The Assassin’s Doctor is Free Today!

I am a big fan of the work of author Robert Summers. Bob is a great-grandchild of Dr. Samuel Mudd and has done an extraordinary amount of research on his ancestor. He takes an honest approach relating Dr. Mudd’s connections to John Wilkes Booth’s plot to kidnap Lincoln and his subsequent assistance to the assassin on the run. Bob has released several books on specific aspects of Dr. Mudd’s life, but his magnum opus is his book, The Assassin’s Doctor: The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd. The book is not only a biography of Dr. Mudd, but also a valuable collection of primary sources about Dr. Mudd. I have a paperback copy of The Assassin’s Doctor and it weighs in at over 700 pages! It’s a priceless part of my library and I am constantly referring to it when I research and write about Dr. Mudd.

While I, of course, encourage you all to purchase Bob Summers’ wonderful physical book, for today only (12/5) you can get the ebook version of this book for FREE! Amazon is selling its Kindle ebook version of The Assassin’s Doctor for a whopping $0. It’s the same content of Bob’s 700+ page book, sent directly to your phone, tablet, or computer…for free! Please take advantage of this amazing offer by clicking here or on the picture below.

Even if you don’t have an Amazon Kindle (I don’t), you can still get this book. All you will have to do is install the free Kindle app on your smartphone or tablet. After that you can download the free ebook version of The Assassin’s Doctor from Amazon and read it right in the app. The ebook version has the added benefit of being completely searchable. It’s better than a traditional index!

As stated, this deal is only good for today, Saturday, December 5, 2020. If you are reading this after 12/5, I encourage you to still pick up Robert Summers book. It’s a great resource and worth far more than the regular list price.

Happy reading!

Dave

Categories: History, News | Tags: | 10 Comments

The Confessions of George Atzerodt

Of all the Lincoln assassination conspirators, George Atzerodt was perhaps the most prolific stool pigeon. After being arrested by the authorities, Atzerodt was quick to turn on his fellow conspirators and do his best to diminish the role he played in Lincoln’s death. The rule of law in 1865 prevented defendants from testifying and so Atzerodt hoped that by spilling his guts to investigators early he might become a primary trial witness instead of a defendant. Unfortunately for Atzerodt, this did not occur. He sung like a canary, named names, lied, and exaggerated only to find himself still put on trial and subsequently executed for having conspired with John Wilkes Booth.

Several days ago, reader Dennis Urban posted a comment on the trial testimony page for George Atzerodt. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Dennis was having difficulty gaining access to three confessions associated to George Atzerodt. Namely, Dennis wanted to see Atzerodt’s April 25, 1865 confession given by him aboard the U.S.S. Saugus, a confession published by the Daily National Intelligencer newspaper on July 9, 1865, and a third confession published by the Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser on January 18, 1869. Having assembled Dennis’ request, I was just going to reply to him with links to the documents he requested when I realized an assembly of the different Atzerodt Confessions with their transcriptions would make for a useful post. What follows are the known confession documents connected to George Atzerodt.


  1. Affidavit of Frank Munroe, April 23, 1865

After George Atzerodt was arrested in Montgomery County, Maryland on April 19 and brought to Washington, he was placed alongside many of the other arrested conspirators aboard an ironclad warship that lay at anchor in the Anacostia River. George Atzerodt was kept on the U.S.S. Saugus and the guard detail on the Saugus was commanded by Capt. Frank Munroe. According to Capt. Munroe, on the evening of April 22, Atzerodt asked to speak to him in order to give him a confession of sorts. The following is Capt. Munroe’s affidavit of the conversation he had with Atzerodt, made the next day:

“As well as I can recollect, last night one of my sentries on post over Atzerodt and Richter informed me that the former desired to see me. Atzerodt told me he had sent for me for the purpose of letting me know that he was innocent of any crime and also that he was instrumental in saving the life of the Vice President. Further that he was visited about three weeks since by a man named John Surrat at Port Tobacco Md. Surrat informed him that Booth was to open a theatre in Richmond, and also that they (Booth & Surrat) had a vessel to run the blockade and in both enterprises he was wanted. Atzerodt came to Washington with Surrat and was told by Booth that he must assassinate Mr. Johnson. This he refused to do and Booth threatened to blow his brains out unless he complied. He still refused, and returned to Port Tobacco. A second time Surrat came for him and he came again to Washington and took a room at Kirkwood’s. He was again asked to murder Mr. Johnson, and again refused. The day on which the President was killed a man named David Harrold (or Harrol) brought to Atzerodt’s room a knife and revolver and then left the Hotel. Atzerodt becoming frightened locked his door and walked down the street. He knew that the President’s assassination was spoken of, but did not believe it would be carried into effect. When he heard the deed had been accomplished, he took a room at the Kimmel House and the next morning went to Montgomery County to the house of his cousin (Richter) at which place he was arrested.

Frank Munroe”

During the trial of the conspirators, an attempt was made by George Atzerodt’s defense attorney, William Doster, to have Capt. Munroe testify about the confession he was given. It was Doster’s hope to show that Atzerodt had denied Booth’s demand that he murder Andrew Johnson. However, the prosecution objected to the words of the accused being testified to in such a way, and so Capt. Munroe did not get to say much on the witness stand. This affidavit is part of the National Archives’ Lincoln assassination files and can be viewed on the website Fold3, by clicking here.


  1. Atzerodt confession given to Col. Henry H. Wells, April 25, 1865

A few days after his confession to Capt. Munroe, Atzerodt talked to Col. Henry H. Wells. Wells was undoubtedly accompanied by an aide who took down Atzerodt’s confession either in shorthand which was later transcribed, or in longhand. The final document contains superfluous periods and a lack of capitalization. The confession is also non-linear, jumping back and forth between before and during April 14th. The substance and nature of the confession come undoubtedly from Atzerodt even though it is not signed. I have retained the spelling as presented in the original document, but remember that this was not written by Atzerodt and so it should not be used as a judge of his literacy.

“April 25, 1865

George A. Atzerodt says

I live at Port Tobacco. John H. Surratt came after me in the winter. I was at work & could not leave. it was after Christmas. he said he was going to get a great prize and he wanted me because I was acquainted with the Potomac. to go with him said he was going to run the Blockade. came again three weeks after, we came to Washington together he took me to his Mother’s and I staid one week. told me the other parties were over in New York and others in Baltimore. gave me no names there. I returned home again. went home and stayed one week and he wrote for me to come on. I came up in the Stage. Stopped at Kimmel House and Pa House 357 C. St. John Surratt came to the Hotel to take me to his Mother’s House. here I was introduced to Booth in Com. Genl’s ^of Prisoners^ office. nothing of importance was there said. we were to meet again at an early day. the day was not fixed. We met again but Booth went to New York before I saw him again. as I understood after he came back he came to Penna House and asked me how I would like to go into the oil business. I said I would like it if I had the Capital. he said dont mind the Capital I have that. I said I would as soon as not go into the business. I was drinking hard and he asked me not to drink so hard. He then went to New York again. J. Surratt came and borrowed some money of me. He was going to New York with a Lady. Surratt had two Horses at Howard’s Stable. one or both of the Horses came from down near Bryantown. he claimed to own them. one of them had a blind eye. it was a large bay Horse. the other was a smaller bay Horse. Surratt wrote to me from New York to sell the Horses this was I think in March. I sold the small Horse about a week after I got the order. Booth then returned from New York and he took me to a Lady’s House near the Patent Office. it is on the Corner of 9th & F st. it is a Hotel or Boarding House (Probably the Herndon House) he took me into the room and introduced me to a young man he called James Wood. this was after the fall of Richmond and two or three days before the President was killed and proposed to go to Richmond to open a Theatre if we could get passes. after that was over we took a walk on the Avanue. he told me to meet him that night at the same place: David L. Harrold came there that night. I came in at half past 7 oclock and told them I wanted to meet a young man on the Street who wanted one to go to the Theatre. I took him to the Street by the House left there and went in alone they saw they were going. Booth told me I ought not to bring any person near the House. we did not have much to say. we went out parted and went to the Theatre. Booth and Harrold said they were going out. dont know whether they did go or not. before we parted we agreed to meet the next day at the National where I could call or he would meet me at this House again. I went to the National at ½ past 10 oclock a.m. I think it was Thursday. he took me to his room. he then Spoke to me again about drinking so much I asked what he ment by it. he laughfed and said never mind. he then told me to go to the Kirkwood and get a Pass from V. President Johnston. he said he would be there with a man to recommend me. I went there registered my name and got a room and paid for one days board. that was on Thursday. about 3 oclock Harrold came there after me He said Booth and Wood wanted to see me. Wood is a tall man with black hair straight. He is a strong stout made man. no hair on his face. rather poor. he is rather a good looking man. I cant remember faces or features well enough to describe them. he had a wild look in his eyes. Saw him clean his teeth. he carried a toothbrush with him. think he had long legs. saw a Bottle of hairoil on his stand. think his arms was long. he was a large well built man. He wore Boots. wore a soft Hat. leed Color I think not black I am sure: we walked down the St. we were to have met in a Restaurant but Booth was not there and we met down at the National. he was not there. Harold went off & said he would find him. we were to wait. I got tired of waiting and left afterwards into Seventh St. and Stopped and drank at deferent Restruants. about half past five or near six oclock I went to the Kirkwood House and they told me a young man had called there for me. I took a chair and Harold came in and said Booth and Wood wanted to see me immediately. He then asked me if I had my Key. he wanted to go to my room and show me something. we went to the room and drawed a large Knife and a large Pistol out of his Boot and said let us go and see Booth and Wood. we went to their House on 9th St (Henderson House) and they then proposed the murder to me. Booth proposed that we should Kill the President. said it would be the greatest thing in the world. this was about half past Six or Seven Oclock on Friday. that Wood would go up to Seward’s House and Kill him – That he and Harrold had been and seen Andrew Johnston and found out where he was. he then asked me if I was willing myself to assist them. I said that I did not Come for that and was not willing to murder a person. They said they did not want me to do any act but only to show them the road into the lower part of Maryland and if I did not I would suffer for it. I said I would do all I could on the road. they said will you and I promised that I would. Booth then told me to get a Horse and stop near the Eastern Branch Bridge. we then came out: Herrold wanted me to go to the Kirkwood House and asked me if I had the Key of the room. I told him no. I did not go to the Hotel and we parted there & I have never seen them since. Some time in the morning Harrold came and wanted I should go down to Surrattsville. he said he Booth has some things there and wanted me to see after them. they were in Ms. Surratts old House Kept by Lloyd and I agreed to go. I went and hired a Horse at 1 Oclock. I got a small Bay Horse at a stable on 8th St. above Franklin St. about one Oclock and rode him till about three Oclock and then put him in Nailor’s stable and left him there till between six & seven Oclock. then I took him and rode out to the Navy Yard then back again to the Avanue where I got some Oysters and rode down to the Kimmel House. he took the Horse away rom the stable about ½ past 7 or 8 Oclock and did not take him back. I did not go to Sairattsville becase I could not see Booth that evening

They wanted I should show them the road to Indiantown on Maryland Point. they were to go to Sairattsville around Piscotoway and to strike the Potomac. they were to go through Bumpy Oak. To go to Bumpy Oak you have the road leading from Washington to Bryantown at Terbe [T.B.] which is about six miles from Sariattsville. you turn off to the right. It is about 25 or 30 miles from Turbe to Maryland Point the road leading from Turbe is not much traveled. I dont know any one at Maryland Point that would aid them to cross. I suppose after they got to Virginia they would go to the Confederate lines. Nanjemoy Creek runs down by Maryland Point.

Harrold was well acquainted with the Shores of the Potomac and I think if he got over to Piny Church or to the Bridges on the Port Tobo road near Bryantown. I would go to Maryland Point for it is the most direct and there are many Cross Roads.

I understood that Woods came from Virginia but dont know the County. I heard him Speak of Warrenton and Fauquier Co Wood was to Kill Seward, Booth the President and Harold V. P. Johnston. I last saw Sarrott about a week before the murder. dont know where he is but think he had gone to New York. I went up to Woods to the Navy Yard. about 12 Oclock after the assasfination went in a street Carr got in near the National & went up to the end of the road and then road back to the Depot and then walked up 4 ½ St. and there met a Stranger who asked me where he could find a Hotel to stop at and I told him to come to the Pa House and he did so. he was a stranger to me and I never seen him before and have not since. do not know his name. I dont know whether Ms Sarrott was in this businesf or not. I stopped in Mrs. Sarrott House for three or four days I think. they called me Port Tobacco. Booth and Harold sometimes spoke of Mosby and asked where he was. they also spoke of going to Canada after the assasfination. when Booth went to New York last he said he was going to Canada.”

