Posts Tagged With: Conspiracy

Samuel Arnold’s Confession

The following is Samuel Arnold’s full confession that he gave following his arrest on April 17th.  This account is copied from William Edwards’ book The Lincoln Assassination – The Rewards Files.  Mr. Edwards is the author behind the trilogy of primary sources regarding the assassination.  The Evidence, The Court Transcripts, and The Rewards Files, are all essential materials for those studying the assassination.  They contain the bulk of the government’s microfilmed records and are priceless to the researcher.  The Evidence can be bought as both a physical book (the Surratt House Museum offers the best value on this) and as a non-searchable ebook.  The Trial Transcript can be purchased as a searchable ebook.  The Rewards Files were previously released on a CD-ROM  (still available through the Surratt House Museum) and will shortly be released as an ebook through Google Books. EDIT: The book is now available for purchase here.

I have previously written my support of Edwards’ Trial Transcripts and I will certainly let you all know when The Reward Files are available for download.  In the meantime, Arnold’s confession provides some of the most reliable information about the original abduction conspiracy:

“To Whom it May Concern,

Know that I, Saml B. Arnold, about the latter part of August or first part of September 1864, was sent for by J. Wilkes Booth, who was a guest at Barnum Hotel, City of Baltimore Md. to come to see him. Had not seen the same J. Wilkes Booth since 1852, when we both were schoolmates together at St. Timothy’s Hall, President L. Van Bokelin then having said Hall as place of tuition. Reception warm calling for wine and cigars conversing a short time upon our former school boy days. We were interrupted by a knock at the door, when Michael O’Laughlen was ushered in. After a formal introduction, we sat sipping our wine, and then smoke a cigar. During smoking he having heard previously of my feelings or sentiments, he spoke in glowing terms of the confederacy and of the number of surplus prisoners in the hands of the United States, and then ensued the proposition by J. Wilkes Booth and which he J. Wilkes Booth thought could be accomplished viz; Kidnapping President Lincoln as he frequently went unguarded out to Soldiers Home, and he thought he could be picked up, carried to Richmond, and for his exchange produce the exchange (for the President) of all the prisoners in the Federal hands. He, J. Wilkes Booth the originator asked if we would enter into it. After the painting of the chance of success in such glowing colors, we consented viz; Michael O’Loughlin and myself. Secrecy bound not to divulge it to a living soul. Saw him no more. Yes I saw him again and then he J. Wilkes Booth left to arrange the business north. First to New York then to the Oil region, from there to Boston and finally to Canada. Was to be back in a month. Received a letter which I destroyed stating he was laid up with Eryeocippolis in the arm and as soon as he was able, he would be with us. Months rolled around, he did not make his appearance until some time in January. In his trunk he had two guns (maker unknown), cap cartridges which were placed in the gun stock (Spencer Rifle I think called) revolver, knife belts, cartridge boxes, cartridge caps, canteen, all fully fixed out which were to be used in case of pursuit, and two pairs handcuffs to handcuff the President. His trunk being so heavy he gave the pistols knives and handcuffs to Michael O’Laughlen and myself to have shipped or bring to Washington to which place he had gone. Bought horse buggy, wagon and harness leaving the team &c. to drive on to Washington. Started from Baltimore about twelve or one o’clock after having shipped the box containing the knives, handcuffs and pistols, arriving in Washington at seven or half past seven. Met him on the street as we were passing theater. We alighted, took a drink and he told us of the theater plan slightly, saying he would wait till we put the horse away and tell us more fully. He had previously as I now remember spoken of the chance in the theater if we could not succeed in the other at Soldiers Home. We went to theater that night, he J. Wilkes Booth telling us about the different back entrances and how feasible the plan was. He, J. Wilkes Booth, had rented a stable in rear of the theater having bought two horses down the country, one in stable behind theater and the other at livery. Met him next day went to breakfast together. He was always pressed with business with a man unknown and then only by name, John Surratt. Most of his Booth’s time was spent with him. We were left entirely in the dark. Michael O’Loughlen and myself rented a room in D Street 420 No. Obtained meals at Franklin House cor of 8th and D St. and there lived for nearly two months, seeing him perhaps three or four times per week and when seen always but a short time still pressing business aleays on hand viz. John Surratt.

