The Case Against Dr. Mudd

While I take a sympathetic and pragmatic approach to Dr. Mudd when it comes to his knowledge of the assassination of Lincoln, from time to time I think it’s important to point out the fallacy of the “simple, country doctor” mystique that has crept up around him.  The following is an excerpt from Dr. Edward Steers, Jr.’s wonderful book, His Name is Still Mudd.  It succinctly states the evidence demonstrating Dr. Mudd’s involvement in John Wilkes Booth’s initial plot to abduct President Lincoln.  What follows after is an account written by George Alfred Townsend, GATH, in which the meeting between Dr. Mudd, Booth and Thomas Harbin is described.


Mudd’s knowledge of, and acquaintance with John Wilkes Booth:

      1.  The meeting in November 1864, in which Booth is first introduced to Mudd at St. Mary’s Church in Bryantown.
          2.  The meeting at the Bryantown Tavern in mid-December 1864, (December 17-21) where Dr. Mudd introduced Booth to Thomas Harbin [see account of this meeting below], and when Booth spent the night at Mudd’s house and later purchased the one-eyed horse from his neighbor, George Gardiner

3.  The December 23, 1864 trip to Washington where Mudd meets Booth at the National Hotel and introduces him to Confederate agent John H. Surratt, Jr.

Whether Mudd knew that Booth murdered Lincoln, and when he knew it:

          1. Samuel Mudd’s statement that he heard of the assassination while in Bryantown on Saturday afternoon (April 15th)
          2. Francis R. Farrell’s testimony in which he states that Mudd told both himself, and John F. Hardy on Saturday afternoon that a man named Booth had murdered Lincoln.
          3. Samuel Cox, Jr.’s statement that Mudd told him, in 1877, that while in Bryantown on Saturday afternoon, April 15th, Mudd had heard of the assassination of President Lincoln, and that John Wilkes Booth was the assassin.
          4. Samuel Cox, Jr.’s statement that Mudd told him that when he learned Booth was the assassin he returned home and ordered Booth out of his house.
          5. Captain George W. Dutton’s affidavit that Mudd told him on July 22, 1865, that he knew it was Booth whose leg he had set at his home on Saturday, April 15th.

Evidence linking Mudd to Booth’s conspiracy to capture President Lincoln:

        1. Mudd’s introduction of Thomas Harbin to Booth.
        2. Mudd’s introduction of John H. Surratt, Jr. to Booth.
        3. Samuel Cox, Jr.’s statement which quotes Mudd as saying that he went into Bryantown on Saturday, April 15th, to mail contraband letters which he had received earlier.
        4. George Atzerodt’s “lost confession” in which Atzerodt states that Booth had sent provisions to Dr. Mudd’s house to be used for their flight to Virginia.
        5. Dr. Richard Stuart’s deposition which states that Herold had told him that Dr. Mudd had referred Booth and Herold to Dr. Stuart, implying that Booth would receive medical assistance.
        6. William Bryant’s statement that the two fugitives were referred to Dr. Stuart for medical assistance.”

 – Dr. Edward Steers, Jr. in His Name is Still Mudd

Thomas Harbin

Thomas Harbin

“After church that day Booth went into Bryantown, a mile or two distant, and in plain sight, and was introduced by Dr. Mudd at the village hotel to Mr. Thomas Harbin, the Marylander, who was the principal signal officer or spy with the lower Maryland counties.

Toward the close of the war rigorous policing of the lower Maryland country was relaxed or dispensed with, as the enemy had been pushed south of the James River and seldom molested the Potomac paris.  Harbin, whom I talked to at great length just before he died, about 1885, gave me particulars concerning Booth, which would now be past discovering.  He told me that in Bryantown, at the tavern, Dr. Mudd introduced him to Booth, and said that Mr. Booth wanted some private conversation with Harbin; they took a room on the second floor, where Booth went through the thespian motions of pacing and watching the hallways and escapements.  He then outlined a scheme of seizing Abraham Lincoln and delivering him up the same evening in Virginia.  He said that he had come down to that country to invite co-operation and partners, and intimated that there was not only glory, but profit in the undertaking.

Harbin was a cool man who had seen many liars and rogues go to and fro on that illegal border and he sat down Booth as a crazy fellow, but at the same time said that he would give his co-operation.”

GATH dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, April 18th, 1892

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16 thoughts on “The Case Against Dr. Mudd

  1. Richard Sloan

    Dr. Mudd was clearly involved in the kidnap plot and deserved the punishment. He was lucky to have escaped the gallows. The evidence that he knowingly aided Lincoln’s assassin by simply fixing his leg is weak and debatable. Had he given him directions with knowledge of his deed, he would be guilty of more. We’ll never know for certain. I am interested in knowing what his wife knew and ALL that she said to authorities.. Can you enlighten us on that?

  2. Laurie Verge

    I agree with Richard that there is much more to the Mudd story than what was publicized from the 1930s through the 1980s by the family. My family dates back to the Civil War era and beyond in Southern Maryland, and the oldtimers always made comments about Dr. Mudd being lucky he didn’t hang. It took master investigators like James O. Hall and Edward Steers to make major holes in the original Mudd stories.

    I also think that more needs to be revealed about Frankie Mudd’s role. I remember one historian saying that letters that the doctor wrote to his wife while in prison seem to hint at a bit of nastiness in that he may have blamed her for “locating” Booth’s boot and presenting it to the authorities.

    Alluding back to my ties to Southern Marylnd, I will admit that, had Dr. Mudd been my ancestor, I would certainly want to defend him also – however, I’m not sure if I would do so at the risk of ignoring factual material.

