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Did They Really Do It?
From Lizzie Borden to the 20th Hijacker
By Fred Rosen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2006 Fred Rosen
All rights reserved.
Hero or Villain? PART I
1865–1868 Dr. Samuel Mudd
A heavily armed patrol of Union soldiers filled the front yard of the rural Maryland farm. Inside the farmhouse, Colonel H. H. Wells, an investigator for the Judge Advocate General's Office, interrogated one of the suspects in the conspiracy to kill President Abraham Lincoln.
"Have two strangers been here recently?" Colonel Wells asked Dr. Samuel Mudd. Before answering, Mudd became "very much excited, and got pale as a sheet of paper and blue about his lips, like a man frightened at something he had done," Wells later recalled.
"It was about 4 o'clock on Saturday morning, the 15th of April, when I was aroused by a loud knock at my door," Dr. Mudd began.
Going to the window, he pulled back the curtain. There at the door was a young man holding the reins of two horses. On one of them, a second man sat, slumped over in pain. Mudd opened the door. The man who held the horses was talkative and wore a dusty, cutoff jacket and a huge ribbon of a bow tie.
"My companion has broken his leg, and desires medical assistance," the young man said.
Mudd helped bring the injured man into his house and laid him on a sofa in the front parlor.
"I fell from a horse," volunteered the injured man, apparently in response to Mudd's unarticulated question. "Did either man identify himself?" Wells asked.
Mudd shook his head. The injured man lay there awhile on Mudd's couch, catching his breath, until his companion and Dr. Mudd carried him upstairs into the front bedroom and set him on the bed. Carefully, Mudd removed the dusty black boot and gave it to his wife for safekeeping. Examining the injured leg, he saw that the front bone of the foot was broken at right angles about two inches above the instep.
"It was a light break that could have been worse," Mudd told his interrogator. That made no sense to Wells. It seemed odd that a broken bone in the foot would stick out at right angles if it was just a light break. Dr. Mudd proceeded to dress the limb, "as best as I was able to do with the limited facilities I had available."
That also seemed odd to Wells. Mudd had a thriving and well-stocked medical practice. He was used to calls for help at all hours of the day and night.
"I called in a white servant to make a pair of crutches," Mudd continued.
He would not trust the job to one of his newly freed black slaves who still worked his farm. While Lincoln's Emacipation Proclamation had been issued in 1863, it did not apply to Maryland. It wasn't until the following year that Maryland passed a new constitution outlawing slavery.
With the white servant beginning to make the crutches, all retired for the night. The next morning at breakfast, the young man, who had still not given his name, ate with a hearty appetite. Not so the patient. The sleep had apparently done him no good. He wore a muffler constantly over his face. Mudd didn't get a look at his features, or so he claimed.
As breakfast ended, the young man made some remark about procuring a carriage for his friend. A short time later, he came down and asked for a razor. He said his friend wished to shave himself. When Mudd went up later to check on his patient, he saw that the wounded man had indeed shaved off his moustache. He still kept a shawl about his neck, for the purpose of concealing the lower part of his face.
There's something odd about these men, Mudd thought.
Later that morning, they tried to get a carriage at Mudd's father's home nearby. On the way there, they ran into Mudd's brother, who told them that the carriage wasn't available. The young man decided to go back to Mudd's house and see how his friend was doing. Mudd took the opportunity to go into Bryantown to see some friends and patients.
Mudd was certain that it was only when he went to town that he heard of the murder of President Lincoln in Washington city the day before. Mudd claimed that all he heard was that along with an accomplice, the unidentified assassin had fled across the Potomac into Maryland and vanished into the night. It had taken many hours for the news to come down the line from Washington. Bryantown, like the rest of the country, was in a state of shock.
"No one mentioned the name of the assassin?" Wells asked,
"No," Mudd answered firmly.
Returning home in late afternoon, the young man confronted Mudd and asked for directions to Dr. John Wilmer's who lived nearby. He claimed to be acquainted with the doctor. Mudd told him to take the main road.
