During his initial interview with investigating detectives on April 18, 1865, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd claimed, “I never saw either of the parties before, nor can I conceive who sent them to my house.” With these words Dr. Mudd told the first in a series of lies about his involvement with John Wilkes Booth and Booth’s conspiracy to capture President Abraham Lincoln—a conspiracy that would ultimately lead to Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre.
Mudd would change his statement one day later while en route to Bryantown, in Charles County, Maryland, under a military escort for further questioning. Apparently having had second thoughts about his first statement, in which he denied ever seeing Booth, Mudd now admitted, “I have seen J. Wilkes Booth. I was introduced to him by Mr. J.C. Thompson, a son-in-law of Dr. William Queen, in November or December last.”
Mudd went on to more fully describe that meeting, telling of Booth’s alleged interest in acquiring land in Charles County and his desire to purchase a horse. In a handwritten statement, Mudd wrote, “The next evening he [Booth] rode to my house and staid [sic] with me that night, and the next morning he purchased a rather old horse. He continued, I have never seen Booth since that time to my knowledge until last Saturday night.”
In those two statements, Mudd continued his pattern of lying. He knew the statements were false and was attempting to conceal other information that would prove even more incriminating. Mudd had not only seen Booth before, but he had met with Booth on at least three occasions prior to the assassin’s appearance on his doorstep. As to who was responsible for Booth and David Herold’s visit to Mudd’s house in the early morning hours of April 15, it was Mudd himself.
History has been much kinder to Mudd than the events in the assassination should warrant. The facts that have emerged about his involvement with Booth belie the popular image of Mudd as a gentle country doctor who unexpectedly became entangled in a tragic murder through no fault of his own. The current perception of an innocent Dr. Mudd is largely due to the tireless efforts of his grandson, Dr. Richard Dyer Mudd, who has struggled for seventy years to clear his grandfather’s name and officially expunge the findings of the military tribunal that convicted him. His efforts have come close to fruition in the past two decades.
In 1991 the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records (ABCMR), a civilian review board, agreed to permit a hearing on Mudd’s conviction. The procedure limited the testimony to only those witnesses favorable to Mudd’s case. The board did not consider innocence or guilt but only whether the military commission that tried Mudd had legal jurisdiction to do so. In deciding against the military commission 126 years after it ruled, the ABCMR recommended that the secretary of the Army set aside the guilty verdict and expunge the record in Dr. Mudd’s case. The assistant secretary of the Army, acting for the secretary, twice refused the recommendation of the board, stating in part, “It is not the role of the ABCMR to attempt to settle historical disputes.”
That ruling resulted in Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer’s introducing a bill into the U.S. Congress directing the secretary of the Army to set aside the conviction of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd for aiding, abetting and assisting the conspirators who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. One of the co-sponsors of the bill was Representative Thomas Ewing of Illinois, who represented part of Lincoln’s original congressional district. (Rep. Ewing is also related to Maj. Gen. Thomas Ewing, one of Dr. Samuel Mudd’s two defense attorneys.) As an added measure, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Richard D. Mudd in December 1997 in the Federal Court for the District of Columbia (Richard D. Mudd v. Togo West) seeking to force the secretary of the Army to accept the recommendation of the ABCMR. Persistent efforts to rewrite history, however, have obscured certain facts supporting the conclusions of the military commission that first found Dr. Mudd guilty.
When Booth came to Mudd’s house in the early morning of April 15, 1865, seeking medical aid, it was the fourth time that the two men had met, and none of the four meetings had been accidental. According to historian James O. Hall in his book Come Retribution, in Mudd’s three previous meetings with Booth, Mudd had played a pivotal role in Booth’s scheme to assemble an action team to capture President Lincoln and carry him to Richmond as a prisoner of the Confederacy. Booth not only was an overnight guest at Mudd’s house during one of the three meetings but also had sent provisions to Mudd’s house for use during the planned kidnapping of the president.
Mudd’s statement that Booth spent the night at his house after their introduction in November 1864 and that he purchased a horse the next morning is not true. Those events did not occur in November as Mudd claimed, but in December. The reason Mudd would lie about such occurrences was self-preservation. He hoped to keep secret the number of times he had associated with Booth.
