02-11-1909: Mrs. Samuel Mudd’s Last Interview.
Source: Baltimore News, February 11, 1909.
One woman who was made to suffer, without fault of her own, because of the assassination of President Lincoln is still living and is now in Baltimore. She is Mrs. Sarah Frances Mudd, widow of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who was sentenced by the Military Commission that tried the alleged conspirators to imprisonment for life in Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, but was pardoned by President Johnson near the close of the latter’s term of office.
Mrs. Mudd is hale, hearty and vivacious, vigorous in body and mind, and shows no indication in her well-preserved appearance of having passed through the harrowing ordeals occasioned by the arrest, trial and conviction of her husband more than forty years ago.
Mrs. Mudd claims her residence at the old Mudd homestead in Charles County, where she resided at the time her husband was arrested. She spends much or her time, however, in visiting her children and grandchildren in different sections of Maryland and in the District of Columbia. At present she is visiting her daughter, Mrs. D. Eldridge Monroe, once Miss Nettie Mudd, who recently edited and had published “The Life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd.”
In Mrs. Monroe’s home, 529 West Hoffman Street, Baltimore, may be found a number of interesting articles incidentally connected with the events immediately growing out of the assassination of President Lincoln. Among these articles are the antique davenport on which Booth was laid when his broken leg was set by Dr. Mudd; an inlaid center table, made by Dr. Mudd while he was a prisoner at Fort Jefferson; a ladies’ work box, made by him at the same place; a number of shells gathered by him while he was a prisoner and arranged in the form of wreaths of flowers, and much other of his handiwork, all highly finished and giving evidence of his patient toil in his hours of loneliness as a prisoner.
Mrs. Mudd has for many years uniformly refused to be interviewed. When requested to tell her recollections of the events connected with the arrest and conviction of her husband she hesitated about doing so, but finally consented to make a statement.
The Whole Subject Unpleasant
I have already given an account of the visit of Booth and Herold to our home early on the morning of the 15th of April, 1865, which account has been published in my daughter’s book. I will not repeat anything I therein stated. Indeed, the whole subject is unpleasant to me. I had much rather let the past rest. I had to go through so many trying circumstances and ordeals and have been so frequently and unwillingly brought before the public that I shrink from again giving an interview. I reluctantly do so only because there have been so many erroneous, indeed, absurd, statements made by irresponsible parties, which have gained currency, that I am constrained to speak in order that, if possible, the truth and only the truth should be made known.
I remember very distinctly what took place at our home on the 15th day of April, 1865. Booth and Herold came on horseback about four o’clock on the morning that date. We were aroused from our sleep. The Doctor went to the door to see who had called at that early hour, supposing that someone in the neighborhood needed his professional services.
Horses Tied in Front of House
The horses on which these two men, Booth and Herold, who gave their names as Tyler and Tyson, had ridden were tied to the horserack in front of the house. The men were then brought into the house, and the Doctor came to my room, stating that one of the men had a broken leg. I did not see either of these men until later the day, as I have stated in my daughter’s book. There was no one in our home that night except the Doctor, myself, the children and the children’s nurse, a white girl named Nancy Tilly. The children and the nurse were not awakened by the arrival of these visitors.
Frank Washington, a slave belonging to my husband, was the first person to come to the house after the arrival of the strangers. He (Frank Washington) lived in a tenant house not far from our residence. He is still living. He came on that morning at his usual hour, about daybreak, to attend to his duties as hostler. He took the horses of the strangers, led them to the stable and fed them. Washington’s wife (Betty), our cook, arrived with her husband. She is now dead. No other person came to our house that morning until the arrival of our old gardener, John Best, an Englishman, who came from his cottage on our farm at his usual hour, about seven o’clock. The Doctor alone received Tyler and Tyson, who afterward proved to be Booth and Herold; there was no one else present. As I have heretofore stated, neither the Doctor nor myself knew who these visitors were until long after they had gone. In fact, it was several days afterward before we really knew.
Very Dark Days
Those were dark, very dark, days when my husband was taken from me, tortured through the semblance of a trial and convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment at Dry Tortugas. Darker still were the days oftentimes while he endured the miseries of that desolate place. It will interest nobody, perhaps, to tell how hard was the struggle I had to make against the most adverse conditions. Yet through all I tried to keep a brave heart, support our children and encourage my husband to hope for his early deliverance from an unjust imprisonment.
I fear I could not have borne up under my trials had there not been the kind friends who gave me sympathy and encouragement that in the darkest moments awakened a more hopeful outlook toward the future. I could not in a limited space name all these friends. A few of them, however, who stand out conspicuously for the noble, Christian friendship they extended me, I cannot well omit to mention.
