The Other Conspirators

The assassination of US President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth is a well known event in history, however he was not the only target of the wide ranging conspiracy on that fateful night. 

Currier & Ives Illustration of the Lincoln Assassination

Currier & Ives Illustration of the Lincoln Assassination

The intended plot that was hatched was to assassinate President Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward all on the same night.

Lewis Powell, a Confederate soldier wounded at Gettysburg, was given the task of assassinating Seward. David Herold, another conspirator, guided Powell to the home of Seward late in the evening on horseback. Seward had been bedridden due to a carriage accident he was involved in the prior week.

Herold waited outside the home with the horses to make their planned escape on, while Powell attempted to gain entry to the house.  He used a ruse of bringing medicine from Seward's Doctor to gain entry, however Seward's butler William Bell became immediately suspicious, and Powell pushed past him armed with his knife and revolver made his way up the stairs.

The commotion drew Seward's son Frederick to the top of the stairs where he asked Powell to stop, once Frederick asked for the supposed medicine Powell drew his pistol and fired into Frederick's chest however the pistol misfired so Powell proceeded to pistol whip Frederick repeatedly.

At the same time the Butler escaped and sought help next door, Herold who was waiting outside with the horses saw this and fled the scene abandoning Powell.

Once Powell was finished with Frederick he entered the bedroom and went for Sergeant Robinson who was by Seward's bedside, Robinson was slashed on the arm and fell to the ground, he then punched Seward's daughter in the face and leaped toward Seward himself.

He began repeatedly slashing Seward in the head and throat but Seward's braces from his injury had deflected most of the blows, but he was severely wounded none the less. Seward's other son Augustus entered and began wrestling with Powell, but Powell got the better of him stabbing him in the chest and shoulder.

Ford's Theatre 1865

Ford's Theatre 1865

As Powell was leaving he saw a messenger had arrived and Powell stabbed him in the back as he attempted to flee. Once outside he realised that Herold had abandon him, which exacerbated the situation as Powell didn’t know the escape route. He wandered through the streets, discarded his bloodied clothes and pretended to be a menial labourer despite being a man of means, and eventually made it to the Surratt residence where the plots were hatched as was their destined safe house.

It was unfortunate timing for Powell as he arrived just as Military Investigators were taking Mrs Surratt in for questioning, despite his attempts to convince them he was a menial labourer, his appearance and possessions led them to suspect otherwise. Later that night William Bell identified Powell as the attacker which led to Powell's arrest and subsequent trial and execution.

George Atzerodt was the man tasked with assassinating Vice President Johnson. He had arranged a room in the hotel when Johnson was staying, however as the night wore on he lost his courage and ended up drinking at the hotel bar. Atzerodt aroused suspicion by constantly asking about Johnson's whereabouts, which eventually led to a search of his room after Lincoln was assassinated, and Atzerodt's capture at his cousin's house a week later.

After Herold left Powell, he caught up with Booth to gather the weapons to assassinate Lincoln. He caught up with Booth again later in the evening after he assassinated Lincoln and they began their escape together. By the time authorities caught up with them two weeks later at the property of Richard Henry Garrett, Herold decided to surrender, but Booth decided to make his fatal last stand.

Mary Surratt was heavily involved in the plot, where her boarding house was routinely used for plotting, as well as providing arms, sanctuary and logistics for Booth and the other conspirators as part of their escape.

Atzerodt, Powell, Herold and Surratt were all executed on July 7, Surratt being the first woman executed by the US federal government.