As the Civil War continued to rage on, the Confederacy was faced with a problem that would greatly influence the results of the war. The Union army had possession of 20,000 Confederate prisoners and had ceased prisoner exchanges, this was because the Union knew that the Confederacy planed kill their black soldiers instead of imprisoning them. (Holzer, “The president is shot” 66-67) This left the Confederacy with at a significant disadvantage and in desperate need of more men.
Believing that he could aid the Confederacy, Booth began to develop a plan to kidnap the president and find recruits to help with his scheme. Booth started his recruiting in August 1864, when he meet with friends and former Confederate soldiers, Michal O’Laughlen and Samuel B. Arnold, and convinced them to join his cause. (Holzer “The president is shot” 66-67) After this, Booth succeeded in persuading John Surratt Jr. , who like himself was a Confederate spy (Roscoe 51), to assist him. Mary Surratt, John Surratt jr. s mother, also helped Booth by allowing him to use her boarding house as a meeting place, even though John soon left the group. Also recruited were David Herold, a drugstore clerk(Roscoe 56); George A. Atzerodt, a carriage repair man from Germany (Hanchett 49)and Lewis Powell, who was in the Confederate army. (Holzer “The president is shot” 67)
The general plan Booth created was to capture the president and then take him across the Potomac river to Richmond, Virginia(Hanchett 43). Once he held the president captive, he could then demand the release of all the Confederate soldiers held by the Union. Holzer “The president is shot” 71) Booth knew that if he could accomplish this he would be a hero for the Confederacy, possibly the reason for their victory, and by doing something so unheard of, he would be placed in history. He did not want to just kidnap the president, though, he wanted to do something to be remembered as bold and daring. He wanted go into the president’s box as he watched a play, tie and lower him onto stage, then carry him out, this idea was, however, turned down by the other conspirators.
Holzer “The president is shot” 72) On March 15, 1865, the conspirators meet, tension was building and they were anxious to act as they waited for a chance to carry out their plan. (Steers 85) Finally Booth received his chance when he learned that the president was attending the Campbell Hospital on March 17, to see a play being performed for wounded soldiers. Booth planed for them to seize Lincoln while he was traveling to the hospital, kill his driver, then take their hostage through southern Maryland until they reached the Potamac River and then they would continue their plan of holding him hostage in Richmond. Steers 85-86) However, at the last minute Lincoln changed his mind about going to the show, ruining Booth’s plan. (Steers 86) After this the group of conspirators disbanded, but Booth refused to surrender and tried to convince them all to join him again to kidnap the president on March 29.
The other conspirators never came, however, Booth’s second attempt had failed before it started because the president had left the city on March 23 without Booth’s knowledge (Hanchett 50) Almost two weeks after this, on April, 9 1865, Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant, and as Booth heard the shocking news he exclaimed, “My God, I have no country now! ”(Marrin 209) Following this on April 11, president Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in which he spoke of the rights of newly freed slaves. Booth along with Powell were in the crowd listening to the speech, outraged Booth said “This means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I will put him through. That will be the last speech he will ever make. ”(Steers 91)Now Booth knew that kidnapping was not enough, he needed to do something else, something to revenge the south and put an end to the man who was murdering it.
On the morning of April 14, 1865, Booth went to visit Ford’s Theater, something he often did, and at this visit he learned that the President would be visiting the Theatre to see a play that night. (Holzer “The president is shot” 90) Booth decided that this was his chance, that he would assassinate the president and have his accomplices murder other heads of the government, thinking that the combination of these might be enough to save what was left of the Confederacy. Marrin 211) However, Booth was not the first to want to kill the president, in fact, Abraham Lincoln received so many threats by mail that he kept some of them in an envelope labeled “Assassination”. (Holzer “The president is shot” 42) In spite of this, Booth believed that this was his last chance, not only at saving the Confederacy, but also to bring him the fame he desired, since he was a child.
In addition, Booth hated Lincoln so deeply he believed that Lincoln deserved to die, after he did the deed, he wrote “Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment. Once Booth was set on assassinating, he called all the men who had been a part of the kidnapping scheme to help him with the biggest blow to the Union since the beginning of the war. John Surratt, Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen, though willing to kidnap the president, did not wish to be a part of the assassination. (Holzer “The president is shot 98-99) With three less than he previously had, Booth was left with George Atzerodt, Lewis Powell and David Herold.
Booth gave them their tasks, Atzerodt will murder the Vice President, Andrew Johnson, Powell will murder William Seward, the Secretary of state, and Herold will help Powell escape. (Wilmore 13) At 6:00pm Booth went to Ford’s to make his preparations, he came to the hallway behind the box seats and used his knife to carve a divot in the wall opposite to the door, with this he could block the door with a stick that he hid before leaving. (Holzer “The president is shot” 101) At 9:00pm Booth again came to the theatre, however, this time when he left, he would be the Presidents murderer.
