Advanced Search
Edward Steers Jr.
Edward Steers Jr.
Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
ISBN: 0813122171
Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is usually told as a tale of a lone deranged actor who struck from a twisted lust for revenge. This is not only too simple an explanation; Blood on the Moon reveals that it is completely wrong.

John Wilkes Booth was neither mad nor alone in his act of murder. He received the help of many, not the least of whom was Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd, the Charles County physician who has been portrayed as the innocent victim of a vengeful government. Booth was also aided by the Confederate leadership in Richmond. As he made his plans to strike at Lincoln, Booth was in contact with key members of the Confederate underground, and after the assassination these same forces used all of their resources to attempt his escape. Had it not been for all this assistance, Booth would not have gone far as he did, for as long as he did.

When Booth entered the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865, he held a small derringer in his hand, but there were many fingers on the trigger. Noted Lincoln authority Edward Steers Jr. introduces the cast of characters in this ill-fated drama, he explores why they were so willing to help pull the trigger, and corrects the many misconceptions surrounding this defining moment that changed American history. —from the publisher's website

Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
Program Air Date: February 17, 2002

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Edward Steers, Jr., where did you get the title "Blood on the Moon"?
EDWARD STEERS, JR. (Author, "Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln"): It comes from the Book of Joel in the Bible, and it wasn't the original title. The original title was "Sic Semper Tyrannis," what Booth yelled from the stage. But this is really an Apocalyptic event in American history, and so I just thought that the title, which comes from the Bible, where it's Apocalyptic -- just to fit so nicely. And I think most people now agree.
LAMB: Why -- you address it in your preface, but why another book on Abraham Lincoln and on the assassination?
STEERS: Well, because most of the books that have been written on the assassination have missed a great deal, have not really used the primary sources to the degree that they should have been used and, in my opinion, have missed some very important aspects of the assassination, in particular Dr. Mudd, who I think is featured in the book, and the connection with the Confederate secret service in Canada and the military tribunal, which most historians have treated as an illegal court that lacked jurisdiction, was a kangaroo court. I don't agree with that at all. I think it had legal jurisdiction, and it certainly was not a kangaroo court.

And so I just thought it was time to pull it all together in a book that I also tried to make entertaining and readable. The book is shorter than most every book on the assassination by 100, 150 pages. And that was deliberate on my part.
LAMB: What's your own background, and how'd you get involved in Abraham Lincoln?
STEERS: Well, my own background is science -- undergraduate in microbiology and my graduate degree is in molecular biology. And I came...
LAMB: Where, by the way?
STEERS: University of Pennsylvania, both undergraduate and graduate. And I was hired right out of Penn to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and of course, that brought me to the epicenter of both the Civil War and to the Lincoln assassination. And so it just slowly grew on me. In the area on weekends, we would visit the various sites. And I one weekend happened to visit the Surratt Tavern in Surrattsville -- in Clinton, Maryland, rather. And that started it.
LAMB: And you say that's about 13 miles from where we are.
STEERS: Yes, it is. Yes.
LAMB: Why did that tavern start it for you. What was there -- what'd you see there?
STEERS: Well, actually, I took a tour, a very famous tour that the Surratt Society now gives several times a year. That's the Surratt Tavern in the lower panel, as it looks today. And they give several tours a year under the auspices of the Surratt Society, which follow the escape route beginning at Ford's Theater and going all the way to near Bowling Green, Virginia, where Booth was finally captured and shot. And it is a gripping tour. It's a step back in history. Many of the sites, original sites, are there. Some of the properties still remain in the same families. And so it fascinated me.
LAMB: Let's go over the basics. Abraham Lincoln was shot at what time and where?
STEERS: Well, I place it approximately 10:20 PM in the presidential box at Ford's Theater.
LAMB: Where's Ford's Theater?
STEERS: On 10th Street in Washington, D.C., not far from the White House, which is at 16th, of course, and sort of in the center of Mr. Lincoln's neighborhood.
LAMB: Who shot him?
STEERS: John Wilkes Booth, at the time one of America's greatest tragedians, of the famous Booth family, a Maryland family, from Bel Air, Maryland. John Wilkes Booth by 1864 had become certainly one of America's greatest actors and a matinee idol -- extremely handsome, personable, well-liked, generous, outgoing. Seems he had everything going for him, and everybody liked him. He basically had no enemies at all.
LAMB: How old was he?
STEERS: He was in his 27th year. He was -- at the time of the assassination, he was one month short of his 27th birthday.
LAMB: And how did he kill the president?
STEERS: Well, he shot him point-blank with a 41-caliber Deringer, a single-shot pistol, probably within two feet of the back of his head.
LAMB: How'd he get there?
STEERS: Well, he entered the theater, which was crowded, by the way, virtually standing room -- he had easy, full run of the theater, being a famous actor, a very close friend of the Ford family, of John Ford and his brother, Harry Clay Ford, that you see there. So Booth could come and go in the theater basically at will. He had reconnoitered the theater earlier in the day, made all of the arrangements, knew what he was going to do, knew when he was going to do it. So he just simply entered the theater, made his way up the staircase to the dress circle or balcony, and then slowly made his way across the back of the theater to the box.
LAMB: Who was sitting in the box?
STEERS: Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary, were sitting on one side. And on the other were Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée and step-sister, Clara Harris. And it was just the four of them.
LAMB: And when the shot was fired, where did the bullet go?
STEERS: It entered the lower left base of Lincoln's skull. And while there's some controversy as to the path of the bullet, I think most people agree that it traversed diagonally across the brain, lodging behind the right eye.
LAMB: What happened to the president immediately?
STEERS: Well, he just went comatose. He slumped in his chair. It wasn't a violent reaction on his part. His head just fell forward. Mary Lincoln, of course, who was sitting right next to him, holding his hand, screamed. And pandemonium broke out. Major Rathbone realized what had happened, jumped up and began to grapple with Booth.

