Spooky Tales from the Mudd House Part III: “The Moving Spirit”

The final installment of Spooky Tales from the Mudd House is here just in time for Halloween! It is by far the most important “Spooky Tale” in the history of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Society. As some of you know, the museum allegedly owes its existence to a ghost story. For those of you who know the story, it is well worth a refresher. For those who have never experienced the tale of “the Moving Spirit,” sit back, sip your favorite pumpkin flavored drink, and enjoy.

The tale of “the Moving Spirit” was experienced and told by our founder Louise Mudd-Arehart. Although she related the story to all who would listen, she shared it with the entire Society over the course of two newsletters in January and May 1979. Louise remembered that in the early 1960s she began being visited by the “Spirit” in her home. She noted “hearing footsteps going upstairs. BUT there is no upstairs here.” She also reported hearing someone knocking at her door, only to find the step empty when she opened to see who was there. She noted that even her husband experienced the mysterious vanishing knocker and was becoming convinced of supernatural interference.

As the visits continued, Louise was able to notice more details about the “Spirit.” She noted that it was a “man wearing a long brown topcoat and cap.” As time progressed, the encounters became closer. On one occasion, Louise recalled being in the house alone. She was cleaning in her kitchen. As she moved from her kitchen into her dining room she stopped at the site of the “Spirit” standing in front of her. The closeness of this encounter allowed her to note more details than ever before. On this occasion, the man was “wearing black trousers, black vest, white shirt with the sleeves rolled back to his elbows, a black bow tie, untied watching me.” She continued, “he turned and went down the hall,” disturbing the family dog in the process. When Louise followed the man into the next room, she discovered that he had vanished.

By 1970, Louise “started meditating on the things that were happening” and she was convinced that the “Spirit” wanted her to do something. Soon, Louise realized who the “Spirit” was and what he wanted from her. She became “convinced that it was my Grandfather Mudd…it dawned on me what this was all about.” She informed her husband that she needed to travel to see her brother on the family farm because “Grandpa is telling me to save the Dr. Mudd home for the next generation.”

Dr. Samuel A. Mudd “the Moving Spirit”

Louise faced a daunting task. Her brother Joe had taken over the family farm at the passing of his father, Samuel Mudd II. He was one of only three people to privately own the property and his family still occupied the house and farmed the land. Yet Louise was about to ask him voluntarily leave. When she shared here desire to turn the place into a museum, Joe surprised her with his answer. Louise noted her older brother looked at her and said “well, I guess so, because if it isn’t done in my lifetime, I just don’t know what the next generation would do about it.” With those words the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House museum was born.

The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House as a private residence in 1976. (Dr. S.A. Mudd House collection)

The fight to create a museum was a long and drawn out process. It took over a decade from when Joe uttered those words until the first official visitors entered the museum. The bureaucratic red tape and politics involved in getting the proper permits and funding seemed never ending. At one point, Louise noted that Joe and his family were “getting disgusted with the time involved” and were considering backing out.

Disappointed but not deterred, Louise told herself “get busy here if you want to see the Dr. Mudd Museum be a reality.” One night, she noted not being able to sleep. Around 2 a.m. she saw an “all white figure” moving around her room. She attempted to wake her husband who promptly told her to go back to sleep. She then tried to convince herself that she was seeing things. Suddenly, “’the white figure’ slowly came around the wall and stopped by my side of the bed. Finally…I got the message. I said ‘OK Grandpa, I’ll get up and get busy.”

Louise began a letter writing campaign in attempt to problem solve and raise funds. She also embarked on a mission to collect as many family heirlooms as possible, many of which are on display in the museum today. By 1976 she had organized “the Committee for the Restoration for the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House” which was the predecessor of our current Society. She noted that the first meeting of the Board of Directors was held July 14, 1976. A few days before this meeting, Louise experienced the last of her visits from the “Spirit.” This encounter was different from the others. Instead of being visited by a man, she noticed an image “slowly shape up-like out of a tunnel-first small then getting larger. As I began to recognize it I said ‘why that is the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd house.’ Then, it slowly went back down the tunnel…it was the house finished, just like the old pictures of it.”

