Chapter IX: PRISON LIFE IN 1866 - NEW YEAR’S DAY AT FORT JEFFERSON.
[Note: "Frank" is Mrs. Mudd's family nickname, from her middle name Frances.]
[Note: "Frank" is Mrs. Mudd's family nickname, from her middle name Frances.]
Fort Jefferson, Florida, January 1, 1866.
My darling Frank:
To-day being New Year, I have no better means at my command of spending the time appropriately than dropping you a few hasty lines to afford you all the consolation that lies in my power. On the morning of the 28th, Bishop Verot, of Savannah, and the Rev. Father O’Hara arrived here about 6 o’clock. Soon word came that they desired to see me; my chains being taken off, I dressed in my best, and was soon ushered into their presence with my usual guard of honor. I found them preparing to say mass, and had the happy fortune of being present during the divine service.
After service I had a short conversation with Bishop Verot and Rev. Wm. O’Hara. I received the contents of the letter formerly addressed to Father O’Hara by Sister Joseph - a cross, a scapular, etc. In the evening I had the pleasure of listening to a very learned and practical lecture from the Bishop. After the discourse, I repaired to my quarters, took my usual supper, said my beads, and enjoyed for a time a promenade up and down my gloomy quarters, when a rap at the door was heard, and my name called. On going to the door, I found our most pious and venerable Bishop had called to bid me good-by; he intended leaving in the morning. I had given the subject of confession my attentive thought during the day, and remarked to the Bishop that I regretted I was not allowed the privilege of confession that evening; he said then, if I desired, he had the permission already accepted, and I had the satisfaction and happiness to confess to the Bishop. The next morning I went to communion. Mass was said by the Bishop, Father O’Hara serving as before. After mass I bade the good and pious old man good-by, and received his blessing. I have not language at my command, my darling, to express the joy and delight I received on the occasion of this unexpected visit. Father O’Hara will remain a week, and I am in hopes I will have the happiness of again communing before he departs; I have made application. I heard mass yesterday. There are many Catholics among the citizen laborers, and we have quite a large congregation, nearly all going to communion. I have now, my darling wife, but one affliction, viz: uneasiness of mind regarding you and our precious little children. Imprisonment, chains and all other accompaniments of prison life, I am used to. I believe I can stand anything, but the thought of your dependent position, the ills and privations consequent, pierce my heart as a dagger, and allow me no enjoyment and repose of mind. I have apprehensions from the idle, roving, and lawless negroes that roam unrestricted through the country. Be careful, my darling, and be ever guarded.
The papers I notice are filled with horrible, most infamous and degraded crimes perpetrated by these outlaws. When you write, inform me what disposition is made of the farm, horses, cows, sheep, etc., and whether any portion of land has been reserved for yourself to cultivate. Will Old John remain with you, or Albin? Consult, my dearest, with Pa and Jere, and try to remain comfortable and free from a dependent position. Give me all particulars that you deem worthy, and that can be written with propriety, for letters are inspected before handed to us. Disappointment produces more pain than the pleasure of hope or release, so my darling when you write again, say nothing illusive, and advise Henry and Fannie to refrain from alluding to what is not certain or reliable. It is all supposition, and I can suppose as well as they. The Court who sent me here, I know well never contemplated the carrying out of the unheard-of sentence, considering the slight foundation for even the suspicion of crime, so, my darling, I do not stand in need of any of these vagaries. Life and everything in this world is uncertain and changeable, and we little know what other trials and crosses Providence may have yet in store for us. I have endeavored to the best of my ability to conform to all the duties required by our holy religion; my conscience is easy, and if death should visit me here (which I pray God to deliver me from), I am in hopes it will not find me unprepared. Live strictly agreeable to the dictates of your conscience and religion, and the trials we have endured may yet rebound to our earthly advantages; if not, I am in hopes we will meet in heaven. I forgot to mention previously I had also the privilege of making the jubilee. The month of December was appointed by the Bishop for the province. Tell Henry and Fannie I will answer their letters by next mail. I fear a copy of a former letter of Fannie’s has been sent to the War Department, at least a copy was made of it. The Provost Marshal so informed me. I know not whether it was sent to the War Department. I fear imprudent talk and writing will yet dispose the mind of the President not to listen to your appeals in my behalf. Be careful, my darling child, and refrain as much as possible from expressing any angry indignation toward the ruling powers, or using opprobrious epithets toward my known prosecutors. Such conduct can have only the tendency to protract my stay here by keeping up agitation and excitement, if nothing else. Parties can have but little regard for my welfare, who are ever indulging in idle and injurious expressions. I feel that I should be perfectly satisfied to remain the balance of my days only in your and my little ones’ company. My constant prayer is - God be merciful to us and grant me a speedy release, and a safe return to my family. Write often, don’t await answer, for months would intervene between the reception of letters.
