The Booth Manhunt: Accomplices Arrested

April 20, 1865 – Federals arrested George Atzerodt for his connection to the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln and members of his administration. Meanwhile, John Wilkes Booth waited to cross the Potomac River to sanctuary in Virginia.

Dr. Samuel Mudd | Image Credit:

The Booth manhunt intensified as Federal authorities worked tirelessly to track down anyone who may have played a role in the scheme to kill Lincoln, William H. Seward, and Andrew Johnson. On the 18th, a team of investigators led by Alexander Lovett reached the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd near Bryantown, Maryland, and interrogated the doctor.

Mudd stated that two men came to his house around 4 a.m. on the 15th. He said the men came inside, where Mudd set Booth’s broken leg. Mudd claimed to have given Booth a pair of wooden crutches and gone into town to find him a carriage. He told the investigators that Booth “was a stranger to him,” and he also claimed that the men left his home heading south when they actually went east.

Three days later, Lovett returned to search the doctor’s home. Mudd’s wife Sarah gave Lovett the left boot that Mudd had cut from Booth’s leg, and Lovett later stated that he “saw the name J. Wilkes written in it.” Lovett also declared that he knew Mudd and Booth had met last November. The doctor initially denied this but then finally admitted that he knew Booth. Mudd was arrested and taken to Washington. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles alerted all ships on the Potomac River that Booth had last been seen at Bryantown.

George Atzerodt | Image Credit:

On the 20th, authorities arrested George Atzerodt in Germantown, about 25 miles northwest of Washington. Atzerodt had been assigned to kill Vice President Johnson at Johnson’s suite in the Kirkwood Hotel. Atzerodt attracted suspicion on the night of the 14th by asking the hotel bartender where Johnson was. He drank at the bar until he finally lost his nerve and left. The next day, a hotel employee told Federals that a “suspicious-looking man” in “a gray coat” had been at the hotel.

John Lee and his investigators searched Atzerodt’s room at the Kirkwood; the suspect had not stayed there the night before but he left many of his belongings behind. Lee’s team found a loaded revolver under the pillow, a large knife, a map of Virginia, and Booth’s bank book. They ultimately traced Atzerodt to Germantown, where he was staying on his cousin’s farm. Others who were arrested included:

  • Louis J. Weichmann, a boarder in the Washington home of Mrs. Mary Surratt
  • Booth’s brother Junius, an actor performing in Cincinnati who had been nearly killed by an enraged mob just because he was related to the assassin
  • John T. Ford, owner of Ford’s Theatre
  • James Pumphrey, a livery stable owner who had rented Booth a horse
  • John M. Lloyd, the manager of Mrs. Surratt’s tavern in Surrattsville where Booth and David E. Herold had stopped for weapons and supplies after the assassination
  • Lewis Paine (or Powell), who had attempted to murder Secretary of State William H. Seward
  • Samuel Arnold, who had written a suspicious letter to Booth
  • Michael O’Laughlen, who was believed to have been involved in a plot to kidnap Lincoln
  • Edward “Ned” Spangler, a stagehand at Ford’s Theatre who had opened the back door for Booth and allegedly arranged to have a horse waiting for him

Meanwhile, Booth and Herold remained in the woods on the property of Samuel Cox near Port Tobacco, Maryland. They were waiting for the right time to cross the Potomac River into Virginia. Cox kept the men fed and hidden, while Confederate spy Thomas A. Jones tried to arrange transportation for them. Jones went into Port Tobacco and learned that the Federals patrolling nearby were offering a $100,000 reward to anyone who knew Booth’s whereabouts. Jones later wrote that he was tempted to take the offer:

“But it seems to me that, had I, for money, betrayed the man whose hand I had taken, whose confidence I had won, and to whom I had promised succor, I would have been, of all traitors, the most abject and despicable. Money won by such vile means would have been accursed and the pale face of the man whose life I had sold, would have haunted me to the grave.”

Jones returned to town on the 21st and learned that the Federal patrols had rode off to follow a tip in St. Mary’s County, 40 miles away. This was his chance to get Booth and Herold across the river undetected. On that foggy night, Jones led the men out of the woods and down to the river where he had a flat-bottomed boat. Jones referred them to a Mrs. Quesenberry for help once they got across. Booth offered Jones money, but he only accepted $18 for the cost of the boat.

John Wilkes Booth | Image Credit:

Booth was in agonizing pain from his broken leg, so Herold had to row. After rowing for five hours, he spotted land that he knew belonged to a friend and Confederate sympathizer named John J. Hughes. But it was still in Maryland. Exhausted, the men stopped and met with Hughes, who recognized them and welcomed them into his home.

By this time, Hughes was well aware that Booth had killed Lincoln. He told the men that he would keep them sheltered and hidden from Federal authorities, but he would not help in any other way. Hughes also warned them of nearby Federal patrols, so they would have to wait until the night of the 22nd to continue on to Virginia.

During his stay with Hughes, Booth read the newspapers and seethed about being condemned for killing Lincoln. He wrote, “With every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for… And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat.”

Booth and Herold were given a fishing skiff, and according to Herold’s later testimony: “That night at sundown, we crossed the mouth of Nanjemoy Creek, passed within 300 yards of a gunboat, and landed at Mathias Point.” They finally landed on the Virginia shore on the 23rd. But the Federals were closing in fast.


References; Clark, Champ, The Assassination: The Death of the President (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 104-17; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 561; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 20987-1007; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 586; Kimmel, Stanley, The Mad Booths of Maryland (New York: Dover, 1969), p. 238-40; Kunhardt, Dorothy Meserve and Kunhardt, Jr., Phillip B., Twenty Days (Castle Books, 1965);; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 678, 680; Smith, Gene, American Gothic: The Story of America’s Legendary Theatrical Family, Junius, Edwin, and John Wilkes Booth (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 197-98, 203-04; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 516; Steers, Edward, Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (University Press of Kentucky, 2001)

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