Biographies & Memoirs





John Wilkes Booth is miserable. Flat on his back on a bed in the country home of Confederate sympathizer Samuel Mudd, Booth screams in pain as the thirty-one-year-old doctor cuts off his boot and gently presses his fingers into the grossly swollen ankle. As if shattering his fibula while leaping to the stage wasn’t bad enough, Booth’s horse threw him during his thirty-mile midnight ride through Maryland, hurling his body into a rock. Booth is sore, hungover, exhausted, and experiencing a new and nagging anxiety: that of the hunted.

After the assassination, Booth and David Herold rode hard all night, stopping only at a small tavern owned by Mary Surratt to pick up some Spencer rifles she’d hidden for them. Herold was glib, boasting to the Confederate proprietor that they’d killed the president. But he also had his wits about him, buying a bottle of whiskey so Booth could enjoy a nip or two to dull the pain. Then they rode on, ten more hard miles on tree-lined country roads, for Booth every mile more painful than the last. It was the actor’s leg that made them detour to Mudd’s house. Otherwise they would have reached the Potomac River by sunrise. With any luck, they might have stolen a boat and made the crossing into Virginia immediately.


Dr. Samuel Mudd


Still, they’re close. Very close. By choosing to take shelter at Mudd’s rather than stay on the main road south to the Potomac, they have veered off the fastest possible route. But Mudd’s five-hundred-acre estate is just north of Bryantown, south and east of Washington, and fully two-thirds of the way to the Potomac River.

Booth’s pants and jacket are now spattered with mud. His handsome face, so beloved by women everywhere, is unshaven and sallow. But more than anything else, John Wilkes Booth is helpless. Almost overnight he has become a shell of himself, as if assassinating Lincoln has robbed him of the fire in his belly, and the pain of his shattered leg has transformed him from daredevil to coward. He is now completely dependent upon David Herold to lead their escape into the South. At a time when Booth needs all his wiles and resources to complete the second half of the perfect assassination, he is too distraught and in too much agony to think straight.

Dr. Mudd says he’s going to splint the leg. Booth lies back and lets him, despite the knowledge that this means he will no longer be able to slip his foot into a stirrup. Now he must ride one-legged, half on and half off his horse—if he can ride at all.

Mudd finishes splinting the leg, then leaves Booth alone to get some rest. The actor is in an upstairs room, so if anyone comes looking, he won’t be found right away. He wraps a shawl around his neck and face to conceal his identity, and he has plans to shave his mustache. But otherwise, he does absolutely nothing to facilitate his escape. The pain is too great. It will take a miracle for Booth to travel even one mile farther.

He rolls over and closes his eyes, then falls into a deep sleep, sure that he is being hunted but completely unaware that more than a thousand men on horseback are within a few miles of his location—and that Lafayette Baker is now on the case.

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