A digitized copy of the original confession procured by Col. Wells can be seen by clicking here. Please note that on Fold3, the website that hosts the National Archives’ Lincoln assassination papers, this former microfilm reel is transcribed backwards so you will have to click to the left in order to view the next page of the confession.


  1. Atzerodt confession given to James McPhail and John L. Smith, May 1, 1865

Shortly after being transferred from the U.S.S. Saugus to the Old Arsenal Penitentiary, George Atzerodt was interviewed by his brother-in-law, John L. Smith who worked as a detective for James McPhail, the Baltimore Provost Marshal, who was also present. Over the course of two hours, Atzerodt gave a lengthy confession to the men. This statement was “lost” for over 100 years until 1977, when it was discovered by Lincoln assassination researcher Joan Chaconas with the family of Atzerodt’s lawyer, William Doster.

“James Wood sometimes called Mosby boarded with Mrs. Murray an Irish woman on the corner of 9 & F St. in a three story house, front on the upper end of the P.O. and South End of Patent Office – with basement entrance on the left side going up 9th St. from Avenue. He was a little over six feet, black hair, smooth round face, gray coat black pants, & spring coat mixed with white & gray. Saw him last time on Friday evening about 5 o’clock with Booth. He sent letters to the post office with James Hall. He was brought from New York. Surratt told me so. He said he had been a prisoner in Balte. near the depot. He was arrested for whipping a negro woman. Mosby was Wood’s nick name – did not know him by any other name than mentioned. Gust. Powell now arrested in Old Capitol was one of the party. He went also by the name of Gustavus Spencer, Surratt and Spencer came from Richmond, together just after it had fallen.

James Donaldson, a low chunky man about 23 or 24 years of age, small-potted, dark complexion (not very) deep plain black suit; only saw him one time & this was Wednesday previous to the murder, he was having an interview with Booth and told him to meet him on Friday eve & he replied he would and left and went up Penn. Avenue towards the Treasury building. I was under the impression he came on with Booth.

Arnold, O’Laughlin, Surratt, Harold, Booth and myself met once at a saloon or restaurant on the Aven. bet 13 & 14 St.

The Saml. Thomas registered on the morning of the 15th April at Penn Hotel, I met on my to hotel, he was an entire Stranger to me. I left the Hotel alone on the morning of 15th of April. A Lieut. In room No. 51 will prove this. Surratt bought a boat from Dick Smoot & James Brawner living about Port Tobacco, for which they paid $300.00 and was to give one hundred Dolls. extra for taking care of it till wanted. Booth told me that Mrs. Surratt went to Surrattsville to get out the guns (Two Carbines) which had been taken to that place by Herold, This was Friday. The carriage was hired at Howards.

I saw a man named Weightman who boarded at Surratt’s at Post Office. he told me he had to go down the Country with Mrs. Surratt. This was on Friday, Also.

I am certain Dr. Mudd knew all about it, as Booth sent (as he told me) liquors & provisions for the trip with the President to Richmond, about two weeks before the murder to Dr. Mudd’s.

Booth never said until the last night (Friday) that he intended to kill the President.

Herold came to the Kirkwood House, same evening for me to go to see Booth. I went with Herold & saw Booth. He then said he was going to kill the President and Wood, the Secy. of State. I did not believe him. This occurred in the evening about 7 ½ o’clock. It was dark. I took a room at Kirkwood’s. Both Herold & I went to the room left Herold’s coat, knife, & pistol in the room and never again returned to it. Booth said during the day that the thing had failed and proposed to go to Richmond & open the theatre. I am not certain but I think I stayed one night at Kirkwood’s (Thursday) we were to try and get papers to Richmond from Mr. Johnson.

Booth spoke of getting the papers. He would get them out of the Theatre. Wood & Booth were apparently confidential with each other. Plenty of parties in Charles County knew of the kidnapping affair.

One of the men named Charles Yates, knew all about it, he went to Richmond during the winter he was to row the Presdt & party over.

Thos. Holborn [Harbin] was to meet us on the road and help in the kidnaping. Bailey & Barnes knew nothing of the affair unless Booth told Bailey & he told Barnes. Booth had met Bailey on “C” St. with me. I did not meet Booth or any of the party in Baltimore on or about the 31 of March.

Boyle also killed Capt. Watkins near Annapolis last month, was one of the party, in the conspiracy.

I repeat I never knew anything about the murder.

I was intended to give assistance to the kidnapping. They come to Port Tobacco (Surratt & Booth) several times and brought me to Washington. The pistol given me I sold or received a loan on it Saturday morng after the murder from John Caldwick at Matthews & wells, Store, High St. Georgetown. The knife I threw away just above Mrs. Canby’s boarding house the night of the murder about 11 o’clock when I took my horse to stable. I had the horse out to help to take the President. I did not believe he was going to be killed, although Booth had said so. After I heard of the murder I run about the city like a crazy man.

I have not seen Arnold for some time, but saw O’Laughlin on Thursday evening, on the Avenue at Saloon near near U.S. Hotel. He told me he was going to see Booth.

Wood did not go on the street in day time for fear of arrest. When he first came to Washington he boarded at Surratt’s. This was in Feby. He (Wood) went with Booth last of February to N. York.

Booth we understood paid the way. I know nothing about Canada. Wood told me he had horses in Virginia. Saml. Arnold & Mike O’Laughlin ought to know where the horses and pistols were bought.

Sam & Mike have a buggy and horse kept at stable in rear of Theatre. Booth had several horses at same place. I think the horses property was in Surratt’s name. I sold one of the horses & paid part of the money to Booth and part to Herold, who said he would see Booth about it. The saddle and bridle belonging to Booth is at Penn House, where I left it. I overhead Booth when in conversation with Wood say, That he visited a chambermaid at Seward’s House & that she was pretty. He said he had a great mind to give her his diamond pin. Herold talked about powders & medicines on Friday night at Mrs. Condby’s. Wood, Herold, Booth & myself were present. This was a meeting place because Wood could not go out for fear of arrest.

Kate Thompson or Kate Brown, as she was known by both names, put up at National & was well known at Penn House. She knew all about the affair. Surratt went to Richd with her last March & Gust. Howell made a trip with her to same place. This woman is about twenty yrs of age, good looking and well dressed. Black hair and eyes, round face from South Carolina & a widow.

I did not see Surratt for seven or eight days before the murder nor have I seen him since.

Miss Thompson or Brown had two large light trunks, one much larger than the other. Young Weightman at Surratt’s ought to know about this woman. This remark made by me in Baltimore on the 31 of March alluded to blockade running & privateering altogether & Booth said he had money to buy a steamer & wanted me to go in it.

I was to be one of them. In this way I was going to make a pile of money.

Booth said he had met a party in N. York who would get the Prest. certain. They were going to mine the end of Kirk House, next to War Dept. They knew an entrance to accomplish it through. Spoke about getting friends of the Presdt. to get up an entertainment & they would mix in it, have a serenade &c & thus get at the Presdt. & party.

These were understood to be projects.

Booth said if he did not get him quick the N. York crowd would. Booth knew the New York party apparently by a sign. He saw Booth give some kind of sign to two parties on the Avenue who he said were from New York. My Uncle Mr. Richter and family in Monty. Co. Md. knew nothing about the affair either before or after the occurrence & never suspected me of any thing wrong as I was in the habit of staying with him. My father formerly owned part of the property now owned by Richter. Finis.”

The original of this confession was sold at auction shortly after being discovered. Copies of the original can be found in the James O. Hall Research Center in Clinton, Maryland. I based this transcription of the lost confession from an appendix in Edward Steers’ book, His Name is Still Mudd.


  1. Memorandum by Col. John Foster regarding George Atzerodt, Undated

Col. John Foster aided the War Department in sifting through all of the evidence collected during the investigation and manhunt for John Wilkes Booth. In an undated 40 page document, Col. Foster, summarized the statements of over a dozen witnesses and associates of John Wilkes Booth, essentially tracing back his conspiracy and execution thereof. Included in the document is a summary of Atzerodt’s previous confession (or confessions). The following is Col. Foster’s interpretation of Atzerodt’s words.

“The Prisoner, George A. Atzerodt

In his confession stated substantially that between one and two months ago he was called on by John H. Surratt who informed him that he wanted him to go into a scheme by which a large sum of money was to be obtained, giving him to understand that it was a very extreme plan of blockade running without giving any further details. He stated that John H. Surratt induced him to come to this city to engage in this blockade running scheme. He came here, boarded at the house of Mrs. Surratt for a few days, during which time he was introduced to a man by the name of Wood, and also to Booth, and met David Herold, whom he had previously known & that they all of them had several interviews in his presence. In all of which references was made to this scheme of blockade running; but on none of the occasions were there any details given, nor did he have any idea how the scheme was to be completed until later in the afternoon of the evening of the assassination, when he was called to the room of Wood at that time boarding at the Herndon House, corner of 9th and F; that he found there Booth, Wood, alias Payne, and Harold; and then Booth told him that he was going to “kill Lincoln,” and Wood said that he was to kill Mr. Seward; and they proposed to him that he should kill Mr. Johnson. Atzerodt said that he refused to do so, but agreed to pilot them, which they requested him to do, as he was familiar with the county toward Port Tobacco.”

A digitized copy of Col. Foster’s summary can be seen by clicking here.


  1. Statement of George Atzerodt included in William Doster’s closing arguments of June 21, 1865

Having been unsuccessful in getting a confession of sorts included in the official testimony of the trial of the conspirators, William Doster used the time allotted for his closing arguments on June 21, 1865 to make sure Atzerodt’s story was told. Doster began his closing arguments by reading aloud this statement from his client. Doster no doubt assisted Atzerodt in composing this version of his confession, with the lawyer likely writing the whole thing after several interviews with his client. In this confession, Atzerodt openly admits that he was involved in a kidnapping scheme against Lincoln, but that he abandoned the plot once it became one of assassination.

“I am one of a party who agreed to capture the President of the United States, but I am not one of a party to kill the President of the United States, or any member of the Cabinet, or General Grant, or Vice-President Johnson. The first plot to capture failed; the second – to kill – I broke away from the moment I heard of it.

This is the way it came about: On the evening of the 14th of April I met Booth and Payne at the Herndon House, in this city, at eight o’clock. He (Booth) said he himself should murder Mr. Lincoln and General Grant, Payne should take Mr. Seward, and I should take Mr. Johnson. I told him I would not do it; that I had gone into the thing to capture, but I was not going to kill. He told me I was a fool; that I would be hung any how, and that it was death for every man that backed out; and so we parted. I wandered about the streets until about two o’clock in the morning, and then went to the Kimmell House, and from there pawned my pistol at Georgetown, and went to my cousin’s house, in Montgomery county, where I was arrested the 19th following. After I was arrested, I told Provost Marshal Wells and Provost Marshal McPhail the whole story; also told it to Capt. Monroe, and Col. Wells told me if I pointed out the way Booth had gone I would be reprieved, and so I told him I thought he had gone done Charles county in order to cross the Potomac. The arms which were found in my room at the Kirkwood House, and a black coat, do not belong to me; neither were they left to be used by me. On the afternoon of the 14th of April, Herold called to see me and left the coat there. It is his coat, and all in it belongs to him, as you can see by the handkerchiefs, marked with his initial, and with the name of his sister, Mrs. Naylor. Now I will state how I passed the whole of the evening of the 14th of April. In the afternoon, at about two o’clock, I went to Keleher’s stable, on Eighth street, near D, and hired a dark bay mare and rode into the country for pleasure, and on my return put her up at Naylor’s stable. The dark bay horse which I had kept at Naylor’s before, on about the 3d of April, belonged to Booth; also the saddle and bridle. I do not know what became of him. At about six in the evening, I went to Naylor’s again and took out the mare, rode out for an hour, and returned her to Naylor’s. It was then nearly eight, and I told him to keep the mare ready at ten o’clock, in order to return her to the man I hired her from. From there I went to the Herndon House. Booth sent a messenger to the “Oyster Bay,” and I went. Booth wanted me to murder Mr. Johnson. I refused. I then went to the “Oyster Bay,” on the Avenue, above Twelfth street, and whiled away the time until nearly ten. At ten I got the mare, and having taken a drink with the hostler, galloped about town, and went to the Kimmell House. From there I rode down to the depot, and returned my horse, riding up Pennsylvania Avenue to Keleher’s. From Keleher’s, I went down to the Navy Yard to get a room with Wash. Briscoe. He had none, and by the time I got back to the Kimmell House it was nearly two. The man Thomas was a stranger I met on the street. Next morning, as stated, I went to my cousin Richter’s, in Montgomery county.

