Samuel Bland Arnold was born on September 6, 1834 to Benedict “George” and Mary (Bland) Arnold. In his early days, he and his brother William attended St. Timothy’s Hall, a military academy in Catonsville, MD. St. Timothy’s was a firm school requiring the students to wear steel-grey uniforms and maintain strict military discipline. In 1852, Sam and Billy became introduced to a fellow student, John Wilkes Booth. Booth was not the best of students, fighting against the regimental nature of the school. The death of John’s father in November of 1852 put an end to his time at St. Timothy’s. Sam, on the other hand learned well from his time at the academy. When John Wilkes Booth was developing his career as an actor, Sam signed up for service in the Confederate States of America. He joined the First Maryland Infantry in 1861 before he was discharged for illness. He later joined another brother, George, who was serving in the Nitre and Mining Bureau in Georgia. He left this position in early 1864 to care for his ailing mother in Baltimore. In August of 1864, John Wilkes Booth happened to run into his old schoolmate, William Arnold in Washington, D.C. William said that his brother Sam, a veteran of the CSA, was also in D.C. at the time, and he arranged a meeting with him and Booth.
The two old schoolmates quickly rekindled their friendship over drinks. During their meeting, another of Booth’s childhood friends, Michael O’Laughlen, appeared, having been invited by Booth. After a bit, Booth brought the two men into his confidence about his plan to abduct President Lincoln and hold him for ransom. Arnold and O’Laughlen, both influenced by and sharing in Booth’s dream for a drastic turn in the war, pledged themselves to help Booth fulfill his goal. This support in the kidnapping plot and an ambiguous letter from Sam found in Booth’s room would prove his undoing. After the assassination, Sam Arnold was sentenced to life imprisonment at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas.
Fast forward 37 years later. Arnold was pardoned in 1869 after four years of the most grueling imprisonment possible. From his day of release, he lived a quiet, reserved life away from public eye. He denied interviews at every turn. Then on October 7th, 1902, Sam Arnold died…kind of:
As this article states, Arnold had promised to release a statement regarding his involvement upon his death. As of a few days later, however, no newspapers had been able uncover any such statement. The reason for this was discovered by another newspaper that reported the following:
Yes, it appears that the Samuel Arnold that died on October 7th was not the Sam Arnold involved in the conspiracy. Rather he was just a man that shared the same name as the conspirator. As Osborn Oldroyd had written, the real Sam Arnold had already died. He did so quietly and without any statement having been released upon his death. And so the world was left without ever hearing the words of the last Lincoln conspirator tried by military tribunal in 1865.
All of this breaking news about Sam Arnold’s death proved confusing to a 68 year-old resident of Friendship, MD.
As he read the many obituaries about the Lincoln conspirator, he saw how the newspapers continually perpetrated the same misconceptions and injustices of years past. Finally, he had seen enough. This man decided to change his previous arrangement regarding telling his story. The real, and very much alive, Samuel Bland Arnold decided to release his account:
Arnold’s account became a daily column for two weeks in many national newspapers. Most of his account detailed his imprisonment at Dry Tortugas. In 1995, author Michael Kauffman reprinted the account as the book Memoirs of a Lincoln Conspirator. It is an essential, albeit biased, version of the conspiracy that led to Lincoln’s assassination.
The real Sam Arnold actually died on September 21, 1906 at the home of his sister-in-law Helen Arnold. He is buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore. His nondescript “Arnold” stone rests in the same cemetery as John Wilkes Booth and Michael O’Laughlen, recreating his visit with the two men so many years before.
Post Script – Even after the mistakes that were made when the other Sam Arnold died, the press still made mistakes when the real one passed on. For example, did you know the conspirators were imprisoned in Hawaii?
My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman
Memoirs of a Lincoln Conspirator by Michael Kauffman
Newspaper accounts retrieved from Genealogybank.com