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Abraham Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

Abraham Lincoln Assassination Conspirators
Clockwise from top: John Wilkes Booth, Lewis Powell, David Herold, Michael O'Lauglin, John Surratt, Edman Spangler, Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt. Center: Mary Surratt.
So, who was responsible for the assassination of Abe Lincoln? John Wilkes Booth is the name that most recognized with Lincoln's assassination, however he was not the only person to play a role in the assassination. Read the names of Abraham Lincoln's assassination conspirators and learn more below.

Click on a name below to read about each's role in the conspiracy
John Wilkes Booth
1838-1865


A member of a famous acting family, and a fierce partisan of the Confederacy, Booth was the subject of a 12-day manhunt through Maryland and Virginia after he shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. Union cavalry pursued him to the Garrett farm, burned down the barn to flush Booth out, then, as he rushed out, killed him with a bullet to the neck.
John Wilkes Booth's Role in the Conspiracy

In the summer of 1864, Booth began formulating plans to kidnap Abraham Lincoln. The plan called for Lincoln to be taken south to Richmond, where he would be held until exchanged for Confederate prisoners-of-war. Booth recruited friends and known southern-sympathizers for his mission, including the eight persons tried before the 1865 military commission. Some who resisted his persuasive efforts, such as actor Samuel Chester, became key government witnesses in the trial.

On March 15, Booth and his most of his fellow conspirators met at a Restaurant three blocks from Ford's Theatre to plan their abduction of the President. Soon thereafter, Booth heard that the President would be attending a matinee performance of Still Waters Run Deep on March 17 at the Campbell Hospital on the outskirts of Washington. This, he decided, would the perfect opportunity for a kidnapping and--according to John Surratt--Booth developed a plan to intercept Lincoln's carriage enroute to the play. Booth's plans were foiled, however, when the President changed his plans and decided instead to speak to the 140th Indiana Regiment and present a captured flag.

Booth then turned to plan to kidnap the President at a future performance at Ford's Theatre, where the actor had several friends, but the plan failed to win the support of some of his co-conspirators, who dismissed it as infeasible.

On April 14, 1865, after the fall of Richmond rendered moot his kidnap scheme, Booth set in motion his final plan--one of assassination. Booth may have made the decision to kill the President after hearing Lincoln deliver a speech urging Negro suffrage, according to Booth's former friend, Louis Weichmann. Weichmann spoke of his viewing of the the President's speech with Booth:

"I had never seen Mr. Lincoln up close and I knew he was a tall man, however nothing could have prepared me for the sight of him. A long shadow did he have. And his arms, when at his sides, touched near his knees. Very professionally he said that there would never be any suffrage based on differences in the way people look. Upon this, Booth turned to the two of us and said, “That means nigger citizenship. Now by God I’ll put him through!”

Booth tried to convince several of his co-conspirators to participate in his plot to kill several high government officials ( including the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and probably General Grant), but found few willing.

Around 10:15, as the President and the First Lady watched a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre, Booth, showed a card to a presidential aide and was allowed entry through a lobby door leading to the presidential box. Reaching the box, Booth pushed open the door. The President sat in his armchair, one hand on the railing and the other holding to the side a flag that decorated the box, in order to gain a better view of a person in the orchestra. From a distance of about four feet behind Lincoln, Booth fired a bullet into the President's brain as he shouted "Revenge for the South!" (according to one witness) or "Freedom!" (according to another). Major Rathbone, seated with the President in the State Box, sprang up to grab the assassin, but Booth wrested himself away after slashing the general with a large knife. Booth rushed to the front of the box as Rathbone reached for him again, catching some of his clothes as Booth leapt over the railing. Rathbone's grab was enough to cause Booth to fall roughly on the stage below, where he badly fractured his leg.

Rising from the stage, Booth shouted "Sic semper tyrannus!" and ran across the stage and toward the back of the theatre. Booth rushed out the back door of the theatre to a horse being held for him by Joseph Burroughs (better known as "Peanuts"). Booth mounted the horse and swept rapidly down an alley, then to the left toward F Street--and disappeared into the Washington darkness.