The house at the start of restoration. (Mudd House collection)
Louise Mudd-Arehart, the real life “Moving Spirit” behind the museum, fulfilling her promise to her grandfather’s ghost by getting her hands dirty removing siding from the house. (Mudd House collection)

While we recognized that not everyone believes in stories of the supernatural, we hope you were able to take something valuable away from our “Spooky Tales.” If you subscribe to experiences of paranormal activity, we hope the stories intrigued you. If you are skeptical, we hope you learned a little about the history of the region and the founding of the museum. Regardless of what you believe, I think we can all agree that we are certainly glad that “the Moving Spirit” helped move Louise’s spirit into action and create the museum we all love today.

The final visit of the “Moving Spirit,” as it looks today.

Spooky Tales from the Mudd House Part II: A Series of En-light-ening Encounters

The second installment of Spooky Tales from the Mudd House should be an en-light-ening experience! The story comes to us from our founder, Mrs. Louise Mudd-Arehart. In the August 1978 edition (Vol. 1, No.2) of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Society newsletter, she related several turn of the 20th century stories of a mysterious “light” that seemed to occupy the area of the museum.

Louise was one of Dr. Mudd’s grandchildren and was the daughter of Samuel A. Mudd II. Her father took over the farm when the doctor passed away in 1883. Louise recalled first learning of the “light” as a small child. She noted, “I recall Papa (Samuel A. Mudd II) calling the family together and showing us the ‘Light.’ It was an eerie feeling I recalled as I climbed up the five board fencing by the well house to see the ‘Light,’ as it went around (maybe into) the barns and along the fence line.”

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A view of the rear of the Dr. Mudd House. Note, the five board fence Mrs. Arehart remembers climbing. The well house is the small white building to the right. (Library of Congress)

Mrs. Arehart went on to provide several accounts from neighbors to corroborate her story. The first involved a nephew of Dr. Mudd named Joe Gardiner. According to Louise, Joe lived in “Oak Hill,” the former home of the doctor’s father. He once boasted to a neighbor that “there was a ghost over on the Dr. Sam farm,” stating that a light “used to go into the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House, all through the rooms, around the house and down through the fields.”

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A photoshopped rendition of the “Light” at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House (Photo by Bob Bowser)

Joe had a close encounter with the “Light.” He related that on one occasion he and his sister were on their way home from St. Peter’s Church near nightfall. When they reached the old St. Peter’s Cemetery, the “Light” suddenly came out of the graveyard and fixed itself near the top of the buggy. Then, the siblings noted that the “Light” began moving around their carriage. Alarmed, Joe’s sister exclaimed, “Joe, we have to get home, what do we do?” Joe put the reigns to the horse and headed south as fast as he could. Allegedly, the “Light” followed them down the road for some distance before it ultimately turned into the Zekiah Swamp and vanished.

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The Zekiah Swamp on the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd property (Bob Bowser)

Another tale of the “Light” involved a neighbor named Fred Bender. Mr. Bender moved on to the farm adjacent to Oak Hill in 1910. One day he was in the fields with a hired worker named Ambrose Gross. Bender remembered that Ambrose looked up and shouted “look at that light going over Mr. Joe’s (Gardiner) field.” The “Light” passed Joe’s house (Oak Hill) and headed north toward the Mudd house. The two men chased the “Light” as fast as they could, but were stopped by the flooded stream that connected the two farms. Today, modern visitors pass over this stream as the travel south on Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Road.

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Oak Hill, the farm of Dr. Mudd’s parents. Occupied at the time of the “Light” by Joe Gardiner. The farm was located about 1/2 mile south of Dr. Mudd’s home. (Osborn Oldroyd, 1901)

The final story concerning the “Light” regards its near capture. Mr. Bender and another neighbor named Mr. Petzold spotted the “Light” hovering over a cornfield. The two men decided to arm themselves and “went over to the big wood pile and got a big clump of wood and started following the ‘Light’-going slow.” The “Light” entered one of the barns on the Oak Hill property. The two men rushed to the building hurried as fast as they could saying “now we can catch it.” When they arrived at the closed barn door, the “Light” shot out of the building and disappeared into the swamp.

