Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Seward Mansion / Lincoln Part # 2

 Seward Mansion
Lincoln Assassination / Part # 2

Lincoln's Presidential Cabinet
Earlier that afternoon on April 14, 1865 on the other side of town, David Herold and Lewis Powell had met with Booth to receive weapons and instructions to carry out their part of the triple murder planned that night.  The pair arrived at the home of Secretary of State William H. Seward around 9:00PM and watched as visitors came and went from the busy residence.  They had observed the pattern of the household the previous evening as they had discussed and settled on a plan of engagement.  Now the clock chimed their plan into action.  Soon after 10:00PM, Powell approached the front door, while Herold waited outside holding their horses hidden from view in the darkness.  The Secretary of State was recovering from a serious carriage accident, which had occurred a little more than a week earlier, leaving Seward bedridden with multiple serious injuries.  He was suffering from a broken arm, a broken jaw, and a concussion, among other injuries.  Secretary Seward had drifted in and out of consciousness during a visit from President Lincoln earlier that day.  Lewis Powell knocked on the door posing as a delivery boy with a prescription box of pain medicine sent by Secretary Seward's physician.  He was armed with a .34 caliber six shot Whitney revolver and a large Bowie knife concealed within his coat.

 Assistant Secretary of State Fred Seward
(Illustration Credit / National Police Gazette)
(Photo Credit / Mathew Brady / Library of Congress)
House servant William Bell opened the door asked for the delivery package to be given to him but Powell argued that he was instructed to deliver it to the Secretary of State in person.  The two haggled back and forth until Powell lost patience and forced his way up the steps toward Secretary Seward's upstairs bedroom.   Bell followed, continuing his protest a step behind Powell.  Halfway up the steps he was confronted by the Secretary's son Fred Seward, who suddenly had a pistol pointed in his face that fortunately misfired.  Powell then beat him over the head severely with the butt of the gun, breaking the firing mechanism and causing the remaining five rounds resting in the gun's cylinder useless.  Powell continued his savage attack on Secretary Seward's son until he was in critical condition and unconscious.  Fred Seward would remain in a coma for the next two months.  During the attack, William Bell ran down the steps and out into the streets yelling for help.   Bell's sudden appearance in the street and frantic shouts spooked David Herold, who rode away leaving Powell's only means of escape tied to a tree.

Secretary of State William Seward                         Assassin Lewis Powell / Payne -------------------------------------------------------          -------------------------------------------------
Lewis Powell then burst into the bedroom where he slashed Secretary Seward's bodyguard George Robinson with his Bowie knife.  Seward's daughter tried to block Powell's path to her father but was violently shoved out of the way.  In the dark room, Powell plunged onto the bed, slashing wildly in the area of Secretary Seward's face and neck.  Twice he missed and plunged his knife deeply into the mattress.  Powell's third blow gouged into Secretary Seward's cheek, tearing open his face, completely exposing his jawbone and teeth.  Powell was suddenly distracted from his target, forced to confront Robinson and several others, who had entered the room.  In an action of wild violence, he wounded Secretary Seward's other son Augustus, his daughter Fanny, and his private nurse before escaping out the bedroom door and down the steps.  Halfway down the steps he encountered and stabbed household messenger Emerick Hansell in the back, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Attack on Secretary of State William Seward
(Illustration Credit / National Police Gazette)
Powell, certain he had accomplished his mission, exited the house and discarded his stained knife on the ground.  He was unable to see Herold in the street but found his horse, quickly mounted, and calmly rode away into the night.  Servant William Bell suddenly appeared and ran after him for several blocks shouting for help, however, no one came to his aid.  Powell soon lost Bell but made a wrong turn and got lost within Washington, a city's layout with which he was mostly unfamiliar.   At some point, he was thrown from his horse and wound up spending the night hiding in a graveyard until he found his way back to Mary Surratt's Boarding House.  When he knocked on the door, it was answered by several federal investigators who were in the process of interrogating Mary Surratt herself concerning her possible role in the conspiracy.  Unable to explain himself, he was arrested along with Surratt, taken into custody, and was later detained aboard the monitor USS Saugus.