George A. Atzerodt”

This statement is included in the Benn Pitman transcript of the trial of the conspirators along with the rest of Doster’s closing arguments.


  1. “Dying Statement of Atzerodt”, Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, July 8, 1865

On the day after the execution of George Atzerodt and the three other condemned conspirators, the newspapers were filled with stories about their last hours. The following is an excerpt from a larger article about all of the conspirators. The article fails to give the identity of the person or persons to whom Atzerodt was supposed to have given this final confession, but implies that it was made to his spiritual advisors, Rev. Butler and Rev. Winchester. While it should be taken with a grain of salt, there is nothing out of the ordinary with this account.

“Dying Statement of Atzerodt

During the morning a female friend or sister of Atzerodt, from Port Tobacco, had an interview with him, she leaving him about eleven o’clock. He, during the morning, freely conversing with Dr. Butler and Mr. Winchester on religious topics, and before going to the gallows he made the following statement:

He took a room at the Kirkwood House on Thursday, in order to get a pass from Vice-President Johnson to go to Richmond. Booth was to lease the Richmond Theatre and the President was to be invited to attend it when visiting Richmond and captured there. Herold brought the pistol and knife to the room about 2 ½ o’clock on Friday. He (Atzerodt) said he would not have anything to do with the murder of Johnson, when Booth said that Herold had more courage than Atzerodt, and he wanted Atzerodt to be with Herold to urge him to do it. There was a meeting at a restaurant about the middle of March, at which John Surratt, O’Laughlin, Booth, Arnold, Payne, Herold and himself were present, when a plan to capture the President was discussed. – They had heard the President was to visit a camp, and they proposed to capture him, coach and all; drive through Long Old Fields to “T.B.,” where the coach was to be left and fresh horses were to be got, and the party would proceed to the river to take a boat. Herold took a buggy to “T.B.,” in anticipation that Mr. Lincoln would be captured, and he was to go with the party to the river. Slavery had put him on the side of the South; he had heard it preached in church that the curse of God was upon the slaves, for they were turned black. He always hated the n—-r, and felt that they (the negroes) should be kept in ignorance. He had not received any money from Booth, although he had been promised that if they were successful they should never want; that they would be honored throughout the South, and that they could secure an exchange of prisoners and the recognition of the Confederacy.

As soon as Atzerodt was informed of his sentence he betook himself to prepare to meet his God, and at once sent for a Lutheran minister, and Dr. Butler was called. He expressed surprise that more time was not allowed him, and just previous to his being led out to the scaffold expressed himself as not quite sure of having made peace with God.”

Click here to view the original Baltimore American article through Google Newspapers.


  1. “Confession of Atzerodt”, Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, July 10, 1865

Just two days after publishing their first, slightly truncated “deathbed” confession of George Atzerodt before he stepped onto the gallows, the Baltimore American newspaper supplied another one. This unique piece is a mixture between biography and confession that was said to have been “prepared by one who has known him since his arrest,” and that the details, “were given the writer by Atzerodt himself but a short time before his death.” The newspaper fails to give the identity of who wrote the piece. However, this biographical confession bears a striking resemblance to the next confession that follows later that was supposedly written by Atzerodt himself while in his jail cell. It’s possible that the Baltimore American got a hold of Atzerodt’s final confession (perhaps from William Doster) and published it in an edited form, supplementing it with information about Atzerodt’s life. The third person format of the confession should give us pause, however, as we don’t know how much of the confession truly came from Atzerodt and how much was substituted by the unknown writer. Lastly, this “confession” was widely printed in other newspapers including the Daily National Intelligencer.

“Several statements have been published by Washington correspondents of the New York Press purporting to be confessions of Atzerodt, containing some little truth and a great deal of falsehood. The following sketch of his life was prepared by one who has known him since his arrest, and the details of the plots to abduct and murder the President which are set forth below, were given the writer by Atzerodt himself but a short time before his death.

George Andrew Atzerodt was born in the Kingdom of Prussia in 1835; came to this country with his parents in 1844, and arrived in Baltimore, where he resided with his family for about one year, when, with his parents, he moved to Westmoreland county, Va. His father farmed and carried on his business, that of a blacksmith, at the Court House. Atzerodt was placed as an apprentice to the coach-making business at the Court House, where he learned the painting branch; remained at the Court House until 1856; went to Washington and worked for Mr. Young, and also for Mr. McDermott, well known coach makers. In 1857 he joined his brother in the coach making business at Port Tobacco. This continued for four years, when the firm was dissolved. After this he carried on painting in Port Tobacco until last fall, when he met with John H. Surratt and a man named Harlow. Surratt induced him to join in the conspiracy of abducting the President. Surratt, knowing the weak character of Atzerodt’s mind, was not long in gaining ascendancy over it. Atzerodt’s knowledge of men and the country in the vicinity of Port Tobacco, and, in fact, of all the counties bounding on the Potomac, gave to the conspirators a valuable assistant. He was well acquainted with Herold, whom he was not long in finding out, and who was also engaged in the conspiracy. Surratt went several times to Port Tobacco, and often sent for Atzerodt to come to Washington, where he was known to many as “Port Tobacco,” and leered upon as a very weak-minded man – in fact, was regarded as a very harmless and silly fellow. Surratt introduced him to Booth, who feasted him and furnished him with money and horses – the horses being held in the name of Surratt, who appeared to be the principal in the absence of Booth.

The first meeting where all the conspirators actively engaged was at a saloon on Pennsylvania avenue, called Getteer’s [Gautier’s]. At this meeting O’Laughlin, Arnold, Booth, Surratt, Herold and Atzerodt were present. The first attempt to abduct the President was to be on the Seventh street road. This was about the middle of March. They expected the President to visit a camp. O’Laughlin, Arnold, Payne, Surratt, Booth and Atzerodt were present. Herold left with a buggy with the carbines for T.B. The plan was to seize the coach of the President; Surratt to jump on the box, as he was considered the best driver, and make for T.B. by way of Long Old Fields, to the Potomac River, in the vicinity of Nanjemoy creek, where they had a boat waiting with men to carry over the party. The boat was capable of carrying fifteen men; a large flat bottom bateaux, painted lead color, which had been bought for the purpose by Booth, from two men named Brawner and Smoot. This plan failed, the President not coming as they desired. Herold went next morning to Washington. All things remained quiet for some time after this. Booth went North, Arnold and O’Laughlin to Baltimore, Payne (or Wood) left also for New York. A man named Howell was about this time arrested. This alarmed Surratt, as he left with a Mrs. Slater for the North. This was about the first of April. The next plan was to visit the theatre on the night the President was expected to be there. It was arranged that Surratt and Booth were to go to the box; Arnold, O’Laughlin and Payne were to get some important part in getting him out. Herold and Atzerodt were to have charge of the horses and an actor was to be secured to put out the gas. Booth represented that the best assistant he had was an actor. In this plan buggies and horses were to be used. A rope was procured and kept at Lloyd’s tavern, to be stretched across the road to impede the cavalry in the pursuit. The route this time was the same as before, expect they were to cross Eastern Branch Bridge. This whole affair failed and Booth said it is all up and spoke of going to Richmond and opening a theater, and promised Atzerodt employment in it in some capacity, Atzerodt was waiting or Booth to arrange his going to Richmond when the affair was renewed again. Atzerodt took a room at the Kirkwood House, Herrold called on him and left his knife and pistol and coat in the room, and told him Booth wanted to see him at the Herndon House, to which place he repaired in company with Herold. This was in the evening about 6 o’clock. They there were met by Booth and Payne. Booth told Atzerodt “You must kill Johnson.” Atzerodt demurred, when Booth replied: “Herold has more courage, he will do it. Go get your horses; what will become of you anyhow?” Atzerodt and Herold went down Ninth street together. Atzerodt said to Herold: “We must not disturb Mr. Johnson;” Herold laughed, and wanted the key of the room; it was refused by Atzerodt, who expressed himself fearful that harm would be done Mr. Johnson. Herold left him to go see Booth, and Atzerodt went to the Oyster Bay; Herold came after him and said Booth wanted to see him; Atzerodt promised to get his horse and go to Booth. Atzerodt did not return to the Kirkwood House that night. Booth told Atzerodt that Surratt was in city and had just left. Atzerodt did not see Booth after leaving him at the Herndon House, and roamed about the streets nearly all night, and first heard of the murder about 10 ½ o’clock, while passing up the Avenue. The cavalry were rushing by at the time in pursuit. He threw away his knife that night, and parted with his pistol next morning to a friend in Georgetown. Atzerodt had nothing to say at any of the former meetings. He knew nothing about the rope found with Spangler. He believed Spangler innocent, as far as he knew. Booth, when applied for money, would remark he had money in New York and would get some.

At one time, in the spring or late in the winter, a Mrs. Slater, Mrs. Surratt, John Surratt, and a Major Barron, formerly of the Rebel army, left Washington together. They got horses from Howard’s. Mrs. Surratt stopped at Surrattsville. The balance went to the Potomac. Major Barron returned. Atzerodt did not think Barron had anything to do with the conspiracy, although he was formerly in the Rebel army. One of Booth’s plans to obtain an entrance to the Secretary of State’s house was an invention which, if successful, would have involved others in his foul acts. He had made the acquaintance of a woman of strong Southern feelings living not far from the Secretary’s house, who was to make the acquaintance of a servant, to be introduced to Booth, and by this means he would learn something of the location of the rooms, &c. As far as known, it failed.

Atzerodt has been by the just sentence of the law doomed to death, and his execution has taken place. In the last moments he had the consultation of religion. His brother-in-law, brother and an intimate lady friend of the family, of Washington City, visited him. The age of his mother and the very delicate health of his sister made it prudent they should not see him, consequently they were not present, as described by some of the journals.

Atzerodt said Booth was well acquainted with Mudd, and had letters of introduction to him. Booth told Atzerodt about two weeks before the murder that he had sent provisions and liquor to Dr. Mudd for supplying the party on their way to Richmond with the President.”

Click here to view the original Baltimore American article through Google Newspapers.


  1. “Confession of Atzerodt” Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, January 18, 1869

Even though it was nearly four years after the death of Abraham Lincoln, the early months of 1869 were a busy time in our story. In the final days of Andrew Johnson’s time as a lame duck president he not only pardoned the surviving conspirators imprisoned at Fort Jefferson but he also authorized the bodies of John Wilkes Booth and the executed conspirators to be released to their families. What is also overlooked is the fact that 1869 marks the end of the government’s attempt to try John Surratt for his involvement in the assassination. John Surratt was in New York when Lincoln was killed and quickly escaped up to Canada where he stayed while his mother and the other conspirators were on trial. After the trial was over, he made his way to Europe and the Vatican. He was finally captured in Alexandria, Egypt at the end of 1866 and transported back to the U.S. He stood trial in a civil court for his participation with Booth, but his case ended with a hung jury in August of 1867. Nevertheless, the government continued to keep Surratt imprisoned until June of 1868 while they attempted to bring a new trial against him. It wasn’t until January of 1869 that the government essentially gave up on their case against John Surratt. With the “Surratt affair” seemingly ended for good, the Baltimore American newspaper decided that it was not time to publish a confession of George Atzerodt’s that was written in his cell before his death. This is almost certainly the same confession used to compose the odd biographical piece that constitutes number 7 on this list. The Baltimore American claimed that this confession and a statement made by Samuel Arnold were withheld until now, “under the expectation that they would be used in the trial of John Surratt.” Even in the hours before his death, George Atzerodt was naming names and trying everything he could to convince the government that he was worth more alive than dead. How much truth is in this confession (or any of them for that matter) will always be a matter of debate.