During Mudd’s trial, evidence was introduced by the prosecution showing that Mudd and Booth had indeed met prior to April 15, 1865. Louis Weichmann, the government’s key witness, told of an earlier meeting involving Mudd and Booth in Washington, D.C., at which Weichmann was present. Weichmann testified that while he and John Surratt, Jr., were walking along Seventh Street toward Pennsylvania Avenue, they met Booth and Mudd coming from the opposite direction. Mudd was taking Booth to meet Surratt at Mary Surratt’s boarding house when they encountered the two.
After introductions, the four men retired to Booth’s room at the National Hotel, a short distance away. Weichmann testified that during the meeting Mudd and Booth stepped into the hall and engaged in a subdued conversation that Weichmann could hear but could not discern the actual words. The two men were subsequently joined by Surratt before all three men returned to the room where Weichmann was sitting. Booth, Surratt, and Mudd sat around a table in the center of the room while Booth drew something on the back of an envelope–Weichmann said he thought it resembled a map. Whatever was discussed among the three men, one thing is certain: As a result of Mudd’s introduction of Surratt to Booth, Surratt agreed to join Booth in his plot to capture Lincoln.
Although Mudd’s defense attorney, Maj. Gen. Thomas Ewing, denied that the meeting had taken place, Mudd himself acknowledged that the meeting had taken place in an affidavit he prepared in August 1865 while in prison at Fort Jefferson, in the Florida Keys. It was in his affidavit that Mudd inadvertently let slip that yet another meeting involving Booth and himself had occurred in mid-December, immediately before the meeting in Washington.
After his conviction Mudd and co-conspirators Michael O’Laughlen, Samuel Arnold, and Edman Spangler were transported to Fort Jefferson, where the men were scheduled to serve out their prison sentences. During the trip they were placed under a military guard commanded by Captain George W. Dutton. Captain Dutton later claimed that during the journey Mudd had confessed that he knew Booth when he came to his house with Herold on the morning after the assassination of the president. The captain said that Mudd also confessed that he was with Booth at the National Hotel on the day referred to by Weichmann in his testimony; and that he came to Washington on that occasion to meet Booth by appointment who wished to be introduced to John Surratt.
Neither of those admissions were revelations to the government, which suspected the first and had proved the second. The trial was over. Mudd had been convicted and was now serving a life sentence in the isolation of Fort Jefferson. The government had lost interest in Mudd, but Mudd had not lost interest in trying to gain his release through the federal judicial system. Word of Dutton’s statement reached Mudd in prison, and Mudd knew that he had to respond to Dutton’s charges if he was ever to regain his freedom.
On August 28, 1865, Mudd prepared an affidavit in which he denied telling Dutton that he knew it was Booth who arrived at his house on April 15, only hours after Lincoln was shot. His denial was important; for if Mudd had allowed Dutton’s accusation to stand it would have meant that the doctor had indeed knowingly aided and abetted the murderer of President Lincoln. But while denying any knowledge of Booth, Mudd inadvertently admitted for the first time to the meeting at the National Hotel with Booth, Surratt, and Weichmann on December 23, 1864, thus confirming the government’s charge made during the trial.
In his affidavit protesting Dutton’s first allegation—about knowing Booth before the assassination—Mudd unwittingly let slip another damaging piece of information. In describing the Washington meeting referred to by Dutton, Mudd wrote:
We [Mudd and Booth] started down one street, and then up another, and had not gone far when we met Surratt and Wiechmann. Introductions took place and we turned back in the direction of the hotel….After arriving in the room, I took the first opportunity presented to apologize to Surratt for having introduced him to Booth–a man I knew so little concerning. This conversation took place in the passage in front of the room [hallway] and was not over three minutes in duration….Surratt and myself returned and resumed our former seats (after taking drinks ordered) around a center table, which stood midway the room and distant seven or eight feet from Booth and Wiechmann; Booth remarked that he had been down to the country a few days before, and said that he had not yet recovered from the fatigue. Afterward he said he had been down in Charles County, and had made me an offer to purchase of my land, which I confirmed by an affirmative answer; and he further remarked that on his way up [to Washington] he lost his way and rode several miles off the track.
In his revealing statement, Mudd confirmed a second visit to Charles County by Booth just prior to the December 23 meeting at the National Hotel—a trip that, by Mudd’s own admission, included a visit to his property. This was the important other meeting.