  3. Mr. Taylor, You might consider adding the testimony of Detective Eaton Horner (Poore, I:430; Piman:235) in which he states that Arnold told him Booth “had letters of introduction to Dr. Mudd and Dr. Queen.” This occurred on Monday, April 17. We often hear that if Booth had not broken his leg we would never have heard of Dr. Mudd. This statement by Arnold to Horner linking Booth to Mudd surely would have sent detectives to Mudd’s house whether Booth stopped over or not on the 15th. Also, Paymaster William Keeler wrote in a letter to Andrew Johnson that he heard Mudd confess aboard ship that he knew his “patient” was Booth and that he had killed Lincoln. General Levi Axtell Dodd filed a report with the War Department making the same claim. A side note: in editing Hartranft’s letterbook it became something of a surprise to me to learn that Mrs. Mudd never visited her husband while in prison or during the trial – at least there is no recorded instance in the letterbook where all visits were recorded.

  4. Brian Jackson

    It is certain that Dr. Mudd aided and abetted Booth in his escape – Dr. Stuart and William Bryant’s statements clearly establish this as fact. Mudd then lied to authorities to buy Booth more time – more proof of his guilt. Mudd’s introduction of Harbin & Surratt to Booth and his multiple meetings with Booth make it more probable than not that Mudd was part of the conspiracy to abduct Lincoln. My question is: why in the world do we have a public school (Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Elementary School in Waldorf, Md) named after him? This man was an accessory – after the fact – to the murder of one of the greatest president we’ve ever had!!! It boggles the mind.

    • Brian,

      Dr. Mudd’s descendants did a wonderful job attempting to “exonerate” their ancestor. They made quite a few inroads in the realm of public opinion to convince people that Dr. Mudd was just a simple country doctor fulfilling his Hippocratic oath. We, of course, know that the full story is far more complicated, but, in Charles County where the Mudds continue to live and thrive, public opinion is still very pro-Mudd in spite of the facts.

      • Paul T Fisher

        Recently returned from my first visit to the Mudd house, and I was very surprised to see Robert Summers’ books there, as I know not all the family agree with what he writes. Another great surprise was seeing Ed Steers’ book there as well (His Name Is Still Mudd). I suppose it is the passage of time that softens things. I always hate to see great resources left out because people might not agree with what they reveal, so it’s great that the Mudd house has these available!

        • Ed Steers

          As I grow older nothing surprises me anymore. Of course, I am grateful to see my Mudd book on sale at the Mudd House. It is a wonderful site, and they do a wonderful job of keeping history alive. Thank you Dave and Paul Fisher.

        • Laura Verge

          It has taken nearly 40 years and a changing of some of the old guard in order to see more accurate and documentable facts presented to the public at the Dr. Mudd home. Having watched the transition for all those years, I congratulate the new historians who have been involved in the change.

          However, I also applaud the outstanding work done by some of the “old masters” in bringing those accurate and documentable facts to the attention of a wide, international audience through their many years of research. Kudos to the late-James O. Hall and Ed Steers in particular.

          A bit of levity: As many of you know, the Surratt House Museum and the Surratt Society have sponsored hundreds of bus trips over the Booth escape route since the first in the spring of 1977. During one of the tours this past September, I got an email at work from our “wing man” who was accompanying the tour and assisting the narrator. The email was short and sweet, “Has hell frozen over? Ed Steers’s His Name is Still Mudd is being sold here in the Mudd gift shop!” For those who have fought the battle to tell both sides of the Mudd story, this was truly a historical moment…

          • Paul T. Fisher

            Laurie, hell freezing over was my thought as well! Great to see that efforts are being made to present the story from both sides. On a related note, my tour guide did an excellent job of simply presenting the facts and allowing people to come to their own conclusions. I highly recommend a visit to the Mudd house to everyone!

    • Paul T Fisher

      The court of public opinion is a very powerful one, even if it’s wrong.

  5. Bravo to Boothie Barn. A great summary of the Mudd involvement.

    • Thank YOU, Dr. Steers, for creating an extremely succinct case against Dr. Mudd. Whenever I give the John Wilkes Booth escape tour I use the time between the Surratt House and Mudd House to discuss the kidnapping plot so that by the time we get to the Mudd house everyone on the bus already knows the truth about this “simple country doctor”.

  6. Laurie Verge

    We are finding at Surratt House that more and more of our visitors arrive with serious doubts about Dr. Mudd’s innocence. We do not discuss his case in detail unless they want to know more, but there is no longer the blind sheep acceptance that he was an innocent country doctor who just happened to have an injured man knock on his door.

    My roots are in Southern Maryland, and there has always been a divide among the natives. Even direct descendants were split as to his guilt or innocence when I talked with some of them back in the 70s and 80s. The wealth of research over the past thirty or forty years has brought so much to light that it is now difficult to brush aside the Mudd ties to Booth pre-April 14.

  7. Pingback: Treasures of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum | BoothieBarn

  8. Renee

    It’ s good to see Mudd’s guilt recognized. I never could buy into to those stories: the fake beard, the patient’s face always being to the wall, etc. I’m sure that the doctor saw the patient’s face at some point and if i knew someone, a fake beard would not throw me off; i mean, there’s still the person’s voice, and in this case, booth’s tattoo. And why did the doctor go to the hotel room with booth and whoever else was there ? If we asked them, they’d say they were just having a sociable drink, but it all stinks like a kettle of fish to me. And while we’re discussing things, why is it that not one of these people ever said “to heck with this insane plan, i’m alerting authorities to save the president’s life” ?? Maybe a dingbat like Herold would not have swung if he’d done something like that, or ANY of them. Sigh. Exasperating.

  9. Pingback: A Simple Act of Common Humanity – the rescued photo

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