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Dr. Samuel Mudd Trial: 1865

Troops Search For Booth And His Co-conspirators, Mudd And Conspirators Tried, Was Mudd Really Guilty?

Defendant: Dr. Samuel A. Mudd
Crimes Charged: Treason and conspiracy
Chief Defense Lawyer: General Thomas Ewing
Chief Prosecutor: Judge Advocate Joseph Holt
Judges: Military commission officers Lieutenant Colonel David Clendenim, Brevet Brigadier General James Ekin, Brigadier General Robert Foster, Brigadier General T. M. Harris, Major General David Hunter, Brigadier General Alvin Howe, Brevet Major General August Kautz, Brevet Colonel C. H. Tompkins, and Major General Lew Wallace
Place: Washington, D.C.
Dates of Trial: May 9-June 30, 1865
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Life imprisonment, pardoned in 1868

SIGNIFICANCE: During his flight after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth visited Dr. Samuel A. Mudd for treatment of his broken ankle. Although there was little evidence linking him to Booth's crime, Mudd was convicted by a military commission interested more in vengeance than justice. The military's assertion of its authority over that of civilian courts represented the post-Civil War Union's thirst for retribution at the expense of justice.

By spring 1865, the Civil War was all but over. General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox, Virginia, effectively ending the Confederacy. Although the North resounded with triumph, Southerners and their sympathizers were bitter and resentful. Particularly bitter was a minor actor from Maryland named John Wilkes Booth.

After Appomattox, Booth, long a Confederate sympathizer, vowed to kill President Abraham Lincoln. On April 14, 1865, Booth had his chance. Lincoln went to see the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington D.C. The lone security guard assigned to protect Lincoln had gone to a nearby bar for a drink. Unimpeded, Booth sneaked into the theater. From behind the presidential party's box seats, Booth pulled out his pistol and shot Lincoln in the head. Booth leapt from the box to the stage, 12 feet below, breaking his left ankle in the process. After shouting "Sic Semper Tyrannis!" ("thus shall it ever be for tyrants," the state motto of Virginia), Booth ran from the theater and fled Washington on horseback.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882