OR, Ser. II, Vol. VIII, pp. 883-885

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Deposition of John H. Patten, taken at the office of the Judge. Advocate. General, in the city of Washington, on the -- day of February, 1866.

The deponent being sworn, deposes as follows, to wit:

Question. Of what State are you a native and where do you now reside?

Answer. I am a native of Georgia, but for the last two years I have resided at Saint Louis. I came to Richmond, Va., the latter part of the year 1862 and made it my home, though not always there until the latter part of the year 1863.

Question. Were you at any time in the military service of the so-called Confederate States?

Answer. I was not. I furnished a substitute and afterward, as a means of making a living, entered into speculations in connection with the supply of the army.

Question. What knowledge, if any, have you of an arrangement or conspiracy entered into in 1863, or at any other time, for the kidnaping and, if necessary, the killing of the President of the United States? State fully all the knowledge and information you have on the subject, setting forth the connection, if any, of Jefferson Davis with such arrangement or conspiracy and his action in relation thereto.

Answer. I know Jefferson Davis very well and have had two conversations with him in regard to a project to capture or assassinate President Lincoln. These conversations took place in July, 1863, in Mr. Davis' office in Richmond. The first conversation took place under these circumstances: A friend of mine named Lamar, who had served some time in the Confederate Army, said to me that he was about to set on foot an enterprise which if carried out would immortalize and enrich all who engaged in it, and he wished me to join him. I asked him the nature of his enterprise and he said it was to capture Lincoln and bring him a prisoner to Richmond. At first I thought he was jesting, as it seemed to me a mad project and next to an impossibility, but he assured me he was in earnest. I then asked him who was the originator of the scheme, and if the President and Secretary of State, Mr. Benjamin, were known to it. He said that he had made a written proposition to the President and was backed up by Secretary Benjamin and Winder. He further said that Winder had already assured him that Mr. Davis favored the project, but that he had not as yet received a direct answer from the President himself. I told him if <ar121_884> I could see a reasonable prospect of success I would go in with him, but that I could not afford to spend much money in so uncertain a business. He said of course the necessary funds would be furnished us by the proper authorities. He then proposed that we should go at once to General Winder, which we did. After the usual formalities General Winder said, in answer to a question by me, that the President fully approved Lamar's project, and furthermore his plans as far as they had been set forth in his (Lamar's) communication. I then asked Winder if the Secretary of War, Mr. Seddon, was in favor of it. Winder answered that the Secretary of War was an old fogy and was not worth talking to on such a subject. Winder then proposed that, in order that we might be satisfied that the project was fully approved by the President, we should call on the President at once. We did so and Winder introduced the subject to the President, saying that these men, referring to Lamar and myself, wanted to hear from his (the President's) own lips what protection we would receive in the event of our being captured in executing our undertaking. The President replied that we should receive all the protection the Government could afford, and that if captured he would hold as hostages two for one until we should be released. The President then said, addressing Lamar, that the undertaking he was about to engage in was a dangerous one and required a great deal of skill, caution, and courage, and that the salvation of the Confederacy possibly depended on his success; that he should take care to engage none but men of sobriety and courage to assist him; that he should know them well, and should not disclose his plans until all was ready. President Davis further said that he did not wish that the life of Lincoln should be taken unless absolutely necessary; that if he could be brought a prisoner alive it would serve the country equally as well and perhaps better than to kill him, but that if it was necessary for our own safety, or we could do no better, then we should mete out to him the deserts that the greatest tyrant the world ever saw deserves, which is death. Lamar then spoke about the necessary funds to carry out his plans. Davis said we should be furnished through General Winder with all the funds necessary. After a few words of caution from Mr. Davis we left his office. The next day Lamar received from General Winder some funds, consisting of greenbacks and Confederate notes. I received from Lamar $250 in greenbacks and $500 in Confederate notes. We then went to work to engage men for the project and sent them North, some to Baltimore, some to Washington, and some to Georgetown, to await orders. I engaged and forwarded three myself, and Lamar and other parties engaged and forwarded about twenty others. The next conversation I had with Mr. Davis took place about a fortnight later than the one hereinbefore referred to, and after the assistance engaged had been sent North. A man named McCulloh, who had been engaged by Lamar to aid in the enterprise, had been arrested for disclosing the plot and sent to Castle Thunder. As soon as Lamar heard of the arrest he called on me, and we went together to the office of General Winder to learn the particulars. We were there informed by Captain Winder, son of the general, that his father had gone to see the President in regard to McCulloh's case, and Lamar and I forthwith started for the President's office. We there found the President, General Winder, and Mr. Wright, a Government detective, in conversation. As soon as we were admitted General Winder said to Lamar, "One of your drunken scoundrels has been raising hell, and unless you strike at once your scheme will be thwarted." Mr. Davis then said, "Yes, gentlemen, you must proceed to the execution of your project immediately or failure will be certain. These blockade-runners, such as McCulloh has been boasting to, are half of them Yankee spies and may lose no time in communicating what they heard to their Government, and thus place their President on his guard, and thus render your efforts futile." Winder then repeated with an oath, "Yes; strike at once and bring the monkey here, body and soul, as soon as possible; and if you can't bring his whole carcass, fetch his damned scalp." Mr. Davis then said, "Gentlemen, you will not misunderstand your instructions; it is my wish that you capture and bring Mr. Lincoln within our lines without harming a hair of his head, if possible; but if after making the capture you find there is danger of his being retaken, you will take care that he does not return to Washington alive. If you find it impossible to effect his capture at all, remember that he is your enemy and Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Armies, and that you have the right, and that it is your duty, to cut him down the same as any other officer or soldier belonging to those armies." Lamar then said, we had already sent enough men North to do the work, and that we were prepared to follow at once, but that we required more funds for the execution of our plans when we should get North. Mr. Davis then said, "General Winder will see that you receive all that you require." Some instructions were then given by the President and General Winder to Wright in regard to detaining the persons who bad heard McCulloh's disclosures. After a little more conversation with the President, in which he assured us of the great importance, in view of the operations of Grant about Vicksburg, and of Meade, who was forcing Lee back upon the capital, of our proceeding in all haste to the execution of our project, we left. General Winder supplied us with some money and gave Lamar a letter of credit to a firm in Baltimore to enable us to draw what funds we <ar121_885> should require while North. When we reached here we found that some of the parties had left the points indicated for them to remain at and could not be found. Several others we learned had been arrested and imprisoned; and the situation or position of the armies had so changed that we found it impossible to carry out our plans and finally we abandoned the project. Lamar returned to Richmond, but I had had enough of the Confederacy [and] proceeded north to Canada.


Sworn and acknowledged at Washington, D.C., this 24th of February, 1866, before me.

Notary Public.



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