Booth had a large Bowie knife, which he stabbed Rathbone with in the arm and then vaulted over the balustrade onto the floor of the theater stage, turned towards the audience, by most accounts, yelled "Sic semper tyrannis" -- "Thus always to tyrants" -- which is Virginia's -- was Virginia's state motto at the time, is now. And then exited stage right, went out the rear door into the alley behind the theater, known as Baptist Alley -- Ford's Theater had originally been a Baptist church, 10th Street Baptist Church -- where his horse was being held by a young boy who worked for the Fords.

And he struck the boy, mounted the horse, wheeled around and galloped down the alley, up onto -- turned left, went up onto F Street, turned right and headed for the Capitol grounds.
LAMB: What did they do with the president?
STEERS: Well, they tried to administer to him in the box. There were several doctors in the theater. The first doctor to get to the box was Charles Leale, who was an Army sergeant. And at first, he didn't know how the president was injured or to what extent, but he began to examine him, thinking that perhaps he had a chest wound, had been stabbed, and at one point ran his fingers through Lincoln's hair and noticed blood on his hand. And then, of course, he found the entry wound. And a blood clot had already formed, which essentially suppressed Lincoln's breathing. And Leale removed the blood clot, and Lincoln began to breathe quite normally and his pulse restored.

At that point, several other doctors came into the box. They consulted and pretty much agreed that they had to move Lincoln.
LAMB: In the interim, by the way, who was the actress that held the president's head?
STEERS: Laura Keene. She was starring in the play. It was a benefit performance for Laura Keene that evening. That is, all of the proceeds from that evening would go to Laura Keene as a reward and appreciation for her role as the star. And she was starring in the play that evening, "Our American Cousin," which is a British spoof on American bumpkins, a play that Lincoln would really enjoy very much.

She made her way to the box, and that's interesting, how she was able to make her way to the box. But she did, and asked Leale if she could rest Lincoln's head in her lap, and he said yes, and so she did.
LAMB: By the way, go back to the -- this was 10:00-something at night on April 14.
STEERS: Correct.
LAMB: When did Grant meet Lee at Appomattox?
STEERS: On the 9th, April 9th. So this is five days later. Lee has surrendered the army of northern Virginia. Washington is celebrating wildly every day. There are illuminations throughout the city, which -- hard for us to understand today, but they're rather spectacular, where everything is illuminated with all forms of light. And so Lincoln and Mary Lincoln were having a night out of relaxation, enjoyment, and basically celebrating what would effectively be viewed as the end of the war.

But this is an important point, particularly from Booth's perspective. Of course, it wasn't the end of the war. There were still 175,000 Confederate troops in the field, about 85,000 in North Carolina under Joe Johnston, about 55,000 in the trans-Mississippi area under Kirby Smith, Confederate general, Kirby Smith, and then about 35,000 scattered in various places throughout the South. That's a substantial number of Confederate troops.

Now, while it's impractical, the idea is if there was some way to join up those troops, you would have a formidable force that could face Sherman and Grant and perhaps continue the hopes of the Confederacy.
LAMB: How long did they keep President Lincoln in the theater?
STEERS: A matter of minutes, in the sense that they probably moved him over to the Petersen house directly across the street, certainly between 10:45 and 10:50, probably.
LAMB: You paint the picture of him being carried out of the theater with no place to go.
STEERS: Yes. When they lifted him and started to carry him out of the theater, they weren't quite sure where. Obviously, they knew they would take him to a building or a home somewhere on the street. And as they emerged from the front of the theater onto the sidewalk, they were beckoned by a young soldier across the street, who told them to bring Lincoln into this particular house that was the home of a tailor by the name of Petersen -- a rather substantial home, three floors, several rooms. And they took him into a back bedroom on what was the second floor. You have to walk up the steps.
LAMB: You have a picture in the book which is after the fact, after the president dies the next morning. How did they get this picture and...
STEERS: It's a remarkable picture. It's one of the most haunting pictures to me, I think. This picture is obviously taken very shortly after Lincoln's body was removed and taken back to the White House and everyone had left the Petersen house. There were two brother photographers that boarded at the Petersen house, Julius and Henry Ulke, later became very well-known photographers in Washington. And they brought down their wet plate camera, set it up and shot that photograph. And I think what's interesting to me in that photograph is you'll notice that all the bed clothing is still on the bed, and that coverlet that you see in the picture on the bed shows up later in a few exhibitions but then disappears. And we don't know what happened to it or where it is today. Hopefully, it's in some Lincoln collection, private Lincoln collection somewhere.

