Abraham Lincoln's Assassination
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GEORGE ATZERODT'S LOST CONFESSION

Captain William E. Doster and George Atzerodt

On May 1, 1865, George Atzerodt gave a statement to Baltimore Provost Marshall James McPhail. At the time of his statement, Atzerodt was imprisoned at the Washington Arsenal and was awaiting trial for his role in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. Atzerodt’s brother-in-law, John L. Smith, who was a detective on McPhail’s staff, made notes of the statement. While McPhail questioned Atzerodt, Smith wrote down the substance of the conversation. During the subsequent conspiracy trial, Atzerodt's statement never became part of the court record because his attorney, Captain William E. Doster, objected to any testimony by McPhail relating to a confession of his client while in jail.

Finally in 1977, 112 years after the trial, Atzerodt's "lost confession" came to light. Joan L. Chaconas, past president of the Surratt Society and of the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia, discovered it. She had called on the son of William E. Doster, and she discovered the lost confession among the papers she was allowed to look through. It would seem likely that Smith had given his notes to Doster for possible use in Atzerodt's defense. A photocopy of the confession was made. The late Floyd Eugene Risvold purchased the original. Mr. Risvold was a noted historian, author, collector, and businessman.

The text of George Atzerodt's Lost Confession is as follows:

James Wood sometimes called Mosby boarded with Mrs. Murray an Irish woman on the corner of 9 & F St. in a three story house, front on the upper end of the P.O. and South End of Patent Office - with basement entrance on the left side going up 9th St. from Avenue. He was a little over six feet, black hair, smooth round face, gray coat black pants, & spring coat mixed with white & gray. Saw him last time on Friday evening about 5 o'ck with Booth. He sent for letters to the post office with James Hall. He was brought from New York. Surratt told me so. He said he had been a prisoner in Balte, near the depot. He was arrested for whipping a negro woman. Mosby was Wood's nick name - did not know him by any other name than mentioned. Gust. Powell now arrested in Old Capitol was one of the party. He went also by name of Gustavus Spencer, Surratt and Spencer came from Richmond, together just after it had fallen.

James Donaldson, a low chunky man about 23 or 24 years of age, small-potted, dark complexion (not very) deep plain black suit; only saw him one time & this was Wednesday previous to the murder, he was having an interview with Booth and told him to meet him on Friday eve & he replied he would and left and went up Penn. Avenue towards the Treasury building. I was under the impression he came on with Booth.

Arnold, O'Laughlin, Surratt, Harold, Booth, and myself met once at a saloon or restaurant on the Aven. bet 13 & 14 St.

The Saml. Thomas registered on the morning of the 15th April at Penn Hotel, I met on my way to hotel, he was an entire Stranger to me. I left the Hotel alone on the morning of 15th of April. A Lieut. in room No. 51 will prove this. Surratt bought a boat from Dick Smoot & James Brawner living about Port Tobacco, for which they paid $300.00 and was to give one hundred Dolls. extra for taking care of it till wanted. Booth told me that Mrs. Surratt went to Surrattsville to get out the guns (Two Carbines) which had been taken to that place by Herold. This was Friday. The carriage was hired at Howard's.

I same a man named Weightman who boarded at Surratt's at Post Office. he told me he had to go down the Country with Mrs. Surratt. This was on Friday, Also.

I am certain Dr. Mudd knew all about it, as Booth sent (as he told me) liquors & provisions for the trip with the President to Richmond, about two weeks before the murder to Dr. Mudd's.

Booth never said until the last night (Friday) that he intended to kill the President.

Herold came to the Kirkwood House, same evening for me to go to see Booth. I went with Herold & saw Booth. He then said he was going to kill the President and Wood , the Secy. of State. I did not believe him. This occurred in the evening about 7 1/2 o'clock. It was dark. I took a room at Kirkwood's. Both Herold & I went to the room left Herold's coat, knife, & pistol in room and never again returned to it. Booth said during the day that the thing had failed and proposed to go to Richmond & open the theatre. I am not certain but I think I stayed one night at Kirkwood's (Thursday) we were to try and get papers to Richmond from Mr. Johnson.

Booth spoke of getting the papers. He would get them out of the Theatre. Wood & Booth were apparently confidential with each other. Plenty of parties in Charles County knew of the kidnapping affair.

One of the men named Charles Yates, knew all about it, he went to Richmond during the winter he was to row the Presdt & party over.

Thos. Holborn was to meet us on the road and help in the kidnapping. Bailey & Barnes knew nothing of the affair unless Booth told Bailey & he told Barnes. Booth had met Bailey on "C" St. with me. I did not meet Booth or any other of the party in Baltimore on or about the 31 of March.