Lewis Powell Lewis Powell
1844-1865


Powell was a former Confederate prisoner of war. Tall and strong, he was recruited to provide the muscle for the kidnapping plot. When that plan failed, Booth assigned Powell to kill Secretary of State William Seward. He entered the Seward home and severely injured Seward, Seward’s son, and a bodyguard. Powell was tried and convicted, and was executed by hanging in July 1865.
Lewis Powell's Role in the Conspiracy

A Confederate operative, David Parr, introduced Powell to John Surratt, who in turn introduced Powell to John Wilkes Booth. Booth recruited Powell, along with other conspirators, to participate in the kidnapping of President Lincoln. Booth planned to kidnap Lincoln on March 17 as he attended a play at the Seventh Street Hospital, then take him to Richmond where would be held in exchange for Confederate POWs. The plan collapsed, however, when Lincoln cancelled his appearance at the play.

The kidnap conspiracy turned into an assassination conspiracy by April. Powell agreed to participate in Booth's plot to assassinate high government officials in the hopes of throwing the federal government into chaos. Powell's assigned role was to enter the home of Secretary of State William Seward and kill him as he lay on his bed recovering from a recent carriage accident.

The conspiracy began to unfold around eight o'clock on April 14, when Powell met with Booth, who gave him weapons and a horse. At ten o'clock Powell and David Herold arrived at Seward's home in Washington. Powell told the servant who answered the door, William Bell, that he had a prescription for Secretary Seward from his doctor. Over Bell's objections, Powell began walking up the steps toward the Secretary's room, when he was confronted by the Secretary's son, Frederick Seward. Seward told Powell he would take the medicine, but Powell insisted on seeing the Secretary. When Seward resisted entry, Powell clubbed him violently with his revolver (fracturing Seward's head so severely that he would remain in a coma for sixty days), then slashed the Secretary's bodyguard, George Robinson, in the forehead with a bowie knife. Finally reaching the Secretary in his bed, Powell--shouting, "I'm mad, I'm mad!"--stabbed him several times before he could be pulled off by Robinson and two other men. Powell raced down the stairs and out the door to his one-eyed bay mare. Attempting to flee in the direction of the Navy Yard bridge, Powell instead made a wrong turn and ended up spending the night in a cemetery near the Capitol


David Herold David Herold
1842-1865


An impressionable and dull-witted pharmacy clerk, Herold led Booth on the escape route into Virginia. He surrendered at the Garrett farm, was tried and convicted, and was executed by hanging in July 1865.
David Herold's Role in the Conspiracy

David Herold accompanied Lewis Powell to the home of Secretary of State William Seward on the night of April 14. While Powell entered the Seward home and made his knife attack on the Secretary, Herold waited outside with his horse.

(According to co-conspirator George Atzerodt, Booth had chosen Herold to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel. It is believed to be Herold's gun, bowie knife, and map of Virginia that were discovered by investigators in a room at the Kirkwood rented by Atzerodt. Whether Atzerodt's story is entirely accurate and why, if so, Herold did not carry out his attack on Johnson is unknown.)

After the attack on Seward, Herold crossed the Navy Yard Bridge and made his way into Maryland, where he met up with the injured John Wilkes Booth. Herold and Booth's escape route took them to the home of John Lloyd in Surrattsville, where they picked up carbines, and then to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, where Booth found treatment for his broken leg. A pursuing party of soldiers finally caught up with Herold and Booth at Garrett's farm in northern Virginia in the early morning of April 26. Faced with the prospect of being shot or dying in a burning barn, Herold surrendered.