While the story of the “Light” may not be as sensational as Booth’s ghost sleeping in an upstairs bedroom (see part I), it seems to have been a mainstay in the neighborhood around the turn of the 20th century. We hope you found our second Spooky Tale as en-light-ening as we did. However, like any good story teller…we’ve saved the best for last!  

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for part III!

Spooky Tales of the Dr. Mudd House (Part I)

In October 2020, the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum was featured in the mid-Atlantic edition of Southern Living magazine as having one of “the South’s Best Ghost Stories.”[1] As you know, most of our efforts rightfully focus on the rich history that unfolded on our property. Since we were highlighted in the magazine and with Halloween just around the corner, we could not help but have a little fun and share some of the supernatural stories that originate with our site.

Article from October, 2020 edition of Southern Living Magazine

Throughout the years, we have heard of many “encounters” happening at the House. While many of these stories seem a bit far-fetched, there are a few that have resonated throughout the life of the museum and hold a special place in our history. In fact, one of these stories allegedly led to the creation of the museum itself! Throughout the week, we will try to share a few of the spooky tails of the museum.

The first story we’ll share was the one highlighted in the Southern Living article. It was a favorite of Danny Fluhart, the Society’s second president, who often shared it with inquisitive visitors. The story focuses on one of the rope beds in the front upstairs bedroom called the “Booth Room,” due to its most infamous occupant. Legend holds that despite how tightly tucked the sheets and coverlet are in the evening, a human impression can clearly be seen in the bed by morning. While some see this as the natural settling of an old bed, others see it as the spirit of John Wilkes Booth returning to the room he occupied just hours after committing his horrific crime. Regardless of what you believe, the story has been shared in several publications through the years and is one that many visitors know and about which they inquire during tours.

Many thanks to Southern Living magazine for sharing our story!

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more Spooky Tales from the Dr. Mudd House!

The infamous bed where some believe the ghost of John Wilkes Booth rests every evening.

[1] “The South’s Best Ghost Stories,” Southern Living, October, 2020.

“I live at Dr. Sam Mudd’s:” Shedding light on the obscure residents of the Mudd farm in April 1865

The historical narrative of John Wilkes Booth and David Herold’s stay at the Mudd farm is usually retold through the accounts of Dr. and Mrs. Mudd. In reality, fifteen other individuals inhabited the farm on April 15, 1865. Who were they and what did they have to say about that day?

On April 21, 1865, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd found himself interrogated by Colonel Henry H. Wells in Bryantown. Wells wanted to know about the “two strangers” that Mudd claimed arrived at his farm the morning following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. During the interview, Mudd indicated “my family at this time consisted of my wife, four children, a widow lady, and a sister-in-law.” He also noted “there are three working hands on the place-two white, one colored.”[1] Dr. Mudd’s statement revealed that there were far more individuals on his farm than are generally included in discussions of Booth and Herold’s visit. Interestingly, there were even more individuals than those referenced by Dr. Mudd in his statement to Wells. In all, seventeen people were present on that historic day. Many of these individuals left accounts of their recollections of Booth’s visit to the farm. Some testified in the trial of the conspirators. Some remained silent. What follows attempts to identify and share the stories of all of those who were on the Mudd farm in April 1865.

House in the morning
The home of Dr. and Mrs. Mudd. Photo by Bob Bowser

Those Identified in Dr. Mudd’s Statement

By April 1865, the population of St. Catherine, Dr. Mudd’s farm, was much higher than most realize. The immediate Mudd family had already grown to six individuals. Sam and Sarah were the proud parents of four young children. Six-year-old Andrew, four-and-a-half year old Lillian, or “Sissie,” as she was known, three-and-a-half year old Thomas, and fourteen-month old Samuel Jr. filled the house with the love and joy that coincides with small children. Due to their ages, no records exist of their experience during Booth and Herold’s stay, however their lives were undeniably impacted by the events of that day.

