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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- “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.
- “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.”
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- “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.