But Lincoln, when he was brought to the Petersen house and put in that bed, was stripped. He was naked. And they...
LAMB: Once he got there.
STEERS: Once he got there. They removed all of his clothes and examined his body completely and then began to do everything -- they of course agreed that the wound was mortal and there was nothing they could do except make him comfortable. And that's what they tried to do, and it -- and they brought hot water bottles and mustard plasters, tried to warm his body because the extremities were very cold.
LAMB: You say there was no room in that little room and that also -- how many people visited before he died?
STEERS: Well, I personally have calculated 57 people visited the room. I've since come to the conclusion that there was a 58th. So during the night -- and he's there for nine hours, from 10:45 to 7:22, when he died -- 58 people visited the house. Now, of course, not all at once. There's no way they could fit in that room, which several etchings and drawings have shown, basically, 58 people standing in the room around the bed. Hence it's been dubbed the "rubber room."

I think that at the moment of his death, I calculate there were perhaps 12 people around the bed when he died.

One thing I wanted to point out about the bed dressing and the coverlet is that Lincoln is naked, of course, and yet all of the bed clothing is still there. So when they removed his body, it occurred to me that they obviously wouldn't remove a man like Abraham Lincoln naked, and that's where I first found reports that they had sent for a very plain wooden pine box and wrapped his body in an American flag and placed the wrapped body in the box and then took it back to the White House, which is I think a rather interesting touch. And of course, what happened to the flag? It's obviously an -- would become an American icon.
LAMB: You do have a flag on the back cover of your book you say we didn't discover until 1998?
STEERS: Correct.
LAMB: Where'd you find this?
STEERS: Well, I didn't find it, of course, but it was found in the Hartford Historical Society in Hartford, Connecticut.
LAMB: What flag is this?
STEERS: This is the flag that I believe, as you look at the box, was mounted on a staff on the left-hand side of the box. I think the people at the Hartford Historical Society feel it was on the right-hand side, but I feel it was on the left. But nonetheless, it was one of the five flags that decorated the box. Now, one of those flags, of course, is famous, well-known, and is on display at Ford's Theater. But the other four flags have disappeared into history.

And so one of the little sidelights is trying to track down those flags. What happened to them? Where are they now? And miraculously, this flag is found in a storage room at the Hartford Historical Society in a box, all folded up, where it had been, I guess, residing since probably the 1930s was probably the last time it went out on display.

It was in terrible condition. It's a silk flag, and of course, they are extremely fragile. They had it beautifully restored, and it's now on display at the Hartford Historical -- it's a magnificent item.
LAMB: Go back to your original comments about primary sources. First of all, how many different books have been written about Abraham Lincoln?
STEERS: Well...
LAMB: Or how much -- just a general question. How much has been written about him?
STEERS: And that's an important point, and it also is an important point in studying his assassination. Judge Frank Williams, who you have had on C-SPAN on many occasions as a Lincoln scholar is currently compiling a bibliography in conjunction with Brown University. And Judge Williams tells me that there are now over 16,000 bibliographic entries under Lincoln, and they're growing weekly.

Of the 16,000, I have counted 3,400 -- approximately 3,400 -- or 20 percent devoted to his assassination. And of the 3,400, there are presently 104 books, monographs devoted exclusively to the assassination. Now, what one of the problems -- while Lincoln certainly is one of the most widely written-about individuals in all of Western literature -- some say second only to Jesus Christ -- of the 104 books, 100-plus authors, only two are professionally trained historians or academic historians. And only four of the books have been published by university presses or academic presses.

And the significance of that is that the usual standard of peer review which is practiced by university presses and academic presses I think is basically lacking in this great body of literature on Abraham Lincoln that's been published.