“The confession of Atzerodt was made in his cell in Washington, on the night before his execution. He asked for paper and it is written with a lead pencil, the disconnected manner of it indicating the state of mind of the prisoner…

Confession of Atzerodt Relative to the Assassination of President Lincoln

I had not seen John Surratt for about eight days before the murder. Booth told me a few days before the murder that he was in Washington. Kate Thompson, alias Brown, came from Richmond with John Surratt about the time that Richmond fell. He had come previously with Gustavus Howell, now in the Old Capitol Prison. Kate Thompson stopped at Mrs. Surratt’s and also at the National and Rinnel Hotels. This woman was about 21 years of age, spruce and neat, medium size, black eyes and fair complexion. She had a sister in New York, who, it was said, was a widow. Surratt was made known to her in New York by a signal conveyed by a small switch with a waxed end and a piece of red ribbon on the butt, handled horizontally through the fingers. This sign was given on a hotel pavement on Broadway. He went with her South, and hired a horse at Howard’s stables for the purpose.

Harold came to the Kirkwood House and left the knife, pistol and coat, on the evening of the murder. About half-past six o’clock, as I was about leaving, I having told the clerk to tell whoever might call that I was gone out. This was before Harold came in. Harold and I then went to the Herndon House, Mrs. Murray’s, corner of Ninth and F streets. It was then about 8 o’clock, and saw Booth, Wood and Payne in Wood’s room. Here the proposed murder was first mentioned. I refused to take part in it, when Booth said, “Then we will do it, but what will become of you? You had better come along and get your horse.” I then left them and went to the Oyster Bay on the avenue and stayed some time; then to the stable and got my horse and went up D street. This was about 10 o’clock. I called at the Rinnel [Kimmel] House and got a drink. I saw none of the party after we separated about 9 o’clock that evening. I then went out C street toward the Baltimore depot; went between the old and new Capitol, came on the avenue again, and concluded to come back. I rode down the avenue and the cavalry were dashing by me. This was the first I heard of the murder. I then went up Eighth street, left the horse at the stables opposite the Franklin House, and then went to the Herndon House, and heard a little boy talking about the murder. I then took a car and went towards the Navy Yard. This was about 11 o’clock, and I met two young men named Briscoe and Spates, with whom I had some talk. After walking some distance I took a car to the corner of Sixth street and Pennsylvania avenue. Here I met a man inquiring for a place to sleep at. I took him around to the Rinnel House, and we retired to one room with six beds in it. I left early next morning and passed through Georgetown on my way to Montgomery county. No one left the hotel with me.

I saw Mike O’Laughlin about a week before the President was killed. I never wanted O’Laughlin and Arnold’s aid, met O’Laughlin once or twice at Suthard’s and a few times in the street.

When we were at Murray’s, on the night of the murder, Harold said he had a letter from a printer to Andy Johnson. He said he was going to give it to him, and wanted me to give him the key of my room, which I refused to do.

Previous to the arrangement for the murder Booth heard that the President was to visit a camp. The coach was to be taken out Seventh street. Surratt was to jump on the box as he was the best driver, and drive through Old Fields to T.B. This was about the middle of March. O’Laughlin, Samuel Arnold, Payne, Surratt, Booth, Atzerodt and Herold went to T.B. with two carbines, and were to wait for us. They did so until midnight and returned to Washington the next morning. This failed. All was quiet then for some time. Booth went to New York, Arnold to Baltimore, O’Laughlin also, and Payne left for New York. After this Howell brought a woman across the Potomac. Howell was made prisoner, and Surratt took her North. About a week before the murder Booth told me that Surratt was in the Herndon House; on the night of the murder, the 14th of April, we were not altogether at the Herndon House. Booth told me Surratt was to help at the box, that he expected others in the box. Booth went from the Herndon House, down Ninth street. The words of Booth were “I saw Surratt a few moments ago.” All the parties appeared to be engaged at something on that night, and were not together. Booth appointed me and Harold to kill Johnson, in going down the street I told Booth we could not do it. Booth said Harold had more courage and he would do it. Harold and I were on Pennsylvania avenue together. I told him I would not do it, and should not go to my room for fear he would disturb Mr. Johnson. He left me to go for Booth. This was after nine o’clock. I went to the Oyster Bay, and Harold came in and said that Booth wanted to see me. Harold left me here. I promised to get my horse and come. I was not at the Kirkwood House after two o’clock. I have no recollection of being there after that. I had nothing to say at any of the meetings – One of the attempts was at the theatre; the gas was to be put out, &c. No discussion was had about failure, and what to do in that case. The coil of rope at Lloyd’s was to stretch across the road to trip the cavalry. I know nothing about Spangler’s rope; I believe him innocent. Booth told me an actor was to be the best assistant in the theatre to turn off the gas. Arnold and O’Loughlin were to grab the President and take him off; and Booth said, when applied to for money, he would go to New York and get some, as he had it there. Mrs. Surratt, Mrs. Slater, Major Banon and John Surratt left Washington together; got horses at Howard’s. Mrs. S stopped at Surrattsville. John Surratt and Mrs. Slater crossed and Banon and Mrs. Surratt came back. Banon was in the Rebel army. I don’t think Banon knew anything about the conspiracy. I sold a horse for Booth and thought the affair was about over. The murder was broached first on the 14th at night when Harold came for me. I did hear Booth say Lincoln ought to be killed. A widow woman was living near Mr. Seward’s, and Booth said by her influence he could get entrance to Seward’s house; through her influence with the chambermaid and house-servant. The girl at the house was good looking and knew the widow. Harborn [Thomas Harbin] was into it first; he came to Port Tobacco for me with John Surratt during the winter. The boat was at the head of Goose Creek and moved to Nanjemoy Creek. It was a lead-colored flat bottom boat, and will carry fifteen men. This boat was bought of James Brawner, the old man. Mrs. Slater went with Booth a good deal. She stopped at the National Hotel.”

Click here to view the original Baltimore American article through Google Newspapers.


As we read all of these confessions, it’s important that we remain critical of them. Some of these confessions are merely the interpretation of others of what George Atzerodt said to them, while others have questionable origins that should give us pause. Even the confessions we can attribute to being from the Atzerodt’s mouth contain numerous examples of exaggeration and outright lies. Atzerodt was literally trying to save his neck and so we must interpret his statements accordingly. I think it’s safe to assume that John Wilkes Booth never considered George Atzerodt to be an equal member in his conspiracy plot. Booth kept Atzerodt in line with a combination of grandiose promises and lies. George Atzerodt regurgitated the same and added his own when talking to authorities.  Still, taking these confessions together, we can gain a better idea of what was going on with John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators just before the tragic night of April 14, 1865.

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Conspiracy in Presidential Assassinations

I am continuing to work on my Master’s in American History degree from Pace University and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History. They have a great online program designed specifically for K – 12 teachers and I have been enjoying it immensely. My most recent class, which ended today, was titled The Kennedy Era and was taught by Kennedy historian Barbara Perry. For my final paper for the class, I chose to write about the history of conspiracy in presidential assassinations. In the same way that I previously posted my final paper for my American Indian class last year, I thought I would share this one as well. I do not claim to be a Kennedy expert and the purpose of my paper is not to rehash the evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald. Rather, I wanted to cover the history of conspiracy and explain why conspiracy theories are so common in the study of presidential assassinations.


Since the founding of the United States of America, four presidents have met violent deaths at the hands of their fellow citizens. Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy have all lost their lives through acts of public assassination. Their murders have occurred over a period of almost 100 years with the first assassination taking place in 1865 and the most recent having occurred in 1963. The men who became martyrs for the country they served came from distinctly different backgrounds and epochs in the American experiment and so, too, did their respective assassins. Despite these differences of time and character, there has been one overarching concept that can be found in the story and memory of each successful Presidential assassination – the involvement of conspiracy in their deaths. The nature of the first successful Presidential assassination in the United States set a historical precedent for conspiracy. That assassin, John Wilkes Booth, recruited literal conspirators to help him in his plan to not only assassinate President Lincoln, but other heads of the federal government. Since that time, the American public has returned to the idea of conspiracy when trying to make sense of subsequent reoccurrences of presidential assassinations. By looking at the history of real and perceived conspiracy in our country’s assassinations and the psychological effects of conspiracy theories on the general public, we can come to understand why, despite a preponderance of evidence implicating Lee Harvey Oswald and the sole murderer of President John F. Kennedy, conspiracy theories regarding the murder of JFK continue unabated in the minds and memory of the public.

The history of conspiracy as a real and concrete part of American assassinations stems from the death of President Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865. In the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination and the subsequent killing of his assassin twelve days later, a trial of eight of John Wilkes Booth’s alleged conspirators occurred. While there is much debate regarding the effect vengeance had on the meting out of justice in Lincoln’s case, there is no debate that a legitimate conspiracy existed in the death of our first president. At the same time that Lincoln was being shot at his box at Ford’s Theatre, William Seward, the Secretary of State, was viciously stabbed in his bed by a would-be assassin. “Coordinated assaults could mean only one thing: a conspiracy, and a well-developed one.”[1] The Union government’s primary goal in the aftermath of Lincoln’s death was to find all of those who had a hand in its execution, thus resulting in the trial of the conspirators. Of the seven men and one woman who were put on trial in 1865 for their involvement in Booth’s conspiracy, the evidence overwhelmingly supported knowledge of a plot for five of them. These men had been persuaded by Booth to join a conspiracy to abduct Abraham Lincoln from Washington and ferry him into the open arms of the Confederacy in Richmond. As the assassin himself wrote while on the run, “For six months we had worked to capture. But our cause being almost lost, something decisive & great must be done.”[2] It was the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse and the impending end of the Civil War that caused Booth to change his plot from one of abduction to assassination. Some of those put on trial in 1865 joined him in the carrying out of Lincoln’s murder while some had left beforehand. Regardless of this distinction, in the eyes of the public, and the law, they were held vicariously liable for the death of Lincoln and the attempted assassination of William Seward. Their shared act of conspiracy first to kidnap and then to kill Lincoln bonded them together and showed to the public that the death of the Great Emancipator was not the act of a single man, but of a group. Occurred as it did, during the time of war in which a great many men had sealed themselves together in an act of rebellion against the United States, this conspiracy helped the public make sense of Lincoln’s death and put it into context. This established the precedential connection between presidential assassination and conspiracy in the minds of the American public.

However, it is important to point out that while there was a legitimate and established conspiracy involved in Abraham Lincoln’s death, the true precedent that was set in 1865 and became increasingly applicable to President Kennedy’s death in 1963 dealt with the assumption of a larger and more complex conspiracy. In his book, The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies, historian William Hanchett, devotes one whole chapter to the idea that the assassination of Lincoln was a “Grand Conspiracy” by the Confederacy. Even though the writing was on the wall regarding the collapse of the so called Confederate States, the open hostilities that had existed between the North and the South made the Confederates an extremely plausible, and even likely, scapegoat for the death of Lincoln. The investigation into Lincoln’s death led those at the highest heads of the government to vocally support the idea that Booth had acted not just of his own accord in support of the Confederacy, but as their approved agent. The final charges against the captured conspirators put on trial included the names of still at large officials of the Confederacy officially avowing that, “the assassination was the result of a grand conspiracy involving the Confederate leadership and the Copperhead Booth and his associates.”[3] Despite the government’s fully supported attempt to place the blame of Lincoln’s death at the feet of Jefferson Davis and other high ranking members of the Confederate government, their case was stymied by perjured witnesses and a lack of concrete evidence. Two future investigations including the 1867 impeachment investigation against President Andrew Johnson and the civilian trial of Booth conspirator John Surratt, once again failed to prove the existence of a grand Confederate plot. According to Hanchett, by 1869, “there was nothing left of [Judge Advocate General Joseph] Holt’s grand conspiracy except long-lingering bitterness.”[4]

So, too, was there the initial impression and belief that Lee Harvey Oswald’s crime was the result of a grand conspiracy with Communists being exchanged for Confederates as the puppet-master perpetrators. In the very first instance of Lyndon Johnson being addressed as “Mr. President” from a hallway inside Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, Johnson was asked by assistant White House Press Secretary Mac Kilduff if he could announce President Kennedy’s death to the public. Johnson first nodded yes, before countermanding with, “No. Wait. We don’t know whether it’s a Communist conspiracy or not. I’d better get out of here and back on the plane.”[5] It is telling that Lyndon Johnson’s first reaction to Kennedy’s murder was the assumption of a Communist conspiracy. While the United States was not overtly at war with the Communists in 1963 in the same manner they were at war with the Confederates in 1865, Lyndon Johnson perfectly encapsulates the impression Kennedy’s murder had on those in power and the general populace due to the heightened level of fear during the Cold War era. As Max Holland, a Kennedy assassination researcher and Warren Commission chronicler, noted, “The overwhelming instant reaction among those [national security] officials was to suspect a grab for power, a foreign, Communist-limited conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the U.S. government.”[6] Immediate fear of the unknown in Kennedy’s death and the precedent of Lincoln’s death almost one hundred years earlier at the hands of an assumed grand conspiracy played into the public perception of what occurred in Dallas. The idea that Oswald was merely a cog in a Communist conspiracy was also influenced by another prior assassination – the death of William McKinley in 1901.