"Is there not a nearer way?"
Mudd replied that there was a road across the swamp. That's when the young man helped his limping companion onto their horses. They spurred their mounts into the swamp, off toward Dr. Wilmer's house.
"That is all I know about them," Dr. Mudd finished.
"Did you recognize the wounded man?" Wells asked, his voice rising slightly.
"I did not," Mudd answered not too convincingly.
Knowing Mudd to be a former "slaver," who openly supported the Confederacy during the late war, Wells figured him for a liar. From a folder, Wells took out a daguerreotype. He carefully placed the photograph on the table in front of Mudd.
"Was this the man who came to your door, John Wilkes Booth?"
Mudd began to fidget. Wells noticed he was having trouble maintaining eye contact.
"I do not recognize him from that photograph. I had been introduced to Booth at church, some time in November last, as wanting to buy farming lands," he added. "We had some little conversation on the subject. Booth then asked, 'Are there any desirable horses that could be bought in the neighborhood cheaply?' I mentioned a neighbor of mine who had some horses that were good drivers."
"What happened then?" Wells asked.
"Booth remained with me that night, and next morning purchased one of those horses."
"Do you now recognize the person you treated that night as the same person you had been introduced to — Booth?"
"Yes," Mudd admitted, his memory suddenly coming back to him, "But I never saw Booth from the time he was introduced to me in church until that Saturday morning he came to my door. The young man I never saw before."
Wells told him that the "young man's" real name was David Herold. Mudd didn't flinch.
"He was Booth's accomplice."
Mudd claimed to have never heard the name.
"Dr. Mudd, you know by now that Booth shot the president. I believe you are concealing the facts of the case, which would be considered the strongest evidence of your guilt, and might endanger your safety."
If ever an investigator had told a suspect to come clean before it was too late, it was Wells. If Mudd was charged, he would be tried before a military tribunal. President Johnson had made certain of that. Days after Lincoln's assassination, Johnson signed an executive order establishing a special military tribunal to prosecute the men charged in the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln. The country was angry. Whoever killed Lincoln deserved swift retribution.
Mudd's wife came into the room. "The penalty for conviction will be death," Wells explained calmly, his demeanor lending the words their power.
Responding to Wells's very real threat, the wife raced upstairs and promptly returned with a boot. It was the same one Mudd had taken off the injured man that night. Wells looked inside.
A tag bearing the initials "JWB" had been sewn in just below the lip.
Up until the night of April 14, 1865, no president had ever been assassinated, although in 1832 an assassin had tried to shoot President Andrew Jackson on the steps of the Capital — twice. Both times, his pistols misfired. All he got for his efforts was a caning from Jackson and confinement to an insane asylum. Booth, however, was a new breed of American: the presidential assassin who knew how to put together a conspiracy.
John Wilkes Booth was an intelligent, educated criminal. Born into a prominent theatrical family, his father Junius had been the most popular and respected actor in America. John Wilkes, handsome, dashing, debonair, had inherited the mantle. By the time he snuck into the back of President Lincoln's box at Ford's Theatre with a .40 caliber derringer in his pocket, Booth was the most famous actor in America — his face known far and wide. He was paid the ungodly sum of $20,000 a year to act, well over a million dollars by today's standards.
John Wilkes Booth had grown up in Maryland, a border state; his family supported slavery. By the time he was an adult, he hated "niggers" so much, he made sure to be in attendance when John Brown was hanged in 1859 for fomenting insurrection among Virginia's slaves. During the Civil War, he became a member of the Confederate underground of border-state sympathizers who conducted Confederate dispatches up and down the east coast, and to Europe when necessary.
To Booth, as to most Southerners, the Union was something abhorrent, to be destroyed. Lincoln was its symbol. In March 1865, when Lincoln was inaugurated at the White House for the second time, Booth was seated behind him, as the guest of an abolitionist senator's daughter, who had procured him a ticket to the event.
