Samuel Mudd

In the city of Washington, D.C., there is an old theater more than one hundred years old. It is on 10th Street not too far from the White House. It is a historic shrine because of a great tragedy that occurred there in 1865. Can you name this theater? Ford’s Theater. What was the tragedy that made Ford’s Theater a national shrine? The assassination of President Lincoln.
Let’s go back to April 9, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. There was great rejoicing in the North, but the people of the South were filled with grief and shock. Five days later, President Lincoln and his wife went to Ford’s Theater to see a performance of a play called An American Cousin. At 10:15 on that fatal night, the President and Mrs. Lincoln were sitting in their box watching the action on the stage. The President’s bodyguard left the door of the box for a few minutes. John Wilkes Booth, an actor and southern sympathizer slipped into the Presidential box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head.
President Lincoln was carried across the street to a lodging house and placed on a bed. Doctors were summoned to try and save his life. They worked all night, but at 6:30 the next morning the great president was dead. When John Wilkes booth shot the President, he jumped from the box to the stage and waving his pistol over his head, he cried out: Sic semper tyrannus, a Latin phrase that can be loosely translated in English to “death to the tyrant.”
In his jump to the stage, Booth’s foot was caught by a flag and he landed heavily upon the stage. One of his legs was broken. He managed to hobble off the stage and through a rear door to where his horse was tied. Booth mounted his horse and rode out of the city of Washington across the Anacostia River into Maryland, where he planned to ride down the Maryland side of the Potomac River and then cross the Potomac by boat to Virginia where he figured he would be safe.
His leg began to swell, and as he passed through the town of Bryantown, Maryland, he remembered meeting a Dr. Samuel Mudd from Bryantown at a horse sale. He stopped at the doctor’s house in the middle of the night and told him his horse had stumbled and in the fall his leg was broken. The doctor knew nothing of the assassination, so he placed splints on the broken leg and tried to get Booth to stay a few days because it was a bad break. Booth thanked the doctor but told him he had important business in Washington and moved on.
Federal troops traced Booth and finally trapped him in an abandoned barn where he was shot. Authorities investigating the assassination came to the conclusion that a conspiracy existed, so a number of people were tried, nine in all including Dr. Mudd. Of these, four were hanged and four received prison sentences. Dr. Mudd was given a life sentence and sent to Fort Jefferson to serve his time.
Can anyone tell me where Fort Jefferson is located? It is on one of the Dry Tortugas Keys, 69 miles west of Key West. Fort Jefferson was supposed to be the Gibraltar of the Gulf of Mexico, but the engineers and laborers who worked on the huge fort for twenty years, who thought they were building on a solid foundation of coral rock, found out too late that the two foot thick walls sank in the sand. This caused the walls to crack.
No shot was ever fired from Fort Jefferson, but during the Civil War it was turned into a prison, and it was here that Samuel Mudd spent four long years. Two years after he arrived at Fort Jefferson, mosquitoes brought yellow fever and 270 prisoners and soldiers were stricken. The first man to die was the post surgeon. Dr. Mudd volunteered to help, and his medical skill was responsible for saving many lives. In fact of the 270 stricken, he was able to restore 232 to health.
The soldiers whose lives he had saved petitioned President Andrew Johnson to pardon Dr. Mudd, and after a delay of two years, this was done. Dr. Mudd returned to his home and practice. Throughout the remainder of his life, he claimed that he had no knowledge of any conspiracy and that he did not recognize Booth on the night he bound up his broken leg. Dr. Mudd said his only concern was to give medical aid to a stranger in the night. It has been generally accepted that Samuel Mudd was an innocent victim of mass hysteria. Mudd said afterwards, “How could I become a part in a conspiracy to take a life when I am committed by my profession to save life.”
The Mudd family still lives in Maryland. But it took more than a hundred years, until the 1970s, for Dr. Mudd’s name to be cleared of any guilt in the assassination of President Lincoln.

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