In 1901, almost forty years after the death of Lincoln, our country suffered its third assassination of a President. William McKinley was struck down while shaking hands with a queue of well-wishers at the Great Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. A young man wearing what appeared to be a bandage around his right hand slowly made his way to the front of the line to greet McKinley. When McKinley reached for the man’s unbandaged left hand to order to shake it, two bullets emerged from a concealed pistol behind the handkerchief. The assassin was a 28 year old self-proclaimed anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. Unlike his forbearer of John Wilkes Booth, Czolgosz made no effort to run or evade capture after his crime. Instead, he did little to prevent bystanders from subduing and even attacking him in their rage. When interviewed after his arrest about his crime, Czolgosz stated, “I killed President McKinley because I done my duty. I didn’t believe one man should have so much service and another man should have none…I am an anarchist, a disciple of Emma Goldman. Her words set me on fire.”[7] In the same way Communism had become the sinister enemy facing the United States in Kennedy’s day, by the end of the 19th century, the threat to the world was the concept of anarchism and its teachings. Anarchist violence had already deprived the world of many leaders during the era including the King Umberto I of Italy just the year before. Czolgosz had been inspired by the killing of Umberto, carrying an article about his assassination in his pocket and purchasing the same type of handgun used by Umberto’s assassin for use in his own murder of McKinley.[8] Czolgosz’s identification as an anarchist led to a crackdown on known anarchists including the arrest of many anarchist leaders. “Telegrams went out from Buffalo headquarters to Chicago police, who arrested [anarchist Abe] Isaak and his family that night, and [Emma] Goldman within the next couple of days, charging them with conspiracy in the President’s shooting.”[9] These actions were taken despite Czolgosz’s own insistence that he was acting under his own accord and that, even under possible torture, he did not, “implicate anyone else.”[10] In the end, the investigators could find no overt connection between other anarchists and the murder of McKinley. Leon Czolgosz was no doubt inspired by the anarchists’ movement and their portrayal of a utopian society where the suffering borne from class oppression would be replaced with a commune and leaderless existence where each person worked and provided for the well-being of the whole. He also took great motivation from the violent anarchists who were a distinct subset of the aforementioned intellectual breed who spoke mostly in hypothetical terms. The violent anarchists believed the only way to bring about the desired leaderless and utopian society was through the removal of all leaders through direct action. By killing McKinley, Czolgosz desired to prove his worth as an anarchist.

Due to Czolgosz’s status of a self-proclaimed anarchist and the subsequent arrest of anarchist leaders, it was easy for the press of the day to portray McKinley’s death as a conspiracy, even though such a view was not supported by the authorities. “There is reason to believe,” the New York Herald newspaper reported, “that other anarchists stand ready to complete the work of Czolgosz if the President recovers.”[11] Even after the mania stage of McKinley’s shooting and death subsided and the investigators officially dismissed any notion that others were directly involved in the president’s death, the idea of conspiracy remained present in explaining the assassin’s actions. At his trial, both the defense and the prosecution made note of how much Czolgosz had been effected by language and allure of the anarchist circles. While no other anarchist leaders were put on trial next to him (as had been the case in the death of Abraham Lincoln), anarchism, as a concept, was tried to the same degree in the court of public opinion.

In the same way John Wilkes Booth wrote sympathetically of the Confederacy and anarchist propaganda was loving collected by McKinley’s murderer, so, too, were Communist writings discovered in Lee Harvey Oswald’s home by investigators. Writing in his you are there style, lawyer turned author Vincent Bugliosi described the search of Oswald’s rooming house. “The detectives are particularly struck and alarmed by the stuff in Russian and the left wing literature. It’s not the kind of thing they find too often in Dallas. There’s a letter…in Russian from the Soviet embassy in Washington, and another from someone called Louis Weinstock of the Communist Party’s paper, the Worker.”[12] Throughout the investigation it became increasingly clear that, similar to the case of Leon Czolgosz sixty years earlier, Lee Harvey Oswald had been well educated in a system believed to be very much at odds with the Presidency of the United States. Yet, an education alone does not mean one was part of a conspiracy. Oswald may have been motivated by his Communist beliefs to murder Kennedy in the same way that Czolgosz was motivated by his anarchist beliefs, but legitimate investigations failed to uncover any overt connections between Oswald and a greater conspiracy.

In talking to reporters in the early hours of November 23rd, Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade (of later Roe v. Wade fame) was asked, “Are you willing to say whether you think this man [Oswald] was inspired as a Communist or whether he is simply a nut or middleman?” Wade replied, “I’ll put it this way, I don’t think he’s a nut.”[13] The reporter who phrased this question was channeling another precedent set by presidential assassins in American history. While conspiracy had been an overarching theme and one that could be traced to Lincoln’s death in 1865, the question of mental instability had always gone hand in hand with conspiracy. There was a societal expectation that those who engaged in such heinous acts, such as the murders of the heads of state, must have suffered from severe mental disorders. This expectation was likely reinforced due to the case of another prior presidential assassin.

On July 2, 1881, President James Garfield was shot at a Washington, D.C. train depot by assassin, Charles Guiteau. A barely qualified lawyer by profession, Guiteau was a unique combination of religious zealot, grifter, and delusional dreamer. From an early age, Guiteau had grandiose dreams about his own self-worth and prospects for the future. When he became a lawyer (an easier task in those days than today) he filled his business cards with the names of well-known businessmen he had barely met and bragged that his office building had an elevator.[14] Ever trying to improve his lot in life, Guiteau attempted to drift into politics, a realm where a man of his assumed talents could truly prosper. During the Presidential election of 1880, Guiteau put himself firmly behind the Republican ticket and its candidate, James Garfield, hoping to hitch his own wagon to that of the prospective president. Before Garfield became the Republican nominee, Guiteau was convinced that U. S. Grant would take to the White House again and wrote a speech extolling the virtues of the former President and the need for his leadership once again. When Garfield, not Grant, became the nominee, Guiteau adapted his speech by merely changing the names and little else. Through shameless tenacity, Guiteau managed to convince Chester A. Arthur, Garfield’s running mate, to allow him to give a short stump speech for the pair in New York. According to historian Candice Millard, this insignificant act – the recitation of a hurried and half heard speech by a complete stranger – convinced Guiteau that he, “had played a pivotal role in putting Garfield in the White House, and that it should certainly guarantee him a position of prominence in the administration.”[15] When Garfield was elected to the Presidency, Guiteau truly believed his reward for all of his hard work was soon at hand and that an ambassadorship was in his near future.

Charles Guiteau arrived in Washington, D.C. the day after Garfield’s inauguration eager to attain the position he felt himself rightfully owed. Lacking any sense of tact or shame, he repeatedly wrote and visited the White House ready to be given an ambassadorship to France. He even met with President Garfield in the White House regarding his request, giving the President a copy of his speech and relating his own qualifications for the job. To Garfield, however, Charles Guiteau was just one of the many unqualified office seekers who flooded the White House looking for a handout. Garfield treated the man kindly the first time they met, but had no inclination to give him any sort of position. Months went by, with Guiteau making repeated calls to the White House and State Department, addressing many notes and letters to the President, though he never met with him again. At first, the delusional Guiteau truly believed that his application was being considered and reviewed and that his ambassadorship was only a matter of time. But the normal protocol of ignoring office seekers and waiting them out did not work with Guiteau. His delusions were of such a degree that he would not give up on his goal. Guiteau truly felt he deserved a consul position and that he would get one. Eventually, Secretary of State James Blaine lost all patience with the man and told him that he had, “no prospect whatever of receiving,” an appointment with the government and that he should, “never speak to me about the Paris consulship again.”[16]

Stung by Sec. Blaine’s response, Guiteau began writing to Garfield informing him that he must fire Blaine at once and that the man would cause his downfall if allowed to remain in his administration. He continued to visit the White House hoping to speak with Garfield but as Millard put it, eventually, “Guiteau’s eccentricity and doggedness turned into belligerence,” and he was barred from the White House.[17] Over the next few weeks, Guiteau’s mind began to reflect on his own mistreatment and further embraced a religious zealotry that he had learned from his youth. By the end of May, 1881, Charles Guiteau had convinced himself that God wanted him to kill James Garfield. “The Lord inspired me to attempt to remove the President in preference to some one else, because I had brains and the nerve to do the work. The Lord always employs the best material to do His work,” Guiteau later explained.[18]

In the aftermath of Guiteau’s crime, which he finally enacted on July 2nd, the assassin was very vocal about how God had chosen him to remove Garfield. He was only an instrument of God’s will on earth and therefore he could not be tried or convicted by men. The conspiracy behind James Garfield’s death was quickly understood by the public to be the imagined conspiracy in Guiteau’s unstable mind between himself and God. Insanity was the conspiracy that satisfied the public in their quest to understand Garfield’s murder. Lincoln was killed by a group of conspirators, many men poised against one. Though Garfield was killed by a single man, that man was mad and completely outside the realm of normal society and expectation. There was no need to pin Garfield’s death on a more complex conspiracy in this case as the public more widely understood and accepted Guiteau as being crazy. Garfield’s death was still an event to be lamented and mourned, but there was no uncertainty behind it that required a specter of conspiracy for understanding.

Thus, when Dallas D.A. Henry Wade gave the press his opinion on November 23, 1963, that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t, “a nut”, he gave credence to the only other mode of understanding that the public had experience with – conspiracy. Interestingly, this opinion also helped put into motion the event that would help to solidify the idea of conspiracy in Kennedy’s death: the subsequent murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. The owner of popular night clubs in Dallas and deeply affected by the President’s death, Ruby had been drawn to the police headquarters much like Charles Guiteau had been drawn to the White House for his ambassadorship. Through confidence alone, Ruby managed to gain entrance into the police headquarters and ingratiated himself with the press reporting on the assassination. He was present when Oswald was first brought before the press. “I felt I was deputized as a reporter momentarily,” Ruby later said.[19] Ruby introduced a disc jockey from the local KLIF radio station named Russ Knight to Henry Wade, the D.A. Knight later mentioned that, “Ruby was insistent that I ask Wade if Oswald were insane,” which he did and was informed that, “Oswald was not insane and that the President’s murder was premeditated.”[20] This information regarding Oswald’s sanity was important to Jack Ruby who already felt that Oswald deserved to die for what he had done to the country and Mrs. Kennedy. However, had the belief been that Oswald was of unsound mind through the police’s initial rounds of questioning, this may have made an impact on Ruby. It’s impossible to know for certain, but Ruby, who was accused of being mentally unstable himself after his own arrest, may have altered his plans to kill Oswald if he had reason to believe Oswald was not responsible for his actions. Without any such extenuating circumstances however, Jack Ruby took justice into his own hands and shot Lee Harvey Oswald in front of live television crews as the assassin was being escorted through the Dallas police headquarters’ basement on November 24, 1963. Oswald was rushed to a hospital where he would be pronounced dead during emergency surgery about an hour and a half later and Jack Ruby was taken into police custody. As he was being taken up in the police headquarters’ elevator from the basement, Ruby stated to the policemen all around him, “Somebody had to do it, you guys couldn’t.”[21]

Lee Harvey Oswald died almost exactly 48 hours after his victim, President Kennedy. During his brief time in police custody, he denied having anything to do with JFK’s assassination and his few writings contain no reason for it. During his limited times in front of the press while being shuffled from different rooms at headquarters, Oswald feigned ignorance of the whole affair even going so far as to state the infamous, “I’m just a patsy!” line that conspiracy theorists continue to cling to today.[22] However, as many of those who interviewed Oswald before his death stated, it was obvious that Oswald was putting the police and FBI through the motions as a form of sick punishment or comeuppance for their former surveillance of him and his Communist activities. The police and press alike described Oswald’s attitude during his interrogations as “arrogant,” “defiant,” and “stoic.”[23] In the aftermath of his crime, Oswald was enjoying himself. He had brought a country to its knees and now had all the attention placed on himself. But the sense of power and control he maintained at the Dallas police station would not have lasted forever. Just before his ill-fated escort to the basement of the headquarters in order to be transferred to the county jail, Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels noted a change in Oswald’s demeanor. “I felt he was less arrogant,” Sorrells later said, “more ready to break.”[24] It seems likely that Oswald’s arrogant façade would have broken as the walls came closing in on him in county lock up and he was less available to the press to feed his desire for importance.