Michael O'Laughlen Michael O'Laughlen
1840-1867


Booth’s childhood friend was an ex-Confederate soldier. After he turned himself in to the authorities, he was tried as a conspirator, though his role remained unclear. O’Laughlen was sentenced to life in prison and sent to Fort Jefferson, off of Key West, Florida, where he died of yellow fever in 1867.
Michael O'Laughlens's Role in the Conspiracy

Booth recruited O'Laughlen in the late summer of 1864 to participate in the plan to kidnap Abraham Lincoln and take him to Richmond, where he would--it was hoped--later be exchanged for Confederate prisoners-of-war. O'Laughlen, along with Booth and other conspirators, attended a March 15 meeting at Gautier's Restaurant in Washington where plans were laid for the kidnapping. The plot to intercept Lincoln's carriage while enroute to a play at the Campbell Hospital fell through when Lincoln changed his plans. Booth's next plan involved kidnapping Lincoln at Ford's theatre. O'Laughlen's was to have extinguished the gas lights at the theatre, but the plan was abandoned as infeasible.

O'Laughlen returned to Washington shortly before the assassination, but what role--if any--he played in Booth's final, desperate plan is unknown.

O'Laughlen voluntarily surrendered himself to federal authorities on April 17, 1865.


Mary Surratt Mary Surratt
1823-1865


Surratt owned a boarding house in Washington where the conspirators met. The subject of some controversy, she received the death sentence and was put to death by hanging in July 1865, becoming the first woman executed by the United States.
Mary Surratt's Role in the Conspiracy

Mary Surratt's eldest son, John, served in the Civil War as a Confederate secret agent. John Surratt's acquaintances included many of the key figures in the assassination conspiracy, including John Wilkes Booth, George Atzerodt, David Herold, and Lewis Powell.

Lewis Weichmann, who attended college with John Surratt, resided at Mary Surratt's boarding house in Washington during the period in which the conspiracy plot was hatched. Weichmann, although describing his landlord as "exemplary" in character and "lady-like in every particular," provided testimony that incriminated Mary Surratt. He described numerous private conversations in the Surratt house between Mary and Booth, Powell, and other conspirators. Typically, according to Weichmann, Booth would ask Mary--if John were not at home--if she could "go upstairs and spare a word." He testified that on April 2 Mary Surratt asked him "to see John Wilkes Booth and say that she wished to see him on 'private business'"--and that Booth visited with her in her home that evening. He told of Booth giving him $10 on the Tuesday before the assassination which he was to use to hire a buggy to take Mary Surratt to Surrattsville to collect--according to Surratt--a small debt.

On the day of the assassination, April 14, Mary Surratt sent Weichmann to hire a buggy for another two-hour ride to Surrattsville. Weichmann reported that Surratt took along "a package, done up in paper, about six inches in diameter." Surratt and Weichman arrived sometime after four at Surratt's tavern. Surratt went inside while Weichmann waited outside or spent time in the bar. Surratt remained inside about two hours. Between six and six-thirty, shortly before the began their return trip to Washingon, Weichmann saw Mary Surratt speaking privately in the parlor of the tavern with John Wilkes Booth. At nine o'clock, Surratt saw Booth for a last time when he visited her home in Washington. After the visit, according to Weichmann, Surratt's demeanor changed--she became "very nervous, agitated and restless."

Less than seven hours later, as the President lay dying and Booth having fled, investigators paid an initial visit to the Surratt home. When the investigators left, Surratt reportedly exclaimed to her daughter, "Anna, come what will, I am resigned. I think J. Wilkes Booth was only an instrument in the hands of the Almighty to punish this proud and licentious people." [Weichmann affidavit, 8/11/1865]

On April 17, shortly after eleven at night, a team of military investigators again arrived at the Surratt home to interview her and other residents about the assassination. While they were doing so, Lewis Powell, carrying a pick-axe, knocked on the door. When he claimed to have been hired by Mary Surratt to dig a gutter, Surratt was asked whether she could confirm his story. Surratt answered, "Before God, sir, I do not know this man, and have never seen him, and I did not hire him to dig a gutter for me." While in the Surratt home, investigators uncovered various pieces of incriminating evidence, including a picture of John Wilkes Booth hidden behind another picture on a mantelpiece. Facing arrest, Surratt asked a minute to kneel and pray.