And so it's a story that is filled with a great deal of myths and erroneous information. And unfortunately, many of the myths are manufactured myths.
LAMB: Give us some of them.
STEERS: Well, one of the most prominent is that Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's secretary of war, was somehow behind Lincoln's assassination, that he engineered it together with radical Republicans to eliminate Lincoln now that the war was over, essentially, and won, so that the radical Republicans could basically have their way with the South.
LAMB: What's another myth?
STEERS: Well, the one that I like the best, of course, is that Mary Surratt and Samuel Mudd are innocent victims.
LAMB: Who was Mary Surratt?
STEERS: Mary Surratt was the woman who owned the tavern, Surratt Tavern in Surrattsville, and the boarding house in Washington not many blocks from Ford's Theater which became a center for the conspirators to meet, including John Wilkes Booth. And several of the conspirators actually boarded for a brief period at Mary Surratt's boarding house.
LAMB: You say that boarding house is still there?
STEERS: It is. Its original address was 541 H Street. Its current address is now -- the numbers were changed in the 1870s, I believe, and it's now an even number in the 600s. I forgot the number. It's around 620 H Street. It's a Chinese restaurant by the name of Go-Lo's -- G-O hyphen L-O. The picture in my book was taken just before it became a restaurant, when it was a grocery store.
LAMB: Not to get too far ahead of the story, but you mention Mary Surratt and this picture -- she's in there somewhere.
STEERS: She is on the extreme left of the four bodies that are hanging. She was one of the four that were condemned to death by hanging and became in some ways a cause célèbre, not nearly as much as Dr. Mudd has become a cause célèbre.
LAMB: First woman to ever be hanged in America.
STEERS: Correct, by the federal government. Of course, there were many women that had been hanged, but the first by the federal government.
LAMB: And you mention Dr. Samuel Mudd. What's the myth about him?
STEERS: Well, that Dr. Samuel Mudd was nothing more than a simple country doctor who was persecuted for nothing more than administering the Hippocratic oath to an injured man who was seeking medical attention and...
LAMB: And that injured man was?
STEERS: John Wilkes Booth. Booth and Herold arrived at Dr. Mudd's house four-and-a-half hours after the assassination.
LAMB: This him right here?
STEERS: That's Dr. Mudd on the left, and an important figure on the right, Thomas Harbin, who most people have not heard of. But Dr. Mudd arranged an important meeting between John Wilkes Booth and Thomas Harbin at the building in the lower picture of the page, the Bryantown Tavern in Bryantown, Maryland, very close to where Dr. Mudd lives.
LAMB: Dr. Mudd, by the way, in this picture up here is how old?
STEERS: He's 32.
LAMB: In that picture?
STEERS: Yes. Now, he is often referred to in most of the books as 40, 42. The newspapers of the day characterized him in his 40s, but he's 32 years old. He was born in 1833 on the farm which his father owned, 1,700 acres in Charles County...
LAMB: Maryland.
STEERS: Maryland, just north of Bryantown, which still exists today as a small, little village of a few houses, and spent his whole life on the Mudd farm near Bryantown, Maryland.
LAMB: Go back to where you have Abraham Lincoln dying at 7:22 on April the 15th. John Wilkes Booth left the theater the night before. Where does he go?
STEERS: He heads over the Navy Yard Bridge, over the Anacostia or eastern branch of the Potomac, directly into southern Maryland and goes straight to the Surratt Tavern, which is approximately 13 miles southeast of Washington, where he picks up a carbine and a pair of binoculars and some whiskey, and then heads on directly to Dr. Mudd's house...
LAMB: OK, let's go...
STEERS: ... where he arrives at 4:00 AM.
LAMB: Before we do that, go back to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. How many other people were involved in and around that story at that moment in the town of Washington?
STEERS: Well...
LAMB: What else was going on?
STEERS: In what sense?
LAMB: The conspiracy.
STEERS: Well, there were 10 conspirators that were eventually charged with Lincoln's murder, but there were certainly many more people that had knowledge of the conspiracy and participated in the conspiracy, mostly after the fact, although there were a few, Thomas Harbin being one, who was brought into the conspiracy beforehand by Dr. Mudd. But there were, by my count, probably 26 people who could have been charged under Stanton's edict of aiding and abetting Booth both before and after.
LAMB: What was Stanton's job?
STEERS: He was secretary of war, and of course, a very powerful man.
LAMB: What was his relationship with Abraham Lincoln?
STEERS: Very close. Again, it's another one of the myths that have come out of the Civil War and this episode that Stanton and Lincoln were somehow estranged.
LAMB: Where was Stanton that night?
STEERS: He was home. He was preparing to go to bed when word came by a pound on the door and a messenger that said that Seward, Secretary of State William Seward, had been killed at his home and the president had been shot. There was little bit of confusion because Stanton said -- thought that Seward and Lincoln had been attacked together. And of course, Seward was bed-ridden. He was recuperating from a very serious carriage accident, and he was bed-ridden. But Stanton soon realized that they were two separate incidents, and so he went downstairs, got a carriage and went to Seward's house, where he met Gideon Welles, the secretary of the Navy, arriving at the same instant. And they went upstairs and checked on Seward. And while -- it was a horrific sight. There was blood everywhere. Seward was all right. His wounds were superficial and...
LAMB: What had happened to him?
STEERS: He had been attacked by one of the conspirators, by Lewis Powell, the man in the lower right picture there with -- wearing the hat, a key figure, one of the four to be hanged.
LAMB: How old?
STEERS: Twenty-one at the time, a very tall, athletic individual, had served with Mosby, was brought into the conspiracy, we believe, by John Surratt.
LAMB: The son of Mary Surratt?
STEERS: The son of Mary Surratt, another key figure and an individual introduced to Booth by Dr. Mudd, another reason that I feel that Dr. Mudd is not just a co-conspirator but a key conspirator because he brought two very important people into the conspiracy, John Surratt and Thomas Harbin.
LAMB: Take a little bit of time and talk about the Seward attempted assassination. And how did this young man get into the house and get up to where he was in bed?
STEERS: Well, actually, it was very skillful. And this belies one of the common beliefs that Lewis Powell was of somewhat low mental capability, somewhat of a stooge of John Wilkes Booth. And yet he shows a great deal of intelligence in how he handled himself.

He goes to Seward's house with a bottle of medicine. And when he's met at the door by one of Seward's servants, he says that Seward's doctor, Tullio Verdi -- who was Seward's doctor, so Powell knew this -- had sent this medicine over, and he was to deliver it to Secretary Seward personally. He basically forced his way into the hallway of the home and started to go up the steps when Seward's son, Augustus Seward, met him and challenged him. And Powell still maintained that he was under orders to deliver the medicine only to Seward.