"What an excellent chance I had to kill the President, if I had wished, on inauguration day!" Booth would later complain to a friend.
Booth then used his talent and charisma to attract a group of what today would be termed terrorists, men whose goal it was to disrupt and, if possible, take down the federal government. The core of the conspiracy were Michael O'Laughlen, Samuel Arnold, Lewis Powell, aka "Lewis Paine," John Surratt, David Herold, and George Atzerodt.
A secret dispatch rider for the Confederates, Surratt had introduced Booth to the others. Later identified by the military commission that would try them as "the Lincoln Conspirators," these men discussed their plans at an inn in Surrattsville, Maryland, owned by Mary Surratt, John's mother. On March 15, 1865, Booth decided to meet instead at Gautier's Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, about three blocks from Ford's Theatre.
The Lincoln Conspirators gathered around a table in the restaurant's dark interiror. The discussion centered on kidnapping Lincoln and holding him for a ransom of Confederate prisoners of war. Booth needed the right moment to put the plot into play. But after a kidnapping attempt failed because of a presidential schedule switch, John Surratt lost his nerve and fled to Canada. Samuel Arnold would eventually do the same.
Quoted in the Baltimore American in 1902, Arnold said that Booth "became a monomaniac on the success of the Confederate arms, a condition that generally follows when a man's thoughts are constantly centered upon one subject alone."
As would be expected of the commander-in-chief of a nation at war, Lincoln's schedule was constantly shifting. Booth finally abandoned the kidnapping plot. When Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, most people thought the war was over. Not Booth, not by a short shot.
Two days later, on April 11, the president delivered a speech at the White House. The crowd included a large group of former slaves. Also in the crowd were John Wilkes Booth and an acquaintance, Louis Weichmann. The president suggested giving voting rights to "the very intelligent [blacks], and on those who serve our cause as soldiers."
Booth couldn't believe it: niggers voting?! Booth was a Southerner through and through. He grew up in Maryland with slaves doing the family's drudgery. And now Lincoln was making them equal? He turned to Weichmann and said it would be "the last speech" the president ever gave.
That speech pushed Booth over the edge. Forget kidnapping; the plot he now conceived was much, much worse. It was so brilliant that in one night, he intended to destroy the United States of America.
Booth had read the Constitution. In the presidential line of succession, the vice president came after the president, then the president pro tempore of the Senate, and finally, secretary of state. By eliminating Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward, the only one left to assume power was the president pro tempore of the Senate, Lafayette LaSabine.
Seward and Johnson were men of real courage. Booth knew they could be relied on to follow Lincoln's policies. LaSabine was a hack Whig politician. If any greatness lurked in his character, it was pretty far back. Restoring a crippled nation to health required vision and courage. With LaSabine as president, the Union would fall.
Lincoln eschewed most of the trappings of his office. During his presidency, he could regularly be seen about Washington without bodyguards. His vow that it was Lincoln's last speech could be made true if he acted expedititously. As Booth planned it out, Louis Paine would kill Secretary of State Seward. Herold would function as his backup, holding the horse for the getaway. Atzerodt would assassinate Johnson and Booth, and, of course, the president. Booth had already worked out his escape route through northern Maryland. He knew he could stop at places along the way that were operated by members of the Confederate underground.
Booth, however, proved a better actor than criminal mastermind. He was the only one to succeed at his task that night. In Paine's case, it was not for lack of trying. Seward was wearing a leather brace around his neck from a recent riding accident. Otherwise, Paine's Bowie knife would have cut into his throat, instead of glancing off the tough leather. Paine had to settle for mutilating Seward's face instead.
Like John Wilkes Booth, Samuel Mudd was a Maryland native. Born December 20, 1833, on a large, slave-driven plantation in Charles County, the son of Henry Lowe Mudd and his wife, Sarah Ann Reeves. Sam had an idyllic childhood, replete with fishing and hunting trips with Dad. Educated by private tutors, in 1847 he began St. John's College in Frederick, Maryland at the age of 14. Two years later, he transferred to Georgetown College in Washington, D.C.