Oswald’s murder before he could express his reason for killing Kennedy and be put on trial for it created an uncomfortable hole in the minds and hearts of the American people. A similar hole had been created in 1865 when John Wilkes Booth was cornered and killed twelve days after shooting the President, but the trial and execution of his conspirators helped to satisfy the public in feeling that Lincoln had been properly avenged. Even though Charles Guiteau was deemed insane he likewise paid the ultimate price for murdering Garfield while Leon Czolgosz also suffered trial and execution for killing McKinley. After Oswald’s death on November 24, 1963 at the hands of a private citizen, Jack Ruby, the public lacked a person to punish properly for a President’s murder. Unlike Booth, Oswald did not have any conspirators to take his place. The government did its best to press on in making sense of Kennedy’s death, even as millions of private individuals struggled to do so. Less than a year after the assassination in Dallas, the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy released their reports on the evidence in the case. Known as the Warren Commission, their report, “included an 888-page summary, twenty-six volumes of supporting documents, testimony or depositions of 552 witnesses, and more than 3,100 exhibits.”[25] The commission concluded, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in shooting John F. Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

Why then, with such detailed and voluminous evidence pointing to Oswald as the lone gunman, is the story of President Kennedy’s death so fraught with outlandish conspiracy theories that place the blame on a multitude of others? As has already been discussed, Oswald’s denials, closely crafted words during his brief period in police custody, and the unexpected nature of his death created a lack of resolution in the mind of the public which often turned to suspicion and paranoia. Violent crime is something that a society is programmed to abhor. There is a natural tendency to attempt to dehumanize any perpetrator of an overtly violent act. This is one reason we often portray violent criminals as being “crazy” or “insane”. The label of insanity serves to help us feel separate from those who commit crimes. It reinforces the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, and prevents us from having to face the possibility that we may be capable of the same violent act under different circumstances. Historian James W. Clarke, in his book American Assassins, took a psychological approach in writing about those who have tried to take the life of the chief executive. Clarke groups the different men and women into different categories based on their upbringings, life experiences, and character traits. In the case of Oswald, Clarke classified him as an, “anxious, emotional, and ultimately depressed person who is primarily concerned with his or her personal problems and frustrations and only secondarily with causes or ideals.”[26] While Oswald may have had political feelings about the United States’ treatment of Cuba and communism, he did not act out of a purely political ideal. He was not like Booth who was willing to sacrifice himself on behalf of the Confederacy, nor was he Czolgosz who sought to prove his worth to the anarchism community. Neither was Oswald a Charles Guiteau, so irrational that he was unable to grasp the response his crime would bring. Even after taking into account the many failed assassins that had preceded him, Clarke still determined Oswald to have been the first assassin of his type, making him an outlying point of data that could not be easily understood in his day.

In the end it has been Lee Harvey Oswald’s enigmatic nature that has helped conspiracy theories about Kennedy’s death spread and grow. The day before he gunned Oswald down in the police basement, Jack Ruby verbalized the same thoughts that millions of people had (and continue to have) regarding the man who shot the President: “It’s hard to realize that a complete nothing, a zero like that could kill a man like President Kennedy. It’s hard to understand how a complete nothing could have done this.”[27] This true and honest assessment of Lee Harvey Oswald as “a complete nothing” is at the heart of all of the conspiracy theories in Kennedy’s death. Those who portray Oswald as a framed bystander, a patsy, or a merely the trigger finger of a shadowy organization suffer from the same inability as Jack Ruby to make sense of the incongruity between Oswald and his victim. Kennedy historian William Manchester makes the most eloquent argument regarding why many believe, and will continue to believe, that John F. Kennedy’s death was the result of a conspiracy. Manchester invokes the image of a scale as a way in which we try to make sense of a great tragedy. Using the Holocaust as an example, he relates that, “if you put six million dead Jews on one side…and on the other side put the Nazi regime – the greatest gang of criminals ever to seize control of a modern state – you have a rough balance: greatest crime, greatest criminals.” But, when it comes to the death of President Kennedy, the scale between Kennedy and the “zero” Oswald does not balance: “You want to add something weightier to Oswald. It would invest the President’s death with meaning, endowing it with martyrdom. He would have died for something.”[28] We have a psychological desire to balance that scale. Balance brings comfort and understanding. It reaffirms to us that society is just and stable and that only huge events and huge people can be at the cause of such massive suffering such as the loss of a President. And so conspiracy theorists look for more to put on Oswald’s side. They use misconstrued “evidence” and faulty reasoning to place Oswald on top of a massive house of cards, hoping to balance him with the greatness that is President Kennedy. But the truth is that the scales rarely, if ever, truly balance. Booth and his legitimate band of his conspirators don’t balance out the greatness that was Abraham Lincoln. Charles Guiteau’s insanity doesn’t balance out the promise that was James Garfield. Leon Czolgosz and his anarchism didn’t balance the representational American government that William McKinley embodied. In the end, conspiracy theories are nothing more than misguided coping strategies – faulty tools we invent for ourselves to help us make sense of what is actually a chaotic and random world. As strange as it seems, there’s a comfort in the concept of conspiracy. It creates a group of unspecified “others” that can be blamed or railed against when things go wrong or tragedies happen. But, as nice as this may seem, conspiracy theories also prevent us from developing real strategies for addressing and dealing with problems both in our public and private lives. Conspiracy theories provide a scapegoat for our troubles, but deny us a path for healing and growth. American presidential assassins share this in common with the conspiracy theorists in that each group fail to develop healthy means to interact with the world around them and choose, instead, to lash out at those they blame for their lack of control.

The idea of conspiracy has played a role in the public’s understanding of every assassination of an American president, but it has not always manifested the same way. In the introduction to his book, James Clarke wrote that, “many of the thoughts and emotions of some of the [assassins] may be disturbingly familiar to a good number; the beast slumbers in us all.”[29] In the case of President John F. Kennedy, for example, the conspiracy Lee Harvey Oswald was engaged in that led him to shoot from his sixth floor window in Dallas was not a conspiracy of men, but a conspiracy of neuroses from within his own mind. Oswald could not rectify his life and failures, and the 35th President of the United States paid the price.


[1] Michael W. Kauffman, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (New York: Random House, 2004), 24.
[2] Kauffman, American Brutus, 399.
[3] William Hanchett, The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 64 – 65.
[4] Hanchett, Lincoln Murder Conspiracies, 89.
[5] Vincent Bugliosi, Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007), 119.
[6] Bugliosi, Four Days in November, 121.
[7] Jack C. Fisher, Stolen Glory: The McKinley Assassination (La Jolla (CA): Alamar Books, 2001), 93 – 94.
[8] Fisher, Stolen Glory, 9.
[9] Eric Rauchway, Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2003), 19.
[10] Rauchway, Murdering McKinley, 31.
[11] Fisher, Stolen Glory, 91.
[12] Bugliosi, Four Days in November, 215.
[13] Ibid., 307.
[14] Candice Millard, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President (New York: Anchor Books, 2011), 59.
[15] Millard, Destiny of the Republic, 111.
[16] Ibid., 125.
[17] Ibid., 134.
[18] Ibid., 137
[19] Gerald Posner, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (New York: Anchor Books, 1993), 378.
[20] Posner, Case Closed, 379.
[21] Steven M. Gillon, Lee Harvey Oswald: 48 Hours to Live (New York: Sterling, 2013), 127.
[22] Bugliosi, Four Days in November, 256.
[23] Gillon, Lee Harvey Oswald, 78 – 79.
[24] Ibid., 119.
[25] Ibid., 137.
[26] James W. Clarke, American Assassins: The Darker Side of Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 15.
[27] Posner, Case Closed, 377 – 378.
[28] Ibid., 469.
[29] Clarke, American Assassins, 16 – 17.

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The President Visits Fort Jefferson

From 1865 – 1869, Fort Jefferson served as the island prison which held four of the eight convicted conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Micheal O’Laughlen and Edman Spangler were sent to this isolated ocean fort, 68 miles west of Key West, Florida, to serve their sentences for their involvement in Lincoln’s death. In 1869, three of the conspirators were pardoned by exiting President Andrew Johnson while one, Michael O’Laughlen, had previously perished at the Fort during a Yellow Fever outbreak in 1867.

Fort Jefferson was named after our 3rd president and is so deeply connected to the death of the 16th, but these are not the only connections that this former military base has to our former POTUSes. In this post we’ll explore the only three Presidents (that I know of) who have visited this sleeping giant.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR in Miami, Florida on December 5, 1937, the day after his trip to Fort Jefferson

We owe a lot to Franklin Roosevelt when it comes to Fort Jefferson. While the waters of the Dry Tortugas keys on which Fort Jefferson is built had previously been designated as protected, it was FDR who officially established Fort Jefferson as a National Monument in 1935. That put the old deteriorating fort in the middle of the ocean under the purview of the Department of the Interior and started the process of preservation. On November 28, 1937, President Roosevelt departed Washington intent on taking a cruise vacation to the National Monument he had helped save. On November 29, FDR boarded the U.S.S. Potomac out of Miami for a cruise to Fort Jefferson. The President was accompanied by his private secretary (and son) James Roosevelt, along with his attache of officials including the Secretary of the Interior. The Presidential group aboard the U.S.S. Potomac arrived at Fort Jefferson on November 30 and did not leave the waters around it until December 4. Over the course of his five days in the crystal blue waters of the Dry Tortugas, FDR kept busy with his work. He not only received coded messages aboard the Potomac through radio, but a mail plane was ordered by the Navy to run letters and official documents from Key West to the Potomac while it lay at anchor at Fort Jefferson. On the day that the group arrived, FDR wrote to his wife, Eleanor, who had not made the trip with him, “We are west of Key West, at the little harbor of old Fort Jefferson – a most interesting old brick fort standing out of the ocean in solitary grandeur…” The next day, FDR penned a short note to his aged mother headed with, “Dry Tortugas, December 1, 1937”. When not working, FDR joined in the many fishing expeditions that took place in the nearby waters. On one day he caught a total of five barracuda with the heaviest one weighing in at fourteen pounds. While others in the party had visited and toured the fort itself on the day of their arrival and during their subsequent time in the area, it wasn’t until the day of their departure, December 4, that FDR finally visited the Fort himself. The trip log describes his visit.

“At 10:40 the President accompanied by several members of his Party left the Potomac to inspect the ruins of Fort Jefferson. Mr. Willard Morris of the National Park Service escorted the party through the reservation and though he has been there but a few months was extremely enthusiastic and did everything possible to make the visit a pleasant one. The President evinced great interest in the structure and enjoyed the visit immensely. On departing from the Fort, Mr. Morris presented the President with a beautiful Queen conch shell which the President received with thanks and directed that it be sent to the White House. The President and all of his party signed the “guest book” in the Fort office. It was after noon when the President and his party arrived back on board the Potomac.”

During the tour FDR was informed by is guide that, “the first deck of the Fort served at one time as living quarters for soldiers, and later as cells for prisoners. Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, of Maryland, the physician who treated the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, assassinator of Abraham Lincoln, was incarcerated in one of these cells.” With this tour, FDR became the first sitting President to visit the site and learn a bit about the Lincoln conspirators’ incarceration. The looming conflict of WWII prevented Roosevelt from ever returning to the island fort he helped save, but his successor would make his own trips when peacetime came again.