Mudd Children
The Mudd Children as Adults: Lillian, Thomas, Samuel Jr. (no known photo exists of Andrew)  courtesy of Robert Summers muddresearch.com

In addition to six Mudd’s, there were two Dyers living on the farm in April 1865. Mrs. Mudd was born a Dyer, so it is logical that there were members of the family inhabiting the farm. Dr. Mudd’s statement to Colonel Wells confirmed the presence of “a widow lady” living with his family. She was Mrs. Mary Jane (Dyer) Simms. In 1850, Mary Jane and her husband Joseph Simms lived next door to the family of a then sixteen-year-old Sam who resided at his father’s farm about ½ mile east of St. Catherine. In 1855, Joseph died. Little is known of Mary Jane’s whereabouts until 1860, when she appeared on the census living with the Mudds at St. Catherine. With the maiden name “Dyer,” it is highly likely that Mary Jane was extended kin of Mrs. Mudd.[2] Mary Jane testified on behalf of Dr. Mudd during the trial. In her testimony, she was question about her living arrangements in 1864. She noted that she lived with the Mudds “except when I was at my sister’s visiting” adding “I never staid over two or three weeks at a time.”[3] Interestingly, she was not questioned about Booth and Herold’s visit on April 15 and her voice has remained silent on the subject. Mary Jane was listed as still living with the Mudds on the 1870 census.

Joseph and Mary Jane Simms
Joseph and Mary Jane Simms as they appeared on the 1850 census. NARA

Another Dyer joined the household in 1863. The “sister-in-law” Dr. Mudd referenced was Elizabeth “Betty” Dyer. Betty had been living about ½ mile west and across the Zekiah Swamp with her bachelor brother Jeremiah. In the summer of 1863, Jeremiah opened a dry goods business in Baltimore and eventually sold his farm in Charles County.[4] When Jeremiah departed the area, Betty went to live with her sister Sarah’s family across the swamp. She, too, left no record of Booth’s visit in 1865.

Aside from family members, there were many laborers living on the farm. The “two white” laborers were John Best and Thomas Davis. At sixty-five years of age, John Best was the oldest individual on the property by two decades. Best was another transplant from Jeremiah Dyer’s decision to sell the family farm. He had served on the Dyer farm as a “farm laborer” since 1850. Best made the half-mile move across the Zekiah in late 1864. Mrs. Mudd referred to Best as “our old gardener,” but census records again list him as a “farm laborer.”[5] He is best known for helping Dr. Mudd make the crutches that Booth requested on April 15. Oddly, Best was never asked to write a statement, give an interview, or testify in the trial although it seems unlikely Best had any interaction with the assassins.[6]

john best
“Our Old Gardiner” John Best (misspelled on the record) NARA

The other “white laborer” was Thomas Davis. He arrived on the farm in early January 1865 to fill a vacancy opened by Maryland’s decision to abolish slavery the previous November. Many former enslaved workers completed the calendar year and left the farm. Davis occupied the upstairs room in the “new” section of the house. Today, this room is occupied by our caretaker and is not on the tour. For reference, the room is located above the gift shop. The room did not open to any of the upstairs rooms in the main house. This provided privacy for both the hired worker and the family and limited any possible interaction between Davis and the assassins.

Unlike John Best, Thomas Davis was arrested and taken to the Old Capitol Prison with Dr. Mudd. He remained there until called to testify on Sam’s behalf on May 29 and again on June 5, 1865. While Davis testified that he did not see either Booth or Herold, he did admit to handling their horses. Davis reported an injury to one of the horses. He noted its “shoulder was swelled right smart…the swelling of the shoulder was fresh…” Davis then spent the day “grubbing” in the field. He returned home near dark, but Booth and Herold had already gone. Davis was released from prison after his testimony and vanished into history. [7]

The “colored” individual identified by Dr. Mudd was Frank Washington. Frank arrived on the Mudd farm in early 1864 as an enslaved ploughman. Frank stated that he belonged to a woman named Lydia Ann Dyer when he went to work at Dr. Mudd’s.  Frank decided to stay on the Mudd farm as a hired laborer after statewide emancipation freed him. He stated that Dr. Mudd paid him $130 per year for his services.

