Archive for June, 2014

His Name Was Mudd

by Andy Mateja

Many people recall the name Dr. Samuel Mudd as the doctor who was charged as a co-conspirator in the Lincoln assassination trial in part for treating John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg.
Dr. Mudd was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment at Ft. Jefferson on Garden Key (Dry Tortugas) near Key West Florida. He arrived at the prison in July 1865 and shortly thereafter to plan an escape. He came up with a daring plan to escape on a transport even though lots of soldiers would be on board as well. Mudd wanted to return to his wife and children and to receive a fair trial in a civilian court. Dr. Mudd truly felt he was unfairly convicted in the military trial as all that was ever proven was that he provided medical aid to Booth during his escape and that he and Booth had casually met previously.
Ft. Jefferson was considered “escape proof” at the time. A moat encircled the prison that was infested with sharks and Garden Key itself was 60 miles from Key West. The walls were also 60 ft high. Prison condition were not the best either as the bed was nothing more than a soft wooden plank and light and ventilation were provided by three small slits in the thick walls.
Mudd’s duties at the prison were modest and he seemed to get along well with his Union captors. This was until troops guarding him changed in September. Mudd feared the new guards of the 80th & 82nd US Colored Troops would take revenge on prominent Southern prisoners….particularly if they previously owned slaves. That’s when he made his decision to escape.
On Sept 25th Mudd snuck on the transport “Scott” by bribing an 18 yr old crewman to hide him on board. However the Union guards soon discovered his absence and immediately boarded the transport to search for him with bayonets. They found Mudd hiding under a floor plank and put him in the dungeon bound in iron chains. The 18 yr old crewman, Henry Kelly, was also captured but later escaped from Ft. Jefferson in a rowboat.
While in chains, Mudd was assigned to hard labor. He even wrote a letter of apology and promise of good behavior to the fort’s commanding officer who just ignored it. Dr Mudd’s suffering continued with an armed African-American guard constantly at his side.
That December Mudd’s wife Francis wrote a detailed letter to new president Andrew Johnson pleading for her husband and the cruel treatment he was experiencing day by day. She claimed her husband’s health was failing and all the food and supplies sent to him by her and others were routinely intercepted and not forwarded to Dr. Mudd. President Johnson quickly reacted and ordered more humane treatment for the Ft. Jefferson prisoners less than a month later. Mudd’s iron chains were removed and he was provided a new cell. The real benefit to Mudd was that his escape attempt and the subsequent horrible living conditions that resulted made the public more sympathetic to his circumstances. That and the fact that he promised his wife he would not try to escape again.
In 1867 a yellow fever epidemic hit Garden Key killing many prisoners and the post surgeon. Dr. Mudd assumed the position and went on to help guards and prisoners alike until it eventually afflicted him as well.
In appreciation for his efforts, the surviving officers and troops at the fort signed a petition for his release. Another one circulated in Washington DC and was signed my 39 members of Congress. However Mudd was not released until February 1869 when he received an unconditional pardon from then disgraced President Andrew Johnson whom himself just escaped an impeachment conviction.
Mudd’s health never fully recovered and he died in 1883 in Maryland where he returned after release from Ft Jefferson.
There are some today that believe Dr Mudd had a more “active” role in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination plot and that his meeting with John Wilkes Booth before the attempt was more than just “casual” ……

