Chapter X: PRISON LIFE IN 1866, CONTINUED - DESCRIPTION OF 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, Tortugas, Fla., March 31, 1866.
My darling Frank:
I am just in receipt of yours of March 7, and feel much disturbed at the wretched condition of affairs existing in your midst. Sooner or later the wrath of the Almighty will fall upon these public plunderers and destroyers of the liberty, peace, and happiness of our best citizens.
You spoke of Thomas being implicated or strongly suspected. I am in hopes his day of retribution is nigh. He is no doubt the principal source (fool as he is) of my ruin and present unhappy state. I am truly sorry for poor Padgett and Squire George. Negro evidence was brought against me, why can’t it be used against Thomas? “It is a bad rule that won’t work both ways.”
The picture above presents an easterly view of the Fort. No. 1, marked in ink, shows you the location of our quarters. These three marks are loop holes, about four inches wide on the inside and two feet outside about seven feet above the floor, serving better the purpose of ventilation than agreeable breeze. The door below is the sally port, and is the only entrance to the Fort. No. 2 is the lighthouse; 3, officers’ quarters; 4, prisoners’ quarters; 5, Logger Head Lighthouse, about three miles distant; No. 6 represents Hog Island, a turtle, and a barrel used to carry water to hogs. Turtles are frequently caught weighing two or three hundred pounds.
In yours of a prior date you remarked that you would in the course of a few weeks visit Washington and Baltimore. By the time this reaches you I expect your tour will have been completed, and if nothing accomplished toward my release, I am in hopes you will have nothing to regret, but, on the contrary, your health and spirits much invigorated by the reaction of both mind and body, which no doubt the observance of Lent, the cares of family, changeable weather, bad colds, etc., has tended to depress. This, together with the advent of stuffed ham, boiled chicken, the springing into life of numerous salads, will brace you up to bear more bravely the vicissitudes of your present condition of life. With us the virtue of necessity is ever our privilege, and on the principle of nature accommodating itself to circumstances, finds me no worse off at the end than in the beginning of Lent. My health continues good, and without the intervention of yellow fever, cholera or some other dread malady, may survive a while longer.
Art often overcomes and subdues nature. A ball can be made to roll up a hill. My disposition is undergoing a change. The virtue of resignation to an adverse and unjust punishment is rapidly dying out within me, and a different spirit supplanting. God knows I try to control these emotions, but it seems almost in vain.
History often reverses itself. Pilate, fearing the displeasure of the multitude, condemned our Lord to death. Is not mine somewhat an analogous case. Owing to the excitement and influence prevailing at the time of my trial, I could excuse much; but since time has elapsed for a sober, dispassionate consideration of the matter, I am becoming vexed at my protracted exile. I suppose it is all human.
I am truly grieved to hear of Mother’s bad health - would that I could prescribe something to cure or relieve. I know nothing of her condition or disease, consequently can advise nothing without the risk of doing more evil than good. God grant it may be in my power soon to come to her aid. I must now, my dear Frank, reluctantly conclude by advising your best discretion in the selection of parties to represent my case. I fear those who have been making you such fair promises are influenced principally by selfish motives and have no real personal interest of mine at stake. I leave you and friends judges of the matter; but it strikes me, the party in whom you have been confiding is guilty of child’s play, and should no longer be esteemed an adviser and friend. Use more care in writing, and give me all news correct. Let me hear further in relation to these incendiaries.
Your disconsolate husband, SAMUEL MUDD.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, April 8, 1866.
My darling Frank:
I am very well, and the island continues quite healthy. Yellow fever and cholera are reported prevailing at Key West about sixty miles distant; precautions have been taken to prevent its introduction here. I received no letter from you by the last mail. I wrote to you on the 22d and 29th, also to Sissy. Give my love to Pa, Ma, and all the family, Cousin Betty and Mr. Best, and kiss all our precious little children. I have not time to say more.
Hoping we may be spared further afflictions, and our unhappy situation about ended, I am most affectionately and devotedly,
Your husband, SAM.
Baltimore, April 9, 1866.