Michael O’Laughlen and myself drove out occasionally the horse liveried at Nailor’s Stable drove always (but once) in the city and Georgetown. The once excepted across Eastern Branch Bridge when we went upwards of five miles and returned I suppose. That was the only time I ever went over the Bridge. How often J. Wilkes Booth crossed I cannot state, but from his own words often. Thus was Michael O’Laughlens time spent and mine for the most part down at Ruhlman’s Hotel and Lichau House on Pennsylvania and Louisiana Avenues in drinking and amusements with other Baltimoreans besides ourselves congregating there all of whom knew nothing of our business but selling oil stock. Oil stock was the blind for them as well as my family. During the latter part of March while standing on Ruhlman’s and Lichau’s porch between 11 & 12 o’clock PM a young man name unknown, as I cannot remember names, about 5 feet 5 or 6 inches high thick set, long nose, sharp chin, wide cheek, small eye, I think grey, dark hair, and well dressed, color don’t remember, said called Michael O’Laughlen aside and said J. Wilkes Booth wish to see us both at Gaither’s Saloon on Avenue. I was there for the first time introduced to him, but forgot his name. We walked up together, Michael O’Laughlen, this unknown and myself were ushered into the presence of J. Wilkes Booth who introduced me to John Surratt, Atzerodt (alias Port Tobacco) (alias) Mosby making in all seven persons. J. Wilkes Booth had stated to Michael O’Laughlen to bring me up in good humor (still always in the dark). Then commenced the plan. Each had his part to perform. First I was to rush in the box and seize the President whilst Atzerodt “alias” Port Tobacco and J. Wilkes Booth were to handcuff him and lower him on the stage whilst Mosby was to catch him and hold him until we all got down. Surratt and unknown to be on the other side of Bridge to facilitate escape, afterwards changed to Mosby and Booth to catch him in box throw him down to me on stage, O’Laughlen and unknown to put gas out. Surratt, Atzerodt “alias” Port Tobacco to be on the other side of Bridge. I was opposed to the whole proceeding, said it could not be done or accomplished if even which was of itself an impossibility to get him out of the box and to the Bridge. We would be stopped by sentinel. Shoot the sentinel says Booth. I said that would not do for if an alarm was given then the whole thing was up. As for me I wanted a shadow of a chance. M. O’Laughlen wanted to argue the same thing, whereupon J. Wilkes Booth remarked, you find fault with everything concerned about it. I said no I wanted to have a chance and I intended to have it, that he could be the leader of the party but not my executioner. Whereupon J. Wilkes Booth remarked in a stern commanding and angry voice, do you know you are liable to be shot your oath.[sic] I told him the plan a basis had been changed and a compact broken, on the part of one is broken by all. If you feel inclined to shoot me you have no further to go. I shall defend myself. This if I remember arightly was on a Thursday or a Friday night. When I said Gentlemen if this is not accomplished this week I forever withdraw from it. Staid up till about 6 or 7 o’clock AM Friday or Saturday and then to bed, remained indoors till twelve. I arose and went to get my breakfast. M. O’Laughlen and myself room together both arose at the same time and were always together in a measure. About two or three o’clock J. Wilkes Booth called at Lichau House to see O’Laughlen. What passed I know not. I told him I wanted to see him. Says he speak out. Well John what I said last night I mean if not done this week I withdraw. Went to bed about 7 ½ o’clock PM. Next day twas to be accomplished on the 7th Street road, it failed. Sunday I staid in Washington and Monday or Tuesday I returned to the city of Baltimore and thence to Hookstown. J. Wilkes Booth in meantime went to New York and returned during week, Saturday I think. Said he wished to see me on very urgent business. Father sent for me. I came from country and he had gone to Washington, whereupon I wrote him the letter published. Richmond authorities as far as I know knew nothing of the conspiracy. The letter was written after my return to country, after finding he could not wait to see me in Baltimore. During week I came in City again. Met M. O’Laughlen who asked me to go to Washington to finally arrange his affairs. I went in the morning Friday, returning same day. Cut loose forever from it. Received a letter J. H. Wharton at Fort Monroe giving me employment; went to country got my clothing and Saturday first day of April left Baltimore for Fort Monroe at which place I have remained, never corresponding with Booth or seeing him from above named date to the present writing. The groundwork was to kidnap the President without any violence none other were included therein. He never to me said he would kill him, further than this I know nothing and am innocent of having taken any part whatever in the dark deed committed.

The plan of escape was place Mr. Lincoln in the buggy purchased for that purpose, cross Eastern Branch Bridge, Surratt and Atzerodt “alias” Port Tobacco to pilot them to where a boat was concealed, turn horses loose, place the President in the boat and cross the Potomac to Virginia Shore and thence to make our way to Richmond. Surratt knew the route and was to act as pilot.

A box painted black like unto a sword box was sent to Booth from Hotel by a Porter there, to our room. Next day transferred in wagon, O’Laughlen acting pilot to some place. I was not present. After giving box to driver went to Georgetown and O’Laughlen had the full charge of it. M. O’Laughlen said he took it to a Mr. Heard and from thence the unknown carried it to his house, took guns out and carried them to Peedee. This latter clause Booth told me.

