Podcast Episodes

His Name Was Mudd

On a Sunday in November of 1864, John Wilkes Booth first made the acquaintance of Dr. Samuel Mudd. The men discussed a horse sale, and Booth was invited to spend the night at Mudd’s home. On December 23, the two men met again, by accident, on a street in Washington, DC.

Four months later, John Wilkes Booth shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln. He broke his left leg in the process, leaping to the stage at Ford’s Theater. He and his getaway man David Harold knocked on the door of Dr. Mudd at four in the morning for assistance. Mudd set, splinted, and bandaged the broken leg. The two stayed for about 12 hours, as the doctor’s handyman made a pair of crutches.

Within days, Dr. Mudd was arrested and charged with conspiracy and with harboring Booth and Harold during their escape. Though he had met Booth on at least two prior occasions, Mudd told authorities he did not recognize him. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, one vote shy of the death penalty.

Mudd was imprisoned in Fort Jefferson, in what is today Dry Tortugas National Park, an isolated Gulf of Mexico island fort. He attempted escape but failed before an epidemic of yellow fever broke out on the island. The fort’s physician died, and Mudd took over the care of the sick. Due to his efforts, he received a full pardon from President Andrew Johnson and was released from prison a hero.

In 1936, a film was made loosely based on Mudd’s story called THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, and then 2 years later it was adapted into a radio drama, starring Gary Cooper as part of the Lux Radio Theater. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, we’re playing for you that program, which we’ve remastered and edited lightly.


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Dry Tortugas National Park – National Park Service Website

How Samuel Mudd Went From Lincoln Conspirator to Medical Savior – Smithsonian

Family vow to clear Abraham Lincoln ‘conspirator’ whose name is Mudd – The Guardian

The Prisoner of Shark Island – Full Audio, including introduction, commercials, and a post-show discussion with the actors


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Podcast Episodes

Alcatraz and the Civil War

In the late 1840s, the U.S. government seized control of California from the Republic of Mexico and immediately went to work on protecting the new land. Located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, an island called Alcatraz was identified as a place of exceptional military utility. Nearly surrounded on all sides, it was ideally positioned to protect the entrance to the bay.

You may know Alcatraz as the so-called inescapable prison which housed Al Capone and George “Machine-Gun” Kelly, and then was immortalized in the film Escape from Alcatraz, but its history began long before.

On this episode, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Alcatraz Island, and its role during the civil war.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Download this episode (right click and save)


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Golden Gate National Recreation Area – NPS Website

Ferry Tickets to Alcatraz Island – Alcatraz Cruises


Transcript

In the late 1840s, the U.S. government seized control of California from the Republic of Mexico, a consequence of the Mexican-American war, and immediately went to work on protecting the new land. Located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, an island called Alcatraz was identified as a place of exceptional military utility. It’s position, nearly surrounded on all sides, would make it easily defensible and ideally positioned to protect the entrance to the bay.

You may know Alcatraz as the so-called inescapable prison which housed Al Capone and George “Machine-Gun” Kelly, and then was immortalized in the film Escape from Alcatraz, but its history began long before.

On this episode, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Alcatraz Island, and its role during the civil war.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—-

Construction of America’s third generation of sea forts during the mid-1800s involved cutting the site down to sea level and then building a multi-tiered embattlement of thick stone and brick. The characteristics of Alcatraz Island’s geology made such a fort impossible, but its natural height was already a great start towards fortification. Instead of cutting the rock and soil down to sea level, the Army Corp of Engineers included Alcatraz’ rugged stone into its design.

Construction commenced in 1853. Laborers created steep walls around the island by blasting rock and laying stone. The army encircled the island with 111 cannons to attack incoming ships, along with smaller guns to protect the sides of the island itself. Any ship entering the bay would have to pass within one mile of Alcatraz’s impressive battery.

A lighthouse was built — the first on the Pacific coast. And near it, a guarded barracks called the Citadel, with rifle-slit windows, living quarters, kitchens, dining halls, and storage for supplies and ammunition. Entrance was gained by crossing a drawbridge over a deep moat. It was to be the final defense if the island was invaded, and was designed to hold up to two hundred soldiers securely facing up to a four-month-long siege.

Once occupied, the Army used the basement cell to detain soldiers who had perpetrated crimes. The island’s escape-resistant location in the middle of the Bay prompted other army bases to send their worst enlisted prisoners to the custody of the Island. By the time the Civil War broke out, the US government named Fort Alcatraz as the official prison for the entirety of the Pacific region. In fact, it was the only completed military fortification west of the Mississippi. The Union also used the island as a training ground for soldiers headed for the western frontier, but it wouldn’t be used for just the military much longer.

The discovery of gold little more than a decade prior made San Fransisco a wealthy town and launched it into the public consciousness. Rumors began to swirl about Southern sympathizers plotting to take San Francisco and its treasure from the Union. The government began to use the Alcatraz guardhouse to jail private citizens accused of treason, alongside soldiers. Treason included anyone who advocated pro-Confederate sentiments. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, allowing people to be imprisoned without trial in a court of law. Some plotted and worked for the Confederacy, some simply refused to pledge an oath to the union. Local politicians and citizens were arrested and jailed on Alcatraz based on perceived notions of their loyalty, without ever facing a judge or jury. Alcatraz became a national symbol as allegiances were put into question, pitting friends and family against one another.