Independent evidence that Booth visited Charles County in December can be found in the trial testimony of John C. Thompson. Thompson was the man who had originally introduced Booth to Mudd in November 1864 at St. Mary’s Church, as Mudd had already acknowledged in his statement given prior to his arrest. Thompson was the son-in-law of Dr. William Queen, a prominent Confederate operative who Booth also visited during his November trip to Charles County.
During questioning by one of Mudd’s attorneys, Thompson was asked if he had seen Booth again after the meeting where he had introduced Booth to Mudd in November. Thompson answered: “I think some time, if my memory serves me, in December, he came down a second time to Dr. Queen’s house….I think it was about the middle of December following after his first visit there.”
It is clear from both Mudd’s own statement in his affidavit of August 28, 1865, and Thompson’s testimony during the trial that Booth visited the Bryantown area in Charles County a second time in mid-December 1864. And it is in his own affidavit that Mudd admits to meeting with Booth during this second visit.
While Mudd claimed that Booth stayed overnight at his house and purchased a horse from his neighbor, George Gardiner, during the November meeting, several pieces of evidence show that those incidents occurred during Booth’s December visit, not in November. The first piece of evidence is found in a letter Booth wrote to J. Dominick Burch, who lived in Bryantown and worked at the Bryantown Tavern. Written from Washington, D.C., the letter is dated Monday, November 14, 1864, the day Mudd claims he accompanied Booth to Gardiner’s farm, where Booth supposedly purchased a one-eyed horse. The letter clearly places Booth in Washington on November 14, and makes it clear that Booth traveled by stagecoach and not by horse. (Booth rode the horse back to Washington and gave him to Louis Powell (a.k.a., Payne). Powell used the horse the night of the assassination. The horse was recovered by the military in Washington the night of April 14-15 and taken to twenty-second Army Headquarters.)
In his letter, Booth refers to an object he left on the stage last Friday (November 11). Booth implies from his description that the object was a gun, which he took from my carpetbag. “Its [sic] not worth more than $15, but I will give him $20 rather than lose it, as it has saved my life two or three times.”
The second piece of evidence refuting Mudd’s statement concerning the November purchase of a horse is a memorandum prepared for use at the military trial by George Washington Bunker. Bunker was a clerk at the National Hotel, where Booth stayed when in Washington. Bunker prepared an abstract of the hotel ledger for the trial prosecutors in the form of a memorandum, in which he listed Booth’s comings and goings from the hotel during late 1864 and 1865. Bunker noted that Booth had checked out of the National Hotel on Friday, November 11, 1864, and had returned on Monday, November 14.
In December, Bunker’s memorandum shows that Booth checked out of the National Hotel on Saturday, the 17th, and did not check back in until Thursday, the 22nd, the day before he met in his hotel room with Mudd, Surratt, and Weichmann. According to historian Hall, it was during that period, December 17-22, that Booth returned to Charles County and met with Mudd. And it was at that time that Booth stayed the night at the Mudd home and purchased the horse from Mudd’s neighbor, George Gardiner.
Booth also was seen in the Bryantown area in mid-December by a third person, who was called as a government witness during the trial. John F. Hardy, who lived midway between Bryantown and the Mudd farm, testified to seeing Booth at St. Mary’s Church near Bryantown on two separate occasions, the first in November, the second about a month after but before Christmas. Hardy went on to testify: “On Monday evening, I rode to Bryantown to see if I could get my horse shod; and I met Mr. Booth…a little above Bryantown riding by himself. He was riding a horse in the road leading straight to Horse Head, or he could not come to this point, to Washington, on the same road.”
This testimony places Booth in Bryantown on Monday evening during his second visit in December. Evidence that Booth purchased the one-eyed horse from George Gardiner during this second visit is gleaned from testimony of Thomas Gardiner. He testified that Booth bought a horse from his uncle on a Monday just as Mudd had claimed, and continued, “Booth requested my Uncle to send the horse to Bryantown the next morning [Tuesday]; and I took the horse myself the next morning to Bryantown.” If Booth had purchased the horse on Monday and took delivery on Tuesday, it is clear that the purchase could not have happened in November, since Booth’s letter to Burch and Bunker’s memo both place him in Washington on Monday, November 14. Booth simply could not have been in two places at the same time.
