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Dr. Samuel Mudd-   His name was mud

Dr. Samuel Mudd
Dr. Samuel Mudd

Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd was a doctor and Confederate sympathizer in southern Maryland.  He was married with children and lived a comfortable life near Bryantown, Maryland, outside of Washington DC.  

Dr. Mudd first met John Wilkes Booth in 1864 while he was part of the Confederate underground.  There is evidence at least two meetings, once at St. Mary’s Church near Bryantown, Maryland and at the Bryantown Tavern.  Booth wanted Dr. Mudd to introduce him to Confederate courier, John Surratt, which he did.  The two men remained in sporadic contact.  Later witnesses told authorities John Surratt and the other conspirators visited Dr. Mudd at his farm numerous times in the months before the murder.

At about four o’clock in the morning on April 15, 1865, Booth and David Herold arrived at the Mudd farm near Bryantown.  Booth was in severe pain with a badly broken leg, and Mudd took  Booth to his sofa and later up to his bed so he could treat Booth’s injured leg.  Dr. Mudd cut the boot from Booth’s foot and splinted it, and arranged for a carpenter to make crutches.  Booth paid Mudd $25 for his aid.  The two stayed at the Mudd farm until later that a day,then Dr. Mudd went into town to run errands.   Here is where the story gets muddy, if you forgive the pun.

While in town, Dr. Mudd claimed he first heard about the assassination of President Lincoln by Booth.  Realizing the murderers were in his house, Dr. Mudd rushed home without alerting authorities, claiming he was afraid the assassins would return to the house and finding him gone harm his wife and children.  There is some speculation as to whether Booth and Herold were already gone when he returned home from town or if he urged them to leave after hearing what they had done.  In any case, Dr. Mudd did not contact anyone about Booth and Herold until at Easter Mass the next day, when he requested his cousin Dr. George Mudd to notify the 13th New York Cavalry.  To Lieutenant David Dana, who commanded the 13th New York, this was extremely fishy.  They searched Mudd’s home and found the boot cut off of Booth, which had “J Wilkes” written in it.  Dr. Mudd claimed he did not know Booth when he arrived at his home, which contradicts the testimony of other witnesses who saw them together in Washington.  Caught in a lie, Dr. Mudd admitted the Washington meeting saying he “ran into” booth by chance.  No one was buying it.

After Booth’s death on April 25, 1865, Dr. Samuel Mudd was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder Abraham Lincoln.  Prosecutors had a field day with comments Mudd was alleged to have said about the federal government and President Lincoln himself.  A neighbor testified he heard Mudd say “the President, Cabinet, and other Union men” would “be killed in six or seven weeks.”  The defence countered that the neighbor was lying to get the $10,000 reward for convicting Mudd, but it raised serious doubts.  Former slaves testified they heard a conversation between Mudd and a friend that discussed how the president should be dead.  There was also discussion of how supplies were sent to the Mudd farm by the conspirators.  It has been suggested that Mudd was aware of Booth’s original plan to kidnap Lincoln, but did not know it had changed to murder.

Whatever the real story, Mudd was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  His life was spared by one vote.  He was sent to federal prison in the Dry Tortugas, Florida.  His military escort, George Dutton, later testified Mudd confessed “he knew Booth when he came to the house with Herold”, and that he lied “to protect himself and his family.”  He also admitted to meeting with Booth in Washington by appointment and several times afterward.  This was not new, but only confirmed what the prosecutors suspected.  Mudd prepared an affidavit protesting Dutton’s statement was a lie and he had told him nothing.

Dr. Mudd was allowed to stay in mail contact with his wife, who lobbied President Andrew Johnson for his release.  There was an escape attempt in 1865, which Mudd had been a part of and failed.  He had been clever about it, knowing his mail was monitored he denounced the idea of escape in a letter to his wife.  However, he tried to escape on a supply ship but was caught.  Mudd described his punishments for attempted escape,  “For attempting to make my escape, I was put in the guard-house, with chains on hands and feet, and closely confined for two days. An order then came from the Major for me to be put to hard labor, wheeling sand. I was placed under a boss, who put me to cleaning old bricks. I worked hard all day, and came very near finishing one brick. The order also directs the Provost Marshal to have me closely confined on the arrival of every steamer and until she departs.”  He never tried to escape again.

In the summer of 1867, yellow fever broke out on the island and the prison doctor died.  Dr. Mudd took over his place and treated many of the patients and eventually became sick himself although he recovered.  The non-commissioned officers and soldiers he saved in the epidemic signed a petition for his release, and Dr. Mudd was pardoned in 1869.  He returned home to Maryland and resumed his practice.  Dr. Samuel Mudd died on January 10, 1883 of pneumonia at the age of 49.


Sources available on request