Stanton was gathering clues. Based on the letter found in Booth’s hotel room, he believed that Booth had at least two co-conspirators named Sam and Mike and that the assassination was premeditated. He also still believed the Confederacy to be involved.
Finding clues related to the earlier kidnapping conspiracy, Stanton’s hypothesis that there was a larger plan at work seemed to be confirmed.
At the Petersen house, three doctors holding watches awaited the moment when Lincoln’s heart would stop. Lincoln died at 7:22 AM on April 15, 1865. Reverend Gurley said a prayer, and Stanton wrote a telegram to spread the news of the president’s death to all Americans. Lincoln’s oldest son Robert told Mary Todd Lincoln that her husband had died. She could not bear to look at his corpse.
Lincoln’s death occurred in a dignified atmosphere, with extreme attention paid to each detail so that it could be recorded for posterity. For those like Mary Todd who were personally affected by the tragedy of his death, the fact that he died as a martyr for his principles was little consolation.
Once the room where Lincoln had died emptied out, Stanton cut a lock of Lincoln’s hair as a memento. He put the lock of hair in an envelope addressed to Mary Jane Welles, the Secretary of the Navy’s wife. Mary Jane had helped nurse Willie Lincoln and had consoled Mrs. Lincoln after Willie died. When the Welleses’ own son died soon after, the tragedy brought Mrs. Welles and Mrs. Lincoln even closer together. Mrs. Welles later framed the lock of Lincoln’s hair along with flowers that decorated his coffin as a memento. Having cut the lock of hair for Mary Jane Welles, Stanton looked at Lincoln’s corpse and wept. Lincoln’s body was then wrapped in an American flag and placed in a plain pine box. Lincoln was a man of simple tastes, and would have approved of this plain coffin. Soldiers loaded the box onto a wagon and Lincoln was driven to the White House, accompanied by a small group of soldiers, who had taken their hats off in a solemn show of respect.
Although Stanton had worked hard through Lincoln’s last hours to create a dignified death chamber, he too was personally affected by Lincoln’s death. He also realized that other people had suffered personally throughout Lincoln’s presidency: Mary Jane Welles comforted Lincoln’s wife after their son died so that Lincoln could focus on running the country. Unlike mementos meant to hold onto a piece of an important historical moment, the lock of hair for Mary Jane Welles was a testament to her personal contributions to the Lincoln family.
Vice President Andrew Johnson was sworn in without pomp and circumstance in his hotel room at the Kirkwood House at 11 AM on April 15, 1865. In consideration of the tragedy which had brought him to power, he gave no public inaugural address.
Johnson, who had not been Vice President during Lincoln’s first term, hung back and allowed others with more experience in the Lincoln government to shape the public narrative about Lincoln’s assassination and the approaching end of the war.
John Surratt, whom Stanton suspected of killing Seward, was in upstate New York on the day of the attacks. He realized he was likely suspected, however, and fled to Canada and then to Europe. In Rome, he joined an army and was not captured until a year later.
Although Surratt was part of the initial conspiracy, he did not happen to be in Washington on April 14, 1865. This saved him from being implicated in Booth’s crime, but it meant that his mother was implicated in his place.
In Maryland, the Thirteenth New York Cavalry led by Lieutenant David Dana was following up on leads received from informants. As would occur over and over throughout the manhunt, many of these leads were false.
In the initial confusion, many citizens rushed to tell the authorities what they knew. Much of this information was untrue, irrelevant or misleading.
Other than Lincoln, the executive branch of the government was still intact and no rebel army had stormed the capital. Now Stanton’s focus was on capturing Booth and his co-conspirators before they made it into the Deep South, where they would find protection.
Once it became clear that there was not going to be an attempt to invade the North or otherwise dramatically change the course of the war in the aftermath of Lincoln’s death, Stanton began to see that Booth may have not been backed by a larger Confederate conspiracy.
At Mudd’s farm, David Herold made casual conversation with the Mudds over breakfast. He gave no hint that he was afraid or in danger. Booth ate breakfast in bed.
The news of the president’s murder had still not reached Mudd’s isolated farm, so the fugitives continued to rely on the Mudds’ hospitality without letting them know that this hospitality made them accomplices to murder.
At the Executive Mansion, doctors cut open Lincoln’s body. This was unnecessary, but they claimed it was done for the sake of scientific investigation. They then removed the bullet from inside Lincoln’s skull and preserved it. An embalmer then drained and preserved his blood in jars. Finally, they cut a lock of his hair off; his widow had requested it.
Mudd and Herold rode into the nearby town of Bryantown, where Herold hoped to find a buggy or carriage for Booth to ride in as they made their way South. Suddenly, Herold spotted Yankee cavalry. He told Mudd that he no longer needed the buggy and beat a hasty retreat to the farm. He had spotted the Thirteenth New York Cavalry, which was setting up a base of operations for the manhunt in Bryantown. This made Mudd suspicious.
The news of the assassination had now caught up with the assassins. From here on out, all their movements would need to be carefully planned to avoid the manhunters looking for them. They would be especially vulnerable to any Union soldiers, who could be identified by their gray uniform.
Mudd went about his business, buying provisions for the farm and greeting neighbors. But then someone blurted out the news: the president had been assassinated by John Wilkes Booth the preceding night! Mudd kept mum, not telling the detectives and soldiers milling about everywhere that the wanted man was back at his farm in bed.
Mudd made a split-second decision to risk his entire life and future by continuing to shelter Booth and Herold. Although they had not been honest with him, their shared anti-Lincoln sentiments meant that Mudd would remain loyal to them anyway.
Back at the farm, Booth and Herold decided to trust that Mudd would not betray them. They waited for his return. Mudd returned and ordered Booth and Herold to leave the farm immediately. Booth was more preoccupied with the news that Mudd brought: he had succeeded in killing the president! Mudd had agreed to the kidnapping of Lincoln, but he did not want to be involved in this murder. Although he was angry to be involved in Booth’s crime without his consent, he decided to help the assassin. He would not turn Booth and Herold in, and he explained how they ought to travel to avoid the cavalry in Bryantown. He told them of two farms where they could find shelter and receive help, one close to the Potomac River, which they would need to cross to enter Virginia.
For the first time since committing the crime, the news had now spread far enough to let Booth know he had killed the president. Meanwhile, Dr. Samuel Mudd realized that he could not take back the crime he had committed by sheltering the fugitives after learning of their crimes. He decided to place the two fugitives’ survival above his own interest, feeling that this was the right thing to do given the principles that the three men shared.
Booth and Herold rode off, but despite Mudd’s directions they got lost. They ran into Oswell Swann, a man who was half black and half Piscataway, and paid him seven dollars to guide them safely through a snaky swamp to the home of Captain Samuel Cox.
For the first time, Booth and Herold ran into trouble because of their unpreparedness to navigate a part of the country that was unfamiliar to them. In this case, they got lucky and found a guide who had not yet heard the news.