John Surratt John Surratt
1844-1916


Booth’s most valuable conspirator was a Confederate spy with a college education. Surratt introduced Booth to Herold and Azterodt, and conspired with the others to kidnap the president, but was not in Washington several months later when the assassination was carried out. Surratt fled the U.S. when he heard news of the crime, and lived in Europe as a fugitive for several years until he was apprehended in Egypt in 1866. Tried by a civilian court in 1867-1868, Surratt was not convicted. He would survive until 1916.
John Surratt's Role in the Conspiracy

Dr. Samuel Mudd introduced John Surratt to John Wilkes Booth on December 23, 1864 in Washington. Surratt joined the Confederate conspiracy to abduct President Lincoln and participated in the March 15 meeting with other conspirators at Gautier's Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, where plans were laid for a March 17 kidnapping.

On the night of April 14, 1865, Surratt--by his own account--was in Elmira, New York on a spying mission for General Edwin Lee. He fled to Canada upon learning of the President's assassination. He remained in Canada until after his mother's execution on July 7, 1865.


Edman Spangler Edman Spangler
1825-1875


A stagehand and carpenter at Ford’s Theatre who was also known as Edward, Edman, and Ned, Spangler knew Booth well and assisted him on April 14 at the theater. He was not connected to the kidnapping plan, but he was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison. Pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1869, Spangler moved to Maryland, where he remained until his death in 1875.
Edman Spangler's Role in the Conspiracy

On April 14, the day of Lincoln's assassination, Spangler helped prepare the State Box for the president. He removed a partition separating two boxes, creating a larger one for Lincoln and the other members of his party. While working on the box, Spangler allegedly made derogatory remarks--such as "Damn the President!"--about Lincoln. (On the other hand, a defense witness testified that Spangler smiled and clapped along with other theater workers when the president arrived at Ford's.)

Sometime between nine and ten o'clock, Booth appeared at the rear of the theatre and called for Spangler. Booth asked Spangler to hold his horse. Spangler in turn asked Joseph Burroughs (better known as "Peanuts") to watch Booth's horse. When Peanuts told Spangler that he "had to go in to attend my door," Spangler said he should hold the horse anyway and "if there was any thing wrong to lay the blame on him."

Immediately after the shooting of Lincoln, Spangler hit Jacob Ritterspaugh, another Ford's employee who followed Booth out the rear door and observed him head down an alley on his horse. Ritterspaugh testified that when Spangler slapped him on his mouth he said, "Don't say which way he went." Spangler was convicted almost entirely on the testimony of Ritterspaugh. Defense witnesses were offered to contradict Rittersbaugh's testimony. James Lamb testified that after Booth's exit, when Ritterspaugh returned to the stage, he said, "That was Booth! I'll swear it was Booth!" According to Lamb, Spangler responded by slapping Ritterspaugh and saying, "Shut up. What do you know about that? Hold your tongue." The words attributed to Spangler in Rittersbaugh's testimony would probably constitute aid in furtherance of Booth's escape, while Lamb's version (supported by another defense witness) would probably not be a crime.

Spangler was questioned the day after the authorities, then arrested on April 17 and charged with being an accomplice to Booth.


Samuel Arnold Samuel Arnold
1834-1906


Another long-time friend of Booth, Arnold was not in Washington at the time of the assassination. However, investigators tied Arnold to Booth’s original kidnapping plot. Sentenced to life in prison, Arnold was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, and survived until 1906, when he died of tuberculosis.
Samuel Arnold's Role in the Conspiracy

In the late summer of 1864, Booth recruited Arnold, then unemployed and bored, to join the conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln and take him to Richmond. On March 15, 1865, Arnold met Booth at Gautier's Restaurant in Washington to plan the kidnapping, scheduled for two days later. When Lincoln cancelled plans to attend a play at the Campbell Hospital on March 17, the abduction plans fell through and Arnold returned to Baltimore.

A March 27 letter from Arnold to Booth was discovered by investigators during a search of Booth's hotel room after the assassination. On April 17, authorities arrested Arnold in Old Point Comfort, Virginia, where he worked as a clerk.


