Samuel Alexander Mudd was born on this day in Charles County, Maryland, USA in 1833. Today is the 179th anniversary of his birth.
Mudd grew up on a tobacco plantation about 30 miles southeast of Washington DC. He was the fourth of ten children . He was home schooled until age 15 when he went to St. John’s boarding school in Frederick, MD. He went to college at Georgetown in Washington, and graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore having studied medicine with an emphasis on dysentery. In 1856 he returned to Charles County and began a family with his long time sweetheart Sarah “Frankie” Dyer. Mudd’s father gave the couple a 218 acre tobacco farm called St. Catherine’s. He supplemented his income as a doctor with the sale of tobacco from the farm. (He grew the tobacco with the help of five slaves.)
When the Civil War began Maryland was a border state. If Washington, with its large number of Union soldiers had not be located in its southern border along the Potomac River the state may have voted to succeed from the Union. When Maryland abolished slavery in 1864 ( a year after the Emancipation Proclamation) Mudd could no longer effectively run his farm. He began looking for a buyer and was introduced to a young, dashing, actor in the market for some property. That actor’s name was John Wilkes Booth.
Booth and Mudd met in November at St. Mary’s Catholic Church to discuss the purchase. Booth stayed overnight at the farm before returning to Washington. Unbeknownst to Mudd, Booth wasn’t interested in real estate at all, but was scouting out an escape path from the Nation’s Capital. The actor was planning on kidnapping President Lincoln to bring him to Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy). He would ransom Lincoln for a large number of Confederate POWS.
Mudd and Booth met again shortly before Christmas 1964, this time in Washington. They met John Surratt and Louis Weichmann for drinks.
Before Booth could pull off his ill-advised and grandiose plan Lee surrendered at Appomatox, Virginia and the War was over. Booth was furious. He altered his plan and decided to kill the president instead of kidnapping him. Booth shot Lincoln in the head five days after Lee surrendered. The President and Ms. Lincoln were watching a play, Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. After shooting Lincoln at point-blank range he jumped down from the Presidential Box to the stage to escape. He broke his leg in the fall but managed to get out the stage door and onto his horse and escape the city.
About four o’clock on the morning following the Lincoln assassination two men on horseback arrived at the Mudd farm near Bryantown. The men, it turned out, were John Wilkes Booth–in severe pain with a badly fractured leg that he received from his fall to the stage after shooting the President–and David Herold. Mudd welcomed the men into his house, first placing Booth on his sofa, then later carrying him upstairs to a bed where he dressed the limb.
After daybreak, Mudd made arrangements with a nearby carpenter to construct a pair of crutches for Booth and tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a carriage for his two visitors. Booth (after having shaved off his moustache in Mudd’s home) and Herold left later on the fifteenth, after Mudd pointed the route to their next destination, Parson Wilmer’s. [UMKC.edu]
Military investigators followed Booth’s trail to the Mudd farm and Dr. Mudd admitted to having seen a patient, but claimed…”‘I never saw either of the parties before, nor can I conceive who sent them to my house.” [Historynet.com] When Lt. Lovett, the lead investigator on the Mudd end of the trail returned again to the farm Sarah “brought down from upstairs a boot that had been cut off the visitor’s leg three days earlier.” [Ibid.] Booth’s initials were in the boot’s cuff, but Mudd still denied knowing who it was.
During the trail Mudd’s lie about not recognizing Booth, compounded by his not coming forward about “suspicions … aroused by a broken-legged visitor who, during his brief stay the Mudd farm, shaved off his moustache” [Ibid] stained his character far more deeply than the circumstantial evidence of witnesses who claimed he knew of the conspiracy.
Defense Attorney Thomas Ewing argued to the Commission that it is no crime to fix a broken leg, even if it were the leg of a presidential assassin and even if the doctor knew it was the leg of a presidential assassin. [Ibid}
Mudd was convicted by a Military Commission and sentenced to life in prison.
He, and the other conspirators who escaped the noose were sent to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. He tried to escape once, but was quickly discovered. He and other prisoners were transferred to “the dungeon” a ground-level gunroom. They were let out six days a week to work, but were forced to stay inside the dungeon on Sundays and holidays. He wore leg irons while outside the cell.
In 1867, an outbreak of yellow fever overtook the Dry Tortugas, claiming the lives of fellow conspirator and inmate Michael O’Lauglin, as well as the prison doctor. Mudd assumed the role as the new prison doctor. [Ibid]
Mudd was pardoned in March of 1869 by President Andrew Johnson. The Doctor returned to his Maryland farm and his wife (they had 4 more children.) He had always been interested in politics and in 1877 he ran (unsuccessfully) for the Maryland House Delegates. In 1880 his farm was destroyed by a fire. and by 1883, at just 49 years old, Mudd was dead of pneumonia.
Lincoln’s death brought on a media circus the likes of which we are only all too familiar with in 2012. But then, when the nation need to be healed from its bloody civil war a swift and definitive trial was essential. Yellow journalism was in full swing. Certainly some of the men (and possible the one woman) on trial were guilty … but what do you think? Did was Dr. Mudd innocent or guilty?
- ‘The Lincoln Assassination’ is a good history lesson (examiner.com)
- Front Page News: Questionable Lines From The Lincoln Movie (somethingawful.com)