When I think of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, I think of John Wilkes Booth shooting the president at the Ford Theater. I don’t think about the assassination being a part of a conspiracy, but in fact, it was. It makes sense, I guess, because it isn’t even logical that someone could simply walk into the Ford Theater and to the President’s box and shoot him. Someone had to tell Booth where the president was going to be. Someone had to clear the way for Booth to get in. Someone had to remove more than just a president. This was a plot to change history.
Lincoln conspirator Mary Surratt, who was born Mary Elizabeth Jenkins in 1823, was from Maryland. Before her acts of treason, Mary married John Harrison Surratt in 1840, when she was 17. They planed a life together an began buying massive amounts of land near Washington. Together, she and her husband had three children…John Jr, Isaac, Anna. Then After her husband’s death in 1864, when she was just 41, Mary moved to Washington DC, on High Street. To make some money, Mary rented part of her property…a tavern that her husband had built, to a man named John Lloyd, who was a retired police officer.
John Jr, Mary’s eldest son, met John Wilkes Booth during his time as a Confederate spy. Because of this connection, when Booth was plotting Lincoln’s assassination with his co-conspirators, he felt perfectly at home in Mary Surratt’s DC residence, which had by this time, become a boardinghouse. As plans progresses Mary Surratt also became involved with the shooting of Abraham Lincoln, through these men. She even asked Lloyd to help. Her request was that he have some “shooting-irons” ready for some men that would stop by later that night…the night that they murdered Abraham Lincoln. Although drunk, Lloyd was able to provide testimony of the appearance of Booth and a co-conspirator at Mary’s tavern. For her involvement, Mary Surratt was sentenced to death, she was the first woman to be executed by the United States Government. She asked of her executioners only to, “not let her fall” in a very small voice, but as she was hanged on July 7, 1865, her request was not honored.
Lewis Powell (some accounts say Paine) was nicknamed Doc as a child for his love of nursing animals back to health. Powell’s part in the conspiracy was to assassinate Secretary of State Seward. Seward was at home sick in bed the night of the assassination. That should have made his job easier. Powell gained entry to the home claiming to have medicine for Seward, but when he entered Seward’s room, he found Seward’s son, Franklin. They got into a scuffle when Powell refused to hand over the medicine. Powell beat Franklin so badly that he was in a coma for sixty days. He also stabbed Seward’s body guard before stabbing Steward several times. He was pulled off the Secretary by the body guard and two other members of the household. Seward survived, and Powell hid in a cemetery overnight. He was caught when he returned to Mary Surratt’s while she was being questioned by investigators. Powell attempted suicide while waiting for a verdict. He was convicted and hanged on July 7, 1865.
David Herold accompanied Powell to Seward’s house. Herold waited outside with the getaway horses. After Lincoln was assassinated, Herold managed to escape DC that same night, and met up with Booth. He was caught with Booth on April 26. Despite his lawyers many attempts to convince the court his client was innocent, Herold was convicted and was hanged on July 7, 1865.
George Atzerodt was given the task of killing Vice President Johnson. He went to the hotel Johnson was staying at, but was too afraid to kill the vice president. He went to the hotel bar and began drinking, hoping to get his courage up to do his part. Instead, he got very drunk and spent the night wandering the streets of Washington DC. He was arrested after the bartender reported his strange questions the night before. Atzerodt was convicted and hanged on July 7, 1865.
Edman Spangler was at Ford’s Theater the night of the assassination. Witness testimonies were conflicting as to his role in covering up Booth’s escape, but he allegedly took down the man trying to catch Booth before he fled. Spangler was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison. He was pardoned in 1869 by President Johnson…which is odd considering the group tried to kill him. Spangler died in 1875 on his farm in Maryland.
Samuel Arnold was not involved in the April 14 assassination attempts. However, he was involved in earlier plots to kidnap Lincoln, and was arrested for his connections to Booth. Arnold was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned by President Johnson in 1869. He died in 1906 from tuberculosis.
It is unclear what role Michael O’Laughlen played in the actual assassination attempts. He was surely a conspirator to the group’s plans. He voluntarily surrendered on April 17. O’Laughlen was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He died from yellow fever two years into his sentence.
It is unclear what part, if any, Mary’s son, John Surratt Jr played in the events of April 14. He claims to have been in New York that night, but he escaped to Canada and an international manhunt ensued for him. After his mother’s execution in July, he escaped to England. He then traveled to Rome and joined the group of soldiers protecting the Pope. It was while visiting Alexandria, Egypt that he was finally recognized and sent back to the United States. Unlike the other co-conspirators, Surratt was tried by a civilian court. On August 10 the trial ended with a hung jury and the charges were dropped in 1868. He died from pneumonia in 1916, and was the last living person with ties to the assassination attempt.
When I was a little kid, we sometimes got to take our vacations with my Uncle Bill’s family. My dad and his brother were close, and while they unfortunately lived a long way from each other, they really enjoyed spending time together, and getting the families together too. It was always a wonderful treat for us to get to see Uncle Bill and Aunt Doris and the kids. Uncle Bill was always such a kidder, so between him and my dad, the vacations were filled with laughter. I think I would have loved to see the two of them as boys, pulling their little…or as was usually the case with those boys, big antics.
On this particular trip, we had stopped at Wall Drug in South Dakota. Now for those of you who have never been there, this is not your everyday drug store. It is practically an amusement park without the rides. There were all kinds of talking displays, dinosaurs, Indian artifacts, pottery, rocks, souvenirs, and it’s free, except the souvenirs and food. How much of that do you see these days?
We were pretty much free to browse around, and of course, like most kids, we looked for things we might like to talk our parents into buying for us. I’m sure to the adults, we must have looked quite funny. Running around from this item to that…finding each item more interesting than the last one. I guess the good news is that we were all occupied, and there was no fighting going on. And believe me, my sisters and I were pretty much professional souvenir shoppers. It could take hours to decide, unless our parents said to hurry up so we could go.
On this particular trip, Uncle Bill and Aunt Doris wanted to buy something special for their nieces, my sisters and me. We did not know this, however, so while we were making up our minds on a souvenir, they were watching us. I don’t recall if our parents just told us we could get something somewhere else, or just got us some little thing, but whatever it was, we didn’t leave there with the items we would have treasured most, because there was a bit of a conspiracy going on. And here I thought a person was supposed to be able to trust their parents, aunts, and uncles, but now, I know better!!
Later that night, my aunt and uncle surprised each of us with a gift…the very thing we had wanted the most. They secretly bought us those things, and my uncle took pictures of each of us opening the gift, so they could see what we thought of them. It was a wonderful surprise. Uncle Bill and Aunt Doris were always so good to us. They made us feel special whenever we were with them…and not just because they bought us something either. They were just always very sweet to us, and we loved them very much. These days we don’t get to see as much of them as we used to, but I want them both to know that we love both them very much!!