Mudd probably lied about Booth’s overnight stay at his house in November and about purchasing a horse the next day to cover up his second Charles County meeting with Booth. Clues to the doctor’s reasons for meeting with Booth a second time can be found in an 1892 article written for the Cincinnati Enquirer by George Alfred Townsend. In 1885, Townsend, a journalist who had written extensively on the Lincoln assassination and those involved, interviewed a man named Thomas Harbin. Harbin had served during the war as a Confederate secret service agent involved in covert operations in Charles County, Maryland, including the Bryantown area, and in King George County, Virginia.
Harbin was well-acquainted with Mudd. He had once lived a few miles south of the Mudd farm and had served as postmaster at Bryantown before the war. He was well-connected throughout the area and knew virtually all the Confederate operatives working between Washington and Richmond.
According to Harbin’s statement, he went to Bryantown in December 1864 at Mudd’s request and met with him and his friend at the Bryantown Tavern on Sunday, December 18. Harbin told of being introduced to Booth by Mudd, and although Harbin described Booth as acting rather theatrical, he consented to assist Booth in his plan to capture Lincoln. Summarizing what happened during that meeting, Townsend wrote, “Harbin was a cool man who had seen many liars and rogues go to and fro in that illegal border and he set down Booth as a crazy fellow, but at the same time said that he would give his cooperation.”
Whatever Harbin may have thought of Booth, he agreed to join in the conspiracy. The enlistment of Harbin in Booth’s scheme was vitally important—as important as the enlistment of Surratt. Both were Confederate agents, highly competent, trusted and well-connected throughout the Confederate underground route between Washington and Richmond. Both men knew the intricacies of safe routes and safe houses located throughout southern Maryland.
Harbin also helped by joining with Surratt to recruit George A. Atzerodt in Booth’s conspiracy. This showed that Harbin’s involvement in the plot was not superficial but serious. His help would later prove invaluable when Booth and Herold made their escape south from Washington, D.C., after crossing the Potomac River into Virginia. Booth had Mudd to thank for the enlistment of Harbin and Surratt into his team.
Mudd’s claim of knowing Booth only incidentally was already compromised by Weichmann’s testimony. Had the authorities found out about the other meeting that took place in Bryantown in December of 1864 with Harbin, Mudd’s case would surely have been lost. Harbin was well-known to the Federal authorities as a Confederate agent, and his association with Mudd would have completely undermined Mudd’s cover of feigned innocence.
Faced with the knowledge that the authorities knew of Booth’s being in the Bryantown area and meeting with him in November 1864, Mudd compressed the two meetings into a single meeting in his testimony, hoping that the authorities would never guess that separate meetings had actually taken place. It worked. The other meeting involving Harbin completely escaped the investigators’ attention, although diligent detective work would have uncovered it from the testimony of Thompson and Hardy.
In statements given prior to his arrest, Mudd lied about virtually every piece of information the authorities were seeking in their effort to capture Booth. Lieutenant Alexander Lovett, the first interrogator, and Colonel Henry H. Wells, the second interrogator, both complained of the doctor’s evasiveness and apparent untruthfulness during their questioning of him. This behavior led Wells to place Mudd under arrest and send him to Washington under guard.
Mudd’s attempt to convince the military authorities that he had only met with Booth on one occasion belies all of the facts in his case. Mudd withheld even from his own attorneys information about the meeting at the National Hotel, where he had introduced Booth to Surratt, and the December meeting in Bryantown with Harbin. Ignorant of both meetings, Maj. Gen. Thomas Ewing, one of Mudd’s two defense attorneys, weakened his credibility with the military commission by arguing that Weichmann had lied about the hotel meeting in late December and that Mudd had only met Booth before the assassination but once on Sunday, and once the day following, in November last. The commission believed differently.
Mudd’s acquaintance with Booth was anything but incidental. His role in bringing Booth, Surratt, and Harbin together was pivotal. The fact that Dr. Queen chose to pass Booth onto Mudd during the November visit and that Harbin came across the river to meet with Booth at Mudd’s invitation suggests that Mudd was an important figure.
And there is even more to the Mudd story that tightens the noose of incrimination around the doctor’s neck. According to Eaton G. Horner, the detective who arrested Booth conspirator Samuel Arnold at Fort Monroe on Monday, April 17, Arnold had said that Booth carried a letter of introduction when he visited Mudd in November 1864. On cross-examination by Mudd’s attorney, Horner was asked if Arnold had meant to say that Booth had a letter of introduction to Mr. Queen or Dr. Mudd? Horner was explicit in his answer: “I understood him [Arnold] to say and Dr. Mudd.”