By Andy Mateja

Prior to the commencement of the Civil War, there were several contributing factors that propelled the nation to the bloody conflict that made it inevitable. This is one of those factors that are sometimes overlooked.
At the end of the 1840’s, then President James K. Polk added vast amounts of land acquisitions to the United States. In addition to the area gained after the Mexican War and the Oregon Territory, Polk also wanted to purchase Cuba from Spain for $100 million dollars. However Spain rejected the offer in no uncertain terms and incoming U.S. President Zachary Taylor further ended the purchase attempts.
There was deep concern during this period by Southern politicians that the newly acquired territories would give the North increased economic and political power as they deemed most of the new land would not be favorable for slavery. The acquisition of Cuba also known as the “Pearl of the West Indies” would expand their slavery base by half a million and further leverage their vast economic advantage.
At this time Narcisco Lopez, a native Venezuelan and former Governor of Trinidad entered the scene to assist the South in accomplishing their goal. He was loyal to the Spanish government until 1843 when they ousted him as governor and 5 years later condemned him to death in part for his support of the American attempt to annex Cuba. He escaped to New York City and began raising money and recruiting volunteers to invade Cuba.
Southerners were especially passionate about this and Lopez approached future Confederate President Jefferson Davis (currently a Senator from Mississippi) to head up an invasion force to seize Cuba. Davis turned down the $100,000 offered him and suggested instead a military officer named Robt E Lee who also promptly turned down the offer. Lopez had no choice but to lead the expedition himself.
Anti Cuban groups were dubious about his success without American support. While brave and courageous, Lopez did not possess strategic vision necessary for success and did not comprehend the political and military results of his endeavor. He received funds from a US based group called the Havana Club and raised a force of 1500 in NYC to invade Cuba. However the Federal Government could not publicly condone this expedition and seized Lopez’s ships and blocked his departure by invoking the 1818 neutrality law.
Lopez then went to the Governor of Mississippi John Quitman for additional aid which, although tempted like Davis, was turned down again. Lopez continued to recruit American volunteers to his cause from mostly Mexican War Veterans. He offered to pay them handsomely and provide a $4000 bonus along with land holdings in Cuba to entice 250 additional volunteers mostly from Ohio and Kentucky.
Lopez had now moved his base of operations from New York City to New Orleans where Southern money and support was very strong. 600 volunteers set sail in 1850 and bypassed the neutrality law by falsely claiming the men were sailing for Panama and heading for the California gold fields. This time the U.S. government was preventing from taking action against Lopez by Congressional filibustering efforts orchestrated by prominent Southern Senators. New Orleans port officials also looked the other way when the ships set sail for Panama.
Rough weather and sailing problems caused delays which Cuban officials spotted and all surprise was ended. Nevertheless even though a few volunteers had defected, the rest of the invaders changed course and sailed for Cuba directly instead of Panama.
Lopez and his men landed at Cardenas and had Spanish military in Cuba back behind the Governors’ palace walls. The Ohio and Kentucky volunteers ultimately persevered and captured Cardenas. The victory was short lived as when Lopez tried to recruit additional volunteers, the Spanish military began to reorganize and come after him. He escaped to Key West followed closely by a Spanish Warship.
Spain immediately issued a formal complaint to the United States government while Southern Senators cheerfully welcomed Lopez’ actions including Jefferson Davis who is quoted as saying “I want Cuba and I know that sooner or later I will have it”. Lopez and Mississippi Governor Quitman were indicted for violating neutrality law but were not convicted due to a “hung Jury”……
Lopez tried again 1851 with 320 NEW volunteers…. This time including actual Cubans and former Hungarian soldiers. Once again the U.S. government was unable to stop them.
Lopez sailed to Key West then directly to Cuba. During the night he went off course and stumbled into Havana Harbor. He quickly exited and sailed to Morrilo where the Spanish troops put up an unexpectedly strong resistance. Many of the Lopez’ invaders were killed or captured. At least 50 were shot in front of a firing squad. Lopez himself was also captured and executed in a public square in front of 20,000 Cubans.
The current Secretary of State, Daniel Webster formally apologized to Spain in an attempt to diffuse the situation prompted by Lopez’ actions and condoned by many Southern Politicians. During the next few years, both U.S. Presidents Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan tried again to purchase Cuba without success.
This was a chapter in our history that has been forgotten by many …..except possibly by the people of Spain and Cuba. Southern leaders believed their position of political advantage in the U.S. government had ended during the 1850’s and with Abraham Lincoln winning the Presidential Election in 1860, their fate was ultimately sealed…………………………

