Atzerodt in 1865
|Born||George Andreas Atzerodt
June 12, 1835
Dörna, German Confederation
(now Anrode, Germany)
|Died||July 7, 1865
Fort McNair, Washington, D.C.
|Criminal penalty||Death by hanging|
|Conviction(s)||Conspiracy to assassinate the president|
George Andreas Atzerodt (June 12, 1835 – July 7, 1865) was a conspirator, with John Wilkes Booth, in the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Assigned to assassinate U.S. Vice President Andrew Johnson, he lost his nerve and did not make an attempt. He was executed along with three other conspirators by hanging.
Atzerodt was born in Dörna, today part of Anrode, Germany. He emigrated to the United States in 1843 at the age of eight. As an adult, he opened his own carriage repair business in Port Tobacco, Maryland.
In January 1865—some years after opening his failed carriage repair business—Atzerodt was introduced to John Wilkes Booth in Washington, D.C. by John Surratt. Atzerodt was willing to join in Booth's earlier conspiracy to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln, as he later admitted in his trial, which began May 1, 1865. According to the prosecution, Booth assigned Atzerodt to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson on April 14, 1865. On that morning, Atzerodt booked room 126 at the Kirkwood House in Washington, where Johnson was staying. However, he could not muster the courage to kill Johnson, so he began drinking at the hotel bar. He presumably got drunk, and spent the night walking the streets of Washington. During his stay at the hotel, Atzerodt had asked the bartender about Johnson's whereabouts. This aroused suspicion the next day, after Lincoln was assassinated. An employee of the hotel contacted the police regarding a "suspicious looking man in a gray coat."
The military police then conducted a search of Atzerodt's room on April 15 and found that he had not slept in it the night before. Additionally, he had a loaded revolver concealed under his pillow, as well as a concealed Bowie knife. The police also found a bank book belonging to Booth in the room. Atzerodt was arrested on April 20. He was apprehended at the house of his cousin, Hartman Richter, in Germantown, Maryland.
Trial and execution
Atzerodt's attorney, Captain William Doster, stated to the court that he intended "to show that George Atzerodt was a constitutional coward; that if he had been assigned the duty of assassinating the Vice President, he could never have done it; and that, from his known cowardice, Booth probably did not assign to him any such duty." However, this was to no avail.
After the conviction Atzerodt offered a confession to Reverend Butler, a minister who came to his cell to offer him comfort. Butler said that Atzerodt admitted that he did in fact go to the meeting in March to help plan the kidnapping of President Lincoln while he attended a play at a hospital. Atzerodt said he first heard about Booth's plan to assassinate the President just two hours before the shooting. Atzerodt said that Booth really wanted David Herold to assassinate Vice President Johnson because he thought that Herold had "more pluck" than Atzerodt did. Atzerodt said Booth wanted him to "back up" Herold and "give him more courage."
Atzerodt and three other convicted conspirators (Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, and David Herold) were hanged in Washington, D.C., on July 7, 1865. Atzerodt's last words were: "May we all meet in the other world. God take me now." He did not die instantly; his neck did not break upon impact, and his body shuddered for several minutes before dying. Atzerodt is interred in Glenwood Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.
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