On April 14, 1865, Lewis Thornton Powell, alias Payne, was the (Live Oak?) Florida native who was part of Booth’s conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln, Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward. Powell entered Seward’s home, stabbed him in the throat, inflicted dangerous wounds on other members of the household. He escaped and hid in the woods near Washington, returned to the home of Mary Surratt, a fellow conspirator. As he reached the house it was being searched by officers. Powell said he had been hired to dig a drain. Surratt, when questioned raised her hand and swore :“Before God I do not know him, never saw him, and never hired him.”
Thus was the conspiracy indicated; and evidence soon forthcoming led to the conviction and execution of Surratt, Powell, George Atzerodt and David Herold. Shortly after the afternoon of July 7, 1865, the four condemned conspirators were forced to climb the hastily built gallows that they had heard being tested the night before from their prison cells.
It was hot that day, reportedly a hundred degrees (38 degrees Celsius). Sweat surely dripped down the accused’s faces as they passed by the cheap pine coffins and shallow graves that had been dug for them. Alexander Gardner was the only photographer permitted for the execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. More than 1,000 people—including government officials, members of the U.S. armed forces, friends and family of the accused, official witnesses, and reporters—had come with their exclusive tickets to see this execution.
Nooses were placed around the accused’s necks and hoods over their heads. Ever since the sentences had been handed down a week ago, Surratt’s lawyers and her daughter Anna had been fighting and pleading for her death sentence to be changed. In fact, many in attendance thought that Surratt would be saved from the gallows at the last minute. It was not to be. She was the first woman executed by the United States government.
After the last rites and shortly after 1:30 PM, the trap door was opened and all four fell. It was reported that Atzerodt yelled at this very last moment: “May we meet in another world”. Within minutes, they were all dead.
(Photos via the Library of Congress)