Boyle also killed Capt. Watkins near Annapolis last month, was one of the party, in the conspiracy.

I repeat I never knew anything about the murder.

I was intended to give assistance to the kidnapping. They come to Port Tobacco (Surratt & Booth) several times and brought me to Washington. The pistol given me I sold or received a loan on it Saturday morng after the murder from John Caldwick at Matthews & Wells, Store, High St. Georgetown. The knife I threw away just above Mrs. Canby's boarding house the night of the murder about 11 o'clock when I took my horse to stable. I had the horse out to help to take the President. I did not believe he was going to be killed, although Booth had said so. After I heard of the murder I run about the city like a crazy man.

I have not seen Arnold for some time, but saw O'Laughlin on Thursday evening, on the Avenue at Saloon near U.S. Hotel. He told me he was going to see Booth.

Wood did not go on the street in day time for fear of arrest. When he first came to Washington he boarded at Surratt's. This was in Feby. He (Wood) went with Booth last of February to N. York.

Booth we understood paid the way. I know nothing about Canada. Wood told me he had horses in Virginia. Saml. Arnold and Mike O'Laughlin ought to know where the horses and pistols were bought.

Sam and Mike have a buggy and horse kept at stable in rear of Theatre. Booth had several horses at same place. I think the horses property was in Surratt's name. I sold one of the horses & paid part of the money to Booth and part to Herold, who said he would see Booth about it. The saddle and bridle belonging to Booth is at Penn House, where I left it. I overheard Booth when in conversation with Wood say, That he visited a chambermaid at Seward's House & that she was pretty. He said he had a great mind to give her his diamond pin. Herold talked about powders & medicines on Friday night at Mrs. Condby's. Wood, Herold, Booth, and myself were present. This was a meeting place because Wood could not go out for fear of arrest.

Kate Thompson or Kate Brown, as she was known by both names, put up at National & was well known at Penn House. She knew all about the affair. Surratt went to Richd with her last March and Gust. Howell made a trip with her to same place. This woman is about twenty yrs of age, good looking and well dressed. Black hair and eyes, round face from South Carolina & a widow.

I did not see Surratt for seven or eight days before the murder nor have I seen him since.

Miss Thompson or Brown had two large light trunks, one much larger than the other. Young Weightman at Surratts' ought to know about this woman. This remark made by me in Baltimore on the 31 of March alluded to blockade running & privateering altogether & Booth said he had money to buy a steamer & wanted me to go in it.

I was to be one of them. In this way I was going to make a pile of money.

Booth said he had met a party in N. York who would get the Prest. certain. They were going to mine the end of the pres. House, near the War Dept. They knew an entrance to accomplish it through. Spoke about getting friends of the Presdt. to get up an entertainment & they would mix it in, have a serenade & thus get at the Presdt. & party.

These were understood to be projects.

Booth said if he did not get him quick the N. York crowd would. Booth knew the New York party apparently by a sign. He saw Booth give some kind of sign to two parties on the Avenue who he said were from New York. My Uncle Mr. Richter and family in Monty. Co. Md. knew nothing about the affair either before or after the occurrence & never suspected me of any thing wrong as I was in the habit of visiting and working in the neighborhood & staying with him. My father formerly owned part of the property now owned by Richter. Finis.

This statement by George Atzerodt is rambling and often difficult to follow and understand. Taken at face value, however, the following statements seem warranted based on the words of Atzerodt: (1) Atzerodt admitted to being a willing participant in the kidnapping conspiracy but not the murder. (2) The case for Dr. Samuel Mudd's complicity is strengthened. (3) The case for Mary Surratt's complicity is strengthened. (4) The case for Confederate involvement in plans to kill the president is strengthened. (5) The case for John Surratt being in Washington at the time of the assassination is weakened. (6) The case for certain people in New York plotting against Lincoln is strengthened.

For more information on Atzerodt, please CLICK HERE.

The photograph of William E. Doster is part of the Lloyd Ostendorf collection and came from p. 198 of When Lincoln Died: The Assassination, The Funeral Journey, The Pursuit and Trial of the Conspirators, The Complete Story in Pictures and in the Words of His Day by Ralph Borreson (New York, Appleton-Century, 1965). The photograph of George Atzerodt is from the Library of Congress. The text of George Atzerodt's statement came from Appendix 6 of His Name is Still Mudd by Edward Steers, Jr. (Gettysburg, Thomas Publications, 1997). For more details on the discovery of the lost confession, see pp. 417-418 of Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by William A. Tidwell with James O. Hall and David Winfred Gaddy (Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1988).

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