How much I regretted to learn of the sad accident that occurred to your old home. My heart is often softened by the memory of our happiest days. It was within its hallowed walls that we first indulged in the hope of a blissful future, but alas! to what gloom have we arrived.
Good-by, my darling wife and little children.
Yours devotedly, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, January 2, 1866.
My dear Fannie:
The last letter I had the pleasure of receiving from you was dated the 6th of November - the previous letter was withheld on account of its objectionable contents. The offensive matter was read to me, though none of the family news.
I knew, my dear Fannie, you intended no insult to any of the just and proper constituted authorities of the Government in your remarks, but the unworthy servants who scruple not to misconstrue and falsify - having for their chief motives the hope of honor, and the selfish lust and thirst for gain. It would be best for the future, Fannie, since words are of no avail, to abstain from all criticisms - give me only the family and neighborhood news.
There has been no amelioration in our treatment since I last wrote, with the exception that our fare has much improved. Our Commandant is named B. H. Hill, formerly colonel, but now brevet brig.-genl. It was unnecessary to mention what knowledge you had of his disposition toward me - no word or sign of recognition has passed between us or any of his staff officers since he has been in command. Whatever opinions he may have formed concerning me, I did not wish or desire you to give any expression; I prefer leaving all abstruse matters to the solution of time. The opinion of one pro or con can effect but little whilst it is quiescent - it is only when the sympathies of good or evil are aroused, when good or evil is accomplished. Be careful, therefore, in your comments, lest you produce an antagonism, which certainly will not tend to shorten my stay at this woeful place. I have had the happiness to go to confession and communion - I have given all particulars to dear Frank. Bishop Verot and Father O`Hara visited us on the 28th. When you write to Cousin Ann, tell her I have received the contents of the letter she sent Father O’Hara. The Bishop is a most saintly man, plain and unassuming as an old fiddlestick. Father O’Hara is also a very pious man, and is quite a fine preacher. I feel easy in spiritual matters, but not in the temporal. Frank and the children cause me more uneasiness and suffering than all the miseries of imprisonment. I am truly in hopes she will have the strength to bear up against our present misfortunes and discomforts. When you write tell me if the negroes have committed any outrages in the neighborhood or county. Father O’Hara will be stationed at Key West, and will visit this place once every four or five weeks. You can write to him and make what inquiries you deem necessary regarding our present condition. I don’t wish you all to make any more appointments without first and foremost enabling me to comply. You know how slowly the time passes when something pleasant and agreeable is in anticipation: the days and even the hours are counted, preparations and expense are made and incurred, then comes a put off, and finally a smash up - crushed hopes and nasty feelings. This I think is a picture of what has been presented to me. My dear Fannie, I have lost all my sugar teeth, and don’t stand in need of sweets - I like something stable and real - no friend to sugar-coated pills.
If you have anything reliable, sufficiently so to allow you to fix a time, I would like much to know it, but where everything is so indefinite and dependent, I much prefer no allusion to the subject. When you write, inform me whether Ewing is interesting himself in my behalf. Be guarded and say nothing in your letters that may be used to my detriment by the evil disposed. Adopt the principle of do much and say little. I was much grieved to hear of the death of Mr. Miles. I am in hopes he is better off than being in this world of strife and degradation. I was also much pained to hear of Pa’s loss on Jere’s place, the destruction of the dwelling. I am afraid Pa will worry himself too much about his present misfortunes and trials. Try, dear Fannie, to comfort dear Papa and Ma as much as in your power. Excitement, agitation, etc., bring about many bodily disorders and predispose to disease, so do all you can to soothe in trials and tribulations that now press so heavily upon us. Let me know whether Pa has succeeded in hiring any hands for this year, and what disposition is made of my place, and what Frank contemplates. I have heard nothing of the particulars of your and Frank’s visit to Washington - only the fact. You need not tell me, if prudence dictates. Frank has never, in the letters I received from her, made any reference or allusion, and presume her silence was influenced by prudential motives. Tell Henry his three months will have nearly expired by the time this reaches you, and certainly before an answer reaches me. His letter was dated October 30, so the end of the present month will complete the period. All is surmise and speculation. An early release on my part would be a virtual acknowledgment of the injustice of the court martial; therefore, my conclusions are - I will have to remain here some time yet, to keep up appearances. Give my love to dear Ma, Pa, and all.