And it wasn’t just private citizens who were under scrutiny. Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, born in Kentucky and raised in Texas, served in three different armies: the Texas Army, the United States Army and the Confederate States Army. Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States, considered him the finest officer in the country. Johnston remained with the Union when the war broke out, however, and was appointed Commander of the Department of the Pacific in California, including Fort Alcatraz.

Notwithstanding his military prowess, his southern roots and association with Jefferson Davis weakened the public’s faith in his commitment to defending San Fransisco from southern attack. Many citizens spread rumors that local Confederates had approached him to seek his help in attacking the city.

Johnston fulfilled his post honorably, but the Army feared he was still vulnerable to potential Southern influence, so they relieved him of his post, at which point he returned to the South and joined the Confederate Army, dying at the battle of Shiloh.

In March of 1863, the Union government discovered that a group of Confederate sympathizers planned to arm a schooner and use it to capture a steamship to blockade the harbor and lay attack to the fortifications at San Fransisco. The plans were thwarted when the ship captain bragged about the plan in a pub. The U.S. Navy seized the ship, arrested the crew and towed it to Alcatraz, where they found cannons, ammunition, supplies, and fifteen men hiding in the stow, one of whom, a prominent local businessman, had papers signed by Jefferson Davis offering him an officer’s commission in the Confederate Navy as a reward.

The ringleaders were arrested and confined in the Alcatraz guardhouse basement. A quick trial was held, resulting in a conviction for treason, until they were granted a pardon from President Lincoln. The incident only spurred additional distrust between locals who thought Confederates were plotting all around them.

Later that same year a legitimate warship entered the San Francisco Bay. There was no wind, so its flag hung limp, and men in rowboats were towing it. The ship did not head toward the San Francisco docks, as ships did every day. Instead, it headed towards the army arsenal and navy shipyard at Angel Island.

Captain William A. Winder, Post Commander at Alcatraz, had a blank charge fired from a cannon as a warning signal for the ship to stop, but the men in rowboats pressed on. Winder then ordered an empty shell fired toward the bow of the ship, and which point it responded with gunfire of its own, which was thankfully recognized as a 21-gun salute. When the smoke cleared, the British flag was visible over the ship, and Winder responded with a return salute.

The ship carried the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s Pacific Squadron, who told Winder that he was displeased by this reception. Winder defended his actions, saying the ship’s direction was so unusual, he deemed it his duty to bring it in. The U.S. Commander of the Department of the Pacific agree and replied that Brits had ignored the procedures for entering a foreign port in wartime. Local residents were thrilled by Winder’s actions, as it was known that Great Britain favored the Confederacy.

Winder, like Johnston, also had Confederate ties. His father was, in fact, a Confederate officer, in charge of prisoner-of-war camps for Union Soldiers, which were notorious for their starvation rations and unhealthy conditions. One local newspaper asserted that he “was feeding the rebel prisoners held there on the fat of the land and off of silver plates.” So when Winder allowed photographers to make 50 different images of the island for sale, the War Department questioned his motives, and ordered the prints and negatives to be confiscated in the name of national security. Winder was transferred to a small post on the mainland.

On April 9, 1865, the guns at Alcatraz sounded to mark the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. The Civil War was over. The city of San Fransisco erupted in celebration. Less than a week later, the shocking news that President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated swept the city, which now plunged into anarchy as Confederate sympathizers celebrated and pro-Union mobs attacked anyone thought to be a confederate. The military sent soldiers from Alcatraz into the city to maintain order. They began arresting people who celebrated Lincoln’s death throughout California, imprisoning them at Alcatraz.

Alcatraz’s final act of the Civil War period was to sound the guns in remembrance of President Lincoln.

——-

In 1876, the Centennial of the United States was to be celebrated in the bay with a show of military might. Cavalry and infantry units performed on the mainland, followed by a choreographed battle over the bay. The Army forts, including Alcatraz, and navy warships were to shoot at a flag on Lime Point and at an old schooner loaded with explosives. As the battle wore on, embarrassment settled in as the Alcatraz cannon were not accurate enough to hit the boat. Under cover of smoke, an officer was sent in a small boat to light the fuses on the schooner. The explosion was anticlimactic to say the least.

It was becoming more and more clear that Alcatraz’s ideal purpose was to be an inescapable prison. The island continued to be developed by the military. In 1893, a hospital was added, and a new upper prison was built in 1904. In 1908, the citadel collapsed. The military constucted a new prison a few years later, which was then modernized in 1933 to become the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, housing some of America’s most dangerous criminals for the next 30 years.

Alcatraz Island is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It’s open year-round, closing only for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Various locations on the island are closed off to the general public certain times of the year, due to the nesting of a variety of seabirds.

A ferry, located at Piers 31-33 will take you to the island. You’ll need to make your reservation in advance because the ferries sell out about a week in advance.

Golden Gate is also home to several other important sites to explore, including the Muir Woods National Monument, and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group for national park lovers. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com, and all over social media.

The America’s National Parks Podcast is a production of Lotus Theatricals, LLC.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

 

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