Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 3 Num. 82

("Quid coniuratio est?")

The Lincoln Conspiracy
By David Balsiger and Charles E. Sellier, Jr.


Among Booth's earliest recruits in the plan to kidnap Lincoln were Samuel Arnold and Michael O'Laughlin. Booth and O'Laughlin had been involved in a smuggling ring early on in the war. They had helped ship contraband quinine, morphine, and other medicines to the South. "O'Laughlin believed Booth had been in charge of the operation but knew the actor had had the help of men in the government."

Besides Arnold and O'Laughlin, Booth recruited David Herold, George Atzerodt, Edward Spangler, and Lewis Payne into his kidnapping team. The original plan was to capture Lincoln when he was on one of his frequent unguarded trips from the White House to the Soldiers Home. Later, however, Booth decided on a more dramatic location for the kidnap attempt -- Ford's Theater.

On the night of January 18, 1865, all was in readiness. Lincoln was expected to attend a performance at Ford's Theater that evening. "Everything was ready -- two sets of handcuffs, gags and ropes. The stage lights were to be killed on cue. A vehicle with side curtains was stationed in the alley behind the theater."

Unfortunately for the plotters, the night was stormy and Lincoln decided to stay at home.

The leaders of the bankers and speculators plot to kidnap Lincoln decided to replace Booth with a military man because they decided that a civilian would not be the best person to handle the actual kidnapping. All Booth could learn at first was that he had been replaced by a Rebel officer, a "Captain B."

Captain James William Boyd "bore a resemblance to John Wilkes Booth, whose initials he shared." Boyd had served as head of the Confederate secret service in West Tennessee before being captured in August 1863 by members of the National Detective Police (NDP). After being imprisoned for months, he finally succumbed to NDP pressure and became a Rebel turncoat.

For awhile, Boyd was "paid $90 a month and, in return, reported on prisoners' activities and plans." However, when his life became endangered because the other prisoners had grown suspicious of him, he was released from Federal prison and given a new assignment. He was sent "on a mysterious mission that would take him to Canada, then Mexico."

The authors mention in passing that Boyd suffered from an old wound. "Boyd's leg near his ankle had continued to give him trouble. A bone and muscle infection had developed from the wound that had never healed properly."

Besides the change in leadership from Booth to Boyd, the "speculators, with Captain Boyd as their leader, appeared to have a new strategy... They were not going to take Lincoln to Richmond, but to Bloodsworth Island in Chesapeake Bay and 'legally' dispose of him."

In early March of 1865, inside "the nation's governmental centers and in New York, the country's financial heart, many were not happy."

"Power plays were going on behind almost every office door; tremendous pressures were building. There was no end to the intrigues, lies, deceits, and double-dealing."

For the turncoat Rebel agent, Captain James William Boyd, the sense of intrigues surrounding him was so great that he was unsure of exactly who his real leader was. "He had the impression the mastermind was not one, but a number of highly placed men working together on a daring plan."

Whoever it was that was running things had sent Boyd on a journey through Maryland, headed south. In Maryland, wherever "he stopped, he asked discreet questions concerning roads through the area."

For John Wilkes Booth, the urgency of achieving success in his kidnap plot was mounting. It became more and more apparent that the North was going to win the war. Therefore it was increasingly important that the South have some sort of advantage, from whatever source. Booth became more desperate to kidnap the president. He hoped that somehow the South could "yet snatch victory from defeat."

"It looked as though Grover's Theatre would offer the best opportunity to attempt the abduction on March 15." Booth assembled his team of recruits and prepared to make a kidnap attempt. However, on March 14th the President became so ill that the cabinet met in his bedroom. Because it seemed unlikely that Lincoln would go to the theatre the following day, the kidnapping attempt was called off.

When the Grover's Theatre kidnapping attempt was called off, some of the co-conspirators had gone to Ford's Theatre to see a performance of Jane Shore. During the intermission, Booth briefly visited the "Presidential Box," a special area reserved for president Lincoln when he attended the theatre.

