Lewis Thornton Powell, Lincoln Co-conspirator

Lewis Thornton Powell, Lincoln Co-conspirator

Lewis Powell, tried under the surname Paine, was assigned to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward at the same time Booth shot Lincoln.

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Lewis Thornton Powell

  • Washington, DC

Lewis T. Powell was the youngest (by 9 days) of the conspirators in the plot to assassinate Pres. Lincoln and other government heads on the night of 14 April 1865. He was born in Randolph County, Alabama on 22 April 1844 to George C. (a Baptist clergyman) and Caroline Powell. He was the youngest son of 9 children, according to the 1850 census of Burkes' Division, Stewart County, Georgia. The family moved around, as those of clergy usually did, living in Alabama, Georgia and Florida where Lewis joined the Confederate Second Florida Infantry as a private in 1861. He was wounded at Gettysburg and taken prisoner on 2 July 1863. Because he had some experience caring for wounded creatures, he was consigned as a POW nurse at Gettysburg Hospital, where he met Margaret Branson.

After he was transferred to Baltimore in September, he escaped and made his way back to Virginia, where he joined John Mosby's Partisan Rangers (he is likely the S. T. Powell listed in Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers - Virginia available on Footnote, the L. having been mistaken for an S.). In January of 1865, he made his way back to the North, claiming to have deserted his regiment. He signed the Oath of Allegiance to the Union using the surname Paine, and that was the name he was tried under. Settling in Baltimore, he stayed at the boarding house of Margaret Branson and it was while he was in Baltimore that he was introduced to John Surratt who introduced him to John Wilkes Booth.

When the plot turned from kidnapping Pres. Lincoln to killing him, Powell was one of the few who actually attempted to carry through his part of the plan. He was accompanied the night of 14 April 1865 by David Herold to the home of Secretary of State William Seward, where he pistol-whipped Frederick Seward and injured several servants in his attempt to assassinate the Secretary. Seward's life was saved only because of the neck brace he wore as the result of a previous carriage accident.

Powell was arrested 3 days later at the home of Mary Surratt as she was being interrogated by military investigators. He claimed, at 11 p.m., to be there to dig a gutter. Mrs. Surratt claimed not to know him; witnesses later claimed that he had spent a great deal of time at her home and in the company of J. W. Booth, thus implicating both of them. Blood spots on his sleeve and the initials "J W B...th" inside his boot were claimed as further evidence of his participation.

At his trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder, he remained detached and almost aloof from the proceedings. There was never any question about his guilt, but his attorney W. E. Doster argued that Powell was a fanatic swayed by those around him. Doster went on to say, "We know now that slavery made him immoral, that war made him a murderer, and that necessity, revenge, and delusion made him an assassin." He attemped suicide by banging his head against the wall - an act which won him a hot and uncomfortable padded hood. Sentenced to be hung at the same time as Mary Surratt, David Herold and George Atzerodt, he was the last to die. Powell's skull was found in 1992 at the Smithsonian Institution and returned to a family member who had it buried in Florida.

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