The Conspirator 2011
This story is based upon a scene in the movie as well as real historical accounts of the assassination attempt on Secretary of State Seward, as described in the books "Manhunt" by James Swanson and "American Brutus" by Michael Kauffman. I recommend both books if you are interested in Lincoln's assassination.
Madness- Lewis' story
Below decks, in the dank belly of the Federal ship Montauk, several makeshift prison cells were arranged during the fateful month of April, 1865. Within one of them, holed into a stifling space with a rusting gun turret at one wall, a young man sat on the floor with his feet and wrists chained. Tall and well-built, he was now powerless.
Lewis Powell, known in the press as Lewis Payne, was left alone with nothing but his thoughts. What have I done? What have I turned into? he agonized with remorse. A torturous memory kept playing over in his mind.
April 14, 1865, 10 pm. Across from Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C.
Lewis had arrived at the door of a grand home, the home of one of the most powerful leaders in the land. He rang the doorbell, and a young servant answered. He nervously uttered the lines he had rehearsed over and over again.
"I have some medicine that the doctor ordered for Mr. Seward."
"I will deliver it up to him, sir. Thank you kindly."
Realizing that the young servant boy was under the assumption that he was not going to be allowed inside, Lewis began to get nervous. Now he would have to use some force.
"But Dr. Verdi insisted I was to see to him. I have to make sure he gets it. I must!"
Wrong tone of voice! Now the doorman was put on the defensive, because he sensed the anger and desperation in Lewis' voice. He became argumentative. "You cannot. Mr. Seward is resting, sir."
If it wasn't for this boy! Lewis' nerves were already frayed, and it hadn't been a minute since he'd knocked on the door. He fished in his coat pocket and fingered his pistol. It may be time to use it. No, not yet. He decided to just walk right past the small, black teenager and head right up the stairs.
"Don't walk too loudly, you'll disturb Mr. Seward." The boy, who later he found out was named William and would prove to have an excellent memory, was nervous and flustered. At least he won't be any trouble for me now. Go in, strike, and leave… Go in, strike, and leave.
He reached the landing of the second floor and his heart stopped. Another obstacle, this time in the form of a tall, well dressed gentleman in a black coat and shiny ribbon bow tie. It was the Secretary's son, no doubt about that. His quizzical blue eyes looked at him in scrutiny. "May I be of assistance?" he asked politely. But his facial expression conveyed annoyance to Lewis. He did not want him there. Perhaps he took him to be a nosy reporter.
Lewis got right to the point. "May I see Mr. Seward? I have a package for him, I was directed by Dr. Verdi to deliver this medicine to him..." He found himself talking too fast and his voice was becoming high and tight. Not casual, not matter of fact, the way he was supposed to be conducting himself.
Mr. Booth said to be casual! Well, easy for him to say, he was the great actor. I have no experience in that. Right now Mr. Booth had a bigger quarry on his mind- in fact he could be completing the job right this very moment, across the city! But I also have a job to do, and he commanded it to ME! If I succeed, our Southern nation will prevail! The war is not over! I must fight on! I must engage the enemy! I must do it NOW!
This was the moment that he was put into soldier mode. All reason and rational human thought were pushed aside, and Lewis stared down Frederick Seward with icy eyes.
As expected, Frederick, the Secretary's son, was curt with him. "No, you may not."
What a smug, rich little Yankee fool. He probably envisions himself royalty or some such nonsense. His father expects to succeed Lincoln as President, and Mr. Booth said he'll be a worse tyrant yet.
Exasperated, he found himself arguing again. "Well, if I can't leave this with him myself, I have no further use here."
He was failing! He had to use deception! This was the time. Quickly, Lewis switched gears. He decided to use surprise to take out this enemy. He was on the battlefield now, forget this mansion with the elegant cherry staircase. And this man was no better than any blue belly he'd had to do away with before.
He turned from Frederick and headed down the stairs again, about half way. His keen soldier's senses, the eyes at the back of his head, detected that the man had turned away from him.
He reared around and raced back upstairs, pulling the pistol from his pocket and aimed squarely at the back of Frederick's sandy-brown head. He pulled the trigger.
Lewis was shocked. The pistol didn't fire. He had no time to deal with this. He raised the pistol high and slammed it down on Frederick's head. Over and over he found himself pummeling him with a sense of duty reminiscent of the battles he'd fought in the past four years. This was familiar to him, since he was a skilled warrior. The next phase in the battle would be easy for him now. Frederick Seward slumped to the floor. Blood trickled from his temple. Down below, he could faintly hear the voice of William, the servant, screaming "Murder!" as he rushed outside.
