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Authors' search for truth about Lincoln led them to Indiana

Friday, June 3, 2005

This is the second in a series of articles exploring the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the alleged links to Clay County as told by co-authors Ray Neff and Leonard Guttridge in "Dark Union: The Secret Web of Profiteers, Politicians, and Booth Conspirators that led to Lincoln's Death."

Since the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, children have been taught a story that is considered by most to be a factual account of how events unfolded, from a gunshot in the balcony of a theater, to John Wilkes Booth's capture in a burning barn and death by gunshot wound.

But when authors Ray Neff and Leonard Guttridge think about the 16th president's love of a good mystery story, they are struck by the irony of Lincoln's role in a real-life "whodunnit." They chronicle their attempts to sift through the intricate layers of unusual documented events surrounding Lincoln's murder in "Dark Union: The Secret Web of Profiteers, Politicians, and Booth Conspirators that led to Lincoln's Death," challenging their readers to reconsider what was previously perceived as fact.

After discovering a hidden message by Lafayette Baker, head of the National Detective Police (NDP), in an old military magazine, Neff's discoveries led him to Ladoga, Ind. After news of the discovery became public, Guttridge and Neff became partners in a project that was originally about Baker.

This is the second in a series of articles exploring the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the alleged links to Clay County as told by co-authors Ray Neff and Leonard Guttridge in "Dark Union: The Secret Web of Profiteers, Politicians, and Booth Conspirators that led to Lincoln's Death."

Since the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, children have been taught a story that is considered by most to be a factual account of how events unfolded, from a gunshot in the balcony of a theater, to John Wilkes Booth's capture in a burning barn and death by gunshot wound.

But when authors Ray Neff and Leonard Guttridge think about the 16th president's love of a good mystery story, they are struck by the irony of Lincoln's role in a real-life "whodunnit." They chronicle their attempts to sift through the intricate layers of unusual documented events surrounding Lincoln's murder in "Dark Union: The Secret Web of Profiteers, Politicians, and Booth Conspirators that led to Lincoln's Death," challenging their readers to reconsider what was previously perceived as fact.

After discovering a hidden message by Lafayette Baker, head of the National Detective Police (NDP), in an old military magazine, Neff's discoveries led him to Ladoga, Ind. After news of the discovery became public, Guttridge and Neff became partners in a project that was originally about Baker.

Neff, 81, is a retired Indiana State University professor who resides in Marshall, Ill., with his wife.

Guttridge, 85, of Alexandria, Va., was once a member of the British Royal Air Force and worked at the Indian Embassy as a librarian. He eventually quit to become a full-time professional writer.

It was in rural Indiana that Neff found what he considers a veritable treasure trove of Lincoln assassination investigation history. A search that covered a decade revealed information about Earl Potter, who managed Baker's NDP. Originally from Virginia, he worked as a tracer of missing goods for a Norfolk shipping company before working with the NDP. His younger half-brother, Andrew, ran the NDP Secret Services Division. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the two Potters moved sensitive NDP files, reports and correspondence out of Washington, D.C., and into the Ladoga area. A probe into numerous strange deaths resulted in additional documents being added to what were deemed "the Potter Papers."

"So much of the material he had found, so much indicated that the man cornered and shot in that tobacco barn was not John Wilkes Booth," Guttridge said of Neff's find.

Information gleaned from the Potter Papers and additional Baker sources, Neff and Guttridge write, indicated that national bankruptcy seemed to be a possibility for the Union. Prior to the war, cotton produced in the southern states was moved north for shipping to British and French textile mills. With cotton remaining firmly in the South because of the war, Southern, Northern and European economies were suffering the consequences. Meanwhile, Southern soldiers and civilians, as well as Union prisoners being held in the South, were subsisting on severely reduced food rations.

"You can't run a war without profiteers," Guttridge told The Brazil Times in a telephone interview. "There were profiteers who wanted to make a fortune. The Confederacy was beginning to starve."

In October of 1864, men representing the North as well as the South, along with those interested in their own personal business gains, met at St. Lawrence Hall in Montreal, Canada. The hotel was considered a neutral meeting ground during the war. Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, a prominent actor of the day, was also on hand. The group negotiated a deal that involved trading prisoners of war as well as a meat for cotton swap. Its aim was to move Southern cotton, which fetched a price many times greater than before the war, back into the market, while ensuring Southern troops as well as prisoners being held in the South received meat in order to survive the winter without starving. Because of his work as an actor, Booth was able to travel in restricted areas, which aided his efforts in smuggling medical supplies into the South.

"He (Lincoln) supported and encouraged schemes to get cotton out of the South," Guttridge said. "We (the South) don't want any more money, any more Yankee greenbacks. We want food. The North was actually feeding (Gen. Robert E.) Lee's armies."

While Lincoln was allegedly aware of the deal being negotiated, he became unsure of the dealmaking as radical Republicans who believed he was too forgiving of the South voiced their disdain, and 1864 was an election year. The end of the Civil War was also drawing near, eliminating the need for a trade. But businessmen counting on making a profit from the trade had invested heavily in the deal, and so a plot to kidnap the president was hatched. If the president was captured, Congress could pass legislation without Lincoln's interference. The president could then be released, and Southern guerillas would be discreetly aided by dealmakers and politicians.

"That doesn't portray Lincoln as any kind of villain. He wanted to end the bloodshed," Guttridge said. "It was on cotton this country's very economy was based up to the Civil War."

The cotton futures were similar to playing the stock market, said David Vancil, Head Librarian of Rare Books and Special Collections at Cunningham Memorial Library at ISU in Terre Haute. "It was just amazing how everyone had their hands in the till."

"The profit was tremendous in this deal," Neff added in an interview with The Brazil Times. "Cotton was inextricably involved with the war."

But Booth, who may have suffered from a genetic strain of mental illness, was interested in more than just kidnapping the president. Unlike the moneymakers and politicians, the actor and Confederate sympathizer believed he was God's chosen instrument of retribution. While he performed for applauding crowds throughout the country, he waited for his opportunity to act as a vehicle of divine punishment, with Lincoln the recipient of God's wrath.

In the next part of the Dark Union Assassination Theory series, The Brazil Times relates the story of Lincoln's assassination and how, in spite of Booth's instability, it proved to be one of his mistresses, a former Hoosier, who acted as catalyst in the chain of events that would eventually lead Neff and Guttridge to their ultimate question: Who is buried in Booth's grave?



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