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The Union vs. Dr. Mudd by Hal Higdon

The Union vs. Dr. Mudd

by Hal Higdon

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In high school here in Maryland, I was told by my teacher, a very nice if somewhat gullible person, that poor doctor Samuel Mudd was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when two total strangers showed up by chance on his doorstep, he did his duty as a doctor. I am glad to say that this book is much more accurate. It is also one of the more balanced books, particularly among those sympathetic to Mudd. Higdon relies a lot on information from his descendents. but he admits that Mudd's own delays, prevarications, and outright lies got him into trouble. He knew John Wilkes Booth, and since he was out of the way of shortest trip to Virginia, Herold and Booth probably deliberately sought him out. He wasn't arrested for treating Booth's leg, he was arrested because the Federal government thought he was more actively a member of Booth's conspiracy, and that he was an accessory after the fact. (I understand that it is actually not illegal to render medical assistance to a fleeing criminal, it's letting him flee without notifying the authorities that is the problem.) I don't think that Higdon gave us a clear opinion as to whether or not Mudd was guilty, although he clearly thinks that the trial was both illegal and unjust.

He is also appalled at the conditions under which Mudd and three other persons: Samuel Arnold, Michael O'Laughlin, and Ned Spangler were imprisoned on the Dry Tortugas. One of the things that I like about the book is that he does discuss these other three prisoners and convicted co-conspirators. They tend to be the forgotten men of the case, with Samuel Mudd and Mary Surratt drawing most of the interest. Higdon was writing before the record of the interrogation of George Atzerodt was turned up in the papers of his attorney Captain William Doster in the 1970s, so he cannot consider that interesting document.

There are some flaws in the book. In common with most books that I have read on this subject, he really doesn't do justice to the argument about whether or not a military commission was legal, preferring to ignore the government's case altogether. He quotes Ewing as saying that the prisoners on the Tortugas were beyond legal assistance, which seems odd since.Dr. Mudd filed two law suits while he was incarcerated contesting the legality of his trial. Higdon doesn't mention these. The second went before the Supreme Court. It was rendered moot when President Johnson pardoned the prisoners, which is very unfortunately historically speaking as it would have settled this heated issues.

I would also recommend reading His Name Is Still Mudd: The Case Against Doctor Samuel Alexander Mudd by Edward J. Steers. Steers is convinced the Mudd was guilty, and the two books taken together will give the reader a better view of the case. Also very interesting, if inconclusive, Dr. Mudd and the Lincoln Assassination the Proceedings of a Moot Court of Military Appeal to Hear the Case of Dr. Samuel a. Mudd, edited by John Paul Jones, contains, in addition to the Proceedings, a number of conflicting arguments on the Mudd case and its attendant issues. ( )
  juglicerr | Jan 17, 2011 |
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It was early in the morning, Saturday, April 15, 1865.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0813032679, Paperback)

For nearly 150 years, one question remains unanswered in the events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln: was Samuel A. Mudd, the physician who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, guilty or innocent of participating in the conspiracy to murder the president?
Featuring a new introduction and epilogue, this well-researched and unbiased account of Mudd's testimony, trial, and imprisonment remains the gold standard on the topic more than forty years after it was first published.
So, did Dr. Mudd merely answer the call of duty when an injured man appeared on his doorstep, or was he a wily co-conspirator who avoided the death penalty? Hal Higdon takes an objective stance and allows the reader to decide.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:29 -0400)

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