I will not be able to answer Henry’s letter before the next mail. It is impossible for me to answer every letter by the same mail. I have but a few minutes allowed me now for writing, generally by dim candle light, and can’t be select in my language, or writing. Tell dear Frank that I either write to her, Jere, or some of you, every mail, and a letter to one must be considered for you all. Likely some of my letters have been held back like yours on account of objectionable contents, for I am confident not one boat has left without my writing to some one of you. Give me all the neighborhood news. You have taken a fancy to your neighbor’s wealth, what will be next on the program? Give particulars of all my dear little children and dear Frank. Remember me to all friends, etc., and believe me, Your most devoted brother, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, January 22, 1866.
My dearest, my darling Wife:
I will now attempt a description of myself, having exhausted in this and all previous letters all other subjects. I am beginning to realize the saying of the Psalmist - “I have grown old in my youth,” etc. Imagine one loaded down with heavy chains, locked up in a wet, damp room, twelve hours out of every twenty-four during working days, and all day on Sundays and holidays. No exercise allowed except in the limited space of a small room, and with irons on. The atmosphere we breathe is highly impregnated with sulphuric hydrogen gas, which you are aware is highly injurious to health as well as disagreeable. The gas is generated by the numerous sinks that empty into that portion of the sea enclosed by the breakwater, and which is immediately under a small port hole - the only admission for air and light we have from the external port. My legs and ankles are swollen and sore, pains in my shoulders and back are frequent. My hair began falling out some time ago, and to save which I shaved it all over clean, and have continued to do so once every week since. It is now beginning to have a little life. My eyesight is beginning to grow very bad, so much so that I can’t read or write by candle-light. During the day, owing to the overpowering light and heat, my eyes are painful and irritated, and can’t view any object many seconds without having to close or shade them from the light. With all this, imagine my gait with a bucket and broom, and a guard, walking around from one corner of the Fort to another, sweeping and sanding down the bastions. This has been our treatment for the last three months, coupled with bad diet, bad water, and every inconvenience. The greatest wonder is, that we have borne up so well. The weather here since the beginning of the winter has been as warm as summer with you. The inhabitants are nearly always in their shirt sleeves and bare feet. There has been no time yet that a person could not sleep out comfortably in open air, when raining all night. It sounds strange to read of heavy snows and persons freezing to death, in the papers. I am truly in hopes, my darling, you and my precious little ones have not suffered from the want of fuel, and the necessary comforts of life and health. Try, my darling, and do not expose your health - consider the welfare and the duty we owe to our children. Save them, if possible, from being thrown upon this cold and heartless world, uneducated and ignorant of the debt they owe the Supreme Ruler of all. With the picture I have presented, you no doubt think I enjoy no pleasure or comfort. This, my dearest Frank, is not the case. My principal consolation is the knowledge of having no responsibilities immediately, other than the salvation of my own soul. Be assured then that I have done all that laid in my power toward that end. I have already written you concerning the visit of the Bishop of Savannah and Father O’Hara, now stationed at Key West, to this place. I have received no tidings from the letter you sent containing money. I received the contents of the letter forwarded to Father O’Hara. I sent you some time ago a ring, containing a silver set of a cross and four little diamonds in the center, and on each side a heart. Let me know whether you received it or not.
Love to all. SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, January 28, 1866.
My darling Wife:
I had the happy consolation on the 26th of receiving four letters, and being relieved from the horrible chains. The letters were, one from Cecie, one from Jere, and two from your sweet self. I was much rejoiced to know that you were all well, and that our precious little boy was convalescent, or fully recovered. Jere spoke of Pa and Ma’s health being yet very bad. I am afraid affliction is the cause. Try, my darling, to cheer and console them all in your power. They are the only friends I have on earth, and the only tie that binds me to the land of my birth. Tell them, my darling, though absent, they are not forgotten, and the truly Christian lessons imparted during my youth, now more than ever, are being appreciated and practiced. I wrote to you and Henry some days ago. The letter was returned on account of containing some objectionable matter. I have written twelve or fifteen letters to you and home folks since Christmas. I presume they have been forwarded to you, since they were not returned. I have no direct knowledge. Letters are likely delayed on account of having to undergo examination. I have never failed to avail myself of every opportunity to write to you; duty as much as love and pleasure prompts me to do so. Be actuated by similar motives, and, my precious one, I shall be satisfied. Hoping to hear again shortly from you, and that you may be able to communicate the realization of my brightest dreams, I bid you a sorrowful adieu.