Vindicating a Wrongful Charge

by Andy Mateja

Lew Wallace became internationally renowned in 1880 as the author of Ben Hur – the top selling American Novel of its time. However before that he had gained recognition as a Civil War General who many argue had saved Washington DC (and Abraham Lincoln’s presidency) at a time it was most vulnerable. He also presided as the military judge convicting Henry Wirz of war crimes while serving as the Confederate commander at the infamous Andersonville prison. After the war, Wallace was involved in the U.S. attempt to oust Emperor Maximilian I from Mexico and later becoming the Territorial Governor of New Mexico. Yet despite all these accomplishments, he is remembered in history as being unfairly blamed for Gen Ulysses S. Grant’s near-catastrophe at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.

Wallace was a Major General at this time and in command of the Third Division of The Army of the Tennessee under Grant’s command. After a cancelled raid in Tennessee that had been planned in March of 1862, he spread out his three brigades were spread out over a five mile area halfway between Crump’s Landing and Savannah, where Grant had established his army headquarters. At the time the Union forces believed the upcoming Confederate attack would come from the west and Wallace would be ready for them. However on April 6th when the battle began in the early morning, the Rebel attack came from the south – directly at Grant’s main body located at Pittsburg Landing.
The two main roads to Pittsburg Landing from Wallace’s position were the River Road and the Shunpike. The River Rd had been flooded for weeks so Wallace decided to take the Shunpike instead to the aid the remainder of Grant’s army. He sent two of his three brigades down this road while the remaining brigade further away joined them later in the march. Meanwhile Wallace himself would wait for Grant at Crump’s landing for further instructions. When Grant arrived, he ordered Wallace to wait for further orders and have his division ready to move “at a moment’s notice”.
When the order finally arrived at 11:30AM, the controversy began. Grant originally claimed he ordered Wallace to march down the River Rd and not the Shunpike. Wallace claimed the order did not specify the route and the order itself was “unsigned”. Grant later admitted after the war he doesn’t remember seeing the actual order which somehow was lost – both the original and the copy.
As Wallace’s brigades continued down the Shunpike, an additional staff office sent by Grant to find out the reason for the delay, finally caught up with Wallace (and advised him of Gen Wm Sherman’s division being forced back and wondering why Wallace wasn’t advancing on the River Rd.…..which the staffer came up searching for him and his division (which he claimed were at rest). Wallace was stunned at the terrible news and immediately took steps to confirm. When the information was corroborated, Wallace decided to countermarch his troops all the way back to the River Rd and proceed in that fashion instead with Grant’s staff office as his guide. While turning his men around during the mid afternoon, further confusion resulted. Wallace’s third brigade finally caught up with his other two brigades during this process….further delaying the advance by occupying the necessary reverse route roads.
At 2:30PM Grant sent two additional staff officers to check on Wallace’s progress. These officers – Captains James McPherson and John Rawlins- observed that Wallace was moving very slow during the countermarch and did not seem to be in a hurry. These two staff officers and future generals were trusted friends of Grant’s and did their best to “prod” Wallace along. Additional delays on the march further delayed his division’s progress which did not finally arrive on the battlefield until almost sunset. Thus the relief Grant expected in less than two hours actually required an unbelievable seven hours. After the battle Grant convinced Washington DC that Wallace’s delay almost cost him the battle and had Wallace relieved of command. He served the rest of the war in the EAST.
After the war Wallace tried his best to vindicate his actions at Shiloh and dispel rumors that had surfaced – including an outlandish one that alleged his division finally reached the battlefield by boat. He actually returned to the battlefield and attempted to trace his movements and reasons for the delay. Mapmakers accompanied him in 1895 and created two actual maps – one in 1902 and another in 1909. Like his original Shiloh battle order to advance, these maps disappeared as well. Some attributed their loss to a tornado that resulted in significant damage to the area in 1909.
While no one can say what really happened, there is no question that with all the delays, confusion and counter marches resulted in many hours of delay. While Wallace’s reputation was tarnished at the time, he later performed tremendous service for his country and perhaps even saved the country by his personal actions on that July afternoon in 1864 ……..