The Real Lewis Powell

There was, and has been, much speculation about Lewis Thornton Powell.   At the time of his incarceration and trial, he gave very little away about himself, and one must wonder how someone so young could be so staunch and resolved at such a trying time.   There were mixed reports about his cowardice, bravery, dignity and brutality.   Some wrote of him as a mindless uneducated brute, incapable of thinking for himself and easily led.   Others reported of  his dignity and calm, his unshakable strength of character and admirable courage.   He was tall, handsome and imposing, with a magnetic aura that was lost on neither male or female.   His candor and bearing won the admiration of his prison guards and his defense attorney, W. E Doster,  claimed he would sit still as a statue in the courtroom and smile as one who fears no earthly terrors.  The truth, though, was somewhat different.


Powell aged 12

In his cell, away from the public eye, Powell was  just as emotionally battered as his fellow prisoners.   He wept with regret at what he'd done, and those he'd hurt, and this stress became physically manifest in the chronic constipation that he suffered for nearly 6 weeks.  It was reported that he had no bowel movement from April 29th to June 2nd.  To add to his suffering, he was forced, along with the other male prisoners,  to wear a heavy, padded hood, which must have been suffocating in the searing summer  heat.  Being deprived of his sight for hours and hours at a time  must have given him much introspection and who knows what went through his mind during that tortuous period.

History notes without exception that Powell was a brave soldier, an inherently compassionate person, well brought up, educated and raised in a loving though strict family.   Four years of civil war must have have taken its toll on him, and who knows what his mind set was by the time he fell in with John Wilkes Booth.   It might be argued that his part in the assassination brought him what he deserved, and it's safe to assume that Powell himself was the first to admit that he deserved to die for what he'd done.   In fact, more than once he stated that he was ready to die and wished to do so.  He is recorded as stating

 'My course is run.  I know now how foolish, vain and wholly useless it is and must have been, and were I set at liberty this morning, I should hope to be dead by sunset.'

Powell also pleaded for the life of Mary Surratt.   He was adamant she was innocent, telling Reverend Gillette that 'men do not make war on women.'   In a last desperate effort to save her life, he made a statement to Captain Christian Rath, 'If I had two lives to give,  I'd give one gladly to save Mrs Surratt.'   Despite a statement made by Powell and sent to the War Department in a bid to save Mary Surratt, it was in vain and she died beside Powell on the gallows.

Powell had very few personal effects with him on the day of his execution.   A penknife and a bible, in which he had pressed some wild flowers from the prison grounds.   The bible was given to Reverend Gillette with the request that it be sent to his family in Florida.   It never arrived.

 Lewis Powell aged two, with his mother.