A Michigan Man Supervised the Lincoln Conspirator Hangings, 1865
Christian Rath was his name.
Mr. Rath was born in Germany, on October 22, 1831. He ran away from home at 18, came to the United States when he was 19 in 1850, joined the U.S Navy, came to Michigan, and settled in Jackson after his hitch. He was making a living as a shoemaker when the Civil War broke out.
Rath enlisted in the 17th Michigan Volunteer Infantry and was eventually promoted to captain. Being an officer, one of the acts he was called upon to carry out was the execution of the captured conspirators of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination.
This gruesome assignment came from Major General John F. Hartranft, who was in charge of overseeing the imprisonment and securing of the conspirators. The duties that the general gave to Captain Rath were the following:
Making the nooses
Hanging the Nooses
Giving the command for the hanging
Arranging for the body placement in the coffins
The four who were captured and found guilty were Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Powell (commonly known as Lewis Paine), and George Atzerodt (photos below). The execution took place on July 7, 1865. For fulfilling his duties, Rath was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
A dozen days after this detail, Rath was honorably discharged from the army and returned to Jackson, where he became a mail clerk for the Michigan Central Railroad. After retiring in 1900, he lived the rest of his life in peace as a Jacksonian.
He died of “old age” on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1920 at the age of 89 years, 3 months, and 22 days. He is buried in Mount Evergreen Cemetery on Greenwood Avenue, Jackson.
CHRISTIAN RATH GALLERY