Frank was asleep in the kitchen on April 15, 1865. Around 4 am, Dr. Mudd woke Frank to put two horses in the stable. Frank completed his duty and went back to sleep. Later in the day, Frank was asked to saddle two horses, one for Dr. Mudd and the other for one of the visitors. Frank saddled the horses and led them into the yard. According to his testimony, he went to work in the fields before the doctor or Herold came out to mount their horses. He did not see them leave the farm and noted that both of the horses that came early that morning were missing from the stable when he returned near dark.[8]

the house from rear
The kitchen where Frank Washington and his family resided is the smallest portion of the house in the foreground. Photo by Bob Bowser

Those Omitted from Dr. Mudd’s Statement

For unknown reasons, Dr. Mudd chose not to mention several individuals who resided on the farm on April 15, 1865. Historical records clearly indicate their presence and several of them left accounts of Booth and Herold at the house on the day following the assassination.

Two of these individuals inhabited St. Catherine almost as long as Dr. and Mrs. Mudd. Lettie Hall and Lousia Christie were half-sisters enslaved by the Mudds as early as 1860. Both were very young when they came to the farm and were referred to as “the orphans.” At the time of the assassination, Lettie was only around thirteen and Lousia about eleven years of age. In an interview given in 1929, Lettie recalled the morning of Booth and Herold’s arrival. She noted that Dr. Mudd woke both sisters. Lettie was tasked with making breakfast for two men that had just arrived. She proudly recalled, “I got up, killed a chicken, and had the finest biscuits I believe I ever baked. I put cream in for shortening, and they were so pretty and nice.” She continued, “A Mr. Harold…came down with the family to breakfast, but Lousia was ordered to take Mr. Booth’s breakfast upstairs…” Lettie alleged that Booth paid both girls for their services noting “I learned later that Mr. Booth gave my sister two 25-cent pieces, and told her to give me one. I shall never forget that first piece of money I ever had…”[9]

Lettie and Lousia lived with the Mudd family into the 1870s. Lettie eventually moved to Alexandria, Virginia and later to Butler, Pennsylvania where she died and was buried. Lousia never left an account and her whereabouts after leaving the Mudd farm remain a mystery.

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The grave site of Lettie Hall in Rose Hill Cemetery located in Butler, Pennsylvania. Photo by Bob Bowser

Another individual known to be living on the farm at the time of the assassination was Betty Washington. Betty was the wife of Frank Washington and came to St. Catherine in January 1865. She had been enslaved by Mrs. Adelaide Middleton in 1864. Following emancipation Betty moved to be with her husband. Betty did not come to St. Catherine alone. By 1865, the Washingtons had a family of their own. Betty arrived with three sons: eight-year-old Edward, four-year-old J.R., and two-year-old Sidney. Thomas Davis remembered “Frank Washington, his wife, and their children” all lived at the farm when Booth and Herold were there in 1865.[10]

the washingtons
The Washingtons living on the farm in April 1865 NARA

Like her husband Frank, Betty testified on Sam’s behalf. She remembered being at the kitchen window when she saw David Herold “going in the direction of the swamp.” She did not see Booth with Herold, however this must have been in the afternoon when the two men left because she noted that “Mrs. Mudd had started off a little girl for a woman to come and clean the house, as the gentleman had gone…”[11]

The Washingtons remained with the Mudd family until the 1870s. Frank and Betty added two more children to the family the time they moved away from the farm. Unfortunately, the Washingtons also faded into history when they relocated.