In the early morning of March 16th, Booth met with his recruits. One of them had received word that Lincoln would be visiting the Seventh Street Hospital-Soldiers Home. Booth came up with another plan. On a portion of the road that the President was to travel, the plotters would ride out of the woods and surround Lincoln's carriage. However, when they tried to carry out their plot later that day, the carriage that they surrounded did not contain Lincoln. "Booth's third kidnap attempt had now failed."

The following morning, Booth was visited in his Washington hotel room by Colonel Lafayette Baker, head of the National Detective Police (NDP). Booth may have been understandably panicy that the formal head of the Union's secret service was paying him a visit. It may have been that he was fearful that his attempts at kidnapping the President had been found out. However Baker's mission that day was to deliver three sealed envelopes from (respectively) Jefferson Davis [President of the Confederacy!], Judah Benjamin, and Clement Clay. One of the messages that Booth received directed him to pay Baker a sum of money.

After Baker had received the money from Booth and had left, Booth was probably astonished. He immediately sent a note by special courier to Confederate agent Judah Benjamin in Richmond. He then went to the office of Radical Republican, Senator John Conness. Conness had been connected with NDP head Baker as a member of a vigilante group in California during the 1850's. He calmed Booth's fears and assured him that Baker could be trusted.

Not long after this meeting with Senator Conness, Booth received a reply to his message to Judah Benjamin in Richmond. It said that Baker was to be trusted.

"Word now came to Booth that the President would pass a certain spot on Saturday, March 18. Booth and an unknown number of conspirators waited seven hours. When the President did approach, he was escorted by a squad of cavalry." Booth called off this fourth kidnapping attempt.

Following this latest attempt, NDP head Baker and a Lt. Col. Everton J. Conger called on Booth. Booth did not record the topic of this second meeting with Baker.

Booth attended another of many Washington parties. At this party, he was approached by Senator Conness who informed him that he was expecting information shortly as to Lincoln's planned movements within the Washington area.

"Booth thought Yankee politicians were beyond belief. Their only interest was money. They had no patriotism, no personal honor. They were cowards, hiding behind their office, spouting hypocrisy."

On Sunday, March 19th, Conness forwarded to Booth information on the next kidnap possibility. "The conspirators rushed to the location named. And waited in vain... The President did not appear."

"On Monday, March 20, the conspirators made a sixth attempt at a kidnap. About the time the President was supposed to pass the ambush site, a warning was given Booth that the kidnapping was expected. Booth ordered his men to scatter, sure he had been betrayed."

Later that evening, Booth and two of his gang waited for Lincoln in another spot by which Lincoln was supposed to be travelling. When a horseman with a group of soldiers approached, Booth fired a shot and the President's hat flew off. One of Booth's companions, Lewis Payne, also fired twice but missed. Booth and his companions "spurred furiously away, the President's armed escort thundering after them... Within a couple of miles the conspirators had eluded pursuit."

Shortly thereafter, Booth was visited by the previously mentioned Lt. Col. Conger. Conger carried orders that Booth was to halt his efforts. Booth refused. Conger then told Booth that "If you make another move without orders, you and your friends are going to be found in the Potomac."

On Monday, April 3, 1865, Richmond fell and the Confederate cabinet fled the city.

"For Booth, time had about run out." On Saturday, April 1, he left Washington for New York where he met with Northern cotton speculators. Booth informed these people his apprehensions that their plot was about to be betrayed by NDP head Lafayette Baker. At the end of the meeting, "Booth was instructed to return to Washington to wait for orders."

On Thursday, President Lincoln had authorized Gen. Godfrey Weitzel to give permission to the "gentlemen who had acted as the Legislature of Virginia in support of the Rebellion" to meet and take measures to withdraw that state's troops from fighting the Union soldiers. "Secretary of War Stanton saw the action as allowing Virginia lawmakers to proceed as though nothing had happened, setting a precedent for all future insurgent legislatures to reconvene and be recognized." Needless to say, this would severely curtail the postwar plans of Radical Republicans and Northern businessmen for "reconstruction" in the South. "The authorization had Washington in an uproar."

On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant. "Lee's action, as supreme Confederate Commander meant the war was over."

With the end of the war, Booth now expected that Northern politicians and their business friends would strip the South bare. He also wrote in his diary that "I believe that [Major] Eckert, [Lafayette] Baker, and the Secretary [of War, Stanton] are in control of our activities."