Your devoted husband, SAM.
President Johnson having received my mother’s letter of the 22d of December, 1865, issued an order for better treatment toward my father and his companions in exile. This order having reached those in command, the prisoners were relieved from their chains and given better quarters for a time.
Fort Jefferson, Tortugas Island, February 8, 1866.
My dear Jere:
I received your very kind letter of the 26th of January last. I was in hopes ere this, from representations made, that I would be bounding the billows of the wild ocean with home my happy destination. I suppose it is decreed otherwise. I must be resigned. I have nothing new to report other than we have been relieved of our chains, and some interest manifested for our general well-being. Please forward to Frank after reading.
Write soon, remember me kindly to all friends, and believe me,
Most sincerely your brother, etc., SAMUEL A. MUDD.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, February 18, 1866.
My darling Frank:
I received yesterday two letters, dated January 25 and February 3, though bringing me nothing definite. I was much consoled to learn you were all in the enjoyment of good health and spirits, and possessed with brave resolutions to bear up bravely against our present adversity. Continue, my darling, upon this happy course, and God, I am in hopes, will crown our efforts.
You (invariably) mention in your letters that the time is but short that I have to remain; afterward you remark, “Should weeks and months pass without receiving a letter,” etc. I want you to state in your next what you consider a short time. I am becoming tired of these expressions, because they don’t comport with my reckoning. Perhaps you call one, two, or three years short - it seems very short after it is passed, but distressingly long to view in my present position and condition - “in futuro’ It generally requires from twelve to fifteen days for a letter to reach me, and about the same time one from you, so you can judge at what time it would take me to get home after my release was known to you - fully six weeks would intervene, not short.
Our chains have been removed, our quarters changed to a healthier locality, and our fare much improved, so I have hopes of a prolongation of the thread of life. Be assured, my darling, nothing will be done willingly on my part to endanger health, or the violation of any rule or order having a tendency to prolong my stay here. You need not bother yourself about sending me money. The clothing sent me, I have no use for, and I can convert them into something to eat, should I require. I have not worn any of the clothing sent me; my occupation not being very clean, it would be the height of nonsense to wear them.
Write soon. Remember me to Cousin Betty, my precious babies, Pa, Ma and family, and Old Uncle John. I will write to Mr. Best by the next mail. Good-by, God bless you and our dear little ones.
Your husband, SAM.
Baltimore, February 18, 1866.
On my way up, I stopped in Washington to see Ford, but learned he was not in the city, so yesterday I went over and had a long interview with him. He told me he had a long interview with the President the day before, and had every assurance he would release Sam at the earliest moment he could consistently do so; the President also remarked to him, he (Sam) was a mere creature of accident, and ought not to have been put there, but in the present state of political excitement he did not think it prudent in him to take any action, as it would be another pretext for the radicals to build capital on. He also stated that the issue between the President and the radicals would be made in a few days, and if they still persisted in their extreme measures, he would then take a decided stand against them; so, my dear Frank, you will still have to exercise the virtue of patience yet awhile longer.
I have not the least doubt that Sam will be released as soon as Johnson can do so with propriety, and I really think the day is not far distant. These are my own opinions from information derived from different sources, which I will explain to you when I come down, which will be the 8th of March. Let me hear from you as soon as you receive this, and tell me all the news, and tell me how you are getting along.
Your brother, JERE.
Washington, February 22, 1866.
My dear Madam:
It is not yet time to move in your husband’s case. The Supreme Court will try and decide the question as to the jurisdiction of Military Commissions, in a case from Indiana, on the first Monday in March. Let us hear their decision before anything is done.
We are all glad to hear from you, and to know that you are bearing your trials bravely.
Very respectfully yours, THOMAS EWING.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, February 28, 1866.
My darling Frank:
In all of your letters you seem animated with hopes of an early release. It can’t be so, after perceiving the vindictive hate which has followed me to this place. My attention was called some days ago to some “ex post facto” statements made by Captains Dutton and Weichman. I can’t divine the motive of the author or the prosecution in appending these affairs and unjust fabrications after my trial, because they do not give me a chance of refutation. To hold me responsible for such, would be equivalent to the denial of all justice, and all that would be necessary to condemn a man would be first to bind and gag him, then allow his enemies to come forward and make their accusations. This is the exact proceeding in my case. In the letter to Jere I wrote in relation to this, fearing he might not receive, I again make mention, and request you to confer with General Ewing or Stone in regard, and let me know what, if any, bearing it has upon my case. It is not my wish to agitate the matter, knowing it will have no tendency to benefit me. All I wish you to do is to speak to my counsel, and act under their wise instructions.