The implication that Booth carried a letter of introduction to Mudd is obvious. (The letters of introduction to Dr. Queen and Dr. Mudd was written by Patrick C. Martin, a Baltimore liquor dealer who had established a Confederate Secret Service base in Montreal in the summer of 1862. He had arranged for blockade running and was a party to the plan to free Confederate prisoners at Johnson’s Island. Booth had gone to Montreal in October 1864, where he arranged with Martin to have his theatrical wardrobe shipped to a Southern port. He also secured letters of introduction from Martin to Mudd and Queen.)
Of special significance in this testimony is the fact that Mudd was implicated as a correspondent with Booth by Arnold on April 17, the day before the military authorities first visited Mudd (Tuesday, April 18). There is no way Arnold could have heard about Mudd as a result of the military investigation. Clearly he must have heard of Mudd and the letter of introduction from Booth himself.
George Atzerodt, the man Booth assigned to murder Vice President Andrew Johnson, implicated Mudd more directly in Booth’s plot when he confessed to Marshal McPhail of Baltimore, “I am certain Mudd knew all about it, as Booth sent (as he told me) liquors & provisions for the trip with the President to Richmond, about two weeks before the murder to Dr. Mudd’s.“
Dr. Richard Stuart, another Confederate operative who lived south of the Potomac River in King George, Virginia, received Booth and Herold after Harbin saw them safely to Stuart’s house. Following his arrest, Stuart gave a statement to the authorities in which he said of Booth and Herold, “They said Dr. Mudd had recommended them to me.”
And in 1893, Thomas A. Jones published a book describing his role in first hiding the two fugitives in a pine thicket after they had left Mudd’s house and then sending them over the Potomac River to Harbin in Virginia. Booth and Herold had been turned over to Jones by Samuel Cox, Sr., another Confederate agent in Charles County. Subsequently, Samuel Cox, Jr., who was present the night Booth and Herold arrived at his step-father’s home, made several notations in his personal copy of Jones’ book. His notations about Mudd included one about Mudd’s role as a mail drop for the Confederate underground.1 He also wrote that Mudd had admitted to him in 1877 that he knew from the beginning that it was Booth who came to his door seeking aid in the early morning of April 15, 1865.33 This is the same claim that Captain Dutton had made in July 1865.
These allegations cast a dark shadow over Mudd’s claim of innocence. The story of the other meeting adds substantially to Mudd’s role as an accomplice of Booth. It opens up a whole new perspective on claims by Mudd’s defenders that he was an innocent victim of a vengeful government as it rushed to judgment.
Dr. Mudd died of pneumonia in 1883 at the age of forty-nine. George Alfred Townsend once again wrote a column about the mysterious doctor from Maryland. Among several people from Charles County he interviewed was Frederick Stone, who served as Mudd’s defense attorney along with Thomas Ewing. Stone told Townsend shortly after Dr. Mudd’s death:
The court very nearly hanged Dr. Mudd. His prevarications were painful. He had given his whole case away by not trusting even his counsel or neighbors or kinfolk. It was a terrible thing to extricate him from the toils he had woven about himself. He had denied knowing Booth when he knew him well. He was undoubtedly accessory to the abduction plot, though he may have supposed it would never come to anything. He denied knowing Booth when he came to his house when that was preposterous. He had been even intimate with Booth.
Nothing could be more damaging to Mudd’s claim of innocence than his own attorney’s condemnation. Those advocating Mudd’s innocence must explain his pattern of lying. An innocent man does not fear the truth. He neither misrepresents it nor withholds it. Dr. Mudd did both. Despite his own efforts and the efforts of his defenders to rewrite history, his name is still mud.
1 The claim that Mudd received and distributed mail for the Confederate underground is supported by a statement found in the Provost Marshal’s file dated August 31, 1863. Charges filed in 1863 by two former Mudd family slaves state in part, as some cavalry were making a search in the vicinity, Samuel Mud’s [sic] wife ran into the kitchen and threw a bundle of Rebel mail into the fire…. NARA, Record Group 109, M416, Union Provost Marshal’s File of Papers Relating to Two or More Civilians, File 6083.
This article was written by Edward Steers, Jr. and originally appeared in the Summer 1998 issue of Columbiad.
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