This is the first opportunity I have had since my return to write you. I had a long talk with Judge Crain yesterday, and he has promised to get for me the decision of the Supreme Court. It is generally believed that they have decided there was no law for trying civilians or persons not attached to the army by military courts. He has gone to Harford County to attend court, and will not be back before Friday. He promised me when he returned he would go to Washington, and get Reverdy Johnson, as he knew the President was very fond of him, and try to get the President to release Sam; and if he would not do it, he thought he probably could be gotten out through the courts, if the decision of the Supreme court is as represented, which there seems to be no doubt about; but they are keeping it from the people for political reasons. I myself am very sanguine of being able to do something for him in a short time. We will probably have to send a lawyer to Florida to get out a writ, but I hope to be able to accomplish his release without going to any more expense. You may rest assured I will not let the matter rest if I find there is any chance of doing anything for him. When the Judge returns, I will write you and give you all the information I can get.
BROTHER JERE [DYER]
Fort Jefferson, Florida, April 16, 1866.
My darling Frank:
We received papers as late as the 3d instant, and were much delighted to see the veto message of the President upon the Civil Rights Bill and the Proclamation of Peace, restoring the equal rights of all States throughout the South, and the suspension of all military proceedings in civil cases.
I am anxiously awaiting the good news promised in your letter. I was a little indisposed a few days ago, but have fully recovered upon hearing all was well with you. The mail will leave this evening, and my letters have to be examined; unless I am short, it may not meet with approval.
Your husband, etc., SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, April 27, 1866.
My darling Frank:
I wrote to you a few days ago in anticipation of a departing mail. To-day I received letters from Fannie, Henry, and Doctor Blandford, and was much grieved to learn that you were all much disturbed at the appearance in the papers of a lying report concerning myself. It seems to be the intention of prejudiced parties not to let the effect of a slander die out without birth being given to another. I have not had a dozen words with a commissioned officer since the present regiment had command of the Post, therefore I could not have been very “querulous.” I have not been reticent without a motive. My health has been better than might have been expected. I am not as strong as I might be, for the want of proper exercise. We are under guard all the time, and no exercise allowed except in the performance of duty, which is very light. I can perform all I have to do in a couple of hours. We are confined to our room on Sundays and no exercise allowed. My duty is simply to sweep down the bastions once every day. I am very well, and anxiously awaiting relief from my unjust banishment.
Your devoted husband, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, May I, 1866.
My dear Cousin:
We received yesterday the box containing all the articles mentioned, in good condition, for which we are under many obligations of gratitude. Accept my kindest thanks. We are all very well and possessed of the liveliest hopes for a speedy release,through the mercies of a kind Providence. I am entirely without news. I wrote to you early in March, and returned the cards pressed with moss agreeable to request; since then I have received no intelligence from you. I have letters as late as the 12th of April from my family; they were well, and more prosperous than I could reasonably suppose. Don’t forget to thank Cousin M. for her kind present of books. I will not have time to write to her by this mail. Enclosed I send you a few mosscards. I am sorry it is not in my power to send something worthy of your kindness. I shall say today a pair of beads for your intention. The weather is exceedingly warm here; two were nearly overcome from the effects of heat yesterday. Up to this time I have heard of no fatal termination in consequence.
Hoping to have the pleasure soon of greeting you in person, I am most truly,
Your cousin, etc.,
From Carmelite Convent,
Baltimore, Md., May, 1866.
After reading this letter, please send it to Frank; it may be later news than she has had. I am glad the things reached them in safety. They were a long time on the way.
New Orleans, May 11, 1866.
I have sent box containing canned fruits, etc., also enclosed thirty dollars. Anything you need that the authorities will permit, inform me and I will forward to you. Frank and the children are well, also your father’s family. I think you may expect relief in a short time. Trusting to hear from you, believe me,
THOMAS O. DYER.
Dept. General’s Office, May 10, 1866.
The commanding officer at Dry Tortugas will please permit Dr. Mudd to receive this letter with the enclosed thirty dollars.
By order Major General Sheridan, C. D. MCCAFFEY, Capt. Sz Pro. Mar. Gen’l.
Received of the within thirty dollars, the sum of twenty dollars, to be paid in installments.