Those in the Haze of History

As is often the case when studying historical events, it is possible that some individuals existed who were present on the farm yet remain hidden in the haze of history. One such individual was the mysterious woman requested by Mrs. Mudd “to come and clean the house,” mentioned by Betty Washington. The historical record identified Lettie Hall and Lousia Christie as “domestic servants” indicating that they were tasked with cooking, cleaning the house, and helping with the children. It is logical that they should be the ones who cleaned up after Booth and Herold left the property. However, the wording of Betty’s testimony leaves this theory open to debate. Betty mentioned “Mrs. Mudd started off a little girl…” This is almost undoubtedly Lousia Christie, the youngest female laborer on the property. Betty then continued that the woman was “to come and clean the house.” At approximately thirteen, it seems implausible that Lettie Hall was grown enough to be called a “woman.” Additionally, Lettie’s role on the farm had her located in the house. It does not seem reasonable that Mrs. Mudd should have to send Lousia to get Lettie to come and clean the house.

Mrs. Mudd offered another clue to the woman’s identity. Near the turn of the century, she noted that a “servant while cleaning the room had thrown it (Booth’s boot) under the bed…I sent Martha, the house girl to get it…”[12] It is logical that “Martha” was the woman for whom Mrs. Mudd had sent, however there is no one by that name in the historical record. The fact that someone needed to be sent to get her indicates that she may have resided on another part of the property, such as the small cabin that sat about 200 yards to the south of the house, or a neighboring farm like that of Dr. Mudd’s father. It is also plausible that Martha was a free woman of color who lived nearby. Perhaps, Mrs. Mudd was simply mistaken with her recollection. History may never reveal the secret of Martha’s identity.

Yet another mysterious individual was revealed in an interview that Mrs. Mudd granted to the Baltimore News on February 11, 1909. In the interview Mrs. Mudd recalled that her “children’s nurse, a white girl named Nancy Tilly” may also have been present on April 15. Like “Martha,” no record of anyone named Nancy Tilly exists living on the Mudd farm. Additionally, this account directly contradicts what the interview Dr. Mudd gave Colonel Wells just days after Booth’s stay. It needs to be remembered that Mrs. Mudd gave this interview nearly forty-four years after the incident.

The final individual shrouded in mystery was “Aunt” Caroline Wade.  In the post-war years, Caroline Wade claimed to have been a slave on the Mudd farm. She stated that she was present on April 15, and saw John Wilkes Booth. She also stated that she witnessed Federal soldiers destroy the farm in the days following Booth’s departure. Once again, no historical evidence exists that Caroline Wade was ever on the Mudd farm. She may have been the woman for whom Mrs. Mudd sent to clean the house. Alternatively, she may have lived in the area and by chance saw Booth that day. Perhaps she was simply looking for a little notoriety and attempted to work her way into history by fabricating her story.[13]

Caroline Wade
“Aunt” Caroline Wade in later life. Image courtesy of Garth Bowling 

Most historical interpretations of Booth and Herold’s stay at Dr. Mudd’s farm narrowly focus on the major participants. This creates the false impression that Dr. Mudd was alone with his family when the assassins came calling. In reality, there were at least seventeen individuals who uniquely experienced this historic event. Their presence adds depth to the story and gives a better understanding of the farm in April 1865. Regardless of whether they interacted with Booth and Herold, their lives were impacted nonetheless. They have earned a place in history.

Written by Bob Bowser. This article may not be used in part or in full without consent of the author. All rights reserved. 2020.

[1] Investigation and Trial Papers Relating to the Assassination of President Lincoln, 1865 (NARA microfilm M599). National Archives, Washington, D.C., reel 5, frames 226-239. (henceforth Lincoln Assassination File)

[2] 1850; Census Place: Bryantown, Charles, Maryland, Roll: 290; pg. 293a and 1860; Census Place: Bryantown, Charles, Maryland; pg. 82; Family History Library Film 803473.

[3] Ben Perley Poore, The Conspiracy Trial for the Murder of the President, and the Attempt to Overthrow the Government by the Assassination of its Principal Officers: Volume II (Boston: J.E. Tilton and Company, 1865), 341.

[4] Poore, Volume II, 304-305.

[5] Nettie Mudd-Monroe, The Life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd (Baltimore: The Neale Publishing Company, 1906), pg. 35

[6] Lincoln Assassination File, reel 5: frames 226-239.

