When Lee surrendered to Grant at the battle of Gettysburg, many people in America thought this was the end of the Civil War. One Confederate soldier, John Wilkes Booth, refused to believe the North beat the South, so he devised a plan to kidnap the President. He gathered three men and a woman to help with this plan. Each of these people played an important role in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. They were Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt.
Lewis Powell was the son of Baptist preacher. He was born in Randolph County, Alabama in 1844. As a young man, Powell worked as a supervisor of his father?s plantation in Florida. He was infantryman, who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. He was wounded and taken prisoner, but he escaped and continued to fight for the Confederacy.
George Atzerodt was born in Germany in 1836. He came to the United States when he was eight years old. He lived in Maryland. Atzerodt started a carriage repair business with his brother in Port Tobacco. During the Civil War, he made extra money by helping Confederate agents cross the Potomac River.
Mary Jenkins was born in Maryland in 1823. When she was seventeen, she married John Harrison Surratt. They lived outside of Washington, and they owned more than two hundred acres of farmland. The town was known as Surrattsville. She moved to a house on High Street in Washington and rented extra rooms to make extra money. Her oldest son, John Surratt, joined the Confederate Army and worked as an agent for the Confederacy.
John Surratt, Mary?s son, introduced all the major conspirators to John Wilkes Booth. Lewis Powell was a friend of John Surratt. John Surratt introduced Powell to Booth, and Booth asked Powell if he would assist him in his plan to kidnap the President. David Herold met John Surratt at Charlotte Hall Academy. John Surratt also introduced him to Booth. George Atzerodt met John Surratt when he helped him cross the Potomac River. In return Surratt brought Atzerodt back to Washington with him where he met Booth.
In the short time Atzerodt was in Washington, he stayed at Mary Surratt?s boarding house. John Wilkes Booth also set up David Herold with a room at Mrs. Surratt?s. Booth also revealed his kidnapping plan to Mrs. Surratt, and she agreed to hide people in her boarding house.
Booth?s plan was to kidnap Lincoln on March 17th at the Seventh Street Hospital where Lincoln was making an appearance. After Lincoln was kidnapped, he would be traded for the prisoners of the Confederate army. Many historians say that if this plan had worked out, the war might have had a different outcome. The plan fell through when Lincoln canceled his trip to the hospital.
Booth, who refused to let the North win over the South, devised a new plan. This time he was going to kill the President at Ford?s Theater. Lewis Powell was to kill the Secretary of State, William Seward. George Atzerodt was assigned to kill the Vice President, Andrew Johnson. David Herold was supposed to be the driver for Atzerodt and Powell when they were done and drive them back to Mrs. Surratt?s boarding house. All of these plans were supposed to take place at 10:15 PM on April 14, 1865.
Booth?s plan didn?t go as well as he wanted it to. He was the only one who ended up killing his person, but he got a broken leg out of it. He assassinated Abraham Lincoln at Ford?s Theater on the evening of April 14th. Powell went to William Seward?s house and stabbed him in the neck. Luckily for Seward, he was protected by a neck brace that he was wearing because of his neck problems. Powell killed Seward?s son Frederic Seward because Frederic tried to prevent Powell from leaving the house. Powell then ran outside where Herold was waiting for him with a horse. Atzerodt, who was supposed to kill Andrew Johnson, got drunk and didn?t even attempt the assassination.
The four men and Mrs. Surratt were all caught by the police. Powell hid for three days in the woods and returned back to Mrs. Suratt?s house where he and she were arrested on April 17th. Booth and Herold were also caught in a barn three days after the crime. Both of them were arrested. Atzerodt was found and arrested by police at his cousin?s house in Georgia on April 20th.
“I arrested the prisoner, George A. Atzerodt on the 20th of April, about 4 o?clock in the morning at the house of a man named Richter, near a place called Germantown. I was sent there by Captain Townsend, with a detail of six men?We found Atzerodt lying on the front of the bed.” Sergeant L. W. Gemmill (Teaching History Online, Atzerodt 4)
On June 29, 1865, Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, and David Herold were found guilty of the conspiracy to kill President Abraham Lincoln and members of his administration. They were sentenced to be hanged on July 7, 1865 at the Washington Penitentiary. Mrs. Surratt insisted she was innocent until the day she was executed. Five out of the nine members of the Military Commission said that Mrs. Surratt should be spared the death penalty because of her sex and age. But President Andrew Johnson said no. She became the first woman in America to be executed.
“I was determined to get rope that would not break, for you know when a rope breaks at a hanging, there is a time-worn maxim that the person intended to be hanged was innocent. The night of the execution, I took the rope to my room and there made the nooses. I preserved the pieces intended for Mrs. Surratt for the last.” (Teaching History Online, Surratt 7)
Mrs. Surratt was the first to be led the gallows. She nearly fainted, and she would have fallen if she wasn?t supported. Next was David Herold. He was also frightened to death. He trembled and also seemed that he was going to faint. Atzerodt was dressed in a ridiculous outfit. He wore carpet slippers and a long white nightcap. He was also very upset. Unlike the others, Lewis Powell walked to his execution very bravely. He took a straw hat from an officer and wore it until they put the black bag over his head. All four were hanged at the same time, and they died very quickly.
Three months after Abraham?s Lincoln?s assassination, Mary Surratt, George Atzerodt, David Herold, and Lewis Powell were hanged because of their part in one of the biggest conspiracies in American history.