George Andreas Atzerodt could have been the original inspiration for Charles M. Schultiz’s Pig-Pen, and Dirty Andy (known to his friends as “Andrew”) stands out as the most disreputable-looking character in this complex and completely misunderstood saga. For the record, super clean General George B. McClellan is Atzerodt’s foil, as he stands out as the most elegantly refined character in the cast. Although the two never met, they would have made quite the contrast.
Suffice to say, Atzerodt was slightly hunchbacked in one shoulder, spoke with a German accent and garnered great suspicion wherever he appeared. He wore black-enameled cavalry boots stitched with white leather and a black slouch hat. Had he lived today, he would have been found seated on a Harley. Atzerodt was a big-time drinker and small-time smuggler during the Civil War, and owned a rowboat on the Potomac for this purpose. Little known fact: cotton trading was allowed between North and South during the war, provided you paid the proper duties and taxes and had the right permits. But there was also a brisk black market as well, and that’s how the sickly-faced Andy made his living. But in late March, he’d suddenly started boasting to his sisters that something big was in the works, and he was going to make a great fortune or be hanged, a message they shared with their elder brother, a police detective.
Colonel John S. Mosby, Captain John Wilkes Booth (of the Confederate Secret Service) and his chief courier, John Surratt, organized an elaborate plot to kidnap President Lincoln and deliver him to Jefferson Davis inside the Confederate Capitol, where he could be locked away in Libby Prison while being bartered for ransom, a plan that involved dozens and perhaps hundreds of Confederate sympathizers, and like everything Booth did, this mission was meticulously plotted. Relay horses were situated at regular intervals, and a sabotage crew enlisted to fell trees and blow bridges to hamper the pursuit. And an entire regiment of Confederate cavalry was mustered by Mosby near the border to act as final escort, an operation that was stirring alarms along the front.
Treated contemptuously today as either fool or madman, Booth was one of the greatest spooks of his time, an original James Bond, although I have a feeling Lincoln was his only hit job. After four years of pulling off one incredible mission impossible after another (most involved smuggling life-saving quinine), all in support of the Southern cause, Booth had been given his ultimate challenge: kidnap Lincoln. This was big, maybe the biggest undercover operation ever planned by the Confederate Secret Services, and that’s why it quickly became known to the Union War Department, who inserted their own double agent into the plot to keep an eye on things. Keeping this unit operational was deemed more valuable than busting it apart. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was a master spook himself, you see, and knew this cabal’s value in misdirection and sheep-dipping operations.
So when D Day arrived, and Lincoln’s plans suddenly shifted, the elaborate kidnapping was necessarily aborted, no doubt an immense disappointment for Booth, as he probably played the triumphant entry into Richmond with the captive tyrant at his feet in chains over and over in his mind for weeks. Finally, his spook skills were going to be recognized, not that Booth needed publicity. He was already the most dashing, up-and-coming actor of his time, and women swooned at his sight. Imagine Johnny Depp being exposed as an undercover CIA agent and you might get an inkling of the true scale of this drama.
Flash forward one month and things have gone from bad to worse. In fact, the war is close to a done-deal, and Booth’s side has lost. Imagine another member of the Confederate Secret Service comes to you with a new mission impossible: kill Lincoln and Seward and leave a trail of crumbs to Vice President Johnson. You’ll have unlimited funds, and escape is guaranteed by a high-placed double agent in the War Department who will delay response. Keep in mind, when Booth was captured he reportedly had a very large amount of cash on him, all of which immediately disappeared naturally.
Also keep in mind, Union plots to assassinate Jefferson Davis and his entire cabinet and burn the city of Richmond have recently been discovered, and it’s Lincoln’s new policy of “total war” that’s murdering innocents and wreaking devastation on civilian populations. What do you do? In Booth’s social set, Lincoln was Hitler. If Booth had just been a little bit smarter, he might have sensed this generous offer was not emanating from superiors in Richmond, but coming from the devious Secretary of War Stanton himself.
The most savage killer from Mosby’s Rangers was moved up to Washington. He’d supposedly just deserted, and could easily have been taken straight to prison and held for the remainder of the war. But no, the officers at the border buy his phony story and allow Lewis Powell to sign the loyalty oath and go on his merry way. He will soon appear at Mary Surratt’s boarding house, a house that’s been under surveillance for weeks because John Surratt, Mary’s son, is Captain Booth’s primary courier. Surratt thinks he’s fooling soldiers—as they never have a clue as to where to look for his secret documents. In truth, Surratt is well-known to the War Department, just as Captain Booth is, and the War Department is letting them both slide for the moment as they have placed informant Louis Weichmann as a boarder in Mary Surratt’s home.