And so Seward's son would not allow him up -- further up the staircase. Powell turned, as if he was going to go down the staircase, but then wheeled around, pulled out his revolver and fired point-blank at Augustus Seward. The gun misfired, and so he bludgeoned him over the head with it, very seriously fractured his skull, and made his way to the Seward bedroom, where he dove on top of Seward literally, with a Bowie knife, and just began flailing and stabbing away at Seward. And then he was interrupted by a male nurse, George Robinson, who had come into the room, hearing the shouts and the screaming. And they fought, and he stabbed Robinson.
LAMB: And this is going on at what time?
STEERS: This was going on at the same time, approximately, that Booth is shooting Lincoln, approximately at 10:30. So it's coordinated, and that's an important...
LAMB: How badly was Seward wounded?
STEERS: Well, his wounds were disfiguring. He was stabbed in the face, and it was a very serious cut that ran from ear to jaw, which disfigured him for life. But it wasn't in any way life-threatening to him. He actually fought back, even though he had a broken jaw, and that's what he was recuperating from in bed, and struggled with Powell until help came in the way of George Robinson. And Powell then fled. He turned, ran out of the room, down the stairs, out the front door, presumably screaming, "I'm mad. I'm mad." And David Herold was supposed to be tending his horse outside. Herold, who is one of the conspirators in the plot and one of the four to be hanged, had accompanied Powell to Seward's house.
LAMB: This is David Herold?
STEERS: That's David Herold there. Again, a young 21-year-old. But when Herold heard the sounds coming out of the Seward house and the screaming, he apparently panicked. We don't know that for sure, but that's the suspicion. And he turned and rode away, leaving Powell's horse there but abandoning Powell.
LAMB: What did Powell do?
STEERS: Mounted his horse and headed out of the city, or tried to. Now, we think that Herold accompanied Powell because he didn't know his way around Washington, and presumably, Herold would lead Powell out of the city to rendezvous with Booth. But being abandoned, Powell rode off into the city, and all we know is that his horse was found in the vicinity of a congressional cemetery.
LAMB: By the way, all these conspirators -- and you say there were something like 26 -- and how many participated that night?
STEERS: That night, four participated -- Booth, Atzerodt, Herold and Powell. Now, we haven't talked about Atzerodt, but he was the man -- he's in the upper right -- who was assigned to assassinate Andrew Johnson, the vice president. Andrew Johnson is currently living at the Kirkwood Hotel, which is at 12th and Pennsylvania, a short distance away from Ford's Theater. Atzerodt had taken a room early that morning in the Kirkwood Hotel and at approximately 10:30 was to go to the hotel, knock on the door and assassinate Andrew Johnson. He did go to there, to the Kirkwood House, and ordered a drink at the bar. He was within feet of Johnson's room, but as I say, apparently his courage evaporated and he turned and fled, mounted his horse, rode about the city, saw the commotion and heard the commotion on 10th Street, realized that Booth had carried out the assassination of Lincoln. And Atzerodt returned his horse to a stable and boarded a trolley and went down to the Navy yard and tried to stay there, stay with a friend, but the friend refused to have him. So Herold came back into the city on the trolley and checked into...
LAMB: Atzerodt?
STEERS: I'm sorry, Atzerodt did, and checked into the Pennsylvania House or Kimmel House Hotel and spent the night there.
LAMB: By the way, as this is going on, where is Mary Surratt?
STEERS: Mary Surratt is in her boarding house.
LAMB: On H Street?
STEERS: On H Street. And interestingly enough, she's visited by 2:00 o'clock that morning.
LAMB: What is she all about, by the way?
STEERS: Well, she is a widow. She was widowed in 1862, when her husband died, left her with considerable debts but also with property, the Surratt Tavern, surrounding land and the boarding house in Washington. She had three children -- John, Isaac and a younger daughter, Anna. Isaac was away serving in the Confederate army. John had come back home when his father died to help his mother, and John actually became postmaster in Surrattsville. He was then discharged for disloyalty after it was found out that he was a Confederate agent, or suspected of being a Confederate agent.
LAMB: Let me ask you about this -- Washington, D.C. was north or south at the time?
STEERS: Well, it was within the union lines, but Washington, D.C., was thoroughly a Southern city filled with Confederate sympathizers.
LAMB: During the war?
STEERS: During the war. You have to remember that most of all the able-bodied men are gone into the union army or fled south and joined the Confederate army.
LAMB: Virginia belonged to the South. Could people come and go from Virginia across the Potomac into the district?
STEERS: They could by pass. Access into Washington was over a series of bridges -- Long Bridge, the Navy Yard Bridge, the Benning Road Bridge. All of these bridges were guarded by troops, by union troops, and passage in and out of the city was by pass only. However, it was not all that difficult to pass in and out of the city. And it seems to me that most of the attention was paid at night and to people coming into the city, not leaving, because the threat posed to the city of Washington is people coming in, not people going out.
LAMB: Now, what about Maryland?
STEERS: Maryland is in the union, in essence, by force. The Maryland legislature was prevented from holding a convention or meeting to vote on secession. It isn't clear they would have, but they were arrested, held temporarily till the crisis passed, then released. And Maryland remained in the union, obviously, because Washington, D.C., sits in Maryland, and you can't have the capital of the union surrounded by Confederate territory.

