Lewis Powell, sometimes referred to as Lewis Payne or Paine, was a driving force in both the conspiracy to kidnap and then kill Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, Powell was a Confederate soldier. He was born in Alabama, then raised in Georgia and Florida. It was in Florida that Powell lied about his age and joined the 2nd Florida Infantry at the age of seventeen. He was a passionate soldier and fought hard for the southern cause. Powell was involved in a few major battles, including the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Gettysburg.
It was during the Battle of Gettysburg that Powell became injured, getting shot in the right wrist. He was captured by the Union and transferred to Pennsylvania College, a prisoner of war hospital. After spending a few months in the hospital, healing and assisting as a nurse, Powell was moved to a Baltimore, Maryland hospital to assist there. He escaped a week later on September 7.
Powell escaped from Maryland into Virginia and after hiding out with Confederate sympathizers his path crossed that of Mosby's 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry, known as Mosby's Rangers. He served with the Rangers for a year, participating in several raids and skirmishes. Despite his passion for fighting, Powell deserted the Virginia army in early January 1865 and traveled to Baltimore. Around the same time, John Surratt was also in Baltimore and many believe the two met. A short time later, Powell met with John Wilkes Booth at the Baltimore hotel, Barnum's. Booth informed Powell of his kidnapping plot and Powell quickly joined the cause.
Over time, Powell rose in the ranks of the small band of conspirators. Booth grew to trust Powell and he was tasked with much of the important work. Powell moved to Washington D.C., living in both the Surratt boarding house and the Herndon House, to work closely with John Wilkes Booth and the other conspirators on the kidnapping plot.
After several meetings and a failed attempt in March 1865 that never really took off, Powell continued meeting and traveling with Booth. They, along with the others, were frustrated with the efforts so far, but on April 14, 1865 after Booth discovered that Lincoln would attend Ford's Theatre that night, they put a impromptu plan into action. Booth was going to kill Lincoln, and he wanted Powell to kill the Secretary of State William H. Seward. George Atzerodt was going to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson and David Herold was supposed to go with Powell to hold his horse for a quick escape. The four men met in Powell's Herndon House room just after sundown to discuss the final details.
Powell arrived at the home of Secretary Seward, in Lafayette Square, at approximately 10:30 p.m. He knocked the door and told the butler he'd brought medicine for the Secretary, as Seward was in bed recovering from a serious carriage accident that occurred the week before. The doorman was unsure and asked him to wait, but Powell pushed past the butler and made his way upstairs. As he rushed up to the stairs, Seward's son, Frederick, met Powell at the second floor landing. Powell announced he was delivering medicine, but when Frederick asked to see it, Powell drew his revolver. He aimed at Frederick and pulled the trigger, but it failed. Instead, Powell slammed the gun against Frederick's head, cracking his skull and dropping him to the floor.
The butler on the first floor ran out of the house screaming and going for help. Herold, still waiting outside, saw the commotion and tied Powell's horse to a tree, then quickly rode from the scene. Back inside, Powell entered Secretary Seward's room and pulled a large knife. Seward's army nurse, Sergeant George Robinson moved toward Powell, but the attacker slashed him across the forearm, dropping the soldier. Seward's daughter, Fanny, rose and Powell punched her in the face. He then jumped onto Seward, laying in bed, and slashed at Seward's face with the knife. Powell's blow were blunted however, by a metal splint that Seward was wearing to heal a jaw injury from the carriage accident. Due to this protection, the wounds Seward received were severe, but not fatal.
As Powell continued his attack, Seward's other son, Augustus, entered the bedroom and pulled Powell from his father. The soldier, Robinson, had also recovered enough from his wound to assist and two fought with Powell. Robinson received another stab to the chest and Augustus was sliced through the scalp. Thinking he'd completed his task of killing Seward, Powell ran from the bedroom screaming "I'm mad! I'm mad!" and on his way out stabbed a state department messenger that had just arrived in the back. He ran from the house, threw his knife away and found his horse tied to the tree.
Powell was arrested three days later on April 17, at the Surratt Boarding house. It was a stroke of bad luck for Powell, as investigators were there to question Mary Surratt, when Powell knocked on the door while they were there. Since it was near midnight and Powell gave very confusing and suspicious answers to his reason for being there was taken into custody along with Mary.
Other Pages You May Be Interested In:
Lewis Powell, after captured for his part in the Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy
Source: Library of Congress
Lewis Powell, shackled, on board the monitor Montauk
Source: Library of Congress
Lewis Powell, shackled, photographed after his capture
Source: Library of Congress