There were at least three good reasons that Stanton could be behind Booth and his plotters: (1) Removing Lincoln would assure that Stanton would continue as War Secretary, (2) Under the proposed "reconstruction," the "War Department and the Secretary of War would be vital in a military occupation of conquered states." Thus, Stanton would wield tremendous power during the proposed "reconstruction." Lincoln opposed this planned despoliation of the South, and (3) By remaining in power, Stanton could further his own ambitions to be president.

It has already been shown that Stanton disliked Lincoln. Stanton even went so far in his audacity to countermand Lincoln's order to Gen. Weitzel which had given the Legislature of Virginia permission to reconvene. Lafayette Baker notes in his unpublished book that "That's the first time I knew Stanton was one of those responsible for the assassination plot." Baker even feared that he himself would be used as a "sacrificial goat" [i.e. a "patsy"] by Stanton.

Booth also was apprehensive about what the hidden forces plotting against Lincoln might do to Booth himself. In his diary he wrote, "If by this act, I am slain, they too shall be cast into hell, for I have given information to a friend who will have the nation know who the traitors are."

At the White House, Lincoln's trusted bodyguard, Ward Lamon, had obtained a special pass from the President which allowed him and an unspecified friend to travel from Washington to Richmond. On the night before Lamon left the capital he urged the President not to go out after nightfall, especially not to the theatre.

Meanwhile, Rebel turncoat Capt. James William Boyd had been acquiring horses in southern Maryland. While there, Boyd had learned that one Thomas Watkins had attempted to sexually assault the wife of one of Boyd's colleagues. Boyd went and shot Watkins in the back of the head. Although the Federal government was aware of what Boyd had done, it did nothing. "His [Boyd's] freedom was more important to someone than having him tried for murder."

{ Sources used for this section include, but are not limited }

{ to the following:                                             }
{                                                               }
{ Arnold, Samuel B., Defence and Prison Experiences of a       }
{   Lincoln Conspirator (The Book Farm, Hattiesburg, MS, 1943) }
{                                                               }
{ Captain James William Boyd Letter to Moe Stevens, Boyd Papers }
{   Ray A. Neff Collection                                      }
{                                                               }
{ John Surratt Lecture at Rockville, Maryland, December 6, 1870 }
{   (Evening Star, Washington, D.C., Dec. 7, 1870)              }
{                                                               }
{ Lafayette Baker's Unpublished Cipher-Coded Book Manuscript,   }
{   1868, Dr. Ray A. Neff Collection                            }
{                                                               }

{ Lee, Thomas C., "The Role of Georgetown's Dr. Samuel A. Mudd } { in the Lincoln Conspiracy," Georgetown Medical Bulletin, }

{   May, 1976                                                   }
{                                                               }
{ Major Thomas T. Eckert Letter to Col. Lafayette C. Baker,     }
{   April 22, 1865. In the private collection of Stanton        }
{   descendants. Released in 1976 through the efforts of        }
{   Americana appraiser, Joseph Lynch                           }
{                                                               }
{ Missing Booth Diary Pages. In the private collection of       }
{   Stanton descendants. Released in 1976 through the efforts   }
{   of Americana appraiser, Joseph Lynch of Worthington, MA     }
{                                                               }
{ Oldroyd, Osborn H., The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln:    }
{   Flight, Pursuit, Capture and Punishment of the              }
{   Conspirators (Privately Published, Washington, D.C. 1901)  }
{                                                               }
{ Pitman, Benn, The Assassination of President Lincoln and the }
{   Trial of the Conspirators (Funk & Wagnalls, New York,      }
{   1954)                                                       }
{                                                               }
{ Shelton, Vaughan, Mask for Treason: The Lincoln Murder       }
{   Trial (Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA, 1965)              }
{                                                               }
{ Shutes, Milton H., Lincoln's Emotional Life (Dorrance and   }
{   Co., Philadelphia, 1957)                                    }
{                                                               }
{ Wilson, Francis, John Wilkes Booth: Fact and Fiction of      }
{   Lincoln's Assassination (Houghton Mifflin Co., New York,   }
{   1929)                                                       }

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