Lincoln Conspirator George Atzerodt Could Have Changed Everything!

George Atzerodt

George Atzerodt

Sometimes in the course of things one person’s actions can change everything. Lincoln conspirator George Andrew Atzerodt was such an individual. He had an opportunity to try and prevent the murder of Abraham Lincoln. Sadly, he chose not to do so. The rest, as it is said- is history.
Atzerodt had been part of the plan to kidnap President Lincoln. Having Southern sympathies, he agreed with conspiracy leader John Wilkes Booth that the kidnapping of Lincoln could change the tide of the war for the South. However, the plan didn’t come to fruition. It seemed, too, that when Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia surrendered-all hope was lost for ultimate Confederate victory.
At some point after March 17, 1865 (the day of the planned capture of Lincoln), Booth changed the objective from kidnapping the President to killing him. David Herold, Lewis Powell (also known as ‘Lewis Paine’), and George Atzerodt then became participants in what would become the Lincoln assassination. From what I’ve read, Herold and Powell didn’t voice any objections to the new plan. They were given their “assignments” by Booth and began carrying them out. Atzerodt, however, did vocally speak against the idea of the killings. He didn’t want to kill anyone much less the Vice-President of the United States (his “assignment”).
It seems John Wilkes Booth had entertained the possibility that his band of conspirators (any or all of them) might back out of the murder plan. He very cunningly left a document with their names in a place that would surely be discovered by authorities afterward. Thus, Booth framed them all. He told them that they were all implicated in the plan anyway-so there was no point in backing out. After hearing that, Atzerodt “towed the line.”
On April 14, 1865, Atzerodt was to kill Andrew Johnson. Herold and Powell would handle killing Secretary Of State Seward. And, of course, Booth would murder President Lincoln. The acts were to occur all at the same time-approximately at 10:00pm that night. If it went according to the plan, the leadership of the North would be struck a momentous blow and chaos would ensue (with a hope still of a final Confederate victory?).
With respect to George Atzerodt-he failed his assignment. He chose not to kill Vice-President Andrew Johnson. That was precisely the moment in time (probably the last available moment) in which he could have changed everything! Was it a moral crisis that caused him to not go through with the plot? I don’t know. Many say he was simply a coward. If only he had left that tavern and gone straight to the authorities. Maybe-just maybe-the plot could have been foiled and Lincoln’s life would have been saved. One can only imagine how different history might have been if Lincoln had lived. Why didn’t Atzerodt act for the good?
Did Atzerodt feel he oweed Booth that kind of loyalty? What was going through his mind as he got himself drunk on assassination evening? If Booth was correct that as conspirators they would all be hanged anyway-what did Atzerodt have to lose? At least if he had tried to stop the killings he might have been remembered as trying to do something good in the end. Maybe his life might have been spared-who knows?
Whatever the reason, Atzerodt chose not to tell anyone. By his lack of action and his silence- Seward was almost killed and Lincoln was killed. By 10:30pm that night, it was too late. The deeds had been done. By then also, all hope was lost for him too. He would be caught and given the death sentence. The man who could have made such a difference- didn’t. 
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