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JOHN H. SURRATT, The Conspirator


Edited by Dion Haco, Esq.






July 8, 1860.—Well, at last it is over, and I am fairly in it! Am I satisfied? Perhaps, yes; it maybe, no! My darling wish—the principal topic of my waking thoughts—my ever haunting nightly dreams—my heart’s most earnest desire—oh! the craving I for so long a time have had to explore the hidden mysteries of that—I dare not name it—has at last been gratified. And, oh! what an experience!

Last evening—I shudder as I think of it—will be one of the few most important—perhaps, the most momentous of the epochs of my heretofore unknown life; and, having chosen my path, must follow it to the end, for the road is open. Still I am yet in the dark; and I have to learn, and must know more.

Solemn, very solemn, indeed, was the occasion—horribly binding that obligation—fearfully terrible the penalty; but it is over now, and I know the secret—at least, am acquainted with some of the awful mysteries which overshadow the whole.

“What a crowd! what a congregation! The outside world would never believe that, in that dark room, there were to have been found men of all grades of society. But it is true; and the mighty machine, when it begins to move, will permeate through all the stratas of official life. Cabinet members, high in office, were there; and so, also, the unsuccessful actors, who seek elsewhere the fame they failed to secure on the mimic stage—eminent Judges, who now, by their decisions, influence the destinies of the nation; and editors, who wield a mightier weapon than the sword, and hold a lever that moves the world—Congressmen, who pretend to make our laws; and roughs, who never fail to break them. All these were there, for I saw them. It was a strange union of opposing elements; but they all have their part to play in the drama of the “Coming Future,” and I, among the number.

I saw, there, many a familiar face, both of politician and prizefighter; those who frequent the National Capital during the sessions of Congress, hang around the great halls of National Legislation, and appear daily in such style on Pennsylvania Avenue. John asserts that every one of these men will yet be needed; for, in the great cause, all are equal, and they will each have their respective work to do. Had I but been told one-half of what is now known to me, it would have then seemed a fallacy, an impossibility. Were I still at College, it would seem to me as if I had been a victim of some trick from my fellow collegiates.

But is it all true? Yes, terribly true!

One thing, however, is still fresh in my remembrance, vividly so—“I must neither write nor speak upon or about what I see or hear.” No eye can see me now, none other than mine will ever peruse these lines; therefore, should I make a record of what I have learned, it cannot be of any injury to my friends or the cause.

But a thought has just flashed across my mind—Why should I, with such a fearful warning, and terrible peril of the penalty before my mental vision, write a single word about last night’s work? Why risk the chance of so important a paper falling into any other person’s hands? But can I not prevent any such mischance? Yes, certainly; it can be hidden.

Should this old house be destroyed, my labor may be in vain; but it shall never fall in the hands of an enemy.

This is a very lonely place, and some employment is necessary, wherewith to occupy my mind; otherwise, my anxiety will get the better of my reason, and I shall go crazy. Why does mother live here? Why will she not live in the city? Surely, there cannot be so many attractions in Surrattsville, that she should give up every comfort for the mere pleasure of residing in a place called by our name. If she can see anything charming in it, I do not; and I would willingly exchange all that may be enticing—according to her ideas—for a good frolic in Washington, with those who are of my own turn of mind. Still, the time may come when some important change will and must take place; for if the cause succeeds—and succeed it must with such excellent plans—the name I bear will become as famous as any in history. Then, indeed, will this record prove valuable; for it will show those in power that I was with them at the beginning, and kept true to the end. If it prove but this, my diary will not have been kept in vain.

I was in Washington, yesterday morning, waiting, in anxious expectation, for the hour to arrive that was to make me a wiser if not a greater man., At half past twelve, yesterday afternoon, my friend came for me, and we went together to the depot. He had very often spoken to me of what he had discovered, and did so even yesterday, as we were walking along; but yet he would give no more information than would serve to inflame my curiosity. That man is destined for a brilliant career; his ambition for fame is overpowering, and appears never to be satisfied. He is certain to make for himself a name in history; and he would almost refuse to die without it. How I envy him!

We got on board the cars for the monumental city; for it was there that I was to be instructed, and there I received—but my pen is too rapid for a mere simple record.

How slow steam is for anxious minds! I would, yesterday, have travelled by electricity, so anxious was I to learn those terrible secrets, and the laggard wheels appeared to revolve as slowly as those of the old wagon in bygone times. Never did the ride seem so long and tedious, as during yesterday afternoon.

But at length we arrived at the end of our journey, and were in the city of Baltimore.

Shall I ever forget that large house on Monument Square? I think not. On the outside, it had all the appearance of a fashionable dwelling, and the thousands that daily passed it by, never dreamed that in that stately, yet quiet building, were enacted the scenes I last night witnessed.