F. ROBINSON, 2d Lieut.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, June 2, 1866.
My darling Frank:
I received yours of the 7th to-day, and beyond the fact that Andrew has recovered from his accident, and that you are all well, etc., imparted but little satisfaction. I want no applause, no ovation, on my way home, should Providence vouch the favor. On the contrary, I desire more than ever quiet and contentment in the bosom of my precious little family.
I feel that I have complied with every duty to God, to man and to the Government. My conscience rests easy under all the grossly false and frivolous charges, notwithstanding their approval by an unjust, bigoted, and partisan Court. I scorn the idea, the doctrine that the innocent should suffer to satisfy a bloodthirsty and vindictive people. Was Pilate justified in sanctioning the death of our Savior to appease the wrath of the multitude, who cried out for his blood? They who contend that the multitude, the mob, must rule, though innocence and justice be trodden under foot, are walking exactly in the footsteps of poor weak old Pilate. Spare me from the many kisses - they bode no good, and the many promised visits deliver me from. These things instead of having the effect you intended, namely: to bear up my spirits, etc., having served only to embitter. You are wrong to tolerate any such sentiment or interpretation - it only coincides with, or confirms, the verdict of the Court, who sentenced me to this hell. I know, my darling, you never intended or thought such an interpretation could be implied. For the future, give me only family, and neighborhood news. You need not say anything upon the subject of my release; for, instead of lessening, it has increased the bitterness of my banishment and close confinement. I should sooner see, than hear talk of it. I would sooner not be told and promised so often, and then not to see it.
Your husband, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, June 10, 1866.
My darling Frank:
I received yesterday a letter from Cousin Ann, apparently reflecting your opinions, protracting my stay in this hell for several months longer. Thus I am led like an infant beginning to crawl. Phantom-like, at the moment you arrive at the summit of all your expectations, and are about to grasp the coveted prize, it vanishes, or is seen only in the distance. The vagueries which you and others had so implicitly relied upon as certainties, and which were innocently imparted, or intentionally to stimulate hopes, have had their reacting influence. I do not wish to be considered a scold; you know my temperament, that I am naturally nervous and excitable - to such there is perhaps no greater or more painful state of trial than that occasioned by severe and long suspense. When we know precisely what we have to endure, we can usually call to our aid the needed strength, and submission; but a more than ordinary patience and forbearance is necessary to enable us calmly and tranquilly to await the approach of an important period, containing within its fleeting hours the promise to us of life’s sweetest joys in doubt - our reunion. One moment hope usurps the misery and promises happiness; we smile, breathe freely, and banish care and anxiety; but an instant more, and some word, look, or even thought changes the whole aspect, clouds take the place of smiles, the heart heaves with apprehension, fear is awakened, and in proportion as we have cherished a confident pleasure or joy, are we plunged into the agony of doubt and disappointment. You are not alone, my darling, in contributing to these emotions; nearly every letter received the past seven or eight months has had the tendency to lead me to expect release at an early day; and that I should now feel indifferent toward the reception of such letters, is only the natural consequence of a nervous sentiment and feeling.
In my last I came to an abrupt close, the mail going off sooner than I expected. I had not time to say all that I intended, and to qualify that which I had written, therefore, have fears you will mistake its purport. You spoke of the sympathy of friends, etc. Their kind wishes can never do me any good so long as I am here caged; on the contrary, I fear you do me harm by the expression of any opinion favorable to the President and his policy. This was hinted at some time ago by a member of Congress, viz: “Even the conspirators were favorable to his ( the President’s) plan of reconstruction.” You will do well, my darling Frank, since you know every word and act is so grossly misconstrued, to cease all utterance upon political subjects and adverting to the sympathy of friends in my regard. I assure you I do not desire it. After all, it may be only flattery, passing away an idle moment, or dissimulation. Acts of indiscretion are often committed by a too-confiding nature. Spurn those who would seek to elevate pride.
My darling Frank, I had promised myself long ere this the possession of more joy and happiness upon our second reunion than realized at the first. We know each other better, thus better able to reciprocate and appreciate our mutual love and affection; besides surrounded by our precious little children, naturally binds us more closely, and will inspire us with every devotion of love and gratitude to promote their welfare. So confident was I at one time, that I did not deem it necessary to write, believing that the arrival of the next steamer would take me rejoicing to your fond embrace.