[7] Lincoln Assassination File, reel 4: frames 245-254.

[8] Poore, Volume II, 316-318.

[9] “Butler Woman Cooked Breakfast for Booth after He had Killed Lincoln at Close of Civil War.” Butler Eagle (Butler, Pennsylvania), March 16, 1929.

[10] Lincoln Assassination File, reel 4: frames 245-254.

[11] Poore, Volume II, 284-285.

[12] Mudd-Monroe, The Life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, pgs. 33-34.

[13] Julia King, Christine Arnold-Lowe, Susan Shaffer, Pathways to History: Charles County, Maryland, 1658-2008 (Smallwood Foundation, Inc.: Mount Victoria, Maryland 2008), pg. 152.

Private Thomas O. Dyer: The Mudd Connection to Appomattox by Bob Bowser

155 years ago today, Dr. Mudd’s brother-in-law stood in the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia as it was surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. He soon found himself in prison alongside Dr. Mudd, transferred to one of the North’s most notorious prison camps, and later playing a major role in helping Sam gain his freedom.

April 9 marks the 155th anniversary of the General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Lee’s surrender marked the beginning of the end of the American Civil War and undoubtedly played a role in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln less than one week later.

(Harper’s Weekly May 20, 1865)

Among the thousands of Confederate soldiers present at Appomattox was thirty-five year old Thomas O. Dyer. Dyer was a private in the famed Washington Artillery Battalion from New Orleans, Louisiana. Tom was also the brother of Mrs. Sarah Frances Mudd.

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Mrs. Sarah Frances (Dyer) Mudd

Tom was born on the Dyer family farm near Bryantown, Maryland in 1830. In 1852, he moved to New Orleans and found employment in the mercantile industry. In May 1863, Tom returned to Maryland to help his older brother Jeremiah open a dry goods store in Baltimore. Shortly after his arrival, Tom learned that he was eligible to be drafted into the Union Army. Late that summer, Dyer made his way south and crossed the Potomac. He was in search of the Army of Northern Virginia. Specifically, Tom was looking for familiar faces from New Orleans. He found them camped near Orange Court House, Virginia.

Thomas Dyer’s name on the Union draft roll

The Washington Artillery battalion had been in active service since 1861. The unit fought in most of the major battles in the Easte Theater of war. By the fall of 1863, the Washington Artillery needed men to replace casualties. Tom enlisted with the 2nd Company of the Washington Artillery on September 7, 1863. He served with the unit through the Overland Campaign, the siege of Petersburg, the Appomattox Campaign, and the surrender at Appomattox.[1]

surrendering muskets
Confederate forces surrendering their muskets and colors. Alfred Waud (Library of Congress)

General Grant’s lenient terms of surrender allowed former Confederate soldiers to sign a parole. The parole granted them access to Union transportation and food supplies as they traveled home. All that was required was the soldier’s signature and promise to never again take up arms against the government of the United States. The Union army printed 30,000 parole forms and had them ready for signature on April 10. [2] 

Thomas Dyer’s name does not appear on the list of Appomattox parolees. One possible reason can found the unit’s regimental history. According to In Camp and Battle with the Washington Artillery of New Orleans the battery found itself fighting desperately at Appomattox Station on April 8, 1865. As the Army of Northern Virginia disintegrated around them, a member of the battery remembered that the unit “destroyed the gun carriages, buried their guns in the woods, and nearly all the officers and men went to the mountains.” Robert E. Lee surrendered the remainder of his forces the next day. It is quite likely that Thomas Dyer fled with his comrades rather than surrender.

Thomas made his way from Appomattox back home to Bryantown. His timing could not have been worse. His arrival coincided with the Federal manhunt for John Wilkes Booth. Thomas was arrested on April 25 for not having a signed parole. Eventually, he was transferred to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. Ironically, Thomas would have been greeted by another familiar face. Dr. Mudd had been arrested just before Tom’s arrival in Bryantown and was being held in the Old Capitol Prison. The two were together for less than one week when Dr. Mudd was transferred to the Old Washington Arsenal Penitentiary on May 4, 1865 to stand trial for Lincoln’s assassination.

