Friday, April 26, 2013

Lewis Thornton Powell (aka Lewis Paine or Payne), born April 22, 1844

Lewis Powell was born in Randolph County, Alabama, on April 22, 1844 to a Baptist minister, schoolmaster, farmer, blacksmith and slaveowner, George Cader Powell, and his young wife Patience Caroline Powell, who was a distant cousin. 

 George Cader Powell
The youngest of eight children, Lewis spent the first three years of his life in Randolph County.  The family then moved to Stewart County, Georgia. 
Lewis with his mother, Patience Caroline Powell
Lewis and his siblings were all educated by their father. In his early years, Lewis was described as quiet and introverted, and well liked among others.  He enjoyed fishing, reading, and studying. An animal lover who took the liberty to nurse and care for sick and stray animals, he earned the nickname "Doc" from his sisters for his hospitality. 

Lewis at age 12
When Lewis was 13, he was violently kicked in the face by the family's donkey, breaking his jaw. The break healed in a manner making his jaw more prominent on the left side of his face. 

After some years in Stewart County, the family moved to Worth County, then moved to Live Oak, Florida in 1859, when Lewis was 15.

Lewis at age 16
He was 17 when the Civil War began.  He died  four years later at the end of the war, at the age of 21, hanged for conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

On May 30, 1861 at age 17, Lewis left home and enlisted in the 2nd Florida Infantry, Company I in Jasper, Florida.  His father said this was the last time he ever saw Lewis.

In  Richmond, Virginia. his regiment joined the army of General Lee, and was sent to A.P. Hill's Corps.  He went through the Peninsular campaign and the battles of Chancellorsville and Antietam. 

In 1863, he learned that his brother, Oliver, had been killed at the Battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee. 
The Battle of Gettysburg
He was wounded in the wrist on the second day of fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863.  He was captured there and sent to a POW hospital at Pennsylvania College, where he stayed at until September, when he was transferred to West Buildings Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. It was at West Buildings where Powell met and developed a relationship with a volunteer nurse named Margaret "Maggie" Branson. It was believed that it was with the help of Branson that Lewis was able to escape from the hospital within a week of his arrival, fleeing to Alexandria, Virginia. 

Alexandria, Virginia
In Virginia, he located Colonel John Singleton Mosby and his cavalry in late fall 1863, and rode with the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry.  During his time with the Rangers, in 1864, Powell became involved in the Confederate Secret Service (CSS).  

John Mosby
After leaving the company, he returned to Baltimore on January 13, 1865.  He was arrested and held in jail for two days on charges of being a spy.  He claimed to be a deserter from his Confederate regiment.  Required to sign an Oath of Allegiance, he did so, under the name "Lewis Paine".

He went to the boarding house of Maggie Branson. While in the Branson house, Powell violently assaulted a black maid who refused to promptly clean his room as he had ordered. According to a witness, Powell "threw her on the ground and stamped on her body, struck her on the forehead, and said he would kill her." The assault led to Powell's arrest, but charged were dropped after witnesses failed to appear.

John Surratt

In Baltimore, he met fellow CSS operative John Surratt, son of Mary Surratt. In late February, Powell showed up at Mary Surratt's Washington boardinghouse using the alias "Reverend Wood." 
Mary Surratt
 On the night of March 15, Powell met with Booth and other conspirators at Gautier's Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue to discuss the possible abduction of the president.  On Friday, March 17, 1865, Powell, Booth and other conspirators planned to kidnap President Lincoln as he rode in his carriage to attend a play at the Campbell Hospital located just outside Washington, D.C.  The kidnap plot failed as Lincoln never arrived; the president had remained in Washington.  At about 4:00 P.M., standing on the balcony of the National Hotel, he spoke to the 140th Indiana Regiment and presented a captured flag to Indiana's governor, Oliver P. Morton.  The National Hotel was the same hotel where John Wilkes Booth stayed.

John Wilkes Booth
On April 13, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, George Atzerodt, and David Herold all met at Powell's room, where Booth assigned roles for the assassination conspiracy.   

David Herold

On the next day, April 14, Powell, accompanied by Herold, was to go to the home of Secretary of State William Seward and kill him at approximately 10:15pm, to coincide with Booth's attack on the president at Ford's Theatre. 

George Atzerodt
Atzerodt was to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson (he would fail because he lost his nerve and got drunk.) 

Seward Residence
On the night of Friday, April 14, 1865, Powell was escorted to the Seward residence,located in Lafayette Park across from the White House,by David Herold. Powell gained entry into the house by claiming that he had medicine for Seward from his doctor, Tullio Verdi. (Earlier in the month, on April 5, 1865, Seward had been injured in a carriage accident, and suffered a concussion, a broken jaw, a broken right arm, and many serious bruises. He was at home convalescing.) 

Frederick Seward
Powell was well armed: he carried an 1858 Whitney revolver which was a large, heavy, and popular gun during the Civil War. Additionally, he carried a huge silver-mounted bowie knife with an alligator motif and the engraving "The Hunter's Companion - Real Life Defender."