General Ewing a Good Friend
Foremost among them was General Thomas Ewing (I know he is in Heaven), who defended my husband before the Military Commission, and who was a brave Union soldier. Through all our long period of trial and distress General Ewing was not only my husband’s counsel, but his and my sincere friend. I paid him all the fee asked, not an inconsiderable one, yet I truly believe that the least he thought of in his heroic and masterly defense of my husband was the matter of fee for his services. In all the dark days of the trial before the Commission, he tried to cheer my husband and myself with the hope of a successful issue, and he was tireless in his efforts to realize that hope. After the conviction and sentence he was indefatigable in his efforts to secure my husband’s release, and wrote me many cheering and hopeful letters.
Another friend, scarcely second to General Ewing, was the late Richard T. Merrick, the eminent lawyer of Washington. Because of Mr. Merrick’s well-known sympathy with the South, he was not brought into active participation in the trial before the Commission; but he was consulting counsel and daily conferred with General Ewing in reference to the defense of my husband.
Made Good Defense
I have always believed that so great was the bitterness and excitement at the time, and so intense the desire for victims to avenge the president’s death, if it had not been for the unusual but masterly course pursued by General Ewing, aided by Mr. Merrick, my husband, innocent as he was, might have suffered the unfortunate fate of Mrs. Surratt. General Ewing, as is shown in my daughter’s book, in his argument against the jurisdiction of the Military Commission to try the accused, had warned the members of the Commission that the time would come when their acts would be judged impartially by posterity, and that it might then be determined that their jurisdiction was an assumption, and any sentence they might impose, only their own unauthorized acts.
General Ewing and Mr. Merrick came to the conclusion that unless the whole of the defense of my husband, including the argument to the jurisdiction and the argument on the testimony, as well as the testimony itself, was preserved in some permanent form and presented to the members of the Commission, that tribunal would likely exercise an unbridled license to condemn and inflict the greatest penalty, without regard to the law or the facts.
Had Record Printed
On the suggestion therefore of Messers. Ewing and Merrick I paid $2,000 to have hurriedly printed and bound 700 volumes, containing the arguments of General Ewing and all the evidence offered in the case against my husband. This work was finished early on the day before the Commission was to announce its decision. On the morning of this day General Ewing walked into the courtroom with his arms filled with a number of these volumes and handed one to each member of the Commission and one to the each party, Judge Advocate General Holt and others, who had been officially connected with the trial.
I was not present on this occasion, but have been told that the incident was dramatic in the extreme. Neither the members of the Commission nor Judge Holt had anticipated it, and received the volumes almost with consternation. They realized that the record had been preserved as to this case in a compact form and by this record future generations would probably judge their acts.
Judge Stone Assisted
Another gentleman to whom I was indebted in my trouble, and whom I shall always remember with gratitude, was the late Frederick Stone of Charles County, afterward a judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland. He was not employed in the defense of my husband, but took great interest in his case, both before and after his conviction, and gave all the aid in his power. I am indebted to a great many other people for kindness and sympathy, but cannot now name them all.
I passed through many trying, sometimes exciting, experiences, and met with many people whose names are now well known to history. I saw Judge Holt, in the interest of my husband, four or five times. I do not wish to speak harshly of the dead, and shall dismiss Judge Holt by saying of him only that he impressed me as a harsh, unfeeling, insincere specimen of humanity. This, I am sorry to say, is the highest tribute I can pay him. I saw Secretary Stanton only twice in behalf for my husband. My reception by him was, on his part, so cold, unfeeling and, indeed, brutal, that I looked at him in both instances with as much of hauteur as I could command, and deliberately left his presence without any formal leave taking.
Called on President Johnson
I called on President Johnson the great many times. He always treated me courteously, but impressed me always as one shrinking from some impending disaster. He conveyed to me always the idea that he wanted to release my husband, but said more than once “the pressure on me is too great.” On one occasion I took a petition to him asking their release of my husband; he told me that if Holt would sign it he would grant the petition. This Judge Holt refused.
Many persons have given statements in regard to the setting of Booth’s leg by my husband, few, indeed, none that I have seen, being correct. I read recently of an interview with a person who claims to have held Booth’s horse on the morning my husband set Booth’s leg. I am sure this party never saw Booth at all, and never saw my husband until after his return from the Dry Tortugas. For myself, I with wish nothing more in relation to these matters than to commit them to the impartial historian of the future. I never again will be interviewed on the subject.