Guest Author - Donna Johnson
After carrying out the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865, his killer John Wilkes Booth fled Washington, DC and met up with co-conspirator David Herold in Maryland. The pair had planned for their eventual flight by stockpiling weapons and other supplies at the Surratt Tavern. The original plan was to stop to collect these items before continuing their flight to the South, where they hoped to find refuge.
Lewis Powell, the attacker of Secretary of State William H. Seward, never made it out of Maryland. He was arrested three days after the shooting at the Surratt Tavern, having gotten lost along the way to the rendezvous point. Mary Surratt was arrested along with him, despite her claims that she did not know Powell and had no knowledge of the plot. Mary’s son John Surratt escaped to Canada and so evaded arrest until 1867. George Atzerodt, the failed assassin of Vice-President Andrew Johnson, was also arrested in Maryland, on April 20.
Booth’s injury slowed him and Herold down a bit. Instead of immediately fleeing, the pair had to find someone to tend to Booth’s leg. They chose to stop at the residence of Dr. Samuel Mudd, a Maryland physician who, by some accounts, may have previously met Booth or even assisted in the conspiracy. Mudd diagnosed Booth’s leg as broken, later disputed by some historians, and used items from his farm to construct a makeshift splint and crutches.
Booth and Herold stayed the night at Mudd’s farm. During the night, the pair may have told Mudd of their deeds, but this is unknown. The doctor must have learned of Lincoln’s death the following day, Saturday, when he went to town. However, he did not notify police that Booth had been at his farm until Sunday, drawing suspicion to himself as a possible conspirator.
The pair continued their journey, stopping at various homes along the way for shelter, food and guidance. They were said to be helped by Samuel Cox and Thomas Jones in Maryland and Richard Garrett in Virginia. It was on Garrett’s farm that Union soldiers caught up with the fugitives on April 26.
Herold gave himself up to the troops, but Booth refused to surrender and remained in Garrett’s barn. To flush him out, the soldiers lit the barn afire. When Booth ran from the burning barn, Union soldier Boston Corbett shot him in the neck, mortally wounding him. Booth died within a couple of hours, after telling the soldiers to tell his mother that he died for his country.
A total of eight people stood trial for involvement in Lincoln’s assassination, including Atzerodt, Herold, Mudd, Powell and Mary Surratt. Also charged were Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen, conspirators in the early stages of the plan to ransom Lincoln for the release of Confederate soldiers, and Edmund Spangler, an employee of Ford’s Theatre who had handled Booth’s horse prior to the assassin’s escape. The trial lasted from May 1, 1865 to June 30, 1865, ending in a guilty verdict for all.
Atzerodt, Herold, Powell and Mary Surratt were all sentenced to death. The executions, in the form of public hangings, were carried out on July 7, 1865. Life sentences were imposed on Arnold and Mudd, who were pardoned in 1869, as well as O’Laughlen, who died in prison in 1867. Spangler received a six-year prison sentence but was also pardoned in 1869. John Surratt was tried in 1867 for murder only, as the statute of limitations on all other charges had run out. The trial ended in a mistrial and Surratt was not retried. Surratt and Arnold were the only two among all those tried in connection with Lincoln’s death to live into the 20th century.