Maryland is viewed as a -- in many ways, as a Confederate state, certainly sympathizing with the Confederacy. All of southern Maryland, the six counties of southern Maryland, were as Confederate as Richmond. But Maryland sent twice as many men into the union army as it sent into the Confederate army. But those were mostly northern and western Maryland.
LAMB: So that the night of the assassination, you had four people involved directly.
LAMB: You named them earlier -- John Wilkes Booth, David Herold, George Atzerodt and...
STEERS: Lewis Powell.
LAMB: ... Powell. Who was standing by outside of that group, and where are they?
STEERS: Well, the other -- there are six other conspirators that are tried. Samuel Arnold, Michael O'Laughlen, Mary Surratt, Edman Spangler, Dr. Mudd -- and who have I missed? John Surratt. John Surratt is on his way to Canada. And he's in Elmira, New York, at the moment that the assassination takes place.
LAMB: But why is he in this outfit?
STEERS: Well, because he did make his way to Canada, and he was hidden by Jesuit priests in Canada, who eventually helped him make his way to England. And from England, he made his way to the Vatican, and he became a Papal Zouave, part of the papal guards in the Vatican. And ironically, an old schoolmate of his was also a Papal Zouave, who recognized him as John Surratt. He had used the alias "Watson," John Watson. And of course, knowing that there was a reward for the capture of John Surratt of $25,000, he turned John Surratt in.

Surratt was taken into custody by the papal authorities, but he escaped in a Hollywood type escape, where he literally jumped over a high precipice, made his way to the coastline and boarded a freighter for Alexandria, Egypt, where he was arrested in February of 1867 in Alexandria and brought back to the United States and put on trial in June of 1867.
LAMB: So it's about, what is it, two years after...
LAMB: ... all the commotion. Mary Surratt's at her boarding house. He's on his way to Canada. Where is Dr. Mudd?
STEERS: He's at his home near Beantown in Charles County...
LAMB: Roughly how far from where we're sitting?
STEERS: About 30 miles.
LAMB: Who is Samuel Arnold?
STEERS: Samuel Arnold is one of the conspirators, a Baltimorean. Samuel Arnold and Michael O'Laughlen, the man next to him, the photograph next to him, were two Baltimoreans who were both childhood friends of John Wilkes Booth. Samuel Arnold attended Saint Timothy's Hall, which still exists, in Catonsville, Maryland, as students. And Michael O'Laughlen lived across the street from John Wilkes Booth in Baltimore. The Booths owned a home on Exeter Street, in addition to their home in Bel Air, Maryland.
LAMB: What did these two people have to do with all this?
STEERS: Well, they were the very first men that John Wilkes Booth recruited into his conspiracy. He met with them in August of 1864 in Baltimore at the Barnum Hotel, and he proposed this plot to capture Abraham Lincoln and take him south to Richmond.
LAMB: What was the motive for John Wilkes Booth?
STEERS: For the capture plot, the motive, of course, was to presumably exchange Lincoln, use him as a bargaining chip. During the Civil War, they had a process known as "exchange," where prisoners were exchanged, rank for rank. So you could exchange a private for a private, a general for a general. And that was carried out throughout the war. When Grant became general in chief of the army in March of 1864, he suspended prisoner exchange because the South was losing its manpower, and the North could keep replenishing its manpower. Grant realized that it was, in fact, aiding the Confederacy to allow these Confederate prisoners to be exchanged and go back into the army, so he suspended it.

So one of the motives, presumably, that Booth had was to capture Lincoln and take him to Richmond. The question is, how many soldiers is a president of the United States worth? A division? No one really knows.
LAMB: As you know, in March, they tried to -- had a plot to kidnap the president. Tell us that story and what happened about it.
STEERS: Well, the original plot -- there were six plots that were directed against Abraham Lincoln, beginning in 1861 and ending with the final assassination plot in April -- but Booth had actually entered into a plot to capture Lincoln on March the 17th of 1865. He had found out after visiting Ford's Theater earlier in the day that Lincoln was to attend a special performance of players at Campbell Hospital, which is -- was on the northern boundary of Washington in those days. It's where Florida Avenue exists now, in northeast Washington.

Lincoln was to attend a performance, so Booth quickly gathered together his conspirators, and they went out to the vicinity of Campbell Hospital. Booth had the rest of his conspirators stay at a restaurant nearby while he went actually to Campbell Hospital, where he learned that Lincoln did not come to the performance. He canceled his appearance and stayed in Washington.
LAMB: What'd he end up doing?
STEERS: He stayed in Washington at the National Hotel to -- with the governor of Indiana to accept the captured Confederate flag from an Indiana regiment, the 140th Indiana. And so Lincoln felt it was more important to meet the soldiers of the 140th Indiana and accept the captured Confederate battle flag.