The next phase of the battle ensued now. He burst through a door, rushing past the ghostly pale face of a young girl. There was the enemy. Everyone in this house was the enemy. And the captain of them all was right before him now, the old man in the bed.
He wasted no time. He leapt upon the bed, grabbing his long knife out of his other coat pocket, the left side. He bore down with it, aiming for the old man's throat. He had a brace on his neck. It would make it more difficult. He slashed, stabbed, and tried pulling the man's grey hair and twisting his head to the side to make the neck more exposed, but his victim squirmed and twisted back. He cut his cheek instead. Blood was seeping out. He was deaf to all sounds in the room, yet Mr. Booth's voice thundered in his brain. "You must fight on!"
He was grabbed by someone from behind. It was another elegantly dressed young man, much resembling the first one he'd battled. He pushed him off, slamming him against furniture and slashing at him with the knife. Then, another black man, older and larger than the teenage William who had answered the door, faced Lewis off. He began to stab him, as well, with a manic frenzy. Adrenaline was rushing through him now, in the battle of a lifetime.
The room was in shambles. It was no longer a bedroom. It was reminiscent of Vicksburg or Gettysburg, although in a smaller, more confined space. The blood that spattered the walls was more valuable than any he'd seen before. A hopeful 'king,' two expectant 'princes,' and a loyal servant lay crumpled in the room. It was like something from one of Mr. Booth's Shakespeare plays.
Or was it really?
Suddenly, a different voice and face came to Lewis' mind. It was not Booth anymore. It was Lewis' own father, the Baptist minister.
This is wrong! This was an innocent family! I raised my precious boys to be servants of Christ, not killers! Beware of silver-tongued men who lie to you and persuade you to do evil!
Terror and anguish swept over him. He couldn't believe what had just happened. He could not believe who he was now. It was all madness!
"I'm mad! I'm mad!" he screamed out loud. He ran out of the room and flew down the stairs. He had to go home and escape this nightmare.
A week later, the nightmare had just begun. He was in his floating prison cell, justice being swift.
He sat cramped and uncomfortable. The only light in the room came from a small, round porthole. Occasionally he could hear people crying in other parts of the ship. It would often be a woman's voice, most certainly his friend and landlady Mrs. Surratt. It was his fault she was here! If only he had left town, instead of stumbling into her house with the police there! Now she could face execution because of him and his folly. It was more than he could bear.
One wall of his dank, hot cell in the bottom of the ship consisted on an iron turret.
He deserved to die. He didn't want to wait another second. Lewis sat up a little and fell back down, crashing his own temple down upon the turret, over and over again. It was painful, but he welcomed it. Physical pain was so much easier than this remorse and anguish. He slammed his head against the iron turret over and over again.
Before he could pummel himself a fifth time, a guard came running into the cell. The doubtful savior restrained him and sent for a medic. A group of three other guards rushed in, and he was tended to with water and bandages. "We will have to hood this one for sure," the oldest one remarked.
Lewis fell asleep for the rest of that day. Upon awakening, guards came in again, and swiftly fastened something to his head. It was a canvas hood, which rendered him blind and nearly deaf. The padding pushed against his face so that he felt smothered and his eyes were pushed in tight. And there he was to remain for many more days, until the relief of going out to sit through the trial came. But for now, there was absolutely no one there for him, and he was left with nothing but his memories, and God.
He prayed a silent prayer. Dear Lord in heaven, forgive me for my murderous deeds. Forgive me for my sin. I am going to die, I know it, so let me suffer Thy wrath. Give me the ultimate punishment, dear Lord, I deserve it. I am nothing but a wretched sinner! Please let the lady live, though, she is innocent. Help my mother and father through this too. I don't deserve to see them again, but let them know I still love them. Help the family that I attacked and hurt so much become well again. Upon your blessed name, Amen.
Afterward, Lewis felt a peace like cool water washing over him. And for the next two and a half months, which would prove to be the remainder of his life before the day of his execution, he would endure his harsh punishment. He was calmly content with what was happening to him and what would lay ahead in mystery. He lived in a dream world from then on, with visions of blue skies and clouds, Spanish moss trees and tropical flowers, and laughing children like he and his siblings had been, not so long ago. He no longer thought of the hangman's rope. He no longer thought of John Wilkes Booth, damned be his soul.
Under the blindness of the hood, in his mind's eye, he saw his two dead brothers, Oliver and Ben, sitting under the shade of a brilliantly green moss tree, dressed in their Sunday finest, drinking sweet lemonade and beckoning him to "come on up, real soon."
On July 7, 1865, he had no fear as well, yet he suffered for several moments in strangulation before he was finally set free.