Your ever devoted and loving husband, SAMUEL MUDD.
Fort Jefferson, March 3, 1866.
My darling Frank:
Mail arrived this morning, being the second without bringing any intelligence from you or friends. You must know my anxiety upon the arrival of every mail, and disappointment when receiving no tidings. The mail will leave this evening. Father O’Hara arrived here this morning, and I learn will return this evening without affording us an opportunity to go to confession; his visit was to the sick. I have no time to say more. Give my love to all. Write soon and pray for a speedy release.
Hoping you and our dear little ones are well, I am most truly and devotedly,
Your husband, SAMUEL MUDD.
Fort Jefferson, March 13, 1866.
My darling Frank:
Since the reception of the last mail, I have been animated with greater hope of speedy release on account of the firm and decided policy of the President and his endorsement by the people. The President thought, and wisely, that time enough had been given Congress to fully appreciate the public needs; they not acting, every lover of peace and good-will has justified him in taking the initiatory. God grant that his plan may be accepted and acted upon by Congress in the true spirit, and quiet once more be restored throughout the land.
When you write or see Jere again, tell him for me, to go and see Colonel or Judge Turner of the War Department in reference to what statements and language I made use of on my way to this place. I was often in his company. I did explain to him all I knew, which was nothing more than I wrote to Jere on a former occasion.
Hoping the great mystery will soon be cleared up, and an honorable release my portion, I am,
Your loving husband, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, March 17, 1866.
My darling Frank:
I know not how to express my indignation concerning the unfairness of the detectives, the Court, and the subsequent action of parties in appending false and injurious statements after my trial, when they know it was not in my power to refute by a legal proceeding, or to make denial without using language deemed improper. You, my darling, are differently situated; you have liberty of action, and for your theme the changes that every fleeting hour makes in your midst and the surrounding world. These you seldom ever advert to, nor do I find the paper well used up in the matter it contains. I, however, my loving one, find no fault, believing you influenced by motives of discretion, and the duties that now press upon you a sufficient cause.
I am now becoming of the opinion that it would have been better for me had I never written a word since being here. I certainly would have been as well off, if not better, for I fear it has caused indignant feelings, and words which are not tolerated at this time, only to a privileged set. Wm. L. Garrison’s remarks, which I see quoted. in the papers to-day, are as revolutionary as any that animated the rebellion. But enough, I have no news for the future, you must be satisfied with the fact that I am well. It is the only pleasure I have in this lonely place to write to you, and make known many of my sorrows and difficulties, as I have none of joy to relate you.
I think it best for you to leave my case entirely in the hands of my counsel and friends. If you can see Judge Crain, I am confident he would, at the word, lend you his aid in my behalf. I saw his name as chairman of a committee in Baltimore to present certain resolutions to the President. Hastily written,
Fort Jefferson, Florida, March 22, 1866.
My darling Frank:
I have just written to Cecie, and am now hastily dropping you these few words to let you know that I am well, and to comply with a precious promise to write every opportunity. I am entirely without news, and I find it impossible to gratify your desire for a long letter without adverting to matter which has no connection with us. Criticism is objected to; therefore, my precious one, accept the will for the deed. How much I desire to communicate to you something consoling and cheering and free you from the many anxieties and hardships that bother both mind and body, but such unhappily is not in my power. Even the little bird that has strayed away from a more congenial clime, and finds a resting-place here, loses his song, and shows evident marks of despondency. With us all is gloom and monotony, no pleasant change of scenery, or anything new to divert the mind or body. Mail arrives about once in ten or fifteen days, and the papers bring us nothing but stale news, which serves to occupy the mind but a few hours. I am very anxious to hear from you, and when a mail arrives without bringing any intelligence, I feel more heavily my exile.
My darling Frank, I have but one desire, namely: to be with you and see our dear little children properly trained and educated. Fannie writes gloomily of affairs now in your midst, and I fear, unless kind Providence intervenes, great suffering in the community must ensue. God grant that you may be spared, and that I may be allowed soon to contribute my feeble strength toward your support and protection.
Be assured, my sweet Frank, you are the object of all my thought and solicitude upon earth, and my fondest dream is the hour when I shall bid adieu to this land of exile, and fly to the bosom of you, and our precious little family there, never more to part. God speed the time is my daily prayer. Give my love to Pa and all the family, Cousin Betty and Uncle John. Kiss the children for me and believe me most fondly and affectionately, SAM.