It was not dark when we arrived—the meetings were held in broad daylight, doubtless in consequence, that midnight meetings would have brought around us some of those lynx-eyed myrmidons who are always ready when they are not wanted—and instantaneously my companion ascended the steps. A slight push, and the door, to my great surprise, flew open immediately; but, beyond, and barring our further progress, was a half-glass hall door covered, on the inside, with a close, thick lace curtain. As this is far from an uncommon circumstance with all respectable houses, it did not pointedly attract my attention until after the following strange things had transpired.

Strict silence was enjoined on me by a sign from my friend, and I at once became as mute as death.

A tap on the glass was next given—peculiar and significant was that signal—which was readily answered from within. The heavy lace across the pane prevented my seeing anyone, although some person, on the watch, was apparently there. A third rap, soft, slight, yet certain, was given from without; then, with a jerk, the door flew wide open.

The space beyond was vacant, and we passed at once within.

A death-like silence reigned around, and seemed to fill me with dread.

Where was the watcher? He could not anywhere be seen. How had he so quickly disappeared? No door was observable except the one by which we had entered; and yet the being who had answered the signal was certainly not there. The only observable object was a series of carpeted stairs, which we, after closing the door, quietly and silently ascended, to the head of the first flight. At this place our path was blocked by a panelled wainscoting—the object of which I could not then divine. Our further movements seemed absolutely checked by an insurmountable obstacle. My friend and guide, however, appeared to know the secret; and, after an interchange of signal knocks, a panel flew open, and we passed through.

The next moment the panel was again closed, and we were in darkness.

I felt the chill of steel against my hand and face, and the next moment a sharp point of some weapon slightly pierced my breast. With a shudder I drew back, when a deep voice said,

“Those who would pass here must face both fire and steel.”

“We are willing to face both—for Liberty,” answered my friend.

“It shall be ours,” replied the voice. “Pass!”

My hand was taken by someone (who, I know not,) and I was led, in the darkness, through what seemed to be an interminable passage, at the end of which was a door, which, as I approached, instantly flew open, apparently without cause or human aid.

“Advance,” said the voice, in a commanding tone.

I moved forward, but not without some amount of nervous agitation.

The door closed behind me, and I found myself in a large apartment, alone.

“Where had my companion gone?” was the thought which naturally flashed across my mind. He had left me alone, in that strange and mysterious place, without one clue to guide my actions, or any one near of whom I could ask directions or request assistance. “What could I do? and where really was I?”

Finding myself standing alone in that apartment, the feeling naturally arose in my mind that it would be more pleasant to be seated; and finding every convenience therefore, I carelessly threw myself on a lounge to await the coming of my companion.

While waiting, my eyes naturally wandered around the place, which appeared to be a handsome drawing-room, or something of that character, and was fitted up in a most elegant style. It seemed to be about fifty feet in length, by about thirty feet deep, in the form of an oblong square, one of the longer sides apparently facing the street, upon which a half dozen windows opened, in the most natural manner. There was no mystery on that side of the room. Between each of the windows hung a pier glass, of large dimensions, in heavy gilt frames, and had, apparently, not been removed from their places for years. Heavy curtains, partially covered the windows, but not enough to keep out the light, which flooded the apartment under the genial influence of the brightly shing sun. All this my vision embraced at a glance.

The remaining walls now engaged my attention, and I then noticed that they were all covered with a rich paper, ornamented with a simple ring of gilt at regular intervals. Pictures hung from ceiling to floor, many of them painted on canvass and stretched within handsome frames, being suspended by heavy bullion cords and tassels, and representing full length and life size portraits of noted men, among whom may be reckoned Calhoun, Pierce, Secretary Davis, and others; together with representations of important events in our history, as a country, during the revolutionary period. The arms of the Southern States were also represented in illuminated coloring; but I saw none belonging to the Free States. A grand gaselier was hung suspended from the ceiling, and, on the blue painted ceiling, was traced in gold, a large and brilliant ring, passing entirely around the filigree work which concealed the place where the plain pipe became united with, the pendant. All this I soon observed, and began to tire of my silent examination.

At last my attention was directed to the fact that not a door appeared to open from this apartment, with the exception of the one by which I had entered, and it now became a matter of mental wonder why and with what object I had been placed in this room, which seemed to lead to nowhere beyond. The absence of my friend, also, greatly perplexed me.

[Here the writer appears to have been disturbed, as the diary is broken off at this place; and, when renewed, the style of the handwriting and the color of the ink is somewhat changed, as if he had allowed an interval of time to elapse, before recommencing the record. Other entries, relating to simple family matters, and under various dates, had, certainly, meanwhile been made; but as they have no connection with the thread of the important part of the writing—his connection with the conspiracy—it has been deemed advisable to omit them, both here and throughout the remainder of the work. In a book of this character, where space is limited, it is necessary to condense as much as possible, without destroying the purity of the original; and, although many would like to see what Surratt has to say about his own family, it has been deemed advisable to erase such matters from this edition. Should circumstances warrant the issue of a larger work, these entries might then be given.—EDITOR.]


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