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Civil War Intrique in Maryland

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By Wayne Lazarus on July 27th, 2010

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

While the state of Maryland did not secede from the Union during the Civil War, it remained sharply divided in opinion — the Eastern region had a tobacco-based economy and thus depended on slavery, the Western side was pro Union. The state’s proximity to Washington D. C. and its physical geography made it vitally important in the war. It had both an active Underground Railroad network and pockets of Confederate sympathizers.

Surratt House and Tavern

Surratt House and Tavern

In April, 1865, after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth fled into southern Maryland. Around midnight, he and David Herold stopped briefly for supplies at a tavern and hostelry now in Clinton which was owned by Mary E. Surratt. They then hurried on to the home of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, now in Waldorf. Mudd set Booth’s broken leg, allowed the men to rest and sent them off in the afternoon. They hid in woods for a few days before crossing the Potomac River and making their way to the Garrett farm, where Booth was shot and Herald was captured by Federal troops on April 26.

The escape route that Booth took has been marked by the Maryland Civil War Trails organization with historical markers, many of which show a map of the 90-mile route. Some of the important places are privately-owned and not open to the public, but a map of the trail can be downloaded at www.CivilWarTraveler.com. Ford’s Theatre and the William Petersen House, where Lincoln died, are run by the National Park Service and are open to the public. Two other sites on the trail are now museums and add detailsĀ  to the tour. The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum is open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 11 (12 on Sunday) and the last tour is at 3:30. In addition to the home and bedroom in which Booth rested, the 197-acre farm includes a tobacco museum, farm museum and Civil War exhibit. Admission is $6 for adults and $2 for children under 16.

The tavern at which Booth stopped is now the Surratt House Museum and has its own place in American history. Mary Surratt was not there the night Booth arrived, But a tenant at the tavern testified that she had arranged for the supplies that he picked up to be made available for him. She was found guilty of conspiring with Booth to assassinate the president and became the first woman to be executed by the United States. The museum offers a variety of events and a view of mid-19th century life, as well as a focus on the Lincoln conspiracy. Visitors can see the shaft where guns were hidden in the building.

The Surratt Society sponsors a bus tour in the spring and fall of Booth’s escape route, narrated by Lincoln assassination experts. The 12-hour tour starts at the Museum, goes to Ford’s Theatre and then makes its way through a number of the properties that are normally closed to visitors. Executive Director Laurie Verge says that many of the roads along the trail are small and now well marked, so those trying the self-guided tours sometimes get lost and give up. For more information, contact the museum or see www.Surratt.org.

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