If more than two people had been meant to be assassinated that fateful night, why weren’t more assassins provided from Mosby’s nearby unit? Finding a savage killer was no problem during the Civil War, although the recruiting took place on the front lines, where natural born killers clearly stood out. Powell had slayed dozens no doubt and enjoyed every second, and used the top of one victim’s skull as an ashtray.
Atzerodt may have been lured into this scheme to sheep-dip the Vice President. Booth gave Dirty Andy money to rent a room above the Vice President’s at the Kirkwood. But this room was for Booth, and never occupied. Atzerodt was the first to talk after being captured, although his initial statement was buried in snow.
Affidavit of Frank Monroe, captain U.S. Marines, monitor Saugus:
Atzerodt told me he that he was innocent of any crime, and also that he was instrumental in saving the life of the Vice President. Further that he was visited, about three weeks since by a man named John Surrat at Port Tobacco,, Md., Surrat informed him that Booth was to open a theatre in Richmond, and also that they had a vessel to run the blockade and in both enterprises he was wanted. Atzerodt came to Washington with Surrat and was told by Booth that he must assassinate Mr. Johnson. This he refused to do and Booth threatened to blow his brains out unless he complied. He still refused and returned to Port Tobacco. A second time Surrat came for him, and he came again to Washington and took a room at Kirkwood’s. He was again asked to murder Mr. Johnson, and again refused. The day on which the President was killed a man named David Herrold or Harrol brought to Atzerodt’s room, a knife and revolver, and then left the Hotel. Atzerodt, becoming frightened, locked his door and walked down the street. He knew that the President’s assassination was spoken of, but did not believe it would be carried into effect. When he heard the deed had been accomplished, he took a room at the Kimmel House of his cousin Rickter at which place he was arrested.
Booth dropped by the hotel later that day and left his card at the desk as he exited. Since his plots were always so meticulous, Atzerodt’s real mission remains a mystery, and the possibility exists that he invented this Johnson assassination story as a means of turning his predicament around and painting himself a patriot, not a traitor. I simply can’t swallow the story that Dirty Andy turned down this hit job under threat of assassination and then was approached again and continued to assist these conspirators after the leader had threatened his life. All he had to do was turn Booth in to the authorities to save himself. His story does not ring true, but seems self-serving in all respects. In his original confession, Atzerodt claimed their interest in Johnson was for the purpose of obtaining a pass to travel to Richmond. It’s only after several days wearing a suffocating hood inside a metal box in summer that Atzerodt starts talking about a Johnson assassination, and by that time his lawyer was convinced he was losing his mind.
As the trial progressed, two of the men who’d been assigned with Surratt to intercept Lincoln’s carriage in the kidnap scheme were falsely charged with attempted assassinations and both were quickly found guilty despite zero evidence against them, except for faked testimony from paid perjurers (although that detail wouldn’t come to light for a while). So the government’s case had an imaginary assassination of Stanton, an imaginary assassination of Grant, onto which Atzerodt inserted a third imaginary assassination of Johnson.
All three of these supposed assassinations are now part of the official record and dutifully transcribed in every book on the subject. And at least two of them are transparent humbug. The only assassination attempts that night were on Lincoln and Seward, and I say this because assassins do not typically check into hotels of targets using their own names and leave incriminating evidence in their rooms. Nor do they do not hang around bars asking strangers about targets, especially if they’re clearly wildly out-of-their social sphere. Dirty Andy was not anyone’s idea of a professional assassin and it seems unlikely Booth would have depended on him for any such assignment. Andy was really only in this game for the money.
When Stanton sent a raiding party to Richmond with orders to kill Jefferson Davis, the leader was shot by Confederate home guards and is considered a great hero. But when Booth successfully pulled off that exact same mission for his side just a few weeks later, he was universally hailed as the greatest villain of his time. No wonder he seemed confused. Which just goes to show the winners write history, losers get screwed. Almost nothing you’ve been told about this assassination is true, and there’s a reason for that obviously, which is why I feel compelled to write a book for the 150th anniversary and blow this hoodwink sky-high once and for all. Lincoln was killed by a plot inside his own administration, and the evidence is in the cover-up.