Interestingly enough, it happened at Booth's hotel, where he had a room and was staying.
LAMB: Go back again to the night of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. They got Seward, chopped him up pretty good. He lived. Did not get Andrew Johnson. Was there anybody else they were trying to get? Why didn't they go after Stanton?
STEERS: Well, there is some who feel that Stanton was early on a target, as was General Grant. It certainly -- it appears as if Stanton's house was cased, in that an individual showed up there two days before. This came out in the trial later. But we know nothing more than that, and it may or may not have actually happened that the house may have been cased.

And Grant certainly appears to have been a target, but Grant left earlier in the afternoon, so he wasn't at Ford's Theater.
LAMB: Did Jefferson Davis know about this?
STEERS: Well, that's the great controversy now. There is no evidence or direct evidence or even smoking gun that you can place this on the desk of Jefferson Davis. But certainly, the Confederate secret service knew about it and was involved in helping Booth assemble his conspiracy and helped him afterwards to escape. And so there are those who say -- and I happen to believe this myself -- that those agents would have never acted on their own and involved themselves with John Wilkes Booth. They weren't rogue agents. And they -- this information they would have reported up to their superiors. Their superiors clearly would have reported this up to Richmond.
LAMB: But you report that the union folks did the same thing to the South.
STEERS: It worked both ways. The Civil War, characterized by Winston Churchill as "the last war fought by gentlemen," deteriorated significantly. By 1864, we see the beginnings of "black flag" warfare, and I devote a chapter to that, where acts begin to take place that are outside the articles of war and outside the recognized rules of warfare, basically targeting civilians, civilian populations as well as civilian individuals.

But clearly, there was an attempt, known as the Dahlgren Raid, to sack Richmond. And according to papers found on the officer's body, to find Jefferson Davis and his cabinet and kill them.
LAMB: And they -- just as you were saying that, I was thinking about the other -- and there's so much similarity to what's going on in the world today, is why I want to bring this one up. And it's offbeat, though, but it's the story of the yellow fever in North Carolina.
STEERS: The yellow fever plot. One of the Confederate agents, Dr. Luke Blackburn, a very prominent physician from Kentucky, helped the Confederacy early on as a blockade runner, but made his way to Canada in 1864 at the very time that Jefferson Davis had set up a Confederate secret service in Canada. And he developed a plot to introduce yellow fever into the North in several areas -- Washington being one of the areas, New Bern, North Carolina, being one of the areas and...
LAMB: Why New Bern? It -- wasn't New Bern a part of the South?
STEERS: No, it was in union hands, and it was a base, a staging base. There were a lot of union troops around there. And what Blackburn did was -- a terrible yellow fever epidemic broke out in Bermuda in the spring of 1864. He was an authority on yellow fever, recognized internationally as an authority on yellow fever. He offered his services to the Bermuda government, and they readily accepted. But his motives were ulterior. He went there and with the idea of collecting infected clothing, both bedding and personal clothing, from individuals that died of yellow fever and then having that clothing distributed amongst certain populations in certain cities, with the idea of inducing or starting a yellow fever epidemic.

Now, we know today that yellow fever's not contagious. It's carried by a virus transmitted through a mosquito, but it's not transmitted between human beings. But they didn't know that. They thought it was contagious. And in fact, at the very time that this clothing was distributed in New Bern, a yellow fever epidemic broke out in which 2,000 civilians of New Bern died.
LAMB: But they didn't cause it.
STEERS: They didn't cause it. They thought they did, but they didn't cause it. And Blackburn was eventually taken into custody in Canada and put on trial in Canada for violation of the Neutrality Act. And the New Bern incident was introduced into that trial, along with his introducing clothing into Washington, D.C. Now, he had also attempted to do this with Abraham Lincoln. He had bought several very fine shirts, dress shirts, which he had packed with yellow fever-contaminated clothing -- so he thought -- and then put the shirts in a very nice, expensive valise and gave it to one of his agents to deliver to the White House to Abraham Lincoln as a gift.

In all of these acts, the thing that you have to realize, while you may target an individual, they're indiscriminate. And so if this was a contagion, if it had been smallpox, for instance, very likely Abraham Lincoln would have contracted smallpox, as would his wife and children and other people in the White House.
LAMB: Now, when we started this, you said that you went to primary sources. And you talk about in the preface three different individuals that were involved in the transcripts from the commissions, the trial, three different ones, but they were different.
STEERS: Three different publications...
LAMB: Yes.
STEERS: ... of the transcripts.
LAMB: Right.
STEERS: Yes, they were different. The first one to come out was by Peterson, T.B. Peterson in Philadelphia. Let me back up. Each day -- first of all, all of the testimony was taken down in shorthand, a form of shorthand known as phonography. And then it was translated that evening, copies were made by a very interesting process. And those copies that were made were distributed to the defense counsel, to the prosecution counsel and to the newspapers.

The daily transcripts were communicated to Philadelphia by Morse code and appeared in the "Philadelphia Inquirer" the next day, verbatim, as they were in the "Washington Intelligencer" in Washington -- appeared the next day verbatim, so people could read the previous day's trial proceedings.