In 1854, the 21-year-old Mudd went to the University of Maryland in Baltimore to study medicine and surgery. Graduating in two years, in 1856 Mudd went home to start a practice. "Home" was the plantation he grew up on, home to the Mudd family and their 89 slaves. In contemporary American money, those slaves would be valued at well over $1,000,000. Losing them to emancipation would be a devastating blow. Multiply the Mudds by all the plantation and slave owners throughout the South, and it becomes clear why the Union needed four long and bloody years before winning. As war loomed, and with economics favoring slavery, the Mudd family held unwaveringly to their proslavery position. Dr. Mudd regularly beat his slaves and even disciplined one by shooting him in the leg.
On November 26, 1857, Dr. Mudd had married his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Frances Dyer. Andrew, their first child, was born in November 1858. By 1859, the Mudds had a farm of their own, located about five miles north of Bryantown, Maryland, and thirty miles south of Washington, D.C. In 1860, the Mudds' second child, Lillian Augusta, was born. Two more sons were born in 1862 and 1864.
By the end of the war, the children totaled four, and they were as dear to Dr. Mudd as to any father in any age. And yet, Dr. Mudd did not hesitate to open the door to two strangers, one wounded on horseback, never once suspecting in any way that they could be a threat to his family. Unless ... He knew who they were?
The Judge Advocate General was wondering the same thing. He also had access to an extensive group of investigators. He used those now. They ferreted out the first conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln and the second to murder him. As for Dr. Mudd's role, they let the indictment speak for itself:
And in further prosecution of said conspiracy [to assassinate the president], the said Samuel A. Mudd did, at Washington City, and within the military department and military lines aforesaid, on or before the 6th day of March, A.D. 1865, and on divers other days and times between that day and the 20th day of April, A.D. 1865, advise, encourage, receive, entertain, harbor, and conceal, aid and assist the said John Wilkes Booth, David E. Herold, Lewis Payne, John H. Surratt, Michael O'Laughlin, George A. Atzerodt, Mary E. Surratt, and Samuel Arnold, and their confederates, with knowledge of the murderous and traitorous conspiracy aforesaid, and with the intent to aid, abet, and assist them in the execution thereof, and in escaping from justice after the murder of the said Abraham Lincoln, in pursuance of said conspiracy in manner aforesaid.
By order of the President of the United States.
J. HOLT, Judge Advocate General.
The accused conspirators were placed on one of the Navy's ironclads. Under orders from Secretary of War Stanton, their heads were hidden under canvas hoods. Mudd, a true son of the South, found himself hooded ignominously and held prisoner aboard the ironclad Montauk.
Excerpted from Did They Really Do It? by Fred Rosen. Copyright © 2006 Fred Rosen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Hero or villain? Part 1 1865–1869 — Dr. Samuel Mudd,
2 Forty Whacks Of Trouble 1892 — Lizzie Borden,
3 Who Killed Mary Phagan? 1914–1916 — Leo Frank,
4 Was Bruno Framed? 1934 — Bruno Richard Hauptmann,
5 A Bullet for Pretty Boy 1934 — Charles Arthur Floyd, aka Pretty Boy",
6 The Atomic Spies 1954 — Ethel and Julius Rosenberg,
7 The Murdered Civil Rights Workers, Part 1 1964 — Victor ray Killen,
8 The Boston Strangler 1962–1966 — Albert Desalvo,
9 The Twentieth Hijacker 9/11/01 — Zacarias Moussaoui, aka "The Twentieth Hijacker",
10 Hero or Villain? Part 2 1868–2002 — Dr. Samuel Mudd 1865–2005,
11 The Murdered Civil Rights Workers, Part 2 2005 — Edgar Ray Killen,
Appendix I — Thomas Ewing, Jr., Argument on the Law and Evidence in the Case Of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd,
Appendix II — James Speed, Opinion on the Constitutional Power of the Military to Try and Execute The Assassins of the President,
About the Author,