Conspirator - Mary Surratt - JOHN WILKES BOOTH and HIS PLANS

JOHN WILKES BOOTH and HIS PLANS (Illustration) American History American Presidents Civil Wars Film Social Studies Trials Nineteenth Century Life Famous Historical Events Crimes and Criminals

In this image we see “Tudor Hall,” the home of the Booth family, as it appeared in 1865. John Wilkes Booth himself lived in this place, with his mother and siblings, between late 1852 and 1856. Located near Bel Air, Maryland, the house is still standing. Image online via Wikimedia Commons.


By March of 1865, Booth’s plans to kidnap President Lincoln had matured.  He had even picked a date - March 16 - when the President was scheduled to be in his carriage, outside the city.

The conspirators allegedly met at Gautier’s Restaurant on March 15th.  John Surratt, the best horseman of the group, would chase-down Lincoln's carriage and take control of it.  The others would assume their supporting positions along the routes of travel.

Nothing came of the detailed plan, however, because the President changed his mind.  At the last minute, he decided to stay in Washington.

Kidnapping the President no longer seemed viable, so Booth's friends disbanded.  Surratt continued as a Confederate courier, Sam Arnold and Michael O'Laughlen found work in Baltimore and Lewis Powell (also known as Lewis Payne/Paine) went to New York.  George Atzerodt and David Herold remained in Washington.

Two days after the kidnapping plot fell apart, Booth played the lead role - Duke Pescara - in The Apostate.  Booth determined the performance - at Ford’s Theatre - would be his last, since he had another idea in mind.  This time it involved killing, not kidnapping, Lincoln.

In Richmond, just before the fall of that city, John Surratt agreed to carry an important Confederate dispatch to Montreal.  By the time he left Washington for Canada - on April 4th - Richmond was in Union hands.  

Booth, meanwhile, spent his time thinking about how to end Lincoln’s life.  On the 14th of April, during a visit to Ford’s Theatre - where he went to get his mail - he learned some unexpected news.  That night, the President and his wife would attend a performance of Our American Cousin.

An assassination plot began to take shape in Booth’s mind.  Wandering through the theatre he knew so well, the actor could predict exactly where the President would sit.  He could recite every line of the play Lincoln would see.  He knew that in the second scene of the third act, the audience would erupt in laughter.  The sound of laughter could obscure the sound of a shooting gun.

Because he wanted to strike down Lincoln to help the South, Booth thought he needed to do more than kill the President.  To cripple the federal government, thereby allowing the Confederacy to regroup (despite General Lee's recent surrender), he would need two additional shooters. 

One would kill the Vice President (Andrew Johnson) and the other would assassinate the Secretary of State (William Seward) at his home.  Booth thought a coordinated attack would trigger instability and chaos at the highest levels of government.

Drilling a small hole into the door of the State Box, Booth created a vantage point for himself.  In position, when the audience laughed at the punch line, he would pick the right moment to fire his gun.  

At 8 pm, Booth met with Lewis Powell (Payne), George Atzerodt and David Herold.  He assigned Powell the job of attacking Seward while Atzerodt would kill the Vice President.  David Herold would coordinate the timing of the attacks so everyone would believe they were the product of a plot.

Lincoln - who'd had premonitions about his death - arrived late, while the performance was underway.  At about 10:15, the play was reaching its climax.  Two young friends were with the unguarded President (who was sitting in a rocking chair) and First Lady (who was holding the President's hand) when Booth fired at Lincoln’s head.  The ball from the deringer lodged in the President’s brain.  It was a single, fatal shot.

Atzerodt, meanwhile, had decided not to follow-through with shooting Andrew Johnson, and Powell's attack on William Seward was vicious but not fatal.  Neither Booth nor David Herold knew the status of those events as they fled the city.

Along their escape route, Booth and Herold stopped in Surrattsville.  John Lloyd, the Surratt tenant running the tavern, gave them a pair of field glasses, whiskey and a carbine.  (Weapons, among other things, had previously been hidden at the Surratt tavern while, it was alleged, someone else gave Lloyd binoculars for safekeeping on the day Lincoln was shot.)

How did John Lloyd know that anyone would stop by the tavern to pick-up those items on the night of April 14th?  The answer to that question would play a key role in an upcoming trial.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Apr 01, 2011

Updated Last Revision: May 11, 2015

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"JOHN WILKES BOOTH and HIS PLANS" AwesomeStories.com. Apr 01, 2011. Jan 26, 2020.
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