David Herold

While it's unclear how exactly David Herold met John Wilkes Booth, it was most likely through mutual acquaintance John Surratt. It's also assumed that Herold's role in both the kidnapping and assassination plot was as a guide. He had a good knowledge of the Maryland country, due to a heavy amount of time invested bird hunting in that region. He was born in Maryland and grew up in Washington D.C. to a wealthy family.

     At the time of the assassination, David Herold was only twenty-three years old. He worked as a pharmacist's assistant in D.C., obtaining a certificate in the study from Georgetown. It's difficult to ascertain why Herold joined the group of conspirators, but it was most likely due to the charms of John Wilkes Booth. According to the conspirator trial transcripts, witnesses testified that Herold was very "boyish" and "easily to be influenced and led away". During the trial it was supposed that Herold may have simply had a liking for Booth, that he was dazzled by men with fascinating qualities and he wanted to be a part of the group.

     On the night of the assassination there are two lines of reasoning for David Herold. The most commonly noted actions for Herold on April 14, 1865 are that he accompanied Lewis Powell to Secretary Seward's house. He was to be Powell's guide out of Washington and into Maryland. When Powell entered Seward's home and the altercations broke out between the Powell and the Secretary's sons, David Herold left Powell behind and took off from the scene. He's not heard from again until John Wilkes Booth meets up with him in Maryland.

David Herold

Source: Library of Congress

David Herold. On board the monitor Montauk, after being captured with John Wilkes Booth.

Source: Library of Congress

The second possibility for Herold's actions are that he was assigned to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson. Either by himself or with Atzerodt. This theory comes from Atzerodt himself, when he told investigator Lafayette Baker that Booth felt that Herold should assassinate "Johnson, and he wanted him(Atzerodt) to back him up and give him courage. Booth thought that Herold had more pluck than Atzrodt." This would mean that for some reason, neither Atzerodt or Herold were able to complete the task of killing Vice President Johnson, but only Herold met with Booth in Maryland.

     After John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln and joined Herold in southern Maryland, the two began their twelve day fugitive journey. Starting off at the Surratt Tavern for supplies, stopping at Dr. Mudd's house to fix Booth's broken leg, and wandering through the swamps of Virginia, the men were finally captured in Port Royal, Virginia. Booth and Herold were holed up in a tobacco barn, on the farm of Richard Garrett, by the 16th New York Cavalry. After the Union soldiers set fire to the barn, Herold quickly gave up and exited the farm. Booth was shot by Sergeant Boston Corbett and died a few hours later on the house porch.

     David Herold was arrested and tried with the other seven captured assassination conspirators. Being found with John Wilkes Booth, there wasn't much his defense attorney could do. Herold was found guilty and along with Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, and George Atzerodt were sentenced to hang. Herold died on the gallows, July 7,1865.

David Herold. On board the monitor Montauk.

Source: Library of Congress

Photographer: Alexander Gardner

David Herold. 

Source: Library of Congress

David Herold (on the right). Pictured on the reward poster seeking the conspirators in Lincoln's assassination. Reward for his capture was $25,000. His name was spelled as Harold.

Source: Library of Congress

Other Pages You May Be Interested In:

Booth's Escape

The details of Booth's escape and route into Virginia

Lincoln's Funeral

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The Presidential State Box

See the box specially prepared for Lincoln and his guests.

The Assassination Plot

Read the details of John Wilkes Booth's plan and actions of the consipirators on assassination day.

David Herold


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