More on Manhunt, plus revisiting Dr. Mudd

I’ve finished Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. My impression is still favorable.

The short of it: It’s a well-told story in dramatic fashion, with good research to back it up.

For the long of it, you’ll have to read on.For one thing, the book explores a number of alternative possibilities. What if Booth had missed? Booth actually made a number of tactical mistakes, including the use of a Derringer, which meant he only had one shot. In contrast, one of his co-conspirators had six shots and still failed to kill Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, the same night. But that’s another story.

I won’t ruin the story, but the book provides a compelling argument about how the outcome of that fateful night would have been very different if Booth’s shot had been off, or if the gun misfired, or if anything else had gone differently at Ford’s Theater.

The book also does a good job of telling what became of all the other players, major and minor, in the aftermath of Lincoln’s murder.

I wish the book had spent a little more time on the trials themselves, but since Booth is the principal character of the book and didn’t live to go on trial, I can see why only a couple of pages were devoted to it.

Having finished the book, I understand its treatment of Dr. Samuel Mudd a little bit better. I still maintain (and the book seems to agree) that although Mudd and Booth knew one another in passing, that there was no way Mudd was expecting that early morning visit from Booth, nor did Mudd know what Booth had just done. Furthermore, when Mudd did find out what Booth had done, he didn’t approve.

In that regard, Mudd was not guilty of conspiracy. He wasn’t in on this conspiracy. He was dragged in because Booth injured himself in the escape and needed medical attention. For that matter, Booth actually went several hours out of his way to see Mudd. Booth’s escape plan was to head south into Virginia just as quickly as possible, and from there, get into the Deep South, where he could find shelter in the small pockets of the Confederacy that had not yet surrendered. Booth’s ultimate goal was to throw the government of the north into disarray, giving what was left of the Confederacy a chance to reignite the war.

Booth had no use for Dr. Samuel Mudd in this plan. That is, not until he injured himself in his escape from Ford’s Theater, but that wasn’t part of Booth’s plan.

And furthermore, had Mudd been expecting Booth, wouldn’t he have had better implements on hand for making a splint? Mudd fashioned a crude splint from bits of a crate. He was hardly prepared to set a broken bone that morning when Booth came calling.

The position of the Mudd family all along has been that Booth showed up at his front door, and it was Dr. Mudd’s duty to treat this unexpected patient as best he could, the same way every doctor in earshot of Lincoln did his best to prolong Lincoln’s life, even once it was obvious to all that his wound would kill him.

But Swanson pointed out several things that make it more clear why Mudd served time in prison for helping Booth. Mudd would have been the hero of the story if he’d gone home after he found out what Booth had done, sent Booth on his way, then told the authorities that he had treated Booth’s broken leg and he was now heading south-southwest, destination Virginia. Had Mudd done that, he not only would have avoided jail time, he also would have received a reward.

But Mudd didn’t do that. He sent his cousin to give a vague secondhand account of what happened, and initially the authorities didn’t even follow up on the lead.

Once Booth’s path went cold and the authorities remembered Mudd, they questioned him, noticed he was visibly nervous and his story had inconsistencies, but worst of all, it contained false information that may have delayed Booth’s apprehension.

So Mudd did, in a sense, participate in the conspiracy. It’s just that he wasn’t involved at the beginning. Certainly Mudd committed no crime by treating Booth’s broken leg, and I think even a military tribunal would agree with me on that. His crime was giving misinformation that slowed down a criminal investigation.

Mudd escaped the death penalty by one vote. I wonder, if Booth had killed anyone else during his escape attempt, if Mudd would have been executed along with four others who had aided Booth in one way or another.

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