Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More on Atzerodt

I feel a little bit sorry for George Atzerodt. Here we have a man of little education caught up in a conspiracy to murder the President. All of his cohorts are educated and articulate. George could barely sign his name. His co-conspirators merely used him because of his back wood knowledge and took advantage of his dim-wittedness. Please don’t misunderstand me, George was guilty and deserved punishment, but he was told he was to assist in a kidnapping – not a murder. In fact, he chickened out and spent the evening of the crime getting drunk. In today’s world, George would have done some hard time and finally released. Oh well. Those were the days.

Let’s take a few moments and discuss what we know about George and his family. Henry and Victoria Atzerodt immigrated to the US in about sometime 1843 and 1844. The family was living in Westmoreland Co., VA in 1850 and according to that census, Henry and Victoria had the following children:

John Atzerodt, 21, blackmsith, b. Germany
George A. Adzerott, 14, b. Germany;
Maina Adzerott, 7 (female), b. Germany
Henry Adzerott, 5, b. MD

They had another daughter Catherine, but we will discuss her later.

John and George find their way to Port Tobacco in 1857 and placed an ad in the Port Tobacco Times and the Charles County Advertiser:

3/12/1857: J. C. Atzerodt and Bro., carriage maker, have located in Port Tobacco and will make to order any description of carriage, wagon or cart....

9/12/1857: George A. Atzerodt advertises "sorrel mare strayed or stolen from Port Tobacco." He purchased mare from John W. Jenkins, Esq.

So now we know they are here and have set up shop. Why don’t they appear in the 1860 census? One reason may be that John left the business and moved out of Port Tobacco and became a detective for the Provost Marshal in Washington DC. George may not have had the capacity to run a business and found smuggling more to his liking.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons he took up with the widow Rose Wheeler. According to the book American Brutus by Michael Kauffman, Rose and George lived as man and wife with her paying the bills. She had three children with her deceased husband and a 2 year old daughter with George. The only reason I can think she is paying his way is because his business no longer existed.

Now for the irony of the whole story. When John left Port Tobacco, he began working as a detective for the Provost Marshal in Washington DC. To further the irony, George’s sister Catherine is married to the Provost Marshal in Washington DC. Now you may be asking yourself, “So? Who is this Provost Marshal fella?” He was John L. Smith, Provost Marshal of D.C., 1861-1865 and the one whose testimony caused George to get the death penalty. His wife Catherine never forgave him. In fact, he read the death order to George and to Mrs. Surratt.

Testimony to support George during his trial introduces some Port Tobacco resident who knew George. Although claiming to know him, the testimonies were less that flattering:

ALEXANDER BRAWNER: I live in Port Tobacco, Md. I have known the prisoner, Atzerodt, six or eight years. He was at Port Tobacco about the last of February or the beginning of March. I think he came from Bryantown; he rode a sorrel horse. I had some business in the country, and he went along with me. I never considered Atzerodt a courageous man, by a long streak. I have seen him in scrapes, and I have seen him get out of them very fast. I have seen him in bar-room scrapes, little scrapes, and where pistols were drawn, and he generally got out of the way, and made pretty fast time. His reputation is that of a notorious coward.

LOUIS B. HARKINS: I have known Atzerodt for probably ten years. He was down at Port Tobacco about the latter part of February or the beginning of March. I think I saw him for a day or two. He is looked upon down there, by folks that know him, as a good-natured kind of a fellow. We never gave him credit down our way for much courage. I call to mind two difficulties in which I saw him—one happened in my shop, and the other in an oyster saloon—in both of which I thought he lacked courage.

WASHINGTON BRISCOE: I have known the prisoner, Atzerodt, six or seven years at Port Tobacco. He has always been considered a man of little courage, and remarkable for his cowardice.

After his conviction and execution, John and Victoria went to President Johnson and requested permission to reinter George's body in 1869. 2/19/1869: "On Monday the body of George Atzerodt was taken up and removed. On opening the box, which had somewhat decayed, the vial containing the name was found, and bones scattered about, upper part of skull on one side of box and lower jaw on other, spine curved. Remains on Wednesday deposited in receiving vault Glenwood Cemetery where they will remain until arrival of family, when they will be finally interred." Later John had the body moved to St. Paul Cemetery in Baltimore where it is buried under the fictious name, Gottlief Taubert.

My special thanks go to April for providing some this information and especially to Linda Davis Reno for providing the genealogical data. She is indeed the Queen!


Dancing Willow said...

This was such a cool story. He certainly didn't leave a very good impression on anyone that knew him. As you said, I sort of feel bad for the guy... (brain of squirrel).

Anonymous said...

Actually, there is a copy of his signature that was posted on lincoln-assassination.com and his signature is quite legible and neat. Just FYI.

Anonymous said...

George was not a coward. Doster (his lawyer) thought that that would be his only defense. A Blockade Runner which George was, usually were not cowards. What led to his demise was pure and simple. Greed. JWB had promised him riches of gold after Lincoln was kidnapped. He as the others were brought into Booth's web. Greedy, yes. A coward no. Who was the only conspirator who actually publically addressthe crowd from the gallows? Good old George!

Anonymous said...

In the 1950 census it was just

At that time John Atzerodt was living with the Butler family. He would eventually marry one of those daughters Hester.