Biographies & Memoirs

CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX

THURSDAY, APRIL 20, 1865 

MARYLAND COUNTRYSIDE 

4:00 A.M.

George Atzerodt has chosen to escape via a northeast route, rather than push south like Booth and Herold. This takes him into a much more pro-Union territory, where the Lincoln assassination has people demanding vengeance on the perpetrators. On the surface, Atzerodt’s plan is an act of genius, allowing one of the most wanted men in America to literally hide in plain sight.

But the increasingly unbalanced George Atzerodt is not a genius. His escape is not a premeditated act of egress but a random wandering from home to home, accepting sanctuary and comfort wherever he can find it. He dawdles when he should be making continuous progress. After four days on the run he makes a critical mistake, boldly supporting Lincoln’s assassination while eating dinner with strangers. His statements quickly make their way to U.S. marshals.

Now, as Atzerodt takes refuge at a cousin’s house in the small community of Germantown, Maryland, twenty miles outside of Washington, a cavalry detachment knocks at the door. Entering the house, they find Atzerodt sharing a bed with two other men. “Get up and dress yourself,” a sergeant commands.

There is no fight, no attempt to pretend he shouldn’t be arrested. George Atzerodt goes meekly into custody, where he is soon fitted with wrist shackles, a ball and chain on his ankle, and a hood over his head, just like Lewis Powell.

Less than three months later, George Atzerodt—the twenty-nine-year-old drifter who stumbled into the conspiracy and stumbled right back out without harming a soul—hangs by the neck until dead.

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