Part 1: The Unindicted Co-Conspirators
In The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, I document in great detail Abraham Lincoln’s lifelong fatalism as well as incidents which he experienced that led him to believe he would not survive alive his Presidency. This ground-breaking book documents the paranormal beliefs of Lincoln and of those close to him; that much is historical fact. Whether or not Lincoln did have genuine presentiments of his own death and whether these dreams, portents, prophecies and other uncanniness surrounding his life and death were truly supernatural is subjective; I leave it to the readers of my book to judge the truth for themselves.
However, one thing that cannot be denied is that Lincoln possess ample evidence that his life was in immanent danger on numerous occasions throughout his presidency. John Wilkes Booth’s conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln was only the last and most successful of several threats to Lincoln’s life.
As Lincoln was on his way to Washington to be inaugurated in February of 1861, for example, a plot was uncovered to murder him as he traveled through Maryland. The fact that the President Elect had to be sneaked through Baltimore in disguise to foil the plot caused the anti-Lincoln press to ridicule him mercilessly. As a result, Lincoln resolved never to shrink from the threat of assassination again.
Here Lincoln’s own fatalism came into play. For the remainder of his presidency, Lincoln’s attitude was that if it was his time to die, nothing could prevent it; if it was not, then no plot could possibly succeed. Lincoln believed he would not die before he had accomplished the mission he was foreordained to carry out.
Although there were several instances when his life was in danger during the war, he ignored those threats. Because these plots were not successful and the conspirators essentially escaped, details of them remain murky.
Of course, our main interest is with the one plot that did succeed. Moreover, it has long been believed that there were conspirators who may have escaped justice–including, perhaps, the chief conspirator himself. Who were involved in the Booth plot? How far up in the Confederacy did it go? Were members of the Lincoln Administration involved and why? These are some of the issues we will look at in this and following articles of The Late Unpleasantness.
The accepted version of the Booth Conspiracy is that all members of the assassination ring were apprehended and brought to justice save one—Mrs. Surratt’s son. John Surratt did indeed flee to Europe, where he spent some years as a member of the Swiss Guards, the Pope’s bodyguard, and eventually returned to the United States without suffering either death or imprisonment. But were there others involved; and if so, who were they?
Immediately after his capture by Union forces, Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy was accused by the Republican administration that followed the death of Lincoln of complicity in the assassination plot. However, there was no paper trail leading to Davis being implicated in the plot; the truth died with John Wilkes Booth on a farm in northern Virginia, and no formal charges were ever brought against him.
However, just because there was no hard evidence of it going higher up in the Rebel government, it does not follow that the Confederate government was not involved in the Booth Conspiracy. Then, as now, governments often used “plausible deniability” when conducting black operations which they knew the public might condemn. Jefferson Davis may well have been unaware of the Booth Conspiracy; but that does not mean that the Confederate Secret Service was not aware of it, or even involved in its planning and execution. Unfortunately, when Richmond fell to the Yankees, the most sensitive documents of the Confederate espionage apparatus went up in flames. Some documents were destroyed deliberately, others fell prey to the chaos of the abandonment of the city and in the subsequent Yankee occupation.
Yet there are hints that Confederate Intelligence was involved and that Booth was not the “lone assassin” historians portray him as. It is known that Booth traveled to Canada and made contact there with Confederate spies. There was an active Rebel covert network operating along the Canadian border and while there Booth received money to further his clandestine activities on behalf of the Confederacy. The accepted line traditionally has been that the Confederate spy ring in Canada was just humoring an independent operator and simply gave him money in the hopes he might do a bit of mischief on his own. Believe that if you will; but again bear in mind we are dealing with a clandestine organization where incriminating documents would have been foolish to leave behind.
There is more solid evidence that at least one member of the Booth ring escaped undetected. Mrs. Grant—who, along with her husband, also believed in presentiments as the Lincolns did—in her memoirs describes that on the day of Lincoln’s assassination she was being shadowed by suspicious men. One of them may have been Booth himself; but the other she never could identify. He may even have followed her and the General that day to the train station when they left on vacation.
For reasons unknown, this conspirator did not fulfill his mission of killing General Grant—surely a “high value” target in the Lincoln administration—but he did send the couple an anonymous note admitting he was detailed to kill them that day. The note never became part of the official record of the Booth assassination, so we have only Julia Grant’s word for it; but why would she lie about such a thing in her memoirs? There was, therefore, at least one conspirator who escaped the Federal manhunt. There may have been more.
For more about Lincoln and the Booth Conspiracies, go to The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War. Also dealing with the Late Unpleasantness is Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, an in depth look at the wartime experiences of a famous American author.