Baptists and the American Civil War: April 17, 1865

Lewis Powell

Lewis Powell

The hunt for Lincoln‘s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and his accomplices continues, and with a vengeance. Over 1,000 Union soldiers are at work trying to identity and apprehend the perpetrators. The Northern public is angry, clamoring for the deaths of Lincoln’s killer and those associated with him.

Aware that he is being hunted down but not of the scope of the hunt, Booth is hiding in the woods of Maryland near the Potomac River, waiting for a safe time to cross the river into Virginia. He is in the woods because several Confederate sympathizers along his escape route refused to hide him, fearful that Federal agents will be watching their homes.

One of Booth’s accomplices, Lewis Powell, a former Confederate soldier who had attacked Secretary of State William Seward the same night Booth shot Lincoln, tonight visits the house of a friend in downtown Washington, and is promptly arrested. Powell, the son of a Baptist minister, had at times identified himself as a Baptist minister during the plotting of Lincoln’s murder months before the dastardly deed was done. Four other alleged accomplices are also arrested today. All are held pending a military trial.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina Union General William T. Sherman and Confederate General Joseph Johnston, commander of the South’s last army of significant size, meet at the Bennett farmhouse between Raleigh (occupied by Sherman’s forces) and Greensboro (the location of Johnston’s forces). Sherman, having himself just learned of Lincoln’s death, informs Johnston in private. The Confederate general voices regret at the news, declaring Lincoln’s assassination to be a great calamity for the South.

The object of the meeting is to negotiate the surrender of remaining Confederate forces in the field, including those of Johnston. A discussion of surrender terms thus begins, but does not conclude today.

The day thus ends with two major events unfolding simultaneously and pointing toward a successful, if not immediate, conclusion: the apprehension of those responsible for President Lincoln’s death, and the surrender of the remaining armies of the Confederacy.

Sources: Sarah Pruitt, “Hunting Lincoln’s Killers,” (link); “The Death of John Wilkes Booth, 1865,” Eyewitnesses to History (link); “Biographic Sketch of Lewis Powell, Assassination Conspirator” (link); “Confederate Surrender at Bennett’s Place, April 17-26, 1865,” North Carolina History Project (link); “Bennett Place,” North Carolina Historic Sites (link)