 Seward's Alaska Treaty of Cessation
(Illustration Credit / Public Domain)
Despite his violent rage at the Seward mansion that fateful night, all victims of Powell's attack eventually recovered from their wounds, including Secretary of State William H. Seward.  He had rolled off the bed onto the floor after he was stabbed in the cheek to escape Powell's reach.  He was also wearing a neck-brace from his carriage accident that slowed Powell's blade, possibly saving his life.  However, the Seward family was not immune to tragedy.   His wife Frances Adaline Seward died of a stress induced heart attack a short two months later, which some said was caused from the assassination attempt.  Sorrow continued to follow Secretary Seward as his daughter Fanny, who helped fight off Powell in his bedroom that night, died in October of 1866 of tuberculous.   He carried disfiguring facial scars for the rest of his life but emerged from the attack as a strong presence in the government.  He continued to serve as the Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson's administration.  His most well known achievement was purchasing Alaska from Russia in 1867 for 7.2 million dollars.  The 50th state became one of the best real estate deals in history for the nation, coming out to two cents an acre.

Assassin George Atzerodt                              Vice President Andrew Johnson
 ------------------------------------------              -----------------------------------------------------
The final assassination target was Vice President Andrew Johnson who was staying at the Kirkwood House hotel in Washington.  Earlier in the day, George Atzerodt booked a room in the hotel and planned to go to Johnson's room that night and kill him in his bed.  However, Atzerodt was an alcoholic and went to the hotel bar to get a drink to calm his nerves before he took action.  He continued drinking and became intoxicated and never carried out the plan.  Instead he wandered the streets of Washington most of the night.  He returned to the hotel bar the next morning asking questions about Vice President Johnson's whereabouts, which raised suspicions.  Investigators searched his hotel room and found a loaded revolver and a Bowie style knife along with a bank book belonging to John Wilkes Booth.   He was apprehended six days later hiding out at his cousin's house in Germantown, Maryland.

Conspirator Group Execution
(Photo Credit / Alexander Gardner)
Andrew Johnson would succeed Lincoln as the seventeenth president but was ineffective and was later impeached, remaining in office by a single vote.   All of Booth's fellow key conspirators stood trial, were found guilty of treason, and received death sentences.  On July 7, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Lewis Powell, and Mary Surratt were executed together as a group, death by hanging at Fort McNair just outside Washington.  The condemned were brought into the yard and walked past four freshly dug graves and matching empty pine-box coffins.   The were led up the gallows and were shielded from the sun by several black umbrellas.  Mary Surratt and David Herold died instantly but Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt both struggled at the end of the rope for several minutes.  Mary Surratt, who's actual role in the conspiracy is still debated, was the first woman ever executed by the federal government in American History.  Few thought they would carry it out and most expected a reprieve to arrive at the last second in dramatic fashion... but it never did.

Conspirator Mary Surratt                              Conspirator David Herold
 ---------------------------------------                         --------------------------------------
John Wilkes Booth was the only conspirator who succeeded in his mission to kill on the evening of April 14, 1865 in the nation's capital.  As a result, he lost his life but in an ironic twist of fate, gained immortality.  The South never embraced the actions of John Wilkes Booth like he had hoped.  Although many in the south despised Lincoln, they trusted him.  His promise to merge the country back together without humiliation or punishment toward the south died with Lincoln that night.  Booth's actions that night did lead to chaos within the federal government but not to the south's advantage.  The road through the Reconstruction Period now promised to be a rough transition for the defeated South.

The Washington Club (Seward Mansion)                            United States Court of Claims
-----------------------------------------------------------                    --------------------------------------------
The Seward Mansion was located on Madison Place across from Lafayette Park.  It was originally built by Commodore John Rodgers who was a naval officer during the War of 1812 who later became Secretary of the Navy.  The three story home later served as a boarding house and gained the nickname of The Washington Clubhouse because it was a frequent hangout for politicians in Washington D.C. before the Seward Family took up residence, in the spring of 1861.  After Secretary Seward rented the property as his home, it continued to be a active location for entertaining and socializing for some of the top government officials in Washington, including President Lincoln.  Throughout its lifespan, the famous landmark building would continue to transform itself, hosting multiple venues, including an opera house, theater, and even a U.S.O. during the World War II era.  Sadly, the building was eventually razed to make way for the large United States Court of Claims office building.  

William Seward with Daughter Fanny
(Photo Credit / Carl Schurz, Reminiscences)

Our final stop in the Lincoln Assassination series will be a visit to the Petersen House located across the street from Ford's Theater where the President Lincoln was carried and laid to rest until his life ended with the sunrise the next morning. 

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