A series of objects laid out on a wooden table: A map book, a pickax, a necktie, a knife and sheath, a revolver, a saddle and comb.
Photo by Carol Highsmith.

Material Evidence: Powell & Atzerodt

John Wilkes Booth and his group of conspirators planned on killing more than just President Lincoln. George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell were assigned with the assassinations of Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward, respectively.

John Wilkes Booth’s murder of President Abraham Lincoln was one of a series of planned acts designed to throw the United States government into chaos, thus enabling the fallen Confederacy to live on.

George Atzerodt was tasked with killing Vice President Andrew Johnson, but he could not bring himself to carry out the deed. Atzerodt’s name was implicated early in the investigation. A search of his hotel room turned up evidence which included a loaded revolver and a knife. He was arrested five days later in Maryland.

Former Confederate soldier Lewis Powell did intend to kill his target, Secretary of State William H. Seward. Despite Powell’s strength, Seward survived Powell’s attack as he lay in bed recovering from a recent carriage accident. On the night of April 17, 1865, Powell showed up at Mary Surratt’s boarding house while police questioned her. Carrying a pickaxe, Powell claimed he was simply a handyman hired to dig a ditch. The police arrested Powell on suspicion of his involvement in the conspiracy.

Atzerodt and Powell were tried and executed alongside other conspirators in July 1865.

Examine the Evidence: Were the conspirators ultimately successful in their plot? Why or Why not? What is usual or unusual about these objects? What do they say about the conspirators?

George Atzerodt and Lewis Powell

The plot to assassinate President Lincoln involved more people than John Wilkes Booth. See how ordinary objects became evidence against the other conspirators.

Protect Our History

The night of April 14, 1865, forever changed our national history. Together, Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service partner to protect the artifacts from that night. Through these objects, we can better understand how that single event transformed our nation. Give to Ford’s Theatre to help continue sharing the stories that shaped a nation.