Harry S. Truman

Harry Truman arrives in Key West on November 17, 1946

In November of 1946, President Harry S. Truman was worn out. After 19 months in office, Truman was suffering from poor health and his doctor wrote him a prescription for a nice warm vacation. The decision was made for Truman to travel to Key West, Florida and vacation in a home originally built by the Navy in 1890. This marked Truman’s first visit to Key West but resulted in the President falling in love with the town on the southernmost point of the continental United States. Over the course of his Presidency, Truman made a total of eleven visits to Key West staying a total of 175 days in the home he affectionately dubbed, the Little White House. In his post-Presidency life, Truman continued to visit Key West regularly, he considering it his second favorite place on earth after his hometown of Independence, Missouri. The Truman Little White House is a tourist attraction in Key West today and are regularly open for tours when not housing important guests or diplomats.

Having spent so much time in Key West over the course of his presidency, it should come to no surprise that Harry Truman visited the island prison of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, Fort Jefferson. Truman actually visited Fort Jefferson during his very first vacation to Key West, on November 22, 1946. He was transported to the island by the U.S.S. Stribling, a 2200 ton Navy destroyer, for a sight seeing trip. A second destroyer, the U.S.S. O’Hare carried members of the press and served as an escort vessel. When they reached the island, President Truman and his party were met by Russell Gibbs, the custodian of the fort who lived there with his wife and child. The large party had been joined by members of the press, including photographers who snapped some pictures of the visit that have been digitized by the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. In most of the pictures below President Truman is the one wearing the safari helmet.

The official log of the President’s visit in 1946 included a little summary of the tour Truman was given by Russell Gibbs. Truman was fully educated about how Fort Jefferson was used to imprison Dr. Samuel Mudd (the other conspirators didn’t make the cut again) and how Dr. Mudd’s bravery during the 1867 yellow fever epidemic helped earn him a pardon. The log then contains this nugget:

“The President and his party were shown one of the areas of Dr. Mudd’s confinement, where the President posed for a picture. On being informed by the guide that Dr. Mudd was confined with a ball and chain about his leg, the President jokingly asked the guide if there were any balls and chains available now so that he might leave a few members of his party here.”

Sadly, I have not been able to find the described photograph of President Truman posing in Dr. Mudd’s cell. After the tour was over, President Truman and his party thanked Russell Gibbs, signed the fort’s register, and departed.

The large party then split into two groups and boarded the smaller boats that had ferried them between the destroyers and the island. Preparations were made for the President and his party to enjoy some fishing about 4 miles away from the Fort. A bet was made between President Truman and Clark Clifford, his White House Counsel who occupied the other boat. Clifford bet the President five dollars that his group on his boat could catch a larger weight of fish than the President and his boat-mates. Truman accepted the challenge and the two boats, which positioned themselves about 200 yards away from one another, started casting. President Truman made the first catch of them all, landing a six pound grouper. In the following picture of the ecstatic president with his fish, Fort Jefferson can be seen on the horizon under his wrist.

The log of the trip contains a humorous anecdote of “collusion” on the part of the crew of the President’s fiishing boat. Unbeknownst to Clark Clifford and his boat, while the Presidential party was touring Fort Jefferson, the crew of the President’s boat had done some fishing of their own. The plan was to include these extra fish with the President’s when the two boats weighed up against each other later. While the President and his group had modest luck (save for Truman’s Chief of Staff Admiral William Leahy who caught nothing and “could only confess he was a bad fisherman on this trip”), Clark Clifford’s boat did exceptionally well. When the fishing came to an end and the two weighed up, it was found that Clifford’s group had bested the President’s. Even when the President’s group added the pre-caught fish from the crew of their ship, they still lost to Clifford.

“When it was learned that Mr. Clifford’s group caught the larger weight of fish, the President confessed to Mr. Clifford that even by weighing in the fish already on board the DOLPHIN when he started fishing, his group had failed to beat Mr. Clifford’s group. Had it not, however, the President jokingly remarked he might not have confessed the perfidy.”

It’s unknown if Truman paid Clifford his well-earned Lincoln.

This 1946, trip was not the only time Truman visited Fort Jefferson. About two years later, on November 13, 1948, Truman returned to the Dry Tortugas, this time accompanied by his wife Bess and daughter Margaret. The Trumans and their guests spent about an hour touring the Fort. Here are some of the pictures from this trip, once again courtesy of the Truman Library.

In the log for this 1948 visit, it was noted that President Truman had remembered what he had been taught about Dr. Mudd two years previously:

“The President, who had previously visited the island in November 1946, pointed out the dungeon where Dr. Samuel Mudd, the Maryland doctor who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, had been held prisoner.”

President Truman made one final visit to Fort Jefferson during his presidency. This last trip occurred on March 21, 1951. President Truman greeted the workers and visitors to Fort Jefferson and took the tour. It was a fairly standard visit except this time a picnic lunch was set up for the party on the parade grounds of the fort. The meal included ice cream, which was also given to the children who lived at the Fort with their parents. After lunch was over, Truman signed the guest book as usual and departed. Here are the pictures of the visit.

When President Truman departed Fort Jefferson on March 21, 1951, it marked the last time a President has set foot on the island. But it’s not exactly the last time a President has “visited”.


Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight Eisenhower chipping golf balls in Key West, January 7, 1956

On December 28, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower landed in Key West, Florida. Three months earlier, on September 24, Ike had suffered a severe heart attack. In order to help with the President’s recovery, it was suggested that he take a vacation to a warmer climate and get away from the harsh D.C. cold. Eisenhower took up residence in the Little White House in Key West that his predecessor Truman had enjoyed so much. Eisenhower had actually stayed at the Little White House during Truman’s presidency when Ike was still acting as a General in the army. Eisenhower spent eleven days in Key West, painting, chipping golf balls, and taking strolls. The press noted that:

“Shirt-wise, the President’s holiday was not so colorful as Mr. Truman’s used to be – he dressed in slacks and sweater. Moreover, the President was conscious that this was a holiday for health and not fun. It was not the place he would have chosen. He is a man who prefers to have the smell of balsam in his nostrils rather than the smell of tide water. (One morning he stood before a window overlooking the sea, painting a Rocky Mountain scene.)”

So it seems that the allure of Key West might not have rubbed off on Eisenhower as much as it did on Truman. However, Eisenhower at least found something alluring with Fort Jefferson. While he did not take a naval destroyer cruise out to the Dry Tortugas, he made sure to get a glimpse of the fort on his way back to Washington. After departing by plane from Key West on January 8, Eisenhower had his pilot divert off their path to Washington so that he could see Fort Jefferson from the air. Here is a New York Times article about it:

Though he never stepped foot inside Fort Jefferson, it could be debated that Eisenhower’s views surpassed those of FDR and Truman. Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas are truly beautiful from the air.

Five hours after his plane had taken off in Key West, President Eisenhower landed back in Washington, D.C.


It’s possible that more Presidents have seen Fort Jefferson for themselves aside from FDR, Truman, and Ike. Both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have stayed at the Truman White House in Key West following their presidencies, but I haven’t been able to find anything on whether those visits included trips to the Dry Tortugas. Other former presidents like U. S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, and JFK visited Key West, but it’s very doubtful their visits included the very isolated fortress across the ocean 68 miles to the west.

Regardless, Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park remains one of our treasured historical gems. If you ever have a chance to visit this massive masonry marvel, I highly recommend it. Whether you get there by ferry or seaplane, you’ll depart knowing that you have walked in the footsteps of both conspirators and Presidents.

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The Testimony Regarding Dr. Mudd

Over May and June of this year, I presented a day-by-day project documenting the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators. To further support usability of this project for students and researchers, I am releasing individualized tables of the testimony given at the trial relating to each conspirator. Rather than having to look through the entirety of the trial to gain an understanding of the specific evidence against a single person, all of the relevant testimony regarding each conspirator has been organized into an easily accessible and hyperlinked table. I have previously released the testimony regarding Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, Edman Spangler and finish today with Dr. Samuel Mudd. The text that follows this paragraph contains the same information that will always be found on a standalone page of the trial project called Dr. Samuel Mudd Testimony and can be accessed by clicking the picture of Mudd on The Trial homepage


The following table shows all of the testimony given at the Lincoln conspiracy trial concerning Dr. Samuel A. Mudd. Clicking on any of the witnesses’ names will take you to their corresponding testimony in the chronological Trial project.

The default arrangement of the witnesses in the table is by Relevant Testimony. This organizes the witnesses based on what specific aspect of the conspirator’s case was discussed. In the case of Dr. Mudd, I organized the testimony into eight categories, labeled A – H. Descriptions of what each category means can be found after the table. The tabs on the bottom of the table allow you to view the witnesses arranged by Date and Alphabetically by last name.

Mobile users: Due to the smaller screen size on mobile devices, you will likely have to scroll left and right on the table to see the Relevant Testimony column.

Relevant Testimony descriptions:

A. Dr. Mudd Introducing John Wilkes Booth to John Surratt

The first witness to mention Dr. Mudd by name at the trial was Louis Weichmann, one of Mary Surratt’s boarders. Weichmann described how he and John Surratt were introduced to John Wilkes Booth by Dr. Mudd. It was through this introduction that Surratt joined the conspiracy and facilitated the recruitment of others like George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell. This introduction was, therefore, a big piece of the prosecution’s case in connecting Dr. Mudd to Booth’s plot. As damaging as this was, however, Weichmann made a huge error on the stand stating that the introduction occurred in January of 1865 and not on December 24, 1864 when it actually happened. As a result, Dr. Mudd’s defense brought many witnesses forward to establish Dr. Mudd’s whereabouts from December, 1864 to April, 1865 in order to counter Weichmann’s mistaken timeline.

B. Dr. Mudd’s Interactions with the Authorities

Some of the detectives who visited and searched the Mudd house after the assassination made the accusation that Dr. Mudd denied having been visited by anyone on April 15th. This led the defense to bring forward witnesses showing that Dr. Mudd not only complied with the authorities who visited him, but also alerted some of his neighbors concerning the “strangers” who had sought medical attention from him.

C. Booth with Dr. Mudd in 1864

John Wilkes Booth visited Charles County and met Dr. Mudd in November of 1864. He returned to the area in December. During these visits, Dr. Mudd helped Booth purchase the horse that was later used by Lewis Powell on the night of the assassination. The defense tried to explain these interactions by showing how Booth was looking to buy land in the area.

D. Dr. Mudd Threatening Lincoln

One of Dr. Mudd’s neighbors, Daniel Thomas, testified that in March of 1865 he heard Dr. Mudd threaten the life of President Lincoln. According to Thomas, Dr. Mudd claimed that Lincoln, his cabinet, and all Union men in Maryland would be dead in a couple of weeks. Dr. Mudd’s defense called a plethora of witnesses to testify to Thomas’ unreliability and desire for reward money.

E. Dr. Mudd and David Herold Riding to Bryantown

Becky Briscoe, one of the prosecution witnesses, claimed she saw David Herold wait outside of Bryantown on April 15 as the doctor visited the town. The defense provided witnesses who agreed that Mudd was somewhat accompanied by Herold as he rode to Bryantown, but that Herold turned back and went back to the Mudd farm alone.

F. Dr. Mudd Learning about the Assassination in Bryantown

Prosecution witnesses charged that the identity of Lincoln’s assassin was well known in Bryantown when Dr. Mudd visited on April 15 with two of Mudd’s neighbors testifying that the doctor told them about it. The defense brought many Charles County residents who claimed there was much uncertainty at the time.

G. Dr. Mudd’s Disloyalty and Harboring Confederates 

Many of those formerly enslaved by Dr. Mudd testified about his pro-Confederate attitudes and cruel treatment. Several alleged that Dr. Mudd allowed Confederate agents to hide out on his property. His defense stated that Dr. Mudd only allowed a group of men to hide on his property near the beginning of the war because they were concerned about being arrested.

H. Dr. Mudd in D.C. on March 3, 1865

Two prosecution witnesses, Rev. Evans and Marcus Norton, claimed to have seen Dr. Mudd in Washington, D.C. on March 3, 1865. Evans stated he saw Dr. Mudd entered Mrs. Surratt’s boardinghouse while Marcus Norton claimed Dr. Mudd barged into Norton’s room at the National Hotel thinking it was John Wilkes Booth’s. Dr. Mudd’s defense brought several witnesses to speak to the unreliability of these men and to show that Mudd was on his farm during the period in question.

For the closing argument in defense of Dr. Samuel Mudd please click here.

