Executions · Famous Last Words · Political · Washington DC

The co-conspirators behind Lincoln’s assassination are executed

July 7, 1865
Washington, DC
The co-conspirators behind the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln — and attempted assassination of Secretary of State William Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson — are executed

Those arrested and hanged for assisting John Wilkes Booth were:
David Herold
George Atzerodt
Mary Surratt, owner of the boarding house in which the conspirators met and mother of one conspirator, John Surratt, who successfully fled the country to escape arrest and execution
Lewis Powell, alias Lewis Payne

David Herold had led Lewis Powell to Secretary of State William H. Seward’s house where Powell’s assassination attempt failed, though he did injure Seward and other members of the household. Herold, frightened, ran off while Powell was left to his own devices and was arrested. Herold met with Booth — who had broken his fibula after shooting Lincoln — and stayed with Booth as he recovered until Union soldiers found them, forcing them to hide in a barn. Herold surrendered though Booth refused and was shot through a crack in the barn’s wall. Herold’s defense at trial tried unsuccessfully to portray him as a feeble-minded man who was influenced by Booth.

George Atzerdot‘s defense was primarily dependent upon the fact that he was a known coward. He had been given the task of shooting Vice President Andrew Johnson but, lacking the courage to do so, began drinking in the bar of the hotel where Johnson was staying. He eventually became drunk and wandered the streets instead of following through with the assassination. His last words on the gallows were “May we all meet in the other world. God take me now.”

Mary Surratt claimed she was uninvolved in the conspiracy but she was not permitted to testify at her own trial, and President Andrew Johnson signed her death warrant because “She kept the nest that hatched the egg.” While on the gallows, Mary Surrantt’s last words were “please don’t let me fall.”

Lewis Powell‘s attack, although ultimately unsuccessful, was the most violent. In his attempt to kill Secretary of State Seward, Powell:

  • tried to shoot Seward’s adult son in the chest. When his gun misfired, he pistol-whipped the man repeatedly
  • slashed a visiting army sergeant’s forearm
  • punched Seward’s adult daughter in the face
  • slashed at Seward’s face and neck with a knife (Seward had recently been involved in an accident and had been fitted with a metal and canvas jaw splint which deflected many of the slashes. Seward’s neck and cheek were cut which resulted in a large amount of blood loss and Powell believed his attack was successful, though Seward was able to recover)
  • stabbed Seward’s other adult son multiple times
  • was wrestled to the ground by the sergeant and the Seward son who was stabbed. The sergeant was stabbed even more in the chest and shoulders. The son was partially scalped in the process
  • tried to flee the house but encountered a State Department messenger who was stabbed in the back as he tried to run away

While in prison, Powell tried vigilantly to declare Mary Surratt’s innocence and spare her execution, though his proclamations were largely ignored. During the execution, the heat and sun were unmerciful so Reverend Doctor Gillette placed a straw hat upon Powell’s head to protect him. A passing breeze blew off the hat and as Gillette retrieved it Powell remarked “Thank you, Doctor, I shall not need it much longer.” Powell also stated upon the gallows “Mrs. Surratt is innocent. She doesn’t deserve to die with the rest of us.” He thanked the prison guards for their kindness and asked Captain Christian Rath to place the noose snugly under his chin. Captain Rath replied “I want you to die quick, Payne,” and Powell calmly stated “you know best, Captain.” Powell’s last words, quietly spoken to Rath from beneath Powell’s hood, were “I thank you, goodbye.”

Lewis Powell, 21

George Atzerodt, 30

David Herold, 23

Mary Surrett, 42 or 45

The condemned preparing for their executions. Left to right: Surratt, Powell, Herold, Atzerodt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s