Colonel John S. Mosby was one of the great spooks of the Civil War. He served briefly as a scout for Jeb Stuart before forming his own unit known today as Mosby’s Rangers in the South and Mosby’s Raiders in the North. Mosby’s area of operations in Northern Virginia became known as Mosby’s Confederacy during the war, and retains that aura today so strong was his imprint.
Mosby worked closely with John Wilkes Booth and the Confederate Secret Services in Maryland on a plot to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln and bring him to trial in Richmond. To assist in this mission he sent Booth his most vicious killer, Lewis Powell. Booth could have ordered Powell to kill Lincoln, but instead ordered him to assassinate the Secretary of State, who reportedly had a large French contract out on his life at the time.
George Atzerodt was a minor figure in the kidnap plot, who suddenly got drawn into the assassination the day it happened. It seems the assassination unfolded quickly with little advance planning, although Booth must have known all protection of Lincoln was going to melt away to allow him to complete the mission with a single shot derringer.
Atzerodt’s first confession was suppressed and not discovered for 117 years. In it, he admitted that a New York element paid for Powell’s transfer to Washington D.C. Powell was known to Atzerodt as “Mosby,” and he referred to Booth as “Captain,” while obeying any and all orders to the letter.
Immediately after the assassination, a unit was dispatched to Mary Surratt’s house, which was known as a nest of Confederate spies. But the day after the assassination, a local newspaper was already printing the Mosby connection to Booth.
“He has been in Washington for some months past, ostensibly for the purpose of organizing an oil company, but really for the purpose of consummating his scheme of wholesale assassination, under the direction of Mosby. There is no doubt that Booth contemplated the act long ago, and only delayed its execution because of some private instruction from Mosby,”
The Evening Telegraph, Philadelphia, PA, April 15, 1865.
One important element to keep in mind is there is no free press in America during the Civil War, and stories like this were fed from the Union War Department. Just as Oswald’s biography went out on the international wire services very quickly after JFK’s assassination, the press began laying a trail to the Confederacy. In fact, the military tribunal would find the Confederate leaders guilty of plotting Lincoln’s murder, a conviction tainted by bribes and false testimony. The trial, in fact, was a kangaroo court, yet this fact has never seeped into the American imagination, probably because it reveals the likelihood that Lincoln’s killing was an inside job.