Please remember that the Relevant Testimony descriptor is not meant to be definitive. In many instances, a witness might cover material from more than one category. For example, many Charles County witnesses were asked about their opinion of prosecution witness Daniel Thomas even if their main testimony was about a different aspect of Dr. Mudd’s case. Still, the attempt has been made to determine the most applicable category for each witness’s overall testimony.

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The Testimony Regarding Edman Spangler

Over May and June of this year, I presented a day-by-day project documenting the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators. To further support usability of this project for students and researchers, I am releasing individualized tables of the testimony given at the trial relating to each conspirator. Rather than having to look through the entirety of the trial to gain an understanding of the specific evidence against a single person, all of the relevant testimony regarding each conspirator has been organized into an easily accessible and hyperlinked table. I have previously released the testimony regarding Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen and continue today with Edman Spangler. The text that follows this paragraph contains the same information that will always be found on a standalone page of the trial project called Edman Spangler Testimony and can be accessed by clicking the picture of Spangler on The Trial homepage. The organized testimony regarding the other conspirators will be published later this week.


The following table shows all of the testimony given at the Lincoln conspiracy trial concerning Edman Spangler. Clicking on any of the witnesses’ names will take you to their corresponding testimony in the chronological Trial project.

The default arrangement of the witnesses in the table is by Relevant Testimony. This organizes the witnesses based on what specific aspect of the conspirator’s case was discussed. In the case of Edman Spangler, I organized the testimony into five categories, labeled A – E. Descriptions of what each category means can be found after the table. The tabs on the bottom of the table allow you to view the witnesses arranged by Date and Alphabetically by last name.

Mobile users: Due to the smaller screen size on mobile devices, you will likely have to scroll left and right on the table to see the Relevant Testimony column.

Relevant Testimony descriptions:

A. A Mustachioed Edman Spangler was in Front of Ford’s Theatre During “Our American Cousin”

One of the stranger claims testified to at the trial was that a man slightly resembling Spangler was seen out in front of Ford’s Theatre while the show was going on. This man, along with two others (one of whom may have been Booth) were very interested in the time and peeking in and out of the theater. The man who testified about this was unsure if Spangler was the right man since the man he saw had a mustache. Spangler’s lawyer, Thomas Ewing, brought forth defense witnesses to show that Spangler was at his post backstage practically all evening and never wore a mustache, effectively countering this bizarre scenario.

B. Edman Spangler’s Friendship with Booth

In order to convince the commissioners that Spangler was involved in Booth’s plot they had to establish his friendship and association with the assassin. This was easily enough done through employees at Ford’s Theatre who saw the two together. Spangler had helped to set up a stables for Booth in the alley behind the theater and they often took drunks together. Thomas Ewing countered that Booth was friendly to all the employees at Ford’s and that Spangler was too much of a drudge to have been trusted by Booth with knowledge of his plot.

C. Edman Spangler (Briefly) Held Booth’s Horse at Ford’s Theatre

When John Wilkes Booth arrived at the back door of Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, he sent word for Spangler to come out and see him. Spangler did so and was informed by Booth that he wanted him to hold his horse. Though Spangler quickly passed the task off to another employee before returning to his own responsibilities as a scene shifter, this act of assistance was the most overt act of conspiracy the government could thoroughly prove. Ewing did not attempt to refute that event this happened, merely associated it with Spangler’s friendship with Booth and ignorance of what Booth was planning to do.

D. Edman Spangler had made Preparations for Lincoln’s Assassination

While the holding of Booth’s horse was damaging, the government sought to prove that Spangler was involved in other ways in preparing for Lincoln’s assassination. The prosecution cast a wide net in their attempt to prove this possibility. They saw conspiracy in a length of rope found in Spangler’s belongings and implied Spangler had made alterations to the Presidential box earlier on April 14. To counter this, Ewing spent a lot of time finding witnesses who testified that the rope found was pointless, and that Spangler did very little work helping to decorate the box on April 14th. He also proved that the locks to the box, which were determined to have been broken, had failed a month before Lincoln attended the theater. Ewing also showed how Spangler made no attempt to flee or change his routine in the days between Lincoln’s death and his arrest.

E. Edman Spangler Aided Booth Immediately after the Shooting

Two prosecution witnesses testified that immediately after the shooting of Lincoln, Edman Spangler provided a measure of aid to the fleeing assassin. One shakily claimed that Spangler shut the back door of Ford’s Theatre immediately after Booth had passed through, thus slowing down his capture. Another witness, one of Spangler’s coworkers, claimed Spangler slapped him across the face ordering, “Don’t say which way” the assassin went. Ewing brought forth defense witnesses to show that Spangler was no where near the door when Booth exited and that the coworker’s story seemed to change with every retelling.

For the closing argument in defense of Edman Spangler please click here.

Please remember that the Relevant Testimony descriptor is not meant to be definitive. In many instances, a witness might cover material from more than one category. For example, many of the workers at Ford’s Theatre, like John DeBonay during his last time on the stand, were asked about many aspects of Spangler’s character and whereabouts on April 14th. Still, the attempt has been made to determine the most applicable category for each witness’s overall testimony.

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The Testimony Regarding Michael O’Laughlen

Over May and June of this year, I presented a day-by-day project documenting the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators. To further support usability of this project for students and researchers, I am releasing individualized tables of the testimony given at the trial relating to each conspirator. Rather than having to look through the entirety of the trial to gain an understanding of the specific evidence against a single person, all of the relevant testimony regarding each conspirator has been organized into an easily accessible and hyperlinked table. I have previously released the testimony regarding Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Samuel Arnold and continue today with Michael O’Laughlen. The text that follows this paragraph contains the same information that will always be found on a standalone page of the trial project called Michael O’Laughlen Testimony and can be accessed by clicking the picture of O’Laughlen on The Trial homepage. The organized testimony regarding the other conspirators will be published over the next week.


The following table shows all of the testimony given at the Lincoln conspiracy trial concerning Michael O’Laughlen. Clicking on any of the witnesses’ names will take you to their corresponding testimony in the chronological Trial project.

The default arrangement of the witnesses in the table is by Relevant Testimony. This organizes the witnesses based on what specific aspect of the conspirator’s case was discussed. In the case of Michael O’Laughlen, I organized the testimony into four categories, labeled A – D. Descriptions of what each category means can be found after the table. The tabs on the bottom of the table allow you to view the witnesses arranged by Date and Alphabetically by last name.

Mobile users: Due to the smaller screen size on mobile devices, you will likely have to scroll left and right on the table to see the Relevant Testimony column.

Relevant Testimony descriptions:

A. Michael O’Laughlen’s Association with John Wilkes Booth & Others

The prosecution had a fairly easy time in connecting Michael O’Laughlen with John Wilkes Booth and some of the other conspirators. During the period of time when Booth was plotting to abduct Abraham Lincoln, O’Laughlen was seen conversing with Booth on multiple occasions. Booth also sent letters and telegrams to O’Laughlen when the conspirator was home in Baltimore. When Samuel Arnold’s confession was testified to, it included the fact that O’Laughlen was part of the conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln.

B. Michael O’Laughlen Targeted General Grant and Communicated with Booth

O’Laughlen had the bad luck of actually being in D.C. on the night preceding (and of) the assassination of Lincoln. The government brought forth witnesses who claimed that O’Laughlen had been seen outside of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s home on the night of April 13. Stanton was entertaining Gen. U. S. Grant for the evening and O’Laughlen allegedly asked about the General before being asked to depart by those present. The prosecution also used the testimony of some of O’Laughlen’s friends in their attempt to prove that O’Laughlen was in contact with Booth on April 13 and 14.

C. Michael O’Laughlen was not Arrested at Home 

The weakest aspect of the prosecution’s case against O’Laughlen was the suggestion that he was evading arrest when he was arrested at the home of a friend rather than his own home. Walter Cox, O’Laughlen’s lawyer, showed that, in fact, O’Laughlen had arranged for his own surrender to authorities by way of his brother-in-law. He chose a different location than his home as he did not want his mother to become upset at the sight of his arrest in her home.

D. Michael O’Laughlen was Nowhere Near Sec. Stanton’s Home

Walter Cox had multiple witnesses who testified that O’Laughlen was nowhere near the home of Secretary Edwin Stanton on April 13 and could not have threatened Gen. Grant in anyway. There was nothing nefarious in O’Laughlen’s visit from Baltimore to D.C. on that day. He and his friends wanted to take part in the end of the war celebration that was going on. Many of O’Laughlen’s friends testified that the group drank and partied consistently on April 13 and a great deal on the 14. O’Laughlen was still with his merry band when the news of Lincoln’s assassination reached them, thus was not actively participating in the crime. While it was true that O’Laughlen had made efforts to see Booth on both the 13 and the 14, there was no evidence that either of these meetings were successful and were likely related to money Booth owed O’Laughlen’s brother.

For the closing argument in defense of Michael O’Laughlen please click here.

Please remember that the Relevant Testimony descriptor is not meant to be definitive. In many instances, a witness might cover material from more than one category. For example, O’Laughlen’s brother-in-law, Philip Maulsby, covered many different aspects of the government’s case against the conspirator. Still, the attempt has been made to determine the most applicable category for each witness’s overall testimony.

Categories: History | Tags: , | 1 Comment

The Testimony Regarding Samuel Arnold

Over May and June of this year, I presented a day-by-day project documenting the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators. To further support usability of this project for students and researchers, I am releasing individualized tables of the testimony given at the trial relating to each conspirator. Rather than having to look through the entirety of the trial to gain an understanding of the specific evidence against a single person, all of the relevant testimony regarding each conspirator has been organized into an easily accessible and hyperlinked table. I have previously released the testimony regarding Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt and continue today with Samuel Arnold. The text that follows this paragraph contains the same information that will always be found on a standalone page of the trial project called Samuel Arnold Testimony and can be accessed by clicking the picture of Arnold on The Trial homepage. The organized testimony regarding the other conspirators will be published over the next couple of weeks.


The following table shows all of the testimony given at the Lincoln conspiracy trial concerning Samuel Arnold. Clicking on any of the witnesses’ names will take you to their corresponding testimony in the chronological Trial project.

The default arrangement of the witnesses in the table is by Relevant Testimony. This organizes the witnesses based on what specific aspect of the conspirator’s case was discussed. In the case of Samuel Arnold, I organized the testimony into four categories, labeled A – D. Descriptions of what each category means can be found after the table. The tabs on the bottom of the table allow you to view the witnesses arranged by Date and Alphabetically by last name.

Mobile users: Due to the smaller screen size on mobile devices, you will likely have to scroll left and right on the table to see the Relevant Testimony column.

Relevant Testimony descriptions:

A. Samuel Arnold’s Association with John Wilkes Booth

The first step in establishing Samuel Arnold’s connection to the crime of assassination was to connect Arnold to the assassin. The prosecution brought forth witnesses who testified about Booth making contact and being seen with Arnold in the months prior to the assassination.

B. Samuel Arnold was Part of Booth’s Conspiracy

Compared to some of the other conspirators, the prosecution had no problem connecting Arnold to John Wilkes Booth’s conspiracy. A letter had been found in Booth’s hotel room letter written by Arnold, expressing his uncertainty in an undisclosed plot. Moreover both the prosecution and Arnold’s defense brought forth a detective to speak about the confession Arnold had given when arrested by authorities admitting to his involvement with Booth.

C. Samuel Arnold was an Armed, Former Confederate 

Perhaps the weakest tactic by the prosecution to implicate Arnold further was to point out that a revolver had been found in his bag when he was arrested and that he was formerly in the Confederate army. The prosecution attempted to equate Arnold’s limited service in the Confederate army with the treasonous crime of assassination.

D. Samuel Arnold Left Booth’s Plot in March

The entirety of Arnold’s defense was based on his own confession (B). Arnold freely admitted he had been part of a plot by Booth to abduct President Lincoln and turn him over to the Confederacy. However, when the possibility of successfully carrying out such a plan ended, Arnold left Booth’s plot completely. The defense showed that Arnold ended his association with Booth in March and that, at the time of the assassination, he had been working at a store in Virginia for almost two weeks.

For the closing argument in defense of Samuel Arnold please click here.

Please remember that the Relevant Testimony descriptor is not meant to be definitive. In many instances, a witness might cover material from more than one category. Still, the attempt has been made to determine the most applicable category for each witness’s overall testimony.

Categories: History | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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