Dr. Samuel Mudd–Co-Conspirator or Innocent Doctor?
In my last installment on this site, I discussed Mary Surratt and her relationship to John Wilkes Booth. As a side note, I mentioned that Samuel Mudd knew Mr. Booth at least one year prior to his assassination of Lincoln. This runs counter to the common belief that Dr. Mudd was an innocent doctor who set Booth’s broken leg after he leapt to the stage from the box where he’d shot Mr. Lincoln. So, please allow me to sort through the facts.
Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd was a fairly educated man for his time. He attended public school and had a governess for a time who tutored him. When he was 14, he enrolled in St. John’s College in Frederick, MD before moving on to Georgetown College and the University of Maryland in Baltimore, where he graduated in 1856.
He returned home to Charles County, MD after graduation, married and had four children. He became a member of the Confederate Underground during the Civil War and was an outspoken opponent of Lincoln. On November 13, 1864, Mudd met John Wilkes Booth for the first time. Several other meetings ensued, both in Maryland and in DC. Booth wanted Mudd to introduce him to another Confederate sympathizer, John Surratt, a feat that was accomplished in DC.
When Booth killed Lincoln and jumped to the stage, he broke his leg. Booth and an accomplice, David Herold, made their way to Dr. Mudd’s home in Maryland. In addition to his prior knowledge of Booth, Mudd was accused of setting Booth’s leg, giving Mr. Booth and his accomplice food, shelter and fresh mounts. He was arrested three days after the assassination, despite his claim he had no prior knowledge of Mr. Booth. Charged with conspiracy and harboring, along with the others charged with the crime, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, missing being hung with the other conspirators by one vote. During his trial, Mudd argued that he was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, and following his Hippocratic Oath by setting Booth’s leg, and that he had no prior knowledge of Booth or Surratt.
Mudd was imprisoned at Ft. Jefferson, in Florida. In 1867, yellow fever swept through the prison. After the fort’s doctor died, Dr. Mudd took over. Because of his role in keeping the deaths at a minimum, he was granted a full pardon in 1869. The remainder of his life was spent quietly on his farm. He died in 1883.
So was he a co-conspirator in the Lincoln assassination or not? Whatever way you come down on this page from history, Dr. Mudd’s actions at Ft. Jefferson and the many lives that were saved under his care have to count on the plus side.