After pistol-whipping Seward's son, Frederick, Powell reached Seward's bedroom.  His daughter, Fanny Seward, was with her father at the time. 

Fanny Seward
Hearing the loud noises coming from the second floor hallway, Fanny opened the door to see her brother slumped on the floor and a wide-eyed Powell charging directly towards her, a dagger in his hand.  Powell burst through the door, threw Fanny Seward to the side, and jumped on the Secretary's bed, repeatedly stabbing him in the face and neck area. He placed his left hand on Seward's chest and then struck down with his knife several times. One stab wound went entirely through the secretary's right cheek. 

Powell attacking Seward
Powell repeatedly shouted, "I'm mad, I'm mad!"

Seward was seriously injured in the attack. A jaw splint worn by Seward helped to save his life by deflecting the knife away from his jugular vein. Seward's head was so severely fractured that he was in a coma for sixty days after the attack.

In all, Powell injured five people during his rampage in the Seward home: Seward himself; Seward's two eldest sons, Augustus and Frederick; Seward's assigned military nurse, Sergeant George F. Robinson; and messenger Emerick Hansell, who arrived right as Powell was escaping.
Augustus Seward
Powell threw his bloody knife up into the gutter of the Seward house and fled.  He discarded his light-colored coat in a Washington cemetery where he hid.  After hiding out in a tree for three days, Powell went to Mary Surratt's boardinghouse late on the evening of Monday, April 17.   

Surratt Boardinghouse

He arrived at the same time that she was being arrested by Federal soldiers for her part in the assassination.  Although it was night time, when the soldiers asked why he was there, carrying a pick axe, Powell claimed that he had been hired to dig a gutter.  Surratt denied knowing who he was.  Powell was arrested and taken into police custody.

Powell's Arrest
After Seward family servant William Bell picked him out from a police lineup, Powell was taken to the Washington Navy Yard, where he was confined aboard the gunboat USS Saugus.   

Crew on the USS Saugus
Powell aboard the USS Saugus
Powell and the other conspirators were later transferred to the Old Capitol Prison.  

Old Capitol Prison
Lewis Powell was tried under the name of "Lewis Payne" by a military tribunal.  He was represented by William E. Doster, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, and the former District of Columbia provost marshal.
William E. Doster
Thirty two witnesses were called to testify concerning Powell, including Seward's son, Augustus, and William Bell, the Seward household servant.  Louis Weichmann, a boarder at Mary Surratt's house, identified Powell as the man who called himself "Wood" and who frequently called at Surratt's, where he would sometimes engage in two or three hour private conversations with Booth and John Surratt.  Weichmann said Wood claimed to be a Baptist preacher.  The evidence was overwhelming against Powell.

Louis Weichmann
Doster tried to argue that Powell was insane at the time of the assassination attempt, an argument refuted by physicians called on behalf of the prosecution.  Doster  then argued that Powell was acting as a soldier, attempting to complete his duty as he had been ordered.  Doster described Powell as an innocent farm boy turned assassin by circumstances beyond his control: "We know now that slavery made him immoral, that war made him a murderer, and that necessity, revenge, and delusion made him an assassin."

The commission rejected this defense and Powell was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and treason.

Unlike the other conspirators, Powell maintained an appearance of indifference to the trial proceedings. Doster said Powell would "sit like a statue" and "smile as one who fears no earthly terrors."  After attempting suicide by banging his head against his cell wall, Powell was forced to wear an uncomfortable padded hood. 

Powell in Padded Hood
He told his guard, John Hubbard, in mid-May that he was "tired of life" and would "rather be hung" than forced to "come back into the courtroom." Adding to his discomfort through much of the trial was his severe constipation: Powell had no bowel movements from April 29 to June 2.
Powell in Cell

Powell was executed with three other conspirators on July 7, 1865.  He went to the gallows calmly and quietly. He insisted to his death that Mrs. Surratt was innocent.

While hangman Christian Rath was placing the noose over young Powell's head he remarked, "I hope you die quick." He had been impressed by Powell's courage and determination in the face of death. To this Powell replied, "You know best, captain." 
After a hood was placed over Powell's head, he muttered, "I thank you. Good-bye." 

Christian Rath, on far right, with other guards of the conspirators
Powell did not die quickly as hoped by Rath. After the drop he struggled for life more than five minutes.  His body swinging wildly, twice he "moved his legs up into the sitting position" and was the last to die.

The Hanging of the Conspirators
He was 21 years old.

No one from Powell's family came to Washington during the trial, or for the execution. Powell's father was ill at the end of the war and unable to make the trip.  Powell's remains were not claimed by his family and were buried in Washington's Holmead Cemetery in 1869.  In 1885 his skull (identified by the broken jaw bone during his boyhood) turned up as specimen # 2244 in the Army Medical Museum.  In 1898 the skull was turned over to the Smithsonian Anthropology Department.  It was re-discovered in 1992 and the FBI confirmed the skull as Powell's. 

On November 11, 1994, Powell's skull was buried next to his parents' grave at the Geneva Cemetery in Seminole County, Florida.

Powell's Grave

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