It is now two months or more since the decision of the Supreme Court was rendered; time, I would say, sufficient to ascertain its application and bestow its benefits, yet hearing nothing definite in relation, leads me to many conjectures. I am well, but you can better imagine than I can express, the animus of a being who has suffered so long the alternations of elevation and depression of spirit. Don’t send any more of my letters to outside parties, and have as little to say as possible to the inquiries of others regarding me. Stone and Ewing seem to be doing nothing. I have never received a syllable from one of them.
Try, my darling Frank, to give me as correct an idea of affairs as prudence will permit. Judging from the newspapers, I think matters look quite hopeful, and I can’t bring myself to believe that I will be here a month longer. I received a box of eatables and thirty dollars from dear Tom on the 30th of May. This is the third letter I have written to you recently. Father 0’Hara paid us a flying visit a few days ago, not in a ministerial capacity; he being called away by the Bishop. We will have no minister here again before November next. He told me he had received a letter from you, and handed me money in compliance with your request; but I was well supplied, and returned him thanks for responding to your ever-solicitous attention in my regard.
Your devoted husband, SAM MUDD.
Baltimore, June 13, 1866.
On my way up last Thursday I stopped in Washington, and had a long talk with Wood (Wm. P. Wood, the Keeper of the Old Capitol Prison), and he requested me to say to you, he had given you his word to do all for Sam in his power, and he never falsified his word. He told me he would give me a letter which he knew would be of great service; he was then very busy, and preferred not writing until he could take the time to write in such a manner as would be satisfactory to himself and us. He promised to try and write it on Sunday, and let me know as soon as he got it ready, but I have not yet heard from him.
Ford [John T. of Ford’s Theater] told me yesterday he had engaged Reverdy Johnson in Spangler’s case, and would take action as soon as Congress adjourns; he thought it useless to do anything before, as it would probably do harm. Congress might take some action to defeat him. I am very sanguine, after the adjournment of Congress, we will be able to accomplish Sam’s release; and the so much desired event, namely: the adjournment of that august body, will take place about the first of July.
Your brother, JERE [DYER]
Fort Jefferson, Florida, June 17, 1866.
My darling Frank:
Although your last and Fannie’s, received the 13th instant, held out no immediate prospect of release, on the contrary led me to infer you had lost all hopes in previous measures, and parties so confidently relied upon, yet I assure you, though the effect was depressing at first, after due consideration I could but feel grateful to our all-kind Providence for having bestowed upon you so much ambition and cheerfulness to bear up against our sudden change of fortune. I am really proud of your success in farming, and regret my want of language to express due praise. I am afraid my presence would be only an incubus, the long and close confinement, etc., endured rendering me but illy prepared to contend actively with the pursuits which the farm and my profession demand. Since matters have progressed so well, I will be too happy to surrender to you the dictation in all affairs pertaining to the farm. I sometimes try to feel indifferent, and ask myself the question - why should I feel disturbed, my family can take care of themselves? - separation must inevitably come one day, and perhaps it is better now than later. I have had every desire common to a husband and parent to be restored to my family, and feel I have done all consistent with my knowledge of right to be restored, failing in which has but disinclined me to future efforts or hopes. My endeavors are not to be resigned and careless, regardless of every surrounding. You are, my darling, differently situated. You have freedom of action, you have four precious little babes to provide for, to love and be loved, and my daily prayer has been, and for the future will be, that you may be blessed with strength and perseverance to perform agreeably to every duty required by our holy religion.
I can’t imagine, after the turn which matters have taken, why a shadow should come over your dream, and render it necessary to put the management of my case into other hands. I almost feel like advising you to take no more counsel, but leave matters in statu quo, believing further action now will not hasten, but, on the contrary, cost money needed for the support of you and family. However, being in no situation to advise, I must leave you and our friends to judge what steps are necessary to be taken. I have no news. I wrote to you last on the 10th and 13th. I am as well as usual, weak and nervous from the long confinement, otherwise healthy, and not much changed in appearance. Kiss all our darling little children, and, as ever, most fond and devotedly,
Your husband, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, June 21, 1866.