The Old Capitol Prison (LoC)

Tom remained in the Old Capitol Prison after Sam’s departure. It is very likely that he had a visit from his sister on May 9, as Mrs. Mudd was in Washington and signed a loyalty oath at the prison that day. Either Tom was not given the opportunity to sign an oath there or he refused to do so and was transferred to the prisoner of war camp at Elmira, New York on May 11.  He remained there until June 21, 1865 when he finally signed an oath of allegiance and was released.

Elmira Prison Camp (LoC)

Thomas Dyer oath of allegiance
Thomas Dyer’s Oath of Allegiance                (National Archives)

In October, Tom made his way back to New Orleans where he resumed his former job.[3] Due to his location along the Gulf of Mexico, Tom was the closest geographic relative to Sam while in prison. As such, he became an important lifeline for the confined doctor. When Sam arrived at Fort Jefferson in August, bureaucratic red tape was keeping much of his mail from reaching him. In November, Tom made contact with Major-General Philip Sheridan who was the commander of Military Division of the Gulf. Tom was successful in getting Sheridan to grant him written permission to send Sam a box full of supplies. Everyone in the family was relieved when Sam graciously wrote home asking Mrs. Mudd to thank Tom for the “fine clothes, several cans of vegetables, fish, whiskey, etc.” Although Sam disappointingly noted “the whiskey was not received.” Tom kept the habit of sending Sam money, newspapers, and supplies throughout his nearly four-year incarceration. Tom’s usual monetary contribution was $30 and he mainly sent “edibles” in the boxes. Sam even became so bold as to request supplies from Tom when the prices became “very high at the post sutler’s.” [4]

Tom was equally important in role in trying to help obtain a pardon for Dr. Mudd. As early as November 1865, Sam was insisted that if the family could obtain official papers enacting his release they should “telegraph it to Tom, and tell him to notify me from New Orleans.”[5]

Tom also committed to financially support legal efforts to free his brother-in-law. In 1867, Tom received a letter from his brother Jeremiah in Baltimore. The letter indicated that Jeremiah had found a lawyer who was willing to take Sam’s case through the appeals process for the cost of $1000. Tom immediately wrote his brother that he pledged $500 to the cause, challenging Sam’s “praying friends” to raise the other half of the fee.[6]

When President Andrew Johnson decided to grant Dr. Mudd a pardon in February 1869 Tom played a key role in the process. After being summoned to Washington and receiving the pardon, Mrs. Mudd attempted to take a steam ship from Baltimore to Dry Tortugas, Florida to deliver the papers in person. However, she missed the ship and another was not scheduled to leave for two weeks. She decided to risk sending Tom the documents by express. They safely reached him a few days later. He paid a Mr. Loutrel $300 to deliver them to Fort Jefferson. The papers arrived on the island on March 8 and Dr. Mudd began his journey home.[7]

Thomas Dyer lived in New Orleans the remainder of his life. He continued his work in the mercantile industry until the end of his life. In 1875 he married Marie Winchester. The couple had one daughter named Mary Frances. Tom died on November 27, 1891, remembered by family and friends as a “veteran of the Washington Artillery and a prominent figure” for his small part in the history of the United States.[8]

obit close up
Obituary of Thomas Dyer The Times-Picayune, November 27, 1891

[1] Robert K. Summers, The Assassin’s Doctor, 2014. https://www.amazon.com/Robert-K.-Summers/e/B00TSQZ9RQ

[2] “Paroling the Army of Northern Virginia,” National Parks Service (US Department of the Interior) https://www.nps.gov/apco/learn/historyculture/parole-passes-a.htm

[3] Nettie Mudd Monroe, The Life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd (New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1909), 129.

[4] Ibid., 141-143.

[5] Ibid., 140.

[6] Ibid., 257.

[7] Ibid., 320.

[8] “Thomas O. Dyer,” The Times-Picayune, November 27, 1891, pg. 3.