Samuel Arnold Describes Trip to Ft. Jefferson

Samuel Arnold Describes Trip to Ft. Jefferson  (1902) 
by Samuel Arnold

About midnight on Monday, July 17, 1865, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Edman Spangler, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen were taken in irons from their cells at Washington’s Arsenal prison to a nearby wharf on the Potomac River, and placed aboard the steamer State of Maine. The men assumed they were on their way to the Federal penitentiary at Albany, New York where they had been sentenced to serve their imprisonment. They would soon learn that Albany was not their destination. At about 2 A.M. the State of Maine set off down the Potomac River. By sunup, the State of Maine was in the Chesapeake Bay, and by afternoon it arrived at Fortress Monroe, located at Hampton, Virginia where the Chesapeake Bay empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the ships lying at anchor off Fortress Monroe that afternoon was the U.S.S. Florida, a 1261-ton wooden side-wheel steamship the Navy used to help enforce the blockade of the Atlantic coast of the Confederacy. It was used to carry Union supplies down the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico, and to transport Confederate prisoners to New York. The U.S.S. Florida was commanded that day by Captain William Budd. Once Dr. Mudd and the other prisoners were transferred to the U.S.S. Florida, it steamed out into the Atlantic Ocean, where it turned due South. That's when the prisoners realized they weren't going to Albany.

In 1902, Samuel Arnold wrote a series of newspaper articles for the Baltimore American describing his imprisonment at Fort Jefferson. The first article appeared on November 7, 1902. The last appeared on December 20, 1902. Arnold's December 12, 1902 article described the prisoners’ trip to Fort Jefferson on the U.S.S. Florida.

Source: Baltimore American Newspaper, December 12, 1902

The military commission had fulfilled its mission: the death of Abraham Lincoln had been avenged, the public cry for vengeance had been appeased, and the long drawn out trial, which for two months had heaped fuel to the fire to add to the public excitement, passed out of existence and the nation at large became pacified.

The midnight hour, which had been set apart for removal in every instance, was again resorted to, and we were silently marched, double-ironed, to a steamboat lying in the Potomac moored at a wharf. Each side of the wharf was lined with armed sentinels and soldiers, as we emerged from our prison gates, and as we passed between them on the way to the boat our clanking irons in the solemn midnight seeming to pierce the vaults of heaven, crying out to the living God for vengeance on those who had traduced, defamed and victimized us, to satiate the public cry for revenge.

On arrival on board the steamer which was in waiting to receive us we were swiftly conveyed down the river, to what destination was unknown. On the afternoon of July 18 we arrived at Fortress Monroe, when we were transferred from the steamer to a small tugboat, thence, under heavy guard, to the gunboat Florida, Captain Budd commanding. The irons had been removed temporarily from our wrists, and shackled about our feet we were compelled to ascend the ladder to the deck of the gunboat, where the entire crew of seamen stood about gazing in mute wonder. On landing upon the deck of the gunboat, Capt. William H. Dutton, in charge of the guard, directed that the Lilly irons be replaced upon our wrists. They had been placed upon Spangler and I, when the order of Captain Dutton was countermanded by General Dodd, and the irons were removed.

No sooner were we upon the gunboat than we were ordered into the lower hold of the vessel. It required, in our shackled condition, the greatest care to safely reach there, owing to the limited space, eight inches of chain being allowed between our ankles. After leaving the second deck we were forced to descend upon a ladder whose rounds were distant so far apart that the chains bruised and lacerated the flesh and even the bone of the ankles. We remained in the sweltering hole during the night in an atmosphere pregnant with disagreeable odors, arising from various articles of subsistence stored within, and about 8 o'clock next morning we passed through another ordeal in our ascent to the deck, which was attended with more pain than the descent, owing to the raw condition of our wounds.

All intercourse with the crew was prohibited, guards being stationed around us, and we were not permitted to move without being accompanied by an armed marine. Subsistence of the grossest kind was issued, in the shape of fat salt pork and hard-tack. We remained on deck during the day, closely watching, as far as we were able, the steering of the vessel by the sun, and found we were steaming due South. The course was unchanged the next day and I began to suspect that fatal isle, the Dry Tortugas, was our destined home of the future.

From this time out we remained on deck, our beds being brought up at night and taken between decks in the morning. Arriving off Hilton Head, S.C., and whilst lying in port, we were informed by General Dodd that he was sailing under sealed orders, but as soon as we left the port he would announce our destination. We remained there during the night, having received some guests on board, and the officers amused themselves with dancing and carousing. About 12 o'clock in the day we were informed that the Dry Tortugas was our destination. Of it I had no idea beyond that gathered through the columns of the press, in which it had been depicted as a perfect hell, which fact was duly established by imprisonment on its limited space. After the second day on the ocean the irons were removed from our feet during the day, but replaced at night, and we were permitted from this day out the privilege of being on deck on account of the oppressive heat of the climate, where we could catch the cool sea breeze as it swept across the deck in the ship's onward track over the bounding ocean.

- Samuel B. Arnold