George Azterodt George Azterodt
1835-1865


German-born Azterodt was a carriage painter and boatman who had secretly ferried Confederate spies across Southern Maryland waterways during the war. Recruited by Booth into the conspiracy, he was assigned to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, but lost his nerve and stayed in a hotel bar, drinking, instead. Azterodt was executed by hanging in July 1865.
George Atzerodt's Role in the Conspiracy

Through the Surratt's, Atzerodt met John Wilkes Booth, who persuaded him to participate in his plan to kidnap President Lincoln, and hold him in Virginia in exchange for Confederate POWs. Atzerodt met Booth and other conspirators at Gautier's Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue to discuss the President's abduction. In a confession (excluded from trial) given on May 1, 1865 to Maryland Provost Marshal James McPhail, Atzerodt admitted his willingness to join the kidnapping conspiracy.

After the kidnapping plan changed to one of assassination, Booth, according to the prosecution, assigned Atzerodt the job of killing Vice-President Andrew Johnson. On the morning of April 14, Atzerodt (using his own name) checked into room 126 of the Kirkwood House in Washington, the same hotel in which the Vice President was staying. At ten o'clock, when he was supposed to begin making his move against Johnson, Atzerodt was attempting to build up his courage by drinking at the hotel bar. He never got any further, and spent the next several hours wandering aimlessly around the streets of Washington.

Atzerodt had aroused suspicion by asking a bartender about the Vice President's whereabouts. The day after Lincoln's assassination, a hotel employee contacted authorities concerning a "suspicious-looking man" in "a gray coat" who had been seen around the Kirkwood. John Lee, a member of the military police force, visited the hotel on April 15 and conducted a search of Atzerodt's room. The search revealed that the bed had not been slept in the previous night. Lee discovered under a pillow a loaded revolver and, between the sheets and the mattress, a large bowie knife. He also found in Atzerodt's rented room a map of Virginia, three hankerchiefs, and a bank book of John Wilkes Booth.

The search of Atzerodt's room, needless to say, made him in the eyes of authorities a prime conspiracy suspect. Atzerodt's arrest came on April 20 at the home of his cousin, Hartman Richer, in Germantown, Maryland.


Samuel Mudd Samuel Mudd
1833-1883


Prosecutors succeeded in showing that Mudd, a doctor who set Booth’s broken leg during the night of April 14, was well acquainted with Booth before the night of the assassination. He escaped hanging by one vote of the military commission that had been convened to try the conspirators. Like Arnold, Mudd was sentenced to life in prison but pardoned in 1869. He died of pneumonia in 1883.
Dr. Samuel Mudd's Role in the Conspiracy

About four o'clock on the morning following the Lincoln assassination two men on horseback arrived at the Mudd farm near Bryantown. The men, it turned out, were John Wilkes Booth--in severe pain with a badly fractured leg that he received from his fall to the stage after shooting the President--and David Herold. Mudd welcomed the men into his house, first placing Booth on his sofa, then later carrying him upstairs to a bed where he dressed the limb.

After daybreak, Mudd made arrangements with a nearby carpenter to construct a pair of crutches for Booth and tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a carriage for his two visitors. Booth (after having shaved off his moustache in Mudd's home) and Herold left later on the fifteenth, after Mudd pointed the route to their next destination, Parson Wilmer's.

When a military investigator tracking Booth's escape route, Lt. Alexander Lovett, reached Mudd's home on April 18, Mudd claimed that the man whose leg he fixed "was a stranger to him."

Lovett returned to the Mudd home three days later to conduct a search of Mudd's home. When Lovett told of his intentions, Mudd's wife, Sarah, brought down from upstairs a boot that had been cut off the visitor's leg three days earlier [see above photo]. Lovett turned down the top of the left-foot riding boot and "saw the name J Wilkes written in it." Mudd told Lovett that he had not noticed the writing. Shown a photo of Booth, Mudd still claimed not to recognize him.

 
 
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