The case of Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd,
who was convicted in 1865 as an accomplice in the Lincoln murder
conspiracy, has in recent years taken on a life of its own. It
has become vogue to rally behind the good doctor, and join in
the efforts have him completely exonerated for his actions and
to have his reputation restored. This movement is the culmination
of a decades-long effort by Samuel Mudd's grandson, Richard Dyer
Mudd, to clear his family name. Along the way the younger Mudd,
now nearing his 100th year, has enlisted the aid of authors, legislators,
Members of Congress, and Presidents of the United States. Two
regularly published newsletters keep interested parties advised
of the status of the appeals being presented to clear Mudd's name.1
The efforts of these advocates have resulted in a number of actions being taken. A plethora of books have been written defending Dr. Mudd. The 1995 video Rewriting History: The Case of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd casts a sympathetic eye on the Maryland physician. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both sent letters to Richard Mudd expressing their personal belief in Dr. Mudd's innocence. The Michigan state legislature passed a resolution claiming that Samuel Mudd did nothing illegal, and called upon federal authorities to reverse his convictions.
In February 1993, a Moot Court of Military Appeal was convened at the University of Richmond School of Law to hear an appeal of the Mudd conviction. Representing Mudd were distinguished attorneys F. Lee Bailey and Cadida Ewing Steel, the great-grand daughter of Mudd's original lawyer, General Thomas Ewing. The three judge panel delivered a unanimous decision, albeit on dissimilar grounds, declaring that Mudd's conviction should be overturned and the record expunged. To that end, a petition was presented to the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records (ABCMR), seeking to have Mudd's conviction formally removed from official military record. The board agreed with the petitioners, and recommended to the Secretary of the Army that the official record be altered to reflect Mudd's innocence.
The Undersecretary designated by the Secretary of the Army to rule on the recommendation refused to accede to the ABCMR's wishes. When a new Presidential administration took office in 1993, the new Undersecretary of the Army again refused to grant the recommendation of the ABCMR. Still not satisfied with the governmental decision, the pro-Mudd forces are now pursuing Congressional legislation to force the Secretary of the Army to follow the ABCMR's recommendations.
Yes, the vox populi of the masses seems to lean towards letting Samuel Mudd off the historical hook for being a part of the most notorious crime of the Nineteenth Century. His defenders have thus far refused to admit defeat and have vowed to march to the ends of the Earth to achieve their goal of complete exoneration of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd.
However, public opinion is never unanimous, and many assassination historians and scholars have disagreed with the popular notion that Mudd was an innocent caught up in the midst of a witch hunt in the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination. Now, Edward Steers, Jr. has stepped forward to present the "other side" of the Mudd story. In His Name Is Still Mudd: The Case Against Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd Steers critically examines the facts of the case and dispels the numerous mistaken notions that Mudd was not guilty of wrongdoing in the conspiracy.
Those who are seeking to clear Mudd's name present two separate arguments in his defense, both of which Steers addresses in this book. The first argument is that Mudd was nothing but an innocent country doctor abiding by his Hippocratic oath in treating a stranger (John Wilkes Booth) who showed up at his door in the wee morning hours of April 15, 1865. The second theme taken up by Mudd's apologists, the one that seems to carry the most weight in recent years, is that Mudd was tried and convicted by a military tribunal rather than a civil court, and he was thereby denied due process and the verdict should thus be set aside.
The evidence Steers' presents to answer the first claim, that Mudd was the innocuous country doctor who did not recognize Booth, is nothing short of overwhelming. Steers even goes so far as to state that had the military commission had all the evidence that historians have today, Mudd would not have received a sentence of life imprisonment. Instead, Steers states, "the tribunal would certainly have voted the death sentence for Mudd." (70).
Steers demonstrates quite clearly that Mudd had strong connections to the Confederate underground. He served as a courier for mail being sent north from Richmond. The author deftly uses Mudd's own statements, as well the statements made by others, to establish that Mudd had indeed met John Wilkes Booth on three separate occasions prior to his appearing at Mudd's house in the early hours of April 15, 1865. On one of those three occasions Booth was an overnight house guest at Mudd's home.
Further, the evidence strongly suggests that Mudd was an instrumental operative in the plan to kidnap President Lincoln and sprint him off to Richmond. It was this conspiracy which, in time spawned into the murder plot. It was Mudd who introduced John Wilkes Booth to John Surratt, another participant in the kidnapping scheme. Mudd also introduced Booth to Thomas Harbin, who would prove useful in getting Booth and Herold across the Potomac River during their flight from the authorities. Thus, the author shows that Mudd was more than someone who aided Booth during his flight from justice, but that he was in fact instrumental in the planning of the scheme to kidnap Lincoln, which developed into the assassination plot. Steers also ably demonstrates that Mudd did in fact cooperate in helping Booth and Herold on their flight from the authorities, and was thus an accessory after the fact to the murder.
And in an extremely cogent argument, Steers states that the case against Samuel Mudd should simply end there. The full weight of historical evidence indicates that he was guilty as chargedand then some. But in the face of this overwhelming and damning evidence, the pro-Mudd faction has taken up a new banner: that Mudd's name should be cleared because of the forum in which he was adjudicated. The effort now, it seems, is to get Mudd off on a procedural technicality; that he was wrongly tried by a military court rather than a civil one. But Steers addresses this issue as well, and again convinces the reader that these claims are not valid.
The crux of the pro-Mudd faction's argument is that Mudd and his co-conspiritors should have been tried by a civilian court and not the military tribunal ordered by President Andrew Johnson. To back up their assertion that the trial should have had a civilian venue, they cite the 1866 Supreme Court decision known as ex parte Milligan. In short, Milligan states that military commissions lacked the authority to try civilian defendants in areas not under military control, and where regularly constituted civilian courts were open and functioning. In one concise and well-argued chapter, Steers puts these claims of constitutional conflict to rest.
He begins by tracing Lincoln's frequent suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the precedent for using military commissions for trying individuals arrested and detained under the suspension in the area in and around Washington, D.C. Some thirteen thousand defendants were tried before two thousand different military commissions during the period of the rebellion, without a single judgment being overturned by an appellant court. Steers furthers points out some very basic differences between the case of Dr. Mudd and that of Lambdin Milligan, the defendant in the ex parte Milligan decision. On the whole, this final chapter, in which the author argues against the fundamental justification the pro-Mudd faction is using to obtain absolution of Samuel A. Mudd, heralds the death knell for the movement and reinforces the correctness of the Secretary of the Army's decision to not expunge the conviction of Mudd as a conspirator in the Lincoln assassination.
I am ever reluctant to use the word "definitive" in referring to a Lincoln book. This is particularly so in the case of assassination titles, as there is probably more "junk literature" on the assassination than any other single topic within the scope of Lincolniana. Suffice it to say that in my Lincoln library there are very few volumes on the "top shelf" of the assassination section. Among them are books like The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies by William Hanchett and The Great American Myth by George Bryan. I have now made room for His Name is Still Mudd: The Case Against Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd by Edward Steers, Jr., as I regard it as the final word on the controversy surrounding the supposed innocence of Samuel Alexander Mudd.
P.O. Box 3031
Gettysburg, PA 17325
1 Dr. Samuel Mudd
Newsletter is published by George McNamara of Philadelphia, PA,
The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Society, Inc. newsletter is edited by Louise Mudd Arehart.