Each week I am highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.
Ernest Hartman Richter
Burial Location: Neelsville Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Germantown, Maryland
Connection to the Lincoln assassination:
Ernest Hartman Richter, often known as just Hartman Richter in assassination literature, was the first cousin of conspirator George Atzerodt. Richter’s mother’s maiden name was Christanna Maria Atzerodt, the sister of George’s father, Johann. Like his cousin, Hartman Richter was born in Germany. In 1844, the Atzerodts and Richters immigrated to the United States where they settled in Montgomery County, Maryland. Johann Atzerodt and his brother-in-law Frederick Richter invested in a farm in what is now Germantown, Maryland, and the families lived there together for some time. After a few years, Atzerodt sold his interest in the farm to his brother-in-law and moved his family to Westmoreland County, Virginia.
After the assassination of Lincoln, conspirator George Atzerodt escaped Washington City and headed north towards this former family home, now owned by his uncle and cousin. Atzerodt arrived at the Richter farm on April 16th and was welcomed in with open arms. George stayed about the home for several days until the early hours of April 20th, when Union soldiers came knocking at the door. It was George’s cousin, Hartman Richter who answered the soldiers knock that morning. I’ll let Sgt. Gemmill, the lead officer who arrived at the Richter home, explain what happened next:
“I went to the house of a man named Richter, I think, and asked him if there was a man there named [Atwood]. I had two men with me at the time. I understood him to say that he was his cousin but [he] had left and gone to Frederick. One of my men understood the same, but the other did not. I then told him I would search the house. He then said there was a man in the house. He commenced telling me a yarn and I was suspicious of him. I then searched the house and went up to his room. There were three men in one bed, two of them young men by the name of Nichols living in the neighborhood, who did not explain how they came there; but as my orders were to arrest Atzerodt alone, I did not arrest them [Note: the two Nichols men were the brothers of Hartman Richter’s wife]. When the door opened the two of them awoke. He [Atzerodt] did not awake or at least pretended not to till I went up to the bed. I asked him his name. He gave me a name which I though was Atwood, but I heard it indistinctly as he spoke with a German accent and I was not certain about it.”‘
Despite Sgt. Gemmill having orders to only arrest Atzerodt, Richter’s attempt to hide his cousin’s presence in the home was very suspicious and led Gemmill to return to the Richter home. “I told his cousin to get ready, as I wanted him to go with me. He said he did not want to go; that he did not know what he was arrested for. Atzerodt never asked me a question in relation to the cause of his arrest, although he was in my custody several hours.”
Hartman Richter was taken down to Washington and imprisoned aboard the USS Saugus just like his cousin. Richter also has the distinction of having his mug shot photograph taken just like the main conspirators. From time to time you’ll find people who mistake Richter’s mug shot photographs for ones of Dr. Mudd. Dr. Mudd was never placed, or photographed, on the monitors.
Richter, like the conspirators, was transferred to the Old Arsenal Penitentiary where he would be imprisoned until May 13th. By that date it had been well determined that Richter had no knowledge of his cousin’s involvement in the plot against Lincoln. He was transferred to the more “minimum security” prison, the Old Capitol Prison, where some of the other “suspicious but not evidently guilty” persons were held. On May 30th, Richter was released from jail completely.
Ernest Hartman Richter far outlived the cousin he tried to protect, dying on February 21, 1920. He is buried in the Neelsville Presbyterian Church Cemetery, in Germantown, Maryland, not too far from the site of his former home. Check out the Maps page for more details. For more images of Hartman Richter and the other “non-conspirator” who had mug shot photographs taken, visit the Fake Conspirators Gallery.
GPS coordinates for Ernest Hartman Richter’s grave: 39.1958242, -77.2431242