Booth rode up the back ally of the theatre, and was then let in by Edman Spangler, a stagehand whom he was acquainted with. (Holzer “The president is shot” 100) Once in the theatre Booth made his way to a trap door that lead underneath the stage and to the other side of the backstage, from there he went out to the side alley to get to a saloon next to the theatre. Booth stayed at the saloon for a time while he waited until the designated time to strike, as the time drew near he left the saloon, went through the front entrance of Ford’s Theatre and ascended a staircase to the balcony. Steers 114) Booth walked through the crowd until he reached the doorway to the hall behind the box seats, instead of the Presidents guard, John F. Parker who was not at his post, he met Lincoln’s valet, who let the actor pass. (Steers 116) When he was safely in the hallway, Booth secured the door and crept to the box the President was in and looked through a hole that had been made so a guard could check on the president without disturbing him. (Steers 117)
Inside the box was the President, Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and their guests, Major Henry R. Rathbone and his fiance, Clara Harris. (Marrin 212) Booth, who knew the play, waited with his derringer, a small pistol, (Marrin 214) until a line he knew would make the audience roar with laughter, then he swung open the door aimed at the back on Lincoln’s head and pulled the trigger. (Steers 118) At first no one knew what happened, though when Major Rathbone saw the man in the doorway with a gun by his side, he tried to stop him, but Booth slashed him with his knife from shoulder blade to elbow. Marrin 215) Free from the Major’s grasp Booth jumped onto the stage, but as he did so the spur of his boot got caught in a flag hung by the box and caused him to fall awkwardly, breaking a bone in his left leg.
With his broken leg, Booth stood from his fall to the stage and shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis”(Steers 118), which means, “Thus always to tyrants. “(Hanchett 56)After running off the stage he proceeded to the back alley where he hit the boy watching his horse with the handle of his knife and escaped. Steers 118) The hectic scene that followed Booth’s escape started as Major Rathbone shouted, “Stop that man! ” and Mary Todd Lincoln repeatedly exclaimed, “Murder! “. When the reality of the event was understood, the audience was thrown into a frenzy, as women fainted and people yelled, “Catch him! ”, “Hang him! ” and “Kill him! ”. (holzer “The president is shot” 112-113) Even with the horrendous pain in his leg, while Booth rode away, he was satisfied because he would now be forever remembered as the first person to assassinate an American President.
However, unlike Booth, his companions did not accomplish their assigned tasks. After forcing his way into the Secretary of state’s house, Powell came into the bedroom where Seward was sleeping and began to slash his face with his knife. This did not kill him, though, because Seward had been in a riding accident and was wearing a metal brace around his neck that probably saved his life, and before Powell could do any more damage he was chased out of the house. Holzer “the president is shot” 118) Herold, who was told to help Powell escape, quickly left after he heard screams from Seward’s house and was scared off. (Wilmore 14) Atzerodt could not even bring himself to attempt his task of murdering the Vice President, and instead went to a tavern to drink. (Wilmore 13) Booth continued to ride until he reached Soper’s hill, the designated meeting place, where Herold soon arrived, Atzerodt and Powell,though, never came and the two set out without them. Steers 137)
Booth and Herold rode to the Surratt’s tavern first to retrieve two rifles that were meant for the kidnapping. (Steers 137-139)The two then proceeded to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who splinted Booth’s leg and allowed him and Herold to stay there. (Wilmore 14) Booth had already met the doctor and his wife after a church service in November 1865, and had been invited into their home. (Roscoe 64)However, when Mudd heard of the President’s assassination, he told Booth and Herold to leave, but gave them time to escape before alerting the authorities. Wilmore 14-15) Booth and Herold stayed at several places after leaving the Mudd’s home while on the run, first Samuel Cox’s home, then the woods near his plantation, and near the Huges’ farm. (Wilmore 14)
Booth was unable to understand why not as many people would help them, on April 22 he wrote in his diary, “I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for, what made tell a Hero. And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant then even knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat. (Holzer “President Lincoln assassinated” 70)On April 24, Booth and Herold were taken in by Richard Garrett, unknowing that the U. S. cavalry had found them at last, when they were told to surrender, Herold agreed, but Booth would not. Consequently, the barn he was hiding in was set on fire and Boston Corbett was able to shoot Booth, (Wilmore 15) ending his life. With the help of Susan Mahoney, a black woman who worked for Mary Surratt, Booth’s accomplices, except John Surratt who evaded capture(Wolmore 15), were arrested within three days of the president’s assassination. Marrin 224)
On July 7, 1865, four of the conspirators were hung, Mary Surratt, David Herold, George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell. (Wilmore 15)Michael O’Laughlen, who died in prison, Samuel Arnold, Dr. Samuel Mudd and Edman Spangler were sent to prison and pardoned in 1869 by President Andrew Johnson. (Holzer “The president is shot” 166) Even with murdering the President of the United States of America, Booth was not able to bring back the Confederacy, to him, however, he still succeded in his goal, and died with the satisfaction of knowing he had done something never before accomplished.