My darling F rank:
Writing is the only pleasure I enjoy, because I imagine myself so many minutes in conversation; yet much is dissipated by its being subject to the criticism and scrutiny of others. My heart yearns to be with you and our precious little children. How much I need your consoling and soothing voice, and the happy and innocent pranks and glee of our dear little ones, to cheer me up. In being separated from you, my dear Frank, I am parted with all that I desire to live for in this world. My restoration, I am afraid, would afford me more pleasure than Divine Providence is willing to accord; this thought gives me uneasiness.
I have nothing new - matters are about the same. My employment is the same, viz: sweeping down the bastions. This does not occupy many minutes to perform, when I can repair at my option to my quarters, which consist of two casemates - being all the time under close guard. My health continues generally good, though I am weak and nervous, which I attribute to the diet, want of exercise and climate, combined with the reception of unfavorable news, and consequent agitation of mind. I have received no letter from you since the one dated June the 1st, from the last week in May up to the present; this is the seventh that I have written to you. I scarcely ever receive any papers, although I have had the benefit of the papers received by my roommates. Write often, and accept the kindest wishes of one that loves you more dearly than life.
Your devoted husband, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, June 24, 1866.
My darling Frank:
I wrote to you and Henry on the 21st instant, but having written to Jere, I enclose this short epistle in the same envelope. Writing to you is the only source of pleasure I have on this inhospitable island, and I never let an opportunity pass without availing myself of it. The last mail I received no letter from any one - mails arriving so seldom, about once in ten days, making it generally a month between the reception of your letters.
I had made calculations and promised myself the gratification of the only desire of my heart to be with you and our dear little children long before this late period, and you can imagine my sore disappointment when I discovered them to be only castles in the air. I have lost patience and my usual serenity. I have felt like throwing away pen and ink, and foregoing the pleasure of ever writing again--and follow the wise maxim, “Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.” I know that you would not knowingly deceive, and am rather disposed to believe you were willfully imposed upon by those who knew better. I am in hopes you will be more guarded in future, and not suffer your credulity to mislead you again. My darling Frank, I am nearly worn out, the weather is almost suffocating, and millions of mosquitoes, fleas, and bedbugs infest the whole island. We can’t rest day or night in peace for the mosquitoes.
The only objection I have to the linen shirts sent me by Cousin Ann, is the fact they are not proof against the penetrating beak of the mosquitoes, and I fear I will have to throw them aside and take to the flannel again. There is a great deal of sickness among the white soldiers; the colored ones stand the climate and diet better. The garrison is composed of one-half black troops. There are about one hundred and seventy prisoners here at this time; out of this number there are not more than thirty whites, the balance are negroes. I have no other news worthy of mention.
Your affectionate husband, SAMUEL MUDD.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, June 30, 1866.
My darling Frank:
In looking over my daily summary I find that during the present month I have written to you on the following dates, viz: the 3d, 7th, 10th, 13th, 17th, 21st, and 24th, besides three or four in the latter part of May. Several mails have arrived without bringing any news from any one. I do not complain, but merely make mention in order that you may know when I last received a letter. I have exhausted in those letters all the language I had at command, expressive of my longing desire to be with you, and bitter disappointment.
Nature does not tolerate an excess in anything without a corresponding reaction. There is a positive and negative to every question and thought - an equilibrium must be kept up, and is essentially necessary to the healthy or natural performance of every material and immaterial act; being lost, destruction either ensues or things fail to be comprehended in their sensible and rational form. I believe I am philosophizing, but all that I wish to be understood is, that suffering is just as natural to follow a sudden fading away of bright hopes, as day, night.
I am now composed, and feel somewhat like my former self, determined and resolute, and will likely remain so until shaken by a repetition of insidious and insinuating intelligence, having only the tendency to confuse, inspire doubt and irregularity of the mind, which many of you so well understand. Try and do not deceive me again; if you know nothing positive, have the resolution to tell me so. I can appreciate your love and anxiety in my regard, and fear you have concealed the true nature of affairs, lest it might cause me pain. How different have I acted toward you. I have never failed to give you, as far as in my power, a true condition of my health, treatment, etc., so that your mind might be prepared even for the worst.
