1865 May 20: More Details of the Assassination Plot and the Conspirators
From The Prescott Journal of May 20, 1865.
How the Details of the Conspiracy were Obtained.
A Washington letter gives the following account of the way in which the details of the assassination conspiracy came to the knowledge of Government.
It seems that about three weeks before the plans were put into execution, one of the parties revolted at the part of the work which the leaders had allotted to him on the eventful night, and manifested a desire to back out. He was, however, reminded of his oath, and every effort was made to bring him up to his work.
But the more he thought of it, the more he became alarmed at the fearful proposition of the hellish schemes. After several days parleying he succeeded in getting the consent of his associates to relieve him from all further connection with them on the condition that he should leave the city and not return within sixty days. He left the city and was somewhere within the limits of the Army of the Potomac when the news came there of of [sic] the assassination of the President. He immediately repaired to Fortress Monroe and gave himself up, and was sent to Washington, arriving there the next morning after the funeral services of Mr. Lincoln [Abraham Lincoln] at the White House.
When taken before the authorities he made a full confession of all that he knew of the plot, as to when and where they met, and who were concerned in it. It is understood that the proclamation issued during that day by Secretary Stanton [Edwin M. Stanton], offering an additional reward for Booth [John Wilkes Booth], also rewards for Atzerot [sic: George Atzerodt] and Harrold [sic: David E. Herold], were based upon the confession of this prisoner.
At any rate the arrests on that day were numerous and several residents of Washington were among the number. This opened the way for future important developments, all of which will in due time be made public.
The number engaged in executing the plot is much larger than has been generally supposed. Besides Booth and his accomplices in and around the Theatre, the assassinator of Seward, and Atzerot [sic] at the Kirkwood, there were a number engaged in cutting the telegraph wires leading from the War Department, and still another set endeavoring to divert the attention of the authorities from the fleeing culprits.
It appears that at precisely ten minutes past ten, there were twenty-two wires leading from the War Office in different directions, and connecting with the fortifications and outposts, cut. These wires having been cut at a considerable distance from each other, together with the simultaneousness of this work, shows very plainly that a number of men were engaged in it ; and it is now believed that there were twenty-two men appointed to do this work.
The time at which this was accomplished furnishes beyond a doubt the hour at which the President was assassinated, which heretofore has been stated all the way from half-past nine to half-past ten o’clock.
The persons engaged in the plot present a motley crew, from the wild and eccentric actor down to a mere stage carpenter, including the Pennsylvania avenue dandy, blockade runners and men with their heads silvered over with the snows of many winters, and the rattle-headed youths hardly out of their teens.
The testimony already obtained is so straight forward and convincing, that there is no doubt but at least twenty-one, if not twenty-three, persons will suffer the penalty of death. There is hardly one chance in a thousand that they can escape—the evidence is so damning against them.
It is said that there are some three persons, confederates, in the conspiracy, who have been pardoned by the President and escaped death by his tender heart and humane feelings.
There is no truth in the reports that the would-be assassin of Mr. Seward has tried to beat his brains out in prison. He has remained silent and morose ever since he has been in custody, and has not asked a single question about his arrest or why he is confined. He is said to be a fine formed and athletic person, and takes his confinement in dogged silence.
The carpenter who fixed the box in the theatre has also been found. It is said that he took charge of Booth’s horse early in the evening on the night of the tragedy, and at the proper time led him into the alley at the rear of the theatre, and employed a negro boy called “Peanut John” to hold it near the door and close to a box, so that the animal could be easily mounted, and then fixed the door leading to the rear of the stage so that there could be no delay in Booth’s exit. This person is said to be the same one who built Booth’s stable in the alley, and also the carpenter employed to do the work in the theatre, such as putting up new scenery, &c.