John Surratt, from the cover of John Surratt: The Lincoln Assassin Who Got Away
John Surratt: The Lincoln Assassin Who Got Away
John Surratt: The Lincoln Assassin Who Got Away
Information and study guides for John Surratt: The Lincoln Assassin Who Got Away

Discussion Questions:


1. Do you think that John Surratt (or Surratt and Slater) carried orders from Jefferson Davis and/or Judah Benjamin to assassinate  Lincoln and other high Union officials after their meeting in Richmond on March 29-April 1, 1865?


a. Do you believe that the Dahlgren raid was really an authorized attempt by the Union government to assassinate Jefferson Davis  and his cabinet?

b. Do you believe the Harney and/or others were sent by the Confederate government to attack Lincoln in the waning days of the  Civil War?

c. Do you think that Jefferson Davis was aware of Booth’s plot to kidnap Lincoln?  To kill Lincoln?

d. Do you believe that Judah Benjamin could have approved the assassination of Lincoln without the knowledge and approval of  Jefferson Davis?


2. Do you believe that John Surratt honestly believed that Booth only intended to kidnap Lincoln, or do you think that he was aware that Booth intended to kill Lincoln?


a. If the latter, when do you think he became aware of the plan to kill?

b. Do you believe that Booth and Surratt accepted the chance that Lincoln would need to be killed from the beginning?  Why or  why not?


3. Do you believe that Mary Surratt was knowingly involved in the plot against Lincoln?


a. If you had served on the military commission that tried the conspirators, would you have voted to convict Mary Surratt? Why or  why not?

b. If yes, what penalty would you have recommended?

c. Do you believe that President Andrew Johnson received the recommendation to commute Mary Surratt’s sentence prior to her  execution?

d. Discuss the connection between the impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the trial of John Surratt in 1867.


4. Do you think John Surratt should have returned to the United States during the military trial in an effort to help his mother?


a. Do you believe Surratt’s reasons for not having done so?

b. Do you agree that Surratt made a conscious choice?  If so, evaluate that choice.


5. Let’s talk about Louis J. Weichmann’s possible involvement:


a. Do you believe that Weichmann had prior knowledge of the plot to kill Lincoln?

b. How about the plot to kidnap Lincoln?

c. Do you believe that he turned Government witness to save himself from prosecution in the military trial?

d. Do you believe that Weichmann’s testimony in the military trial, and trial of John Surratt, was entirely truthful?  Truthful in its  main parts?  Please explain.

e. Do you think Weichmann was a coward, or courageous, or something in between?

f. Do you believe that Weichmann was in love with Surratt, and that Surratt used Weichmann’s sexual orientation against him?

g. Do you believe that Weichmann was a victim, or that he made Mary and John Surratt victims to save his own skin?


6. Do you believe the testimony of Dr. Lewis McMillan, ship’s doctor on the Peruvian?


7. Do you believe the statements of the Canadian bounty hunter, Henri Beaumont de Ste. Marie?


a. Do you believe him when he links the assassination to Judah Benjamin through statements allegedly made to him by Surratt?

b. How would you explain his very limited testimony at the trial?


8. Where do you think John Surratt was on the night of April 14, 1865?


9. Do you think that John Surratt met up with Sarah Nettie Slater during his escape to Canada?


a. If so, do you think she was the “other man” in disguise, or somewhere else?

b. Do you believe that they checked in to the St. Lawrence hotel together on April 18, 1865?


10. What is your opinion of the involvement of the Catholic Church in aiding John Surratt’s escape?


a. What do you think of the actions of the Quebec priest, Rev. Father Charles Boucher, who hid Surratt during the military trial of  the conspirators?

b. Do you believe that the Pope and/or Cardinal Antonelli were knowingly involved in aiding Surratt’s escape to Rome?

c. In what ways is Surratt’s service in the military of the Confederacy and Papal Zouaves similar?  In what ways different?


11. What is your opinion of the actions of the United States Government after John Surratt arrived in England?


a. Should it have pressed harder for his immediate arrest?

b. What do you think was the motive for not doing so?


12. If you had been a juror at the John Surratt trial in 1867, would you have voted to convict him on any of the four counts of the



a. Counts 1 – Murder of Abraham Lincoln?

b. Counts 2 and 3 – Accessory to Murder of Abraham Lincoln?

c. Count 4 – Conspiracy to commit Murder of Abraham Lincoln?

d. Explain your reasoning, including whether you see a distinction between whether he was actually guilty based on the historical  evidence, versus whether he was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the Government at his trial.

e. Do you believe that sectional bias (whether the juror was “pro-Union” or “pro-Confederacy”), or the alibi defense, or some  combination of those or other factors, determined the outcome of the trial?

f. Do you believe that the nature of the charges brought (and not brought) determined the outcome of the trial?

g. Would you have convicted John Surratt of conspiracy to kidnap Abraham Lincoln if that had been one of the charges?


13. What is your view of the fairness of the trial that John Surratt received?


a. Was it fair to John Surratt?

b. Was it fair to the Government / Lincoln?

c. What do you make of the effect of the arguments regarding Mary Surratt on the fairness of the trial?

d. Discuss the prevailing attitudes towards women exhibited in the treatment of charges against Mary Surratt, execution of Mary  Surratt, and use of Mary Surratt in the John Surratt trial.


14. Robert Frost said that “A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.”


a. What is your view of the lawyers here:

i. Edward C. Carrington (Gov’t)

ii. Edwards Pierrepont (Gov’t)

iii. Nathaniel Wilson (Gov’t)

iv. Joseph H. Bradley Sr.

v. Richard T. Merrick (Defense)

vi. Joseph H. Bradley Jr.

b. What is your view of Judge George P. Fisher?

c. Which side had the better lawyers?


15. What is your view of the job that the civilian justice system did in responding to the several indictments of John Surratt?


16. What is your attitude towards Government “total warfare” aimed at the leaders of the enemy troops?


a. Are some wars “different” in some way than other wars in this respect?

b. Compare the Civil War with World War II.

c. Compare the European theater with the Japanese theater in WWII.

d. Compare the Civil War with the Vietnam war.

e. Compare the Civil War with the War on Terror, and the hunt for and elimination of Osama Bin Ladin.


17. Does John Surratt: The Lincoln Assassin Who Got Away change your understanding of the significance of the Lincoln assassination  in any way?


a. If so, how?

b. Can you place it in the broader context of “who won” the Civil War?  And “who won” the peace that followed?


18. What is your assessment of John H. Surratt as a person?


a. What words would you choose to describe his character?

b. How should he be judged in the court of history?




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