We have received the Baltimore Weekly Sun of the 16th and Gazette of the 19th. I have seen an extract of Harris’s speech made in Congress and some sketches taken from the report of Dr. Craben upon the treatment, etc., of Jeff Davis. If you can obtain these in full, you will much oblige by sending at your earliest opportunity. I expect nothing will be done toward our relief until after the adjournment of Congress. I am in my usual health. I am truly in hopes Ma’s health has improved ere this. Tell Tommy and Sammy that Papa had a dream that he was down in the “swamp” and enjoyed a hearty laugh at their race after the little fishes. How much I desire to see you all. Write soon, give me all current news, and believe me most affectionately,
Your husband, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, July 20, 1866.
My darling Frank:
Owing to stormy weather, We have not had an arrival of mail for several days. To-day two steamers came into port, one a gunboat, the other a transport, and the mail schooner is just in sight. This is something unusual, and you can’t imagine how hopeful I have been the past few minutes. One of the steamers has just come to the wharf bringing some thirty odd additional prisoners from New Orleans and surrounding (Gulf) Military District. The gunboat is anchored out and has just landed a boat crew with four naval officers; they have marched to headquarters, I suppose to confer with the General Commandant. I am inquiring every minute, yet have not heard so much as a rumor. The schooner has just come in, bringing no mail; this throws a gloom over me - it will now be a week or ten days before the next arrival. I have just heard that there are twenty released prisoners, this exciting my envy, and caused the query, “When, oh! when will my time come?”
I suppose the public mind is too much engaged with the affairs of Congress to entertain the subject at present. How anxiously I have been waiting for them to adjourn, and cease unsettling the country. I have now finished giving you all the news that has transpired since I last wrote, which was on the 13th. I wrote Fannie a short note in the same, and sent her some moss-cards. I wrote to Sissy on the 12th. You write so seldom (about twice a month) and give so little news, I find it difficult to say much, or to comply with a former desire of yours, viz: to write long letters. You never think to give me any of the neighborhood news. I desired, in a letter some time ago, to know what disposition was made of John T. Hardy’s place, and whether any other farms had changed hands? Beyond births and deaths, you never mention anything. Generally your letters are short, and so careless and indifferently written that I sometimes imagine that you only wish to keep up the forms, and have something to swear by. I have one or two letters which I could neither read nor understand. Words were spelled backwards, and sometimes a whole syllable left out. That which I could not make out, I am not able to state what was wanting. I am partly resolved for the future, to write no letters, only in answer to those I receive. I cannot impart any comfort to you by writing so often, nor relieve myself from misery that ever attends. You must not think I am in a pet or in anger; on the contrary, I feel in better spirits at this moment than for several months past, consequently, better disposed to unload my breast of what has existed for some time. You must not believe me so unreasonable as to expect you always to convey hopeful intelligence; to the reverse, I have desired you to say nothing on the subject of my release, unless you had positive facts, and prudence did not forbid its revelation. My darling Frank, for the future, do not let the subject of my release cause you the slightest uneasiness or trouble. What can’t be helped must be borne, contented or otherwise. I can’t bring myself to believe my stay will be much longer delayed.
For the want of reading matter, I have the past week overhauled all my correspondence, commencing from the earliest to the latest date after my unfortunate landing at this place. I have been led like a child beginning to walk, with the difference that the child always succeeds in reaching a neighboring chair with a struggle.
My darling Frank, my sweet wife, how anxious I am to see you all. My heart at times almost bursts, and feels as if it would leap from my breast. Knowing this, I am in hopes you will bear up bravely, and remain steadfast for my sake, and for the good of our precious little ones. There is no sacrifice under heaven that I would not make to see and be with you again as in days gone by.
Hoping the time of our cruel separation is close at hand, and that we will be again happy united in bonds of double love and matrimonial accord, I am, my darling Frank,
Your faithful and devoted husband, SAMUEL MUDD.