Peterson took the "Philadelphia Inquirer" transcripts from the daily papers and published them in a book, unedited, uncorrected, filled with typographical errors because it's being transmitted by Morse code, and so there's a lot of error in the transmission. That was the earliest edition to come out, in 1865. That was followed by a second publication by Ben Perley Poore, who was a newspaper man who published a three-volume set of the transcripts, edited -- that is, corrected for error, typographical error. And the third publication that came out later, in November of 1865, was by Benn Pitman. And he was the man who received the government contract to actually record the daily proceedings of the trial.
LAMB: How many of those have you read?
STEERS: All of them.
LAMB: How long are they?
STEERS: Well, both -- the Pittman is condensed. What Pittman did was, he eliminated the questions and only publishes the answers, and in some instances, he summarizes the answers. But he tried very hard to be very accurate, and in most instances, he was. It is the common book today, the common transcript today that people can find because it was reprinted in 1954 and 1990.
LAMB: How much do you rely on that for your book?
STEERS: Well, I rely on the original transcript. I've used the Pittman because Pittman also indexed, and he gathered all of the testimony together pertaining to a single subject, which is very valuable. So you can look up an individual defendant or you can look up a witness in his indexing and go to that testimony, even though it may be summarized and condensed. But it serves as a guide to go to the full transcript and Poor, the three-volume set. But you have to understand that the trial didn't follow a sequence. So sometimes witnesses were called out of sequence.
LAMB: How many witnesses were there?
STEERS: I count 366.
LAMB: How many days was the trial?
STEERS: Fifty.
LAMB: And this was one of these tribunals, like we hear talked about now.
STEERS: Military tribunal, and we're seeing very much the same thing today. Andrew Johnson, by executive order, established the military tribunal and placed the defendants under the jurisdiction of the military tribunal.
LAMB: You said there were 5,000 of those during the Civil War?
STEERS: There were approximately 5,000 military tribunals. Somewhere between 14,000 and 15,00 individuals were tried by military tribunal.
LAMB: As you know, we haven't gotten to one twentieth that's in this book, and I want to make sure we talk a little bit about your background. What are you doing now full-time?
STEERS: Writing.
LAMB: How many books have you written?
STEERS: Five, three paperback and two hardcover. The one immediately preceding this was on -- exclusively on Dr. Mudd.
LAMB: And where do you live?
STEERS: In Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, which is about 100 miles due west of here.
LAMB: How long did you spend with NIH?
STEERS: Thirty-one years.
LAMB: When did you retire?
STEERS: In 1994. Wonderful.
LAMB: And are you going to do more books on Abraham Lincoln?
STEERS: Yes. I'm now doing a special edited, annotated version of Pittman. The University Press of Kentucky has approved doing that.
LAMB: And they did this book...
STEERS: They did this book.
LAMB: When you look back at the -- your book on Samuel Mudd, and you also have a chapter or two in here, and you talk a lot about...
LAMB: ... him -- how big a controversy does that continue to be? I mean, the Mudd family continues to try to get him...
LAMB: ... exonerated?
STEERS: Very big controversy. In many ways, it's a very interesting story because it shows what can happen in history when people attempt to manufacture history and revise it. The Mudd myth is a manufactured myth by the Mudd family, beginning with his daughter, Nettie Mudd Monroe, when she published a book in 1906 called "The Life of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd." And currently his grandson, Dr. Richard Mudd, who is 101, will be 102, I believe, on January 12th of 2002, has devoted 70-plus years to exonerating his grandfather.
LAMB: And what is your number-one proof that Samuel Mudd was a conspirator and was deeply involved in all this?
STEERS: Well, primarily the meetings with John Wilkes Booth, which were all arranged. There were three of them that we know of. There may have been more, but we can document three of them. But more importantly, when Booth first began to put his conspiracy together, after meeting with Arnold and O'Laughlen, the very next thing he did was go to Canada. And he met in Montreal with a Confederate secret service agent who headed the office in Montreal. And he stayed for 10 days, and when he left, he carried a letter of introduction from that Confederate agent to Dr. Mudd and a man named Dr. William Queen. Both lived in Charles County, Maryland.

And if you think about that, it ties both and Dr. Mudd into the Confederate secret service directly, and it means that Patrick Martin in Montreal knew Dr. Mudd and knew that he was the man John Wilkes Booth needed to see.
LAMB: We only have a minute, and this is unfair. But on John Wilkes Booth, the controversy about him being in that barn when it was burned and when he was shot -- is there any doubt in your mind that that was anybody but John Wilkes Booth?
STEERS: None whatsoever. Another manufactured myth. And it's I think rather easy to disprove, but it requires really going to the documentation.
LAMB: Who's the guy that showed up years later and said he was John Wilkes Booth?
STEERS: A man by the name of David George, David E. George, who showed up in 1903 and claimed that he was John Wilkes Booth.
LAMB: You say that -- we only have 30 seconds -- that John Wilkes Booth -- they tried to exhume him a couple years ago, and that wasn't the first time. They didn't get it done this time. How many times has he been exhumed?
STEERS: I think three times. But the first two were natural. It's when he was turned over to the family.
LAMB: We are out of time. We have to quit this. Edward Steers, Jr. -- here's the cover of your book, "Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln." Thank you very much.
STEERS: Thank you for inviting me.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2002. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.