Saml. B. Arnold

Baltimore April 18th 1865

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The Nine Lives of Sam Arnold

Samuel Bland Arnold was born on September 6, 1834 to Benedict “George” and Mary (Bland) Arnold.  In his early days, he and his brother William attended St. Timothy’s Hall, a military academy in Catonsville, MD.  St. Timothy’s was a firm school requiring the students to wear steel-grey uniforms and maintain strict military discipline.  In 1852, Sam and Billy became introduced to a fellow student, John Wilkes Booth.  Booth was not the best of students, fighting against the regimental nature of the school.  The death of John’s father in November of 1852 put an end to his time at St. Timothy’s.  Sam, on the other hand learned well from his time at the academy.  When John Wilkes Booth was developing his career as an actor, Sam signed up for service in the Confederate States of America.  He joined the First Maryland Infantry in 1861 before he was discharged for illness.  He later joined another brother, George, who was serving in the Nitre and Mining Bureau in Georgia.  He left this position in early 1864 to care for his ailing mother in Baltimore.  In August of 1864, John Wilkes Booth happened to run into his old schoolmate, William Arnold in Washington, D.C.  William said that his brother Sam, a veteran of the CSA, was also in D.C. at the time, and he arranged a meeting with him and Booth.

The two old schoolmates quickly rekindled their friendship over drinks.  During their meeting, another of Booth’s childhood friends, Michael O’Laughlen, appeared, having been invited by Booth.   After a bit, Booth brought the two men into his confidence about his plan to abduct President Lincoln and hold him for ransom.  Arnold and O’Laughlen, both influenced by and sharing in Booth’s dream for a drastic turn in the war, pledged themselves to help Booth fulfill his goal.  This support in the kidnapping plot and an ambiguous letter from Sam found in Booth’s room would prove his undoing.  After the assassination, Sam Arnold was sentenced to life imprisonment at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas.

Fast forward 37 years later.  Arnold was pardoned in 1869 after four years of the most grueling imprisonment possible.  From his day of release, he lived a quiet, reserved life away from public eye.  He denied interviews at every turn.  Then on October 7th, 1902, Sam Arnold died…kind of:

As this article states, Arnold had promised to release a statement regarding his involvement upon his death.  As of a few days later, however, no newspapers had been able uncover any such statement.  The reason for this was discovered by another newspaper that reported the following:

Yes, it appears that the Samuel Arnold that died on October 7th was not the Sam Arnold involved in the conspiracy.  Rather he was just a man that shared the same name as the conspirator.  As Osborn Oldroyd had written, the real Sam Arnold had already died.  He did so quietly and without any statement having been released upon his death.  And so the world was left without ever hearing the words of the last Lincoln conspirator tried by military tribunal in 1865.

All of this breaking news about Sam Arnold’s death proved confusing to a 68 year-old resident of Friendship, MD.

As he read the many obituaries about the Lincoln conspirator, he saw how the newspapers continually perpetrated the same misconceptions and injustices of years past.  Finally, he had seen enough.  This man decided to change his previous arrangement regarding telling his story.  The real, and very much alive, Samuel Bland Arnold decided to release his account:

Arnold’s account became a daily column for two weeks in many national newspapers.  Most of his account detailed his imprisonment at Dry Tortugas.  In 1995, author Michael Kauffman reprinted the account as the book Memoirs of a Lincoln Conspirator.  It is an essential, albeit biased, version of the conspiracy that led to Lincoln’s assassination.

The real Sam Arnold actually died on September 21, 1906 at the home of his sister-in-law Helen Arnold.  He is buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore.  His nondescript “Arnold” stone rests in the same cemetery as John Wilkes Booth and Michael O’Laughlen, recreating his visit with the two men so many years before.

Post Script – Even after the mistakes that were made when the other Sam Arnold died, the press still made mistakes when the real one passed on.  For example, did you know the conspirators were imprisoned in Hawaii?

My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman
Memoirs of a Lincoln Conspirator by Michael Kauffman
Newspaper accounts retrieved from

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On this date: April 7th, 1865

Booth had a meeting with Samuel Knapp Chester.

While in New York, Booth met with his fellow actor and friend Samuel Knapp Chester for drinks.  Earlier in the conspiracy, Booth consistently tried  to involve Chester in the kidnapping plot.  Chester continually refused to participate.  Booth went as far as to send Chester $50 as a demonstration of the money to be had in the endeavor, but Chester returned it.  During this meeting, a week before the assassination, Booth lamented his previously missed chance, “What an excellent chance I had to kill the President, if I had wished, on inauguration-day!”  Samuel Knapp Chester would be arrested and used as a witness for the prosecution during the conspiracy trial.

The Conspiracy Trial for the Murder of the President…(Vol 1) edited by Benjamin Perley Poore (1865)

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