincoln’s first election, “a great riot broke out at Baltimore. Many were killed. The New York Zuaves and the Pennsylvania soldiers were attacked.”
The Baltimore riot of 1861, also referred to as the Pratt Street Riots, took place April 19, on Pratt Street when fighting broke out between antiwar Copperhead Democrats and Confederate sympathizers and Massachusetts and Pennsylvania state militia regiments called up for federal service. The Civil War had begun a week earlier, on April 12, although many Southern states had not yet seceded. A dozen civilians died and hundreds more were wounded in the riot; four soldiers perished and 36 were wounded in what has been considered the first bloodshed of the Civil War.
Shaner also noted the death of Col. Elmer Elsworth of the New York Zuaves. Elsworth was a law clerk and U.S. Army officer considered the first Union soldier to die in the Civil War. On May 24, 1861, he was pulling down a Confederate flag placed atop the Marshall House Inn at Alexandria, Virginia, by proprietor James W. Jackson who shot him in the chest with a double-barreled shotgun. Elsworth’s companion, Private Francis E. Brownell, shot Jackson in the face and stabbed him repeatedly with his bayonet.
After his discharge from the Army as a lieutenant, Shaner returned to Pennsylvania where he worked as a coal miner and prospected for oil. He served 14 years in the National Guard, and Pennsylvania Gov. Henry M. Hoyt appointed him a lieutenant in the 15th Regiment. Adjutant General James A. Beaver and Matthew Quay, who later served as a Republican congressman, recommended Shaner for meritorious service during the Scranton and Pittsburgh riots. In July 1877, Pittsburgh railroad workers went on strike after wages were cut during the economic recession following the Panic of 1873. The resulting riots left 61 people dead, 124 injured, and 139 under arrest. On Aug. 1, 1877, armed citizens fired upon strikers and killed four people, injuring as many as 54, including the Scranton mayor.
On March 12, 1872, Shaner married Amanda J. Rodgers, at North Liberty, Pennsylvania. They had a dozen children, six boys and six girls: Frank A., Ida Jane, William A., Fanny Alice, James W., Perry B., Eva M., Clara May, Maude D., Nora Belle, Charles A., and George T.
I’m grateful to Linda Holt of Beaverton, Oregon, a descendant of William Young who homesteaded on Young Road in the 1880s, for sparking my interest in Daniel Shaner. I’ll need to share the rest of the family’s story next week.
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.