BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Edward Steers, Jr.,
where did you get the title "Blood on
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
STEERS: Well, my own background is science -- undergraduate in
microbiology and my graduate degree is in molecular biology. And I
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
LAMB: And you mention Dr. Samuel Mudd. What's the myth about
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...
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...
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
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 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
LAMB: But you report that the union folks did the same thing to the
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
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
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...
STEERS: ... of the transcripts.
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?
LAMB: And this was one of these tribunals, like we hear talked
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
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?
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
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
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.
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