The week leading up to Easter in the Spring of 1865 marked a pivotal time in American history. Confederate General, Robert E. Lee’s hope for a victorious South was dashed with the defeat at Sailor’s Creek on April 6. This, in part, led to Lee’s sorrowful surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant three days later at Appomattox Court House in rural Virginia. Though other battles persisted for a few more months, this act effectively ended the American Civil War.
When news of the surrender reached Washington a day later, a lively crowd gathered outside the White House. An atmosphere of celebration and concern filled the air. Not every onlooker agreed with President Abraham Lincoln’s tactics to keep the Union together at all costs.
Yet, what was done was done and on the evening of April 11, Lincoln addressed the inquiring crowd. He spoke of the country’s reunification and reconstruction in the South. He also changed his position on black suffrage, being against it some years earlier, by announcing his support for it moving forward.
This surprised and incensed some in the crowd, including wildly popular actor, John Wilkes Booth, a Southern sympathizer. Booth, who was the George Clooney of his period, declared this speech to be Lincoln’s last speech and he made good on his word a few days later.
On April 14, while the President, Mrs. Lincoln, and two other guests were watching the play, “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater, Booth made his way into the presidential box around 10PM and with a .41 caliber Deringer, fatally shot Lincoln in the back of the head.
In a dramatic exit, Booth jumped over the balcony onto the stage yelling, “Sic semper tyrannis” (So perish all tyrants) and injured his leg when his boot spur caught on a flag, eventually breaking it during his escape.
Had Booth not have broken his leg, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd’s name most likely would have remained anonymous to history. Fortunately or unfortunately, that was not the case and Booth and his conspirator, David Herold, sought Dr. Mudd to treat Booth’s leg in the early morning hours of April 15. After setting Booth’s leg, Dr. Mudd permitted the men to rest in an upstairs bedroom, unaware of what transpired at Ford’s Theater the evening before.
Later that day, Mudd went into town to run errands and it was in town that he most certainly learned of Lincoln’s assassination. However, the details of what occurred next are vague. Suffice it to say, Mudd returned home and his two house guests departed to an inevitable end.
Suspicions were raised when Dr. Mudd failed to immediately alert authorities, giving Booth and Herold about a 24-hour head start. Changing stories and not acknowledging a previous encounter with Booth a year before sealed Dr. Mudd’s fate and he was convicted of conspiring to assassinate Lincoln.
He was sentenced to life in prison at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas on June 29. He spent about four years there before being pardoned by President Andrew Johnson for exemplary conduct during a yellow fever epidemic in the prison.
Dr. Mudd always maintained his innocence. He came home, tended to his farm, resumed his medical practice, dabbled in politics, and had five more children before dying of pneumonia in 1883 at the age of 49.
The pictures that follow are of the Dr. Mudd House Museum and its surroundings, most of which are still as they were back in 1865.