Fascinating Relic from Dr. Mudd's Prison Cell Ft. Jefferson,Florida
Dr.Mudd, O'Laughlen, Arnold and Spangler were imprisoned at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas about 70 miles (110 km) west of Key West, Florida. The fort housed Union Army deserters and held about six hundred prisoners when Mudd and the others arrived. Prisoners lived on the second tier of the fort, in unfinished open-air gun rooms called casemates. Mudd and his three companions lived in the casemate directly above the fort's main entrance, called the Sally Port.
Dr. Mudd as he appeared when working in the carpenter's shop in the prison at Fort Jefferson.In September 1865, two months after Mudd arrived, control of Fort Jefferson was transferred from the 161st New York Volunteers to the 82nd United States Colored Infantry. On September 25, 1865, he attempted to escape from Fort Jefferson by stowing away on the transport Thomas A. Scott. Some historians believe that as a recent slave owner and a person convicted of conspiring to kill the president whose presidency led to the freeing of the slaves, Mudd was fearful of his treatment by the incoming 82nd United States Colored Infantry and this is why he made his bid for freedom. Others, including Eward Steers Jr., believe it was because he remained prejudiced against blacks and felt humiliated being guarded by them. He was quickly discovered and placed in the fort's guardhouse. On October 18, he was transferred along with Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, Edman Spangler, and George St. Leger Grenfell to a large empty ground-level gunroom the soldiers referred to as "the dungeon". Mudd and the others were let out of the dungeon six days a week to work around the fort. On Sundays and holidays they were confined inside. The men wore leg irons while working outside, but the irons were removed when inside the dungeon.
After three months in the dungeon, Mudd and the others were returned to the general prison population. However, because of his attempted escape, Mudd lost his privilege of working in the prison hospital and was assigned to work in the prison carpentry shop with Spangler.
There was an outbreak of yellow fever in the fall of 1867 at the fort. Michael O'Laughlen eventually died of it on September 23. The prison doctor died and Mudd agreed to take over the position. In this role he was able to help stem the spread of the disease. The soldiers in the fort wrote a petition to President Johnson in October 1867 stating of Mudd's assistance, "He inspired the hopeless with courage and by his constant presence in the midst of danger and infection... doubtless owe their lives to the care and treatment they received at his hands." Probably as a reward for his work in the yellow fever epidemic, Dr. Mudd was reassigned from the carpentry shop to a clerical job in the Provost Marshall's office, where he remained until his pardon.
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