The Flight of the Assassin, Day One

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April 15, Maryland: After completing his terrible deeds, John Wilkes Booth fled Washington on horseback. The assassin was nearly caught as he crossed the Navy Yard Bridge leaving the city. Bridge sentry Sgt. Silas Cobb of the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery questioned Booth and nearly detained him but word of the assassination had not yet reached the bridge, and, in the end, Cobb allowed the assassin to continue his journey. Later that evening, Booth rendezvoused with co-conspirator David Harold. Harold’s hands were already dirty, as he had lead Lewis Powell to the home of Secretary of State William H. Seward where Powell attempted to murder the secretary.

Surratt HouseAfter rendezvousing south of D.C., the pair made their way to the Surratt House in a part of Prince George’s County known as Surrattsville. Booth and Harold arrived around midnight on the morning of the 15th at the tavern owned by another conspirator, Mary Surratt and though Booth was unable to unhorse due to his injury, he did boast of his deeds. Mary had previously left supplies for Booth hidden in the floor joists of the house including a pair of Spencer rifles and binoculars. The men didn’t tarry at the Surratt House long, stopping only to collect the weapons and binoculars before making their way further South into Maryland.

Despite Booth’s injuries, the pair road hard into Charles County, arriving at the Bryantown home of Dr. Samuel Mudd around 4 am. Dr. Mudd cut Booth’s swollen foot from his shoe, set his broken leg with a splint and had a local carpenter make him a pair of crutches. To this day, many of Mudd’s relatives maintain his innocence, claiming he had no prior knowledge of the plot and believed Booth had been injured fighting in Virginia. Mudd was a slave owner and confederate sympathizer who historians now know met with Booth at least twice prior, first at nearby St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where Mudd is now buried, and later, in Washington D.C. on December 23, 1864 where the two had drinks with confederate spy John Surratt and Louis J. Weichmann who accompanied Mary Surratt to deliver weapons to her tavern on the day of the assassination.

 

Dr Mudd's HomeWhether or not Mudd knew in advance of the assassination, on the 15th, with Booth and Harold still at his home, he went into Bryantown to run errands where he surely learned of the Booth’s actions and he did not notify the authorities. Mudd claimed at the time he was afraid the assassins would return to his home and find his family unprotected, but conspirator George Atzerodt who had been tasked with assassinating Vice President Andrew Johnson and was hanged for his part in the plot, claimed Mudd knew of the plan and Booth had sent provisions to the doctor two weeks before the assassination.

What is clear is that sometime that afternoon, Booth and Harold continued their flight, hiring an African-American tobacco farmer by the name of Oswell Swann to guide them to the Rich Hill, the home of Samuel Cox, a wealthy confederate sympathizer. Cox claims he refused to let the assassins into his home, but sent them on to hide in a pine thicket along near the Zekiah Swamp where he sent them food and newspapers and arranged for them to meet with Thomas Jones, a confederate agent. It was here that Booth remained for five days as he schemed to return to Virginia and the South.

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